In the early 1800s Irish men and women, by the thousands, escaped the deepening poverty and hopelessness of their homeland. America offered prosperity and hope, and twelve-year-old John Gilmore made the lonely, treacherous ocean crossing to the new country. Aboard ship two older boys beat him mercilessly and a horrific storm nearly ended his search for a better life.
New York City's 'Hell Hole", Five Points, the Irish enclave, proved to be more dangerous and nearly as poverty-ridden as Ireland. Growing up Johnny sold newspapers and learned to survive on the city's vicious streets. A whirlwind love affair culminated in marriage and children. Five Points deteriorated further with the coming of shantytowns and street gangs. The Gilmore family escaped the city via the newly completed Erie Canal and made their way to Pekin (now Detroit), onto Fort Dearborn (now Chicago) and to the wild Illinois frontier. Although the Mississippi River valley had experienced settlements, the interior of Illinois was sparsely inhabited. Seventy-five miles from Chicago John met Zachariah Melugin the areas first settler, bought forty acres of land and began to farm. Roaming Indian bands, the Bandittis of the Prairies, squatters and the day-to-day hardships of the untamed frontier challenged their staying power.