George Haworth's Voyage to America


By Don Hayworth; revised November 2012

Editor's Notes:  This paper by Don Hayworth has two additional supporting documents;  a Norris letter dated 1699, and a list of passengers on the Britannia. We have linked them here, in case the reader wants those documents, separately.  After the original posting of this paper, Don found  additional information on the voyage and the passengers.

Don Hayworth  decends from George as follows: George, Stephanus, Micajah, Josiah, Absalom, Allen, John, Allen, Bryl and then Don.  Don Hayworth has written other papers on the family history, including: James' Travels with Danial Boone, Other Haworth  Members and Daniel Boone, and Rita Hayworth.  All these superb research papers appear on this web site.  Ron Haworth, Editor.


We have long known the approximate dates of departure and arrival for the ship that brought George Haworth to Philadelphia from George’s letters. George’s letters also indicated that the ship was “over thronged”, that they were at sea for about fourteen weeks, and that about 56 passenger deaths occurred at sea and around 20 more died at shore. However, the name of the ship on which George sailed remained a mystery for years.

To my knowledge, Gerald and Helen Wood were the first modern-day Haworth researchers to determine and publish the name of the ship on which George sailed. A transcription of their book appears on this website under "Family Notes", tab “William Perry Haworth”. The following three excerpts from their book provide an excellent introduction to, and the title for, this paper.

In none of the Haworth records had we found any information about the ship that brought George to America. It seemed that this narrative should at least include its name. Letters to Liverpool and Falmouth brought no result. Finally in published letters of some Philadelphia Quakers to friends in Lancashire in 1699 we found the name of the ship they termed "that sick ship from Liverpool." It was the Britannia.

The Britannia had been chartered on behalf of the Lancaster Quaker Meeting out of Liverpool for Philadelphia. Many from nearby meetings, including Marsden, sold their estates and embarked with their families for Pennsylvania. In spite of various Toleration Acts in England which permitted nonconformist religious meeting, the system of compulsory tithes was still enforced.

The dates of sailing or arrival in America cannot be determined, except that arrival was previous to August 26, 1699, which is the date of George's first letter home. (This letter date should be October 26, 1699, since the Quaker first month was March at the time, – drh)

I determined some time ago that the rated passenger capacity of the Britannia was 140 persons, but I had never seen any estimate of how many passengers were actually aboard in 1699. In fact, I had not seen any sources that provided any information about the 1699 voyage of the Britannia beyond what was in George’s letters and the Wood’s book.

You can imagine my surprise and delight when I recently identified several sources that not only confirm what George wrote in his letters, but also provide additional, previously unknown, details about the 1699 voyage of the Britannia. These sources reveal the approximate number of passengers aboard the Britannia (see Passenger List), the exact date of arrival in Philadelphia, the nature of the illness or disease that claimed the lives of so many passengers, and identify the ship Commander as Richard Nicholls (also transcriberd as Nicholas in some records).

One source is a November 2002 posting at by Kathleen Mirabella. She notes in her post that - on page LIX in the Correspondence between William Penn and James Logan found at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania is an extract from a letter written by Isaac Norris, 24th 6th mo, 1699”. The extract she refers to is quoted as follows:

 “This day arrived the Britannia from Liverpool with passenger. She brought out about 200, but being 13 weeks at sea, has lost about 50, and many now very sick and weak. Our dear friend Thomas Murgrave died about a fortnight ago; his poor disconsolate widow and her four children left on shore at Elsinborough."

Note that this letter was written in Philadelphia on the day the Britannia arrived.

 A second source is a book written by the renowned Noah Webster with the impressive title:











This tome was published in 1799 and is now available on the Internet. I have transcribed all of page 211 and the first paragraph of page 212, as written in Volume I, below. Note that the Isaac Norris, quoted so liberally by Noah Webster, is the same Isaac Norris whose letter excerpt was posted by Kathleen Mirabella.

The malignant fever already mentioned, whatever might have been its precise symptoms, was soon followed by more general sickness. In 1699 raged in Charleston South-Carolina and in Philadelphia, the most deadly bilious plague that probably ever affected the people of this country.

Mr. Norris of Philadelphia has kindly favored me with a sight of a number of M. S. letters of his grand-father Isaac Norris, written during the sickness, to his correspondents. This worthy gentleman was then in trade, and well acquainted with the facts respecting the disease, as his own family suffered a loss of several of its members.

In a letter dated August 15, 1699, he mentions, that a malignant fever broke out about the beginning of August, which he describes as the "Barbadoes distemper," tho he gives no intimations of its being communicated from countries abroad by infection. He says the patients "vomited and voided blood."

On the 24th of August, arrived the Britannia from Liverpool, which had been 13 weeks on her passage; she had 200 passengers on board—had lost fifty by death, and others were sickly.

September 1st, he writes that the distemper appeared to abate at one time, but afterwards revived. He mentions the summer to be the hottest he ever knew; men died at harvest in the field. All business in the city was suspended.

During the yearly meeting the disease abated, but the meeting was thinly attended. Afterwards the disease returned in all its violence.

October 9th, he writes that he had hoped the cool weather would have relieved the city, but it did not.

October 22d, the disease had abated. Of this epidemic, died two hundred and twenty, of whom eighty or ninety belonged to the society of friends.

The population of Philadelphia at this time, is not exactly ascertained; but as the city had been settled but seventeen years, the number of people could not have been great. If we consider that the city was thinly inhabited, and that no considerable artificial causes of disease had been accumulated; together with the fact of the patient's vomiting and voiding blood, we must admit the disease to have been extremely virulent, beyond any thing that has marked its returns in subsequent periods.

In the same letters, Mr. Norris, October 18th, mentions that he had information from Charleston of the great mortality by the same fever—150 had died in a few days, and the survivors mostly fled into the country.

It seems likely that George Haworth’s estimate of about 56 deaths at sea is more accurate than the “fifty lost by death” statement of Isaac Norris. George Haworth’s statement that “we were about 14 weeks at sea” is also probably more accurate than Isaac Norris’ statement that the Britannia was “13 weeks on her passage”. Norris could only know the number of deaths and the duration of passage, second hand.

A third source is “The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography”, Volume XXXI, Jan. 1907, no. 121, in which the following statement appears:

Christopher Atkinson, son of William and Ann, was born no doubt at Scotford, and probably about 1657, but no record of his birth has been found. He lived in Scotford until 1699, in which year, shortly after the middle of May, he, with his wife and children, accompanied by his brother John and family, and some sisters-in-law of John's, embarked on the ship Britannia, from Liverpool, for Pennsylvania. There was much sickness on this ship, and in the month of July Christopher Atkinson died. Mr. Jenkins says of this voyage: "The 'Brittania' reached Philadelphia the 24th of Sixth Month (August) 1699, and immediately the Friends of Philadelphia and of the nearby meetings addressed themselves to the nursing of the sick and the care and oversight of the widows and orphans. In many families the sorrowful voyage is still traditionally remembered, and the 'Brittania' is recalled as 'The Sick Ship.' One-fifth of those who had so hopefully set out for the new world had found a grave in the ocean's deep. It would be difficult to fully realize the state of mind of the Widow Margaret, landing in a strange land with so many dependent on her and having undergone so many and so severe trials. Her sorrows however were not yet at an end, for during her stay in Philadelphia, her only son, William, together with Thomas Procter, a servant, was drowned."

Christopher Atkinson was a member of the Society of Friends and had obtained a certificate of removal for himself and family dated 2 mo [April] 3, 1699, from Lancaster Monthly Meeting addressed to Friends in Pennsylvania.

The Mr. Jenkins quoted above is Charles Francis Jenkins.  The quote is from his 1904 manuscript based upon many years of research concerning his Atkinson family, who immigrated on the Britannia in 1699. Mr. Jenkins indicated that sources were included in his manuscript, but his sources were not cited in the magazine. However, Mr. Jenkins appears to have been a careful and accurate researcher and the information about the Britannia is consistent with other sources.

Note that Mr. Jenkins' statement about the number of deaths at sea is lower than other estimates. If there were, indeed, about 200 aboard, one-fifth would amount to 40 deaths.  

A fourth source is a paper entitled “John and William Baldwin of Bucks County, Pennsylvania” compiled by Stewart Baldwin and last updated in June 1999. The following statement appears therein:

The Britannia sailed from Liverpool, first arriving at Cork, Ireland, where they took on provisions and sailed toward America before 20 3mo. [May] 1699. The voyage was a disastrous one, as a plague (probably yellow fever) broke out aboard the ship, and many of the passengers died at sea or soon after arriving in Philadelphia. The Britannia arrived in Philadelphia on 24 Aug 1699 with its sick and weak survivors.

While Mr. Baldwin provided references for genealogical information about his Baldwin ancestors, he provided no reference for the information about the Britannia.  While the arrival date is proven by Mr. Norris’ letter2, the source for the “sailed toward America before 20 3mo. [May] 1699” statement and the stop in Cork remained a mystery, until the recent discovery of a fifth source.

After this paper was completed and posted, the book “John Brooke (1638-1699) and Frances Morton of Hullock & Hagg, Yorkshire” written by William Brooke Fetters and published in 2009 by Anundsen Publishing Company in Decorah, Iowa, was located.  This publication includes many details about the voyage of the Britannia and cites reliable references for all information. Some of the more significant details provided by Mr. Fetters about the voyage of the Britannia are summarized below.

·         William Stout (1665-1752), the Clerk of Lancaster Meeting of Friends, wrote the following:

In this year, Robert Haydock [a Quaker merchant] of Liverpool freighted a ship for Philadelphia, to take in such passingers as were disposed to goe to settle in Pensilvania. Upon which there were more than twenty persons, old and young of our meeting of Lancaster, tooke this opertunety, sould there estates and tooke their families.....

·         The loading of dutiable goods on the Britannia began on 15 April 1699 and was completed on 5 May.  Only ten men, including Robert Haydock, shipped dutiable goods and eight or nine of the ten also sailed on the Britannia.

·         The “Record of Friends Travelling in Ireland, 1656-1765” reported that the Britannia arrived in Cork Ireland on 20    May 1699.

1699 3 mo[May] 20. Thos. Musgrave and with him his own and many other families of Friends arrived here from Liverpool took in provisions & were bound for America.

·         The average east to west crossing time for a seventeenth century ship was eight weeks. As a “dull saylor” the Britannia required about six weeks longer than average for this crossing. The long crossing time was probably due to a combination of unfavorable winds, overloading and “dull” sailing characteristics. It should be no surprise that provisions for an expected eight weeks voyage ran low when stretched to last 14 weeks.

·         The Britannia finally reached Philadelphia on 24 6 mo. (Aug) 1699, thirteen weeks and four days after leaving Cork (source cited is the Isaac Norris letter referenced earlier herein).

·         The Britannia passengers suffered the affliction of an infectious disease during passage. Many died on board the ship, others disembarked weak and ill and died shortly after arrival. In all, one-half or more of the adult passengers may have perished. Almost all of the deaths from the shipboard epidemic were adults. Most children were spared or survived the passage. This fact is said, almost certainly, to identify the disease as "Ship Fever," now called Typhus, transmitted by human body lice. By early July, about six weeks after sailing, the disease had seriously affected Britannia passengers and many ill men began to write their wills in preparation for their deaths.

·         At a Yearly Meeting of English Friends held at London in 1709, a manuscript was presented listing 87 Public Friends that had died in Pennsylvania since the first settlement there. The term "Public Friend" refers to Friends who spoke in Meetings. Those acceptable to the Meeting were recorded by the ministers and elders, and formally named ministers. Three of these ministers died at sea aboard the Britannia. None left a will.

THOMAS MUSGRAVE "of Warley near Halifax in Yorkshire took ship at Liverpool and was bound for Philada. He died on shipboard ye 14: 6mo[Aug]: 1699. ... ye vessel arrived ye same month 4th [sic] 6mo: 1699."

HENRY MITCHELL "belon[g]ed to Marston [Marsden] Meeting in Lancashire. He died on board ye said ship ye 5mo[Jul]: 1699."

ALlCE, "wife of JNO. KENCERLY3, came from Wolldall [Wooldale] or near it in Yorkshire. Her maiden name was HEYWORTH [HAWORTH] of Rosendall [Rossendal], Lancashire. She died also on board ye said ship in ye 5th[Jul] or 6th[Aug] mo: 1699."

Since the sailing time from Liverpool to Cork would have been only two or three days at most, perhaps the Britannia left Liverpool on 18 May 1699, stopped in Cork to take on provisions on 20 May and set sail for America later the same day or the following day. Departure could not have been much earlier than 18 May, since the loading of passengers and their personal goods could not begin until 5 May after dutiable goods were loaded. In any event, it is interesting to note that it is 14 weeks from 18 May to 24 August 1699 when the Britannia arrived in Philadelphia. George’s statement, “we were about 14 weeks at sea” seems to be quite accurate.

Now we can all update our Haworth records to state with confidence:

“George Haworth sailed to America on the ship Britannia; commanded by Richard Nicholls and departing Liverpool, England, on or about 18 May 1699. After a short stop in Cork, Ireland, on 20 May to take on provisions, the Britannia continued to America, arriving at Philadelphia on 24 August 1699.

Of course, for complete accuracy we should note that George Haworth disembarked at Whorekill (now Lewes, Delaware) to visit his sister, while the Britannia continued on to Philadelphia. An additional nine passengers were left ashore at Elsinborough, New Jersey, a day or two after George Haworth disembarked. Considering the remaining distance to Philadelphia, and the snail’s pace sailing speed while crossing the Atlantic, the Britannia probably did not reach Philadelphia until two to four days after George disembarked at Whorekill.

Note also that “Philadelphia already had a yellow fever epidemic raging in August 1699 (most deaths were in September that year), so the ship landed across the river in Salem County, NJ”4.



1.       The parenthetical entry that the plague aboard the ship was “probably yellow fever” was the personal speculation of the author. While it cannot be known with certainty what “plague” afflicted the passengers of the Britannia, the evidence that it was Epidemic Typhus, also known as “ship fever” seems very compelling to me.

     2.    After this paper was initially completed, a photocopy of the first page of the hand-written Norris letter referenced herein was found on a 2008 auction listing of the Norris letters. Now we know that the letter actually exists and we can read it ourselves at (see Norris letter). You will note that there are some discrepancies between the letter extract posted by Kathleen Mirabella and the actual letter. While the discrepancies do not alter the basic facts, the replacement of “about” by “above” in two places is significant. While the photocopy is difficult to read, what I believe to be an accurate transcription is given below:

“This Day arrived the Brittania from Liverpool with Passengers. She brought out above 200, but being 13 weeks at Sea has buried above 50 and many now very sick and weak. Our dear Friend Thomas Musgrave Dyed about a fort night agone. The poor Disconsolate wife and 4 Children are left ashore at Elsinborough.”

     3.   Note that Alice, wife of John Kencerly, is undoubtedly George Haworth's sister, who along with her husband and baby, died at sea on the Britannia. Kencerly, however, is obviously an erroneous transcription of Kennerly (also spelled Kennerley and Kenerlley). According to George Redmonds in his book “Christian Names in Local and Family History”, Kennerly/Kennerley is a colloquial variant of Kenworthy “that appears to have no obvious linguistic explanation”. This explains the controversy of whether Alice’s husband was “John Kennerly” or “John Kenworthy’. He was both and both names were often recorded in the old records for the same person, including the birth of “John Kenerlley or Kenworthey” on 06 Apr 1673 in Saddleworth, Yorkshire, England. (I was surprised to learn that George’s sister, Alice, was a “Quaker Minister.)

         4.    Reference “Cooper, a Quaker Family from Yorkshire, England, to Bucks County, Pennsylvania”.





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