Wednesday, August 30, 2017

From Crediton to London: The Saunders Family Arrives in Canada

Both of Alice Miner’s parents, Bernard Trainer and Louisa Saunders, were immigrants from the British Isles to Canada. Unfortunately, we have very little information about Bernard Trainer’s early life. The notice of his death that appeared in the Goderich Signal in September 1880 stated that he had lived in Goderich for about 25 years. He was believed to have been born in Edinburgh, Scotland, of Irish parents, and had come to London, Ontario “when quite young.” Without any more information, such as the names of his parents, it has proven very difficult to trace his history. 

The Crediton parish church, where James Saunders
and Jane Woollacott were baptized
The Saunders family is more abundantly represented in the records that are available to us. Louisa’s parents were James and Jane Woollacott Saunders, and they were both born in Crediton, Devon, England. James, the son of William and Eunice Saunders, was born in 1792; Jane was the daughter of William and Jane Woollacott, and she was born in 1795. They were married in August 1817, and their first child, Thirza, was born a year later. She was followed by eight more children: Edwin (1822), Stephen (1824), Emma (1827), Louisa (1829), Ann (1832), Bertha (1834), William (1836), and Mary (1839).

Early Methodist meeting
James Saunders was a shoemaker, and he also served as a Methodist lay minister. The Saunders family’s Wesleyan Methodism was a central part of their identity. Methodism was still a fairly new denomination in the early 19th century, but it was growing rapidly. Begun as an effort by Anglican clergymen John Wesley (1703-1791) and George Whitfield (1714-1770) to address what they saw as some of the shortcomings of the established church, it placed great emphasis on preaching, and members were encouraged to meet regularly in small groups for spiritual fellowship and guidance. John Wesley urged members to pursue personal holiness and a disciplined (or methodical) Christian life. He believed that individuals are free to accept or reject God’s grace, and that it is possible to attain perfection, or the overcoming of a will to sin, in this life. Eventually, Whitfield and Wesley divided over doctrinal issues, and the term “Wesleyan Methodist” was used to distinguish his followers from those of Whitfield, known as the Calvinistic Methodists.

Lay ministers such as James Saunders played an important role in Wesleyan Methodism, which originally did not have established houses of worship and relied upon traveling preachers and lay ministers to guide worship and manage the administration of the church. Methodism grew the fastest in those parts of Britain that were being most affected by the Industrial Revolution, and it was most popular among members of the working class and others on the fringes of 18th-century society. Wesleyan Methodism’s emphasis on simple living, self-discipline, and virtuous behavior would have appealed to working people with strivings toward respectability and middle-class status, like James and Jane Saunders.

Mint Lane Chapel, Exeter, ca. 1900
All nine of the Saunders children were baptized at the Methodist chapel in Mint Lane, Exeter, about seven miles from Crediton. The building of permanent chapels was a product of the period after around 1800, when membership numbers were on the rise. In 1798, there were only about 70 members of Wesleyan Methodist societies in Exeter; by 1815, there were almost 300. In 1808, Exeter had become the center of a circuit, or a group of local churches under the care of a minister who traveled among them, and in 1810 the Trustees decided to begin building a new meeting house that would accommodate 700 people. The first services were held at the Mint Lane chapel in 1813.

We don’t know what prompted James and Jane Saunders to leave England in 1849, but they may have been encouraged to do so by their son Stephen, who had already gone to Canada. James, Jane, and seven of their children (Thirza was married by this time, and stayed in England) boarded the sailing vessel Margaret in Torquay in the spring of 1849Like many immigrants, the Saunders family traveled with friends from home, William and Sarah Woodley Skinner and their children. The Margaret made regular trips between Torquay and Qu├ębec, carrying emigrants west and returning with loads of timber. This part of the journey took six weeks. After traveling past the falls of the St. Lawrence, they then boarded another boat which would take them up the river to Hamilton, Ontario. There they met up with a Mr. Pickard, who drove them the last 80 miles to London—another two days of travel. The Saunders family arrived in London in late May, 1849.

Photograph of James and Jane
Saunders, taken after their arrival
in London
There the Saunders family would have found an established Wesleyan Methodist community and perhaps reunited with other people they knew from England. Certainly they seem to have settled into their new home very quickly. Later that same year, daughter Emma married the Skinners’ eldest son, William, and in 1850 Louisa married Bernard Trainer. William Saunders became an apprentice to druggist John Salter, and in 1855 opened his own pharmacy, which would eventually lead him to a long and distinguished career in science. The other daughters, Ann, Bertha, and Mary, also married prominent London men, while Edwin, the oldest son, became something of a local legend as “the Hermit of Misery Bay.”

Jane Woollacott Saunders died before Alice was born, in 1862, but James Saunders lived until the age of 87. Although London and Goderich are some 70 miles apart, it would not have been impossible for the Trainer siblings to remain in contact with their Saunders relatives, and indeed there is evidence that they did. We will look at the next generation of the Saunders family—Alice’s mother and her siblings—in our next post.

Sources:

Information about the Saunders family comes primarily from the birth, christening, and marriage records in the International Genealogical Index, available online at FamilySearch. The family was also recorded in the 1841 England Census (this is the earliest census available).

The account of the family’s journey from Crediton to London comes from Elsie M. Pomeroy, William Saunders and His Five Sons: The Story of the Marquis Wheat Family (Toronto: The Ryerson Press, 1956).

Information on Wesleyan Methodism comes from Allan BrocketNonconformity in Exeter, 1650-1875 (Manchester University Press, 1962) and A History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, Volume 2 (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2017).

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Becoming Canadian, Becoming American

Catharine Parr Traill
(1802-1899)
As I recently noted on Facebook, we have been doing some research into cake recipes of the mid-19th century in preparation for Alice’s birthday party in September. One of the most interesting sources we found is a book called The Female Emigrant’s Guide by Catharine Parr Traill, first published in 1854. Traill’s book is similar in some ways to the domestic guides being published around the same time in Great Britain, such as Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, and in the United States, such as The American Woman’s Home by Catharine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe. But Traill’s book is unique in that it was written from a specifically Canadian perspective, and was intended as a guide for women who were emigrating from the British Isles to Upper Canada (later known as Canada West, and now the province of Ontario).


Catharine Parr Strickland was born in 1802 to a middle-class family in Suffolk, England. Her brother, Samuel, emigrated to Upper Canada in 1825, and in 1832, Catharine, her new husband Thomas Traill, her sister Susanna, and her brother-in-law John Moodie followed him there. The families settled on Rice Lake, north of present-day Peterborough. The Stricklands were a literary family, and Traill had already written a novel set in Canada while still living in England. Thus, when the Traill family was in need of money, it was natural that Catharine would turn to her experiences in Canada for material. Her first nonfiction work was The Backwoods of Canada, published in 1836, and based on the first few years of her life in Canada.


Illustration of a Canadian log house
from
The Backwoods of Canada
By the 1850s, the Traill family was living in much more settled conditions, and Catharine had many more years of experience to draw upon. Traill had two audiences in mind when writing The Female Emigrant’s Guide (or The Canadian Settler’s Guide, as it was called in later editions). One was women like herself, who came from genteel, middle-class backgrounds and who did not necessarily have the skills that they would need in the more remote regions of Canada—knitting, making candles and soap, baking bread (which might require making one’s own yeast as well). The other potential readers were women who came from more modest backgrounds and had limited resources, and who already had these basic household skills, but would need advice that was specific to Canada. These included how to grow and cook with corn, how to make maple sugar, and how to find and prepare local foodstuffs, such as “Indian rice” and wild berries.


Alice’s mother, Louisa Saunders, immigrated to Canada with her family in 1849. She was twenty years old, and thus was part of the group to whom Catharine Traill often directed particular advice. She urged “the daughters of the intending emigrant to acquire whatever useful arts they think likely to provide serviceable to them in their new country,” and cautioned them not to feel that it was unbecoming to a “lady” to engage in practical household tasks. Traill also reminded girls that one of their most important jobs was “cheering and upholding their mother in the trials that may await her.” 


Panorama of London, 1855
From the London Historic Maps Collection
The Saunders family—parents James and Jane, and eight of their nine children—settled in London, which was a rapidly growing city. In 1846, it had a population of about 3500 people, and boasted a theater, ten churches, and a weekly newspaper; by 1855 it had a population of 10,000 and was officially incorporated as a city. So they would not have experienced the kind of frontier or “backwoods” conditions that Traill described. Still, making the journey from England to what was then the western limits of Britain’s North American colony would have required some adjustment to new circumstances (including learning the difference between English and Canadian pumpkin pie!). 

Like many immigrants, the Saunders family traveled to Canada with friends from their home town. The Skinners were also from Crediton in Devon, and the two families would soon be united—William Skinner and Emma Saunders would marry shortly after their arrival in London. The families also would have been able to join a strong Wesleyan Methodist community. This support system undoubtedly helps to account for the relative rapidity with which members of the Saunders family were able to achieve positions of prominence in Canada.

In the 1880s, Alice and the rest of the Trainer siblings would themselves become immigrants, moving from Ontario to the United States. Given her own family history, it may seem surprising that Alice later embraced the Colonial Revival movement, which was in many ways nativist and saw immigration as a potential threat to “American values.” But for Alice and her contemporaries (both in the US and in Canada), there was a great deal of difference between immigrants like themselves—English-speaking, of British descent, white, and Protestant—and those who were coming from southern and eastern Europe. The early 20th century was also a period during which some Americans were trying to strengthen the ties between the US and Britain by emphasizing their shared cultural heritage. Thus there was no resistance to someone of Alice’s background claiming American identity. 

In future blog posts, we’ll tell more stories of the Saunders and Trainer families, and further explore these issues of national identity. 

Sources:

Most of Catharine Parr Traill’s books are available in digital form through sites like Google Books and the Internet Archive. A recent print edition of The Female Emigrant’s Guide, edited by Nathalie Cooke and Fiona Lucas, includes extensive supplementary material, including modernized recipes. Library and Archives Canada has put together a website of material—including original letters and other documents—on Catharine Traill and her sister Susanna Moodie.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Railroads and Refrigerator Cars: An Episode in the Career of William H. Miner


Charles E. Russell (1860-1941)
One of my favorite things about my job here at the Alice is that I never quite know where my research will take me. The collection is so wide-ranging, and William and Alice’s interests so broad, that anything could happen. Thus it was that I recently found myself reading a book called The Greatest Trust in the World by Charles Edward Russell. Though not as well known today as figures like Upton Sinclair and Ida Tarbell, Russell was also a muckraking journalist, and the book grew out of a series of articles he had written for Everybody’s Magazine in 1905. Though most Americans didn’t realize it, there was an entity that wielded enormous power over their daily lives—and it would ultimately cause the downfall of the California Fruit Transportation Company, William H. Miner’s employer for most of the 1890s.

This entity was the Beef Trust—an organization so powerful, according to Russell, that it had “impoverished or ruined farmers and stockmen, destroyed millions of investments, caused banks to break and men to commit suicide, precipitated strikes, and annihilated industries.” In some places, the trust had so much power that citizens, “even in the privacy of their offices or homes,” dared not speak a word against it. Most Americans thought of companies like Standard Oil as “the ultimate of monopolistic achievement,” but the Beef Trust was “far more vast and powerful.”


A refrigerator car from the 1870s. Ice was used in all cars until
mechanical refrigeration was introduced in the 1950s.
The origins of the Beef Trust (always capitalized by Russell) could be traced back to the invention of the refrigerator railcar in 1874, which transformed how and what people ate—and the biggest effect was on the meatpacking industry, centered in Chicago. Each packing house had its own refrigerator cars, and many railroads maintained their own cars, which could be used by packers at no charge. As Russell explained it, “The railroads were under obligation as common carriers to deliver in good condition the goods that they handled. The refrigerator car was merely an appliance to insure delivery in good condition.”


The Armour packing plant in Chicago, ca. 1910
Inevitably, the meatpacking companies consolidated into four main firms: Armour, Swift, Hammond, and Morris. The “big four” were then able to persuade the railroads (Russell doesn’t explain exactly how) to compensate them for using their own refrigerator cars for shipping. In the end, the railroads agreed to pay 3/4 of a cent for every mile hauled. That didn’t sound like much, but it added up to about $7.50 per car for every trip between Chicago and New York. This made it very difficult for companies that didn't own their own refrigerator cars to compete, and allowed the Beef Trust to control the prices of cattle and dressed beef.

By around 1900, the Beef Trust owned about 80% of all the refrigerator cars in the United States, and were transporting all manner of perishable goods, not just meat. Rival firms that did have their own cars “found that the cars of the bigger and more aggressive packers were favored by the railroads, handled more rapidly, sent back with less delay; that the car of the big house was in fact a club to beat the smaller firm to death; and they gradually got out on the best terms they could obtain. Thus the refrigerator car formed the Beef Trust.”


Shipping fruit was serious business, and
all communication had to be in code.
So where do William Miner and the California Fruit Transportation Company come in? CFT was a subsidiary of the Hutchins Refrigerator Car Company, a pioneer in the industry. Around 1886, Carlton B. Hutchins of Detroit developed an improved refrigerator car that used wool scraps from the garment industry for insulation. Hutchins went into partnership with F. A. Thomas, a Chicago fruit and produce dealer, and in 1888 they transported their first cars of fruit from California to Chicago. This was a risky business—Thomas had to purchase the fruit outright from the growers, who were skeptical of the refrigerator cars’ ability to keep the fruit from rotting. But it worked, and the California Fruit Transportation Company was born.

At first, the owners had every reason to think that “they had something better than a gold-mine. They voted themselves good salaries as officers...they voted themselves fat dividends as stockholders therein, and nothing seemed as easy as making money.” It was during this flush period, in 1890, that William H. Miner was hired as a mechanical superintendent for the company. His work at CFT would have shown the importance of improved draft gears to cushion wooden railcars shipping delicate cargo, and soon after being hired, he filed a patent for what would become known as the Miner tandem spring draft rigging.


Earl Fruit Company employees, ca. 1910
But thanks to the Beef Trust, these good times were not destined to last. In stepped one Edwin Tobias Earl, owner of the Earl Fruit Company, who supplied close to 80% of the fruit shipped by CFT. Earl requested a commission of $10 per car of fruit shipped—which California Fruit refused to agree to. So Earl went to Armour and rented cars from them instead, and “when the California fruit season reopened the CFT suddenly found that wherever it went the Earl Fruit Company was there also, making war and using a familiar and effective weapon; that is to say, it was offering rebates and getting the fruit.” CFT made an arrangement with the Southern Pacific Railway to haul their cars exclusively, but somehow this “exclusive” arrangement did not preclude Earl Fruit Company from shipping in Armour cars.

California Fruit attempted to find a new market by shipping fruit overseas to Liverpool, but this venture failed, and the company lost more money. To satisfy bank loans, they were forced to transfer 500 of their railcars over to Swift. “A period of febrile existence followed for the California Fruit Transportation Company. It became involved in a business tragedy, features of which were a bank failure, a resulting suicide; and made an end in the transfer to Swift of all the remaining California Fruit Transportation Company’s cars.”

Russell does not give the dates of these events, so it is not clear if they happened while William Miner was still working for CFT, which he did until 1897. But certainly the company’s troubles would have provided him with additional motivation to make a success of selling his draft gear, and eventually go into business for himself. We can speculate, too, as to whether this experience of the power of large conglomerates influenced Miner’s lifelong determination to keep his business in his own hands and personally control all its aspects. Russell wrote in 1905, “To all intents and purposes Swift is Armour, and the California Fruit Transportation is Swift, and the Fruit-Growers’ Express is the California Fruit Transportation, and the Beef Trust is one and all of these together.” But such a thing could never be said of W. H. Miner, Inc.

Sources:

Charles Edward Russell, The Greatest Trust in the World (New York: The Ridgway-Thayer Company, 1905)

L. D. H. Weld, “Private Freight Cars and American Railways,” Studies in History, Economics and Public Law 31, no. 1 (1908).