Ever Westward the Land: Samuel James and His Cornish Family on the Trail to Oregon and the Pacific North-West 1842-52

Ever Westward the Land: Samuel James and His Cornish Family on the Trail to Oregon and the Pacific North-West 1842-52

Ever Westward the Land: Samuel James and His Cornish Family on the Trail to Oregon and the Pacific North-West 1842-52

Ever Westward the Land: Samuel James and His Cornish Family on the Trail to Oregon and the Pacific North-West 1842-52

Excerpt

Historical accounts of the emigration of the Cornish to North America in the nineteenth century have been dominated usually by the exploits of metal miners and the export of their expertise and technology. Little attention has been showered on the exodus of farmers and indeed scant notice seems to have been taken of them at the time of their departure. Generally it was unemployment, hunger and sheer destitution which drove the miners away and denuded the towns and villages of the best of their young folk. For a miner to seek his fortune abroad was not unusual and departures from the main railway stations were an almost everyday occurrence. Farmers, hardly ever faced with such severe economic deprivations, were pulled by, rather than pushed to, the United States for reasons other than lack of money to buy food. Their reasons for leaving Cornwall seem to have been complex but generally to do with dissatisfaction with the state of the country and its leaders, both in Church and State.

At least that is the conclusion reached from a study of a group of farmers who in the 1840s left the Helston and Lizard areas for Wisconsin. Among them were Samuel James, his wife Anna Maria and their four sons, the eldest being only eight years old. Their original intention was to settle in Wisconsin among relatives, but some inner restlessness urged Samuel to pioneer ever westwards to the very end of the Oregon Trail and then beyond to Puget Sound, a feat of endurance, courage and resolution excelled perhaps by no other Cornish family, especially as he was then middle-aged. There he founded the settlement that bears his name, Jamestown, which to this day remains a colony of descendants whose ties with Cornwall have grown even closer with the passage of time.

Samuel James agonised for some time over the wisdom of abandoning Cornwall for the young American republic and exposing his family to the harshness and risks of journeying into the unknown, perhaps dying thousands of miles from where they were born. Miners left Cornwall in the belief and hope that they would return rich to invest in mines near where they had always lived, but farmers emigrated in the expectation never to return, for poverty was hardly a compelling factor. Indeed Samuel owned valuable property and so was not attracted by free land in America. The truth was that he and his relatives and their friends were yeomen farmers, many of them owners of freehold land. They . . .

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