Southport Visiter 1850
LETTER FROM AMERICA
Portion of the homely letter a young friend who left this neighbourhood for the United States rather more than 2yrs ago. Having left his home with the intention of “roughing” his way in the New World, his faithful account of his voyage and his subsequent travels.
Cincinnati, Oct 2nd 1848,
It is now more than 9wks since I left England, I dare say by this time you will be looking out for a letter, and wishing to know how I like the Land of Liberty, and what kind of fellow I find Brother Jonathan, I wrote to M, directly on landing at New York, and again also from Philadelphia; so that you will know of my safe arrival and so forth.
“To begin at the beginning, we sailed from Liverpool on Sunday, July 23rd, about 2pm. There was a very tolerable gathering of friends on the Pierhead to bid us ‘goodbye’ though not half the number that came down the previous day, from the uncertainty of the vessel sailing.
Then what a scene! As several other ships were leaving the same dock with us, the concourse of people on the pier was unusually great, and the shedding of tears, waving of innumerable snowy scarf’s, hurrahing and, ‘good-byeing’, mixed up with the singing of the sailors, the Captain and the mates bellowing out their orders, and women on the extreme verge of the pier shrieking above all other sounds, "Who wants any lemons?” while they kept up a heavy assault of lemons into the ship, which the passengers returned with halfpence, the aforesaid women showed great skill in catching, for if they chanced to miss them they found a watery grave. Of course we played our parts by shouting until hoarse and waving our kerchiefs.
At last we sailed down the river and soon lost sight of Old Liverpool, the steamer which towed us out not leaving till 8pm, previous to it going our tickets were examined and the number of passengers taken, all trunks large enough to take, man, woman, or child, had to be opened, to see if anyone had been smuggled on board, all being right, the Inspector left the steamer.
The next two days the weather was fair and the sea calm, so that sickness was not very general at first and the Irish previously having a rough trip from the Emerald Isle to Liverpool were not so bad as the English passengers, who had not had a previous seasoning.
For my own part, I came very well off in this respect, it was not until the 3rd day, I was sick and then with eating some oatmeal porridge, I had only swallowed a few mouthfuls in my cabin, when I felt completely all-overish and had to bolt on deck like lightening, arriving at the vessels side, just in time. I felt better after it, but no more oatmeal porridge for me, I took complete disgust to it and never ate it again.
What I relished most when sickly [for though rarely very sick, I sometimes felt squeamish if the vessel pitched more than usual] was rice and preserves, and sucking lemons, I lived most entirely on these for several days.
Its all very fine to sing, ‘A life on the ocean wave,’ ‘I’m afloat’ and so forth, on land, but when people really are afloat, and sickness comes on, they sing a different tune, and many who previously considered, ‘The sea, the sea’ a far sweeter song than, ‘Home sweet home,’ entirely change their opinion, and every succeeding lurch of the ship only strengthens the conviction that, ‘There’s no place like home.’
It was a woeful sight the first week. I kept on deck as much as possible, but at night it was dreadful to go down, - such lamentations, children lying, mothers sick, fathers as bad, all lying about on the boxes and beds, made a complete picture of misery.
Some people may consider a sea voyage a delightful affair, perhaps maybe, when short and in the 1st cabin, but our passage, which was 5wks long, became completely intolerable just at the last. We could have taken 7 weeks on our voyage as many vessels entering at the same time had.
Our sugar reserves, ham, and butter all used up, biscuits mouldy, nothing but ships flour left which was sour, the treacle and honey had likewise gone off.
We had only one knife and fork [both rusty] tin plate, one drinking can, two broken spoons, a coffee pot without a lid or spout, and tin boiler left, - the rest stolen or strayed. To crown our miseries, the bed and bedding was so thickly tenanted with unbidden guests of every description, that we had to leave off sleeping on it and the last two night slept on boxes. On sleeping on shore the first night I rather enjoyed the feather bed more than usual.
Of course there are some things very agreeable on the water; but an emigrant will find the disagreeable greatly preponderate. If it were only one fact, that a person is sure to be annoyed by vermin, it is sufficient to overbalance all the pleasures. I never anticipated that; all the other inconveniences I was fully prepared for, but to be swarming with vermin was dreadful, am precious glad its all over, for had I foreknown, or expected it, I should have been prevented coming when I did; one thing is certain whenever I cross the water again, it will be as 1st Class or not at all.
Amidst all this unpleasantness, there was one thing to be thankful for, and that was that no sickness broke out on board. This was owing to the strict regulations enforced by the Captain and Mates, the latter always coming down before 6am and making all the passengers turn out of their berths, and clean out the cabin this made an amusing scene, as they were not by means particular about taking a rope end, and hauling them out if they refused.
Men, Women and children it made no difference, it was necessary, as some would have lain there all day, and as the mate would tell them many a time, they would get ship fever, and if once broke out, would be cast over the ship everyday, like rotten sheep. He used to tell us yarns of his experiences with the sickness on board, it answered the purpose, frightening many into cleanliness.
There was one death, that of an old woman above 80yrs of age, which occurred through starvation and want of proper attendance.
There was a Doctor on board, it is true, as the mate told him one day, he was not half a cow doctor; and certainly a stupid looking fellow as I ever saw. But the fact of being examined by a government doctor previous to sailing, and carrying a surgeon on board, seemed a complete farce altogether.
This old woman it is said, had been bed ridden for years past, and when she came on the ship at Liverpool she had to be assisted by two persons, and never afterwards rose from her bed till carried on deck. Then the Doctor only received £10 for the whole voyage to America and back, and a good doctor is not very likely to be had a that price, ours was and Irishman, and Irish he was all over.
Ships provisions were given out twice a week, and water every morning, three quarts daily for each person. The provisions consisted of, sour flour, pickled fat pork, coarse oatmeal, hard biscuits, black vinegar and rice;- forming a collection of dainties enough to make one hungry, but there was some poor families who had nothing else to depend on.
The first three weeks rolled on in a very tedious manner, as there was no rough weather, nothing but calms and head winds, and generally very cold.
There were very few fish to be seen on the route we went, which was by the north of Ireland,- the ‘North Passage,’ as it was generally called, being the same as the GREAT BRITIAN attempted, when she stuck fast; and, by the way, I forgot to mention that we had a view of this celebrated bay [Dundrum], also of the I.O.M, and Scotland,- in fact, we were in sight of land for several days after leaving England, as we had to tack about on account of head winds; but, the passage was a cold one at first, excepting shoals of porpoises, which were in great plenty, we saw no other fish.
The porpoises used to go together in one direction, in immense droves, leaping out of the water to a great height, and playing about the ship’s prow.
One night about 10pm, we were awakened from our slumbers by hearing a great row on deck, and found that the sailors had harpooned a large porpoise, which they cut up for the blubber; the mate said the remainder would be given out as ships provisions, and it was very choice food, as the carcass remained hung for many days after, many were anticipating a very choice meal, and great was their surprise to see it thrown overboard.
After being on the water 4wks and never having a fair wind through all the blessed time, an east wind sprung up, which, most wonderful to relate, blew steadily till we reached New York, it was such luck as rarely occurs this season, for had it not been for this breeze, we should have had another week of sailing.
We came in sight of Long Island and the Jersey Hills on Sunday, just about sunset, and next morning at daybreak found ourselves close upon shore.
We were met by a steamer, which tugged us into the bay, and at noon found ourselves safely anchored at New York.
“The entrance to New York Bay is one of the finest sights I ever witnessed and the cleanliness and brilliancy of the atmosphere [it being perfectly free of smoke, all the steamers using wood for fuel] made the whole scenery perfectly enchanting.
Staten Island, which lies midway between the entrance, is where the ships ride quarantine, and the sick passengers are taken ashore to hospital. Here we were boarded by a Government Inspector and Surgeon; the latter examined all the passengers and finding no infectious disease on board, we were permitted to enter the harbour.
In this respect we were more fortunate than the HENRY CLAY, which sailed out of Liverpool in company with us, but arrived a Staten 4 days previous; those 4 days, however she was detained on account of sickness.
No sooner had the vessel arrived at the wharf than we were boarded by all sorts of people, some selling fruit, others to buy up the passengers provisions and bedding; ours, which cost half a crown at Liverpool, went for 5 cents [two and a half pence in English money], and glad we were to rid ourselves of it at any price; but, what was strange, though they bought up all the empty bottles, no one would have our empty preserve jars, and crockery is a very expensive article in this country, but not a blessed cent could we get for them.
Nothing struck my attention more forcibly when entering the harbour than the elegant structure of the steamers; their machinery is all above deck and highly polished, the rooms and cabins are likewise all above; so that their great width, and being painted for the most part white and light colours, gives them the appearance of floating pavilions.
They are so different as anything can be from the Liverpool Ferry-boats, being evidently built for the accommodation of passengers, although capable of carrying a good amount of freight, but not at all calculated for sea navigation.
The decks are built one above the other, and I have seen them as many as four and the Steersman is situated in a box above all others.”
Incidents on the road
As we remained a day and a half in New York, I cannot pretend to describe the place much. It seemed to me that there was an immense quantity of business going on;- stores and warehouses without end, far surpassing Liverpool in that respect; but, what seems singular, there are no docks, all the ships lying on the wharf side, and such ill-constructed wooden wharfs compared with English piers. And then the pavements in the streets are most abominable; but, New York is no exception in this respect, to any other cities I have been in.
Broadway is the finest street in New York, being almost 3miles long, and full from one end to the other with splendid shops, well, in this street the pavement is such that would disgrace a back alley in Liverpool;- in fact, I never saw anything half as bad there: it is full of deep holes, loose stones, and hillocks, together with mud and dirt 3 inches deep at least.
All the streets are the same, but the thoroughfares such as Broadway are the worst. As for vehicles that pass along, they jolt and shake about, and being of slender construction, think their crazy existence every minute, to come to an end; they get along somehow, but slowly, and the buses seldom go above walking pace.
After executing several commissions we had been charged with before leaving England, we left New York on Wednesday afternoon for Philadelphia; for New York being an expensive place to live in and moreover there was very little chance of L getting employment.
We sailed down the river to Amboy, on our route to the Quaker City; thence we proceeded by rail, a distance which should not have taken more than 3hrs, but as it was in single line took twice that time, when we met a train we had to go back, sometimes over a mile to a branch off, to let the other train pass, other times they would wait at a branch off for a train to pass by, we reached the terminus at midnight.
Here we took a steamer again and sailed down the river Delaware to Philadelphia, all the goods and luggage on the train had to be brought on the boat, this took a couple of hours as it was a very long train; then we waited for daylight, daylight came and it was foggy, we waited again till it cleared; so it was 9 before we could proceed another peg.
There were no beds on this boat as it was a luggage boat, we had to sleep as best we could on hard seats.
However, next morning we had a delightful sail and reached Philadelphia about noon. If we had taken another route we would have arrived the night previous, but we came by what is called the ‘Emigrants line,’ this being a lot cheaper.
“The first thing which strikes one on entering Philadelphia is the remarkable cleanliness and neatness of the place, here, as in New York there is no smoke to blacken the houses, and the city is abundantly supplied with water, there are pumps on every street; everyone has heard of the mathematical regularity in which the streets are set out, being all at right angles.
This looks very well at first sight, but as you proceed becomes very tiresome, a continual sameness, all planted with trees along the sides, and the houses, shops bearing a family likeness that you fancy you were always in the same street.
It has advantages for example the readiness in which a stranger can find his way to any part of the city, those streets running parallel to the river being named, First, Second, Third St, and so on, the streets that run in a straight line, sometimes 4 to 5 miles, never changes its name.
I never had difficulty finding my way back, the plan of laying out the streets and numbering is also carried out in Pittsburg and Cincinnati though not quite to such an extent.
Trade being dull at Philadelphia and L, not finding employment, we thought at best to go further west, and resolved to tramp it, we had some washing out, and did not get off till Tuesday, making or stay in Philadelphia nearly a week.
I would have stayed longer, but my companion wanted to find work; so leaving our boxes in charge of the Emigrant’s society, we strapped on our knapsacks, on a broiling hot day, and set out at noon.
Our destination Pittsburg, 270 miles away, we set off along the railway part of the distance. Our first days tramp was 14miles, we arrived at dusk at a station called, Morgan’s Corner, where we stopped all night.
I shall never forget the hunger we felt that night, we had, had no dinner and were only able to get apples and cake on the way.
We got to a tavern and ordered supper, I thought it would never be ready, language fails to express half of what we did when ready;- perhaps it cannot be better explained than in the nursery rhyme.
“Did not we eat and did not we stuff,
And were not we sorry when we’d had enough?”
For it was real American supper, such as had here every day, but which would be considered very luxurious in England.
We took care next morning to line our, ‘bread-baskets’ very full, at about 1pm we arrived at the station and had some pies at a small station, here we had conversation with two fellows who said they were waiting for the next train, and told us to follow their example and get on behind, which we did when the train passed, and rode 20miles ‘free gratis’ this, we were told was common practise and allowed by the guards for short distances.
We then deemed it prudent to get off and walked 9miles. We had covered 39miles, which we considered in good pull. I have run after a coach for a free ride, but never a train, but we managed well.
This night we slept in a place called Gap and before 7am we were again on our journey. This days journey extended as far as Lancaster [a city of 800 inhabitants], but every place is a city in the country,- one never hears of towns.
A distance of 18miles we did before dinner. Here we fell in with a printer who had come from England, many years since, he advised us to go to St Louis, a large city on the banks of the Mississippi where wages were high and workmen always in demand.
Next day we walked to Columbia, about 12miles distant, and a canal started from here some 100miles on our way, we calculated to get a sail, and were not disappointed.
There were plenty of boats going along, and so, getting into conversation with a boatman, a coloured man, managed to get a sail on his boat, there was only him and a boy, L steered for him.
We got on well, he invited us to have supper and offered us a bed, and next morning breakfast, which we gladly received, sleeping on the boat all night,- in fact he was a, ‘regular brick’ and a very well informed chap, to, he was.
As we didn’t like to trespass on his generosity, and feeling quite fresh again, we left him at 9am and started walking.
As we took it rather easy, we only accomplished 15 miles by 5 that evening; when we arrived at a place called Duncan’s Island.
Here I thought to stop, but as there was no bridge, L thought we may go over then, as in the morning, thinking to find some place to stop as it seemed a regular village, we went and paid the toll, but when on the other side, could see nothing but a large hotel, thinking this would be expensive, we trudged on, thinking there may be a tavern within a mile or two.
We walked, and walked, and walked, we saw a light a long way off [for now it was quite dark] deeming this to be a tavern, ‘my bosom underwent a glorious glow, and my internal spirit out a caper’ but alas! It proved to be a large house,- not inhabited by banditti, its true, nor yet by a giant, but by some navies who were engaged on an adjoining railway.
They told us it was 4miles to the nearest town. Oh, dear! I thought I should have fainted, I was so completely done up, and so precious hungry.
We reached the tavern at 9pm, and a rough, dirty, sort of place it was, but we so glad to get some food and bed to sleep on, bugs or no bugs. It was a miserable apartment where we slept, as we discovered next morning, for we had no candle to go to bed with,- three other beds in the same room, but not a piece of furniture of any description, the windows all broken, and the door off its hinges.
Next morning being Sunday we thought of shaving and washing, but there being no accommodation in the house for the purpose, we set off without doing so, walking on near the side of the Juniata River, in a secluded part, it struck me we would wash here and L agreeing we stripped and thoroughly washed, for we had brought soap and sponge in the knapsack, it was most refreshing, after putting on fresh linen.
Our primitive toilet ended, we set off again quite invigorated.
After proceeding a few miles we began to feel wearied and concluded it would be best to take our passage on a canal boat as far as Hollidaysburg, distant 120miles, which we did by the next one that passed, at a very reasonable charge.
We sailed on this boat till Wednesday morning, through some of the finest country we had seen, but our accommodation was not of the choicest, it being a freight boat, laden with bags of coffee, amongst which we took our repose at night, and the first thing I saw when going in the hold was an enormous beetle going over the bags.
I thought this a pleasant foretaste of the joys to come, but I was mistaken and saw no more, and could have slept very well only that it was very cold at night, although scorching hot during the day.
On Wednesday morning we arrived at Hollidaysburg, a small town at the foot of the Alleghany Mountains, over which we had now to cross. We set off about 9am by the stage coach, completely refreshed by our long rest, and prepared to cross the mountains.
There is a railway starts from this place, crossing the mountains by means of no less than 10 inclined planes, and overcoming in ascent and descent an aggregate of 2752 ft; the trains are drawn up by a steam engine at the summit. Of course we had a very long pull up there, and at noon arrived at the summit, thence we walked 10miles further and took up quarters for the night at Edensburg.
Our stopping place was a modest plain looking tavern, but as for supper, I never sat down to such a choice and sumptuous repast in all my life, the table was crowded with dainties, and the meat such as an epicure might gloat over.
The bedroom was luxurious compared with anything we had previously met in America, a washstand, carpet, and chairs, the breakfast, fully equal to the supper before.
Thursday the next morning we set off, going for 2miles, when it started to pour in a manner it knows how to in this country, we were wet through in 5minutes, and being wet through we considered we may as well proceed as go back.
We wished to arrive at Pittsburg by Saturday, and very loathe to lose a day; and so we went, over hill and dale, not a human habitation to be seen in any direction, nothing but endless mountains, clothed in timber and rain pouring in torrents all the time.
For a distance of 19miles, this being the nearest village, we had 12miles to go, but as the rain had ceased a little, and we had eaten, we did not care much about the distance.
We arrived in Blairsville, soaked through and through, and completely fagged out. Here we took the first accommodation we met with, the house of a German Tailor, after long justice to a good supper, we were glad to go to bed. The place was inferior to what we had enjoyed the night previous, as it could well be, but, then, we had the consolation in the morning, of paying less than on any similar occasion.
The next day turned out pleasant and we walked as far as Salem, some 18miles. Here we went to a tavern, as the landlord was out we commenced talking to some Yankees who were sat there.
One old chap, half drunk, on learning we were English and printers, advised us to become teachers in some of the private schools. He said he could see we were educated and even went so far in his generosity, as to offer to obtain situations for us; but for the present however, advised us to go to a friends house 2miles up the road, where, he said, we would be heartily welcome, this friend being English, and a right jolly sort of fellow.
As the sober part of the company advised the same, we set off but after making numerous inquiries, were unable to find the place, we walked on until we came to a Temperance Hotel, 5miles further, and here we stayed.
On conversing with the landlord we learned there was a great number of teetotallers in this part of the country, that very day there had been a great demonstration in Pittsburg.
The next day we set off on our last days tramp and after walking 15miles, reached sight of Pittsburg, which resembles an English town more than any I have previously been in, it being smokey and dirty-looking, very much like St Helens, for here, as at the latter place, coal is very abundant, and a great many iron-works and manufactories are carried on.
The city of Pittsburg is a good size place and rapidly increasing; it is situated on the tongue of land at the confluence of the Alleghany and Monongabela rivers, which then form the Ohio.
It is surrounded by lofty hills covered with timber, and would look fine but everything is blackened with smoke.
On Monday L called at the printing offices, but not meeting with employment, and hearing everywhere that trade was dull, partly on account of the lowness of the river, for there had been a very long drought, not many boats could sail up, we decided on going further west to Cincinnati it being much larger and wages higher.
On Tuesday morning we took our passage as deck passengers on board the Yankee steamer, and set off sailing, ‘down the river on the Ohio.’ You will have no doubt heard the exquisite melody, ‘The boatmen dance, the boatmen sing,’ relating to this river. We looked in vain for boatmen the song describes but the Yankee boatmen seemed anything but, likely to, ‘dance all night in broad daylight,’ a little attempt at fisticuffs was the only instance of their merriment I saw.
There were about 50 passengers, the greater part Germans, some of them capital musicians and singers, we had a regular concert every night, one playing the flute, another the guitar, others singing.
In consequence of the river being low our passage was very tedious, occupying 6days, it generally performed on 2days, but we were always moored to the riverside at night, and sometimes stuck on the sand banks during the day, the fog sometimes delayed us an hour or two in the morning.
Our sleeping accommodation was amongst the freight, which consisted of wooden boxes of manufactured goods and a few wool sacks, these latter made comfortable beds for those fortunate enough to get hold of one, which we managed, and would have slept comfortably except for the piercing cold, especially in the morning.
When Monday arrived we were heartily tired of this sort of life and were fully expecting the steamer to reach its destination ere noon, when she suddenly stuck on a bar, and all attempts to get her off seeming to fail, some of the passengers went on shore, L and I and some others set off to walk the remaining distance of 6miles to Cincinnati.
Here we arrived at noon at what is called the Queen of the West, it being the largest of the western cities and very beautifully situated on the banks of the Ohio.
Notwithstanding that trade is dull here, as at Pittsburg, on account of the coming elections and the lowness of the river, L has obtained a regular situation, so here we intend remaining all winter, for we have fallen upon the most comfortable boarding house that we have met yet.
I intend getting a situation myself when trade is brisk, but in the meantime, I am taking the opportunity of writing to all whom I promised.”
Copyright 2002 / To date