Macclesfield silk history
Voyage of The Marion, 1839 and the journey of two silk workers to the United States
by Robert A.Mayers

Robert A. Mayers is the Great-Grandson of James Mayers who left Macclesfield for Paterson NJ on the Marion in 1839. An active genealogist, he traces his ancestry in Cheshire back seven generations to Hugonis Meare, born ca. 1600. Bob lives in New Jersey about forty miles from Paterson and often travels there to research the silk industry and family ancestry. Descendants of John Ryle the other youth also still live in the area. He has visited Macclesfield twice and has given a manuscript of Mayers Family history and genealogy to the library there. In June, he will visit Yorkshire to study the ancestry of Sarah Allison, wife of James Mayers. Her roots in the area can be traced back to 1400. Those interested in further information on Paterson can visit the Website of the Passaic County Historical Society

Two young men climbed 108 steps alongside a medieval cathedral to reach the higher ground of the ancient Cheshire town of Macclesfield, England. They emerged into a bustling marketplace, the social and business centre of the town since the middle ages. The first Anglo-Saxon settlement was on this site since by the steps, a steep drop down to the River below provided a natural defence.

In the looming presence of St Michaels Cathedral had dominated the market square since 1278. In the centre of the market was an ancient Celtic stone cross. Proclamations were made to the peasant population from this spot, and early traders had set up their stalls around the cross. Here all business transactions were made in times before the written word.

All deals made within the shadow of the cross were considered binding. Tudor timber frame buildings lined the square housed the town hall, guildhalls and inns. Butchers, fishmongers and merchants boisterously hawking cattle, sheep, wool, iron pots, cloth and corn filled other stalls in front of the buildings. Farmers from surrounding villages brought their produce here by the horse load.

From the high ground the two looked down on‚ Waters Green, the lower town. In earlier times this was ‚'The Gutters', a slum area where slaughterhouses, tallow chandlers and other unsavoury activities were located. Open drainage flowed past squalid dwellings into the river Bollin. This part of town was savaged, far beyond other sections of the town by the plague of 1603.

By 1839, evidence of a new age was apparent everywhere in the valley below. Waters Green was now a conglomeration of mills, houses, inns, dye works on the river graveyards and even a school. But Macclesfield was not typical of small English country villages of that time.

Spawned by the industrial revolution and impacted by events in the outside world, over the past 100 years the bucolic feudal village had transformed into a thriving commercial town, a canal completed just eight years before in 1831 served the mills by providing a conduit for the textiles manufactured in the town to be transported to the large city of Manchester in the north, as well as other major cities and ports.

The home of one of the young men could be seen on the opposite bank of the river in the suburb of Sutton. It was one of a long row of stone garret houses, usually with three stories and long windows to admit light. Weavers could work handlooms on the top floor and live below.

Further up the bank was the mill where it is likely both were employed. It was owned by the older brothers of one of the youths. The river flowing past furnished its power. Silk was the business of Macclesfield. It was the hub of that industry in England. The young men, James Mayers and John Ryle were silk weavers as were generations of their families back to the middle of the 1700s. These were times of great distress in the silk industry.

After the boom years of the 1820s, reduced tariffs were causing competition with imports. But even worse, the introduction of power looms was causing high unemployment among the handloom weavers. Jobs had declined by sixty percent and many silk workers, reduced to abject poverty were returning to surrounding villages. Workers vented their rage by destroying the new machinery.

There were frequent riots and the windows of many mills had been smashed. James and John talked about their future and agreed that it held little promise for them.
As skilled weavers they were better off than most, but with an excess of available workers in their trade, their talents had little value.

The opportunity to improve the quality of their lives and to advance their prospects in the world did not appear to exist in this setting. They faced a lifetime of insecurity and the drudgery of fourteen hour days.
Yet, they knew there was a place in the world where their abilities might be valued and where they could improve their chances: a classless land where their skills were still considered high-tech and where they heard that opportunity was limited only by lack of resourcefulness. But America did not have a silk industry and nobody from Macclesfield had even considered going there earlier. Even for two optimistic and adventurous young men with little to lose, leaving was a daunting decision.

But at the same time, with America needing to import all of its silk, bringing their skills here would be the greatest challenge of their lives. James Mayers, age 19 would leave a large family. His father was a silk carter and all eight of his siblings worked in the mills. John Ryle, age 21 had started work as a bobbin boy at the astonishing age of five. Like hundreds of other mill children, both had gained a rudimentary education at a "Sabbath School" which they attended for 10 hours each Sunday, their one day off. (The works of Charles Dickens graphically depict life in England at this time).

Coming from a family of mill owners, John was the better off of the two. It is likely that his brothers were willing contributers to the modest expenses of a voyage. They, too envisioned extending their business interests in the new land through these young emissaries.

Despite uncertain prospects for employment and the ominous prospects of an ocean crossing fraught with peril, they decided to embark on a voyage from which few ever returned. Winter crossings of the North Atlantic were best avoided. They would have to book passage from Liverpool to sail as early as possible in the spring. It was a poignant time as the young men took a final look at their ancestral home and said farewell to their families and friends. This scene was repeated endless times as nine million immigrants left the British Isles through the Port of Liverpool for America during the 1800s.

Tim Boddington a Cheshire Area historian describes the details of a journey that the two young men would take to reach Liverpool in 1839.

"The first leg of the trip, before the railroad had reached Macclesfield, would be by stagecoach, north to Manchester, a distance of about fifteen miles. The coach left from the Bull Inn in Macclesfield opposite the Town Hall. The inn remains open to this day. They would ride all day through the stark wintry landscape of the Cheshire Peak Country".

"At Manchester they would board the Manchester-Liverpool Railway, the first public passenger train in the world, for a 30 mile ride. Liverpool Road Station still exists in Manchester, and is part of a very popular technology museum there.

"Upon arrival in the port city of Liverpool, tickets for the trip to America were purchased at the ship owner’s office on the waterfront. They would sail on a packet."

These ships carried both freight and passengers on a fixed route. These were the first vessels to cross the Atlantic on a regular schedule and for many years were the only means of communication between the two continents. Amid the forest of masts they found their ship, the Marion. She was small for a transatlantic crossing, only 112 feet long and 27 feet at her widest. But this was the average size for an immigrant packet of this time.

Built in St John, Canada in 1836,the Marion was a wooden, square-rigged vessel with a "burthen" (carrying capacity) of 427 tons. She was typical of the hundreds of ships in this service until about 1860 when steamships began replacing sail. Liverpool to New York was by far the most common route for the packets. At that time there were about twenty making the run.

The Marion carried 71 passengers on this trip to New York. Passage was booked for as little as ten dollars per person. Tickets provided for minimum space, typically 10 feet, for each passenger and their luggage. A water ration of six pints for drinking, washing, and cooking and one pound of food per day were provided. This usually consisted of bread or biscuit, rice, oatmeal or potatoes.

When the time at sea exceeded the predicted length of the trip, these meagre rations were reduced. To supplement this bare subsistence diet, people often brought some of their own provisions which soon spoiled or were consumed a short time into the trip. Captain William Bonnyman was her master. Time was needed to unload her cargo of lumber from Canada and install accommodations for her new human cargo As usual, many of immigrants brought more baggage than allowed, and it was not permitted on board.

It must have been painful to see dock scavengers eagerly snatch up the beloved possessions carefully selected for the trip. As the young men ascended the gangway and stepped aboard for the first time they were in the midst of great activity. A roll call was being taken and a doctor inspected the passengers as ship owners could be fined for carrying the sick or disabled. Emigrants were warned that bylaw they were under the same disciplinary rules as the crew and could even be charged with mutiny for disruptive behaviour.

The bewildered passengers were herded below. Bunks, four tiers high were assigned and baggage was stowed. To prevent future disagreements, a schedule was set up for turns at the firebox. Cooking could be done on deck, if the weather permitted. Voices with an Irish brogue were heard everywhere and such Gallic sounding names as Mulligan, Malloy, McKeon and Fitzpatrick were detected above the din. This was the start of the vast wave of Irish migration caused by the potato famine.

This exodus would peak over the next decade. A few days after the two arrived, they sailed on the first day of March 1839. Orders shouted from the helm alerted sailors to scamper up the rigging. Lines to the dock were singled up and then quickly cast off in order to catch the morning tide. Most of the first day the Marion cruised down the Mersey and its estuaries and then across the Irish Sea. Often the last land sighted was the coast of Ireland, which the more naive often mistook for an early arrival in America.

Before breaking out into the open sea everyone came on deck to take his or her last glimpse of land. Few would ever see their homeland, families or friends again. Captain Bonnyman set the course for New York, sails bellied out and the ship plunged into the first surge of the open North Atlantic. A wave of nausea swept though the passengers. The Captain, a seasoned mariner, would exert every seamanship skill to shorten the trip. Under ideal conditions the trip had been made in as few as 20 days.

But March still brought freezing weather, strong gales and icebergs. This was to be a hard voyage, the Marion would be at sea for 50 days. The winter of 1839 had been very severe. Even before leaving home, the two young men had learned that in a storm in January, just two months before the departure of the Marion, two immigrant packets had gone missing and a third was driven ashore with the loss of all hands.

Forty Packets were lost over this 30-year period that marked the height of their use. During the spring, icebergs broke loose and a longer southerly course was necessary. Even on this southerly route the ship often had to slowdown in fog and to take temperature readings of the water to see if ice was near. Ice sank many packets in these years and many were last seen heading into the ice fields.

Seventy three years later, in April of1912 the Titanic would be lost in this same area, at the same time, as the Marion passed through. A list of all passengers was drawn up at sea as soon as everyone had settled into a daily routine. It would be required immediately on arrival. The List provided the names, ages, occupations and country of origin of all 71 passengers. All were from Great Britain or Ireland. It showed the name of the ship its date of departure from Liverpool and arrival in New York, its tonnage and the captain’s name.

So frequent were deaths during these voyages that the printed form had a separate column "Died On Voyage. On this trip there were no entries here, attesting to the skills of Captain Bonnyman. On most ships names listed in this column were those of small children. Who were the forty two men, twenty three women and six children on this perilous trip? Most were young; forty two were in their twenties and sixteen teenagers. Only two people were over forty. Hugh Scott and Mary Gannon, both age forty, appear together on the list.

Does this suggest an on board romance or would Hugh later send for his family and Mary be greeted by a husband on arrival? Strangely, the were no married couples aboard. All the women are listed as "spinsters" or "labourers". There are several brother and sister combinations, usually an older sibling in charge of younger children. James Cox, age twenty was accompanied by his sister Bridget, 20, and three younger brothers. The sisters, Mary and Ann Fitzpatrick travelled together.

Were they orphans or would they later send for their parents as conditions worsened in the old world? Only one single parent, Mary McKeon, age thirty, was aboard with her three-year-old son. Was Mary a widow or did her husband await her in the new world? Many were alone.

Would anyone be there to greet them in the new land? Few among the travellers had any skills or a trade. Other than our silk weavers, James Mayers and John Ryle, there was a tanner, a saddler, and a baker, all other passengers are identified as "labourers".

Yet these young people, all ready to start work, would dig the canals, build the railroads and provide all the muscle and talent that would propel America into a leading world power in just a few decades. And their descendents would provide much of the leadership that would, in less than a century, create the greatest nation on earth. With so many young, unmarried people meeting for the first time and being confined in close quarters, we can only imagine the many relationships that may have developed.

How many love affairs, future marriages and lasting friendships occurred? Or how much disagreement and animosity arose in the cramped quarters? At first a festive, party atmosphere would prevail. But this was short lived and as private caches of food and beverages dwindled, most settled into the monotonous daily routine. Passengers were allowed above decks in small groups to wash clothes and to attempt to bathe. There was a chance to cook any unspoiled food they had brought.

Most of the trip would be through bad weather with rough seas. Everyone would stay below in their cold, wet bunks in complete darkness. As weather worsened, sails were shortened and hatchways secured. Pitching and rolling as heavy seas spilled over the main deck, the ship laboured westward, for the next seven weeks. About the time everyone despaired of the journey ever ending, a lookout, on the top spar of the mainmast, cried out, "Land Ho".

As if in a dream, James and John were able to see a small fringe of land backed by high hills on the horizon. This was Sandy Hook, New Jersey and the Highlands of the Navesink River. This landfall looks the same today, and for that matter, as it did in1609 when first sighted by Hendrick Hudson. A lighthouse gradually became visible on the highland. This was the predecessor of the Twin Lights that can be seen today. As the Marion sailed closer into the approach to New York Bay, she was approached by a fleet of small, fast cutters. These were the boats of the Sandy Hook Pilots who competed for the job of guiding ships into the port. With a pilot aboard, Captain Bonnyman could now step back from the wheel, as a skilled seaman with the local knowledge of the inland waters, conned the ship past shoals.

They moved down Ambrose Channel and through the Narrows, now spanned by the Verrazano Bridge. Everyone experienced an uncanny sense of stillness. The pitching, rolling and groaning of the ships timbers, which everyone had grown accustomed to, suddenly stopped, as the ship entered calm waters of New York Harbour. There was no Statue of Liberty to lift her lamp beside the golden door greeting the weary, but eager people who now crowded the main deck No immigrant-processing centre would exist until 1855 when Castle Garden opened at the Battery in 1855.

There would be no Ellis Island for another fifty five years. The young men viewed a city, where other than for a few church steeples, there were only a few buildings over four stories high. The Marion glided a short distance up the East River until she was nudged by a side-wheeler tug to the dockside at South Street.

On the nineteenth of April of 1839, the ship was motionless for the first time in fifty days. James Mayers, my great-grandfather and the progenitor of our family had arrived in America. The teeming wharf swarmed with dockhands, hustlers, food carts and ticket sellers. Many would go on to other destinations. The first people to climb aboard were immigration officers.

Captain Bonnyman presented the ships passenger list before anyone was allowed to disembark. Little time was spent verifying the information, as the immigration staff was usually overwhelmed with the traffic. As many as ten ships arrived in a single day. So, amid chaos and confusion, the Marion’s passengers and crew swarmed ashore and bid hasty, but heartfelt farewells to their friends.

Their values and ethnic traditions would blend into the American character, which today, in so many ways, shapes the way we think. No immigration records have ever been found for James Mayers and John Ryle. Few exist for many of the millions of new American who arrived before Ellis Island opened in 1892. The arrival of the Marion in New York is not even noted in the "Shipping and Commercial List for the Port of New York".

In their new land, the two young men married, became citizens and remained friends and business associates for life. History records their achievements in America’s emerging industrial economy. Their successes and prosperity would go far beyond the wildest imaginations of the two apprehensive young men, who stepped ashore at the South Street Seaport on the nineteenth day of April of 1839. John Ryle would soon own the first and largest silk mill in Paterson and eventually become Mayor of the City.

His efforts in Washington representing the industry resulted in the passage of a tariff that restricted importing foreign silk- a tremendous stimulus to American manufacturing. He would forever be known as the Father of the American Silk Industry. James Mayers would direct his friend’s dyeing operations before opening the first successful silk dyeing business in the America. In Paterson, he married Sarah Allison whose roots can be traced to fifteenth century Yorkshire and the 1632 Winthrope Puritan Fleet. Today there are about one hundred descendents of James Mayers and Sarah Allison living in the US.

Many are still in New Jersey. As years passed, many from Macclesfield followed Mayers and Ryle to Paterson where it was possible to rise from weaver to affluent entrepreneur in a short time. Many fortunes were made here by Macclesfield weavers, Lambert, Strange, Dougherty, Wadsworth, Grimshaw, Crewe and Henshall all rose from the loom to become wealthy and prominent. By 1900, there were 3000 Macclesfield people living in Paterson.

The PATERSON CALL published the births, deaths and marriage column from the MACCLESFIELD COURIER. In their travels about the city and business dealings, James and John met so many old friends that it often seemed like they were back atop the 108 steps in the marketplace in the shadow of St Michaels.

I wonder how many appreciated their role as the pioneers who made Paterson the Industrial Cradle of America. The Marion would continue to sail to the US and Canada on future transatlantic voyages-passengers outbound with lumber back on the return trip. But not under the Command of Captain Bonnyman whose fate is unknown.

In 1844 her homeport was changed to Cork, a more convenient embarkation point for the flood of Irish emigrants. Shown in Lloyds Register at various times in Quebec, Halifax, New Orleans, Boston and New York, she disappears from the records in 1851.

From Bagshaws Directory of Cheshire 1850
The Italians previously possessed the art of silk throwing by machinery, and the French excelled in the fabric of piece goods, but all attempts to rival these productions here were unavailable, till an enterprising mechanic, John Lombe, proceeded, in 1715, to Italy, clandestinely and at great personal risk, investigated the whole process, and returned in 1717, with plans and models, and with two Italian workmen.

He immediately went to Derby and erected the first silk mill in England. Which was long esteemed a master piece of mechanical skill. In 1718, he obtained a patent for fourteen years, but dying shortly afterwards, from poison, as it was suspected administered by an Italian, sent to England for that purpose, his brother William succeeded to the business, but shortly after transferred the concern to his cousin, Thomas Lombe who continued the silk manufacture till 1732, at which time, about 300 hands are said to have been employed.

The patent then expired and on application for a renewal, he was knighted, and a model of the works deposited at the Tower of London. Charles Roe, a native of Castleton, Derbyshire, first engaged in the button and twist trade, but saw vast profits in silk manufacture and obtained a model of the machinery in the silk mill at Derby, erected a machine in 1756 and commenced work in Park Green, Macclesfield. - some Information on Charles Roe.Family Genealogy - Mayers - LOC L2 (1) MAY
The History of Silk Dyeing in the US
John Ryle is universally referred to as the “Father of the Silk Industry” in Paterson, New Jersey. He was born in Bollington, near Macclesfield, on 22nd October 1817.
Mayers Family Genealogy. 'Prepared in honor of the 50th wedding anniversary of Minnie D and Robert E Mayers - December 23 1927 and December 23rd 1977.
William Meare son of William Mayrs (Mears) Thomas Mayers - Silk Worker, son of William Meare, baptised February 4th 1753 at St Michael's, married Elizabeth Hough at Prestbury Parish Church in 1778. They had the following children: Mary 1779 Christ Church, David 1781 St Michael's, Rebecca 1782 St Michael's, Betty 1787. Thomas 1788, William 1793 Christ Church, Joshua 1795 Christ Church, David 1798 Christ Church.
David 1781 married Ann and had: Sarah, Thomas, Jessie, David, Samuel.
Thomas 1788 married Elizabeth Brown and had: William 1809, David 1813, Betty 1814, Martha 1817, Sarah 1819, James 1820, Rebecca 1821, Mary Ann 1827, David 1828.
Thomas Mayers Born 1758 Silkworker. He had Thomas Mayers born 1787 Silkman, Carter. He had James Mayers born 1820 Silk Weaver, Dyer. He had John Mayers born 1858 Silk Weaver, Paterson, NJ.
Hugonis/Hugo/Hugh Meyers/Meare Baptised 1670.
William Mayrs/Meare Baptised 1694. Married Margaret Shelmerdine.
William Meare Baptised 1731.
Thomas Mayers Silkworker born 1753. Married Elizabeth Hough at Prestbury in 1778.
Thomas Mayers Silkman/Carter born 1788. Married Betty Brown.
James Mayers Silk Dyer born 1820. Went to USA 1839. Married Sarah Ann Albinson born New York 1823.
John Meyers Silk Weaver, Paterson, NJ born 1858. Married Margaret Bertram born Scotland 1859.

As the years passed, many others from Macclesfield followed Mayers and Ryle to Paterson. Here it was possible to rise from weaver to entrepreneur and take advantage of the great opportunity for upward mobility. Many fortunes were made in Paterson by former Macclesfield weavers, names like Lambert, Strange, Dougherty, Wadsworth, Grimshaw, Crewe and Henshall all rose from the loom to become prominent. Even today a visit to Lambert Castle overlooking the city attests to their great wealth.

By 1900, there were 3000 people living in Paterson, The Paterson Call published regularly the Births, Marriages and Deaths from the Macclesfield Courier. In his travels about the City and business dealings through the years, James Mayers must have met many old friends from his youth in England. I wonder if they fully acknowledged the fact that all followed in his footsteps and those of John Ryle, the first Englishman, in the silk industry, to arrive in Paterson, the Industrial Cradle of America.

A History of Macclesfield by C S Davies, Published 1961
'Emigration from England to other countries was a feature of the second half of the nineteenth century and this provided a safety-value for the increasing population. In 1839, John Ryle, superintendent of a Macclesfield throwing mill, emigrated to America where, in Paterson, New Jersey, in 1845, he established the first manufacture of spooled sewing silk n the United States.
In 1846, John Ryle and his partner commenced the weaving of silk. Two other Macclesfield men, Alfred Crewe and Thomas Henshall, later founded a silk finishing business, also in Paterson. These two firms attracted many Macclesfield silk workers during the succeeding years and, in 1900, there were 3,000 Macclesfield people in Paterson.

They maintained their interest in their native town, for the local newspaper regularly published copies of the Births, Marriages and Deaths column from the Macclesfield Courier. Enquiries are still received at the Town Hall and the Macclesfield Public Library from the descendants of these emigrants asking for information about their ancestors.'

'It will be remembered that the silk industry had been taken to Paterson, U.S.A, by William Ryle, a member of the Ryle family, bankers and silk and cotton manufacturers on Park Green. Ryle, hearing of the difficulty of raising money for the completion of the Infirmary in his home-town, offered to send £500 if 'nine other gentlemen would give a like sum' within a fixed time. These sums were immediately collected, aminly from the Brocklehurst family and thus, in 1872, the infirmary was opened free of debt."

The total cost of the project was about £30,000.

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