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Black Powder, White Lace
The Du Pont Irish and Cultural Identity in Nineteenth-Century America
Margaret M. Mulrooney

Becoming Modern: New Nineteenth-Century Studies

University of New Hampshire Press
2002 • 336 pp. 39 illus. 2 maps. 6 x 9"
American History - 19th Century / Immigration / Cultural Studies / Ethnic Studies

$29.95 Paperback, 978-1-58465-274-8

A richly textured, interdisciplinary study of a significant Irish-American community.

Between 1802 and 1902, over 2000 Irish emigrants, mainly Catholics from Ulster, relocated to northern Delaware, where they found steady employment in E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company’s black powder yards. Explosives work was dangerous, but the du Ponts, perhaps best described as sincere paternalists, provided a host of benefits, including assisted migration, free or low-cost housing, interest-bearing savings accounts, and widows’ pensions. As a result, the Irish remained loyal to their employers, convinced by their everyday experiences that their interests and the du Ponts’ were one and the same.

These generally peaceable labor relations underscore Mulrooney’s innovative exploration of cultural identity. Employing a wide array of sources, she turns away from worksite and instead turns to the domestic sphere as, “broadly defined to include everything from labor relations, emigration patterns, religious beliefs, and gender roles to attitudes about housing, consumer goods, yards, and foodways.” Her research reveals that powder mill families asserted their distinctive ethno-religious heritage at the same time as they embraced what U.S. capitalism had to offer.

MARGARET M. MULROONEY is Associate Professor of History, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA., and author of A Legacy of Coal: The Coal Company Towns of Southwestern Pennsylvania (1989).