I decided to give a little background as to Cornwall, just prior and after Richard Knight and his new wife Elizabeth Phillips left southwestern England for America.
Between 1760 and the latter part of th century agriculture moved from a family operation to agricultural labourers owning no land individually but working as tenant farmers.
Prior to the Napolionic War prices for crops in the area were good and the farmers were able to provide for their families. We must remember land was limited. Once the war was over there was a drop in price causing hardship to the area.
The Corn Laws
The Poor Law Act
The intent was to save the parish money, but also to ensure that the able-bodied poor were required to work, usually without pay, in return for their board and lodging. The Workhouse Test Act of 1723 gave parishes the option of denying all out-relief and offering support to the poor only through the workhouse. Children from poor families were often placed in apprenticeships, or sent to particular schools and other institutions. The workhouses began to fill with destitute people with no where else to go.
The Bodmin Workhouse was one such workhouse. According to one website I visited the following is recorded In 1804, by prison reformer James Neild who visited the Bodmin workhouse.
article by John Biggans
“It was the extreme poverty and its consequences, which stemmed from this agricultural depression, that left many families with no alternative but to look elsewhere for the means of survival.
Farming was carried on in all parts of Cornwall but the parishes where agriculture was predominant were in the north east corner of the county and in the coastal areas generally. The first phase of the emigration of members of the farming community started soon after 1815 and reached its peak in 1823 and continued until the 1830s. In the next decade came the ‘Hungry Forties' which lead to another wave of emigration of agricultural workers which was repeated during the farming depression which started in the mid-1870s and lasted for nearly twenty years.”
Gold discovered in California in 1848 and 1851 caused many miners to leave the country.
The area was also plagued with disease. An epidemic of cholera and smallpox 1849 took many lives. The average age in 1848 in West Cornwall was 28. There was only one house in twelve that had a latrine or outhouse.