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An emigrant's letter home, 1838

Image of a sailing ship.During the nineteenth century, many Scots found it hard to make a living on the land. In the Highlands, the effect of crofting clearances, the collapse of the kelp industry, poor harvests and variations in cattle prices led many people to look for better opportunities abroad. In the Lowlands, the effects of the agricultural revolution forced many tenant farmers to give up their holdings to make way for large farms. These events made many Scots decide to emigrate to America, Canada or Australia.

In 1838, William Knox travelled to Canada. He wrote this letter to his uncle, Andrew Redford, describing his journey from Annan to Wilmot, Nova Scotia. He took a steamer to Liverpool then boarded a ship to sail to New York. He completed his journey from America to Canada by steamer, canal boat and overland by wagons.

The image below shows how expensive paper and postage was saved by writing in two directions on the same sheet, 'cross hatch'. An abbreviated extract from the letter is transcribed below.

Print a copy of the image and transcript as they appear on the webpage (Rich Text Format, 2MB. new window)

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The image shows a page from William Knox's letter home, written in two directions across the paper (cross hatch). National Records of Scotland reference: GD1/813/15

Transcript (abbreviated)

Wilmot 28 Oct 1838

My Dear Uncle

... we arrived safe at Liverpool on the Wednesday Evening about ten o’clock. We engaged our passage for New York on the Thursday in an American ship called the Republic, a very fine vessel and nearly new. We went to the Government Agent, Lieutenant Low, who is appointed by Government to give advise to Emigrants… I would advise every one who comes to America to go to the Government Agent and take his advice before engaging their passage as many One has had to stay in Liverpool for weeks after having engaged their passage owing to the Vessel not being ready…

We sailed from Liverpool on 23 June at noon… There was just 21 steerage passengers
[people travelling at the cheapest fare] and 4 children where 100 could have been accommodated so that we had plenty of room… We had head winds the most of the way. We had every accommodation and liberty that we could have wished for in the ship.

…Our captain’s name was Williams, he was a very steady and active man, he allowed the sailors no grog it being a Temperance Ship, which I think is the best plan in the world as many a ship has been lost owing to the sailors being the worse of drink and not able to manage the ship during a storm. Our vessel was well manned having 2 mates, 19 sailors and one carpenter. We came in sight of the American Coast on 1st August and landed at New York on the 3rd.

…We have bought a farm about 2 miles of my uncle of 100 acres, 25 of which is cleared with a house and a barn upon it. It is good land and well watered. The Improvements cost £40 and we have to pay 4 dollars per acre for the land and 5 years to pay it. We have put in 3 acres of wheat this fall and we will be able to put in a good quantity of spring crop if we are well.

(National Records of Scotland reference: GD1/813/15)




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