Emigrant Running

June 30, 2011 at 7:00 pm Leave a comment

Image is courtesy of Harper’s Weekly, 26 June 1858.

This post is not directly health-related; while reviewing quarantine laws enacted in the Province of Canada between 1841 and 1867, I came across this fascinating 1862 statute about “emigrant running” and thought I’d write about it today. Following some quick internet research, it turns out that emigrant runners were 19th century touts who preyed on and exploited emigrants at arrival ports in British North America and the United States of America. According to Harper’s Weekly, the runners were “scoundrels of the very lowest calibre [who] seized [the emigrant] and made him their own. If he had any money, they robbed him of it. If he had a pretty wife or daughter, they stole them too, if they could.” Here’s more insight from the New York Times:

“Three ships loaded with emigrants arrived up from Quarantine, and it was a busy time all round…several…gentlemen dressed themselves in emigrants’ clothes and tried to gain admittance under the pretense of having been landed in company with those just arrived. But the dodge did not work. Others pleaded earnestly to get in to see a father or a brother, a sister or other relative, who was among the passengers. But they were too well known to palm themselves off on that pretense…These runners have sucked the life-blood of emigrants for so long that they think they have a right to it.”

But it seems the “runners” were travel agents as well. This 1854 case reported in the New York Times is about two runners, one named Jacob Rhinehardt, agent of the “People’s Line” transportation company, and another named Michael Williams. Rhinehardt was arrested and charged with fraud for telling arriving emigrants that the tickets they purchased in London for inland travel within the US were worthless, apparently as a ruse to sell People’s Line tickets to them. Rhinehardt was also charged with assault and battery on a German emigrant (the “tout” element emerges here). Michael Williams was charged with assaulting an emigrant named Jacob Albright. Interestingly, the magistrate in Rhinehardt’s case found that his actions, though morally questionable, did not amount to fraud because New York law would not apply to a contract involving a purchase of inland travel tickets from a foreigner unless the parties to the contract (the foreign ticket seller and the emigrant purchaser) met in New York to reaffirm the transaction. So in effect, Rhinehardt was right. Sort of.

Regarding the thuggish actions of Williams and Rhinehardt, the New York Times notes that the affidavits and evidence in both cases “show very plainly the outrages and extortions to which friendless emigrants are subject, not only here but in the European ports from which they embark.”

The legitimate and illegitimate nature of the emigrant running business might explain why the Province of Canada legislature chose to regulate rather than ban the practice. The 1862 law makes it illegal to engage in emigrant running without a license. The Act describes emigrant running as the practice of soliciting emigrants or making recommendations to them—on behalf of transportation companies, lodging houses or tavern-keepers—“for any purpose connected with the preparations or arrangements of such emigrants” for passage to a final destination in the Province or the USA. This may in fact be the first attempt to regulate travel agency in Canada.

Happy Canada Day everyone!


Entry filed under: Emigration and quarantine. Tags: , , , , , .

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Reflections on health law and policy in early Canadian history


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