The Welsh In Oneida County, New York  |  Evans  |  Emigration from Wales  |  7

To Oneida

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The bitterness of this was intensified in those parishes where vigorous missionary work of the Non-Conformists had left but a handful in the Established Church. Not only was the parish forced to continue the support of the Church of England, but also they had to pay the curates far better salaries than they could pay their own pastors - this in spite of the fact that there were very few to benefit from the services. In 1850
Y Cenhadwr, among its other news items from Wales, reported that T.B. Ll. Brown, who had been curate of Flint where he was getting 225 a year, had just been transferred to Bodffari in the bishopric of Llanelwy, where he was to get 296. Only from four to half a dozen hearers were accustomed to attend his services at the latter place.  (22)  Many other instances of this kind could be furnished.

In some cases this light attendance at the Established Church was not due to lack of members of that faith within the parish, but to the fact that the services were conducted in English and were not intelligible to the natives. Britain had showed little enlightenment in dealing with the Church in Wales. "Walpole's policy of appointing Englishmen to Welsh sees weakened the Church in Wales. From 1715 to 1870 no Welshman was made a bishop. The native clergy became demoralized; they either preached in English to congregations who understood nothing but Welsh, or did not preach at all. The gentry left off attending church, and when John Wesley preached in Wales, he found the people 'as little versed in the principles of Christianity as a Greek or a Cherokee Indian'. Wesley's teaching taken up by Welsh preachers partially converted the nation to Methodism. By 1800 the thirty-five Non-conformist chapels of 1715 had become a thousand. The bane of the Church in Wales for 150 years has been the introduction of an Episcopate and clergy ignorant of the Welsh language." (23)

Even so, the ire of the Welsh against that Church would not have been aroused to such a pitch as it has shown in the last century had it not been for the abuses in the church. A Welshman might look on with some complacence so long as the money he paid to the Church was used to support religious services, but when it was paid, as too often it was, to support in luxury the reverend holders of sinecures, his hot temper would get the best of him and he would breakout in violent denunciation of the oppressions of a foreign church. (24)  On men suffering in this way, the effect was great of letters from friends or relatives in America telling of freedom from tithes and man's right to use his money for the support along of the church in which he believed.

There were other complaints, which the Non-Conformist Welshmen had against the Church of England. That which was most loudly voiced was the failure of the government to supply proper educational facilities through the Established Church. That the public schools were taught by Church of England men (25) was not so much a cause of complaint among the dissenting Welsh as the fact that no adequate provisions were made to maintain schools sufficient to accommodate the children of school age. Very few of the people had sufficient money to send their children to the private schools and yet large numbers had no other means by which to educate them. The advantage of the public school system in the United States appealed strongly to the Welsh and it is found frequently among the reasons for emigration given by the new comers to this country.

Between the paying of tithes, which until 1891 was the duty of the tenant and not the landowner, and the indifference to the people's interest and the abuses in the church, a large share of the Welsh were hostile to the Church of England, and, being unable to rid themselves of the yoke and still stay in Wales, nay preferred to emigrate.

A word remains to be said about the conditions of the passage and the events incident to emigration. Liverpool from the beginning was the port from which the majority of the Welsh sailed for America. This will already have been noticed in the references to vessels bringing Welshmen to New York. Before Bristol had lost so much of her sea-faring fame to the greater port in the North, some Welsh from the South of Wales, particularly, sailed from there. During the season of the greatest emigration from 1848-1852, there were large enough numbers leaving Wales to allow for the sailing of vessels from the smaller ports in the central part of the coast. From Aberystwyth vessels bearing emigrants sailed at various times for New York. From other ports like Carnarvon emigrants came during these years, frequently taking advantage of freighters to make the passage. (26) The greater frequency of sailing and the greater convenience of the regular line boats from Liverpool caused them to be used by a very large proportion of those coming out.

The ordinary emigrant found a voyage not a little painful and, in many cases, fatal. Those who were forced to take passage in the steerage, and these were the great majority, (27) found conditions especially hard. Many freight vessels were pressed into the passenger-carrying service, which were in no way constructed for the necessities of emigrants. Other vessels built for passengers were constructed with no more regard for the steerage passengers. Frequently too little space had been left in the steerage between decks and no windows or source of air other that the hatches were provided. When these were battened down in a storm, the atmosphere below became stifling and the air fetid. These conditions coupled with frequent reports of distress among those passengers who had failed to lay in store enough food to last them through a journey protracted by adverse weather led at various times to Passenger Acts, both by the British and the American governments. The details of none of these can be given. In 1825 the British Parliament put through the Passengers Act, specifying the kind and amount of provisions that should be required for each passenger, regulating the number of passengers to be carried per ton and requiring that a surgeon be provided by the steamship company for each vessel. There was less suffering from lack of food after this (28) and less fatality from ship fever and other diseases, which the attention of a doctor could check in their early stages. Other Passenger Acts were passed in the years following with the same purpose in view, but without thoroughly accomplishing their end. The diligence of inspectors was relaxed when the act had been on the statute books a short time. While new vessels were built providing the required air space per passenger, yet the old condemned vessels were still in many cases in operation. The lure of extra profits encouraged the officers to overload their ships. Little care was taken to see that each passenger had the required amount of provisions for the journey. Insufficient and impure water was often taken for the ship's use, and above all, careless and irresponsible captains took few or no sanitary precautions and allowed the crowded quarters of the steerage passengers to become filthy and unfit for cattle.

The inevitable consequences followed. On vessels, which had evaded the provisions of the law, great suffering and many deaths occurred. Instances of this were frequently reported in the Welsh magazines of this country. On one slow sailing vessel from Liverpool in 1840 with some Welsh among the crowded passengers there was much sickness and death, made worse by delay from adverse weather. Provisions ran low, and when the vessel had been out a month, the Irish, who outnumbered the others, threatened to throw the English, Welsh and Scotch overboard that there might be sufficient provisions for those that were left. The captain had to send out fishing boats, selling the catch at high prices to the emigrants. Even this was not enough; extreme distress from lack of food continued until the captain was finally able to buy some flour from a passing vessel. With this they were able to hold out until Boston was reached, the boat putting in there on account of the lack of provisions instead of going to New York as planned. (29)

The failure to comply with the law and the consequences fearful distresses and mortality during the year 1847 when the numbers of immigrants increased so largely led to new and stricter Passenger Acts by both the British and American governments in 1848. The greater precautions and stricter enforcement led to immediate improvement, and the New York Commissioners of Emigration were able to report in that year a great decrease in the deaths of passengers and entire freedom from distress due to lack of provisions. (30)

To be sure these new laws did not by any means eliminate the dangers of the passage. They were still evaded in spite of the heavy penalties laid, and in 1849 we read of the arrival from Liverpool of the ship
Guy Mannering, between fifty and sixty of whose 800 passengers had died on the journey. The vessel was overloaded and the quarters of the steerage densely crowded. One hundred and fifty Welsh had set out and of these seven or eight had died. Of one Welsh family consisting of a widow and her son, her nephew and his wife and two children, all had died at sea save the widow's son. (31)  Such cases as these, however, became less and less frequent as the laws became stricter and as faster and more commodious vessels were brought into service.

When the Welshman had reached the port of New York, he still was not safe. There remained the danger of his being cheated by the boarding-house keepers and the forwarding agents who were attempting to sell him tickets for railroad and steamboat passage. And this was a live danger. The frauds committed on ignorant foreigners had become so notorious by 1847 that in that year the New York State Legislature appointed a special commission to investigate them. Much evidence was presented and showed the actual conditions to be much worse than reported. In their review of the methods employed, the Commissioners gave an admirable account of affairs which I quote: "As soon as a ship with these emigrants reaches our shores, it is boarded by a class of men called runners, either in the employment of boarding-house keepers or forwarding establishments, soliciting custom for their employers. In order the more successfully to enable the latter to gain the confidence of the emigrant, they usually employ those who can speak the same language with the emigrant. If they cannot succeed in any other way in getting possession and control over their prey, they proceed to take charge of their luggage and take it to some boarding house for safe-keeping, and generally under the assurance that they will charge nothing for carriage hire or storage. In this way they are induced to go to some emigrant boarding-house of which there are a great many in the city, and then too often under a pretense that they will charge but a small sum for meals or board, the keepers of these houses induce there people to stay a few days and when they come to leave usually charge them three or four times as much as they agreed or expected to pay, and exorbitant prices for storing their luggage, and in case of their inability to pay, their luggage is detained as security. (32)

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