Political Science Quarterly, LI (March, 1936): 61-116.
THE WAGE-EARNER IN THE WESTWARD MOVEMENT IICarter Goodrich and Sol Davison
The Question and the Sources
An earlier article has stated the question for investigation.1 Accepted doctrines of the influence of the frontier in American history rest in part on the premise that substantial numbers of eastern wage-earners moved West and took up land. The frontier outlet is thus held to have served as a safety valve for industrial discontent. There was, moreover, a widespread belief in the reality of this movement long before Turner made it a part of his great synthesis. Edward Gibbon Wakefield erected a social theory on his disapproval of the process; Horace Greeley built one on its enthusiastic advocacy; and a long line of contemporary observers of varying opinions, from the earliest years of the Massachusetts Bay Colony to the last days of the frontier, recorded their belief that the movement was taking place. Yet in descriptions of the actual process of settlement there are very few references to the presence of former wage-earners among the pioneers. Here, it was suggested, is a significant discrepancy. If there was a substantial movement of industrial workers, it deserves fuller description than it has received. If not, the theories stand in need of modification.
The present paper, therefore, represents an attempt to discover how much of a migration of wage-earners took place during the half-century or so in which there was at one end of the country a substantial factory population and at the other an actively advancing frontier. Since there are no comprehensive statistics available, it will be recognized that any estimates must be based on a sampling of the imperfect records surviving so long after the event. The two great sources that might have been thought serviceable, the Census and the records of the General Land Office, throw little light upon the precise question at issue. Though the former appears to approach it by giving both birthplace and occupation, it is clear that nativity does not show where the trade was first practised and that our problem cannot be solved without determining the relationship between the occupation at the time the count was taken and the previous occupation of the same individual. No direct use, therefore, can be made even of the manuscript Census;2 and the records of applications and entries under the Homestead Act are even more disappointing. They contain no information as to occupations, unless casually mentioned in a character reference; and though the mailing address on the application might be thought of as a clue to previous residence, inspection indicates that the one usually given was not the old home but a place either on or near the homestead itself.3
Any attempt at an answer must, therefore, be built up from much more scattered and fragmentary sources of information. Of these, we have placed chief reliance on the files of contemporary newspapers. The press of the great cities and of the industrial centers gives clues to the kind of people who were leaving the East, and in these cases the impressions gained from the standard journals could often be checked against the views of a vigorous labor press. Again, the frontier papers frequently carried descriptions of the people who were arriving in the new country. State and county histories were a second resource, and a few of the more reliable of these accounts provided information as to the origins of the settlers in certain western localities. There were cases in which hotel registers could be used to show where the migrants had come from, and others in which city directories could be used to trace the eastern occupations of people found in the West. Records of emigration societies throw considerable light on the status of the migrants who moved under their auspices. On occasion, also, memoirs and diaries and even the recollections of old settlers have been used as corroborative evidence.
In approaching so wide and heterogeneous a range of possible sources, it appeared both necessary and desirable to shorten the search by accepting certain limitations and by concentrating attention on particular times and places that were most likely to show evidence of the movement for which we were seeking. We have not believed that the early numbers of wage-earners were sufficiently large to require us to carry the inquiry back of the year 1830, and we have not in any case taken it further forward than the decade of the 1880's which Turner thought of as marking the end of the great frontier period. For obvious reasons, also, we have paid little attention to the Civil War years.
Within these broad limits, moreover, some further concentration seemed advisable. If the movement of workmen to the West was to be regarded as an escape from oppressive conditions, it might well be expected that the outlet would be sought most eagerly when wages were lowest and conditions the worst. Thus the logic of the safety-valve doctrine suggests that the movement would be particularly marked during industrial depressions, and the belief that migration was unusually active at such times finds frequent expression in contemporary writings and at least partial support in the statistics of land alienation. A pair of quotations from the depression of 1837 may serve to illustrate a point that was made no less frequently in later periods of distress. In May of that year a western paper records its anticipation of the movement:
The troubles of the times are likely to increase the emigration "westward this season. Besides mechanics and laborers, there are vast numbers who will seek in the rich regions of the West, to repair the ravages of the storm that has passed over them.4Three years later the New York Morning Herald described the process as in full swing:
The emigration from this city to the "Far West", is increasing tremendously. Whole squads of young men are preparing to emigrate in a few days to the fertile fields of the western states. . . . No wonder the rents and real estate fall in New York. There is a general movement in society, and where it will stop, the holy apostle Saint Peter, only knows.5
An attempt to check the validity of this supposition and these observations may be made by examining the relationship between the course of the business cycle and the sale and disposal of the Public Lands. [Below], therefore, we present a chart on which are plotted three lines: an index number of wholesale prices as an indication of general business conditions, the acres of public land sold and -- from 1863 -- the number of original homestead entries.
It is the first of these results that seems to conflict with the hypothesis. If land sales fell during depressions, it would appear that the process of new settlement must then have been checked. But there is another possible explanation. It will be observed that public land sales reached their greatest heights just prior to the peaks in wholesale prices that preceded the depressions of 1837 and 1857. It is known that the lands in these periods were a great field of speculation and that, in each case, the breaking of the land bubble had much to do with the crash that followed. To a large extent, therefore, the figures measure speculation rather than occupation and it is quite possible that actual settlers found it easier to purchase the land in depressions than during the land booms. Thus the results for the first period do not necessarily conflict with the theory that the westward movement was intensified during depressions and the results for the second period seem definitely to confirm it. Apparently, then, we are justified in giving special, though by no means exclusive, attention to periods of depression.
A somewhat similar concentration of interests is possible with respect to the places of search. It is not hard to discover where most of the emigrants were going in any particular period. For a number of the western territories there are two dates that indicate when to look for great immigration. These are the times of the government survey and of the coming of the railroads. If we confine our principal attention to the North, people in the thirties thought mainly about going to Michigan and Illinois; in the forties, to Iowa and Wisconsin; in the fifties to Minnesota and eastern Kansas and Nebraska; and in the seventies to western Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas.7 In examining the western material, therefore, this has made it possible to look into specific regions at specified dates. For the eastern material there was, of course, still more obvious reason for concentration upon the industrial regions.
No doubt the results would have been more satisfactory if our resources had made it possible to give an equally thorough examination to all periods and all parts of the frontier, but the selections made were those that appeared most likely to develop the evidence of working-class migration. To the extent, therefore, that these choices introduce an element of bias, it would appear to be in the direction of overestimating rather than of underestimating the relative importance of the wage-earners' share in the westward movement.
The Case of Fall River
In presenting the results of the investigation, it seems natural to begin with the evidence collected in those eastern centers from which the movement was presumed to start. At the beginning of our period there were few concentrations of wage-earners outside the great cities and a number of specialized manufacturing towns situated largely in New England. Among the latter we chose Fall River, Massachusetts, for special study because of the abundance of material. We found there a complete file of newspapers beginning at 1826 including for a short time a labor paper as well. The public library also possesses city directories for a good part of the period and these proved valuable in checking occupations.
The visitor to Fall River today finds what he may believe is visible proof of the migration of wage-earners. Standing adjacent to the City Hall on Main Street is a monument with a water fountain. On it is the following inscription :
To the Citizens and Mill Operatives
Henry D. Cogswell, D.D.S.
of San Francisco
Who in 1833 as a
Factory Boy Marched to
The Music of the Bell
Here indeed is the story of a wage-earner who made good in the West.
The first mention of westward migration discovered in the Fall River press speaks of a plan for a number of men from Pawtucket to settle in Illinois. Though the writer is himself hostile to the proposal, the way in which he relates migration to the spirit of discontent and the state of the cotton industry suggests that he is entirely familiar with the safety-valve doctrine:
Emigration. -- Several persons in Pawtucket, have associated themselves for the purpose of raising a company of one hundred able bodied men to make a settlement in Illinois. Is it the spirit of enterprise or the demoniacal spirit of discontent which renders our population so restless ? One would think that Paw-tucket offered as strong inducements, and as great facilities for industry as any place on the continent. . . . There is no doubt that the cotton manufacture on which Pawtucket chiefly depends, will, tariff or no tariff, go on to prosper. It is at this moment, the most profitable and safest business in the country; and it will continue to be profitable and safe, long after the prairie grass shall have grown over the heads of the emigrants. But if they must needs go, let success go with them. . . .8The tantalizing thing is that we do not know whether these "hundred able bodied men" were wage-earners or whether or not they actually migrated. A similar item appeared the following month:A company is forming in Worcester county to establish a colony in the Valley of the Mississippi.9Again there is no direct evidence of the character of the migration but it may be imagined that a Worcester county company was more likely than a Pawtucket one to be composed of farmers.
The first indication of a participation of Fall River people in the western migration appears, strangely enough, in a notice taken by the local paper from the Pawtucket Chronicle:
Land Company -- We notice in the Pawtucket Chronicle the articles of agreement entered into by a company of gentlemen in this town and vicinity, called the Fall River Western Land Company. The object of this company as we understand it, is to purchase a tract of land at the West, on which to settle -- to divide the land into farms for individual purchasers, reserving a portion of it for a village or town. A committee, we learn, is to proceed to the Great Valley in the spring to select a suitable spot and purchase the land. The company, so far as we know its members, is composed of industrious and enterprising young men of this place, whose society we should regret to lose, but for whose prosperity and happiness whether here or elsewhere, we most heartily wish.10This seems to point to a group of similar character to the one formed in Pawtucket. But any doubt as to its composition is quickly dispelled by the following notice:The Fall River Western Land Company had a meeting on Monday last, when $13,000 was paid in for the purchase of land in the West. A committee is now traversing the Western country to select and purchase land for this company. The company is composed of a number of enterprising gentlemen, whom we shall regret to lose, but doubt not, they will make a profitable investment of their money.11One could hardly expect a group of Fall River wage-earners, whose earnings were generally much less than $1.00 per day, to band together in sufficient numbers to raise $13,000.
For the next twenty years there is but scattered mention of direct migration from Fall River though there are frequent general references to the process of settlement. Often these appear as reprints from New York and Boston papers and occasionally from a western paper. Sometimes an item showed the demand for labor in the West:Laborers and Mechanics Wanted West. -- Two hundred laborers are wanted within 12 miles of Michigan City (Indiana) to work on grading the track of the railroad. Also 100 carpenters are wanted at the beautiful and healthy town of Washington, at the mouth of the Sac River, Wisconsin Territory.12Sometimes advertisements of western lands appeared, offering liberal terms and aid to settlers. Here, for example, is the appeal of the American Land Agency Association:
To Persons removing to the West, this Association offers the greatest facilities for making a judicious selection of a location and property, adapted to their wants and circumstances; because we keep in all our offices a Register of Lands and Farms for sale, with a description of the improvements, surrounding circumstances and the price; and freely communicate to all inquirers information concerning the Soil, Climate, Productions, Roads, Population, Schools, and Religious Societies, and especially concerning the validity of the Title of any Property they be disposed to purchase. . . .13There is, however, little to indicate whether or not these invitations were accepted.
The discovery of gold in California caused as much excitement in Fall River as it did everywhere else in the country. Many who had the means started out by boat to Panama or around the Horn or by wagons across the plains. The papers published the names of some of those who left. Unfortunately the city directory was not printed at that time so it is impossible to determine their occupation; but where the news stories themselves provide the clues, the migrants were not wage-earners but prominent business and professional men.14
A railroad consolidation brought unemployment to Fall River in the fifties:Among the changes consequent upon the union of the Old Colony and Fall River Railroads, we learn that the machine and repair shops of the road, at Fall River, will be discontinued, and the works are to be removed to South Boston, and joined to those of the Old Colony, now in operation on Dorchester Avenue. The number of hands which this change will throw out of employment here, is somewhere about twenty. Two of them, we understand, intend to go to Kansas.15A later section will indicate why it was of Kansas that they thought. The present point is that two of the twenty workers definitely looked to the West to relieve their economic distress. A little later a notice appears of some people who were planning to leave Fall River, but nothing is told to let us know whether they are wage-earners or not:The Western fever appears to have broken out again of late, and we hear of parties going from various places in New England to seek homes in the Far West. Quite a number of our citizens have recently removed to that section of the country, some to Illinois, some to Iowa, and some to Minnesota and Nebraska. Others are preparing to follow them soon. On Tuesday afternoon, in the Baptist Temple, Rev. A. Bronson delivered a solemn, affectionate address to a party (members of his church and congregation) who were about leaving for the West. . . 16
After the Civil War, there is constant mention of people leaving for the West. The two following items appeared in 1869:Mr. Frank McGraw, who lately left this city for Minnesota, in a recent letter to a friend here, expresses great satisfaction with his new home at Sauk Centre. He is now building a farm house, has 100 acres of timber and meadow land, 60 acres of Prairie, and 5 acres already under the plow.The Fall River directory for 1869 tells us that Frank McGraw was a bootmaker, E. F. Anthony a clerk, and E. B. Anthony a carpenter. This would seem to show that three wage-earners left Fall River for Minnesota. But, unfortunately, two items, one in 1870 and the other in 1871, seem to make their migration ineffective :
We have now received from Mr. E. F. Anthony a copy of Sauk Centre (Minnesota) Herald of Nov. 18th, from which we clip the following:
"The family of E. F. Anthony arrived on Sunday evening from Fall River, Mass., accompanied by E. B. Anthony and wife, of the same place, Mr. James Brett of New Bedford, Mass., and Mr. A. B. Stinchfield of Lewiston, Me. Mr. E. B. Anthony and Mr. James Brett are interested in locating here . . ."17
Personal. -- Mr. Enoch Anthony, who went from this city to Sauk Centre, Minnesota, last fall, with the intention of settling there, returned on Saturday evening, being unable to find employment.18Thus, two out of three who went from Fall River returned again.
Personal. -- Mr. Frank McGraw, who left this city for Minnesota, some two years ago, has returned with his family once more to take up his abode in our city of spindles. He has seen the Western elephant -- had his head in its mouth -- and returns abundantly satisfied with his experiences. We are glad to learn that his health has been greatly improved by his sojourn in Minnesota.19
In 1870 the following item appeared:Personal. -- Messrs. Henry Thomas and S. B. Chase, late clerks at the Merchants' Mill, George Holden, recently of the Day Police, Levi Greenwood and Edwin P. Elsree, all of this city, start to-night for the Far West, with a view, should matters seem favorable, of settling in that section of our country. Messrs. Thomas and Chase will probably proceed as far as Nebraska; Messrs. Holden and Greenwood turn their steps toward the healthy and growing State of Minnesota, while Mr. Elsree, having a roving commission, will probably make his base on the most advantageous portion of the field, and catch his claims "on the fly". We wish them all health and happiness, and just as much of this world's wealth as they can make use of.20
Fortunately, later issues enable us to trace all but one individual of this group. The first case is a success story, as the following items indicate :Personal. -- Messrs. Henry Thomas and S. P. Chase, late clerks at the Merchants' Mill of this city, write home from Plattsmouth, Nebraska in glowing terms of the growth and prosperity of that locality. The Nebraska Herald, published at Plattsmouth, gives the young men the following friendly notice:
" Mr. Henry Thomas and Mr. S. P. Chase, of Fall River, Mass., arrived in our city last week with a view to establish themselves here. They were connected with the Merchants Manufacturing Company, and come well recommended to business men. We hope they will be able to suit themselves here, as they are the style of men we like to see commence business in our city."21
Personal. -- The Nebraska Herald of the date of July 18th, published at Plattsmouth, contains the following notice of our young friends, Messrs. S. B. Chase and Henry Thomas, late clerks at the Merchants' Mill in this city.
" We would call attention to the advertisement of Chase & Thomas, commission merchants and dealers in grain. They have only been in our city a few months, but in that short time they have established a reputation for straightforward dealing that they may feel proud of. We learn that they intend making quite a specialty of selling grain on commission, thus giving the farmer the benefit of the market. They will advance money on consignment."22
If Messrs. Thomas and Chase succeeded, we find their success balanced by the failure of Holden and Elsree. Shortly afterwards, the ballplayer is back in Fall River:Mr. Edwin P. Elsree the well known baseballer and bill poster who went out West on a "Fly" a few weeks ago, returned to his "home base" this morning. We are not " posted " as to the reasons for his return.23A few years later, Mr. Holden of the Day Police also returns:
Personal. -- Mr. George Holden, formerly of the police force of this city, and Mr. Joseph Borden, son of Dean Borden, both arrived here yesterday with their families, from Minnesota. Mr. Holden has been absent about four years, and Mr. Borden a somewhat longer period, we believe. Both have come back, we understand, with the intention of remaining East.24
Somewhat similar stories are found in the Fall River papers concerning the emigration from other New England communities of men who were either definitely or presumably wage-earners. Again, they appear in the news because they failed and returned home:Several Wareham laborers who went West in search of employment have returned, wiser but sadder and poorer men.25
As is usual in the settlement of new regions, the emigrants to the Black Hills find it a hard road to travel. Of the party of twenty three young men from New Haven, twenty have returned, some being compelled to travel the distance from Dead-wood City on foot. By this time they ought to be expert pedestrians, and their experiences may deter future foolish romancers from trying a new rough country without capital, courage or that practical knowledge so necessary in fighting nature in her wild condition.26
Of the considerable group of migrants referred to in these items, a significant number of the wage-earners returned. On the other hand, in a contrast that may well have been typical, a story of success is told of two men who had money enough to open a business and apparently the benefit of previous commercial experience.
A brief but significant notice appears in 1871 :
Chicago-Colorado Colony. -- Mr. C. N. Pratt, agent of the Chicago-Colorado Land Company, will lecture at the Hall of the Y. M. C. Association this evening. An admission fee of ten cents will be charged to defray expenses.27Fortunately the records of this colony have been preserved and published.28 From them we learn that a number of Fall River people had joined the organization even before the occasion of Mr. Pratt's lecture. In the list of members that paid the first five dollar installment of a $155 fee are thirty names from Fall River; and the city directory indicates that most of these people were employees in the textile mills, though a few merchants and independent artisans were also included. This does not mean, however, that all of them succeeded in raising the rest of the money or persevered in the intention to move to Colorado. From the published extracts from the account books, it appears that only thirteen of the thirty either made further payment on their fees or actually arrived at the new settlement. In any case, the city directory shows that twenty of the original thirty, including no less than ten of the thirteen who really went, were again living in Fall River in 18/8. A later section will discuss this sort of organized migration in some detail. Here it is essential merely to note that, though this is the largest movement to the frontier that we have found among the wage-earners of Fall River, yet only three men can be accounted for as having definitely remained in the West.
By contrast, the items regarding the migration of business and professional men have a very different ring, as the following examples indicate:
Personal. -- Milton Andros, Esq., formerly of this city, but for the last ten years a resident of San Francisco, where he is engaged in the successful practice of law, arrived here yesterday morning on a brief visit. Mr. Andros went to California some ten years ago for his health, with the intention of remaining there but a few months, but he liked the country and its climate so well that he concluded to make the land his permanent home.29A later item tells us that Mr. Dix is engaged in the grocery business in Iowa.32
Personal. -- We are informed that Mr. J. Alsopp, late of the firm of Mather and Alsopp, will leave to-morrow for California.30
Personal. -- We had a pleasant call this morning from Mr. A. N. Dix, formerly resident of this city, where he was well known as a wide awake and popular clothing dealer. Mr. Dix has been residing for the last 18 years in Iowa.31
It would be possible to add many similar references but it is not with these classes that we are primarily concerned. On the other hand, we have presented every case between 1830 and 1880 in which wage-earners or those who might have been wage-earners are mentioned. It is, of course, entirely possible that poor and unknown mill workers might not have been considered worth mentioning so that their removal would have gone unnoticed. Such was the case of those who went to Colorado. Yet it seems unlikely that any important mass movement could have taken place without attracting some notice in the press. In particular we might expect that, if workers had withdrawn in sufficient numbers to have a marked effect upon the labor supply, some comment would have been made upon the fact in the discussions of labor controversies.
Here again Fall River provides a considerable body of evidence for testing the hypothesis. The town had a turbulent industrial history, with strikes every decade, and these received extended comment from diverse points of view. The News was friendly to the workers in the years preceding the Civil War, and a labor paper, The Fall River Mechanic, was published in 1844 and 1845. At the end of our period, moreover, Carroll D. Wright, then head of the Massachusetts Bureau of Labor Statistics, published an extensive report dealing with industrial relations in Fall River, Lowell and Lawrence, Yet neither these sources nor the more ordinary papers found any occasion for referring to the effects of the westward movement. A great variety of prescriptions were suggested for the ills of the workers but migration to the West does not appear among them. The nearest approach to it is a timid suggestion that farms in the vicinity might give employment to those thrown out of work by the depression of 1857. The News points out that the farmers might thus " relieve the city of at least five hundred of the unemployed, and by setting them to work in various ways, not only prevent much suffering and distress, but with actual and more equal benefit for themselves."33 There was, however, no suggestion that the workers should go West and become farmers themselves.
A more typical article, which the News quoted with approval from the Worcester Palladium, debates the issue between the appeal to the government for higher tariffs and the appeal to the employers for more enlightened policy:
The Whig manufacturers have revived the old game of cutting down the wages of the operative. The year of the Presidential election is always a terrible time with manufacturers, and with the cutting down of their wages the operatives have to take a substantial share of Whig admonition upon the subject of political duty. A paper in their employ sums it up homily thus:The Palladium continues by declaring that: " There is not, or rather, there ought not to be, the slightest necessity for cutting down the wages of the operatives in manufacturing establishments/* Though business has its " ups and downs "; " a wise and prudent forecast, if exercised, would be always prepared." The employers^ however^ did not think of laying aside " a portion of their profits for a day like this "; instead they have in good years
" The long and short of the whole matter is, our government must protect our laborers, or they must make a government that will do it."not only made dividends from 10 to 25 per cent on their capital, but have expended all their surplus funds in extending and enlarging old establishments, and in erecting new ones. Avaricious, they have grasped all the profits, when they were enormous ; and now they ought to be generous and share with their operatives the little burthens which a temporary pressure upon their business may impose.As for the operatives, the moral is drawn that they " must look to their employers for a little more wisdom and prudence in their management, rather than to the government, for an improvement in their conditions."34
The labor .paper, naturally, offers very different recommendations. If wages were lowered, the remedy was to strike. If the workers lost, as they often did, the thing to do was to go back to work and prepare for the next " campaign ". The attitude is typified in a letter written to the labor paper after the loss of the ten-hour strike:Perhaps some of your Association whose temperament is ardent, may feel discouraged because they have not gained their point before this time. What war ended in one campaign? Year after year they enter the battle field ere they win the laurels of victory. Are the mechanics of Fall River to expect victory without conflict? If they do, they have mistaken the character of the power, and the cunning of their opponents. One thing has been done, if nothing more, a faithful protest against oppression has been made. Some advantages have been obtained. Every artisan, if he knew his rights, would nail the ten hour flag to the mast and not permit it to be taken away, until these hours were established as the hours of labor. Another advantage has been gained, the light has been shed abroad and those tools of the employers and those recreant to their pledges, the long hour men will feel the galling yoke of bondage which they have submitted to wear for a few cents. . . .
It strikes me that the influx of mechanics brought to this place through bribery, or misrepresentation, is another difficulty in the way of your success. There is nothing manly in these men who remain and labor long hours after they see what the mechanic has to contend with. They came to this town like a company of soldiers, to put down white niggers. Shame be to them! Without them the employers could not subdue us! When they leave town this fall, I would advise them to march to the steamboat headed by the Algerine deacon with the black flag, with the following motto upon it, "We, the long hour men, have crushed the ten hour system in Fall River." A drum and fife ought to lead the way, playing the dead march. If the ten hour system fails, it may be attributed chiefly to those mechanics who have come to this town and work long hours.35
Neither in this nor in other cases does the labor press refer to the possibility of movement to the West either as a threat to the employers or as a danger to the permanence of the trade unions. Men who spoke of themselves as "white niggers" did not seem to be writing like people with alternatives.
Carroll Wright's report is in large measure devoted to explaining the existence of this spirit. In trying to determine why the labor movement in Fall River was more violent than those of Lawrence and Lowell, he traced the industrial history of the three communities. He spoke of the differences in the kinds and qualities of the goods produced. He contrasted the degree of interest which the owners took in actual management in the three cases. He mentioned also the fact that some people in Fall River complained that foreigners were responsible for all their troubles; English weavers, they said, had come over with their strange notions of trade unionism and corrupted the native labor supply. But nowhere does Mr. Wright himself, nor anyone who was interviewed in the course of the investigation, speak of the presence or absence of westward migration as affecting the supply of labor or as accounting for these contrasts in industrial relations.
Whatever may be concealed in the gaps of the record, the available material from Fall River fails to disclose evidence of an extensive migration of wage-earners to the frontier. The little movement that can be traced, moreover, shows a somewhat unexpected result. If we include the "clerks at the Merchants' Mill" and other doubtful cases, we have the record of twenty men who might have been wage-earners and who went West in the period after the Civil War. Of these, at least fourteen returned like the "baseballer" to their "base" in Fall River. The grateful dentist succeeded, but of these others who also "marched to the music of the [factory] bell", seven out of ten appeared to have failed.
Other Evidence from the East
The material from other eastern cities is scantier than that presented from Fall River but is in general of much the same tenor. Even for Lowell, Massachusetts, the show town of the American industrial revolution so often described by contemporary visitors, both the newspapers and other accounts yield mainly negative evidence. When the Lowell Mercury in 1832 had occasion to compare conditions of mill workers in the United States and Engjand, and praised the relative freedom of the American, it explained the difference not by the existence of an economic alternative but by the fact that the " workingmen, the mechanics can decide by their vote every question in town meeting."36 There is, however, one item from the Working Man's Advocate which appears at first sight to give evidence both of the "escape" of wage-earners and of the resulting effect upon conditions in the mills:Raising of Wages -- It will doubtless be recollected by most of our readers, that last March the wages of the Female Operatives in the factories at Lowell were reduced from 15 to 25 per cent. The consequence was that a large number of the old, experienced help left, and the owners were obliged to fill up their mill with raw hands from the country, many of whom had never seen a Cotton Mill before. All this was done during the "distressing times" last winter, when the stockholders of these monopolies were making a clear profit on the investment, of Twelve per cent.The last sentence suggests that these "female operatives" could not have gone very far away, and the question where they did go is in all probability answered by the fuller report of a later incident:
We have been informed by a gentleman who resides in Lowell, that the owners have learned by trying the "experiment", the difference between old, experienced operatives and raw hands, and for the purpose of drawing them back have raised their wages up to the old standard. -- (N. E. Art.)37
Correspondence to the Tribune
Lowell, Massachusetts, April 26.
Messrs. Greeley & McElrath:
The Directors of the Suffolk Cotton Mills in this city have decided to stop making cloth at the present ruinous prices, and have to-day given notice to 500 persons employed by the company that the services of one half their number must be forthwith dispensed with. It is stated, on good authority, that a similar disposition will be made of those employed by the "Boott", "Tremont", and "Massachusetts" Cotton Mills, which corporations employ 500 persons and represent a capital of $3,500,000. . . .
The stopping of so many mills will have a serious effect upon the business community and upon the dividends of such as are unfortunate enough to own stock in them, but there will be no suffering, no crime, no riots on the part of the discharged operatives. The females, a large part of whom are daughters of New England farmers, will quietly return to their country homes, and the men will seek employment elsewhere, some as farmers in New England; some will go West, and others will follow their numerous friends who have preceded them in California.38
If the women went home, there is nevertheless an indication that some of the men went West, at least in the California Gold Rush. During this time the Lowell papers, like those of Fall River, often give the names of the local emigrants but usually without indicating their occupations. One item describes a party which clearly contained no wage-earners:The Magnolia . . . takes with her a full cargo of merchandise assigned to Messrs. Simmons, Hutchinson & Co., a house established at San Francisco for extensive brokerage and commission business by Capt. Simmons and Mr. Hutchinson. . . . The party is not a party of gold hunters; probably none of them will go to the diggings. Capt. Simmons is the owner of a large tract in and near the city of San Francisco, purchased on a former visit to that country. Dr. White has gone out to practice his profession of medicine, and Mr. Billings to establish himself in the practice of law in which he has been bred.39
An item reprinted in a western paper does give grim evidence that one employee of a Lowell mill did reach the mines:Execution of a Lowell Immigrant in California. -- We hear that accounts were received by the last mail from California of a lynching at the mines, in which Mr. Jonathan Pillsbury, formerly employed by the Massachusetts and Appleton Corporation, in this city, and two others lost their lives. The three were charged with having murdered and robbed a man, and were summarily hung. Mr. P. was on the point of taking the steamer at San Francisco for home, when an officer arrested him, and took him back to the mines. . . (Lowell Courier).40
During this time it was "quite impossible", as a Lowell paper remarked, "to keep run of every company or association contemplating an expedition to the Pacific Coast. Every seaport and almost every city and town in New England, is sending out large numbers".41 It is, of course, harder to " keep run " of them today. A number of scattered bits of evidence, however, give indication of the variety of people who set out. A characteristic item refers to a Holyoke group which required $5
More comprehensive evidence on the composition of these companies is given in Octavius Thorndike Howe's Argonauts of '49. In one case he finds it possible to cite figures:The first vessel to sail from Boston with a regularly organized company was the ship Edward Everett, carrying the Boston and California Joint Stock Mining and Trading Company. About the middle of December, 1848, a number of young men met in a room in Exchange Street, Boston, and organized a company for the Gold Coast, with Henry Smith, of Boston as captain and president. They limited their number to one hundred and fifty and in a short time their ranks were full. The company was the best organized and most representative of any that left Massachusetts during the gold exictement. It consisted of one clergyman, four doctors, eight whaling captains, a mineralogist, a geologist, fifteen professional men, including medical and divinity students, a number of merchants, farmers, manufacturers, and seventy-six mechanics.43Another passage describes the Bunker Hill Company which bought the ship Paulina "for four thousand dollars, fitted her up and provisioned her for eighteen months. They were mostly mechanics but not without means as their capital stock of fifteen thousand dollars was all paid in."44
These scattered items indicate that a considerable number of mechanics left New England for California during the Gold Rush. Yet it is significant to note that Mr. Howe speaks of the members of the Bunker Hill group as "not without means". We may suspect, therefore, that many of them were artisans or foremen of a higher "respectability" than the "run of the mill" wage-earners.
As for migration in less exciting times, the remaining evidence from the East gives little indication of wage-earner participation. Miss Vera Shlakman, who is preparing a history of the industrial town of Chicopee, Massachusetts, under the auspices of the Council of Industrial Studies of Smith College, has kept this question in mind during her researches. In addition to certain notices of the migration of people who were clearly not wage-earners, she finds references, without occupational identification, to nine persons leaving for Iowa in 1855,45 and ten starting for California in 1865,46 and also a statement that a party of eight or ten mechanics including two overseers left the neighboring city of Holyoke for Wisconsin in 1855.47 In one case, there is even the record of a departure fittingly celebrated. According to the Springfield Republican of May 30, 1858, a man who had worked for twelve years for the Dwight Manufacturing Company, proprietors of a Chicopee cotton mill, was presented with a telescopic rifle when he gave up his job to go West. But there is no indication, either in the local or Springfield papers, in the diary of a local resident, or in other contemporary records, of any westward movement of wage-earners substantial enough to have had any marked effect upon the industrial life of the area.
In the New York press, it is again possible to find fairly frequent reference to the emigration of classes other than eastern wage-earners. In the early thirties, for example, an extensive movement to Texas was reported, and the Texas and Rio Grande Land Company offered excellent terms in a series of advertisements in the New York papers:Terms (Cash) 200 acres of fine prairie land, $35, which will also include a passage for one individual; and any further quantity of land of the same character will be sold, until the end of January, at a rate of 10 cents an acre. Parties will have their lands surveyed and granted to them, by government commissioners and surveyors, without any charges.Yet a contemporary letter from Texas indicates that it was for the most part not wage-earners who were taking advantage of these opportunities: "In the first settlement of Texas, the population were mere adventurers -- many seeking a residence as an asylum -- at present the emigrants are wealthy, educated farmers and professional men, physicians and lawyers, affording in every neighborhood a circle of intelligence and decorum."49
Families belonging to purchasers of the Company's lands are carried out in the vessels chartered by the Company at 15 dollars for a man; 10 dollars for a wife or sister; the same for boys under 14 years of age, and 5 dollars for all under that age (except infants.) Nothing charged for a moderate amount of freight. Parties find their own provisions.48
A still more characteristic item mentions the departure of " a fine collection of Germans, men, women and children, who recently arrived in this country [and] who left this city for the West, some for Illinois, some for Missouri, and some for Wisconsin."50 Quotation after quotation could be set down to illustrate the westward movement of foreigners, but no comparable collection could be made to illustrate any similar migration of American wage-earners. In spite of Horace Greeley's lifelong interest in promoting such a movement, a prolonged search through his writings in the Tribune, as the previous article pointed out, yielded definite mention of only one "industrious mechanic" who had actually gone to the West.
The Difficulties of Migration
Though the eastern papers thus appear to contain relatively few direct references to the sources of the westward movement, they do nevertheless provide a considerable body of secondary evidence. In addition to their frequent declarations that workers should go West, which were illustrated at length in the preceding article, they contain also a lesser but still large number of statements to the effect that it was very hard or even impossible for workers to take this advice. These latter items are no more proof that the wage-earners did not go to the frontier than the former are that they did go. They are, nevertheless, worth citing as an introduction to a discussion of the difficulties in the way of working-class migration and of certain organized attempts to overcome these obstacles.
"The difficulty in thousands of cases", as a letter to the Tribune put it, "is that they cannot obtain the means of going West."51 In the days before the passage of the Homestead Act, this complaint is naturally associated with demands for "a reform in the manner of disposing of the public lands."52 A letter to The Voice of Industry lays the trouble to speculative prices:And what is the effect of this land speculation on the community? I hardly ever knew a journeyman or a day laborer to earn enough at any common business to buy a farm at speculative prices. There are thousands in want of profitable employment who have no way to procure an honest living, and cannot get money enough to pay for the privilege of using an acre of good, well cultivated land.53
Another item from the same paper repeats the complaint and adds the suggestion of a remedy:It will do well for one who has the help of a few hundred dollars of capital in warding off starvation, to talk about the ease with which every man may get a good living in this country, and may earn a farm. But it is quite a different thing to have a family to support on the hand to mouth principle, and save the first hundred dollars. The chances are that the most frugal and industrious man, who has a family to rear on his own labors will grow poorer instead of richer in the struggle. -- Why will it not be best to vote every such man at once a place to make such a farm on?54
At about the period of these last quotations, the Tribune tells the story of an enterprising group of workmen who proposed to overcome this difficulty for themselves by squatting on unsettled lands:Westward Ho! A fine body of working Men in our city, mainly Germans by birth -- but in part English and Americans, have united in an engagement to migrate together to some portion of the unsettled and probably unsurveyed public land of the Far West, (not being able to buy lands), intending to settle in a cluster, improve and cultivate until the not distant day, when it shall no longer be a misdemeanor to settle to live -- if not where he happens to be, then somewhere else. They agree to have $100 each to start with, about half of which will be consumed by the expenses of the journey. Some who wish to join them are destitute, or have far less than $100, and an appeal is made to the philanthropic to aid them by gift or loan to get away, and thus relieve the pressure upon the Labor Market in our City. Whoever is disposed to aid them or to learn further of their plans, is earnestly solicited to call upon Mr. William Trautwein, 189 Bowery.55It should be noted, however, that the necessity of raising money for even such a minimum of expenses appeared as a serious obstacle and as the occasion for a plea for philanthropic aid.
It is therefore not altogether surprising to find that references to the difficulties of the movement did not cease to appear even after the Homestead Act had removed the barrier of the price of land. One writer, indeed, made the flat statement after some twelve years of the law's operation that it had been "a failure and a delusion" and had done nothing to promote the movement of "the toiling masses" :Most prominent of the legacies bequeathed to the country by Mr. Greeley is the Homestead Law. But I must do his memory the justice of saying that in his zealous and persistent advocacy of the Homestead Law, he believed that he was serving the "toiling millions" for whose prosperity and elevation, he ever labored. And yet how few, how very few, of these "downtrodden millions" ever possessed themselves of what he regarded as the greatest boon and blessing. The Homestead Law, so far as its most popular feature is concerned, has proved a failure and a delusion. Things which cost nothing are slightly valued. There would have been a larger number of settlers growing up in industry and developing into usefulness and prosperity, as farmers, mechanics, and artisans, under the law which furnished lands from the public domain to actual settlers at $1.25 per acre, than has been secured under the plausible Congressional idea of "voting every man a farm."56
Although the paper that Greeley founded continued to insist that the legislation had solved the problem, and although an impassioned editorial inspired by the railroad strike of 1877 described the "Homestead Law" as "the imperishable barrier which the United States [had] raised between free labor and oppression"57 at the very time that Samuel Gompers was expressing the new viewpoint of labor by "ridiculing the advice of engineers and firemen to go West", 58 the columns of the Tribune itself carried frequent references to the persistence of the difficulty. One vigorous statement of it appears as a direct answer to an editorial on the familiar theme:To the Editor of the Tribune:
Sirs; In your issue of Saturday, the Editorial "The End of It", points the way, but where shall this "surplus population" get the means to go to farming? It is evident that could these congregated laborers be placed on farms of their own, or with farmers needing their labor, a vast amount of misery and vice could be prevented, and one phase of the labor question would be in a fair way of solution. But they have absolutely no way of paying for transportation to the government lands of the West, much less the necessary experience for even a brief stay after getting there.
In this vicinity are one hundred families (one eighth of the population), carpenters, masons, tinners and laborers who would gladly change a poorly paid, half employed, aimless life, for that one pointed out by you next door; but with no money, with less and less employment as weary months roll by, with children growing up to idleness, and with the hope of better times and steadier employment, longer and longer deferred, what is a man to do -- and the pitiless winter neither so far away?
The "Go West" theory is good as far as a theory; that great empire has been developed by those who acted upon the advice of the Tribune's founder; but in practice here and now, it is the error of errors to offer it as the panacea for all the troubles under which the penniless mechanics and laborers of our land are struggling. Could not the problem be solved by an appropriation of Congress which would enable some thousands, even, of these sad faced men to locate on the cheap but fertile lands indicated by you? . . .
W. S. Vincent.
The final suggestion, moreover, had already been embodied in resolutions passed at workingmen's meetings during the preceding summer:A local meeting was held last night at No. 224 Grand-st., to make preparations for the mass meeting at Cooper Institute on Wednesday, and for the parade on the next day. . . . Resolutions offered by William West were adopted, demanding the opening of the public lands exclusively for the actual cultivator, and the loaning of the means for transportation and purchase of implements and provisions, and the passage of the Banks Bill for enlarging the scope of the Homestead Act. . . .60
These statements emphasized, and these proposals were intended to overcome, the obstacle of the expense of migration; but a number of other items suggested the presence of a further difficulty that would have been harder to remove by legislation. Again it is a letter to the editor that states the point most vigorously, and this time a man brought up in a pioneer community in western New York argues that a man who has worked all his life in a factory or shop is not likely to succeed in running a farm:Sir: I observe "C. H.'s" article in your issue of the 24th inst. in which he invites answers to his question about farming. He may think that farming may be carried out with all pleasantness, but he will learn a lesson that he has never experienced by trying it a few years. Farming to make a success of it needs experience as well as any other business. Farming on paper and book learning may seem pleasant and easy, but the reality to a means is experience, adaptability, proper care, good order, tools in all times in order, all things done in their proper time. . . .
. . . This picture of a farm doubtless looks very pleasant to my city friend "C. H." for really to one not experienced it would seem that the farmer raised everything needed to make himself and family comfortable and happy. Does he think he could manage this farm successfully, stepping from city to farm? The experienced farmer only succeeds well. . . .61
In this case, the Tribune itself had shown its recognition of the difficulty. As early as 1857, an editorial writer had directed the following warning to a "Working-Man" who had some money and intended to turn farmer:Farming is a vocation, requiring knowledge, experience, and skill, like any other. No man born and reared in the city can remove to a farm at thirty or forty years of age and become immediately an efficient, thrifty, successful farmer. He will have much to learn and something to unlearn, and if he gets through his first year of fanning without using up $500 of his capital, he may consider that he has done well.62When an agricultural writer for the Tribune, George Geddes, looked back over the history of migration from the vantage point of 1878, this obstacle appeared to him to have been almost insurmountable:Very few cases can be shown of success in farming achieved by men who never lived on a farm, and who went directly from city life, depending entirely on the work of their hands, guided by uninstructed minds. Boys, brought up on a farm to the age of twelve or fifteen years, have gone to the cities, been successful there, and in after life have become successful and even model farmers. But they had the knowledge acquired in early life, and their capital derived from some other business, to pay for the mistakes they might make, while learning more. . . .63
Perhaps the fate of the fourteen migrants who returned to Fall River may be attributed to this difficulty, and a later section will provide what appears to be a further illustration.64 As for the obstacle of cost, a well-known passage from Professor Paxson's History of the American Frontier lists the essential items involved:Every homeseeker needed means to get his wagon and team, to buy his simple outfit for operating the home and farm, and to maintain himself and his family while on the journey. . . . After raising funds to cover the cost of migration and to make the initial payment on the land, there still remained the necessity to support the family until the crops could be extracted from the reluctant soil. The first harvest can rarely have done this, for the number of acres that could be cleared, planted and cultivated in the first season was small. There are many estimates that show that the cost of getting a crop into the land for the first time might be twice or thrice what the land itself might bring when unimproved.65Of these, the payment on the land might be avoided after the Homestead Act, though even then it was often wiser policy to buy better-situated land in private hands.66 In some cases, contemporary statements make it possible to fill in approximate figures for certain of these expenses. A number of references specify the cost of transportation, and it seems probable that the average varied between $25 and $45 per person, depending on the period, the route, the presence or absence of rate wars, and the distance traveled.
Two contemporary estimates attempt to cover the entire range of items involved in the process of settlement. One is a calculation, published in 1843 by an English traveler named William Oliver, of the cost of making a start on the Illinois frontier. For the trip from New York to St. Louis, he stated the expenses as follows: by way of Philadelphia and Pittsburg, $41.50 to $58 with meals and $13 to $20 without meals; by way of Albany and Buffalo, $16 to $21 without meals.67 For building and equipping the house and for buying and breaking in the land and stocking the farm, his estimates were as follows:
In spite of the half-cents, these are obviously figures of pioneering de luxe. Very likely the Englishman counted in items of equipment that would have appeared superfluous to the ordinary American, and the estimates include some $1100 for the cost of labor, almost all of which the poorer settler and his family would perform themselves. Yet in this case they would need subsistence till the crops came in and certain additional equipment for clearing and breaking the land, which Mr. Oliver estimated as costing a further $157.50. Thus it would be hard by any revision of the figures to reach a total below six hundred dollars.
House .................. $ 439.775 Farm .................. 1277.60 Total .................. $1717.37568
A second estimate is for a more representative settler at a later period:
The cost of transportation for husband, wife, and
say two children, will be at the minimum,
$100.00 Two oxen, with yoke, at least, 100.00 One wagon, at least, 100.00 Six months of provision, at 50 cents a day, to last
until the first crops are gathered in, not less than,
90.00 Farming implements, necessary, 150.00 Seeds for first crop, 100.00 One cow, 50.00 Total $690.00 69
Since this is after the passage of the Homestead Act, no item is included for payment on the land; but this estimate, nevertheless, like most of those that have been recorded, falls in the range between five hundred and a thousand dollars.
The figures as well as the complaints, then, suggest that the cost of settlement may well have been a serious obstacle to the migration of industrial workers even when land itself was free. Though Professor Paxson points out that many of those who went to the frontier must have made their way by borrowing, there can be little doubt that it was harder for wage-earners than for most other classes either to save the money themselves or to find "some obliging neighbor or relative" to take "their notes" and provide them with funds.70 There were, however, certain definite attempts to overcome this difficulty and that of the workers' lack of farm experience through the resort to group colonization sometimes supported by philanthropic funds. The next section, accordingly, will examine the records of organized migration to see whether they yield evidence of a more extensive movement of wage-earners.
If distance and cost and unfamiliarity tended to check the movement of the eastern poor to the western lands, there were on the other hand, as has been pointed out, certain contemporary attempts to overcome these obstacles. Frequent letters to the Tribune suggested that philanthropy was needed to accomplish the transfer of the unemployed to the West, and the Citizens Association set up a Labor Bureau to direct them to the rural areas.71 These intentions took more tangible form in the provision of charitable aid for the migration of certain classes of the population and in the organization of a number of colonies in which mutual aid -- and sometimes philanthropic assistance as well -- were to overcome the difficulties of settlement.
Direct aid to migration was apparently most often given to groups who were only potential wage-earners or on the borderline of wage-earning. In point of numbers, the most substantial activity was that of the Children's Aid Society in placing orphans or part orphans from the East in the homes of western farmers. Between 1854 and 1880, the Society sent out an average of over two thousand children a year to a total of 59,481;72 and the bearing of this activity on our problem is suggested by a contemporary reference to these companies of "boys and girls, in need of homes, who will find good ones where they are going and eventually become farmers themselves, instead of beggars, or criminals, or poor mechanics out of work and suffering in the city."73
Women, also, frequently went West under organized auspices. A notice in the mid-thirties indicates the nature of the movement:
Female Emigration. -- The St. Louis Daily Herald of the 10th, states that a company of "industrious, capable and intelligent" young women are about to start from Northampton, Mass. for the valley of the West. They are (says the Herald) needed as school teachers, to fill the various mechanical employments, which are the province of their sex, and above all, are needed as sweeteners of the toil and hardships of our young men, who now, in great numbers, are laboring in unblessed loneliness, over the vast domains of the West. These young women come out under the protection of a gentleman, and we do not hesitate, in the name of all that is pure and lovely, to promise them a hearty welcome from all classes of our fellow citizens.74During the forties, Governor Slade of Vermont made a practice of conducting groups of New England girls to the West to become teachers. Thus one of many notices records his arrival at Buffalo "accompanied by twenty-three young ladies, whom he is escorting to the Western States, where they will be employed as teachers";75 and it is estimated that he brought about one hundred girls a year to the West. Another characteristic notice quoted from an Iowa paper describes the "arrival of forty-one ladies" as causing "a great sensation." "Many of our newcomers", it boasted, "are genuine Yankees." This item was headed "Welcome at the West", and the nature of that welcome may be made clear by one more quotation:
Yankee Girls Out West. -- Prentice complains, in the Louisville Journal, that the Yankee girls who came out West do very little teaching. Instead of teaching other people's children, they soon get to teaching their own.76
The children and most of these women were only potential employees of eastern industry, but the depression of 1857 brought about the organization of the Women's Protective Emigrant Society with the definite purpose of promoting the migration of unemployed wage-earners. Horace Greeley, in one of his best moods, explained the occasion and the need:
On another page is an appeal of the "Women's Protective Emigrant Society" to which the generous attention of the public may be directed. This society is just organized for the purpose of sending destitute young women and girls who are deprived of the means of obtaining their daily bread, to the Interior or the West, where they may find employment. It is not intended to do this without ample precaution and regularity. Indeed, a system is already devised for the purpose of fully carrying out the object as soon as means are obtained, the active promoters being likewise determined to go to work at once and do good in proportion to their limited means, trusting to the correct sentiment of the public to afford them rapidly an all-sufficient fund to perfect their scheme. No rhetoric can exaggerate the awful conditions of thousands, yes thousands -- of respectable, industrious, virtuous girls in this metropolis whose wages are suddenly suspended, and who are left hopeless and helpless. It is estimated that there are no less than 7000 now ready to go West, because society has entirely withdrawn its succor from them. At best, they can earn but a pittance. A woman may be defined to be a creature who receives half price for all she does, and pays full price for all she needs. No hotel or boarding house here takes a woman at a discount of fifty per cent. Butchers, bakers, grocers, mercers, haberdashers, -- all ask her the utmost penny. No omnibus carries her for a halfed sixpence. She earns as a child -- she pays as a man. Besides her sex, if not barbarous custom, cuts her off from the best rewarded callings. . . . What, then, remains to be done? Simply individual action. Action prompt; action liberal, action abundant. There is no time to be lost. . . .77
The nature of the action is illustrated in the following item:
The Women's Protective Emigrant Society dispatched last evening a party of forty young women in charge of Miss Rich to Northern Indiana where Mr. Foster has procured good homes for them. The Society is now ready to receive others for Illinois, Indiana and other Western States, at its rooms, No. 29 Canal Street, where also contributions . . . will be thankfully received.78Similar notices appeared, about two weeks apart, from November 10, 1857 to March 3, 1858; and during that time the Society-appears to have sent out between 100 and 150 women a month.
A somewhat more substantial migration of wage-earners is indicated from time to time in the notices of the organized colonies and settlement associations which played an often forgotten part in the westward movement.79 The course of one of these, which was organized by a New York City school teacher named Murphy, may be followed across the country in the papers of 1856. The New York Tribune records the plans for the start:
The Minnesota Settlement Association, now numbering 127 members, will leave New York about the 15th of April. They will settle on government land at $1.25 per acre, and have some years to pay for it. Meetings every Wednesday Evening at No. 163 Bowery. All members are notified to come forward and pay their last installment on shares.80
A St. Paul paper notes the arrival in Minnesota:
"Bound for Minnesota. -- Monday evening's train from Chicago, brought three hundred men, women and children, from New York City to this place, bound for Minnesota Territory, where they intend to locate a town and make farm. The company is known as the Minnesota Settlement Association. They have among them farmers, mechanics, school teachers, printers and members of the theological and medical professions. Judging from their appearance, we should take them to be a very respectable and industrious class of men, amply supplied with the means to accomplish the objects they have in view.
"The male portion of the company met Tuesday in the third story of Robinson & Co.'s store to attend to the purchase of stock, farming implements, &c, prior to leaving for Minnesota." (Dubuque Republican).
The company referred to above arrived on Saturday last upon the City Bell, and they immediately took passage on the steamer Reveille for Mankato. They intend laying out a town in Blue Earth County, which under their auspices cannot fail hereafter to be of some importance.81
Further details and a conclusion may be found in the History of Blue Earth County. Each member, it appears, had been charged a fee of ten dollars, and the Association had promised "cheap transportation West, an opportunity to preempt 160 acres of the best farm land; one lot in the town site, which was to be platted in the midst of the new settlement, which was certain of being a big town; and having a well settled community at once, instead of isolation incident to the ordinary pioneer life." But when the colonists arrived at the chosen site, and divided the land into claims of the promised size, they found that only 65 had sufficient timber. The sequel is told by the county historian:
Three of the head officers were allowed the first pick. The rest of the claims were numbered and divided by lot, but as there were 139 persons present entitled to claims, more than half the tickets were blanks. The result was a great dissatisfaction. Many who drew good claims were young men without families whose only purpose was speculation, while many heads of families drew blanks. A general row followed and much claim jumping. Most of the disappointed scattered. . . .Soon after, the entire venture came to an ignominious end, for "the land was jumped in a short time by two enterprising claim hunters" and the section was finally settled by people from Wisconsin.82
Similar stories of disappointment appear frequently in the records, and one of the most significant is the case of another Minnesota colony in which it was specifically the urban workers that failed. In 1851 the New York Tribune reported that Mr. William Haddock, " a printer of this city ", had given a lecture on behalf of the Western Farm and Village Association, which was to enroll from 150 to 200 persons, embracing " a proportional number from each of the ordinary professions" and offering them -- as in the case of Mr. Murphy's organization -- the opportunity of pioneering with "all the comforts of civilization, which could only be realized by settling in close proximity."83 A fuller notice appeared in the Tribune several months later, declaring that its object wasto settle on our Government's Lands in the West in such a manner that farmers, mechanics, manufacturers and merchants may possess the advantages of the first purchase of the land, without paying the higher prices which a crowded population creates, and at the same time enjoy all the advantages of an intelligent and industrious community. . . .
Young farmers, mechanics, manufacturers, machinists and millwrights, in every State, of good habits, are invited to send their names, stating their profession, the quantity of land they wish to obtain . . . also the probable amount of Capital they will possess. . . .
It is often asked how much money will be required. The answer must be, the more the better. Yet it is plain that men of small capital possess more advantages in this Association, as one sustains another, like a bundle of sticks. . . .84
Two years after the original announcement, a correspondent reported on the progress of the colony in Minnesota. "It has a select population", he said, "having twice been sifted; in the first place none but reputable persons being admitted; and none but the persevering ones staying. . . . Most of those who left were mechanics and artisans, principally from New York City, who knew nothing about farming or the wants of a new settlement"
The history of this second sifting was fortunately recorded by one of the original settlers, and the typewritten manuscript is preserved in the archives of the Minnesota Historical Society. The author had been an Indiana farmer attracted, like the other settlers, by the proposals "to form a colony of several hundred and perhaps a thousand or more, taking none but those of good character and good citizens, and locate in the West, on government lands, in a body, on a good navigable stream, if possible. They would survey out a village lot and a farm of 160 acres, choice to be drawn by lots." For our purposes, the most significant sections of the narrative are those which deal with "the city members of the Association" who were, as he said, "nearly all mechanics, and knew little or nothing about the country. They had little idea how difficult it was to find a locality very much resembling the one pictured in their imaginations."85 In the new location, their troubles began promptly:
We had to have lumber. It seemed that no one had made any effort to get any. The Association had published in their papers that as soon as they got word where their location was, there was to be sent on what they called the "Pioneer squad," consisting of a dozen or more able bodied men, mostly carpenters, to put up buildings and have them ready for the temporary use of those coming. They came there. They were nearly all city chaps; didn't seem to have any leader; knew nothing of pioneering; thought they could do nothing because they had no lumber, and it seems did nothing toward getting any. They sat around as though waiting for the lumber to come to them. They lived on mush and molasses. . . . The first arrivals of course found no shelter, and having women and children they had to leave, and naturally told hard stories about the place.
In this emergency, a neighbor of the author's went up the Chippewa River and floated down a load of lumber, and several other families from Indiana came to the settlement:
We pitched in and put up a cabin for lames on his lot, within a block or two of where Lord's lumber was landed. In a couple of days he was living in it. Wally Corywell had worked in a cooper's shop the winter before, and brought cooper's tools with him. Among those was a frow used to rive out barrel staves, shingles and shakes (long shingles). It came very handy. He rived out enough shakes to cover lames' house, and they made a good, rain-proof roof. Those unsophisticated city chaps, "The Pioneer Squad," and others too, looked with wonder on those Indiana fellows as they called us, put up a comfortable house so quickly with material found right there on the ground. They could then see what they might have done had they known how.86
A similar contrast appeared in the first farming:
We were the only men of the colony who went on to a farm, and I think we were the only ones who had any breaking done on a farm the first season. . . . Nearly everybody tried to grow something or other on their city lots. Those that did not plow or get plowing done used the spade. Many spaded up ground for a garden. Some had quite good sized patches. It seemed as if all those city chaps had bought new Ames spades and garden seeds. Second-hand spades, as good as new, were cheap the latter part of the season, 50 cents being the regular price, while new Ames spades retailed everywhere for $1.25. They had learned that a spade was not much account for farming in a new country.87
A final comment sums up the author's opinions of the "city chaps" as colonists:
A majority of the members of the "Western Farm and Village Association" were tradesmen, printers, tailors, lithographers, calico printers, designers of wall papers, etc. They knew very little else of work. Most of them, like Mr. Thorp, had some idea of gardening with a spade. As they had always lived in a city, they would get lost if they got out of sight of their shanties.88
If this story is a characteristic one, it tends to explain the cases of return from the West that were so conspicuous in the story of Fall River. In numbers, however, these early colonies were fairly insignificant; and the first case of large scale organized migration originated in the excitements of political history. When the Kansas-Nebraska Act applied to Kansas the doctrine of "squatter sovereignty", the anti-slavery advocates of New England determined to take matters into their own hands and fill the territory with settlers who would vote to make it a free state. Under the leadership of Eli Thayer, they organized the New England Emigrant Aid Company, to whose stock many clergymen and philanthropic individuals, including such men of wealth as A. Amos Lawrence, were subscribers.89 Similar or affiliated groups, such as the New York Kansas League, were organized in other centers. The ends, however, were not exclusively political. Mr. Thayer himself hoped that the Company would make profits through the operation of various enterprises and the increase of land values, and there is ample evidence that the settlers themselves were as much interested in economic advantages as in the slavery question. Letter after letter preserved in the archives of the Kansas State Historical Society complains of poverty as both an obstacle and inducement to migration. The following is one of many examples:
Danby, Apr. 26, 56. Mr. Barnes
Dear sir I write to you for informate & a circular in regard to Kansas. I have a strong desire to go West. I am a poor man & shall always be so here I am a miller by trade and am now receiving 30 dollars per month I would be very glad to go in May but dont know as I can as I have not the funds at present. . . .90
Another letter outlines the special advantages of settlement under the Company's auspices:
Allow me, Mr. Editor, to tell why I like the Company . . . and if I don't get it right, you or the agent here, can set me right. I like the Aid Company because under their auspices, a man can settle in Kansas with as little expense as he can settle himself upon the public lands of Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa or Minnesota. . . .
Again, there are no other public lands where I can locate myself and enjoy the institutions I left in New England. The mill, the school the church are planted after settlement is made in other places, and then not until the population will warrant their erection, and often not then. But here, under the auspices of the Society, we have the mill, the receiving house, the school house, the church, and the Sabbath-School -- all within the first three months of our prairie life.
If I left my Eastern home with sighs for anything, they were sighs for the institutions, the society, and friends of the East. But, to my surprise, I find the very institutions . . . which I left behind, already planted and maturing in our midst.91
The inducements were certainly substantial, and must have made a great appeal to people who could not or would not go under other conditions. By traveling in groups of thirty or more the settlers were able to obtain reduced railroad rates. Accommodations were to be provided for them while they selected their sites and built their new homes. Above all, they were to find at once a social life like that of their home communities, with churches, schools, stores and mills waiting for their arrival. No scheme of settlement offered more to overcome the obstacles that faced the city-bred wage-earner with little capital and without farm experience; it seemed, indeed, almost "tailor-made" to assist in his migration. News of the enterprise, moreover, was spread far and wide by the eastern press. If wage-earners ever went to the western lands, we should certainly expect to find them taking part in this movement. How many of them did so?
In this case, something of a quantitative answer is made possible by the preservation of many of the original documents in the collection of the Kansas State Historical Society.92 Thus the Barnes papers make it clear that almost all of the emigrants sent out by the New York Kansas League came from the smaller agricultural communities of the state.93 The New England Company, on the other hand, drew a significant proportion of its settlers from the industrial centers; and its more elaborate records yield the materials for a statistical analysis. In the collection are five of the six or seven " emigrant books " which were kept by the secretary and which contained the names of all the people who settled under the auspices of the Company. In all, some 3000 heads of families or independent individuals went to Kansas under its direction, and in 727 of these cases there remain records of their occupations in the home community. One hundred and four different callings are listed, and these we classified into four major groupings: farmers, business men, professionals, and a last group which contained both independent artisans and wage-earners and in which all doubtful cases were placed. The resulting distribution follows:
Number Per cent Farmers 239 32.9 Business Men 71 9.8 Professionals 61 8.4 Independent workmen plus wage-earners 356 48.9 TOTAL 727 100.0
It was from the last group that we had to attempt to pick out the wage-earners. In many cases, as the detailed list of 61 occupations indicates,94 the term used could refer either to an independent artisan or to a wage worker. Some light on the question, and on the general character of the migration, could be obtained by re-examining the list of occupations in terms of the communities in which they had been carried on. From this two obvious conclusions emerged. In the first place, there is virtually no evidence of anything like mass migration from particular centers of labor unrest. In the total list, 283 communities are represented; and 171 communities, only seven of which provided more than ten emigrants each, contained members of the group of independent artisans plus wage-earners. Conversely, the 73 carpenters, for example, came from 51 communities, and the migration of six of them from Salem is actually the nearest approach to a mass movement of members of a particular trade from a single town. In the second place, it is evident that a very large proportion of the migrants came from very small places,95 The table on the following page gives their distribution by size of communities, for the cases in which this fact could be ascertained:
Size of Communities Sending Emigrants to Kansas Under Auspices of New England Emigrant Aid Company Size Class a Number of Communities Number of Emigrants Professionals Farmers Business Mechanics and Wage Earners 0- 1,000 18 22 4 10 1 7 1,000- 2,500 87 154 13 74 9 58 2,500- 5,000 60 136 11 38 14 73 5,000- 10,000 26 92 10 19 12 51 10,000- 25,000 14 85 4 18 10 53 25,000- 50,000 3 27 . . 3 2 22 50,000- 100,000 1 1 . . 1 . . . . 100,000- and over 2 53 8 2 14 29 Totalsb 211 570 50 165 62 203 a From United States Census for 1850. b The totals in this table are smaller than the numbers given previously since it was impossible to locate in the Census all the communities listed. Presumably the bias introduced by these omissions is in the direction of overstating the percentages of migration from the larger places.
Thus half of all the Company's migrants, and 45% even of the mechanics and wage-earners, appear to have come from villages between 1000 and 5000 rather than from the larger manufacturing centers.
Even with these indications, the discrimination between wage-earners and workers on their own account remains a matter of doubtful and individual judgment. If we place in the former group every case that seems to us close to the borderline, we believe that some 221 out of the 727 -- or 30% of the total -- may be regarded as wage-earners. If the same proportion holds for all the migrants who came out under the New England Company during the four years covered by the books, approximately 900 out of the 3000 were wage workers. Both the percentage, then, and the absolute numbers were substantial, though still small in relation to the total labor supply of eastern industry.
The migration of wage-earners never again received such a notable single stimulus, but the idea of organized migration persisted long after the fate of "Bleeding Kansas" had been decided. Greeley added it to his platform and expressed surprise that people moving to the West had not long before seen that there was "no comparison as to safety, comfort, usefulness of emigrating with a group of farmers, mechanics, teachers, and pastors, over that of going to a strange land alone."96 When this type of migration revived after the Civil War, one of the most important of the new groups, Union Colony, located in Colorado and fittingly chose Greeley as the name for its settlement. This project received full publicity in the Tribune, the first notice appearing December 4, 1869; and a substantial part of the original records have been collected and published by the University of Colorado.97 These provide lists of names and home addresses of 436 people who paid the $155 necessary for membership and also of 139 of the first settlers. Unpublished papers in the Meeker Memorial Museum at Greeley contain application blanks filled out by 384 persons and giving not only home addresses but also occupations. The three lists do not contain identical names. Some who made applications did not become members, and some who became members apparently did not go West. Of the 73 applicants who were also listed among the early settlers, 17 may well have been wage-earners; and of the total of 384, some 74 -- or 19% -- appear to belong in that category.
The geographical origins of the Colony may be examined by means of the longer list of those who paid their membership fees. Of the 436, New England, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania supplied 255, and the others were mainly from the West. New York leads with 101 entries, but the detailed list of communities dispels the notion that this indicates a preponderance of industrial wage-earners. These members came from 55 different communities, only 13 of which provided more than one entry apiece, and New York City and Brooklyn together furnished only 19. Again the origins seem to have been largely village and agricultural, and the suggestion that wage-earners played only a minor part in the enterprise is somewhat confirmed by an article in the Nation describing the settlers as "gentleman farmers."
The case of this Union Colony is apparently unique both in its high degree of success and in the fullness of the records that have been preserved. Its time, however, was one of very active experimentation in organized settlement. In the year of its origin, a Dakota paper linked the general movement with "scarcity of work", "increase of pauperism" and "the overcrowded condition of cities" and declared that "emigrant societies", often established "after the plan of Loan Associations", had provided "thousands of poor laborers, mechanics and tradesmen" with the means of coming West.98
With the depression of 1873 colony-building received renewed stimulus. At least two other organized bodies followed the Union to Colorado -- the St. Louis Western and the Chicago Colorado colonies. The latter was organized by a group of German workingmen, and it was from this that a number of the Fall River wage-earners straggled back to their "home base". Kansas attracted a still larger number of organized groups, and Miss Weldron's dissertation mentions the formation during the seventies of the Chicago Workingmen's Colony and the Excelsior Company, which was made up of New York mechanics, as well as nine others which may well have contained wage-earners -- the Massachusetts, Bridgeport, New Haven, Syracuse, New York, Empire (also from New York), Brooklyn, Buffalo and Pennsylvania colonies.99 Unfortunately there is little evidence of the fate of these ventures. We cannot tell, therefore, how many workmen they may have brought to the West, or how many they held there. In most cases, apparently, they did not last long, and it is probable that for many the end was similar to that described forty years later by the only couple remaining where the Syracuse colony had planted its settlement:
All of the new settlers took claims and that spring planted their maize, which was promptly dried up by the drouth and blown away by the hot winds. They managed to skimp through the following winter and the next spring again planted their crops, but the season was only a repetition of the first, and by July, practically all of the little band was thoroughly disgusted and almost destitute. . . .100
It thus appears that assisted and organized migration sometimes lessened but by no means eliminated the obstacles that stood in the way of the westward movement of wage-earners. The percentage of working-class participation in these group settlements may well have been higher than in the more individualistic movement to the West. It seems unlikely, however, that there could have been more than a year or two in which as many as five hundred wage-earners left the East for any or all of the colonies mentioned, and entirely improbable that the total movement of this sort was large enough to exert a marked effect upon the labor supply of the eastern factories.
Other Evidence from the West
Much of the evidence regarding the outcome of these organized ventures comes from western sources, and we may turn to similar materials for what indication they may give of the presence of wage-earners among the general body of settlers. On one point, the western papers of many localities and of all periods give unanimous testimony. Wage-earners were welcome and urged to come. "Good mechanics are much wanted", said a characteristic advertisement inserted on behalf of "the flourishing village of La Grange."101 Western editors, moreover, took every depression and every instance of eastern distress as an occasion for pointing the moral of migration. According to the Detroit Free Press of 1837, "If the unemployed mechanics and laborers in the large cities at the East were informed of the prospects which are held out for them, they would be wanting in judgment, we think, if they did not immediately embark for the West."102 Two decades later, the Nebraska Palladium made the inducements more specific and still more persuasive:
Come where a man can earn from one to two acres of land every day he works, and where a female can earn a farm of from 80 to 100 acres besides supporting herself in a year's time. Better come where you can earn something for yourself and be of service to the community, than to stay where you can earn nothing and are a burden to the State.103Letter-writing readers joined their editors in the plea. Thus an Indiana settler wrote to "the unemployed and hungry of New York": "Just move your families to the small villages of the West. Here is unlimited work to be done, and thousands of dollars to pay for it. ... Who will not prefer this to the riots, starvation, insolence, suffering and crimes, which you report to be your present or approximate condition?"104 Still more complacent is the advice from a Nebraskan in the seventies:
It is with pleasure I read in a recent copy of a paper published in the mining districts of Pennsylvania of the continued dissatisfaction of the miners or at least a portion of them, and of their preparing to go West to take up public lands and each to go to work for himself.
This is the wisest way of solving the trouble existing in the coal mining regions and everywhere, between employers and employed. . . . When the laboring men in any part of our country find themselves oppressed by capital, or embroiled in feuds with trade unions, they cannot do better than betake themselves to the primitive occupation of digging their living out of the generous earth.105
These comments show only that wage-earners would have been welcome. What we are more anxious to know is how many of them actually went West, and how large a part of the stream of migration they made. The records we have found, however, permit us to do no more than dip into the stream here and there at places and periods that we may hope were representative. In the case of Michigan, to which the Free Press urged the unemployed to go, we may make use of Mr. George N. Fuller's careful study of the origins of the population.106 His observations for the state as a whole indicated that a very large proportion of the early settlers came from upper New York State. For Washtenaw County, which he considered typical both in physical features and in the sources of the people, he made an intensive study of the places from which the original purchasers of the land had come. Of those from outside Michigan, almost all were from New York State,107 and this migration he analyzed as follows:
By far the largest number of New York purchasers registered from Genesee, Monroe, Ontario, and Seneca counties; Cayuga, Livingston, Steuben and Wayne counties made up the next largest number; these eight counties, which made a fairly compact area, were in the northern and central parts of western New York. Four-fifths of these patents (183) name counties lying west of the meridian of Stony Point, which passes through the eastern end of Lake Ontario; and of these, seven-tenths (129) name these eight counties. Less than two-fifths of the whole number (89) mention counties bordering on Lake Erie and Pennsylvania, and purchasers were fewest in the latter. In both western and eastern New York they were most numerous in the area which was influenced directly by the Erie Canal.108
Mr. Fuller's general conclusion may be supported from another source. During 1836, the Detroit Daily Advertiser published a "Traveller's Register" giving the names and addresses of the people who came to the hotels of the city. In the period from June 11 to July 8, over two thousand names were published. Of these at least 958 came from New York State and by far the larger part from the Erie Canal region which Mr. Fuller describes. The city of New York, on the other hand, appears to have provided not more than fifteen or twenty of the migrants.109 Both these sources, therefore, suggest the conclusion that wage-earners from the industrial centers did not form a large proportion of the early settlers of Michigan.
Similar evidence may be found for Minnesota. From a St. Paul newspaper, we took the names of 341 individuals who came to the state during May 1854 and April 1855.110 More than three fifths of the total were contributed by the five states of New York (20%), Pennsylvania (13%), Maine (13%), Illinois (9%), and Wisconsin (7%). Thus two partly industrial states supplied much of the migration, but what evidence there is on the actual localities suggests that for New York at least the migrants again came mainly from the smaller communities.111
Though the Gold Rush does not represent the type of pioneering on which the main emphasis of the Turner theory falls, it is nevertheless of interest to note certain evidence regarding the composition of the wagon trains that started across the Plains. The St. Louis Republican stationed a correspondent at Independence, and his reports make it clear that by far the greater part of the migrants that assembled there were from the farms and the small towns of the Middle West. A few came from the South and a few from the agricultural regions of the East; but the Pittsburgh and California Enterprise Company, of whose nearly 300 people 162 came from Pittsburgh, was an outstanding exception.112 At the same time, moreover, another Missouri paper was deploring the effects of emigration from within the state. Farmers and farm laborers were being drawn away, and "many a broad acre of rich and improved land" would therefore lie idle.113
A final bit of evidence comes from the settlement of western Kansas during the eighties. One of the sections then receiving population was Greeley County with its appropriately named towns of Horace and Tribune. From July through December, 1886, the Greeley County Gazette mentions the names of 43 settlers who came to the community. Of these, 24 were from Kansas, 6 from Illinois, 4 from Missouri, 2 each from Kentucky and Indiana, and one each from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, New York and West Virginia. The known occupations included three lawyers, two doctors, a hotel keeper and merchant, a real estate dealer, a capitalist, a court clerk, and Land Office registrar, and a man engaged in the loan business. As for the other 32, most of them probably fitted the description given by the Greeley Tribune: "The immigration that is now pouring into Kansas is something to excite wonder and bewilderment. Thousands and thousands of intelligent farmers of the Eastern States are daily pouring into our Western counties in order to take advantage of the low price of land."114 Though the latter paper, in the spirit of its namesake, urged the disaffected laborer of the East that his strike would be victorious if only he would "strike for Tribune", there is no record that the advice was ever followed.
When more general references to the origins of migrants can be found, their tenor is most often like that of the quotation from the Greeley Tribune. Some, to be sure, speak of the coming of business and professional men such as those listed in the Gazette or referred to in the Fall River papers. Thus the Commissioner of Immigration, maintained by the state of Minnesota in New York City, wrote hopefullyto his Governor of the prospect of fifteen or twenty thousand settlers and added that "a fair proportion" would be "well-to-do-people, and persons with capital, who desire to enter and engage in different branches of manufacturing."115 Many references, also, and a number of well-known monographs, deal with the settlement of immigrants from abroad. But a notice taken from the Buffalo Democracy represents an even more characteristic item: "The flux of Yankee immigration to the West, this season is entirely unprecedented; every propellor leaving this port is loaded down with emigrants, chiefly from the New England States, and of the best class of sturdy farmers, bound for Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota."116 Often also, it was the next previous frontier which supplied the settlers for the new. Thus a Minnesota land official made a trip through Michigan and Indiana early in 1855 and "heard of hundreds of families who designed removing the present season." "Multitudes poured in on him", he reported, "eager to learn particulars about the country."117
Again, the Minnesota Pioneer headed a note that "quite a large proportion of the passengers who arrived here Sunday were farmers" with the caption: "The Right Kind of Men for a New Country",118 and returned to the same theme with greater eloquence in the following year:
And the strangers coining amongst us are of precisely the right type. You see very few of those who look through the keen restless eyes, which mark the mere speculator; fewer still of the class which throws its "whole intellect" into the cultivation of mustachios, and contemplates with admiration the fit of Jenning's shortest waist and longest tail; but the great majority of the thousands are hard fisted, broad chested, open-faced, Middle States farmers, whose burden of inquiry is about the soil, and who look as if they intended to be at work on the day after they select a claim or enter it.119
From such sources, apparently, and not from the eastern mills, came the great majority of settlers of the western lands.
From this sampling of imperfect materials, we cannot claim the weight of conclusive proof. It is hoped that the question may receive further study and quite possible that such examination may disclose the existence of significant movements which our investigation has failed to uncover. There is, however, no mistaking the general tenor of what has been found. The bits of evidence drawn from widely scattered sources fit together into a pattern of unexpected consistency. In it, for example, workers' complaints of the difficulty of migration are matched by western figures of the cost of settlement. The return of Fall River wage-earners is made understandable by what happened to New York mechanics in the Farm and Village Association in Minnesota. Still more significantly, the lack of reference to wage-earners in western accounts of frontier origins appears consistent with what can be learned from the records of the industrial centers, and suggests that "the case of Fall River" was far from exceptional.
This cumulation of evidence thus points to the conclusion that the movement of eastern wage-earners to the western lands was surprisingly small.120 Too few industrial workers reached the frontier to attract notice in the accounts of settlement. What is more striking, too few wage-earners left the industrial centers to exert any marked effect on their labor situation. We could find no eastern paper showing any such concern over their departure as the Liberty Weekly Tribune expressed over the Missourians who were drawn into the Gold Rush. Even when the obstacles to working-class settlement were partially removed by assisted and organized migration, the numbers did not swell into a really substantial stream. Finally, one further corollary is suggested by limited but persuasive evidence. When eastern workers did attempt to take up land, they appear very frequently to have failed and returned home discouraged. To Professor Paxson's remark that "the city dwellers gave less than their share to the procession west; and more than their proportion of the pioneers that failed",121 we may add that both statements seem to apply a fortiori to the urban wage-earners.
Since these findings run counter to an important element in the Turner theory, it is essential to indicate with care the boundaries of the disagreement. There is nothing in the present study to cast doubt upon the doctrine that the growth of American industrialism was delayed and made difficult by the presence of the frontier alternative. Nor has it attempted to examine the extent to which the growing industries of the Middle West recruited their labor supply from eastern wage-earners. The analysis confirms, moreover, rather than questions the opinion that the abundance of western land drew away many thousands of potential wage-earners who might otherwise have crowded into the factories "from the hill towns of New England" and "from the exhausted farms of New York and Pennsylvania." Though here the "safety valve" was the farmer's rather than the worker's, we need not doubt that its operation tended to hold up the level of industrial wages.
We cannot, however, accept the safety-valve doctrine in the direct and literal form in which it has been stated by Turner and his followers. This seems to have had no basis more substantial than the political debates over the homestead acts and the hopes and aspirations of Greeley and Evans, and can hardly be maintained unless new and concrete evidence is brought forward to its support. Once American industrialism was well established, it seems clear that the overwhelming proportion of its workers lived out their lives within its confines. It appears impossible to believe that any significant number of American wage-earners did in fact "escape as individuals" -- or in organized groups -- "to lands that [were] free."
This conclusion, moreover, need not seem surprising if it is considered in the setting of the general development of the nation. In spite of the westward movement, the country throughout the period was steadily becoming more urban and less rural, and each Census recorded the relative gain of manufacturing as compared with agriculture.122 The factories were thus drawing population from the countryside, and the presence of a reverse movement might be thought of as requiring more explanation than its absence. Again, the labor controversies of the time, as Professor Shannon has argued, were fought with a bitterness hard to reconcile with the doctrine that the workmen could escape "with a slight effort" to a life of independence on the western lands. If the American wage-earners of the period did in fact have broader opportunities than their fellows in other countries, it would appear that more of the explanation lies in the rapid growth of manufacturing employment than in the presence of a distant frontier.
1 Political Science Quarterly, June 1935, pp. 161-185. As there indicated, the investigation was made possible by a grant from the Columbia University Council for Research in the Social Sciences. Interpretation and writing have been joint responsibilities, but it should be recorded that the collection of material has been almost entirely the work of the junior author. Use has been made of the libraries and collections of the historical societies of Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Kansas, Oregon, California, Missouri and New York, the public libraries of New York, Detroit, Boston, Lynn, Fall River, Portland (Ore.), and Tacoma, the Library of Congress, the Massachusetts State Library, the Columbia University Library, and the Meeker Memorial Museum of Greeley, Colorado. Special acknowledgment should be made of the courtesies extended by Messrs. T. C. Blegen and Arthur J. Larson of the Minnesota society, Mr. George Root of the Kansas society and Mr. A. B. Copeland of the Meeker Museum.
2 At least short of the task of taking the names of individual wage-earners in a given Census and then searching for them in the haystacks of succeeding enumerations. Consider, for example, the problem of making use of the Census returns in a frontier state. The people in whom we are primarily interested will all be described there as farmers. But suppose there is the record of a "mechanic" born, in Massachusetts. Even if we could be sure that he was a wage-earner rather than an independent artisan, there would still be no indication whether he had learned his trade in the state of birth or in the frontier state or in any one of a number of possible stopping places between. Of the latter there would, of course, be no record whatever unless, by chance, he had children born on the way.
3 A collection of application forms from the various states which had large areas of public lands to dispose of indicates that the same limitations would apply to the use of their records also.
4 Detroit Semi-Weekly Free Press, May 5, 1837.
5 April 23, 1840.
6 Hibbard makes the point for the first period in his History of Public Land Policies (New York, 1924), pp. 101-105.
7 We have determined these dates by what seemed to us to be the popular interest in the newspapers. Differing in some cases, and showing the movement more accurately, because based on Census records, are the maps in Thornthwaite and Slentz, Internal Migration in the United States (Bulletin No. I of the Study of Population Redistribution), (Philadelphia, 1934), Plates I and II.
8 Fall River Monitor, August 7, 1830.
9 Ibid., September 25, 1830.
10 Ibid., February 11, 1837.
11 Ibid., April 22, 1837.
" Ibid., July 29, 1837.
13 Advertisement in the Fall River Monitor, November 9, 1844.
14 See below, pp. 81-83, for somewhat more satisfactory information concerning the Lowell and Boston participants in the Gold Rush.
15 Fall River News, October 12, 1854.
16 Ibid., April 26, 1855.
17 Fall River Daily Evening News, November 25, 1869.
18 Ibid., January 10, 1870.
19 Ibid., December 12, 1871.
20 Ibid., May 2, 1870.
21 Ibid., May 20, 1870.
22 Ibid., August 4, 1870.
23 Ibid., June 6, 1870.
24 Ibid., April 18, 1874.
25 Ibid., May 8, 1876.
26 Ibid., August 15, 1877.
27 Ibid., March 16, 1871.
28 Experiments in Colorado Colonization, edited by J. F. Willard and C. B, Goodykoontz, University of Colorado Historical Collection, vol. 3 (Boulder, 1926).
29 Fall River Daily Evening News, July 19, 1875.
30 Ibid., April 10, 1874.
31 Ibid., November 4, 1874.
32 Ibid., November 9, 1874.
33 Fall River News, November 12, 1857.
34 The Worcester Palladium, as quoted by the Fall River News, February 17, 1848.
35 The Fall River Mechanic, June 29, 1844.
36 Lowell Mercury, March 20, 1832.
37 Working Man's Advocate, October II, 1834.
38 New York Tribune, April 29, 1850.
39 Lowell Journal and Courier, January 22, 1849.
40 Northwestern Gazette, Galena, 111., August 22, 1852.
41 Lowell Daily Journal and Courier, February 2, 1849.
42 Ibid., January 18, 1849.
48 Octavius Thorndike Howe, Argonauts of '49 (Cambridge, 1923), p. 47.
44 Ibid., p. 63.
46 Springfield Republican, May 21, 1855.
46 Ibid., May 17, 1868.
47 Ibid., March 23, 1855.
48 Advertisement in the New York Commercial Advocate, January 27, 1835.
49 New York Spectator, November 27, 1834.
50 American Sentinel as quoted by the New York Evening Post, August 14, 1838.
51 New York Tribune, April 26, 1847.
52 The National Laborer, Philadelphia, August 27, 1836.
53 The Voice of Industry, November 5, 1847.
54 Ibid., April 10, 1846.
55 New York Tribune, April 26, 1847.
56 New York Tribune, February 20, 1875.
57 Ibid., August 7, 1877. See also editorial of June 3 of the same year referring to the "thousands" of dwellers in eastern industrial centers who had "found homes, permanent labor and sure subsistence in these Western lands."
58 Ibid., July 27, 1877. "They were not farmers, but men who stuck to their engines and trains. All that they wanted was that they should have a voice in fixing the terms for which they should work, so as to obtain such wages as would enable them to support their families."
59 Ibid., August 18, 1877.
60 Ibid., August 8, 1876. A similar item appears the next day.
61 Ibid., March 10, 1877.
62 Ibid., April 8, 1857.
63 Ibid., "Farmer's Extra", Supplement, 1878, p. 7.
64 See below, pp. 98-100.
65 F. L. Paxson, History of the American Frontier (New York, 1924), p. 227.
66 "Generally it was preferable to pay $400 or more for a quarter-section close to a railroad than go back into the hinterland and haul everything great distances over the worst of roads." F. A. Shannon, Economic History of the People of the United States (New York, 1934), p. 438.
67 William Oliver, Eight Months in Illinois, with Information to Immigrants (Chicago, 1924), pp. 224-228. (Original edition, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1843.)
68 Ibid., pp. 243-247.
69 Experiments in Colorado Colonization, edited by James F. Willard and Colin B. Goodykoontz (Boulder, 1926), p. 30.
70 F. L. Paxson, op. cit., p. 227.
71 New York Tribune, June 4, 1868; April 2, 1870.
72 Ibid., November 24, 1880.
73 Ibid., January 13, 1855.
74 New York Commercial Advertiser, June 25, 1835.
75 Lowell Daily Journal and Courier, May 4, 1850, citing Buffalo Republican.
76 Fall River News, November 16, 1848.
77 New York Tribune, December 14, 1857.
78 Ibid., December 21, 1857.
79 The Fourieristic or Associationist colonies, together with those founded on the basis of religious communism, have because of their intrinsic interest received more rather than less attention than their numerical importance would warrant. The reference in the text is to the more loosely organized bodies formed to overcome the difficulties of migration and settlement but with the ultimate intention of purely individual ownership. It should be added that the article does not attempt to deal with the Mormon migration.
80 An advertisement in the New York Tribune, March 19, 1856.
81 Daily Pioneer and Democrat, May 8, 1856.
82 Thomas Hughes, History of Blue Earth County, Minnesota (Chicago, 1909), PP. 70-73.
83 New York Tribune, July 24, 1851.
84 Ibid., October 24, 1851.
85 Experiences of E. M. Drew of the Western Farm and Village Association, pp. 1-2.
86 Ibid., pp. 39-42.
87 Ibid., p. 47.
88 Ibid., p. 59.
89 The story of its organization is perhaps best told in an article by Mr. S. A. Johnson on "The Genesis of the New England Emigrant Aid Company" in the New England Quarterly, vol. 3, January 1930, pp. 95-122.
90 From the Barnes papers in the collection of the Kansas State Historical Society.
91 Herald of Freedom (Lawrence, Kansas), January 27, 1855. Compare also the Company's own statement of the advantages: "The emigrant suffers wherever he goes alone into his new home. He suffers from the fraud of others, from his own ignorance of the system of travel and of the country where he settles; and again from his want of support from neighbors which results in the impossibility of any combined resistance or of any division of labor." -- " History of the New England Emigrant Aid Company, with a Report on its Future Operations", published by order of the Board of Directors, Boston, 1862.
92 Thanks must be given to Mr. S. A. Johnson of the Kansas State Teachers College at Emporia, who had gone through these papers, for pointing out to us those which would be most relevant to our study.
93 William Barnes was secretary of the League. His records contain names and addresses of many migrants, but in only 54 cases give both residence and occupation. Of this small sample, 18 appear to have been either independent workmen or wage-earners.
94 The following tabulation lists each of the occupations that is represented by four or more entries:
Blacksmiths 18 Carpenters 73 Coopers 4 Bootmakers 12 Carriage makers 4 Joiners 5 Butchers 4 Clerks 16 Laborers 13 Lumbermen 12 Millwrights 4 Sailors 11 Machinists 29 Operatives 6 Shoemakers 33 Masons 4 Painters 11 Stone cutters 6 Mechanics 9 Printers 12 Tailors 5
The other occupations represented were bookbinder, bookkeeper, brass finisher, bridge builder, broom maker, chair maker, confectioner, currier, engineer, engraver, fireman, founder, gardener, gas(?), handle maker, pattern maker, rigger, sash maker, salesman, ship carpenter, ship joiner, shipwright, shoe fitter, slater, tanner, teamster, tin plater, tin worker, and toolmaker.
95 Katherine Coman in her Economic Beginnings of the Far West, vol. II, p. 337, says that these emigrants came from "the hill towns of New England, from the exhausted farms of New York and Pennsylvania, from the malaria haunted prairies of Illinois." She had evidently gone through the "emigrant books". Our examination of them, however, revealed very little migration from Illinois; people from Illinois did go to Kansas but not under the direction of the New England Company. Apparently, Miss Coman's statement was based on an error from which we were saved by the intervention of an attendant at the library. In the old-fashioned handwriting in which the entries were made, the abbreviation for Maine (Me.) is very much like what one would expect for Illinois (Ill.).
96 New York Tribune, May 24, 1859.
97 The Union Colony at Greeley, Colorado, edited by James F. Willard, Colorado Historical Collection, vol. 1 (Boulder, 1918). Greeley today supports a cooperative retail which is described as the largest in the United States. Perhaps this may be thought of as indicating the survival of the spirit in which the original settlement was founded.
98 Union and Dakotaian, Yankton, Dakota Territory, May 8, 1869.
99 Nell Blythe Weldron, Colonization in Kansas, 1861-1890 (Ph.D. dissertation, Northwestern University), typewritten manuscript in the Kansas State Historical Society.
100 Topeka Capital, Kansas, July 23, 1914.
101 Advertisement in the Democratic Free Press, Detroit, March 22, 1832.
102 Detroit Free Press, (Weekly Edition) August 16, 1837.
103 Nebraska Palladium, Belleview, Douglas County, Nebraska, January 24, 1855.
104 Ibid., February 21, 1855.
105 Syracuse Standard, Syracuse, Nebraska, December 25, 1871.
106 George N. Fuller, Economic and Social Beginnings of Michigan, Michigan Historical Publications, vol. I.
107 Of the total of 518, 212 were from Washtenaw itself and 41 from other counties in Michigan. Of the rest, 228 were from New York, 5 from other Middle Atlantic states, 3 from the West and 4 from abroad. Ibid., p. 469.
108 Ibid., pp. 470-471.
109 Some uncertainty arises from the possible confusion between state and city.
110 The Daily Minnesota Pioneer, St. Paul.
111 Of the 27 people from New York State whose home towns were given, 9 came from Buffalo, only 2 from New York City, and the rest were scattered among the smaller communities. In Pennsylvania, however, 5 were from Philadelphia and 8 from Pittsburgh, among the 32 cases in which the localities were recorded.
112 St. Louis Republican, April 12-22, 1849. One of the authors, in another connection, has devoted considerable time to reading the diaries and biographies written by people who had crossed the plains in the wagon trains. Though by no means having read all of the many such works published, he has found thus far not one case of an individual who had written such an autobiography or diary, who was not brought up in a rural community.
113 The Weekly Tribune, Liberty, Missouri, June 21, 1850.
114 Greeley Tribune, Tribune, Kansas, April 24, 1886.
115 From a letter of E. Page Davis, Commissioner of Immigration for the State of Minnesota in New York, to Governor H. Austin of Minnesota, dated New York, December 8th, 1871. (In the collection of the Minnesota Historical Society.)
116 Quoted in the Daily Minnesota Pioneer, St. Paul, April 30, 1855. Another reference to "New England farmers" settling in Iowa appears in the New York Tribune, December 2, 1851. This impression is confirmed by the results of conversations with a number of old-time Iowa settlers. It may be worth while to add that these surviving pioneers scoffed at the suggestion that eastern mill workers might have settled in their state. None could recall any of their neighbors who had come from the industrial centers, and their belief was that such people could not have succeeded on the land. Some of them thought that many of the mechanics and skilled artisans who had come to the state were of foreign origin.
117 Daily Minnesota Pioneer, April 30, 1855. The official was G. W. Sweet, Register of the Sauk Rapids Land Office.
118 Ibid., October 24, 1854,
119 Ibid., April 25, 1855.
120 "Surprisingly" at least to the investigators, of whom one had made use of the safety-valve doctrine for a number of years (e. g., in W. H. Hamilton, Current Economic Problems, Third Edition, 1925, p. 675, and in the Economic Record of 1928, vol. IV, pp. 205-208), and the other began the work confident that a few months would be sufficient to demonstrate the existence of a substantial movement.
121 F. L. Paxson, When the West is Gone (New York, 1920), p. 70.
122 In a paper read last year before the Mississippi Valley Historical Association, Professor Fred A. Shannon pointed out that up to 1890 only 372,659 titles were granted under the Homestead Act. Allowing six persons to a family, this would have accounted for something over two million people, while at the same time the population of the United States increased well over twenty million. Even of these claims, a large proportion, as he points out, were commuted. In this valuable paper, which is as yet unpublished and which we have used by his kind permission, Professor Shannon arrived at much the same conclusion as that in the text, but by the use of entirely different evidence and procedure.