Saturday, March 29, 2014

The First Leg of the Journey Home

By Alice Askins, Education Coordinator at Rose Hill Mansion

When the Johnston family emigrated from Scotland to Seneca County in 1822,  John Johnston’s sister Agnes came with them.  She stayed at Viewfields farm for three years, before returning to Scotland.  She wrote to her sister-in-law Margaret Johnston about the first part of her voyage.  A man named James Grieve (or Greive) traveled with her.   Anne DeRousie, who has studied the Johnstons extensively, believes that Mr. Grieve may have had a family connection with the Johnstons.  In 1825, it would have been improper, and perhaps frightening, for a woman to undertake a long journey without a man to assist her.  I reproduce Agnes’s spelling and punctuation as literally as I can.

I am happy to inform you that I arrived safe at Jersey City on Fri- night after a very tiresome journey of four days.  We did not reach Ithaca the day we started until twelve o/clock at night & had to start at two A. M.  We came to Owego to breakfast & crossed the Susquehanna river at the Great Bend.  . . . then we came into the state of Pennsylvania We reached a place called [illegible] tavern at night.  And I never was in all my life so completely tired out.  I fell asleep in my Chair before we had supper which was about eleven o’clock.  I would very gladly have gone to bed with-out supper but Mr Greive persuaded me to take a little food as I had scarcely taken any thing since leaving home  We were on our way again about two o’clock in the morning – We Had no one but our-selves in the stage all that day and it was nothing but up one mountain & down another until we reached Milford where we put up for the third night  I wished I had you with me to have seen what a wilderness we traveled through that day – We did not see a church for a hundred miles.  I have not seen a place to compare with Geneva since I left it – John used to grumble about people getting tired of a place – you may tell him from me if any of you should get tired he has only to send you down as far as Milford & you would be glad to return – We left Milford about three o’clock in the morning.  We crossed the Delaware river about a mile from there on a ferry setting in the stage there  We reached the State of New Jersey – a poor looking country – The land that is cleared seems to be worn out.  And we reached Jersey City about seven o’clock at night.  There I might have had a comfortable night’s rest if fatigue & the pain in my side had permitted me – Indeed I was quite sick although I did not say much about it – I rested there two days.  James Greive went over the next day & went through a great many vessels but could hardly find one to his mind – At last how-ever he engaged passage for us in an Irish brig for $25 each . . . She is the brig the Prince of the Asturious.  Capt Morris – I am to have the room at the foot of the Cabin stairs . . . and James Greive will have a berth in the Cabin – I came over here [to New York] on Mon Morning & I never saw kinder people than Mr & Mrs. Mc Crae – They made us move our trunks here & stay till our brig sails . . . we are to have Every Thing on board before Eleven o'clock this fore-noon.  The brig is bound for Dublin but has part of her cargo for Liverpool where we are to be landed.  I assure you it is not with-out fear that I trust my-self in her as she seems a very mean looking concern & Every one on board Except Mr Greive & My-self are Irish and I do not know that there will be another feamel [female] on board but My-self.  The Capt—[sic] said He was not sure but that there was an Irish Lady going.  She had not quite determined –

Travelers in 1825 had to buy enough food to last the entire voyage.  Roughly 3300 miles lie between New York and Scotland.  Before steam ships became common, and if you were not wealthy enough to take the fastest clipper ships, you could expect to spend 36 to 42 days crossing the Atlantic Ocean.  Agnes wrote Margaret, “We have got our provisions all purchased . . . I shall have plenty of money have no doubt.”  

An 1827 brig.  A brig is a sailing vessel with two square-rigged masts.  During the Age of Sail, brigs were considered fast and maneuverable.       

Agnes’s letter suggests that a family argument might have led to her decision to return to Scotland:  

I hope John has got over his displeasure at me.  It really was not kind of him to be so severe upon me when he knew that one word from him would have stopped me – I don't think I Ever refused to do what he or you asked me while there and God knows, I would . . . have done any-thing what ever that would have added to either of your comfort.

On the Johnston trip from Scotland in 1822, the ship ran aground off Anticosti Island in the mouth of the Saint Lawrence River.  The passengers had to be rescued.  This mishap must have been in Agnes’s mind as she contemplated another voyage.

  -  I trust in God we shall reach the old English ground in safety  Should it be other wise determined We must submit our-selves to the will of the Almighty who orders all things for the best . . . 

Agnes’s brig was going to Dublin, but it had cargo for Liverpool.  She and Mr. Grieve got off in Liverpool and traveled north to their destination in the area of Dumfries.  As the crow flies, Liverpool is about 115 miles from Dumfries

We do not know whether another female traveled on the Prince of Asturias, or whether the Irish passengers were unkind to the Scottish passengers, but we know that Agnes came to Scotland safely.  Eventually she married and had children of her own.

There are two other letters from Agnes written to her niece Nancy, which was a nickname for Agnes.  One letter is from 1838 and the other from 1842.  Nancy was not born yet when Agnes left for Scotland, so Agnes knew her namesake mostly through letters.  In her letters Agnes urges her nieces to keep writing and to visit her and her family in Scotland.

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