Search billions of records on

The Welsh In Oneida County, New York  |  Evans  |  Emigration from Wales  |  8

To Oneida

<< Prev  Next >>

This was bad enough, but the emigrant bound inland was fortunate if he escaped with merely being fleeced by the boarding-house keepers. He was likely to lose much more to the forwarding agencies. These agencies also employed runners, in many cases the same as employed by the boarding-house keepers with whom they were in league. Many kinds of fraud were practiced in forwarding the emigrants to interior points, the most common being to overcharge for tickets and to give tickets purporting to take the bearer to his destination but in reality good for only a portion of the route. The runners were encouraged in the first form of fraud by being allowed in many cases by their employers to charge all they could get, the amount over a certain sum going to the runner. The emigrant thus had to pay to the forwarding agencies many times the price of the passage charged by the railway or steamship company. In many cases the tickets, which the emigrant paid for to take him to Buffalo or beyond by way of Albany were valueless, save for his passage to the latter place. Again he would be given a ticket purporting to furnish him cabin passage on the Erie Canal, only to find, when he reached Albany, that it was good only for steerage.

The evidence taken by the investigating committee showed no cases of fraud upon Welshmen by boarding-house keepers and I think that there was very little of that. There were Welsh emigrant hotels in New York but of an entirely reputable character. One of these was kept by Mr. Cadwalader Richards in Christie Street and it became known as a refuge for Welsh emigrants. (33)

The Welsh, however, suffered like the rest from frauds by the forwarding agencies. One Welshman paid at the wharf in New York $25.75 for the passage by boat of himself and three others to Buffalo. This would have been a fair price, but when he reached Albany, and as directed went to the company's agent there, he was told that the tickets were no good beyond that point. They were taken from him and he was forced to pay $21.11 more for steerage passage on a canal boat to Buffalo. (34)  Another Welshman named Reese paid for two persons and 250 pounds of luggage from New York to Milwaukee $27.36, but on arriving at Buffalo, the ticket was repudiated by the agent and Reese and several others in a like predicament had to their fare on the lake. Reese returned to Albany to seek redress, but in vain. (35)

There was the same chance for fraud on those Welshmen bound for Oneida County and doubtless at times they suffered. To any great extent, however, I doubt, or notices of the frauds would have appeared in the Welsh papers. And such was not the case.

Various methods were used to save the immigrants from these frauds. Occasionally the kindly officers of the vessel bringing them here took care to see that they were not overcharged or defrauded. (36) Emigrant aid societies were established among all the nationalities whose members were arriving in large numbers. The presidents of the German and Irish Emigrant Societies were ex-officio members of the New York State Board of Emigration Commissioners. David C. Colden, President of the Welsh St. David's Society in New York, was for the two years, 1847-49, one of the Emigration Commissioners. (37) There was also a British Protective Emigrant Society which worked in the interests of the immigrants from England, Wales and Scotland, (38) and in March 1854 was established the American and Foreign Emigrant Protective and Employment Society, with the aim of furnishing protection and employment for immigrants generally. (39)

The efforts of the societies were directed to the end of keeping the emigrants from the clutches of the sharpers; the emigration commissioners did more by recommending and getting through the legislature acts to prevent these frauds. April 11, 1848 was passed a law enacting that no keeper of an emigrant boardinghouse shall have any lien upon the baggage or effects of an emigrant for boarding, lodging, storage or any other account whatever, and the rates for boarding and lodging were required to be posted in several languages in the boarding-house and at the office of the Commissioners of Emigration. (40)

More effective than all else for which the Commissioners were responsible in preventing fraud was the establishment in 1855 of a single wharf for entry at Castle Garden. When this was done, the runners had no longer the same chance to get the emigrants into their clutches as when they were arriving at Manhattan at a number of different wharves. Moreover, the officials now too care to have agents who could speak the language of the emigrant to meet and direct him at Castle Garden and free carriage was provided him through the city. The agents of the railroads and steamship lines were given offices at Castle Garden and the immigrants could buy their tickets direct from there. So effective was this system that the Commissioners were able to report in 1857: "Very much has been done by judicious legislation and by the operation of the Castle Garden establishment to check these abuses until the parties in this system of imposition, finding these obstacles in their way in this country, changed the scene of their operations by opening offices in the seaport towns of Europe whence the emigrants chiefly embark and also in cities and towns in the interior of England, Ireland, Germany and Switzerland. The evil effects of many of these agencies and offices were soon manifest in the numerous cases of suffering falling under the notice of the officers of the board, or claiming aid from the Commissioners. Families and individuals who had been 'booked' in Europe for distant inland points in the United States were frequently grossly overcharged upon genuine tickets, and often imposed on by fraudulent ones, either wholly so, or conveying them but a small part of their intended journey. They were in many instances also consigned to other confederates in this country, and thus exposed to continued depredation." (41)

The Commission brought this abuse to the notice of Mr. Marcy, Secretary of State, who through the consuls and diplomatic officers made it known to the officials of the European countries, whence most of our immigrants came. "Although all that was desired had not been effected", reported the Commissioners, "still great good has been attained." Several of the German powers did all that was asked, and the emigration officials of Great Britain and France gave hearty and effectual cooperation. Most of the frauds thereafter came in France and England through the purchase of railroad fare inland in America, which fare was generally fraudulent. The selling of such tickets these two countries for some time refused to forbid. As a result it was necessary for the American Emigrant Societies to operate also in Europe. Even before this, in 1854, we find the American and Foreign Emigrant Protective and Employment Society, already mentioned appointing a Welshman, Mr. Eleazer Jones of Liverpool, (42) as their general agent for Great Britain and Ireland. I am not able to say whether this practice was followed by other societies or not, but at any rate there was little complaint made of fraud upon emigrants after 1860.

<< Prev  Next >>