English Emigrants to America

Charles Dickens went to America in 1842, touring Boston, Springfield, New Haven, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Richmond, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Cleveland and Montreal among other places. He wrote American Notes for General Circulation, which was published as two volumes in 1842.

He describes the conditions of British emigrants travelling from America, back to Liverpool during his return journey home. His observations have some impact for genealogists on both sides of the Atlantic. Here are his words with acknowledgment to Everyman Dickens edited by F.S. Schwarzbach and Leonee Ormond, London 1997:

“We carried in the steerage nearly a hundred passengers: a little world of poverty: and as we came to know individuals among them by sight, from looking down upon the deck where they took the air in the daytime, and cooked their food, and very often ate it too, we became curious to know their histories, and with what expectations they had gone out to America, and on what errands they were going home, and what their circumstances were.

The information we got on these heads from the carpenter, who had charge of these people, was often of the strangest kind. Some of them had been in America but three days, some but three months, and some had gone out in the last voyage of that very ship in which they were now returning home. Others had sold their clothes to raise the passage-money, and had hardly rags to cover them; others had no food, and lived upon the charity of the rest: and one man, it was discovered nearly at the end of the voyage, not before – for he kept his secret close, and did not court compassion – had had no sustenance whatever but the bones and scraps of fat he took from the plates used in the after-cabin dinner, when they were put out to be washed.

The whole system of shipping and conveying these unfortunate persons, is one that stands in need of thorough revision. If any class deserve to be protected and assisted by the Government, it is that class who are banished from their native land in search of the bare means of subsistence. All that could be done for these poor people by the great compassion and humanity of the captain and officers was done, but they require much more. The law is bound, at least upon the English side, to see that too many of them are not put on board one ship: and that their accommodations are decent; not demoralising and profligate. It is bound, too, in common humanity, to declare that no man shall be taken on board without his stock of provisions being previously inspected by some proper officer, and pronounced moderately sufficient for his support upon the voyage. It is bound to provide, or to require that there be provided, a medical attendant; whereas in these ships there are none, though sickness of adults, and deaths of children, on the passage, are matters of the very commonest occurrence. Above all it is the duty of any Government, be it monarchy or republic, to interpose and put an end to that system by which a firm of traders in emigrants purchase of the owners the whole ‘tween-decks of a ship, and send on board as many wretched people as they can lay hold of, on any terms they can get, without the smallest reference to the conveniences of the steerage, the number of berths, the slightest separation of the sexes, or anything but their own immediate profit. Nor is even this the worst of the vicious system: for certain crimping agents of these houses, who have a percentage on all the passengers they inveigle, are constantly travelling about those districts where poverty and discontent are rife, and tempting the credulous into more misery, by holding out monstrous inducements to emigration which can never be realised.

The history of every family we had on board was pretty much the same. After hoarding up, and borrowing, and begging, and selling everything to pay the passage, they had gone out to New York, expecting to find its streets paved with gold; and had found them paved with very hard real stones. Enterprise was dull; labourers were not wanted; jobs of work were to be got, but the payment was not. They were coming back, even poorer than they went.”

Origin of the Teasdale Name

The Teasdale name is almost certainly linked to the river Tees, which forms the boundary between the counties of Durham and Yorkshire. The river begins in the Northern Pennines, on the slopes of Cross Fell, near the Cumbrian border. After flowing east for eight kilometers it turns south east as far as Barnard Castle before winding south of Darlington and then out to sea just north of Middlesborough. The  river flows through Upper and Lower Teesdale and has two spectacular waterfalls at High Force and Cauldron Snout.

It seems probable that several families took the name Teesdale (or one of the variants) at around the same time in the 16th century. There are early records of a Geoffrey de Tesdale at York in 1309, Alan de Tesdale at Marsfield in 1325, Walter de Tesdale at Jedburgh in 1298 and John Tesdall at Westminster in 1379. A high proportion of early surnames were derived from the place where the family had its main residence. It was common practice in the 12th and 13th centuries for the senior line of a land-owning family to adopt a hereditary surname of this type, while junior branches gradually acquired different surnames or variations as they moved around the British Isles. More research is needed before we can be confident about the early families.

River names in this area seem to be the oldest of place-names relating to the first Celtic settlers (long before the invasion of Angles, Saxons and Scandinavians). The river Tees was called “Tesa” in the Knytlinge Saga, a history of the Danish kings of the 10th and 11th centuries and later records have the name as Teisa and Taise. Place names in England are predominantly Anglo-Saxon or Norman in character with the exception of some natural features such as rivers, prominent hills and forests which require immediate identification in terms equally intelligent to natives and newcomers alike.

It is tempting to throw a bit of speculation into the pot of imagination and say the very early names in the International Genealogical Index (IGI) such as Tesdell, Tisdel, Tysdale or Tisdill could be derivatives of the early names for the river Tees. The family name could have evolved with the river. The IGI records for England clearly show a predominance of Teasdales followed by Teesdales and then much smaller groups of Tisdales, Teasdells, Teasdall and Tisdells. There are at least 45 variant names within the IGI and no doubt these variations are the result of the different local dialects in each county of England. The church authorities would transcribe the parish names as they were spoken by the migrant parishioners into the parish records and Bishops Transcripts.