Week 2: #52 Ancestors – Challenge
By Eilene Lyon
Meet Eliza Jane Drake
Eliza Jane Drake was the daughter of Samuel and Eliza Drake (b. 1792, b. 1794). The Drakes were of English descent and lived in the village of Killyleagh, County Down, Northern Ireland. Eliza Jane was born in 1822.1
Eliza Jane fell in love with a young British mariner, Robert Halse, from Exeter, Devonshire, and they were married about 1844. They settled in Killyleagh and Robert would go to Belfast when he had to work in the merchant navy or collect his earnings.2
By 1850, Eliza Jane and Robert had three children: Ann (age 4), Richard (age 2), and John (age 8 mo.).3 That year, the Halses and Drakes decided to leave Northern Ireland for America. The 1845 – 1848 potato blights may have influenced their departure, but they were not as affected by the famine as the Gaelic Irish in southern Ireland were.
Eliza Jane’s married siblings also chose to leave, but they did not travel with Eliza Jane and her parents.
The family probably saw an advertisement that appeared on March 8, 1850 in the Belfast News-Letter:
FOR NEW YORK
To Sail Direct From Belfast on the 8th April,
The United States Clipper-built, First-Class
Copper and Copper-fastened Ship
1,200 Tons Burthen,
G. BEARSE, Commander.
The ad goes on to tout the first-class accommodations of this fine ship and lists the weekly provisions to be provided for each passenger, “2 lbs. Navy Biscuit, 1 lb. Wheat Flour, 5 lbs. Oatmeal, 2 lbs. Rice, 2 Ounces Tea, ½ lb. Sugar, ½ lb. Molasses, 1 lb. Beef or Pork, 1 pint Vinegar, and 3 Quarts of pure Water daily.”4
The Drakes and Halses Leave Ireland
Assuming the ship sailed on time, the entire trip took six weeks and two days. That is a long time to keep a couple of toddlers and a baby healthy, safe, and mollified in a confined place. Rough weather would have undoubtedly terrified the young family. Seasickness would have been prevalent, at least for the first few weeks.
Eliza Jane had the help of her parents and brother to take care of the children, but what about Robert, her husband?
It’s possible that Robert may have sailed on an earlier ship, perhaps the one his in-laws were traveling on. They could establish a home base in their new country before the rest of the family arrived. So far, no records have come to light. Another possibility is that Robert was on the M. Howes with his family, working as a member of the ship’s crew.
Eliza Jane Drake Halse arrived safely in New York on May 22, 1850, along with her three young children. The ship carried a total of 152 passengers. The passenger manifest also lists a Samuel and Eliza Drake, just above Eliza Jane Halse, but their ages are given as 40, so these are either not her parents or their ages are incorrect. They appear to have traveled with their son, Richard Drake, age 19.5
Given that all these people were living together in the 1850 U. S. Census taken a few months later, it seems probable that they are indeed Eliza Jane’s family.6
Life in America Begins
Unlike many Irish who came to North America during the famine years, the Halses and Drakes would have been considered comfortable. The Gaelic Irish frequently arrived in America in little better condition than the African slaves.
The Halses and Drakes were able to obtain passage on a ship that was not likely to be overcrowded and understocked. They spoke English and they were all literate.7 These circumstances, and the fact that they were not Catholic, provided them better opportunities in America than the native Irish.
That didn’t mean they had it easy, though. By August, the extended family was settled in Smithfield, Rhode Island, a mill town situated along several rivers that were harnessed for manufacturing. It was a center for processing cotton.
Sixteen people lived in the household; all but four were either Drakes or Halses. Five members of the household listed “weaver” as their occupation. Two, including Robert Halse, were mariners. None of the women were listed with occupations, only the men.8 The family likely spent their time in Rhode Island saving their earnings to buy land and move west.
In August 1851, Eliza Jane lost her youngest child, John, at the age of 2 ½.9 Before they eventually relocated to northeastern Iowa, the Halses spent some time in New York. There, Eliza Jane had another son, Samuel.10 It’s also probable that her mother died in New York. There’s no record that Eliza Drake ever made it to Iowa. It was a rocky start to a new life in America for Eliza Jane.
Eliza Jane Drake on Ancestry
The ship Young America at Sea by Antonio Jacobsen (1850 – 1921), 1915. (Wikimedia Commons). This clipper ship of 1,439 tons was built by William H. Webb in New York and put into service in 1853. It was owned by George Howes & Co. and is likely a sister ship to the M. Howes, which may have been named for someone in the George Howes family.
- Birth years for the Drakes are based on the ages given in the 1850 U. S. Census. Family history reports they lived in Killyleagh, which is supported by pay records for Robert Halse. Eliza’s birth year is based on the ship manifest and her gravestone. ↩
- Robert Halse. Merchant Navy Seamen. Online at: http://search.findmypast.com/record?id=tna%2fbt113%2f2132743396%2f1 ↩
- “New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1891,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:27PD-2GW : 11 March 2018), Eliza Halse, 1850; citing NARA microfilm publication M237 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm. ↩
Ship M. [Mulphford?] Howes, Belfast to New York; The Belfast News-
Letter, Friday, 8 March, 1850; CMSIED 101005. Link http://ied.dippam.ac.uk/records/31683 (Consulted: 29-01-2012). ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Drake, Samuel. Year: 1850; Census Place: Smithfield Districts 2 and 3, Providence, Rhode Island; Roll: M432_846; Page: 118B; Image: 243. via Ancestry.com. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/23118463 ↩
- Halse, Samuel. Year: 1870; Census Place: Highland, Winneshiek, Iowa; Roll: M593_426; Page: 206A; Family History Library Film: 545924. via Ancestry.com. ↩