Episode 16. A New Life



Matthew Squires and The Learning Disorders – The Heretical Physics


Weary Pines – Open Season

Weary Pines – Home

Weary Pines – Last Call

Story Transcript:

The year was 1784. James Lecky just arrived back to his modest family home after a long day at work and dropped his wages into the savings lockbox. He worked as a farmhand about 3 miles away from his home in County Down and this was his Saturday ritual. With the exception that he was visibly shaken and sweating when he arrived home , in spite of it being a cold Autumn night.

Saturday was pay-day and would work much later into the day than was expected – usually until it got too dark to be of any help. James would do this in an effort to gain some sort of good-will bonus on any given week. It started off as a hopeful gesture, which then turned into what was expected from him as a labourer. He never got paid extra.

But he needed the money and would arrive home late on Saturday night after a hard day’s toll – his wife, Mary and now his newborn daughter (also called Mary) would be asleep, but there would be a small meal prepared and ready for him when he came home. It had been less than a year since James and Mary got wind that passage from Ireland to America was re-established following the end of the American Revolution. And it was also around this time that Mary fell pregnant with their daughter. Mary was working at a linen mill at the time and had to leave the mill because of this.

Fearing that his daughter may grow up in a life of just-scraping-by, James and Mary agreed that if they ever had the opportunity, they would take passage to the New World where a new and more prosperous life awaited them.

Trouble is, on James’ wages, they were just scraping by – making just enough to feed and clothe the three with little left over. This is why James hoped every Saturday that he would earn even a coin more than usual. In recent months, he stopped hoping and started taking action.

James was a burly man, with a trustworthy tone and a solid stance. Everyone liked him – even his employer, John Mitchell. And when payday came, John would call James in after he had supper with his family and would chat with him for a little while about how things were going on the farm. Of course – James was only there for the pay package, but he indulged the old man who liked the more ‘wholesome company’ as he put it. After their usual chat, John would leave the room to get his employee’s pay. It was during one of these conversations that James quietly followed John to the doorway of his study where he would see exactly where the money was hidden.

The following week, he would enter the house quietly while the family was having their evening meal, sneak into the study, and skim a coin to begin with. It started small, but over the weeks, he began bringing home almost double what he was usually paid. This had become part of James’ Saturday night ritual.

After 6 months, John caught wind that something wasn’t right with his books. Nothing added up as expected and it seemed as if he had more labourers than what he actually employed. There were three farm-hands in total, but the expenses going out amounted for five for the last few months.

John was a generally distrustful man and didn’t take a liking to most folk he employed, with James being a rare exception. On this Saturday night, he asked James directly if he had any suspicions about any of his fellow labourers. He did not. But that didn’t matter – John already had his eyes set on young Alex, a 17 year old who began working around the same time the books began to be imbalanced. John told James that the next day, the boy would be imprisoned. John was well connected, and James didn’t see this as a threat, but a matter of fact. He would likely be beaten unrecognisable before the legal side of things really kicked in too.

It was then the panic set in. James had more than double his wages on his person as he was being told this. The pay package in one hand with a fair bit extra in his pockets. James made his way home at a faster pace than usual, dropped the money into the lockbox and woke Mary up with a shake. They had enough money for passage and to pay for food for some of the passage to America, and they had to do it now.

Now, this was a time before there were regular and scheduled boats to America, so the fact that when they got to the harbour the next morning they were met with a package boat that was ready for departure was nothing short of pure luck – at least, that’s what the family thought. Luck.

Packet boats weren’t designed for comfort. They were functional – used to transport cargo and mail. But they did earn a little extra by having basic accommodation and cabins for individuals who wanted cheap passage to America. They also were not quick.

The family spent almost 100 days on the ship. The only place to cook food was shared by everyone on the ship and was only fired up once per day to save fuel. Some days, when the weather would knock the ship around like a bauble, they weren’t fired up at all. James and Mary spent many days hungry – but they made sure their daughter was kept well.

For the most part – they kept to their cabin. Again, for the sake of their daughter. You see, packet boats also didn’t offer clean passage and rats and disease were common. Only 4 people died of disease out of the passengers on the ship and there were around 250 passengers total. Still, even 1 death was enough for James and Mary to avoid contact as much as possible with the rest of the passengers. They didn’t want to risk their daughter getting sick before they could start their new life.

Disease wasn’t the only reason – for James at least. He couldn’t stop thinking about what he’d done in order to get to this point. He kept a journal, which would help him keep his mind in check. Now and again when he would go to the cooking station, he thought he saw Alex, the young farm-hand who had taken the fall for all the money he stole. Wanting to be sure he wasn’t coming down with fever, he recorded every time this happened with as much detail about his surroundings as possible. Sometimes Alex looked happy, other times he had been beaten out of recognition – but James always knew it was his face. The journal was half-full by the end of the journey. It at least assured him that he wasn’t coming down with a fever.

Their daughter never did get sick. And an announcement was made on a still night that they would arrive at Cape Henlopen, Delaware at around mid-afternoon the next day. There would be a schooner, a smaller sailing boat, waiting outside the harbour to take priority passengers straight to Philadelphia.

James knew that Philadelphia was were his experience on the farm would prove most useful, so he set his sights on getting his family on this schooner to go directly there. When it came, he begged and pleaded and ended up having to give more than half of his remaining money over in order to secure a place. However – there was only room for 2 more passengers (of which they included the child).

This was a small price to pay – he would have his wife and daughter sent on the sailing boat to Philadelphia, assured that he could get there in a day from Delaware. And so, his wife and child embarked on the schooner and would wait for James at Philadelphia.

2 days later, James arrived in Philadelphia.

After meeting a schooner he believed was his wife and daughter’s, he asked a member of the crew where they were.

This was not the same boat. Just a day before he arrived, the schooner his wife and child were on had sank. All 70 passengers on board perished.

That same month, James went in search of work. And he found it on a huge grain farm with many others, most of whom were indentured servants from Ireland and England. It was here he recorded his last journal entry. He wrote that Alex had been sent into servitude to America for his crimes in Ireland and that he was happy to be working with a familiar face, at least.

‘I think he knows I took the money. Someone is coming into my room at night. I think he’s watching me. I think he wants me to be afraid’.

He didn’t send Alex to an early grave, but he instead sent his wife and child.

His journal was found many years later near the Delaware River.

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