The Hollingworth Family Letters, 1827–1830
The Hollingworth Family Letters, 1827–1830
By: Joseph Hollingworth
Source: Dublin, Thomas, ed. Immigrant Voices: New Lives in America, 1773–1986. University of Illinois Press, 1993.
About the Author: Joseph Hollingworth was one member of the Hollingworth family who emigrated from England to America in the 1820s. They were skilled textile workers and hoped to find better opportunities for employment in the New World. They were all successful in finding jobs on arrival and settled in New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, working in the rapidly expanding textiles industry there. Their letters to family members in England provide an account of their journey to America and their experiences of living and working there.
The Hollingworth letters were written by members of the Hollingworth family who emigrated from England to America in the early nineteenth century to work in the textile factories there. This letter, written by one of the family of brothers to his relatives back in England, gives a very personal and humorous account of his voyage and of his reunion with familiar people upon his arrival.
In 1820, around 8,000 immigrants entered the country, a number that increased steadily during the decade to around 23,000 in 1830. Immigration swelled into a massive wave later in the century, with numbers rising sharply in the 1850s, when around 400,000 immigrants arrived per year.
During the early years of the nineteenth century, various categories of English immigrants came to America, their migration being related largely to the British Industrial Revolution and the development of new employment opportunities in the expanding American textiles industry. The majority of immigrants at that time were farmers and agricultural workers, as well as traditional artisans and craftsmen, who had been displaced due to the industrialization of the English economy. However, significant numbers of industrial workers—such as the Hollingworth brothers who had experience in the English textiles industry—also migrated to America at this time, and may even have formed the majority of immigrants from the late 1820s onwards.
Since jobs for skilled textiles workers were likely to have been readily available in England at this time, the brothers probably migrated by choice rather than necessity, and may even have been encouraged to move to America by the owner of a mill there or by relatives who had already emigrated. Joseph Hollingworth's mention of other family members that he met on arrival in America indicates the existence of an extended family network already based there; this type of chain migration within families was fairly common at that time.
The draw for many British immigrants was the establishment of large mechanized textile mills that used manufacturing techniques originally invented in England, an industry that was expanding to meet the enormous demand for the cloth in America, particularly after the 1809 embargo on imports from England. Immigrants, particularly those who had experience working in British textile mills, were an important source of labor. In some areas, especially Philadelphia, which developed into the largest textile-producing center in the United States, it was more common for textiles to be manufactured in small shops or home based operations using more traditional spinning and weaving techniques, but these relied equally heavily on skilled English immigrants.
Although the United States was still largely rural at this time, most immigrants settled in urban areas. By 1850, more than thirty-six percent of immigrants were living in places that had more than 10,000 residents, compared to only nine percent of the male native-born population. Half of all immigrants lived in New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, although specific patterns of settlement depended largely on the employment opportunities available for workers with particular skills and experience. For example, knitters settled mainly in the Philadelphia region, silk workers in Paterson, New Jersey; cotton textile workers in Fall River, Massachusetts; and steel workers in Pittsburgh.
Joseph Hollingworth to William and Nancy Rawcliff
South Leicester. Tuesday Morning May 20th, 1828
Dear Uncle and Dear Aunt,
I'm very glad to say
That your kind letter I received
On the fifteenth day of May.
It was Dated March 25th. We was [sic] short of provision on board the ship or at least it was not the right sort. We had plenty of buisquit; enough for 3 voyages. We cold not eat it. I believe I ate as much of it myself as all the rest. I contrived to pound it in a bag (made of sail cloth for the purpose) and made it into Pudings [sic]. That was the only way we could eat it. We bought 20 lb. of flour in addition to what we had when you left. Some of our provision was good, but we had some not fit to eat. We ate the good first and we had finished a great part in the first 4 weeks. Our potatoes would have lasted out pretty well had it not been for a set of dishonest rascals. I mean the paddys. We had nearly 1 third stolen, but it will take to [sic] much of my time and paper to give you every particular relating to this circumstance. Sufice it to say that should you ever come to America or have to buy provision for any body that is coming 0 Beware of Becket! That Infernal wrech [sic] who when he could subsist no longer by riding his own country-men in Irland [sic] came over to Liverpool to impose on my Honest Countrymen who are flying from the wrath to come and going to seek an asylum in a country where that Villanous [sic] Becket would be brought to Justice. The most appropriate punishment that could be inflicted on that imposter would be to confine him in the Middle of the Atlantic Ocean in old Isaac Hicks [the ship on which the Hollingworths sailed to America] and feed him on his own Biskit [sic] and stinking water but to conclude, O Beware of Becket.
I saw Joseph Hirst when I was at Poughkeepsie. He was a Spiner [sic] at Wadsworth's Factory. He was the only man that I have seen wear Breeches in America. I had no particular conversation with him. He asked me some Questions and I answered them. I have forgot what they were. My Mother told him that his Wife was badly situated that she wanted to come to America and soon. By what he said then and by what another person told me, on whose word I can rely, I got to understand that he has no intention for sending for his wife. May Hollingworth knew her Grandfather when she first saw him here. She did not know me at first but when I began to ask her about the Oldfield she could recolect both you and your Daughter Mary-Ann. She says if Aunt Nancy was here she would say "Thank you mam" and give her a cent for the frock. She goes to school and seldom failes[sic] to bring home a ticket for reward of … I don't know what reason Jack-o-Micks has to give such a bad account of America. I dare say he'll not find a Factory in England where the workmen will subscribe him Mony [sic] to send him back to America. I would scorn say anything about such a Black-Gard as Haddock for I don't calculate of fighting him with my hands but should not mind doing it with my tong provided he would not tell so many Infernal lies. William Perken knows very little about America or the American Manufactory. He only came from New York to this place and I believe took the same rout [sic] back-again. 'Tis true that they work on Sundays here. Bro' Jbz. has to work every 2 or 3 Sundays in the factory repairing machiniry [sic] and doing such work as can not be conveniently done on other days. Bro. James is a spiner and he was ordered by the Bos spiner one Sunday afternoon in the Church while attending Devine Service to go spin that evening soon as the church service ended, but he neither woad [sic] nor did obey. I had to go to enter the second Sunday after I began work and was ordered to go again but I did not obey and I have not been on a Sunday since. The Factory system is the caus [sic] of this.
I hate to see a factory stand
In any part of the k[n]own land
To me it talks of wickedness
Of Families that's in destress
Of Tyrany and much extortion
And of slavery a portion
I wish that I no more might see
Another woollen Factory.
John says he will write you in a few weeks. Jbz. says he would write again but that he has told you all he knows, he has nothing to wright [sic], you must excuse him. My Mother was a little sea sick on our voyage but it cured her leg. Sister H[annah] was never sick at all but she could not walk when we landed. Mother likes country "vary weel" but she got disapointed [sic] she has got more work than ever [in] this a land of labour. Sister H. knew her Father as soon as she saw him. He took her into his arms and she would not leave him for several hours. On the 2nd of March Miss Hollingworth was brought to bed of an Anglo-yankee. The Black Cloth which you sent Capt Barnet came here in Febry. It was 12 yds long. You must write when you get this and tell me how you get along with regard to your soar [sic] hole and other matters relating to that concern and you oblige your lnteligent[sic]
P.S. When you this letter have reciev'd
Its contents read an all believ'd
Then put it in your Chest
Don't let each Busibody view
What I have writ tho' all is true
They would begin to Jest.
Early nineteenth-century migration from England to America played an important role in the industrialization of the United States, providing not only a cheap labor force, but one that brought many workers with valuable skills. At the same time, it provided a safety valve for Great Britain during its Industrial Revolution, when many agricultural and traditional craft workers were being displaced and faced declining opportunities to make a living in Britain.
Although England never experienced the mass emigration that Ireland did in the mid-1800s, large numbers of British immigrants did come to America throughout the nineteenth and into the early decades of the twentieth century. By bringing industrial and manufacturing expertise from Britain, they had a significant and lasting impact on American society and culture.
Erickson, Charlotte. Leaving England: Essays on British Emigration in the Nineteenth Century. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994.
Ferrie, Joseph P. Yankeys Now: Immigrants in the Antebellum United States, 1840–1860. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Leavitt, Thomas W. Hollingworth Letters: Technical Change in the Textile Industry 1826–1937. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press/Society for the History of Technology, 1969.