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The Immigrant Fascination, Part Three: Oceanic Passage

Emigrants have left us fascinating tales about their oceanic voyages. These accounts can provide very useful genealogical information - as well as vivid glimpses of emigration conditions.


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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
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Word Count: 552 (approx.)
ISBN: 0910412561
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"I really think there was the odest shene betwixt decks that ever I heard or seed. There was some sleeping, some spewing, [censored] ... some flyting, some daming, some Blasting their leggs and thighs, some their Liver, lungs, lights and eyes, And to make the shene the odder, some curs'd Father Mother, Sister, and Brother."

This excerpt comes from The Journal of John Harrower, a literate man who found himself onboard an indentured servant ship from London bound for Virginia in 1774.

Emigrants have left us fascinating tales about their oceanic voyages. These accounts can provide very useful genealogical information - as well as vivid glimpses of emigration conditions. Historians as well as genealogists use ship's logs, passenger lists, and journals in order to reconstruct some of these passages.

During the colonial period, voyages could last between one to three months, depending upon the weather. After the invention of the steamboat, oceanic passages from Europe to America lasted about a week.

In the earlier years, it was common for several passengers to perish in transit. Mutinies occurred, food rations grew slim, and sickness abounded.

The following entries also come from The Journal of John Harrower. They are presented to show the colorful information contained in these sources.

"At noon the Indented servants was like to mutiny against the Capt. for putting them to Allowance of bread & Mate, But it was soon quelled, Our Mace not Joyning with the rest (p. 20)."

"... there was two servants put in Irons for wanting other than what was served. But they were soon released on there asking pardon and promising to behave better (p. 25)."

"... died one of the servants in a fever & palsie (p. 28)."

"Early this morning died the old German, a man between 60 & 70 years of Age. At night the Capt. carried the old German ashore and Burried him somewhere in the woods (p. 37)."

"Daniel Turner [22 from London] a servant returned on board from Liberty so drunk that he abused the Capt. Cheif Mate & Boatswan to a verry high degree, which made to be horse whipt. put in Irons and thumb screwed. An hourse after he was unthumbscrewed, taken out of the Irons, but then he was hand cuffed, and gagged all night. [next day] Turner ungagged But continoued in handcuffs. [next day] Turner still in handcuffs [next day] Turner still in handcuffs [next day] Turner still handcuff'd [four days later] Turner still continous handcuffed (pp. 38-40)."

The sources for this type of information are deposited in archives and libraries throughout the world. Some of the accounts, such as the one quoted, have been published. A large collection of ship's logs for British vessels destined for India are housed at the British Library in London. For emigration stories of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, refer to the Mormon Immigration Index, which contains many first-hand accounts of the Atlantic crossing. These are fascinating studies!

Further Reading:

British Library, "Asia, Pacific & Africa Collections" .

Mormon Immigration Index, on CD-Rom.

The Journal of John Harrower, by E.M. Riley, ed. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1963.

Other Articles in the Series

The Immigrant Fascination, Part One - The Experience

The Immigrant Fascination, Part Two - Departure

The Immigrant Fascination, Part Four - Arrival

The Immigrant Fascination, Part Five - Citizenship

The Immigrant Fascination, Part Six - Success in Spite of Record Loss

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2005.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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