Before the age of steam, most immigrants came over in tiny sailing ships, jammed together in quarters with barely enough room for a child to stand. Of privacy, there was none. And there was no time on deck, except for the many brief and prayerful times when another lost soul was consigned to the sea.

Food was scanty, half cooked, poured into the same pots that held the immigrants bodily waste; grudgingly hauled up to be emptied into the sea and just as grudgingly lowered to the bottom hold of a ship that would hardly be reckoned a boat, these years. What food the ships miserly master provided was hardly enough to hold body and soul together, and it took its toll on those brave enough or desperate enough to hazard the trip to the New World.

Many adults and virtually all children under 12 died on the way from the Old World to the New, in the two or three weeks it took to sail from a British or Continental port to the new world. To Amerikay, if Paddy was lucky enough to have a few shillings in pocket; to Canada, if he had to come on the scant charity available when George was on the throne.

The Scots, many burned out of their crofts by a Laird who found more profit in lambs than bairns, embarked from secondary ports like Oban. Tiny ports mean tiny ships, and most of the transatlantic trade from Scotland was carried in ships long since declared unfit for that service; ships that docked in smaller, out of the way ports in both Scotland and Canada. Of course, the fares were less, but the provender was correspondingly less as well.

Of course, the first half of the 19th Century was the zenith of the age of sail, and sailors were a tuneful lot. Immigrants were “treated,” if treated is the word, to sailors bellowing songs like this story of a mate on the Black Ball line who was rather free with his fists:

Another secondary port was Gosport, a port much favored by virtually penniless English emigrants. Of course, Gosport was noted among the sailors for its recreational opportunities:

Of course, Nancy’s trade often resulted in problems for her customers. However, since I try to keep this a G-rated blog, I will substitute the Weaver’s bowdlerized version of “The Fireship” for the one that horrified one of my great grandmothers:

Of course, there were the work songs, like “Haul Away, Joe:”

But as hard as the sailors lot was, the emigrants life was even harder. The Scots and Irish, not being English, were not allowed to send children to school, and wages were far less than an Englishman’s. So those who could emigrated a little further, to the United States. Since there were no visas or passports, and the Scots and Irish were welcome in the sparsely settled West, you will find many of their descendants populating flyover country.

Many the result of intermarriage with the occupants of those wide lands from Ohio westward.


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