The Gledhill Family of Yorkshire, Norfolk and Kansas, USA

Sheila Cox

(First published in 1991 in volume 5, pp. 68-71, of the third series of The Bradford Antiquary, the journal of the Bradford Historical and Antiquarian Society.)

In 1939 Alfred Ernest Gledhill of Gaylord, Kansas wrote a book about his parents emigration to America and their subsequent pioneer settlement. In 1990 his great-niece Mrs Janet Brooks of Portis, Kansas, a distant cousin of mine visited London and gave me copies of the book, photographs and other documents, including family correspondence. These form the basis of this account.

Joseph Gledhill, fourth of the five children of Joseph Gledhill and his wife Hannah Thornton was born on 15 June 1813 and baptised the following month at Southowram Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, near Halifax. His father, a stone mason and master of stone quarries died in 1816. Young Joseph Gledhill became a wool factor and commission salesman, working from a warehouse in Norwich, where he lived for many years. It was there, in 1839 that he married Maria Friar and their four sons and one daughter were born. The eldest, a son born in July 1842 and named Joseph, was to become Alfred Ernest's father. Joseph and Maria returned to Bradford from Norwich in about 1856 where their young family continued their education.

The sons followed their father into the wool trade, learning all aspects including office work and book keeping. Joseph was taken into the family business, Joseph Gledhill & Son when he came of age. However, the American Civil War had a severe effect on English trade and, in particular, the textile industry. Joseph Gledhill & Son was just one of many firms which became bankrupt at this time, and the younger Joseph decided to go to America, seeing no prospect of improvement in England.

Joseph landed in America on Christmas Day 1863, and worked as a book keeper in New York for several months before becoming a wool sorter at Terry's Mill, near Plymouth, Connecticut. Here he met Elizabeth Leigh, a young lady from Hyde whose family of Lancashire textile workers overtaken by similar trade misfortunes in the cotton mills there, had also sought work in America. Joseph and Elizabeth married in Plymouth in 1865; their first two children were born in Connecticut, Alfred Ernest in February 1867 at Meriden and Amy Maria in December 1868 at Beacon Falls.

Joseph only saw his parents once more. In 1867 his nineteen-year-old brother died in Bradford and as his mother's health was failing he, Elizabeth and three-month-old Alfred sailed back for a four-month visit, working in Bradford to help pay the expenses of the trip. His mother Maria died the following spring and his father Joseph some four months later while on business in Glasgow.

About 1869-70 the New Haven Company was formed in Connecticut to promote the formation of a colony in the west. Joseph became interested, realising that outdoor work would be better for his health. In March 1871 about sixty five men set out from New York, including Joseph and his youngest brother, Arthur Thomas, who had joined him shortly after the death of their parents. Most of the enthusiastic band were factory workers or former soldiers with little or no knowledge of farming or stock handling and a number of them later decided that this new life was not for them and either returned to Connecticut or settled near Minneapolis. The few who persisted eventually settled at Twelve Mile Creek in Smith County, Kansas.

Alfred gives an interesting account of his father's early days there, and of the struggle to gain experience, build dugouts and, later, log houses in which to live, and to 'break out' a few acres of land for crops. Prairie fires, some started by Indians, blizzards, storms and floods, droughts, plagues of grasshoppers all made their lives difficult and left little time for leisure pursuits or relaxation, but they persevered until they had made a reasonable settlement and those who were married could look forward to their families joining them.

In September 1872, Elizabeth and the children, Alfred and Amy, made the long journey to join Joseph in Twelve Mile Creek, first by rail to Waterville, Kansas, then a seven day journey by ox wagon. Arthur was working his own homestead but lived mostly with Joseph. Gradually the pioneers began to build up their isolated community; by 1873 the first Sunday School was organised and soon the people of the homesteads were able to come together for rare social meetings such as New Year and Fourth of July celebrations. The community spirit grew with the establishment of a Sewing Circle in 1874, and later that year came a great improvement in communications when the Twelve Mile Post Office was inaugurated, Joseph becoming its first and indeed only postmaster during its twenty year existence, a position he combined with farming. Formerly, the nearest post office was sixteen miles away at Cawker, and mail was only picked up when someone had occasion to go there.

Europe must have seemed more than a world apart when Frederick Ernest Gledhill, who had remained in Bradford, wrote to his brother Arthur in 1874. He was working in Paris, to improve the French he had already learned in Bradford, in order to obtain a better position. He wrote amusingly about his cross Channel journey, and his first lodgings, recommended by a young Bradfordian who had just left Paris. He had then moved to a better quarter to stay in a hotel costing him 25 francs a month (the lodgings had cost more), but he wanted to change jobs as his employer offered him only 'a miserable 50 francs a month'. He worked at the warehouse from eight in the morning until six in the evening, with an hour allowed at noon for breakfast.
"The way of living here is quite different to in England - I have nothing to eat at home - of course everybody does not live in exactly the same way but the ordinary way of living is to have nothing to eat until 11 or 12 o'clock breakfast time - Breakfast being a meal exactly like dinner both consisting in soup, meat vegetables and dessert and wine - Dinner is taken at 6 or 7 - The living is not at all dear - I like it very well The dishes are prepared much more nicely than in England: and there is much greater variety from which to choose."

Joseph and Arthur, growing most of their own food in Kansas, had much less variety, but although the food was plain there was always enough to eat.

Frederick had spent much of his free time sightseeing, but was beginning to tire of it:
"One does not care to be always running about to museums, picture galleries churches, triumphal arches etc. - The cafe-chantants, bals etc. are almost innumerable - I have been to a good many of all sorts - They are most magnificent places usually, generally there is a saloon garden - the saloon resplendent with mirrors and flowers and lights and gildings and in the evening the gardens are lighted with innumerable little lamps - almost every song at all popular has a twinge of immorality - and at the bals the exhibition is of the most revolting character - You know what the can-can is I suppose - Well here no restraint whatever is put upon the dancers - it is very amusing to watch the young men dancing. Their only object seems to be to make themselves look as ridiculous as possible."

He had not seen his young brother for several years and ended his letter with a request - 'If you have had a new picture taken I shall be glad to see your face as it present appears'.

Frederick stayed in Paris for a year. His first position on returning to Bradford was unsatisfactory but he soon found a better one, as a clerk in a stuff warehouse, although, as he wrote again to Arthur in 1876 'owing to the unsatisfactory state of trade it is not what might have been pecuniarily but I am in hopes that it will improve in that respect'. He had married Caroline (Carrie) Hanson of Halifax the previous year, and enclosed her photograph, also announcing the birth that very day of their first child Ernest, who was to die eighteen months later. He asked Arthur if he was likely to marry soon - 'If so send us the lady's picture, we should be glad to make her acquaintance in that, failing any other available way'. Arthur did not marry until 1880, and Frederick died in 1881, a few months after his baby daughter Edith, but his widow Carrie visited the Gledhills at Twelve Mile in 1885-6 with their remaining child, Arthur. Carrie became a teacher near Alton, Kansas, before moving with Arthur to Emporia, in the same state. She is known have lived in Colorado Springs, Colorado, between 1904 and 1929, and Arthur was there up to 1926.

Joseph and Elizabeth died at Twelve Mile in 1920 and 1914. Their hard work over many years had helped to create a community which grew and prospered. Their family of two sons and three daughters included two who combined school teaching with farming; descendants still farm the same area. Brother Arthur Thomas and Clementine had three sons and a daughter, and after a similar life of homesteading they retired in 1913 to Santa Monica, California dying there in 1933 and 1930.

Letters and photographs were important links between emigrants and their families before the advent of telephones and air travel. When such records pass down to later generations they provide insight and interest and, as in this instance, can re-unite long-lost relatives.

SHEILA COX, who now lives in Wimbledon, was born in Harrogate and educated at Harrogate College. Her interest in family research was prompted partly by a study of Bradford and the earlier life of her father, Norman Alexander Foster, Mayor of Harrogate in 1951-52, for whom she was Mayoress. Mrs Cox has travelled widely, and this has encouraged her to study how British people, particularly those from Yorkshire, contribute to activities throughout the world.

© 1991, Sheila Cox and The Bradford Antiquary