The following is an essay I wrote for my Comp 101 class as a sophomore in college, dated 3/24/2003. The story is still quite amusing, and my writing a bit juvenile (but isn’t it still?). The basis for this essay, an interview and a log kept by my great-grandfather, was a spark that would ignite my love of writing, and my desire to chronicle my life.
Until just recently, I had never heard anything about my great-great grandfather. There were no living relatives who had met him. As far as I knew there was no one to pass the great stories of his life down through the generations to me. It wasn’t until recently that my grandmother shared with me a significant story in his life.
My grandmother received an envelope in the mail one day from a distant cousin living in Canada. Contained in the envelope was a little piece of history not yet known. Inside was an interview from an unknown author, and a log. These documents came to me in a typed, translated form; I have never seen the originals, but what I do know of is a great narrative about a trip Charles Rowland Jackson made in 1885.
Charles Rowland Jackson was born September 5th, 1857 in Newport, Kentucky. His family was engaged in raising horses, possibly some of the greatest Kentucky Thoroughbreds ever reared on its Blue Grass. Charles was tiny, agile and bright, and it was thought that he might one day be a superb jockey.
Kentucky flourished in tobacco sales and at that time was a slave state. As the Civil War began, both the Union and the Confederate Armies occupied the state. When the shooting began, the Jackson Family returned to the safety of their homeland, England.
Back in England, the Jackson Family lived in Manchester. Charles did well in school, finishing the curriculum before the legal quitting age; he was made to repeat the last year three times before graduating. He began work in the family business, drawing wire, which served very important during the Industrial Age.
It is rumored that Charles married, and wanted to return to America, only his young new wife was afraid of the sea and the ocean voyage. When his wife died, he was free to return, in 1885, at the age of 28. I have attempted to clarify this information and have been unsuccessful.
Charles left for America, Saturday, March 14th, 1885. His first entry on this log is as quoted:
“We left the ‘Princess’ landing stage (at 11 o’clock Saturday morning) on the tender, and arrived on the Steamship Wyoming in about 10 minutes. The weather misty in the morning, but clear in the afternoon and night. The anchor was taken up at 6:50 and we reached the bar at 7 o’clock and had to anchor again for about half an hour for the water to rise, then we made a fresh commencement. It is now dark and I sit on the deck watching the lights along the Welsh coast; turned into sleep at 11 o’clock.”
This was a great beginning to a great story. I can only imagine what the trip was like. He mentioned the wind blowing so hard that water was being forced through the hatches, about having to break up card games so that the doctors could examine the passengers and give vaccinations, and about seeing whales and porpoises, and even a mast of a ship float by.
On day 11 he reached New York. He had already been to New York before and knew the area and the people well. He spent a few days in the city, catching up on old times and even walked over the Brooklyn Bridge, which had only been in use for two years then.
On Saturday, March 28th, he boarded a train for San Francisco. Along the way he speaks of the many cities he stopped in:
“…We had a good run and reached Chicago at 7 o’clock, where there were a lot more immigrants, all Italians. We was crammed in till we could not walk about, and could hardly stand, and oh did it stink. I managed to scheme out and me and Alf had an oyster stew in town. It was dark so we could not tell much of Chicago…”
One of the most memorable entries occurred on Thursday, April 2nd:
“We are now in Wyoming. There are antelopes, jack rabbits, and prairie dogs to shoot at along the track, and all of the men have shooting irons, either gun or revolver. We reached Ogden in Utah at 6 o’clock and stopped for three hours. It is a large town full of rough customers. They think nothing of shooting a man. There were four Chinamen shot for sport the night before we were there. Then the gang of white men began shooting at one another, one of the gang was killed and a passerby was shot dead and no one was arrested for it. We change cars again here, and we are coupled on a freight train. We passed the Great Salt Lake about 11 o’clock. It was moonlight and we had a good view of it. We are traveling at the enormous speed of twelve miles an hour.”
Charles Rowland Jackson arrived in San Francisco on Easter Sunday, April 5th 1885, ending his 23-day log. I do not know how long he stayed in California, but I know that he later returned to the Eastern states where he met and married Alison Dyson on May 11th, 1887, in New Haven, Connecticut. They had six children while traveling the continent; William Thomas was born September 18th, 1888 and Charles Rowland II, born November 22nd, 1890 both in New York. Margaret Emma was born September 10th, 1892, Elizabeth Alice, born August 16th, 1895 Albert Yarwood Dyson, my great-grandfather, was born June 14th, 1899 and finally Robert Wilson, born July 30th, 1902, all born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Charles earned a living at the Canada Wire and Cable Company. The company started in a freight car in an area made famous in a painting known as “The Junction” by J.E.H. MacDonald. When asked to lay workers off, Charles distinctly said, “No.” “We’ll keep them on, and I’ll keep them busy, if it’s only sweeping the floor. Then when you get orders we’ll turn out quality products, and your business will grow. This will be best for you, and for the men, and for myself. I’ve trained them, and we need them.”
I don’t know much else about him, just what I learned from the interview and the log. If anything, I have become more interested in my family history. Stories like these need to be passed along from generation to generation. My grandmother has saved every marriage, baby, graduation and death announcement for everyone in the family. Names and dates are great but it’s the stories behind them that make the people.
I have decided to start a new diary, one that describes what things have been like for me. How it feels to watch a war going on thousands of miles away on live television, what it’s like to be a woman going to college and trying to become the next Rockefeller. I just hope that my great-grandchildren are as interested in me as I am of my great-grandparents.