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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Mason

The 1848 Voyage of Robert Shields

Today, I'm looking at a diary written by my 3rd great-grandfather, Robert Shields. Robert was born in 1821 in Rutherglen, Scotland. From what I can gather, he left his first wife, Margaret Beattie, along with their two sons, after she was reportedly unfaithful. Robert eventually sailed from Liverpool to New York, and that's the part I'm now untangling from a much-photocopied diary.

Here's the first page:

Photocopy of 1848 handwritten journal left by Robert Shields.

1848 Journal

June 13th at 8 o'clock AM left Rutherglen for Liverpool to take a Ship for New York.

June 23rd: Sailed from Liverpool on the Ship Ocean Queen with about 320 passengers, nothing [?] extra on the whole of the passage. We had headwinds nearly all the way, lost one Child by Sickness and a few fell overboard.

August 14th: Landed in New York after a passage of 54 days, this being the warmest month of the year.

August 23: Commenced to Work in Secors Foundry and received as wages $1.50 per day and continued at that [rate until] Feb 23rd when I received $1.62 1/2 per day having very Steady Work all the ... [Here, the narrative cuts off.]

According to notes my grandfather took, Robert headed to New Orleans in 1849. Overall, I have 23 pages to transcribe, but it'll be well worth the effort.

I've also found Scottish court records referring to a messy divorce from Margaret after his emigration. Robert eventually remarried, started a new family, and moved to Illinois.

One son with Margaret, James Bryson Shields, emigrated to America in 1881. I have to wonder whether the two men knew each other's whereabouts. The diary ended in 1851, so perhaps we'll never know.

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