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Robert Howitt

Robert Howitt (1826-1924) -by his Grandson, Weldon Howitt (1885-1981)

Robert Howitt was born in Folkingham on June 23, 1826 and lived for quite a while with his grandfather who was a clock repairer. (This was probably Alice Tunnard's father, Joseph and wife Elizabeth) While living there, Robert was a day laborer, working sometimes on the estates in the neighborhood. He cut the lawns on the estates with a scythe and was heard to say that keeping the grass trimmed now with our lawn mowers was far easier than doing it with a scythe.

He was a bell ringer in the local church in Folkingham and took part in ringing the changes. One of the great days in his life was ringing the bells the day the Queen of England (Victoria) passed through his village.

He had a brother, Richard, and another brother, William. Richard had a son by the name of Joseph and I have had letters from him. I also had letters from Joseph's daughter, Eva, with whom I corresponded for several years, but that was many years ago. Dorr also corresponded with some other members of the Howitt family who lived in Swaton which is not far from Folkingham. I have heard grandfather say that the name Richard has appeared in every generation for many, many generations.

Grandfather married Mary Pridgeon (1831-1906), daughter of Bedford and Elisabeth, whose home was in Aunsby,Lincolnshire, England. They were married in Waterford, N.Y. on September 15, 1852.

After Robert Howitt came to this country he worked for a time in Watervliet, New York. From that place he went to Rochester. From Rochester he went to Dansville by canal. Traces of the canal are still in existence. From Dansville he made his way to Conesus where he eventually bought a farm and lived until his wife Mary died in 1906. After that he lived with his sons and died at my old home on Elm Street in Conesus on August, 1922 at the age of 96 years. Robert and Mary Howitt are buried in the G. Arnold Cemetery in Conesus.

Perhaps you have heard about William Howitt and his wife Mary Howitt, who were well known writers in their day. I have a history of their lives that was published a few years ago by the University of Kansas Press. Some of Mary Howitt's poems are included in modern compilations, (Mary wrote "The Spider and the Fly") but none of William Howitt's works are well known today. However, William Howitt was a person of importance in his day and was a friend of Charles Dickens and other noted writers. I asked grandfather what relation he was to the author. He said William was his uncle or great uncle, but that was all he knew about it . . . [illegible] at that time created the saying "Dickens - Howitt - Burns"* and that is his monument to fame. Grandfather Howitt came to this country as an immigrant at the age of 24 or 25. When he was 91 years old in the year of 1917 he wrote a letter describing his voyage. - I am copying it for you.

Letter from Robert Howitt to Weldon Howitt & his wife:

"My advise to Weldon and Gratie--If you go aboard don't go on a sailing vessel. I will tell you the why. First go and visit the ship. You go below deck. That is the steerage where you pick out your quarters for the trip. You will see right down each side two rows of what they call bunks. These are your sleeping places. They are rough board bottoms and one board up in front. What are you going to lie down on? Anything you have a mind to, the boards if you think best. You go on shore. There are some old shacks. They are the stores where you can buy just what you want. -You want something to lay on those boards. They will sell you -mattress and a pillow. They are made of old pieces of sacking or sail cloth and stuffed with straw or anything else even with live animals (he refers to lice) that you find after you have laid down a few times. They are good company for those who want to keep awake all night.

You also want some tins and kettles, for you will have to cook for yourself. You buy some sea biscuits and some other things. You can get all at the same store but they can't tell you how many times those things have been to sea for when a vessel comes in from the sea, they get an board and buy all your trash for a few cents because you don't want it and won't take it off the ship. Some that are going to sea on another ship, they go there to get their supplies. They pay a good price for the same things and there they go again.

You have to do your own cooking. There is a stove with four griddles in a small place for all the immigrants to do their own cooking in and you must do it by daylight for no lights are allowed. The stove room is locked up at night till light in the morning. That is for five or six hundred passengers. I did not ship down there. The cabins are on deck, the second cabin and the cook room for the sailors and for the first cabin and there is a cook in there night and day. He is not allowed to cook for no one else.

We took our berths in the second cabin. The berths are the same as below but we get fresh air and good daylight. There's room for about 18 of us in there. We had to pay one pound-more money to come in there. We get our supplies the same way as those below.

Now we want to find out how to get something cooked.. We don't want to join the crowd at the old stove. There is only a boarded part between our cabin and the cook. I goes for him to make a deal. He is a big black - the first one I ever spoke to and the second I ever saw. He said he would try to do it for us but we must not let the steward catch us getting cooking done there. It will make trouble. I asked what he would charge. He said he would do it for 75 cts the trip for each one. I was surprised at him to do it for that. We to get our cooking ready and when he knocked on the board, take it to his door and he takes it in. When done he knocks again and we go and get it. And so we get along with that all right.

On Feb. 15, 1851 we went on board the ship and started on our trip to leave England for America. We got along all right till about the 12th of March. The ship balked - it would not go no further for the wind would not blow. We are in the calm for two days and nights. The water was perfectly still. The captain with his big glass was on the look out, he gave an order, the mate answered it, the sailors began to go up the rope ladders and let the sails loose yet we could not see any change but the wind soon began to blow and it kept rising to an awful storm. All that night it kept getting-worse.

The ship rolled so we would think it would tip over- We laid in our bunks to save ourselves. We began to think our time was short but I am here yet. The next morning it was still growing worse and along the middle of the forenoon, a wave struck the ship and the second cabin and burst the cabin side in. I laid in my bunk. The water drove us out of our nest. Now they had to open the hatch and they put us down below deck. If you could have seen them waves you would think Germany was there for they struck the ship like a cannon. When this storm slowed down we came up on deck. It was a sight. The breastwork on the side of the ship was some of it gone but the worst all, the rudder was gone. Now we are in a bad shape.

Now we go in our cabin to clean out and try to find something to eat for we have fasted all through the storm. The men came to repair the cabin. We threw our bedding into the sea for it was soaked with salt water. I guess the live animals in it would leave us alone now.

The trouble now is about the rudder.

When the weather was fit they set about to make a temporary one and did their best. They got it but it was small for a large ship but it helped when the sea was not too rough so we then tried to get to New York. We did not have any more bad luck but traveled slow on account of the rudder. A ship passed us going-in. The captain sent by it for help. It came and took us in and we were glad to get there for we laid on bare boards ever since we threw the bedding in the sea. Well I shant say any more about it this time and see what you say about going to sea on a sailing vessel."

Wrote by Robert Howitt

It took about six weeks for the trip.


Contributor: Martha Talmage, Oklahoma