Wednesday, July 30, 2014

My Cousin, Jack--Cornish Immigrants in the Midwest

The United States of America has long been a destination for many immigrants. People from lands across the sea or to the south have, for one reason or another, left their homeland in search of a better life on U.S. soil. Oftentimes bad situations at home fueled this burst in immigration. Some situations were due to natural disasters, others to war, and others to political turmoil.

For the average Cornish man and woman living in the mid 1800s, a lack of jobs as the tin and copper mines in Cornwall played out caused many Cornish to leave their country and head to the mining areas in the United States.

Commercial copper mining started in northern Michigan during the 1840s and continued for over a hundred years. Creating more wealth than the California Gold Rush, the rich, pure copper deposits along Lake Superior's southern shore drew many a Cornish miner to the snowy Keweenaw Peninsula, which came to be known as "Copper Country."


So many Cornish people came to this underpopulated, wilderness region that Cornish miners became known as Cousin Jacks. This was because the men were always asking foremen if the mine would hire their cousin back in Cornwall. And the cousins, more often than not, were named Jack. Jenny proved a rather popular name among the women, and so Cousin Jennys often arrived on U.S. soil with their Cousin Jack husbands.


The numerous mines in Copper Country loved to hire Cornish workers, as the mines were always looking for skilled laborers who understood English. Thus Cornish men found themselves getting mining jobs much quicker than the Italians, Polish, and Finnish, who also immigrated to the area at the end of the Nineteenth Century.


The Cornish brought many traditions with them. Sports included rugby and wrestling. The religion was mainly Methodist, and the food, well, the food is a particular favorite of mine. The Cornish miners would take pie dough and fill it with meat and root vegetables such as potatoes, rutabagas, and onions. The dough was then packed into the shape of a turnover, baked, and sent with the miners to heat over the fire down in the mine shaft for lunch.


Have any of you ever heard of Cousin Jacks or Cousin Jennys? Did you know about their mining heritage and how valued they were by mine owners in the 1800s? Have any of you ever tried a Cornish pasty? They're a staple in the restaurants near where I live.

If you're interested in seeing more of Cousin Jacks and Cousin Jennys in story form, my novel, Love's Unfading Light, releases in the spring of 2015. It's set in Copper Country and features a Cousin Jenny as the heroine.

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A mother of two young boys, Naomi Rawlings spends her days picking up, cleaning, playing and, of course, writing. Her husband pastors a small church in Michigan’s rugged Upper Peninsula, where her family shares its ten wooded acres with black bears, wolves, coyotes, deer and bald eagles. Naomi and her family live only three miles from Lake Superior, where the scenery is beautiful and they average 200 inches of snow per winter. She is looking forward to the release of her fourth novel, Falling for the Enemy, in January 2015. For more information about Naomi, please visit her website at www.NaomiRawlings.com.

11 comments:

  1. Informative and interesting post. I personally have never heard of Cornish immigrants in mining or had any of their food.

    Congrats on your future book, the cover is great!

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  2. Thank you for a very interest post! This is my first read about the Cornish immigrants and the food the miners ate. I have never been to Michigan but wanting to fulfill a dream of making it to all fifty states, I plan on a visit. You can bet I will be trying a Cornish pie!

    mauback55 at gmail dot com

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  3. Hi Naomi, interesting post. The Cornish also had a big presence in Grass Valley, California. I loved the Cornish lunch boxes. They came with a candle to heat the food. I urge everyone to try Cornish pastries, They're delicious! .

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  4. Thanks for stopping by! Immigrant history has always been fascinating to me. And I must confess, I love a good pasty every so often. Delicious!

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  5. My great-grandparents immigrated to Detroit from Cornwall in 1922. Grandpa Harry went to work for Mr. Ford. Grandma's name was Nan, and she had a brother named Jack! He stayed in Cornwall, though.

    Grandma used to make pasties once or twice a year. Love them! She said the women would cook them at home in the morning and wrap them in a tea towel, and they stayed warm in a lunchbox until noon.

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    1. That's great, Kristen. Most of the Cornish who worked as miners immigrated to the Upper Peninsula in the mid to late 1800s. However, a lot of the Cornish decedents ended up moving to Detroit and working for Ford. The auto boom started right about the time the copper mines were playing out, so people left the mines for work in the city. It's interesting how one historical detail can lead to another and another and another, isn't it?

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  6. Naomi, I loved this blog post! My husband is a Yooper, and I'm very familiar with the Keewanau Peninsula, being a lifelong Michigan resident myself. Pasties are a tradition in our family. My husband's father was a miner and took pasties with him for his lunches for all of the years that he worked in the mines. This is like a trip down memory lane for me. I look forward to reading "Love's Unfading Light!"

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    1. That's awesome, Nancee. Do you know what mine your father-in-law worked at? You have me curious now. :-)

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  7. Hello Naomi. I really enjoyed this post. I have never heard any history about the Cornish and would like to know more. I have never heard of the cousins, Jacks and Jenny's. LOL The only time I've heard those names together was talk about mules. Do you have some novel's already about them? And, never has a Cornish pastry or food that I know of.Thanks for this. Maxie > mac262(at)me(dot)com < (email to use. )

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    1. No, I don't have any current novels out with them, but I will by this time next year and I'll post about the book again once it's out.

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  8. Very interesting and a NO from me to the answer to all your questions. I've never heard of Jack and Jenny's and did not know about the migration to the US. The only thing I knew was about Cornwall, England. Love to win and read your book, LOVE'S UNFADING LIGHT. sharon wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

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