Crossing an Ocean with Kids

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

634px-Killyleagh_Castle
Killyleagh Castle, believed to be the oldest occupied castle in the country. The Hamilton family has lived there since about 1602. It dominates the little village of Killyleagh. (Wikimedia Commons)

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 sister’s family, the Murphys, 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

M. HOWES,

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

1024px-Antonio_Jacobsen_-_The_ship_Young_America_at_sea

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.

Manifest
Section of passenger manifest for the M. Howes showing the Drakes and Halses. (Family Search)

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 possibly 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.

Georgia-Cotton-Mill
Georgia Cotton Mill, Smithfield, Rhode Island. Built in 1813. (Town of Smithfield)

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

Feature image:

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.


  1. 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. 
  2. Robert Halse. Merchant Navy Seamen. Online at: http://search.findmypast.com/record?id=tna%2fbt113%2f2132743396%2f1 
  3. “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. 
  4. 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). 
  5. Ibid. 
  6. Drake, Samuel. Year: 1850; Census Place: Smithfield Districts 2 and 3, Providence, Rhode Island; Roll: M432_846; Page: 118B; Image: 243. via Ancestry.com. 
  7. Ibid. 
  8. Ibid. 
  9. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/23118463 
  10. Halse, Samuel. Year: 1870; Census Place: Highland, Winneshiek, Iowa; Roll: M593_426; Page: 206A; Family History Library Film: 545924. via Ancestry.com. 

15 thoughts on “Crossing an Ocean with Kids

Add yours

  1. I’ve never thought about the realities of traveling with young children on a ship for 6 weeks across a rough ocean. What a nightmare, I think. But considering what they were moving away from maybe it seemed like a good choice to them. Interesting topic.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Eilene,

    Six weeks at sea on a Carnival cruise would do me in! LOL.

    But really, six weeks at sea with kids in tow . . in very tight quarters . . . and no motion sickness pills? I cannot imagine!

    Like

  3. I enjoyed your post immensely having found your blog after you’d commented on another blog I follow. Strange how it works! But this tale of yours is a coincidence as I’m currently researching some ancestors of my own who made a similar journey in 1833 from England to Newfoundland, then on a Brig, Eliza, to Boston MA. I haven’t found yet how they got to Newfoundland but as a newbie to this (only a month on Ancestry.com) it’ll take a while! They were Cornish miners heading for Wisconsin and brought most of their young family over, it must have been horrendous typified by your list of food they were provided with. Anyway, if you have any advice as to how to search for a ship they may have sailed on I would be really most grateful. I’ve followed your blog too and am enjoying reading some of your other posts, especially the #52ancestors which I am attempting too …. but not every prompt triggers me yet!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Welcome to blogs and Ancestry, Dr B! Thanks for reading. This is my second year of doing the 52 Ancestors prompts. So many stories to tell. One thing I can recommend is focusing on one part of a person’s life story and not doing an exhaustive birth-to-death tale each time. (Sometimes I do that if I know very little, but that’s the exception, not the rule.) As for researching ships, Family Search has a lot of databases on passenger lists. Also, for early entrance into New York, Castle Garden has a web site, but much of those records have yet to be digitized. Boston, may have some other records that I am not aware of. I’ll check out your blog, too!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you Eilene, I’m only one month in to this and have got the opportunity to write a #52mistakes challenge already! I’m trying hard to write specific histories or stories now, especially around specific “large” events such as migrating somewhere, a specific occupation such as tin miner and iron ore miner. I’m grouping 2-3 generations together too down a particular line such as my maternal grandfather as a group, my maternal grandmother as a different group. But slicing across these groups and back say 100 years you can see how each group were affected almost identically because of the economic and social conditions of the time. Also I quite like blog challenge prompts, I did WordPress photochallenge religiously, but the #52ancestors challenge I am finding quite hard because some of the headings are meaningless to me such as library, courthouse for example. Anyway, thank you for your support and encouragement, I look forward to further engagement 🙏🙏👍👍 Brian.

        Liked by 1 person

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