THE DAWSON'S COME TO AMERICA
In early February, 1851, 20 year old G1 GF WILLIAM SAMUEL CHARLES DAWSON, crushed by the death of his first wife, and sick to death of waiting for employment in London, bade farewell to friends and family in London (perhaps Thomas and Ann Dawson and their son William, also of Christ Church in Spitalfields -- relatives?), and made his way from London to Liverpool. In Liverpool he walked to the docks, and seeing the recently-arrived American-made packet ship "Washington" tied up to the wharf belonging to Taylor, Crooke & Co., the Liverpool agent for the famous Black Star Line, went into the ticket office in front of the wharf and inquired about the price of passage.
"Berths" aboard the Washington ranged from 3 pounds, 15 shillings to 4 pounds for a crate-like "cot" bolted to the deck side of the gunwales, to 5 pounds for a space in a cabin. Any of these fares were enormously more economical than the cost of the trans-oceanic voyage for an individual during the previous century, due to the effects of economies of scale as emigration out of the British Isles increased after the commencement of the Potato Famine. The amount of 4 pounds amount to about 2 weeks' wages for a common laborer during this period. Perhaps WILLIAM chose the mid-range fare of 4 pounds, and then registered. He stated that his name was "William Dawson." He gave his age as "20." He described himself as "a citizen of England" who worked as a "laborer." The clerk for Taylor, Crooke & Co. then gave G1 GF WILLIAM SAMUEL CHARLES DAWSON his ticket for his voyage.
The ticket promised, per day, 3 quarts of water, and, per week, 2-1/2 pounds of bread, 1 pound of flour, 5 pounds of oatmeal, 2 pounds of rice, 2 ounces of tea, 8 ounces of sugar and molasses, vinegar, and 1 pound of boned pork. The reality would turn out to be far less pleasant than the promise.
The "Washington" was built specifically to bus Potato Famine emigrants from the British Isles to America. It was about 200 feet in length, weighed about 1,600 tons in drydock, had a wide beam, and was very sturdily built and easily able to withstand the worst storms the Atlantic could throw at her year round. The ship was commanded by Ship's Master A. Page, while the crew consisted of 4 Ship's Mates, 5 officers including Ship's Doctor Charles Reynolds, and 31 sailors. About 900 passengers were booked to make the passage across the Atlantic with G1 GF WILLIAM SAMUEL CHARLES DAWSON.
On or about February 13, 1851, WILLIAM went to the Taylor, Crooke & Co. wharf and waited in line to board. An English doctor asked him his name, asked him if he felt healthy, told him to stick out his tongue, and then, on seeing his tongue, pronounced WILLIAM "fit."
As the line proceeded across the wharf to the gangplank, WILLIAM was undoubtedly surprised and disturbed to see the Ship's Mates pushing, screaming and cursing to herd the emigrants on board as quickly as possible. He may or may not have realized that this was the beginning of their 6 week effort to jam as many fares as possible onto the boat and get them to America as fast as possible, while giving them as little food and water as possible, to maximize profits.
Once all had boarded, the Washington was untied from its wharf, and perhaps after dropping a sail or two allowed to drift out into the River Mersey, where it dropped anchor.
On the first day of the voyage, while the "Washington" lay at anchor only a few hundred yards from the wharf at Liverpool, passengers were instructed to line-up for water. Only the first 30 to line up received their tin of water. The rest were sent
back to their berths. The same thing happened later in the day -- only the first 30 received their water ration.
Probably sometime during the second day, a steamer approached the
"Washington". The "Washington's" crew threw the steamer a bowline which was tied to a post on the stern of the steamer. Once anchor was weighed, the steamer began towing the "Washington" slowly down the River Mersey. As this was being done, roll was taken on board the "Washington." and stowaways returned to the dock on a small boat.
Once she had been towed to the Irish Sea, where the wind was fresh and reliable, the
"Washington" cut loose from the steamer and unfurled its sails.
A week passed. Still, nothing but water had been doled-out to hungry passengers. Finally, Ship's Doctor Reynolds was seen moving from berth to berth, taking note of passengers less than 16 years of age. Though the Black Star Line contract, and naval regulations, permitted half rations only for those who were less than 14 years of age, Captain Page arbitrarily raised that limit to 16. Perhaps he felt that he had a right to to "handicap" to protect against lying by passengers -- assuming, of course, that no food at all during the first week was legitimate.
More days passed with no food being distrubuted. When whipping, cursing, punching and screanming failed to quell the riot for food, food was finally distributed. Some passengers who noticed that the Ship's Cook was very generous to passengers who bribed him with money or whiskey complained, but to no avail. Ultimately, passengers received less than one-half of the provisions promised by their contract.
Fierce and frigid Winter storms slammed against the vessel during the ensuing weeks. When the weather became too rough, sails were reefed-in to protect against capsizing, while gigantic waves of freezing water came crashing over the gunwales into the "berths." Many passengers prayed during such storms. Those who died of the diseases brought with them from Liverpool -- cholera, typhoid, and dyssentery -- were tied-up in cloth bags weighed-down with rocks and tossed overboard.
On March 28, 1851, after Ship's Master Page never once showed his face to the passengers, Doctor Reynolds began walking down the deck between berths, screaming, "Now, then, clean-out and wash-out yours rooms, every one of you, God damn and blast your souls to Hell!" The passengers were greatly cheered by this, realizing as they did that clean-up time meant that they were nearing the American coast, and would soon be able to disembark from their Hell-hole. A short time later, G1 GF WILLIAM SAMUEL CHARLES DAWSON and the other passengers saw with their eyes what Captain Page had seen through his telescope -- the American coast.
Finally, on March 31, 1851, the "Washington" sailed into New York harbor. Passengers crowding against the gunwales stared wide-eyed at the Statue of Liberty, correct? Not at all. It did not even exist in 1851. Then, later the same day, sick passengers were ferried ashore to quarantine on Staten Island. The balance of the passengers stayed on the Washington until it tied-up to the wharf at Ellis Island, a tiny tract of land in New York harbor, then about one-eighth its current size, closer to the Jersey shore than to Manhattan, featuring only a few small wooden buildings. There G1 GF WILLIAM SAMUEL CHARLES DAWSON disembarked with the remaining passengers, was given a brief physical, and waited, until a ferry from New York City arrived to take them ashore. On that day WILLIAM SAMUEL CHARLES DAWSON swore allegiance to the United States of America, and he became an American citizen.