An interactive Slade family history site

Somerset to Illinois

My G G G Grandfather William Slade b.1800 in North Curry had a brother named Thomas b.1803 – also in North Curry. The North Curry Marriages 1539 – 1901 register,  shows Thomas married Mary Tucker [b.1803] on Midsummer’s Day, 21st June 1825, the information entered into the family bible [image below] however states that they married in 1824. 

They lived in North Curry, Somerset, England and are shown as residing there during the 1841 census, as shown below:

Just 2 years after this census, Thomas & Mary, along with their children, who by that time numbered 4 – Charles, George, Edwin [who is the day old child in the above 1841 census] and their only little girl Jane, headed off to the USA. They sailed from Liverpool, England to New York, arriving on October 21st 1843.

Below – details of their voyage.

I have managed to find a few details of  the ship that took them to their new life in Illinois. The Independence was a packet ship. The term “packet” simply refers to any vessel that carries mail, freight, and/or passengers. Packet ships won the first great contest for sea-going supremacy and knew no rivals until the coming of the age of steam made them obsolete.

The “Independence” was built by S. Smith, New York, in 1834, and ran in the Liverpool Blue Swallowtail Line for 13 years (1834-1847). The ship was one of the fastest trans-Atlantic packets of her day, and her captain, Ezra Nye of Cape Cod, known for carrying a lot of sail and making fast passages. Such was Nye’s reputation that a portrait of him hangs in the New York State Museum. Among one of the foremost captains of the era. Under Nye the vessel held a record for crossing to Liverpool (14 1/2 days) I have no details yet if the journey from Liverpool to New York took longer than this, but some information I have read states the same journey having taken 5 weeks or more. It seems She may have been converted to a steam ship in the late 1840s to early 1850s as a ship of the same name went missing at sea in 1856.

Packets were never able to reel off more than twelve or fourteen knots under the most favorable conditions, but they were kept going night and day, and some of them maintained their schedules almost with the regularity of the early steamers.

As a footnote on the history of the Independence, it’s well worth mentioning that it features strongly in a short fictional story by Sir Edgar Allan Poe called ” The Oblong Box”. Published in 1844, it is the story of a voyage by packet-ship Independence, from Charleston to New York. The full story can be read here. To get an insight into the reality [rather than a fictional view] of sailing on the Independence – here  is a link to excerpts from  A Gentlewoman in Upper Canada from the journals of Anne Langton and her mother. Anne travelled to Canada, via New York, with her mother and father in 1837.

So, back to Thomas & Mary Slade and their young family. What must it have felt like for them arriving in New York harbour? What sights, sounds and smells would they have been greeted by, and what feelings might they have had? Trepidation? Excitement? How had their health faired after the voyage? Their journey wasn’t over yet, as they had to travel on some 800 to 900 miles west to reach their destination of Rio, Knox County, Illinois.

This image gives us some idea of how New York looked in 1843 – image used by kind permission of

It’s impossible to know the exact reasons that the family decided to leave the land of their birth and begin a new life in a foreign land. The most likely and obvious reason is the prospect of land ownership. In 1841, as we’ve seen from the census at the top of the page, Thomas was an agricultural labourer. There is nothing to suggest that he worked his own land in England, he probably worked for a nominal wage on someone else’s land. No doubt that the thought of owning his own piece of land, as well as the chance for his sons to have that same opportunity afforded to them as they became older, would have been enough of an incentive to take that leap of faith.

In the Knox county, Illinois 1850 federal census Thomas [occupation: farmer] and Mary [who is entered as ‘Mariah’ ] are seen with just 1 of their children – Charles aged 18 – a laborer. This leads us to question what had happened to Edwin, George and little Jane? It’s easy to make the assumption that the 3 children had all died in the 7 years since their arrival on American soil, but until this theory can be proven, that’s all it is, an assumption. **Update Oct 10th 2011 – I have found some information on George Slade, which explains why he doesn’t appear in the 1850 census. From 1850 Federal State Enumerators [the folk whose job it was to call to each household to record details of the inhabitants] also compiled Mortality Schedules. These documents recorded any deaths of residents that had occurred in the previous 12 months. It’s on the Knox, Illinois 1850 Mortality Schedule that young George’s fate is revealed – see the image below:

Transcription: George Slead [note the incorrect spelling – these were usually due to enumerator errors] age:14 [again, another slight error as George was actually aged 13] Male, place of birth: England, month in which person died: May, cause of death Dropsy, number of days ill: 42. How sad that George’s life was cut short at such a young age. How devastating for Thomas and Mary to lose a child so tragically and to be so far away from their extended family.

By the time of the 1860 census, Charles – aged 26 –  was married to Elizabeth – aged 28 – [nee Lyddon/Lydden/Lydon] and they have a little baby girl called Jane [named after Charles’ maternal Grandmother maybe or in memory of her and Charles’ little sister Jane?] she is 8 months old. I’ve also noticed that on section 13 of the census that year [and in 1850] asks for the following information ‘Persons over 20 years of age who cannot read & write’. In this section for Thomas there are 2 lines, indicating he couldn’t do either, in Mary’s box there is 1 line and Charles & Elizabeth’s boxes are not marked. Looking ahead 20 years, the 1880 census asked a similar question, but more bluntly, section 22 cannot read & 23 cannot write – both Thomas & Mary have marked section 23 – this would explain why Thomas didn’t sign his Will in 1888, but placed his mark instead.

I have been lucky enough to find a map from 1870 showing the township of Rio. This map shows sections of land that were divided up and sold [or given?] to people who were not only willing and able to farm that land, but were probably very eager to do so.

Below is the map that shows the square section of land that was jointly owned by Thomas & Charles Slade in 1870 with each of them sharing that square fairly equally between them.

Rio Township - 1870

According to The Oxford Companion to United States History [2001] ” In the 1840s, as citizens without capital agitated for free land in the form of agricultural homesteads, the federal government disposed of 288 million acres, free or at low-cost, to homesteaders. Both the program’s scope and its purpose, to create a West of small rural property owners, were unprecedented; even today it remains unique among developing countries.”

To tie-in nicely with the above map, below is the 1870 Federal census from that same year. In it you can see that the value of Charles’ land is $14,000 – whereas the land belonging to Thomas is valued $4,000. The land in the map indicates that Thomas’s land was slightly larger that the land owned by Charles. This could mean that Charles had water running through his land which would’ve added to its value [maybe Thomas didn’t have water on his land?] or it could simply mean that Charles owned land other than that shown on the map.

One thing of which there is no question, is that this young family – who had bravely set off on a journey across the atlantic, saying goodbye to elderly parents, siblings, nieces, nephews & friends – knowing they may never see any of them again – they prospered. Not just in the financial sense of the word, but in such a way that would help build America into the land of opportunity it is still regarded as today, and to populate the nation with a good number of Slade families for generations to come.

Note: Some of the above information is based on the results of my online research and is factual to the absolute best of my knowledge. If anything comes to light in the future that conflicts with any of the above information and is proven to be more factual that the above, this page will be amended to reflect that new information.

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