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England: 19th Century
A migrant's story

© Derek Antrobus, 2001

On March 29th, 1817, about forty members of Salford Bible Christian Church embarked at Liverpool to sail to new lives in the United States. This can be seen as an early example of the migration pattern which between 1815 and 1914 was “dominated by the exodus from Europe” and whose principal destination was the USA (Pryce and Drake, 2000, p21). Historians have represented this voyage as a flight from persecution in England or migrants’ attraction to the lure of America. Using secondary sources, it is possible to examine whether such push or pull factors were dominant. One primary source, however, has recently come to light and this suggests a more complex set of motivations behind the migration. First of all, though, it will be useful to say a few words about the background of the Church and the details of the voyage.

The Bible Christian Church was established as a separate denomination by the Rev William Cowherd at his Christ Church Chapel in King Street, Salford, in 1809 (see Greenhall, 2000, pp28-60 for a full account). The move represented a schism within the Swedenborgian New Jerusalem Church. Cowherd had originally broken from the Anglican Church in 1793 to lead the New Jerusalem Church in Manchester. He moved to Salford and opened his own chapel in 1800 after quarrelling with other other New Jerusalem Church leaders. The distinctive features of the new sect were its teetotalism, pacifism and vegetarianism. These were, however, manifestations of a more deep-rooted ideology. Cowherd was a political radical, attracted to the ideas of Godwin and Paine: “His preaching, into which he freely introduced his radical politics, made him a favourite with the populace” (Dictionary of National Biography). The Church grew: chapels sprang up in the Manchester area at Ancoats, Hulme and Stockport and also in Yorkshire. An Academy of Arts and Science was set up on the site of the Church.

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Among the teachers at the Academy was James Clarke (1778-1826) who was co-leader of the emigrants. His son, also James, has left a set of memoirs* - his personal recollections - of life in the community both before and after the migration. It is from Memorials of the Clarke Family (Clarke, 1864, p24ff)) that we learn of the practical arrangements surrounding the emigration. Clarke lists 39 members of the Bible Christian Church –possibly 38 Church members since one has the word ‘outsider’ by her name - who formed the party. They were led by two ordained ministers of the Church: the Rev James Clarke and the Rev William Metcalfe (1788-1862). One of their number – John Bury – is designated treasurer. This reflects the financial arrangements which funded the voyage and to which we will return. They embarked on the Liverpool Packet on March 29th, 1817 and the ship sail on a favourable tide on April 5th. The voyage lasted 79 days.

In examining the reasons for the emigration, there is some evidence that America was the magnet. Metcalfe, soon after his ordination in 1811, wrote to a friend: “The civil and religious freedom of the people of the United States has been the topic of many an hour’s conversation among the teachers of the Salford Academy, and the members of the Church” (Forward, 1898, p13). The Church’s founder, Cowherd, appears to have encouraged his followers to look to America: “Cowherd declaimed against [mercantile business] and in favor of an agricultural life; that life could only be enjoyed in America; Cowherd prophesied that his labors were destined to benefit America, so when the difficulties of the time thickened around us, to America we came” (Clarke, 1864, p9). It is clear that America was a beacon to Bible Christians.

The “difficulties of the time” were both political and economic. As noted above, members of the Church were politically radical. Immediately following Waterloo were years of repression (Cole and Postgate, 1968, pp220-1) by the British Government against radicals pressing for Parliamentary reform. The year 1816 in particular “saw the kingdom agitated from one end to the other” (Cobbett, 1933, p141) with Luddite machine breaking and marches like that of the Blanketeers early in 1817. Clarke writes of that period: “My father’s politics being decidedly favourable to these political Reformers, even occasionally descanting on the subject from his pulpit, he was of course intimate with some of the popular leaders, which rendered him obnoxious not only to the hired minions of power, but also to our relatives” (Clarke, 1864, p23). This notion that Bible Christians fled political persecution is given further weight by the subsequent emigration of Jonathan Wright (brother-in-law of William Metcalfe) after leading a march through Keighley “bearing aloft a black banner unfurled, on the face of which was painted the cross-bones and skull, emblematic of the soon-to-be death of King George and all his oppressive laws” (Twigg, 1982, p99). Bible Christians clearly felt under political pressure but the final straw was the economic situation. Clarke writes: “The pressure of the times likewise had such an effect in diminishing his [father’s] school as to reduce his income very materially” (Clarke, 1864, p23). It is evident, therefore, that in Clarke’s case these economic and political ‘push’ factors contributed to the timing of the decision to emigrate which had long been contemplated in the light of the
‘pull’ of the United States.

It is reasonable infer from this that these general political and economic factors, together with the ideology of the church’s leadership, were primarily responsible for the emigration. Furthermore, as a community, the church facilitated the passage by establishing a common fund. All the members of the church who had
property and wished to emigrate paid into the fund and each drew out sufficient to pay for their passage. The surplus was to be invested in land in America with profits repaying those who had contributed more (Clarke, 1864, p24).

According to the Rev Alfred Broadley, an early 20th century Bible Christian, only half the emigrants remained faithful to the church’s principles, and Clarke recounts the financial disputes among the fellowship once in Philadelphia. This suggests that membership of the church community was not as cohesive and as motivating a force as the evidence above might suggest. Furthermore, if the general factors outlined above explained the emigration, then the logicwould be that all Bible Christians would have emigrated for they shared the same ideology, the same institutional facility and the same economic and political context. As Pryce and Drake observe: “Migration – like marriage – is an intensely personal choice” (2000, p19). The value of a primary source like Memorials of the Clarke Family is that it allows us to isolate particular factors associated with individual and family history

Firstly, Clarke recounts how his father came from a farming background and cites one reason for emigration as “a longing desire he had to engage once more in the cultivation of the soil” (Clarke, 1864, pp23-4).The memories of and meaning given to agricultural life may be a factor in migrant selectivity which, given the sketchiness of our knowledge (Jackson and Moch, 1994, p185), deserves further investigation. Secondly, there is a suggestion of division in the ranks of the Bible Christians. William Metcalfe – James Clarke’s co-leader of the emigrants – left the Salford Academy to set up his own chapel in Yorkshire which displeased the Bible Christians’ founder WilliamCowherd (Clarke, 1864, p16). Clarke visited Metcalfe and was expelled from the Salford Academy as a result. He was reappointed only after he had agreed to forego a debt owed to him by the Church. The dealings and disputes cannot, for reasons of space, be detailed here: suffice to say that it was Metcalfe and Clarke who had challenged Cowherd’s authority who led the emigrants. It is important to stress that this was not a schism: all church members remained in communion. But primary material of this kind does capture something of the subtle personal relationships which may have influenced migrant selectivity.

This essay has explored the use of migration theory using the analytical device of ‘push-pull’ factors to seek to understand the causes of the emigration of members of one particular community. In addition to the ‘push-pull’ factors, the institutional arrangements and the ideology of the Bible Christians fit into the ‘intervening opportunities model’ which stresses the real-life opportunities which facilitate movement (Pryce and Drake, 2000, p14). These models do not, however, capture migrant selectivity in full. The influence of family and individual histories is brought out in the qualitative evidence of Memorials of the Clarke Family. “Subjective and personal elements seldom surface in traditional migration theory,” say Pryce and Drake (2000, p18). When they do surface, however, they offer new insight into migrant selectivity.

*I am grateful to Lynn Clarke, of Dallas, Texas, USA, who heard of my interest in the Bible Christians through the internet and e-mailed a copy of her family heirloom.


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