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“Many Hundreds are Sterving for Want of Employment”: John Harrower Leaves London for Virginia, 1774

Migration across the Atlantic often involved a series of stages, drawing people to London before they embarked on their journey. John Harrower, a 40-year-old shopkeeper and tradesman, lived in the far north of the British Isles. Like many of the 40,000 residents of the Scottish Highlands who left after 1760, he faced poverty and little opportunity. Harrower initially planned to travel to the Netherlands but ended up in London. The great metropolis, the largest in the western world, swelled as thousands looked unsuccessfully for employment. After several weeks, Harrower signed an indenture to travel to Virginia as a schoolmaster. He sailed with 71 other male indentees, some from London, but many others from across England and Ireland. With his relatively privileged training, Harrower was fortunate and found a new life on a tidewater plantation. These excerpts from his journal tell of his time in London, journey across the Atlantic, and arrival in Virginia.

Munday 18th [January 1774] This day I got to London and was like a blind man without a guide, not knowing where to go being freindless and having no more money but fifteen shillings & eight pence farthing a small sum to enter London with; But I trust in the mercys of God who is a rich provider and am hopefull before it is done some way will cast up for me. I took up my lodging at the old Ship Tavern in Little Hermitage Street, Mr. George Newton being the landlord, but in Prison for debt at present.

Wednesday 19 Jay. 1774 This day I shifted my cloaths and put on a clean Ruffled Shirt, clean Britches and waistcoat & my Brown Coat. I not having any other cloaths on ever since I left Lerwick but my blew Jacket and Bigg Coat above it & a plain shirt. At 11 am I called to see Capt. Peery, but was told he would not be at home untill 5 pm. Having eat nothing for 24 houres, I dinned in my Lodging this day which cost me l/2 Str. After dinner I took a walk with the mate of a ship a Scotsman who carried me through Virginia Street, London Street, part of White Chappel Street, down to London Hospitall, through Ragg fair, the Minnories Round Tour hill, and the Tour, through Saint Catharins, and Bur street and so home.

At 5 pm called again at Capt. Perrys & the first face I saw was Willie Holcraw of Coningsburgh who I found staid here as a servant, and while I was speacking to him, Capt. Perry came home & he immediately knew me, and desired me to walk in which I did, and after sitting some time & drinking some tea, I called Capt. Perry aside and made my Intentions known to him, at same time begged his advice and assistance; He told me he hardly thought there would be any Business got for me in London. But told me to call on him at the Jamacia Coffee House to morrow at Change time. I then went home, & soon went to Bedd.

Thursday 20th Jay. 1774 This morning breackfast at home and paid 6d. for it. At noon called at the Jamacia Coffee House and soon after seed Capt. Perry & waited here and [at the?] Change untill 3 pm. but no appearance of any Business for me. The time I was in the Coffee house I drank 3ds. worth of punch, and I was obliged to make it serve me for Dinner. At night I hade l/2d. worth of bread & 1d. of Cheese & a poynt of Porter for supper it being all I cou’d afford.

Freiday 21st This morning I seed an advertisement for Bookeepers and Clerks to go to a Gentleman [at?] Philadelphia. I went as it directed to No. 1 in Catharine Court Princes street, but when I came there I was told they were served. I then waited again on Capt. Perry untill after 3 pm, But to no purpose. I this day offered to go steward of a ship bound to Maryland but could not get the birth. This day I was 3 or 4 miles through London and seed St. Pauls Church, the Bank of England where I seed the Gold lying in heaps, I also seed Summerst house, Gild hall, Drury Lane, Covingarden, Adelphus Buildings & severall other pleaces. I then returnd and near my Lodgings I dinned at an eating house & hade 4d. worth of roast Beiff 1d. worth of bread & a poynt of small beer, in all 5 1/2 d.

Saturday 22d. Jay. 1774 This morning I seed an advertiesment in the Publick Ledger for a Messenger to a publick Lodge, Sallery 15/Str. per week and another advertisement for an under Clerk to a Mercht. to both which I wrote answers and went to the places apointed, and found at each place more than a dozen of Letters before me, so that I hade litle expectation that way they being all weel acquanted and I a stranger. I then went to Change to see if any thing would cas[t] up but to no purpose, so I returned hom at 4 pm and spent the evening in a verry sollitary manner supping on bread & Cheese as usuall.

Sunday 23d. This morning I drank some purle for breackfast and then I took a walk in the forenoon through severall streets, and at 1 pm I returned to the eating house I hade formerly been at and dinned which cost me 6 1/2 today having hade 1d. worth of pudding more than I formerly hade. In the afternoon I went to a Methodists Meeting, the Text was in the V Chap: Mathew and the 20th Verse. After sermon I came home and being solitarry in my room I made the following Verses which I insert on the other side of this leaf.

Now at London in a garret room I am,
here frendless and forsaken;
But from the Lord my help will come,
Who trusts in him are not mistaken.

When freinds on earth do faint and faile,
And upon you their backs do turn;
O Truely seek the Lord, and he will
Them comfort that do murn.

I’ll unto God my prayer make,
to him my case make known;
And hopes he will for Jesus sake,
Provide for me and soon.

Munday 24th. This morning I wrote six tickets to give to shipmasters at Change seeking a stewards birth on board some ship, but could not get a birth. I also wrote a petition in generall to any Mercht. or Tradesman setting forth my present situation, and the way in which I hade been brought up and where I hade served and in what station, at same time offering to serve any for the bare suport of life fore some time. But all to no effect, for all pleaces here at present are intierly carried by freinds and Intrest, And many Hundreds are sterving for want of employment, and many good people are begging….

Wednesday 26th. This day I being reduced to the last shilling I hade was oblidged to engage to go to Virginia for four years as a schoolmaster for Bedd, Board, washing and five pound during the whole time. I have also wrote my wife this day a particular Accot. of every thing that has happned to me since I left her untill this date; At 3 pm this day I went on board the Snow Planter Capt. Bowers Comr. for Virginia now lying at Ratliff Cross, and imediatly as I came on board I reed, my Hammock and Bedding. At 4 pm came Alexr. Steuart on board the same Ship. He was Simbisters Servt. and hade only left Zetland about three weeks before me. We were a good deall surprised to meet with on[e] another in this place.

Thursday 27th Jay. 1774 This day ranie weather. The ships crew imployed in rigging the ship under the Direction of the mate & I was imployed in getting my Hammock slung. At 2 pm came on board Alexr. Burnet nephew to Mr. Frances Farquharson writter in Edinburgh & one Samuel Mitchell a Cooper from Yorkshire and both entred into the birth and Mace with Stewart & me.

Freiday 28th. This day the ships crew imployed as Yesterday.

Saturday 29th. This day came on board Alexr. Kennedy a young man from Edinburgh who hade been a Master Cooper there and a Glasgow Man by trade a Barber both which we took into our Mace, which compleated it being five Scotsmen and one Yorkshire man, and was always called the Scots Mace, And the Capt. told me he was from the Toun of Aberbothick in Scotland, but that he [had] note been there since he was fifteen years of age but hade been always in the Virginia trade which I was verry glade to hear. . .

Sunday 6th. At 7 am got under way with a fair wind and clear wr. [weather] and at 11 am came to an anchor off Gravesend and immediatly the Mercht. came on board and a Doctor & clerk with him and while the Clerk was fulling up the Indentures the doctor search’d every servt. to see that they were sound when two was turned ashore haveing the clap, and Seventy five were Intend to Capt. Bowres for four Years.

Munday 7th. Feby. 1774 This forenoon imployed in getting in provisions and water; at 4 pm put a servant ashore extreamly bade in a fiver, and then got under saile for Virginia with seventy Servants on board all indented to serve four years there at their differint Occoupations myself being one of the Number and Indented for a Clerk and Bookeeper, But when I aravied there I cou’d get no such birth as will appear in its place. At pm we came to an anchor at the Nore it blowing and snowing verry hard.

Tuesday 8th. At 5 am made saile from the Nore with the wind at W.N.W. Clear weather & blowing hard. At 2 pm got off a Pillot from Deall to take our River Pillot ashore for which Boat Capt. Bowers paid one and a half Guineas, and after buying some Gin here we stood streight to sea Under Close R. T. sails and our fore saile, a verry high sea running all this day.

Wednesday 9th. Wind at V.N.V. Steering V.B.S. in Company with the Price Freggate of Eighteen Guns bound to Jamacia. At noon caste out the Rd [reefs?] out of the Topsailes. . . .

Tuesday [May] 10th. [after the ship has arrived in Virginia] At 2 am wegh’d and stood up with the tide, came to an Anchor at 6 am & lay untill Do. 8 when we weigh’d with a fair wind & got to our Moorings at 6 pm at the Toun of Fredericksburgh.

Wednesday 11th. At 10 am Both Coopers & the Barber from our Mace went ashore upon tryall. At night one Daniel Turner a servt. returned on board from Liberty so drunk that he abused the Capt. Cheif Mate & Boatswan to a verry high degree, which made to be horse whipt. put in Irons and thumb screwed. An houre after he was unthumbscrewed, taken out of the Irons, but then he was hand cuffed, and gagged all night.

Thursday 12th May 1774, All hands quite on board this day. Turner ungagged But continoued in handcuffs.

Freiday 13th. This forenoon put ashore here what bale goods we hade remaining on board. In the afternoon Mr. Burnet, Stewart and myself went ashore on liberty to take a walk and see the Toun, who’s principall street is about half an English Mile long, the houses generally at a little distance one from another, some of them being built of wood & some of them of brick, and all covered with wood made in the form of slates about four Inches broad, which when painted blew you wou’d not know it from a house sclated with Isedell sclate. In this Toun the Church, the Counsell house, the Tolbooth the Gallows & the Pillary are all within 130 yds. of each other. The Market house is a large brick building a litle way from the Church. Here we drank some Bottles of beer of their own brewing and some bottles of Cyder for which we paid 3 1/2 per bottle of each. Returned on board in the evening. Turner still in handcuffs.

Saturday 14th. Nothing remarcable. Turner still in handcuffs.

Sunday 15th. All last night a great deall of thunder & Lightning. This day Mr. Anderson came to toun and came on bord, and spacke to severall of the servts. Turner still handcuff’d.

Munday 16th May 1774 This day severalls came on board to purchase servts. Indentures and among them there was two Soul drivers. They are men who make it their bussines to go on board all ships who have in either Servants or Convicts and buy sometimes the whole and sometimes a parcell of them as they can agree, and then they drive them through the Country like a parcell of Sheep untill they can sell them to advantage, but all went away without buying any.

Tuesday 17th. This day Mr. Anderson the Mercht. sent for me into the [cabin? ] and verry genteely told me that on my recomendations he would do his outmost to get me settled as a Clerk or bookeeper if not as a schoolmaster which last he told me he thought wou’d turn out more to my advantage upon being settled in a good famely.

The ships crew and servants imployed in getting ashore all the cask out of the hould, no sales this day.

Wednesday 18th. This day the ships crew and servants imployed in getting out the ballast and unrigging the ship. One Cooper, one Blacksmith & one Shoemaker were settled with Masters this day.

Thursday 19th. One Farmer’s time sold & one Cabinet Maker on tryall.

Freiday 20th. This day we got the first four Hhds. of Tobacco on board; Turner still continous handcuffed.

Saturday 21st May 1774 This day one Mr. Cowly a Man twixt fifty & sixty years of age, a servt., also three sons of his their ages from Eight to fourteen were all settled with one McDonald a Scotsman.

Sunday 22d. All hands quiet on board.

Munday 23d. This morning a great number of Gentlemen and Ladies driving into Town it being an anuall Fair day & tomorrow the day of the Horse races. At 11 am Mr. Anderson begged [me] to settle as a schoolmaster with a freind of his one Colonel Daingerfield and told me he was to be in Town tomorrow, or perhaps to night, and how soon he came he shou’d aquant me. At same time all the rest of the servants were ordred ashore to a tent at Fredericksbg. and severall of their Indentures were then sold. About 4 pm I was brought to Colonel Daingerfield, when we imediatly agreed and my Indenture for four years was then delivered him and he was to send for me the next day. At same time ordred to get all my dirty Cloaths of every kind, washed at his expence in Toun; at night he sent me five shillings on board by Capt. Bowers to keep my pocket.

Tuesday 24th. May 1774 This morning I left the Ship at 6 am having been sixteen weeks and six days on board her. I hade for Breackfast after I came ashore one Chappin sweet milk for which I paid 3 1/2 Cury. At 11 am went to see a horse race about a mille from Toun, where there was a number of Genteel Company as well as others. Here I met with the Colonel again and after some talk with him he gave me cash to pay for washing all my Cloaths and Something over. The reace was gain’d by a Bay Mare, a white boy ridder. There was a gray Mare started with the Bay a black boy ridder but was far distant the last heat.

Wednesday 25th. I Lodged in a Tavern last night and paid 7 1/2 for my Bedd and 7 1/2 for my breackfast. This morning a verry heavy rain untill 11 am. Then I recd. my Linens &ca. all clean washed and packing every thing up I went on board the ship and Bought this Book for which I paid 18d. Str. I also bought a small Divinity book called the Christian Monitor and a spelling book, both at 7 1/2 & an Arithmetick at 1/6d. all for my own Accot.

Thursday 26th. This day at noon the Colonel sent a Black with a cuple of Horses for me and soon after I set out on Horseback and aravied at his seat of Belvidera about 3 pm and after I hade dined the Colonel took me to a neat little house at the upper end of an Avenue of planting at 500 yds. from the Main house, where I was to keep the school, and Lodge myself in it.

This pleace is verry pleasantly situated on the Banks of the River Rappahannock about seven Miles below the Toun of Fredericksburgh, and the school’s right above the Warff so that I can stand in the door and pitch a stone on board of any ship or Boat going up or coming doun the river.

Freiday 27th. This morning about 8 am the Colonel delivered his three sons to my Charge to teach them to read write and figure. His oldest son Edwin 10 years of age, intred into two syllables in the spelling book, Bathourest his second son 6 years of age in the Alphabete and William his third son 4 years of age does not know the letters. He has likeways a Daughter whose name is Hanna Basset __ Years of age. Soon after we were all sent for to breackfast to which we hade tea Bread, Butter & cold meat and there was at table the Colonel, his Lady, his Childreen, the housekeeper and myself. At 11 am the Colonel and his Lady went some where to pay a visite, he upon horseback and she in her Charriot. At 2 pm I dined with the Housekeeper the Childreen and a Stranger Lady. At 6 pm I left school, and then I eat plenty of fine straw berries, but they neither drink Tea in the afternoon nor eat any supper here for the most part. My school Houres is from 6 to 8 in the Morning, in the forenoon from 9 to 12 and from 3 to 6 in the afternoon.

Source: John Harrower, The Journal of John Harrower, An Indentured Servant in the Colony of Virginia, 1773–1776 (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1963), 14–19, 38–42.