52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Travel

52 Ancestors

As I have written before in Gypsies and Community Pillars, our Rhoades family were travelers. We had that wanderlust. One could say that all American’s are a result of the wanderlust gene. But many, it seems, had a recessive gene that inspires them to take root. I did not inherit that gene, nor did my father. Perhaps it’s our distaste for densely populated areas that develop our wanderlust – a secret motivation for many pioneers to move west, I think. Though historians record it was the opportunity to be landowners. I am biased of course, being a self-proclaimed misanthrope. I obviously prefer dead people to most of the living (it’s a genealogy joke, not morbidity – relax).

So, travel. I think about how travel has changed over the generations. Dad and I had a light conversation about it the last time we were in the Dakota’s together. We were speeding around on chip-and-seal roads through the heartland, site seeing around the area, when dad asked, “Can you imagine how our ancestors must have traveled?” I didn’t need to imagine, I already knew.

English Settlers in America, 1st half 17th century. Wood engraving after a drawing by Felix Darley (American illustrator and engraver, 1824 – 1888), engraved by Albert (Alfred) Bobbett (American engraver, 1813 – 1888), published in 1876

Our earliest immigrant ancestors arriving in the early-mid 17th century arrived by ship. Slow-moving ship. It is reported to have taken months to cross the Atlantic. Once in the America’s they traveled by foot, wagon, and boat. Colonists brought horses with them, of course, but they were probably a little scarce until the colonists were more established. Even by horse, travel was slow and roads were non-existant beyond settlements. Back then, they didn’t just go out and hop in their wagon to go visit “Aunt Sarah” in the next town. They had to plan ahead and take the time to get the horse out, saddle it, and pack a saddlebag (containing lead, gun powder, wadding, hard bread, and a flask of water). Carrying guns or rifles was a necessity for protection and survival. Not necessarily from criminals, but from natural predators and unfriendly native tribes – or the occasional squirrel for the campfire. Needless to say, visiting “Aunt Sarah” wasn’t a routine thing, more like a special occasion or because you had business to attend nearby.

Today, we wake up, have a desire to visit “Aunt Sarah”, and just hop in the car and go (hopefully after a phone call to tell her we’re coming). No packing, no planning, and arming oneself is optional.

These early immigrant ancestors only relocated 30 miles at a time (Ipswich, MA to Rowley, MA was a mere 8 miles; Rowley to Bradford, MA was ~25 miles; Bradford to Pelham, NH was ~30 miles; and Pelham to Lyme, NH was whopping 108 miles.) All this travel before 1830 when simple narrow wagons were in use – when available.

Moving or traveling further distances didn’t start occuring until the 1830’s when a family moved from Lyme, NH to Marsailles, IL and another from Chautauqua County, NY to Dane County, WI. The Castorland Journal indirectly reports the travel conditions of one our immigrant ancestors from France to the untamed wilderness of New York. And one family records their story directly in History of Dane County Wisconsin (1880).

Brothers Desjardins and Simon Pharoux kept a journal starting in 1793 documenting their travel experience from France. They left Le Havre on 8 July 1793 while the French Revolution was gaining momentum. Before leaving European waters, they could hear distant cannon fire, see fleets of other ships, and were boarded by English privateers. They arrived in New York’s harbor precisely two months later, thanks to favorable weather conditions. From New York, they had to take a sloop to Kinderhook, NY, a three-day journey. Followed by a rough and hilly over-land route to Albany. From Albany to Castorland, their journey was horrendous! Castorland was in the untamed wilderness of New York, and no roads lead to it. They started out in a wagon out of Albany to Schenectady, then transferred their supplies to a bateau (flat bottomed riverboat), and on foot when the bateau could not navigate overburdened, or they had to cross/traverse rapids (which was several times). If our DeJeans were the same ones mentioned in the journals, this would be a similar experience to theirs in their journey from France to New York. Their trek to Wisconson was recorded by Stephen’s son, Joseph:

March 1, 1837, [Joseph] left Jamestown, Chautauqua Co., for Wisconsin, traveling four days in their sleighs; they then exchanged them for wagons, in which they completed their trip to Chicago, Ill., in twenty-five days; in his attempt to get through that city, he mired in the mud in front of the Tremont House, which detained him a half-day, and compelled him to send his household goods to Milwaukee by the boat, while he drove through the country with his teams; he settled in the town of Waukesha [Wisconsin].

History of Dane County Wisconsin

These longer travel routes also coincide with the production of the Conestoga wagon followed by the prairie schooner by the 1850s. These wagons would have been likely used by Sumner Gage when he moved the family from New Hampshire to Illinois, as well as our Aleck, Kucks, and Rhoads ancestors when they moved from the eastern states into Iowa and Indiana. No roads, just wilderness with the occasional path made from pioneers that preceeded them. Our ancestors travelled for opportunities, not job opportunties, by opportunity to own land. Enough land to make a living.

It’s funny that when the motorized coach was just picking up momentum, our ancestors seem to have slowed down in their travels and moving was prompted by employment opportunities. My grandfather left Nebraska when he joined the Navy. My father left South Dakoa when he joined the. Army. I left California twice – once as a young and dumb kid striking out on my own with friends and finally when I joined the Army. I am a civilian now, but I still travel. Today I travel for a living. Mostly by plane and sometimes, if I’m lucky, by car.