Monday, July 30, 2012

The Widow Jane Comes To America: Part II

Am busy searching (and not finding so easily) the immigration records of Jane James Williams (1815 - ?), widowed in 1865, and her family. Maybe I'll find them and maybe they'll continue to hide from me, but along the way this relative newbie is learning all kinds of stuff I didn't know. And I love that!

I found by google search a master's thesis by Paul Demund Evans written in 1914 entitled, "The Welsh in Oneida County, New York." It's a real treasure trove of background info to put some color on the family's immigration in the 1870s. And in it I find that the Williams people of Wales were amongst the very first settlers in Upstate New York and specifically Oneida County. Here's a link to it in case you're interested:

By 1850 a great many Welsh coal miners were thinking about immigration. The potato crop had failed in Wales in 1846, the winter following was harsh with heavy snows and a wet spring. Thunderstorms in the summer of 1847 were destructive and damaged crops. Families fell into famine and deceases broke out. The next harvest was good and imports from America insured enough to eat but drove down prices for farming families looking to cash in. By 1849 and 1850 manufacturing and mining were hit hard economically. Reading Evans thesis I got to the point of asking, how much can these people take? The Welsh are a hearty and somewhat stubborn folk, it is said, but gosh!

By the time of Thomas' death in 1865, Jane's husband, the tide of Welsh immigration to America had tapered off. Here is a sampling from the table in the Appendix: Numbers of Welsh Immigrants to the United States.
1865 / 505
1868 / 699
1870 / 545
Those totals are down from more than 2000 per year to NYC in 1851 and 1852, with 1848 to 1852 experiencing the greatest numbers of people leaving Wales for America.

The Evans thesis outlines a narrative of the immigrant experience before the establishment of Castle Garden in 1855. Yikes! As if the passage wasn't precarious enough with poor accommodations, rations, rats, disease and the vagaries of weather to extend the voyage, once here there was a crook at every wharf waiting to prey on them! Welsh speaking runners would grab up luggage supposedly for safe keeping, and send it to a boarding house. The unsuspecting immigrant, speaking only Welsh, went to the boarding house with the runner, was given a sales pitch and usually checked in. The overly friendly runner pressured them to buy transport tickets from him. Many did, only to find later that they were overcharged. Some tickets were worthless. At the close of their stay, boarding rates were hiked and a new hidden fee was charged for storage of the luggage.

Castle Garden put a stop to all of that. Not only were officials able to document and manage the influx of immigrants but agents speaking native tongues were best able to offer genuine help. Transport to certified boarding houses was provided and ticket sales to upstate location were sold within Castle Gardens. Jane and family likely came over through Castle Gardens so they would have been relatively safe from the runner's mischief, which eases my mind:)

As I read the Evans thesis I thought of Jane and family, and especially my GGF Daniel, on every page.

Today's photo from the Archive from Aunt Betty:

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