Transatlantic Travellers

Article Covers
Kilmersdon, Somerset, England
Single Hill, Somerset, England
Wellow, Somerset, England
Johnston City, Williamson, Illinois, United States
Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Swissvale, Allegheny, Pennsylvania, United States
Radstock, Somerset, England
Year range
1887 - 1965

Created by Brian Tompkins

John Swift and his wife Grace Plummer were married on December 16, 1833 at Kilmersdon, Somerset, England and spent all of their married life in the Somerset hamlet of Single Hill in the parish of Wellow. The descendants of John & Grace and their 17 known children were not however to be confined to this small corner of England. Family journals revealed that several had emigrated to the United States and further research has allowed us to document the travels of some of them back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean during the era of the great transatlantic liners. One of the most surprising things to arise from the research is the number of journeys made by these descendants in both directions.



On February 16,1887 the S.S. Scythia arrived at New York carrying a group of English miners bound for the coalfields of Tennessee. Five of there number were Swifts, Sidney (24), Worthy (16), Henry (20), Isaac (22) and Benjamin (33). Of these Benjamin has been positively identified as a son of John & Grace, and Worthy his eldest son. Henry, known as Harry, of whom we will hear more of later was Benjamin's nephew, the son of his brother Thomas.

Benjamin Swift had been born on August 28, 1853 and like most of the young men in the village went yo work in the coal mines. The somerset coal mines were in decline and many Somerset miners were forced to seek work in other mining areas such as South Wales and the North of England. Benjamin moved to the Durham coal fields where he married Margaret Williamson. On June 8, 1887 Benjamin's family arrived on the Lord Gough at Philadelphia. Wife Margaret (35), Children, Mary (13), Hannah (11), Louisa (9), Minnie (7), James (4) and an infant Benjamin. There were two other Swift's on the manifest but they do not appear to have been related.


Like his uncle Benjamin, Henry Thomas Swift has found work in the Durham coalfields where he married Esther Timmins. He was joined by his wife Esther (24) and their daughter Mary Ann (1) on July 17, 1888 when the Lord Clive arrived at the port of Philadelphia. Mary Ann was actually described as a male infant. Both were declared to be born in England and to have not been in the United States before.

According to the 1900 United States Federal Census Henry (Harry) Swift emigrated to the United States in 1890, but as we have seen this could not be correct. From Philadelphia it would appear that both families moved south to Alabama, where the now widowed Benjamin is listed in the 1900 United States Federal Census, whilst Henry moved on. First to Kentucky, where he was resident in 1900, and eventually to Johnston City, Illinois.


The next descendant for whom we have documentary evidence of his arrival in the United States is another grandson, Wilfred Swift, son of William. Wilfred Swift (22) together with his companions, William Rogers (24) and Ernest Joseph Parfitt (21) sailed aboard the S.S. Oceanic from Liverpool on April 4, 1900, arriving in New York April 11, 1900. All three gave their occupation as joiner, last residence as Bath and destination as New York City. Despite their stated destination, William and Ernest are known to have gone to Swissvale, Pennsylvania. (William Rogers was the brother-in-law of Isaac Hamilton, a grandson of John & Grace)


We don't know where Wilfred Swift went in the United States but in July 1903 he arrived back in Liverpool abord the Aurania. He was to stay for about a month before returning to the United States, but not alone. Wilfred Swift (25y 10m), William John Parfitt (30y 5m) and Hubert Coles (21y 3m) arrived in New York on August 24, 1903 aboard the Cymric from Liverpool. All three were single, gave their place of residence as Radstock, occupation as carpenter and destination New York. Wilfred confirms that he had been in New York two years previously, but it would appear to have been William and Hubert's first visit.


Ernest Parfitt appears to have got married in the United States. On September 14, 1904 Ernest (24), a carpenter, his new wife Anna and baby daughter Winifred arrive in New York on board the S.S. Oceanic from Liverpool on there way home to Swissvale Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Two-year-old Winifred is declared to be U.S. born. Ernest originally declares himself a U.S. Citizen but the Immigration Official obviously disagreed as this has been crossed out and the dates 1900-1904 entered as his previous visit to the USA. Anna (29) does however appear to be American. There is a suggestion that the Parfitts & the Swifts may be related but to-date there is no proof.

Grace Victoria Swift was born on April 24, 1904 at Single Hill, the daughter of Christopher Swift and Minnie Horler. In her journal she records that "In the early 19 hundreds Uncle Harry who was living in America had returned to England for a visit." Although we have yet to find his entry into the United Kingdom we do know that he returned from Liverpool on July 13th, arriving in New York on 20th. Harry is described as a Mine Foreman on his way home to Strucks, Kentucky. It is also noted that he became a naturalized citizen in November 1896 at the Whitely County Courthouse, Kentucky.

Grace further records that "Due to Uncle Harry's persuasion they decided to immigrate to America & sailed from Southampton in October 1904." They being Henry's brothers Christopher and Walter and their respective spouses, Minnie (nee Horler) and Hannah (nee Watson), not forgetting Grace herself. Herbert Golledge, in his notebook, records that "Arthur Horler left Foxcote Pit Sept 8 1904″ and "Arthur Horler and Christopher Swift started for America Sept 20 1904″. Gollege does not mention Walter Swift, but as we will see Walter was living at Abertillery in South Wales at the time.

From the ships manifest we learn that on September 21, 1904, Christopher (29), Minnie (27) & Grace Swift, Walter (27) & Hannah (26) Swift and Arthur Horler (19) sailed from Liverpool on the S.S. Baltic and arrived in New York on September 30, 1904. All were on their way to Join there 'brother', Harry Swift at Struncks Lane, Wheatley Co. Kentucky. (Cousin has been appended to Arthur's entry). It should be noted that Minnie and Grace' s residence is given as Abertillery, the same as Walter & Hannah, whilst Christopher and Arthur were residing at Single Hill.

The discrepancy in the month can probably be explained by October being the month they reached their final destination in Kentucky. The port of departure was probably an assumption on Grace's part rather than information from her mother. The major shipping lines moved their passenger operations from Liverpool to Southampton in the early 1900's, (White Star in 1907 and Cunard in 1920), something she was probably not aware of.


It seems that Christopher, Walter and Arthur were not the only ones persuaded by Harry that life would be better in America. Golledge records that "T Gait, H Coles, W Bartlett, F Swift left Foxcote Pit April 13 1905 went to America", and from Ellis Island, William Bartlett (22), Frederick Swift (19), Henry Coles (19) and Tom Gait (18), all miners from Bath, sailed from Liverpool aboard the S.S. Etruria on April 15, 1905 arriving in New York on April 23, 1905 on route to Lexington, Kentucky to join Mr. Swift of Strunks Lane, Lexington, Wheatley Co, Kentucky. Frederick & Henry are described as cousins and William & Tom as friends of Mr. Swift.

Unrecorded by Grace Swift or Herbert Golledge, it appears that in 1905 Minnie's brother Hubert also arrived in the United States. The Ellis Island Records, record that, On August 26, 1905 Hubert Horler sailed from Liverpool on the S.S. Lucama arriving in New York on September 1, 1905 on route to his sisters, Mrs. Swift of Struncks Lane, Somerset, Kentucky. A resident of Radstock, Hubert (28), a miner, was a married man but his family did not accompany him. We know that Hubert did not remain in the United States as he had several more children all born in England and Grace notes him during both of her trips to England.


More relatives arrived from England in 1906 when on September 26, 1906 Albert Swift (25) and Arthur Eyles (25) sailed from Liverpool on the S.S. Oceanic arriving in New York on October 3, 1906 on route to Johnson City, Illinois to join their cousin Walter Swift. Albert was from Abertillery and Arthur from Radstock but both gave their place of birth as Wellow. Albert was described as 5′7.5″ tall, of fair complexion, fair-haired with brown eyes. Arthur was described as 5′7″, brown complexion, and black haired with brown eyes. Albert would appear to be the son of Joseph Swift whose wife was Mary Ann Eyles.


Herbert Golledge records the return of part of this extended family to England in his journal, "Arthur Horler, T Gait, F Swift sailed back from America Aug 27 1907 come on ship Caronia". Whilst these individuals did indeed return to England, what Gollege was actually recording was there return to the United States as the Ships manifests show.

Miners, Thomas Gait, Arthur Horler and Fred Swift arrived at Liverpool from New York aboard the Lucania on July 9, 1907. On August 27, 1907 Arthur Horler, Fred Swift and Tom Gait sailed from Liverpool aboard the S.S. Carmania, arriving in New York on September 4, 1907. Arthur (22), Fred (22) and Tom (21) were all single, literate, and miners and gave their last permanent residence and place of birth as Bath, England. They were on their way to Johnson City, Illinois to join a friend, Albert Swift. It should be noted that Arthur's name appears first on the manifest and the others are dittoed. (Fred is actually Albert's brother). All three state that they have been in the United States before, All in Tennessee, Arthur 1903-1906, Fred and Tom 1904-1906. Arthur Horler gives his father as Alfred Horler of Single Hill, Bath. Fred Swift gives his father as Joseph Swift also of Single Hill, Bath. Tom Gait simple gives Fred's father Joseph as a friend. Arthur is described as 5′8″ tall with a fair complexion, brown hair and grey eyes, Fred as 5′6″ tall, light complexion, light hair and brown eyes, and Tom as 5′9″ tall, fair complexion and brown hair and eyes.


It was probably the William Rogers who emmigrated in 1900 who arrived in Liverpool from New York aboard the Campania on December 23rd, just in time for Christmas and who was to return to the United States in the New Year.


William Rogers now married sailed from Liverpool aboard the S.S. Campania on January 15, 1910 arriving in New York on January 23, 1910 on his way home to his wife at 2209 Woodstock Avenue, Swissvale, Pennsylvania. William had been staying at Peasedown St. John, probably with his father, given as Thomas Rogers of Peasedown. William is described as 5′ 9.5″ tall of fair complexion, with brown hair and blue eyes. His occupation is given as carpenter.


Hubert Coles, who had sailed to the United States in 1903 returns to England with his new family on April 15, 1921


Ella Drew (nee Hamilton), great-granddaughter of John & Grace, records in her story that "1922 Uncle Bill came to England again from America. He was appalled by the post-war conditions he found here." It should be noted that Williams father, Thomas, died on December 23, 1921 and this may have been the reason for his trip.


On May 2, 1923 William (47) sailed on the S.S. Majestic from Southampton, arriving in New York on May 8, 1923 on route to his home at 2307 Woodstock Avenue, Swissvale,Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. On this trip William was a US citizen as it is recorded that his naturalization papers were issued on January 16, 1922 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

It was on this third trip that William must have made life in America seem attractive as Ella records that, "He, (William Rogers), persuaded Gertrude (his adoptive sister) and her husband, Edgar Horwood, who was a skilled carpenter to follow him back to the USA where there was more work with better pay." and "They took their three-year-old daughter Irene with them to Pittsburgh the following year 1923″. Grace also records Edgar and Gertrude in her journal when on her way to New York for the first trip to England she says, "We stayed for a night in Swissvale PA with Gertie & Edgar Horwood."

Edgar & Gertrude's arrival in the United States along with daughter Irene on September 1, 1923 in New York is recorded in the Ellis Island records on the manifest of the S.S. Berengaria, which sailed from Southampton on August 25, 1923. Edgar (33) is described as a joiner, 5′ 7.5″ tall, fair complexion, brown hair and black eyes. It is noted that he had defective vision. Wife Gertrude (28) is described as 5′5″ tall, dark complexion with brown hair and eyes. Irene at 3 years of age is not described. All record their place of birth and last residence as Bath, England.


It seems that Grace was not the only member of her family to return to England for a visit. The Ellis Island records show that her husband John and his first wife also visited and records their return in 1924. On August 9, 1924 John (28) and Frances (22) Lockey sailed from Liverpool on the S.S. Celtic via Queenstown, Ireland arriving in New York on August 18?, 1924 on route to 1301 Trout Street, Johnson City, Illinois.

This was the same year that Cecil & Ella Drew were to emigrate. Ella records that "In 1923 Granf'er Hamilton died leaving us in the house on our own. We were now able to start planning, with some enthusiasm, to joining Gertie and Edgar in America" and that "After several hectic trips to the American Embassy in Bristol we got a cancellation and so were able to finally embark on the RMS. Aquitania with our two-year-old son Jim on 6th November 1924."

According to the official record the Aquitania actually sailed from Southampton on November 8, 1924 arriving in New York on November 14, 1924. The original manifest entry states their destination as Hollywood, California but has been amended to read Swissvale, Pennsylvania. Cecil (30) is described as a miner, 5′9″ tall of dark complexion with brown hair and eyes. 'G.S.W. back' was noted under health. Ella (23) is described as 5′6″ tall of dark complexion with brown hair and eyes. As a child of 1 year 6 months James MacDonald Drew is not described, but is noted as having chicken pox. Ella records in her story that the family had been temporarily detained at Ellis Island until chicken pox rather than small pox was determined.


In her story Ella records that in "1927 Edgar, Gertie and Irene came back to England on holiday." Unfortunately she gave no details. The passenger list of the Mauretania however reveals that Edgar, Irene and Gertrude arrived in England on October 19, 1925.


On March 10, 1926 Edgar, Gertrude and Irene's visit to England came to an end when they sailed from Southampton aboard the Aquitania, arriving in New York on March 18, 1926 bound for homa at 8214 St. Lawrence Avenue, Swiss Vale, Piitsburgh, Pennsylvania.

In May of this year Ella and son James return to England for a vacation. On their return in August they brought a new another immigrant with them, Ella' s brother, and great-grandson of John & Grace, Leonard Hamilton.


Cecil and Ella with sons James and Richard end their time in the United States and return to England arriving at Southampton on January 10, 1931 aboard the R.M.S. Mauritania.

Grace Swift and her mother Minnie Lockey, (Minnie had remarried following Christopher's death), together with Grace's friend Catherine Auld spent an extended vacation in England. Unfortunately Grace does not give any dates for this trip, just that they sailed from New York to Southampton aboard the Majestic. We have even less details about the return trip, Grace simply mentions that they departed from Southampton.



Grace and Catherine take another vacation in England. She tells us that they left in April and that they were in London for the coronation, which took place on May 12, 1937, but she gives no further details of the voyage.


In November 1946, Ella Drew, listed as a 46 year old housewife, travels to the United States sailing from Southampton aboard the R.M.S. Queen Elizabeth arriving in New York on November 11th. Her stated purpose is to visit friend Mrs. L Voller of 2726 Redondo Beach, Redondo, California.


Ella Drew arrived back in England at Southampton aboard the Queeen Elizabeth on February 10th.

Richard Drew (18), Cecil & Ella's son who had been born in Los Angeles, California decides to exercise his right to US citizenship. He sails from Southampton on November 25, 1847 aboard the Marine Marlin and arrives in New York on December 4, 1947 enroute to Tuscon, Arizona where his uncle Leonard Hamilton now resides.


Telephonist, Grace Swift age 44 once again arrives in Southampton on April 7th aboard the Queen Mary where she is on her way to stay at 2 Orchard View, Shoscombe, Somerset.


The age of the great transatlantic liners is all but over but Cecil & Ella Drew, now retired, take one more trip across the Atlantic, this time to vacation in Arizona with Ella's brother Leonard.