A donation to the local public library in Springfield, Missouri, turned up an extraordinary find: a journal from 1828 that chronicles the voyage one Englishman took to New York City on his way to Kentucky to settle in the United States. Library volunteers decided to bring life to the gentleman’s writings by creating a reader’s theater production for the public to see.
The leather-bound journal, which arrived at the library in an ordinary box and in pretty good condition, contains the title “A Voyage from England to the United States of America. April and May 1828.” The journal was written by John Salmon, a man who served as a clerk for 36 years at the bank of Smith Payne and Smiths in London. The 39-page journal offers contemporary Americans a glimpse of what it was like to come to America nearly 200 years ago.
Salmon was 63 at the time of his passage from England to New York aboard an American sailing ship called the Chelsea. He recorded every detail of the journey, including six deaths on the ship, the latitude and longitude of the ship’s location and his thoughts regarding his religious faith. His final destination was Kentucky, although the journal makes no mention of anything beyond the ship’s landing in New York. The end of the journal describes Salmon’s desire to meet his son in the city before going to Kentucky. The voyage lasted from April 19 to May 26, 1828.
Genealogists found the ship’s manifest, which records Salmon on the ship. After his arrival in New York, no one knows what happened to him or if he found his way to Kentucky. Anyone reading the pages from front to back might not realize the intrigue and adventure hidden among mundane information about a trans-Atlantic passage. With stories such as the one where Chelsea’s crew attempted to outrun a ship thought to belong to pirates, the journal almost reads like a novel.
Also hidden among the adventure of the voyage is a chance for families to do serious research. No one knows how the rare, pre-Civil War journal ended up in southwest Missouri. If any of Salmon’s descendants still live in America, those people might want to contact the Springfield-Greene County Library District to see their ancestor’s journal and claim a long-lost family treasure.
Journals such as Salmon’s give contemporary Americans a first-hand account of what life was like in the past so humans can learn to appreciate what they have in modern society. Check out how this rare copy of Lewis and Clark’s published journal ended up with a private bookseller in Oregon.