Three Generations of Bancroft Druggists from Halifax



Sailing into New York
Here is the story of James Bancroft and his family..... and his interesting live before he emigrated to the US, together and his eventual return to the town of his birth....Halifax.

James was born in the Southowram area of Halifax around the late 1790's. It is difficult to research exactly who his parents were, but there is a possibility that he was the illegitimate son of a Sarah Bancroft from Warley, near Halifax and was baptised at the parish church in Sowerby Bridge near Halifax on 19th February 1797.  The earliest census records of 1841 show him as a married man with four children and a wife Mary, listed as a ‘porter’, and living at the Halifax Infirmary and Dispensary with fourteen other members of staff.

His job, listed as ‘porter’ on early records, was what I suspect was we would call today a person who made up compounds for patients and dispensed medicines, and must have been a very interesting and sometimes difficult job, as can be seen by the following entry in the local newspaper of 29th December 1838.

Inquest before George Dyson Esq.
At the Infirmary on Friday evening, the body of Joseph Hilton of Senior Fold, a shopkeeper of age 46, was found. Death was from taking Prussic Acid. The deceased was not a patient there, but had called, as was usual for him, to see Mr. Bancroft, the Porter to the Infirmary. When having been left alone for a few minutes, he took the opportunity of trying the effect of the deadly draft and died almost immediately. The deceased was a socialist and atheist and the verdict was Temporary Derangement’

More detailed information about James and the details of his work are explained in the following articles written in the Halifax Reporter Newspaper on 25th April 1844, which explains the circumstances of his emigration to Illinois in the US with his family in 1844.

‘Mr James Bancroft, for twenty years laboratorian and compounder of medicines at the Halifax General Hospital, left the town this week, with the intention of taking his departure with eight other persons for America. He and his companions, members we believe of an emigration society established some years a go in Halifax, go to settle themselves upon a tract of country purchased by them in Illinois, to which others of the society had gone before. Mr Bancroft has given up his situation against the urgent entreaties and wishes of the medical officers and friends of the Infirmary, from whom he received a flattering testimonial as to his meritorious services to the institution. At a meeting of the Board, the following resolution was passed:-
That in consideration of the long and faithful service of James Bancroft, the Board cannot allow him to leave the town without the expression of their good wishes for his future welfare, and placing in his hand a gratuity of 20/- as some little token of their sense of his exemplary conduct and usefulness as a servant of this institution.These circumstances reflect humour on all the parties concerned, and such kindness will doubtless afford to the deserving object of it “Pleasure of memory” in his new home and in other years.’

Waggons Ho!

As is mentioned in the newspaper story, James was a member of an Emigration Society which was a popular arrangement in the 19th century in England, where groups of residents, particularly those from a farming background, pooled there resources to buy land in areas of the US which were being opened up to settlement. The US government at the time were putting out promotional literature to try and increase immigration from Europe, which was mainly from England, Germany, and in particular Ireland because of their potato famine, with tempting statements such as:
'The land is rich natural meadow, bounded by timbered land, within reach of two navigable rivers, and may be rendered immediately productive at a small expense. The successful cultivation of several prairies has awakened the attention of the public, and the value of this description of land is now known; so that the smaller portions, which are surrounded by timber, will probably be settled so rapidly as to absorb, in a few months, all that is to be obtained at the government rate, of two dollars per acre...'

We can see from the newspaper details that James was following in the footsteps of other local Halifax families, and also his eldest son William who had already emigrated to the US two years earlier, to start a new life. James and the other members of his family, together with the wider group of the Emigration Society sailed from Liverpool on a ship called the ‘Patrick Henry’ and landed in New York on 27th May 1844.

The Patrick Henry
 Interestingly, all the family were shown as having jobs, which I suspect did not tell the true story for some reason….possibly because members of the family were required to have a certain types of employment to gain entry to the US at that time?...James was listed as a weaver rather than chemist or druggist, his wife and daughter as dressmakers, and his two sons as tailors.
The voyage must have been a harrowing experience for James and his family, taking on average 32 days in less than comfortable surroundings. Here are some diary notes made by a fellow traveller on the same ship during a similar transatlantic voyage.
‘After a rough and disagreeable passage of 28 days, we had 16 days head wind, and three heavy gales. I was very sea sick;
Forward are two hatches for cargo with the ship's boat on top. Around the boat stand our future meals---a milk cow, pigs, ducks, hens and sheep!  In the centre section, if there is no fine freight, huddle steerage passengers. It is not a happy sight to look down on them because there, crowded in a common dormitory for 38 days, each cooks his fast dwindling supply of food. If our ship has one bath, it is in the cabin section. The steerage passengers' bath at best may be a bucket of icy seawater, dashed over them on deck. Perhaps the plague breaks out and no Doctor is on board. The ship's Captain does what he can but that is little.’

When James and his family arrived in the US they made their way, with a journey of nearly 1000 miles, to Racine County, Wisconsin after having purchased land for a farm in Dover Township. This Township was known as ‘English Settlement’ because of the twenty-five or so families who settled there in the 1840’s
There were plenty of reasons, public and personal, that caused people to immigrate to Illinois. In England in the eighteenth century, for example, farms were consolidating to grow in size and become more commercially viable. This left small farms with tenant farmers at an economic disadvantage. It also created a large sector of landless hired workers who had no future as landowners. In addition, the inheritance laws of England, which left property only to eldest sons, left many younger siblings without hope of land ownership, and although James was not from a farming background he possibly wanted to make sure his children had some land to settle on and raise a family.


The Federal Land Grant Law of 1851 granted 2.5 million acres of Illinois public land to the new Illinois Central Railroad. The land ran along the planned route of the I.C. Railroad from Chicago to Cairo, a distance of 700 miles. The railroad could sell acreage after the other federal land in an area had been sold. From the sales of these lands, the railroad financed its lines. In turn, the farmers hired the railroad to ship its commodities to market. Land where it is known a railroad will locate was a strong attraction to prospective buyers. Shown below is an advert put out by the Railroad Company to entice people to settle in the area.
Railroad Company Advert

The open lands available for settlement in the United States, particularly areas such as the newly opened Illinois prairie, appeared as a great opportunity for these small farmers and labourers. They would be able to become entrepreneurs and create their own farms in a short time.
However it seems that James, his wife Mary and youngest son Anthony returned to the UK within a few years because Mary become homesick. The rest of their children had by then married locally and moved to their own farms, leaving James and Mary with just Anthony to help run their farm, and a particularly bad winter one year, must have made England look very good to them. One can only imagine what a wrench it must have been for James & Mary to return to the UK, leaving their other children there, probably never to be seen again.

By 1851 they and was now back in the UK, living at 4 Barnum Top Halifax, and James is now described as a ‘Druggist’ on the census of that year. His son Anthony, age 26 years, is still living with his parents, and he has the same occupation.


James’s occupation as a druggist, sometimes carried a heavy responsibility with it, as can be read from a local newspaper story reported on in 1853, when an inquest on a Dr Alfred Wainhouse decided he committed suicide, after purchasing 2 ounce of  ‘tincture of opium’, also known as ‘laudanum’ from James’s Druggist Shop. The man bought the medicine and having taken the full amount, went to bed and died the following day. No blame was apportioned to James as he had quite legally sold the drug, which was commonly administered at the time without prescription, and was a mixture of 10% morphine and 90% alcohol, and was used as a remedy for pain and sleeplessness.
 

James must have become rather a prominent person in Halifax, because the local newspaper of March 1851 reports on the appointment of the panel of local people who's responsibility it was to oversee and elect the officers, such as Church Wardens to St John's Parish Church in Halifax and James is shown as a member  of the panel. A year later in March 1852, his name appears again in the newspaper as a one of eight local people appointed as Assessors for the Auditors of the Town...James being responsible for the North constituency for a period of one year.

As members of the Halifax and Huddersfield Union Bank, both James and his son Anthony were listed between 1860-1864 as 'persons of whom the Company considers' ...James is described as a 'Gentleman' and Anthony as a 'Druggist'.

James wife Mary, died in September 1851, and by the time of the next census in 1861 he is now living with his daughter Mary and her husband William Smythies at 269 Hirst Mill, near Huddersfield and is described as a ‘Independent Gentleman’

I am unsure exactly when James died, but it would have been sometime in the 1860's. His son, Anthony carried on with the family business of being a Chemist and Druggist, and ran the business from premises in Harrison Road Halifax. He unfortunately had a brush with the authorities in 1875 when the local newspaper reported that he was fined £2-10s for ‘deficiencies in his weighing scales with 5 deficient weights’

 After Anthony’s death in 1876, his son James [Jnr] was listed as a ‘Pharmaceutical Chemist Manufacturer’ from the same premises with his widowed mother and sister living with him. His mother Sarah is listed in the occupation section as ‘Freehold Property’ which presumably denoted that she did not work, and had private means at the relatively young age of 47 years.

James [Jnr] has a very interesting story. He continued to live at 35 Harrison Road in Halifax with his widowed mother and unmarried sisters, and was described as a ‘Pharmaceutical Chemist Manufacturer’. By 1891, at the age of only 33 years he is now listed as a ‘Retired Pharmaceutical Chemist’, and his mother and two sisters are all shown as ‘living on their own means’….the question which has to be asked is….how did the family manage to be so affluent, with the main breadwinner James still only 33 years old?....there is no evidence of James having to work again so did they sell a flourishing business?.... did he come into an inheritance such as some property?....or did James invent some sort of wonder drug? James eventually moved to the Midlands, married  a Martha Johnson in 1907 in Alcester Warwickshire and lived for the rest of his life in a large house called ‘Rooklands’ at Headless Cross, Redditch until his death at the age of 66 years on 21st March 1924

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