EMIGRATION from Bicester and the surrounding area has been going on for centuries for a number of reasons ranging from economic, political, social and religious reasons.

There were local factors that encouraged residents to emigrate as well as advantages that benefited would-be emigrants in seeking a new life abroad.

The 1630’s saw difficult religious conditions for a number of families living in the Bicester area. Puritan families sought religious freedom in the New World to escape persecution at home.

The Sumner family were amongst the earliest settlers in Dorchester, Massachusetts. John Sumner was born in Bicester in 1604. The family were settled in the colony by 1636 where John Sumner rose to prominence and became a leading figure in the community before his death in 1688.

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Hardships, including Indian Wars, were endured as the settlement of Dorchester grew to become part of modern-day Boston. John Sumner’s descendants went on to flourish and achieve high office in the political and military history of the United States.

But a chance find of Parish Vestry records at St Edburg’s Church in the 1950’s threw light upon the largest organised emigration scheme we know of, that took place in May 1830.

In order to solve the problem of the burden of paupers on the Parish Poor Relief Rates in Bicester, members of the Vestry Committee visited King’s Sutton to learn about a scheme that had been organised to encourage a number of families to emigrate to America.

On their return a similar scheme was proposed for Bicester, where 71 adults and 40 children were selected to take part in the project at a cost to the public rate of approximately £1,000.

The scheme, however, was a genuine attempt to improve the life of the families. Passage, clothing and finance was provided to enable the emigrants to succeed with their new life abroad.

The party travelled to Liverpool by cart. A journey that took five days. Some of them gave up at that point, but the rest boarded a ship called ‘The Warren’ to undertake the voyage across the Atlantic.

Little information is available about them after their departure, in terms of how successful they were in settling in the New York area. But the ones who turned back at Liverpool returned to Bicester and were subsequently recorded as depending on the Parish Poor rate once again.

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The father of one family who didn’t make the voyage was eventually transported for penal service in Australia a few years later, following the death of his wife in the Cholera outbreak of 1832.

Emigration could prove a hazardous activity in the nineteenth century. An emigrant ship, ‘The Cataraqui’ foundered off the coast of Australia on August 4, 1845.

On board were a number of local people, including many from Tackley and the surrounding villages. Over three hundred passengers and crew lost their lives in the disaster.

Local residents continued to emigrate to far flung corners of the world throughout the rest of the Victorian era and became successful farmers and businessmen in their chosen countries.

For example, the American entertainers, the Osmond family, can trace their ancestors back through George Osmond, a solicitor in Bicester who died in 1860 and is buried in St Edburg’s churchyard. George’s son was the one who emigrated to America, but the family roots in Bicester can be traced back at least as early as 1716.