Rare 1828 Journal: A Mini-Memoir of Danger and Death

Journal title page
Volunteer Mike Marsh was boxing contributed books in the fall of 2014 for Friends of the Library, Springfield, Missouri, when he spotted a five-by-seven-inch, brown-leather volume with no title or design on the cover. Front and back were faded, scraped and scarred, with patches of leather missing, as though tossed about or shelved or read dozens of times. Pages were neatly penned, and edges of some were darkened with bits missing.   

“Jane, look at this. I think it’s unusual,” he said to Jane McWilliams, who is in charge of special books for the Friends’ semi-annual sales events. 

This was on the title page: “A Voyage from England to the United States of America April &
May 1828. By John Salmon 36 years a clerk in the Bank of Smith Payne & Smiths London.” Inside was a day-by-day account of weather conditions, crew and passenger activities for the twenty-six-day journey.

Gentleman John Salmon
Salmon stated his occupation was gentleman and that he was sixty-one years old. Gentleman could mean he was well educated, from a family of distinction, independently wealthy from property or inheritance, or all of those. Thus, he could afford to stay in the ship’s cabin level, which he did, along with nine others including the captain, two young men and a family. He wrote that 137 men, women and children were in steerage below the main deck.

Jane McWilliams reads the Journal
“Steerage passengers were low-paying and sometimes non-paying surplus population of an agricultural area and shared cramped and unsanitary spaces with cargo,” McWilliams says.

Salmon identified the ship as the Chelsea, a three-mast schooner also known as a barq or bark. Researchers with the Ozarks Genealogical Society learned the Chelsea was built in Norwich, Connecticut, in 1827 and converted to a whaler in 1829.

Besides passengers’ belongings, the Chelsea’s manifest listed cargo including cotton, tobacco, and flour. Six packages and a piano were listed for Salmon. He wrote he was going to meet one of his sons in New York, then visit family in Kentucky.

Salmon was in charge of Sunday services, prayer services, and funerals for cabin and steerage, and he distributed religious tracts. 

Dangerous journey
Rolling seas caused injuries from falls and moving objects. Injuries were untreated or inadequately treated. Dysentery from unsafe drinking water and poor food storage was common. Salmon wrote that six children and one adult died on the ship and were buried at sea.

These excerpts from his journal, with his spelling and punctuation, show some dangers of the journey:

Monday 21 April
...we do not expect to behold land any more, until we arrive in sight of the American continent, our noble Bark rides beautifully triumphant on old Oceans bosom, though with considerable heaving by the dashing billows, compelling all of us in the cabin to take heed that we do not roll from side to side, the motion is such as almost entirely to prevent grinding the Pen, though the Captain observed it is probably trifling to what must be expected...

Wednesday 30 April
...at 7 committed to the deep the remains of the little child that died yesterday, its name was Edward Veness son of John & Harriet Veness born 4 Sept. last at Mountfield near Battle Sussex, I read part of the burial service & at the proper time gave the signal, when the plank being raised, the body was plunged into the great abyss, having previously been prepared with ballast & decently sewn up in canvas.

Thursday 8 May
Our fears of Ice blocks was indeed realised during the night, & it may well be considered mercifully providential, that our speed has been retarded, by the slackness of the wind, as a mountain of Ice was seen passing us, 50 feet high & a small one actually struck the Vessel.

Mysteries of his will
Salmon’s will was recorded September 20, 1834, in Cincinnati, Ohio. He left money or property to two of his sons and property to his third wife. He stated his other children made bad choices—perhaps becoming atheists—and to them he gave nothing. He left money to Marion College in Marion County, Missouri, for missionary work to heathen nations.

To make the journal contents available to a larger audience, Friends of the Library volunteers photocopied the pages, carefully handling them with white gloves. Text from photocopies was transcribed into a computer. A limited number of transcribed copies is available for checkout from Friends of the Library. Contact Friends by calling Springfield Library Center, 417-882-0714.

Photos by Wayne E. Groner

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