In Search of Freedom


Diana Parsons

(Note by John Burland)

In the summer of 1848 a book with a shortened title "The Wesleyan Emigrants" was published in Leeds and London The full title of this was "Wesleyan Christianity - Tested and Exemplified, being an authentic narrative of striking events in the history of a Wesleyan family of Yorkshire Emigrants in the backwoods of America." No wonder the title was shortened!

This was the story of my Great Great Great Uncle John and his wife Rebecca who had emigrated from Leeds to Illinois in the late summer of 1831. John was a farmer and had worked in Horsforth from 1810 to 1817, where he had lived near my Great Great Grandfather Stephen, his younger brother, who was Horsforth's blacksmith. John had then farmed at Barwick in Elmet between 1817 and 1831. At the end of this 14 year tenancy on the farm, he decided, at the age of 48, to set out from Liverpool to the New World with his wife Rebecca and their five youngest children to establish a new life. Their two eldest children, Edward a schoolteacher and Mary a domestic servant, both of whom had been born whilst they lived in Horsforth, remained in England.

In May 1846, Rebecca returned to the UK for a short holiday, primarily to travel back with John Bickerdike who had gone to America that spring to see about claiming the estate of his brother Charles, a neighbour of John & Rebecca, who had died. Rebecca accompanied him back to England in order to persuade his wife and family to join them in Illinois and also to visit Edward and Mary who by this time had both got married.

It was whilst staying with Edward that she related the story of their journey to America and the hardships they had encountered during the early part of the 1830's. By now Edward was the headmaster of Swillington school and between them they wrote the book mentioned above. This was also entitled "A True Picture of Emigration", under which title it is still published today. Two thousand copies were sold in Leeds and this resulted in many Yorkshire families emigrating to Illinois. It is now used by many of the American schools as one of the standard History textbooks for students about early pioneering life.

John & Rebecca were staunch Methodists and helped to establish the church at Grigsville which is still used today for weddings and funerals but is too small for general services. "A True Picture of Emigration" is written very much in the Victorian language, and this makes it quite difficult to read in parts. However, another book has been recently written by Diana Parsons from Headingley, a history lecturer at Leeds University, who has updated John & Rebecca's story and included events that have happened since the original book was published in 1848. This is now available under the title "In Search of Freedom" at the price of 7-50. Diana is not a Burland relative but has been fascinated by the story of the emigration for many years.

She is prepared to donate 2-50 from any books sold to friends to help the Otley Methodist Church Redevelopment Appeal. Orders should be placed via myself by sending a cheque for 7-50 payable to Otley Methodist Church (plus an A5 SAE) to:

J D Burland
76 The Whartons
LS21 2BS

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