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Title: Patton, James to , 1783-89
CollectionIrish Immigrants in the Land of Canaan. Letters and memoirs from colonial and revolutionary America (1675-1815) [K.A. Miller et al.]
SenderPatton, James
Sender Gendermale
Sender Occupationlabourer
Sender Religionunknown
Recipient Genderunknown
Doc. No.
Partial Date
Doc. Type
Word Count2555
TranscriptJames Patton Memoir, 1783– 1789
... I embarked at Lairn, in the County of Antrim, on the 4th day of June, 1783, and landed at Philadelphia on the 3rd day of August following. When I left Ireland, my mother furnished me with two suits of clothing, two dozen shirts, and other things necessary, so that I would be enabled to save all the money that I might make; calculating that I would return in two years and bring them to America, but sickness prevented the execution of this plan. After I landed, I remained in Philadelphia ten days; I then left my chest and clothing at the house where I boarded, and went into the country to the house of a Mr. Green (a Quaker) fifteen miles from the city: the first night, I recollect, that he observed to me—“If thee have as good luck as thy countryman Robert Kerr, thee will do well. He rented a small house at an early day in Philadelphia, and worked at hard labour on the streets, and now, by his perseverance of himself and his wife, he owns nearly a whole square in the city.” He made many other observations, which occur to my mind, when I am lying on my bed. I told him, that I came to this country for the purpose of amending my condition in life, and that I would try to do so. The remarks of Mr. Green, together with my own observations, soon convinced me that the Americans were not composed of Lords and Dukes and belted Knights, (as Burns says). The next night I went to the house of Mr. Green’s son, and undertook to clear out a small piece of land for him at the end of a field; and not being acquainted with such work, I hurt myself so much the first day, that I was not able to do anything the next. Mr. Green mentioned, that the work could be done in two or three hours, but as I knew nothing about it, I could take no advantage of the grubs, and therefore I spent the whole day at it. From this I went to deliver a letter which I had promised, and then engaged to weave for some time with a Mr. Chafin; during the time I was here, an Englishman (a Tinker) came along; he asked me, what I stopped here for? and told me to quit the place; intimating some unfavorable things respecting the people; accordingly, I left Chafin’s and went to a Thomas Wilson’s and wove some time for him. During that winter, I worked at different kinds of business, but principally threshing. The Americans at this time were generally poor, having been stripped of almost everything by the British during the Revolutionary War, consequently the price of labor was very low.
Not being afraid of sickness, I went the next spring to the Delaware River, where hands were employed in embanking. There I was attacked by the dumb ague (as it was called in that country) and was sick for nearly twelve months; in consequence of which the small pittance I had earned, and the clothing my mother had given me, had all to go for Doctor’s bills and board. When I became able to work again, I had nothing left but the clothes on my back, one shirt, and a dollar in my pocket.
I had boarded some time with a Mr. Shaw, a countryman of mine, and when I left his house, he took two horses and assisted me along the road for some distance. He inquired where I was going? I told him I was going to Canada, that my mother had told me, she had an uncle and brother in that country, who had become rich; and that I would endeavor to find them out. But this was not my real motive. I was really afraid that nothing awaited me but misery and poverty, and that news would reach Ireland that I was in a most destitute situation, and being naturally of a proud spirit, I wished to go where I would not be known by any person. My health was at this time so bad, that I was unable to do anything for myself; but thanks to the great and mighty God! I had a mind that enabled me to surmount all difficulties. When Mr. Shaw left me, I went off the roads into the woods, sat down by an oak tree, and gave vent to a torrent of tears.
Just reflect on my situation at this time: a stranger in a strange land, an ocean rolling between me and every relation I had on earth, without a friend to advise or protect; health precarious and funds exhausted; misfortunes seemed to thicken around me and in whatever direction I would turn my head, I could see nothing but misery staring me in the face. My situation was truly disconsolate, but the Lord was my strength and my shield, and to Him I ought ever to be thankful for strength of mind capable of supporting me under such severe trials. That night I went to the house of Mr. John McCall, on the Susquehanna River (a countryman of my own), he treated me kindly and would have nothing for my lodging, but wished me to stay some days with him; he had seen me at Mr. Shaw’s and knew that I was sick. When I left his house, he advised me to go to a Mr. James Patton’s (a namesake of mine) and live with him until I would recover my health; I accordingly went and found him to be a very friendly man, but he had a young wife of whom I did not form so good an opinion.
At this time I had but one dollar, and as I could not travel long on that, I went to a canal that had been commenced on the Ball Friar Ferry on the Susquehanna River; there I engaged to work, and got into a mess of eight men— old soldiers, and the very refuse of the army. It was very disagreeable to me to associate with such people, and therefore applied to the employer for a part of the canal that was clear of rocks, and not so difficult to work; I got an Irishman to join me. We worked at it for three months and boarded ourselves. During the summer I enjoyed tolerable health, with the exception of three weeks, and worked about in different parts of the country.
I was advised to go to some moral and orderly part of the country; but it will appear from what follows, that I had not done with misfortune yet; on my way to the section of country I had in view, I stopped at a Dutchman’s house in York County, Pennsylvania, and it then being in the winter, I engaged to work for him for three months at a guinea per month. I dug a well for him, 52feet in depth, in a very short time. When I first went to his house, I handed him all the money I had, except three dollars. Calculating that he would return the same when I wanted it, and also pay me for my labor like an honest man. One night when I returned from work, he and others were throwing dice and drinking: he kept a public house and would always give me spirits when I came in from work. He proposed to me to join their party, and that he would be my partner, and thought it would be a money-making business; I refused, and told him that I knew nothing about gambling. He said that it was not gambling, that his little son could do it as well as a man. He gave me some more liquor (that wily destroyer of the human race), which had the desired effect, and I took my chance among them. He and I were fortunate for some time: at last luck changed (as gamblers say) and I lost all. Too late I discovered that they had two sets of dice, and instead of those we commenced with, they had a set of their own which threw up twelve at every throw. I then found out that my partner had been acting the scoundrel, in connection with the others. It almost deranged me to think that I had lost all my hardearned wages, by the influence of drink, and by the persuasion of a villain in whom I had placed confidence. I accused the company of cheating me. We all became angry, and consequently an affray took place: fearing nothing in my then distracted situation, I took up the tongs and paid some of them in hard coin; the balance of the night I passed without sleep. When we went out to work the next morning, the Dutchman’s son appeared disposed to amuse himself at my expense, and I thought proper to give him a little of the same sort of change, and I told him to go and tell his father what I had done.
I then left the house: having the character of a faithful laborer, a great many persons wished to employ me. From this, I went to Yorktown, Pennsylvania, and set into work with an honest Dutchman (Phillip Kissinger, a brickmaker by trade), and remained with him during the spring and summer; during the time I was with Mr. Kissinger, two young Irishmen came to the brickyard on their way to a canal on the Potomac River; they urged me to go, and said that I would get two dollars per day.
I was flattered with the prospect of speedy gain, and requested Mr. Kissinger to let me off, as I had but about six weeks to stay with him; he refused, as I suited his business,but at last agreed, on condition that he could get hands in the place of another Irishman and myself; he got hands and let us go. We got fixed for the journey and made a start. We stopped in Yorktown to take a parting glass with our countrymen and some others, and they all drank freely; it was almost daylight before I could get them off. We had gone but a few miles from town, when they all laid down to take some sleep by the side of the road; I sat there like a wild goose watching, while the flock would be feeding. This put me to thinking. I asked myself, if this was the kind of company I ought to keep? No, said I!—I will part from such people, and accordingly the next morning started to the Canogege settlement, a rich section of country about 150 miles from Philadelphia, and settled by a moral and orderly people.
I had now been in America about three years, and through sickness, misfortune, and one imprudent attempt at gambling, I had very little more than when I landed. ... In the Canogege settlement, I made my home at a Mr. Walker’s, an excellent man and a member of the Presbyterian Church. He was very kind, and would always let me have a horse to ride to preaching with himself and his wife. He would often laugh at me, and say, “Jimmy, you will be a rich man yet! Never mind, Jimmy, you will be a rich man yet.” Said he, “The grandfather of that young man (alluding to a young lawyer), came to this country a very poor man; he had as much money when he landed as bought a bed and a cow in Philadelphia. He placed his clothes on the cow’s back, and milked her at night.” He also said, that his own father, Mr. Dickey and many others were in the same situation when they came to America. I first cleared ten acres of land for Mr. Walker, and agreed to wait for the payment until he could make it out of the first crop of wheat which he raised on the land. I made my home at his house for three years and worked about in the country, at various kinds of business, such as blowing rocks, digging wells, &c.... [F]or a great portion of the time I worked in this part of the country— I got only about 26 cents per day; a hand in the harvest field could not get more than 31 1/4 cents per day. This shows that the price of labor was very low at that time. I made it a rule to be always employed, and for three years was scarcely ever seen anywhere except at my work or at Church.
I soon discovered the difficulty of clothing myself decently, and making money merely by hard labor alone; I would therefore try to make a little besides when an opportunity offered. I once bought one hundred bushels of rye from a man who needed some money and had it distilled, the distiller giving me six quarts and a pint for every bushel I delivered at the mill; I made something by this speculation. I also bought a field of wheat of a man who wished to move away; it was covered with snow when I bought it; in the spring it looked very yellow, and Mr. Walker would laugh and tell me, I was cheated, although he knew better at the time.
When the wheat was ready to cut, the neighbors and their daughters came, and assisted me. They brought plenty of everything to eat, and I had plenty of rye whiskey, of which I gave them freely. The wheat was ripe two weeks sooner than any in the neighborhood, on account of its being sowed on slate land. I had understood that there was a premium offered in Baltimore for the first load of good new flour that might be delivered in that market, a premium for the second, and also a premium for the third, and I was determined to compete for one of them. The neighbors were all anxious that I should be successful, and Mr. Dickey had his mill put in the best kind of order by the time my wheat was ready. I had it cleaned and ground as soon as I possibly could. I hired a young man to haul it, and agreed to give him something extra to hurry him, but he was so slow in his movements that I lost the premium by about one hour. The neighbors were much mortified that I did not get it, and ridiculed the young man very much for he could have gotten there in time, if he had pushed his team.
I had worked hard and used great economy, and all I had at the end of the three years that I had lived in the Canogege settlement was two hundred dollars. In the meantime I kept myself decently clothed, which I always would do, if I had nothing left. From the long spell of sickness which I had— the effects of which I can feel to this day— I was unable to work constantly at hard labor (for I could eat no strong diet), and therefore concluded that I would turn my attention to some other business.