william hancock.

an emigrant's five years in the free states of america online

. (page 10 of 15)
Online Librarywilliam hancockan emigrant's five years in the free states of america → online text (page 10 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

here ; as I fully believe it is not to be had any-
where in the Union, except in the centre of some
untrodden forest or pathless prairie far from the
haunts of civilization, on the u glorious Fourth."
I had scarcely fallen asleep on the night previous,
when I was rudely awakened by a violent shock
which almost turned me out of bed — a proceed-
ing I quickly completed of my own accord, amid
vague apprehensions of an earthquake — and by
a report as of the loudest thunder. These effects
were the very natural result of the "letting off"
of a cannon of tolerable dimensions, within half-
a dozen yards of the hotel, by the Cold Spring
patriots, by way of heralding the advent of the
said "glorious Fourth." As "the fun" was

Digitized by VjOOQIC


continued at brief intervals throughout the night,
as well as the next day, sleep was out of the
* question, and so I sat at the window and listened
to the report of the cannon as it reverberated with
all the effect of actual thunder among the recesses
of the well-named Douderbarrak. Independence
day is everywhere characterized — or at least in
every place in which a speaker can be obtained,
and an audience, however small, collected for the
occasion — by the delivery of an oration suited to
the event it is intended to commemorate; that is
to say, historical, patriotic, defiant, eulogistic, and,
generally, extravagantly hyperbolical. Military
displays, too, usually form part of the day's
programme; but the prime agent in the celebra-
tion of this national anniversary is unquestion-
ably — gunpowder; gunpowder in the form of
squibs, crackers, rockets, and Roman candles;
gunpowder rammed into cannons, pistols, rifles,
and old muskets; gunpowder in every possible
form and combination of which pyrotechnic skill
is capable. The sale of fireworks in the principal
cities is enormous. People's very natures be*

Digitized by VjOOQIC


come changed and their individuality lost, for the
time being, in the universal desire to " let off"
something. Timid men boldly fire off pistols —
and: sometimes two or three of their fingers at
the same time — from their door-steps, and placid,
elderly gentlemen may be seen luxuriating in the
noisy pastime of firing several pounds weight of
Chinese crackers, the same being contained in a
barrel on the side walk; while women, who are
on all ordinary occasions nervous in the extreme,
walk undismayed among the proprietors of
pocket pistols, and even submit with compara-
tive equanimity to the explosion of crackers
among their petti — I beg pardon, among their
shirts. If the Chinese had such an anniversary
they would certainly call it " the feast of gun-

Returning from Cold Spring by the Hud-
son river railroad, which for the last mile or so
passes down the centre of a main suburban tho-
roughfare, I arrived in New York in time to wit-
ness the grand display of fireworks in the evening.
This, as seen from some lofty building, is a very
pretty sight. Rockets rise and drop in starry

Digitized by VjOOQIC


showers in every direction as far as the sight
extends, on the heights of Brooklyn and the
shores of New Jersey. The public parks, in
which exhibitions are provided at the expense of
the city, are a blaze of light, and the church
spires and other lofty edifices start into view in
colors of blue, red, or green, and sink as suddenly
into darkness. For two or three hours the dis-
play is continuous and incessant; meanwhile,
guns and pistols are in great demand, and barrels
of Chinese crackers are making a noise truly
deafening in every street. Altogether it is not
very difficult to suppose the city in a state of
siege, and to imagine an invading army on the
opposite shores; allowing a possibility, which
Heaven forbid ! that it could ever get there.

I have now brought the record of my reminis-
cenes of those portions of the Eastern states which
I visited, to a close. Before leaving New York
for a journey of a thousand miles to the west-
ward, it may not be unacceptable to many of
my readers, if I devote a brief chapter to some
remarks on matters of practical interest and im-
portance to the intending emigrant.

Digitized by VJOOQlC



Emigration. — Prospects of the emigrant. — Moral requisites. —
Causes of failure. — Professional pursuits. — Clerks and assist*
ants. — Men of small capital. — Manual labour. — Manufacturing
districts. — Benevolent societies. — Emigration commissioners
and Castle Garden. — Female labor. — Land Investments.-—
Climate of the United States.

What sort of people should emigrate to the
United States, and where such emigrants should
go to on their arrival; — in other words, what
kinds of labor are in most demand, and where that
labor may be turned to the best advantage with-
out loss of time and means, should form subjects
of earnest enquiry with every one who leaves the
old world to settle in the new. Ignorance on
these points not unfrequentiy leads to bitter dis-
appointment. The more uninformed the emi-

k 5

Digitized by VjOOQIC


grantis, the more readily, he is, of course, imposed
upon by those whose interest it may be to de-
ceive and mislead him; time is lost and money
wasted in fruitless and mistaken efforts, and
people come to think themselves the ill-used
victims of the misrepresentations of others, when
their failures are rather the necessary conse-
quence of their own extravagant expectations
and neglect of proper enquiry.

Although physical rather than intellectual
labor is wanted in the United States, I cannot
bring myself to think that all those who work with
the head and not with the hands, had better be
told to stay at home. On the contrary, I be-
lieve that a fair prospect of success may be held
out to all who earry with them an ordinary sup-
ply of perseverance and resolution; as small a
stock as is consistent with self respect of that
pride of station which is for ever inducing its
owner to draw lines of distinction, real or ima-
ginary, between himself and every one else, and
to scorn, as degrading, the very pursuits which
perhaps he is the best adapted to engage in; and

Digitized by VjOOQIC


a love of temperance— by no means the least im-
portant requisite, whether viewed with regard
to the demoralizing effect of excess, or as a pro-
tection, on the ground of mere prudence and
economy, from a habit, the indulgence in which,
after the American fashion, is very expensive.*
It follows of necessity, however, that the diffi-
culties to be encountered are greater in the case
of some than of others; that they are, in fact,
greater or less exactly in proportion to the de-
mand which exists for the kind of labor the emi-
grant brings to market. As this demand varies
in different localities, extensive observation and
enquiry are plainly requisite. The best advice
that can be given to ail classes is :— give the East
a trial proportionate in length to your means.

* This remark may be briefly illustrated thus : — Tom meets
Harry, who invites him to " go and take a drink." They adjourn
to a " saloon," where Harry encounters an acquaintance, and
thereupon asks him to drink too ; this acquaintance has two or
three, perhaps half-a-dozen, friends present, who are included
in the invitation, and sometimes take it for granted if they are
not, being quite ready to return the compliment. They do re-
turn it — all of them. Tom, of course, must do the same, and he
eventually gets back to the street, oppressed with the burden of
several more " slings" or " smashes" than he can conveniently
carry, and minus three or four shillings, *

Digitized by VjOOQIC


| No one should land in the States with less than a
'hundred dollars (twenty pounds), in his pocket;
and no should remain in any eastern city unem-
ployed until his means are exhausted. A neglect*
of this precaution is the rock half the unsuccessful
ones split upon. The attractions of city life,
the associations they may have formed, and the
unwillingness to place an extra thousand miles
between themselves and u home," induce thou-
sands to linger in New York, in hopes that some-
thing will " turn up," until their last dollar is
spent, who, if they had left the city while but
ten remained to pay their passage to the west,
might have procured speedy employment, and
would at least have ensured a better prospect of
success than among the comparatively crowded
population of the east.

Perhaps my purpose of rendering these re-
marks on emigration as practically useful to
people of all ranks and classes as possible, can-
not be better served than by arranging such
information and advice as I am able to give
under the heads of the several branches of

Digitized by VjOOQIC


labour, mental and physical, to which they

To begin with the pursuits termed profes-
sional: — I do not hesitate to say that many a
country surgeon, in England, struggling to get
or to keep a practice that scarcely suffices to
keep him, and many a young man who has
passed " the College" and " the Hall, ,? but yet
lingers, perhaps too fondly, among the associa-
tions of Clare Market, "the Cellars," or the
" Garrick's Head," the poorly-paid assistant of
some London practitioner, might " better them-
selves" by a voyage to the States, even if under-
taken only with a view to a few years' residence.
Doctors are easily manufactured in the States, ,
and talent and skill are at a direful discount.
If resident in the country, however, it is need-
less to say that u the doctor" has no easy time
of it. Patients lie far apart, and fees are low ;
but then the practitioner not unfrequently enjoys
a monopoly in his profession, and some portions
of the West are delightfully unhealthy. I knew
a medical man in Michigan, a Yankee, who made

Digitized by VjOOQIC


a handsome competence — for America — in the

course of a ten years' practice.

t There are few more profitable occupations in

I the States than that of the dentist. Nearly

/ everybody has bad teeth, and the periodical

/ visits which these gentlemen pay to the country

towns prove highly remunerative.

The prospects of dramatic professionals I have
already alluded to in some remarks on New York
theatricals. Without entering into details as to
the market value of " walking gentlemen,"
" first and second old women," " utility" people,
and high and low comedians, I may state that
salaries range from six to fifty dollars, or £1 4s.
to £10 weekly; that the „" seasons" last nine or

Iten months in the principal cities, and that bad
actors are so much in the majority, that one of
average merit stands a fair chance of becoming
a transatlantic star of the first magnitude.

In drawing and engraving, most of the talent
employed is imported. All artist work is well
paid. The field is, of course, limited, but there
is generally a fair demand for engravers in New

Digitized by VjOOQIC


York and other eastern cities, and here and there
in the west. Good portrait painters are very
scarce. I have seen the most wretched daubs
hung up in well furnished rooms, for whieh high
prices were paid.

Architects are not much wanted anywhere.
Land surveyors and civil engineers should make
a very brief trial of the Eastern States, and will
at all times do better in the West, where there is
constant employment, either on the lands newly
settled, or on the railroads. Good draughtsmen
are well paid.

Ladies and gentlemen who contemplate turning
their talents to advantage in the way of tuition
find but poor encouragement. Occasionally go-
vernesses get good engagements, chiefly in Bos-
ton or some southern city; but I have known
Oxford men who found their stock of Latin,
Greek, and Mathematics but useless lumber
among the practical Americans, and from their
ignorance and helplessness in other pursuits,
were glad to take to book hawking for a sub-

Digitized by VjOOQIC


Perhaps no class of unemployed emigrants is
more numerous than those in search of situations
as clerks and shopkeeper's assistants. The prin-
cipal cities of the East are overrun with them.
A respectable, poor, dejected, seedy crowd they
are ; who, if they would only resolve to leave the
city at any risk, and take the first chance of em-
ployment that offered in some western town or
village, going from store to store — a proceeding
by no means derogatory in American estimation
— to seek it, might speedily attain to an honour-
able position. Those who are fortunate enough
to get places in the city, receive salaries thirty
or forty per cent, higher than in England,
with a prospect of more speedy promotion ; but
in this, as in most other occupations, first-class
capacity is not better paid than at home, though
a man's savings may be turned to much greater
advantage, owing to the greater value of money,
and the numerous opportunities for making small

Respecting the improvement in the position
and circumstances of " men of small business

Digitized by VjOOQIC


and small capital to be attained by emigration,"
Mr. Prentice says : — u A shopkeeper taking with
him ,£1,000, might lay out £200 in buying
twenty acres of land, with a decent house upon
it; lend the other £800, in Michigan at ten per
cent., or in Indiana at eight per cent., and enjoy
from his land and the interest on the £800, as
much comfort and independence as £200 per
annum would afford in this country."* It may
be added that such a sum might be invested to
advantage in trade by those who prefer to reside
in cities; only some caution is required at

With regard to the value of manual labour, it
may be sufficient to state that it is, on the
average,fifty per cent higher than in England, and
still higher in the western states, where, however,
owing to the fluctuations of capital, the regular
employment of the skilled mechanic is less

* Lectures on Emigration, annexed to "A Tour in the
United States," lately republished by Milner and Sowerby,
Halifax, price one shilling.

Digitized by VjOOQIC


Extensive manufactories exist in the state of
New York, and the neighbouring states of Con-
necticut and New Jersey, for the production of
woollen and cotton goods, machinery, carriages,
drugs, dyes, household furniture, hats and caps,
and leather goods. The manufacturers of Mas-
sachusetts have been already enumerated. If
employment be hard to obtain after a brief trial
in the manufacturing districts of the East, the
emigrant should start for the West without
delay; there, if unemployed at his trade, he can
always command from three to four shillings per
day as a farm or other labourer. Mention
should not be omitted, in this connection, of the
benevolent societies, English, Irish, and German,
existing at New Tork and other American ports,
for the assistance of the emigrant, and whose
agents are always ready to afford protection and
counsel. At New Tork, to the credit of the
authorities, the necessity for the good offices of
these gentlemen has of late years been consider-
ably reduced. When the vessel in which I ar-
rived in America, reached New York Bay, her

Digitized by VjOOQIC


decks were speedily crowded with the emissaries
of rival steamboat and railway companies, and
boarding-houses, who carried off their prey by the
score to become the victims of the grossest im-
position. Now, these men are forbidden to board
emigrant vessels, which disgorge their human
freight at Castle Garden— in former times a fort,
afterwards a theatre and the scene of Jenny Liud's
debtit in America, and now a vast emigrant
<Jep6t under the direction of an American com-
mission,* where passengers are received on land-
ing, housed and cared for for a couple of days if
they desire it, supplied with " through tickets "
to their destination, at legitimate prices, and
otherwise protected, as far as can be, from the
human ghouls who await them outside the
Garden gates; the cost of the establishment
being defrayed by a tax of two dollars per pas-
senger on all emigrant vessels arriving at the

It remains for me to say a few words on the
subject of female labour, the extensive employ-
ment of which affords considerable assistance in

Digitized by VjOOQIC


the support of a numerous family. There is
nothing degrading in " going out, to work," and
the daughters of many well-to-do people prefer
this course to being limited in pocket-money at
home. Dress-making is very profitable ; shirt-
making, however, and other work for the shop-
keepers is often badly paid enough. The "song
of the shirt " might be sung in many a New
York, as in many a London garret. Book-
folding and envelope- making are favorite occu-
pations with numbers of young girls, who make
from twelve shillings to a pound per week.

As I have already hinted, the advantages at-
tending emigration are by no means confined to
the additional price paid for actual labor. Great
facilities are enjoyed for the investment of small
sums on easy terms. Considerable caution,
however, is required in dealing with the nume-
rous "land societies," by his connection with
which, by the payment of a certain sum monthly,
the member becomes entitled to one or more
building lots in some newly surveyed Browns-
burgh or Jonesville. It is no uncommon thing

Digitized by VjOOQIC


for a man to lose both money and property in
these speculations, and discover, when too late,
that the land in question is the subject of a dis-
puted title, by his fences being broken and hia^
property destroyed by some individual claimant
of the soil, whose great grandfather u squatted "
there a century ago. I have known several
people in this predicament, all of whom seemed
to consider any attempt to obtain satisfaction at
law from the promoters of these swindling
" societies " as hopeless,

I conclude this chapter with some notes on
the climate of the United States, taken from a
corpulent volume of American statistics com-
piled by Mr. John Macgregor, of the Board of
Trade, and " presented to both Houses of Par-
liament" in the year 1845. The importance of
health — which can only be maintained by a due
regard to the peculiarities of climate — to every
emigrant, renders any apology for their introduc-
tion unnecessary.

€€ The temperature of the climate of British
America, as well as that of the United States,

Digitized by VjOOQIC


iit extremely variable, not only in regard to sudden,
transitions from hot to cold, and vice versd, but
in respect to the difference between the climate
pf one colony or state and that of another. In-
remarking generally on the climate of Ame/ica,
we consider the countries lying between 40 and
47 degrees north as those to which the wean
character of the different seasons in America
more immediately applies; a great part of Pen-
sylvania may also be included in it. The cli-
mate of America is colder in winter and hottef
in summer than under the same parallels of lati-
tude in Europe, and the daily variations of tem-
perature which depend on the winds are also*
greater; but the transitions from dry to Wet
weather are by no medns so sudden as in Eng-
land. . . . Rain falls in America in heavier
storms and in greater quantities than in Europe,,
bit not so frequently.

" The summer season may be said to com-
mence about the middle of April, or as soon as
the ice disappears in the bays and rivers;
farther south, somewhat earlier; north of 47

Digitized by VjOOQIC


degrees, later. In May the weather is generally
dry and pleasant, but it rarely happens that
summer becomes firmly established, without a
few cold days occurring after the first warm
weather. ... In latitudes south of 50
degrees north, the southerly winds at this period
combat and overcome, as it were, those of the
north, and, restoring warmth to the air, fine
weather becomes permanent All the birds
common in summer make their appearance early
in May, and enliven the woods with their melody,
while the frogs, those bog choristers, as they are
often called, strain their evening concerts. Ve-
getation proceeds with surprising quickness;
wheat and oats are sown; the meadows, pas-
tures, and deciduous trees assume their verdure;
various indigenous and exotic flowers blow;
and the face of nature and the temperature are

44 In June, July, and August, the weather is
excessively hot, even as far north as Quebec,
sometimes as hot as in the West Indies; the
mercury being 90 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit

Digitized by VjOOQIC


Showers from the south-west, sometimes accom-
panied with thunder and lightning, occur during
these months, about once a week or every ten
days, which generally shifts the wind to the
north-west, and produces for a time an agree-
able coolness. In September the weather is ex
tremely pleasant, the days are very warm till
the middle of the month, but the evenings are
agreeably cool, followed by dews at night. The
season from this time to the middle or latter
part of October is generally a succession of
pleasant days, moderately warm at noon, and
the mornings and evenings cool, attended some-
times with slight frosts at night. About the end
of this month the northerly winds begin to ac-
quire some ascendancy over the power of the
south. The leaves of the forest change their
verdure into the most brilliant and rich colors,
exhibiting the finest tints and shades of red,
yellow, and sap green, blended with violet,
purple and brown. November, and often the
whole of December pass away before severe
frosts or snows become permanent. In the be-

Digitized by VjOOQIC


ginning of January the winter season becomes
firmly established ; the bays and rivers are frozen
over and the ground covered to the depth of a
foot or more with snow. The frost is extremely
keen until the early part of March, the mercury
frequently standing several degrees below zero.
The vernal equinox commonly brings on strong
gales from the south, accompanied by a mighty
thaw. Clear weather succeeds, and continues to
the end of March or the first week in April,
when a snow storm frequently comes on. This
is the final effort of expiring winter.

'» The heat of the sun which now becomes
powerful dries up the ground in a few days;
after which ploughing begins, and the summer
season commences.

"It cannot be said, with all these variations of
climate, that the duration of winter is more than
four months. Many prefer the winter to the
same season in Europe, north of Paris; and
taking the year throughout give the preference
to the climate. Though the cold is intense for
nine or ten Weeks, the air is dry and elastic, and


Digitized by VjOOQ IC -


free from the chilling tftoisture of a British
winter, or the dry bitterness of the north-east
winds of France. On the Atlantic coast, where
the frost is less intense, there is more humidity.
In regard to the salubrity of the climate, Volney
says : — ' Autumnal intermittent fevers, or quo-
tidian agues, tertian, quartan, &c., constitute a
class of diseases that prevail in the United States
to a degree of which no idea can be conceived.
They are particularly endemic in places recently
cleared, in valleys on the borders of water, either
running or stagnant, near ponds, lakes, mills,
dams, marshes, &c. These autumnal fevers are
not directly fatal, but they gradually undermine
the constitution and very sensibly shorten life.
Lower Canada and the cold countries adjacent
are scarcely at all subject to them.' Typhus
fever is by no means so alarming as it is in
Europe Rheumatism is a prevalent but not a
fatal complaint, and like pulmonary consump-
tion, it is more prevalent in the drier and colder
atmosphere of the interior than near the sea
coast, or in the neighbourhood of the great

Digitized by VjOOQIC



Westward ho ! — The emigrant train.— Dunkirk. — On Lake Erie.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 12 13 14 15

Online Librarywilliam hancockan emigrant's five years in the free states of america → online text (page 10 of 15)