The first packets went into operation in 1815. They were vessels whose mail cargo was mail, passengers, & light freight, & they sailed at regular intervals. By 1829 sailing occurred 3 times a month between Liverpool & N.Y.. There were no accommodations for steerage passengers, so they only affected emigration indirectly.
In the 10 years 1830-40 the transport of emigrants became a regular feature of the Atlantic trade. Commerce accepted as a certainty that every spring tens of thousands of people would appear at European ports with money to pay their passage to America. The emigrant had become a leading article of commerce.
The transatlantic movement of European peoples filled a need in the economy of ocean transport. The exports from American were bulky, notably tobacco, cotton, & lumber. The goods sent in return were manufactured articles & smaller in bulk. Emigrants saved the westbound traffic from being a transport of ballast. The increasing trade of the 19th cent. helped reduce the price of passage to what the European peasant could afford to pay.
Consideration of the way shipping provided for emigration involves inquiry into the markets of the country. The 18th cent. Irish emigration was from Londonderry & Belfast - the ships brought over flax seed from Penn. for the linen manufacturing. By the 4th decade of the 19th century the trade with Ireland was largely lumber & woodenware. By that time the forests of Ireland had disappeared. The houses could not be constructed entirely of mud & stones, some beams were essential. The growing population demanded a continual importation of lumber, a demand intensified by the needs of the cooperage industry in the south & central counties where pork, eggs, & butter were shipped in barrels & crates. The St. Lawrence region was the principal producer of staves with which the coopers worked, & the number of vessels from Quebec rapidly increased. Spring was the time when the shipper found the winter's timber cuttings awaiting him. It was also the time when emigrants wanted to cross the Atlantic.
Since the supply of ships was great, the competition was keen, forcing down the price of passage. In 1816 emigrants had paid 10 pounds to reach the U.S.. In the early '30s the fare from Ireland to Quebec sometimes fell as low as 15 shillings, though it was usually 2 pounds, 10 shillings. This was 1/2 the price charged for passage to N.Y., which turned the tide to British America. Many who took advantage of the cheaper rate had done so with the intention of walking to the U.S.. What proportion followed this course is uncertain; at the time some maintained it was the majority. Land was easier to acquire in the U.S. & year-round employment more plentiful. There was a flourishing coast-___ trade. There was a demand in the eastern states for the only mineral fertilizer then used, gypsum, of which Nova Scotia had a large supply. From the mines in was taken to Eastport & Passamaquoddy, & there transferred to American coastal vessels. As these ships also carried deck passengers, laborers found it easy for a small sum to reach the U.S. ports.
As well as from Irish ports, emigrants also left from Liverpool, the port for the cotton-carrying ships for England's industrial midlands. At first these vessels had stopped at Irish ports on their western voyage to pick up the emigrants, but in the days of the sailing ship this often involved serious delays & financial loss. It was more reasonable to convey the Irish to Liverpool & the rapid expansion of steam navigation between Ireland & Liverpool facilitated this plan. As an inducement, the brokers bore the cost of the first leg of the journey. Especially in southern Ireland this roundabout way became the standard route. From 1832 onward, British authorities calculated that 9/10 of the emigrants leaving Liverpool were Irish.
American vessels were preferred, though few called at Irish ports, hence the trip to Liverpool. The most popular emigrant guidebook said, "Let the ship be American; remember, he is going home & the captain will probably never pull of his clothes to go to bed during the whole voyage" (S. H. Collins, The Emigrant's Guide to & Description of the U.S. of America, 18301). The many accidents on the Quebec route gave point to this advice.
- Marcus Hansen, The Atlantic Migration, p. 178-84
At first it was the captain (not a broker) who concluded the bargain with the emigrant. Advertisements in the newspapers repeatedly advised "Apply to the captain on board." Early guidebooks warned their readers against dealing with intermediaries. Perhaps because many of the vessels were commanded by the owners, a closer personal connection seems to have existed between capt. & passengers on ships departing from Ireland than elsewhere.
The Irish trade remained comparatively unorganized, though Liverpool houses endeavored, through agents, to turn the tide in their direction. The Irish, distrusting paper receipts, would not hand over their hard-earned shillings until they reached Liverpool & had seen the vessel with their own eyes.
- Ibid., 196-97
1 S. H. Collins, The Emigrant's Guide to the United States of America, Containing All Things Necessary to be Known by Every Class of Persons Emigrating to that Continent ... Including several authentic and most interesting letters from English emigrants now in America, to their relations in England: being the most comprehensive and useful description of the United States ever published. Hull: J. Noble, 1830.