Thomas Emptage was born on 17th July 1802 in Birchington, near Margate, Thanet, Kent to parents, Elijah Emptage, an agricultural labourer, aged 32, and mother, Martha (Hatcher) aged 31. He was the sixth of nine children.
In 1831, Thomas, aged 29, a groom by trade, married Ann Homersham at Ham, Kent. Their children William and Mary Ann were born in 1833 and 1834.
By then, as farming grew more mechanised, so the opportunities for agricultural labourers and grooms were diminished, as the Swing Riots of 1830 were to show.
However, America was a young country that was holding out its hand for Europeans to take a leap of faith and to take the long and arduous journey to its shores.
In 1835, land became available in the counties of Wyandot and Richland in Ohio, leading to several families of Emptages leaving the farming land of Thanet, Kent for pastures new.
Living just a few miles from the sea, it’s quite possible that Thomas and Ann had strolled along the promenade, at Margate, played on the beach with the children and paddled in the sea. Perhaps they’d managed a half hour trip around Margate harbour in a small pleasure boat on a sunny calm day, never out of sight of land.
However, there’s no doubt that Thomas and Ann would have known that the sea could be a frightening. They would have been known the local stories of ship wrecks and storms and so the prospect of a sea voyage must have been quite daunting but for Thomas and his wife Ann, and their two children, William James and Mary Ann, this was a journey of a lifetime, the opportunity for a new life.
They packed up their few belongings, made the long trip to Liverpool from Kent and sailed to Fort Gibson, later to be known as Ellis Island.
We cannot imagine what a journey of that magnitude must have felt like to an agricultural couple from the small village of Birchington, with two small children. Even the trip to Liverpool must have seemed an immense journey on its own.
When Thomas and his family arrived at Liverpool Docks, the crowds of people must have been intimidating, and the noise and bustle of people waiting to board the vessel that was to carry their hopes and dreams to another world must have been both exciting and daunting.
Thomas, with his wife Ann and their two children, would have sailed in steerage which was at the rear of the ship and beneath the waterline. The cramp conditions must have been appalling, and sea sickness would have been a common ailment, but they knew it would only take about two weeks to reach New York and they would have soon made friends with other families.
When the ship sailed into New York harbour sometime in 1835 there was no Statue of Liberty to see, and it was another 50 years before that famous landmark was to be seen by immigrants in 1886.
After being processed through Fort Gibson in Upper New York Bay, Thomas and his family still had a further 470 miles to travel to arrive in the township of Marseilles in Wyandot County, Ohio. It is likely that they went with a large group of immigrants by covered wagon.
By the 1830s the trails to the Ohio counties would have been well worn and easy to follow. With a journey of nearly 500 miles, they could reasonably expect, with a combination of walking and sitting in a wagon for the journey to take about two weeks.
There would have been land allotted for Thomas, but the first months would have been spent building a log cabin for the family. As an agricultural labourer, Thomas would have considerable skills with hand tools, and he would have worked hard acquiring cutting timber and hauling it back for the building of his log cabin.
These interim months would have been a hard time for the family whilst sleeping in makeshift accommodation, and hopefully the cabin was built before winter set in.
Thomas and Ann were married for forty seven years and had a further six children in America, two of whom died in childhood.
Thomas passed away at Marseilles Township, Wyandot County, on 15 March 1879 age 76. Ann out lived Thomas by 15 years and died on the 17 December 1894 age 84. Ann and Thomas were buried at Fehl Cemetery in Marseilles Township.