Sailing the Black Star Line

The packet ship Huguenot of Thompson's Black Star LIne, New York to Liverpool, being struck by lightning (Peabody-Essex, Salem, Mass.)

My great-great grandfather, John R. Wolfe, arrived in America from Ireland in 1847. He sailed on the Cornelia with his wife, Honora, and their young son James, along with Wolfe’s cousin Maurice’s family. The packet ship, which weighed 1,040 tons, was built by Brown and Bell of New York and and part of the Black Star Line. Owned by Samuel Thompson, the Black Star Line ran eighteen ships between Liverpool and New York in 1847, sailing every six days. John F. French was the ship’s master.

The ship pictured above also was owned by the Black Star Line, about which you can find more in Queens of the Western Ocean: The Story of America’s Mail and Passenger Sailing Lines by Carl C. Cutler (1961).

I must admit that I had hoped, prior to conducting this research, that the owner of the Cornelia might have been Robert Bowne Minturn, my wife’s great-great-great grandfather. Part owner of Grinnell, Minturn, and Company, one of the largest and most successful transporters of Irish immigrants to the United States during the Famine years, Minturn operated the Blue Swallowtail Line between Liverpool and New York. In other words, my wife’s family transported Irishmen just like my family, and even on Brown and Bell–built ships.

Anyway, the Wolfes arrived arrived in New York City from Liverpool on August 23, 1847. You can find their names on this passenger list: Maurice, his wife, Ellen, and their children James, Ellen, Maurice, Mary, and Johanna; and John Wolfe, his wife, Honora, and their son, James. (Here’s the full page, in pdf form.)

Detail of Passenger List, Cornelia, 1847

There are a couple of problems here. John R.’s son James was not thirty-five; he was four. Probably a simple mistake. Additionally, Maurice may have had other children, alive at the time, who settled in the United States but who are not listed here.

Whatever the case, Cutler’s book shows us where the Black Star ships docked in New York (pier 30 or thereabouts)—

—and the New York Daily Tribune (August 23, 1847, page 3) reports on the ship’s arrival:

Details from the New York Daily Tribune, August 23, 1847, page 3

The newspaper records provide a bare account of the journey—passed a ship bound for Liverpool on July 22, sighted what was perhaps the John R. Skiddy on August 1, encountered a fishing boat off Marblehead, Massachusetts, on the sixth—while mentioning that five passengers died en route. The ship’s more celebrated passengers, however, including Arthur St. George—namesake to a line of Irish politicians—arrived safely. (Here’s the full page from the Tribune, in pdf form.)

From New York, the Wolfes traveled to LaSalle County, Illinois. How did they get there? What kind of money did they have? Did they have contacts in that place? Alas, I don’t know …

image: the packet ship Huguenot of Thompson’s Black Star Line, New York to Liverpool, being struck by lightning (Peabody-Essex, Salem, Mass.)

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