The following excerpt is from an informative article dealing with Washington County, Maryland, and the Irish immigrants who worked on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, many settling in the area. Disease was not well understood in the early 19th-century, leading to the early demise of many immigrants who were just looking for a better life. Read the full article, from the Washington County Historical Society, to learn much more.
Even when we do reflect on the hardships faced by Irish immigrants to America, we tend to think mostly of places like Boston or New York City, where Irish heritage and culture have gained a lasting footprint. But Washington County was home to large groups of Irish immigrants, brought to the area specifically to work on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. This, to put it plainly, was a hard and often deadly life. Because of the hard labor and poor working conditions, daily life along the canal was filled with injury, disease and violence.
The process of building the C&O Canal was a struggle from the very beginning. This area had a bad reputation for ill health during the summers, and a lot of competition for labor from the agricultural sector. Finding workers to build the canal was a difficult and costly prospect, and so the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Co. looked toward imported labor from Great Britain.