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THE BRITISH IN IOWA

PART I: BRITISH EMIGRANTS IN IOWA

Chapter I
POINTING THE WAY TO IOWA

Until the year 1850 English-speaking but native-born Americans overwhelmingly predominated in the flow of immigration to the settled portions of Iowa. Hailing from Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, Kentucky, Tennessee, the Carolinas, and the New England States, they were the descendants of the racial stocks that had originally peopled the Atlantic seaboard areas. (1) Their names for the most part bore witness to an English ancestry, but many of the Iowa pioneers could not have concealed a different extraction - such as Scotch, Irish, Dutch, German, Moravian, Swedish, and French. They were, indeed, the offshoots of all the strains represented in the population of the older States.

JOHN B. NEWHALL

In the early forties, when the British public was being showered with journals, travels, letters, and notes relating to America - all too frequently prepared by superficial observers - there appeared upon the lecture platform in various parts of England, the home of his ancestors, a man who brought his hearers first-hand information of the American frontier and of the social and economic condition of its people. He spoke not from books, nor did he draw upon imagination for romance or distorted pictures of that vast, boundless, open country on the western shore of the Mississippi. On the contrary, he came before his listeners as a witness of the things his eyes, had seen in that primeval wilderness.

In 1834, the second year of Iowa pioneering, John B. Newhall had joined the rush of emigrants to the Iowa country, and so he could make the proud boast that he was one of the first to lay eyes upon the prairies blooming there in solitude. In 1841 he had written a book on Iowa, (2) and having made his home in this inviting region he could truthfully say to the English people in 1844:

I participated in rearing the first land marks of a young and rising state - new cities have sprung up before me - I have witnessed the great work of civilization in all its various stages, from the lone cabin of the frontier settler, to a happy and intelligent population of 170,000 Souls! (3)

At Birmingham, Liverpool, London, and other cities he preached the utility of emigration. (4) Appalled by the ugliness and wretchedness of life in those crowded centers in contrast with the easy circumstances of the same class of people in America and animated by a sincere desire to promote the happiness of his fellow men, Newhall in 1844 published a handbook and guide for prospective British emigrants. Englishmen naturally questioned his motives and jumped to the conclusion that he was a speculator or land agent -"as though it were impossible, in the Nineteenth Century, for a man to be actuated by a Spirit of Philanthropy, of humanity and love."

Newhall found it necessary, therefore, to assure his readers that nothing could be further from the truth than that he was mercenary: he asked them to believe that there was "a loftier purpose to live for, than bowing to the shrine of Mammon." And, despite their prejudices against the United States, he invited their attention to the claims of Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa, especially the latter two, "possessed of a Soil unrivalled in the variety and excellence of their productions, and rapidly settling, by a people, who are bound to the Anglo-Saxon race by the indissoluble ties of kindred, religion, and above all of Language."

To the British agriculturalist as well as to the industrious artisan, merchant, capitalist, trader, and day laborer, he pointed out all the advantages of the New West, especially describing the Territory of Iowa : the face of the country, soil, products, timber and woodland, rivers, prairies, climate, and seasons, public lands and land offices, the best fields for settlement, the average prices of articles of family consumption, the average prices of cows, horses, sheep, and necessary farm implements, the principal towns, and the moral and social character of the people. Furthermore, Newhall gave explicit instructions about the long voyage across the Atlantic, the choice of ship provisions, and routes to the American interior.

These matters constituted the sort of information then required - particularly by the emigrant societies which had sprung up in many parts of the mother country, Of that movement so silently but rapidly spreading through English shires, Newhall recorded his conviction that "associative Emigration is the true principle to work upon, it will do more to mitigate the woes of our common humanity, than the numberless political agitations of the day; it will effectually strip emigration of the miseries and hardships that have so frequently attended the isolated wanderer." (5)

Most interesting was Newhall's answer to the Englishman's question whether he could succeed with $500 in his pocket. He did not hesitate to say that the industrious and prudent man could lay the foundation of a handsome property with such a sum : for less than $400 the emigrant could be comfortably settled upon an eighty-acre tract supplied with a good house, yoke of oxen, horse, cow, twelve sheep, poultry, pig, wagon, plough, harrow, seed, and thirty weeks provisions until a small crop was raised for subsistence. To quote his exact words: "And if you do not happen to have a 'Home sick Wife,' I can see no reason why, with ordinary Good Luck, blessed with patience and perseverance, you should not prosper equal to your utmost expectations."

Thus established and with $100 left over, the British emigrant was warned not to let the surplus ooze away. A capital error generally made by emigrants was to spend their last dollar on land at the outset, thus dooming themselves to several years of up-hill work and perhaps discouragement. Another piece of Newhall's advice reads "If you have 500, purchase 320 acres, a half section ; cultivate it well, load your own flat boats with your own produce, take it to New Orleans, and realize a handsome return, without having it wasted away by the commissions of the Merchant. " (6)

Too many English people, in those days when hunger led to the repeal of the Corn Laws, imagined that setting foot upon American soil would mark the end of all their sorrows; whereas in reality arrival in the New World too frequently only aggravated their woes. For months the newspapers of England were filled with accounts of the return home of hundreds of disillusioned emigrants who brought back doleful stories of their experience in New York and other Atlantic ports. These disappointed ones became a stumbling-block to others who heartily yearned to improve their forlorn condition. Lest such destitute, disheartened persons should become a criterion of the wisdom of emigration to the Valley of the Mississippi, Newhall declared:

Can we expect men to be benefitted, who rush headlong and blindly to America, without any fixed object, or ultimate aims, either of occupation or place of abode? .... I am willing to venture the assertion, that America possesses all the advantages, and% inducements for the industrious, persevering and frugal Emigrant, now that it ever has from the day of its first discovery. But those advantages are not to be found "picked up" on the pavements of every Atlantic city .... It is a mistaken notion, if people suppose the hogs run about the streets there, already roasted, with a fork stuck in their backs, crying come "Come, Eat me." Here has been one great cause of failure and disappointment. (7)

Newhall also cautioned Englishmen against the "runners" at the ports, a set of harpies who fleeced and robbed emigrants of their money at every opportunity; he begged them not to lose sight of the fact that while hundreds had returned home, thousands had remained in America and were doing well; and he emphatically declared that if they did not have sufficient nerve to endure privations for a few months in Iowa, they had better never leave their homes, for success would not crown their efforts. (8)

ALICE MANN

Before the era of railroad building in Iowa, the State had been introduced to the people of the United States not only through the newspapers of the time but also through tourist handbooks and emigrant guides, of which a goodly number had been placed on sale before the Civil War. That some of these descriptive sketches, prepared primarily for American consumption, found their way to the British Isles there is little reason to doubt; but the information which Britishers acquired on the general subject of emigration was obtained more because they sought it than because Americans brought it to them.

For a considerable time the United States had been the most favored field of emigration in Great Britain, not even Canada and Australia excepted. The British public had been placed in more or less intimate touch with the northern portion of the Union as the best suited for immigration : by the year 1850 several gentlemen had written books based on tours of the West or residence in America, and such testimony was eagerly sought because people believed it to be unprejudiced and impartial. Eventually, Alice Mann, a printer of Leeds, took the results of their practical observation and experience along with Newhall's instructive little books (to which her only objection was "that they are rather flowery") and out of such materials wove a compact guide which went through several editions. (9) Having compiled such information mainly for the working and industrial classes, Miss Mann clearly described conditions in the mother country (10) in the following terms:

Emigration must continue to be a subject of ever-increasing interest to the British people. Hemmed in as we are by the sea in all directions - the greater part of the land in our own country monopolized by the high aristocratic families - with a population steadily increasing in the face of diminished demand for labour in consequence of the ever-increasing productions of our mechanical powers, - the desire to emigrate to new and virgin soils, where every man may, with comparatively little difficulty, become an independent landowner, - cannot fail to extend, with the increase of information as to the extraordinary capabilities which the United States as well as the British Colonies, offer to the free labourers of this and all other countries of the Old World. (11)

But these foreign lands were a well spring of hope also to the heads of middle class families who found it increasingly difficult to maintain their households respectably and to establish their children in overstocked business or professional careers. To quote Miss Mann's words:

Competition for subsistence is every day growing more keen ; and the anxious parent is puzzled what to do with his rising sons and daughters. One year the manufacturing class complains of distress, and another year the agricultural class. Both classes are alike diligent, anxious to work, and to work hard provided the gains of their labour promise to maintain them decently. But often their labour is in vain, and they feel as if their place at Nature's Board were already occupied, and they must turn their eyes elsewhere. (12)

From such intense competition at home industrious farmers, laborers, and mechanics were asked to look to the boundless, unoccupied lands where "no man need suffer from want of the means of physical comfort ; no fear need be felt as to the future of a family, no matter how numerous." Individuals who contemplated a change of scene were, however, properly cautioned in these words:

Not that men have to work less diligently there than they do at home. By no means! It would be practising a gross deception, were we to inculcate that any man could thrive in the States or in the Colonies, without the practice of steady, persistent, daily industry. The idle and the drone will be a poor man there, as he will be at home. He is a cumberer of the ground everywhere. But let a man work with a will, let his labour be directed by even the most ordinary share of intelligence, and then we say he has a prospect of success and prosperity before him in these new lands, such as but rarely falls to his lot in this old and labour-stocked quarter of the globe. He has to submit to inconvenience and perhaps distress, in leaving his own native land, and voyaging his way across the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean. Many dear ties have to be severed; but he thinks of the promised land before him, and looks forward with hope to the inheritance he is to bequeath to his children. (13)

To the wide-awake, industrious Englishman who regarded economic conditions at home without a sign of hope, Miss Mann declared, many regions of the earth still unpeopled and American States like Iowa still waiting for settlers beckoned with positive assurance. (14) Such a man, fortified by steadiness, resolution, and a stout heart, need not hesitate to venture out on the emigrant's career - he could make up his mind, to "rough it" for several years "before he can settle quietly down under his vine and fig-tree, and gather in their fruits". In Iowa, which was the Far West of that day, the thriving towns of Burlington, Dubuque, Davenport, Fort Madison, Iowa City, and Bloomington (now Muscatine) were commended as presenting excellent opportunity for skilled labor. Miss Mann's delineation of the face of the Iowa country also carried hope to those who wanted better returns from agriculture. Her attractive statement reads as follows:

The State of Iowa, in the picturesque beauty of its scenery, and the richness of its verdure, much resembles the finest portions of the south of England counties; though, in native richness and fertility, it far surpasses any portion of this country. Here and there it is partially wooded, somewhat like a gentleman's park in this country, being moderately undulating, and no where, in the, southern part of the State, rising into hills or mountains. All is green and cultivable. On the margins of the rivers there are occasional ranges of "bluffs," intersected by ravines. (15)

The prairies, climate, productions, crops, timber, seasons, and other matters of interest were likewise briefly touched upon. Indeed, an Englishman by the name of Rubio who had written a book on by his rambles in the United States was quoted as speaking in the highest terms only of Iowa "which stands A 1 for emigrants, in his estimation". Declared Miss Mann:

We can imagine few conditions of life more favourable to the enjoyment of earthly happiness than that of a settler on a rich piece of land in Ohio, Illinois, or Iowa : he is in the midst of plenty - the land teems with abundance - labour is never without its reward - and its fruits are all the labourer's own. He may not be rich in gold or silver coin; but if the land he tills be his own, and that land produces more than sufficient for his own wants and the wants of all his household, has he not here the elements of the most substantial happiness? Let him take courage, then, and struggle onward. (16)

People who showed the white feather, "Miss Nancy" emigrants who returned to England after a try at the New World, were held up as dismal illustrations of the sort of stuff that could not succeed anywhere.

GEORGE SHEPPARD AND THE CLINTON COUNTY SETTLEMENTS

During the winter of 1849 George Sheppard, an Englishman, delivered several lectures at Hull, England, extolling Iowa as a State where "health, wealth and beauty are spread out in every direction". So forceful was his presentation of the advantages of emigration to America that a society was organized for the purchase of a tract of land, and Mr. Sheppard was engaged to help make the selection of a site.

On May 15, 1850, the emigrants sailed from Liverpool on the ship "Columbus" and reached New' York after a six weeks' voyage. Upon arriving at Davenport, Iowa, they made arrangements with Cook and Sargent (land agents and bankers), to assist them in their undertaking. On the stage route to Dubuque, at a place nine or ten miles northwest of De Witt - the seat of government in Clinton County and then a small town with a log cabin tavern - the emigrants purchased about two thousand acres of oak timber and prairie land and divided it according to the sums of money each bad invested in the enterprise. Upon a hill which commanded a beautiful view east, south, and west, they laid out forty acres in one-acre lots and called ;the village Welton. High hopes were naturally entertained of the future of this place, situated on the military and mail road between Davenport and Dubuque. Writing to friends in England in the summer of 1850, George Sheppard d noted that land speculators were watching the colonists' movements, and he prophesied "that within twelve months from this not an acre will be purchasable near us except at double the government price. "(17)

A number of buildings rose on the spot which these people had chosen - hotel, shops, stores, and dwellings. For a time the colony flourished; but its members having been trained as mechanics and artisans - tailors, bookbinders, painters, and others - found pioneer life unattractive, and so they forsook their farms and returned to their trades, scattering to other towns throughout the country. This village which died out is still known as "Old Welton". The name is also perpetuated in another village not far to the south and in the township where it lay, "a monument to the designs of its founders."

Of a different character were the English families which began to settle in Eden and Center townships west of the town of Camanche in the same county. Nearly all are said to have come from the village of Killingham, Lincolnshire, England. Bringing capital with them, they bought out the pioneers of the region and in 1879 were reported as largely engaged in stock raising, thrifty and enterprising, with broad fields and fine farmhouses. In their vicinity the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad selected a site for a station ; and when the town-planners were debating a name for the place, the superintendent of construction, standing by a pile of rails and noting the words "Low Moor, England" stamped upon them, succeeded in securing the adoption of 'that name. Since then Englishmen have always been found in this neighborhood. (18)

During these years William Lake, an Englishman by birth and president of St. George's Benevolent Association of Clinton, Iowa, interested himself in immigration to such an extent that he was in communication with the British Working Men's Association. He declared his belief that if the horribly cruel and unjust quarantine regulations of the port of New York were improved, immigration into the United States could be doubled. (19)

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1 Historical and Comparative Census o f Iowa, 1836-1880, pp. XV, XVI.

2 This book of 252 pages, with an interesting map, was entitled Sketches of Iowa, or the Emigrant's Guide. It was published by J. H. Colton, who during those years issued many such guides describing the West.

3 Newhall's The British Emigrants' "Hand Book," p. viii.

4 Extracts from the English press relating to his lectures can be found in Newhall's The British Emigrants' "Hand Book," p. iv. This guide to Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa contains 100 pages.

5 Newhall's The British Emigrants' "Hand Book," pp. v, vii-x.

6 Newhall's The British Emigrants' "Hand Book," pp. 62, 63.

7 Newhall's The British Emigrants' "Hand Book," pp. 74, 75.

8 Newhall's The British Emigrants' "Hand Book," pp. 74-78.

9 For a list of these books see Mann's The Emigrant's Complete Guide to the United States of America, pp. 71, 72.

10 Mann's The Emigrant's Complete Guide to the United States of America, pp. iii, iv, v, 5, 6.

11 Mann's The Emigrant's Complete Guide to the United States of America, p. iii.

12 Mann's The Emigrant's Complete Guide to the United States of America, p. iv.

13 Mann's The Emigrant's Complete Guide to the United States of America, pp. iv, v.

14 Mann's The Emigrant's Complete Guide to the United States o f America, pp. 3, 7.

15 Mann's The Emigrant's Complete Guide to the United States o f America, p. 38.

16 Mann's The Emigrant's Complete Guide to the United States o f America, pp. 39, 68.

17 Wolfe 's History of Clinton County, Iowa, Vol. I, pp. 55-58, 281, 282.

18 History o f Clinton County, Iowa (Western Historical Company, 1879), pp. 636, 642; Wolfe's History of Clinton County, Iowa, Vol. I, p. 302.

19 Iowa State Register (Weekly, Des Moines), November 16, 1870.

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