Over 20,000 immigrants, mostly those who passed through Dunkirk (train to lake vessel) and continued on west -giving names and ages, also the date aid was given, name of vessel and date of arrival in New York. A separate list of aided emigrants appearing

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Compiled by Lois M. Barris

The information herein was compiled from four large journals found in the Archives of the Chautauqua Home and Infirmary in Dunkirk NY. These journals have been designated by the Archivist as Journals Number 1, 2, 3 and 31. Apparently, these journals contain excerpts of reports sent to The Commissioners of Emigration at Castle Garden, New York, in hopes of being reimbursed for money spent giving aid to immigrants in Chautauqua County. Journal #1 includes emigrants given relief in Chautauqua County from October 1855 to February 1858. Journals #2 and #3 follow in sequence and cover the time from March 1858 to July 1864. There is a 23 month gap, but Journal #31 starts again with those aided in July of 1866 and continues to July of 1876. A change in format occurs about two-thirds of the way through Journal #3 so that the data has been divided into Parts I and 11 in order to provide the researcher with all available information in a concise form. Many months have been devoted to compiling this information hoping it will benefit those searching out clues to their family history……..

Some History…………

The plight of immigrants to the United States was never easy, but by the 1840s their journey was made more difficult by unscrupulous ship-captains and various agents. Emigrants made their way to European ports where they often sold family heirlooms to buy food for the trip to America. The passage took one to three months with constant danger of disease and shipwreck. In 1847,20 percent of Irish emigrants died of \”ship fever.\” 20,000 emigrants perished in that year in the various emigrant hospitals in American ports. Loss of life from disease continued high and when the Liebnitz arrived in New York II January 1868, it was called \”the fever ship\” when it was discovered that 108 of 544 passengers died from \”bad ventilation and insufficient provisions.\” Other ships with high losses from ship-fever were Guy Mannering, Marmion and Roscius. In the 1850s more than 40 emigrant ships sank in the North Atlantic……….
Prior to 1847 it was possible for a captain of a vessel to sell their cargo of passengers to brokers dealing with hotel-keepers, forwarding agents, railway and steamboat companies. There were no federal or state regulations administering the flow of immigrants–no passports, no visas. Some agents sold fraudulent train and boat tickets; often the newcomers\’ baggage was stolen, essentially held for ransom, redeemed only for cash. Male immigrants stopped in saloons for a drink and had their tickets and papers stolen, or worse, woke up employed on a boat to China. Females were directed to \”boardinghouses\” that were actually brothels!………..
The New York State Legislature attempted to correct this systematic fraud to which immigrants were exposed by persons engaged in forwarding them from the Port of New York to destinations in the interior. The law of May 1847 required payment of a \”commutation fee\” of $1.50 (later raised to $2.50) a head for support of persons likely to become a public charge, on all persons landing at the port of New York, to be applied for relief of immigrants who should become unable to support themselves within the first five years after landing, by sickness, want of employment or other causes………….
This same law of 1847 provided for the establishment of a six member Board of Commissioners to administer aid to and ease the abuses against immigrants. It took until 1849 to organize this Commission which was at first headquartered in the New York Alms House and Marine Hospital on Staten Island. By 1855 the Commission opened the Castle Garden Emigrant Landing Depot in abandoned Fort Clinton, a circular stone fort on a rocky island off the southern tip of Manhattan (now part of Battery Park)………
This Commission had no power to control who could enter the country, but it did try to ease abuses against immigrants. In addition Lo collecting the commutation fee and reimbursing Offices of the Poor for giving relief, an addition to the law gave the Commissioners power to examine under oath witnesses respecting complaints relative to treatment of emigrants on shipboard, quality of provisions, deaths which may have occurred during the voyage. The Commissioners in 1868 claimed to have punished officers of the James Foster Jr., a Liverpool emigrant ship: for atrocities reported against emigrants………
In 1852 the Proceedings of the Board of Supervisors of Chautauqua County includes a notice of the special attention of Overseers of the Poor:………..
Under the act of 5th of May, 1847, each City, Town, and County in this State may claim indemnity from the Commissioners of Emigration for any expense incurred for the maintenance or support of such Emigrant paupers as shall have landed in New York, subsequent to the passage of said Act; provided the names of such persons shall be found on the manifest of the vessel from which they claim to have landed………….
…Take an affidavit of the person, in something like the following form: sworn, says that he is -years of age; that he is by occupation a_, that -last place of residence was in , that the foreign port from which he embarked for this country was that the name of the in which he came was ; that the Master\’s name was that he arrived in New York on the -day of 185_; that he was admitted into the Chautauque County Poor House on the -day of 185_; that- inability proceeds from___ that such inability is likely to be permanent; that he is poor, has no means of support, and that he has no relatives or friends in this country , able, at their own charge to support ______
Fill out the blank spaces as facts require; have it subscribed by the party and sworn to–the Overseer administering the oath and certifying to the same. If there be wife or children, insert name and age on the top of the affidavit, and immediately forward such affidavit to J. Chandler, Superintendent of the Poor at Fredonia, for examination; if found correct, it will be retained by him. And on the last day of each month, the Overseer should forward to said Superintendent, an account of all expenses for any such emigrants as have accrued within the month ……………
Prompt attention to the foregoing directions is indispensable, in order to save harmless our County from expenses which the Legislature designed should be paid without resort to Taxation……….

Unfortunately, the Journals in our hands over a century later do not contain all the information called for in the affidavits. Copied from these reports were only the names, ages, vessels, masters, date of arrival in New York, date of administration of relief and the amount of such relief………….
Following each month\’s list of immigrants given relief is a copy of the deductions from each month\’s claim. This became a chess game between the Overseers of the Poor of the County and the Commissioners in New York. In this book, in the case of a deduction, the record of the individual shows the reason for the deduction preceded by an asterisk……………


Included in the Proceedings of the Chautauqua County Board of Supervisors for 1870 is a history of the Chautauqua County Poorhouse. Pages 201 to 207 documented the county\’s relationship with the Commission of Emigration and excerpts from this work will help us understand what was happening at the time the names included in this book were entered into the Journals………………

The statistics of 1852 showed further increase of expenses due to the demands of emigrant paupers and the settlement of claims for indemnity for relief of them by the Commissioners of Emigration…………
During the construction and after the completion of the New York and Erie Railroad, the County was flooded with foreign paupers. The number of poor relieved in 1850 was 431, in 1851, 510; 877 in \’52; 774 in \’53; 2,160 in \’54 and 2,952 in 1855-an increase of nearly seven fold within five years. This increase was nearly all by emigration, and of temporary relief. The number received at the County House in 1850 was 239 and in \’55 only 283-not a large increase there…………..
The Superintendents in 1850 estimated that aside from the demands of the floating population on the railroad with their sickness, bruised heads, broken limbs, &c, the expenses of the department were less than for the previous year…………….
The statutes passed in 1847 and subsequently, make the Commissioners of Emigration liable for the poor relief furnished to emigrants at any time within five years after they land, provided they have not been absent from this State at any time for twelve months consecutively. By the rules of the Commissioners, applications for indemnity must be accompanied by a statement of the names, age, occupation, last place of residence abroad, name of vessel he arrived in and name of its commander, foreign port at which emigrant embarked for America and date of arrival at New York; all of which must be sworn to by the emigrant. The relieving officer must also make oath to the necessity for the relief granted, cause for the pauperism, &c. Many of their rules are extremely exacting; for instance, that the emigrants asking relief must be taken immediately to the Poor House and put to labor, and the value of their labor deducted from the actual net cost of said relief. Monthly statements must be presented for each month within ten days after the close of it, giving full information of admissions, discharges, present condition, expenses, &c……………
In 1852 the Superintendents of this County made their first claims on the Commission and recovered indemnity to the amount of $588.46. Great trouble and loss were occasioned by the Overseers who administered this relief not securing the necessary vouchers to comply with the \”red tape\” rules of the Commission, and not reporting promptly. To secure more accuracy and promptness, plain and full directions, with accompanying forms, were furnished to the Supervisors in 1852 and by them printed in their published proceeding, year after year……………
The annual report of \’54 handles this subject of emigration rather racily. I quote:……..

Since the date of our last annual report, 1,262 foreigners have received \”aid and comfort\” at the hands of the Poor officers of this county, whose names we have reported to the Commissioners of Emigration. many of these were paupers in Europe, before coming to our shores…………
On the 25th of November last, the ship Michael Angelo arrived in New York, and within twelve days thereafter, 67 of her passengers were, at the commencement of winter, without money, means or friends, thrown upon our county for relief. Many of them stated to us that they were poor, and had no money or property in Baden, their former home; that their passage to America was paid, by whom they did not know, and that when arriving in New York, they were furnished with railroad tickets to Dunkirk by a still mysterious arrangement. Representations were made to them that when they arrived here their every want would be supplied; that Dunkirk was the goodly place where all could find employment, friends and every needful thing. Here they came, sick and enfeebled by a long and boisterous passage across the ocean, strangers in a strange land. Here the protecting care and solicitude of their Father Land ceased in their behalf. Here the mysterious spirit which had hovered about them, distributing its favors from Baden to Dunkirk, withdrew its support, and left them paupers upon our County. Consequently, many of them had to be sent to your Poor House for a winter\’s support, and some of them remain there still; for others we have obtained employment where they are supporting themselves, and several of the children have been bound out to good places. We report the above facts, as they seem to prove the truth of the statement, \”that the Poor Houses of Europe were being emptied into our cities and villages.\”………….
I think this was written by Mr. Chandler………..

[Friedrich Kapp seems to agree with Mr. Chandler as he writes on page 89 of his Immigration & The Commissioners about the \”…Unscrupulous conduct of European governments and cities in transferring to our country aged and decrepit paupers and occasionally even criminals.\”]…………..
During several years the annual reports complained of losses of emigrant indemnity through neglect of town overseers to comply with proper forms…………..
The refusal of the Commission to pay for the services of relieving officers occasioned much controversy between our Superintendent an the Commissioners. This issue is referred to at much length in the Annual Report of 1858. The points made are condensed here:…..
As evidence that the Superintendents exercised due diligence to collect this indemnity it is mentioned that but two counties in the State (Albany and Kings) got back as large a sum as this County, and they recovered a much less per cent, of their claim, than we. The average \”cut\” on all bills against the Commission from the entire state was 25 per cent. This County was discounted only 7 per cent. Nevertheless the Commission justly owes this County $1,000 for services of Overseers the past 5 years. The legality of this claim is clearly presented, and the arbitrary, unlawful attitude of the commission shown up. The report on this point closes as follows:………….
We have remonstrated with the Commissioners of Emigration against the application of their resolution to our County. We have shown them that the law gave the Overseers of the Poor discretionary authority to expend the sum of ten dollars for one poor person or family, who required only temporary relief, and that such persons could not properly or legally be sent to the Poor House. We have shown that Dunkirk, the principal point of emigrant pauperism in our County, is more than twenty miles from our Alms House; that large numbers were landed there from the cars, having boat tickets for some western port, but with no means of sustenance; that such persons were frequently compelled to wait from two to five days for a boat to leave (as in case of a storm); that during such time they must beg from house to house, or suffer for the want of food or shelter, or the Overseer of the Poor must provide them sustenance. That it would be worse than folly, that it would be a flagrant wrong to take such persons over the hills to our County House to stay two or three days, and then hire teams to re-convey them to Dunkirk, to enable them to pursue their journey, and that probably many having since become inmates of our Alms House might prefer to remain and thereby become a permanent charge on the County; that during the winter months the roads were frequently nearly or quite impassable for several days in succession, and it would be next to an impossibility to convey emigrants at \’such times to the County House, within twenty-four hours as prescribed in this resolution……..
To these and many other reasons which we have advanced to the Commissioners, why they ought to rescind or modify their resolution, so far at least as it regards our County, they have replied that they shall \”adhere to the rule prescribed.\” And now as you are proper guardians of the tax-payers\’ interests for our County, we would solicit your counsel and advice, in reference to the course we shall !n future pursue. Shall we tamely submit to the unjust and illegal requirements of the Commissioners of Emigration? Shall we leave the Emigrants to beg from door to door for food, and sleep in our streets at night? Shall we commit the flagrant injustice of filling our County House with emigrants who only require a few days\’ sustenance? Or shall they receive the necessary aid in that way and manner which the statute provides? If so shall our tax-payers bear the burden of such expense while the Legislature has provided that our County should be reimbursed from the Emigrant fund?…………….
It should be stated that the Commissioners claimed that by the wording of the law they were to indemnify only for the relief…………….
The Supervisors responded to this appeal by the passage of a resolution (Oct. 15, 1858) authorizing the Superintendents, if necessary, to commence legal proceedings against the Commissioners of Emigration to compel them to audit all legal accounts. Armed with this authority, Mr. Chandler, one of the Superintendents, went immediately to New York and demanded a settlement of six years\’ claims for services of Relief Officers. It is an evidence that the……… ……………….. …………

The report for 1876 indicates relief as follows:……….
Dunkirk 466 $511.85,
County House before May 5 199.61,
County House after May 5 92.11, ….

Of the above number, 271 were males and 190 females German, 456; Swede, 5……
No further mention of emigrants was found in Proceedings of the Board of Supervisors…….

It appears then, that in the four journals we have a complete record of those emigrants assisted in Chautauqua County under the provisions of the law of 1847 with the exception of those assisted from 1852 to the beginning of Journal #1 in 1855 and the 23 month gap from July 1864 to July 1866. It is presumed that the relief was given at Dunkirk unless otherwise stated………

We get a little more insight into the emigrant experience in Dunkirk from an item in the Fredonia Censor in February 1874:………
A civil damage case in Dunkirk promises to be serious to John Larkins, keeper of an emigrant house. One Ignatius Sobolsky, recently from Germany, stopped at Larkin\’s house and was persuaded to indulge in drink. When the emigrant came to put on his coat which he had laid off in a back room during the spree, his pocket book was missing with the tickets of two women traveling under his protection. One of the women under the direction of the Emigrant Agent brought action against Larkins, claiming that by means of the liquor sold Sobolsky, he lost the tickets. Justice Sherward gave judgement for $25 and $5 costs. Then the other woman brought her suit and was awarded $35 and costs, and now Sobolsky thinks he will try around at the same ……..

Lois Barris, 1991