Autobiography of George William Witham
Autobiography of George William Witham
September 10, ’91 (1891)
George William Witham, born at Fennylewey, Parish of Feock, County of Cornwall, England, January 28th 1823, was the son of Samuel Witham, (who was the son of George and Susanna Witham) born at Chiselhurst, Kent, England in 1792. Samuel Witham’s father’s family removed to South Molton, Devonshire [note: Castle Hill, a Fortesque estate], then to Arlington [note: Arlington Court, home of the Chichesters], and thence to Buckland Filleigh, Jame?County, where his father was gardener for 30 years with Earl Fortescue. He was a professional gardener; a man of fine physique and ruddy complexion. He was a Christian and so was his wife and family, consisting of two sons – Samuel and William; and two daughters – Susannah and Dorcas; (and Joshua and Diana both deceased in childhood.) In a year or two after the decease of their father [note: George Witham died at Buckland Filleigh in 1838 and is buried in the parish churchyard] , William, who filled the place of the father for a few years, after his decease, sold out and, with his mother and two sisters emigrated to Boston, Mass.
Samuel left his home at the age of 18 and went to Exeter, Devonshire, England to finish his business education as a professional gardener and horticulturist in general. After attaining his majority, he accepted a situation as gardener with Thomas Daniel, Esq. at Trelissick House, near King Harry Passage. This situation he filled for 13 years. During these years he married Elizabeth Williams, daughter of Robert and —Williams of Llangollen, Wales, of whom I know but little. My mother’s father was a builder and lost his life through a cold contracted while superintending the building of the Valley of Llangollen aqueduct. My mother’s mother I remember coming (after the decease of her husband) from Manchester to Cornwall at the birth of my brother Joshua about 1828. I remember also my mother’s brother Robert. Beyond this, I know nothing on my mother’s side. She died at Burlington, New Jersey, August 11, 1851, in her 66th year. Her end was peace.
In 1831, father left Trelissick and went to Exeter and worked in Diamonds (?), and in 1832 accepted a situation as gardener with Edward Archer, Esq at Trelask in the parish of Lewannick, a few miles from Launceston, Cornwall. Mr Archer was a bigoted Churchman and one of the conditions in the agreement with him stipulated that my father and his family should attend religious service once a Sabbath in the church at Lewannick. Mr Archer was, like most English squires, capable of a little tyranny and often taunted my father with being a Methodist and that in a year or two perhaps caused father to leave Trelask. He then engaged with Thomas Spry as foreman of his Nursery at Launceston and there he remained till 1843 when he emigrated to the United States and joined the family of his brother William, his mother and two sisters. William in 1843 was gardener with Bishop Doane in Burlington, N. Jersey. My father became gardener for Mr Thomas Cowperthwaite, Publisher and Bookseller, Phila. Mr Cowperthwaite’s summer residence was at Eden Hill in Bucks Co, PA. He was intending that the whole family should go to America; but being an apprentice to Theodore and R. Bray, Printers, and being in my 20th year, they would not consent to my leaving them, and threatened to arrest and imprison me if I attempted to leave. I was tempted to go but a loadstone in the person of Miss Lucy Horwood helped me to remain & serve out my apprentiship.1 It is well here to say that the loadstone was in no way personally helping me, nor did the lady advise either way. The family, Father, Mother, & brother Joshua emigrated to the U States. My brother Robert was a sailor & met his parents in Philadelphia in Bucks in 1844. The family consisted of father, mother and three sons, never more. My father was gardener for several gentlemen in the neighborhood of Philadelphia and also in Burlington, NJ where my mother died. I was converted to God (I think in the fall of 1839 or ’40 and ran fairly well for a few years. I was bound apprentice to Theo & Wm R Bray. [this sentence was deleted]when I became indifferent for several years. But during all that time, God’s spirit followed, chided, entreated and showed me that there was a better way. To all this I paid little or no attention Tolerably fair exterior but destitute of comfort and God.
My apprentiship was terminated with the 27th day of January, 1844. The next day I declared myself a freeman. The prospect for work in Launceston was out of the question so I tried several places unsuccessfully. Then made up my mind to emigrate. My lady friend and myself freely discussed the situation, and as we were so greatly attached to each other I did want her company in the new world to which my eyes thoughts and heart were turned. During the six months following I let my parents know that I wanted to marry this lady and bring her to this country. I was satisfied that I should get along well if only in America and with a balance-wheel I seemed to make but little progress toward a mutual understanding and conclusion. In my conversations with Miss Horwood, principally because of the well known aversion of her father to myself, in consequence of my being only a journeyman printer while she was the Daughter of an alderman a man carrying out the business of plumber, gas fitter, trap and iron founder. He thought it was a condescention, and so opposed our keeping company until a change took place in his way of looking at it – perhaps through Mrs. Horwood’s reasoning – for she felt and acted just the opposite. So after corresponding with my parents I received a letter from them that increased my determination to emigrate. Miss Horwood at that time was residing in Plymouth, Devonshire, England. I felt best to go and lay the matter before her; and after due thought she consented to my proposition for marriage and after that to take the journey to this blessed land of promise provided her parents’ consent could be had. On my return I went to the Horwood home with some trepidation, knowing Mr. Horwood’s former aversion as just mentioned, but as he was out of town and not expected to return until later, I was disappointed and on leaving said to Mrs. Horwood I wanted to see Mr. Horwood and would call again another evening; at same time laying the subject of my visit open to her. A few evenings after I had the coveted interview; broached the matter at once, and to my delight and somewhat surprise after very closely questioning me as a dear father should as to my affection for his daughter – she was the oldest of 4 daughters and two sons – my ability to make for her a home, etc., and at the same time tenaciously avoiding committal said “Well, America is a great distance from here; to let Lucy go will be almost like burying her.” I said yes, so it would be if we were to go to London. So, after perhaps an hour of conversation, I asked the beloved father and mother to consent to our marriage and departure for Pennsylvania promising all that a young man could who had faith in his honest purpose to be a husband to their daughter beloved, their willing consent was obtained and I was unspeakably happy Lucy returned to her home shortly after and began preprations for her prospective journey. We were married in the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Launceston, Cornwall, England on the 28th (Sunday morning at 8 o’clock) July 1844, and left home on Wednesday Aug 1st. Took passage on board the Bark “Clio” lying at Padstow Cornwall. Mrs Horwood and brother George in Father Horwood’s cart took us to the town. We took row-boat to the vessel which lay at anchor in the harbor a few miles below. We remained about a week at anchor. Sailed on the 2nd Thursday in August and after an uneventful voyage of about 25 days reached Quebec Canada remained then about 10 days. Then by steamboat to Montreal, thence to LaParasie on the other side of the St Laurence river took steam cars to Champlain, thence down to Troy, thence by steamboat to New York City thence to Burlington New Jersey where we were met by my brother Joshua who had come with a spring wagon to meet us. After quite a comfortable ride late at night we arrived at Eden Hall the summer residence of Mr. Thomas Cowperthwaite.
1 On a certain day soon after my father settled at Trelask he had occasion to visit the town of Launceston to engage Mr George Horwood the plumber for some work in his lines. On entering the shop, a dark eyed black hair, laughing ruddy face little girl about 11 years of age came in. My father said he wanted Mr. Horwood to do some work at Trelask. She danced back to her mother to whom my father stated his —-. I watched the little miss who sometimes came to my mind. About a year after father left Trelask, took up his residence in Launceston my parents being Methodist, I was taken to the Wesleyan Methodist (4 ½) Sunday School. The room in which the school was held had been used as the chapel during the life of Mr John Wesley. It was perhaps 50 x 20 feet. Over say 10 feet of the south end was a gallery for the choir. The class into which I was placed met in a class room at the north end. On coming into the main room I looked around as a boy naturally would. Up in the gallery was that little bright eyed, black hair little girl my eyes could hardly be kept from looking that way. Somehow, after a little while we simply noticed each other. Then after a while we came together at school week days. This school was about a mile out of town. Without agreement, somehow the other scholars would romp away and Lucy and George would find themselves alone very often. This ripened into a companionship that ultimately brought us together for life. Thank God. [note: this paragraph is in a different handwriting and Robert Williams Witham’s [son of George and Lucy] note is that this paragraph was written by George William Witham and the previous paragraphs were written by Lucy Horwood Witham]
[Transcribed by Robert Williams Witham – Son of George William Witham and Lucy Horwood and Janet Sugden Thomas – great great granddaughter of George and Lucy]