“The Only Property I Could Dispose of to Any Advantage”
This chapter explores the ways that textiles provided Irish Louisianans an introduction to transatlantic economies and sustained their professional ambitions once settled in the New World. It particularly focuses on Irish merchants, traders, and retailers who did business within an array of American and European markets, a group of men making up over 30% of the pre-1820 population. At first assuming an economic approach, it shows the ways that these migrants’ connections to Old World linen producers often helped them to found their initial businesses in the New World. The chapter quickly turns to material culture, however, to focus on the meaning of the linen undershirt—again, a popular export from contemporary Ireland—within long-distance economies. It assesses in detail, with the help of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century professional texts, the values expected of men working in the reputation-based commercial networks of early Louisiana. It then shows, referencing probate records and extant garments, the ways that Irish migrants manipulated their dress to fit these expectations, in ways that moved not only with them to cities like New Orleans but continued to express meaning as they traded in other Atlantic world hubs.