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Emigration or No Emigration
Digital History ID 3645

Author:   Joseph Pickering
Date:1830

Annotation: In this narrative, Pickering (an English farmer) describes his reasons for emigrating to the United States and describes his travels.


Document: On the Causes of Emigration

The first and by far the most prominent one is privation, and its consequent distress. The next, perhaps, is dissatisfaction under real or fancied political grievances. Some few emigrate for a warmer, dryer, or healthier climate, and others for no reason but a love of change.

Formerly religious persecution was the chief cause of expatriation, but happily that barbarous age is gone by; yet, unfortunately, there is another cause of late years in operation, although not of so violent a character, more dangerous from its insidious and constantly increasing power.

The Author’s Motives for Emigration

I shall premise the causes of leaving my native country, and reasons for preferring the United States; in doing which I am only describing the misfortunes and fate of thousands of my countrymen.

I took a farm previous to the close of the late war (about 1813), on a seven years' lease, and of course at a high rental. The year following, peace came, and with it ruin to nearly one-fourth of the agriculturists. My landlord compelled me to hold the farm for the term I had taken, with but a small and insufficient abatement of rent. The consequence was, that with strict attention to economy and industry, at the close of my lease I had lost one-half of my little capital, the remains of which not being sufficient to stock the farm, I was obliged to give it up, although offered it at one half the former rent. I then took his Majesty's ministers' advice, that "if farming would not answer, farmers must engage in some other business." I engaged in another business, but through the shortness of my funds, and a combination of untoward circumstances, I lost the remainder of my property. I now determined to leave a country that no longer afforded me a respectable and comfortable subsistence, thinking no person with one spark of independent spirit, could hesitate a moment in a choice between honorable, though even laborious, exertion and dangers, with independence, to a dronish uselessness in society, or a mean ignoble dependence on friends.

Preparation for the Voyage, Embarkation and Passage Out

In October, 1824, I engaged with an American captain of a brig, lying in the London Docks, bound to Baltimore, for a passage in the steerage, for six guineas, my finances not allowing me to go in the cabin; and being the only passenger on board (excepting two young American seamen who worked their passage) had the privilege of a small apartment to myself, dignified with the name of "state-room." Some days passed in providing provisions, &c. with great trouble in procuring the variety of articles wanted, to the best advantage, and on the 18th we sailed with the morning tide and a fair wind, down the river Thames; a frosty morning, but a fine pleasant day; numbers of vessels going out; and anchored off Gravesend for the night. I had paid 1l. to a person residing near the entrance of the Docks, for procuring me a "cocket" or clearance, which I am inclined to think was rather an imposition, but he said he would have procured the same for four or five passengers, had there been as many, for the same money; went on shore to the custom-house at Gravesend, to deliver the above cocket; was asked my name, and if an Englishman, and for a reference in London. I had nothing to pay, nor was any certificate of my occupation or identity, required, as I had been led to expect; some officers came on board, but did not examine my trunks, merely asking if they contained wearing apparel and personals only. The provisions I took for my passage were laid in for eight weeks' consumption, and I had no restriction in quantity or variety (there are restrictions in some ports respecting quantity, particularly if a considerable number of passengers are going in a ship); in the Appendix I have stated particulars at length. We left Gravesend with a fair wind, and pretty good spirits, my thoughts ranging through the New World I had now fairly embarked for, and then returning again to the land of my nativity, friends, and former home, which, at times, would cause an involuntary sigh; but the hopes and prospect ever-cheating fancy presented to my mind, dissipated all gloom, and I bade adieu to Old England without much regret. The wind being a-head, we tacked and came to anchor off Margate for the night; in the morning beat up into the Downs, when the pilot left us; a New York packet-ship, the Trident, passed in fine stile, without tacking once, through her superior powers of sailing, and was in port three weeks before us; this may serve as a hint to emigrants to engage a passage in a good sailing vessel, which may be ascertained generally by inquiry, or by the sharpness of their bows. I would also recommend every one, before engaging his passage in a ship, to inquire her age (from two to ten years are best), and to see if her sails, rigging, anchors, and cables are good, and also if the captain is steady, respectable, and agreeable; a middle aged one I would generally prefer.

On leaving the Downs, we experienced a rough sea, which produced sickness in the captain as well as myself; the weather was quite warm, the thermometer being at 63; the wind increasing, we made considerable head-way, and in two days lost sight of the Lizard Point, and a pigeon passed us fifteen miles from the land; a packet spoke us from the Straits, bound to Liverpool. There is no regard paid to Sunday, as a sabbath, on board this vessel, indeed, sometimes it would be impossible; on the 26th, a heavy gale came on, and continued throughout the day; I could hardly get from my berth or help tumbling out; no life nor power to move--just enough to wish myself on some shore; the wind dropped in the night, but the sea continued to roll its mighty waves--

"Oh wonderful thou art, great element, And fearful in thy spleeny humours bent, Yet lovely in repose!"

This was succeeded by a calm (three vessels in sight); eat a little gruel and a pancake only; a good deal of the latter used in the cabin. October 29th, another strong gale during the night, in which we again "lay too:" wind south-west, which drove us in sight of Cape Clear, in Ireland, by the morning, and in the heavy squall which followed, we had near been capsized through the negligence of the mate not taking in the sails soon enough; the captain, who was in bed when it came on, was instantly on deck, and gave the mate a deserved reprimand; one of the sails giving way, and the wind lowering, they were enabled to set all right again; the weather for several days various, and we felt a warmer climate, with longer days, north latitude 44: 29--longitude, 12: 30, west--thermometer 63; on the evening of Nov. 2d, a bank of clouds arose north-west, and a breeze sprung up in our favour; we had now been thirteen days at sea, and its effects were such, that provisions were in some measure useless, tea, gruel, pudding, or a roasted potatoe being all I could take, with soda-water, or a little warm porter for drink; but at this time the weather became pleasant and warm, with light wind, thermometer 65, and the sea being nearly smooth, partially restored my health, and I made ample amends in eating after my long abstinence; we now got so far from land that the gulls and other sea birds left us, and experienced a variety of winds, but generally warm weather, and the voyager would have some pleasure in agreeable and decorous company; whales sported about, and other large fish were occasionally near the vessel. The saline air caused my apparel to become damp and mouldy, and knives, &c. to rust; attention to these matters, assisted in passing time away, but occasional squalls would interrupt my business; in the twilight I often amused myself, when there was a gentle breeze fanning the surface of the water, by viewing the ripples it made with their white caps, it looked so much like an extensive fallow-field, with a slight scattering of snow on its unevennesses; and fancy, ever busy, conjured up in the distance some well-known familiar spot for the imagination to feast on, till the darkening shades of night, or the approach and noise of sailors, aroused me from my reverie:--ten days thus passed, when we had a heavy breeze all day, and took in the main top-gallant sails. Have seen of late a large brown bird of the gull species, which the sailors call a shear-water, and some small birds like martins they denominate Mother Cary's chickens. The ship's store of potatoes became half rotten through having been dug before they were ripe, and put on board in a wet state. Mine remained quite sound, but began to shoot, through the mild season. Rather disagreeable weather followed this gale, and several seas broke over the vessel; then a dead calm ensued, and the ship rolled much; but a smart breeze soon sprung up, north by east, which carried us eight knots per hour, and was the first wind the sailors called fair, that is, lying aft, or at the hind part of the vessel. The sea water is quite warm, and sparkles alongside the ship at night like fire; this appearance is caused, apparently, by the ship's side dashing the salt water into air-bubbles: some assert that this fiery appearance arises from a kind of animalculæ, but this opinion is evidently erroneous, for these animalculæ are never numerous enough in the water in any one place, and but occasionally to be met with at all, when these sparkles are everywhere to be seen in the night in salt water. The air from the waves which break at the ship's side, on leaning over, rises in the face like the steam from heated water. The vessel now made a good deal of water when the sea was rough.

The captain swears and storms like a madman; at one time cursing the men (by-the-bye, some of them were a stupid set of fellows), then the ship, and the weather, and almost in the same breath saying, they could not have had a better day for the work they had to do, and that we had been highly favoured throughout: so inconsistent is human nature!

We were often compelled to "lay to," in which there is little danger in any moderate gale, provided you have plenty of sea-room to drift, and the vessel has far less motion than if sailing in the same wind, or in a calm. In one of the late gales the tiller rope broke, when it threw down, and very much cut and bruised, the man steering. My butter was all spoiled through the warm weather, not having been potted close, and sufficient salt put in it.

Squalls, calms, head winds, &c. continue, and the captain says he never experienced so much bad weather and opposing winds before. A disagreeable life on board in such seasons: perhaps you are pitched head-foremost against one side of the vessel by a "sea-lurch," or a roll, and before you have time to recover your legs, tumbled to the other side; or at dinner, the dishes and plates with their contents are suddenly dashed to the floor, when the potatoes, &c. are rolling about from one side of the vessel to the other, as if playfully amusing themselves; and, while attempting their recovery, you roll after them, or tumble headforemost, to the no small amusement of the rest of the company.

We continued to experience westerly winds, which retarded our progress greatly, a proof of which was, that we spoke a brig from New York, bound to Buenos Ayres, out only eight days, and it took us three weeks to get into port; indeed, their prevalence is a strong reason why the voyage out should not be undertaken at this season, and that this period, or a little earlier, is often chosen to return to England. Appearances indicated an approach to the New World, and like similar circumstances to Columbus filled us with hope. Great quantities of sea or gulph-weed floated past us, and on the 4th December we were in latitude 34: 35, and southed a degree. Beautiful April-like weather, thermometer 71 in the shade, and 73 in the water; sometimes some light showers, with occasionally lightning in the evenings. The air exhibited a curious appearance, being of a yellowish red colour, and the clouds of a cinerous blue, which were in a thousand fantastic and singular forms, the sailors called them snow-clouds. Saw a number of flying fish pursued by a dolphin, and also numerous beautiful coloured nautilus or "men of war," with their sails expanded to the breeze, blown swiftly over the undulating waves. My bottled porter was excellent, and of great service now I have recovered from the sea-sickness; saw no more gulph-weed. We had now crossed the back stream, and were between the two; it runs down the eastern coast of America, across the banks of Newfoundland, round the Western Isles, and along the coast of Africa.

Dec. 6.--Squally again of late. Getting near the gulph-stream, which makes it warm, and great quantities of the gulph, or sea-weed is seen again; it nearly covers the surface of the water in some places, and in others it is extended for miles in parallel lines, north-east and south-west; I should suppose drifted from the side of the stream, which runs in that direction in this part.

Dec. 10.--Getting too far south, through the prevalence of north-west winds; latitude 33: 30, thermometer 65 in the air, and 72 in the water. A shark ten or twelve feet in length came alongside the vessel, and a number of grampuses were seen at a distance. Fine weather, and would be delightful if on shore, and not altogether otherwise here.

Dec. 12.--Light wind, and smooth sea; clear, bright, warm day. Two dolphins came swimming about the vessel, one of which the captain struck with a fish-spear, and succeeded in getting it on board; they all said it was the largest they had ever seen, six feet seven and a half inches in length, and I should suppose weighed three quarters of a cwt. or more. Dec. 13.--Hardly any wind of late, but a breeze sprung up this morning, and soon rose into a gale, and at noon blew violently from the southward. The foam flew like fine drifted snow: the wind suddenly fell, and then chopped round to the north-west, and blew more moderate, when the grandest sight I had ever seen presented itself: the tremendous billows meeting in all directions formed a thousand fantastical shapes, sometimes running up into high peaks or spires, then suddenly sinking into vast abysses; or two large waves meeting, rose into an immense ridge; or meeting with violence, dashed their spray in all directions, as if in a rude, frolicsome play, while the vessel rose up their mountain sides most majestically, receiving now and then a salute from their gambols. Rain came on, and clouds were seen flying in various directions; the air remarkably warm. Thermometer in the morning 70, and in the water at noon 74; and before night 79; remaining at 70 in the air.--So we are in the Great Gulph stream at last!

Dec. 15.--Through the Gulph as it is called, and the air gets colder every hour. Shortened sail last night, and sounded without finding bottom. Found, by an observation taken at noon, we were in latitude 35: 19. Just north of Cape Hattrass, a dangerous reef of sunken rocks, running forty miles into the sea, on the coast of Carolina. Sounded again in the evening, and found nineteen fathoms water. The thermometer had sunk in the air to 45, and in the water to 68. Water on soundings looks green, in the ocean a dark blue; this is universal, I am told.

Dec. 16.--Made land this morning opposite Roanoke Inlet, North Carolina, near the borders of Virginia, seventy miles too far south of the Chesapeak Bay; ranged within five-miles of the shore all day, with a light breeze, and fine clear cold air. Cannot see anything of the country, but clay and sand banks, covered with pines and other trees; it is apparently a flat land along the sea-board; vessels sailing in different directions, and numbers of wild ducks seen along the shore.

Dec. 17.--As no pilot came on board last evening, a lantern was hung up in the night at the mast head, for a signal, and at two o'clock this morning one hove his boat alongside and was taken on board, who proceeded immediately with the vessel round Cape Henry, into the Chesapeak Bay; the wind having got south-east at the same time, with a stiff breeze, wafted us along faster than we had sailed all the time we had been out. Rain and hazy weather came on this evening, which compelled us reluctantly to come to an anchor for fear of the shoals. The Chesapeak is a very fine Bay, from ten or twelve to twenty miles across, and upwards of two hundred long; its low banks, fringed with trees, are all that is to be seen of the country, excepting here and there a house near the shore, and occasionally a small town or village. A great number of small craft, loaded with cord, wood for fuel, country produce, &c. for Baltimore market. Ten thousands of wild ducks, geese, swans, &c., almost covering the Bay, swimming and flying; an English sportsman would be in his Elysium here!

Dec. 18.--After a wet, blowing night, it cleared up soon after day-light this morning, when we weighed anchor, and proceeded up the Patapsco River. As beautiful a day as ever shone, with a serene mild air, and pleasant light breeze. Vessels of all sizes sailing in various directions, with well-dressed people on board; and Baltimore, with its white buildings rising to our view on the sides of the hills, as we approached it, had a most exhilarating effect on one whose vision had been confined to the monotonous rolling of the unstable waters for sixty five days, which is deemed a very long voyage.

Source: Joseph Pickering, Emigration, or No Emigration, 1830

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