Main content

Title: John M. Orr, Chicago to his Parents, Portaferry, Co. Down.
CollectionIrish Emigration Database
FileOrr, John M/30
SenderOrr, John Malcolm
Sender Gendermale
Sender Occupationunknown
Sender Religionunknown
OriginChicago, Illinois, USA
DestinationPortaferry, Co. Down, USA
RecipientRev John Orr and Mrs Orr
Recipient Gendermale-female
SourceT 3103/5: Presented by Mrs Margaret Orr Herriot, Co. Down.
ArchiveThe Public Record Office, Northern Ireland.
Doc. No.9503146
Partial Date
Doc. TypeEMG
LogDocument added by LT, 22:03:1995.
Word Count2101
NoteN.B. John Malcolm died in 1851 (Did various jobs and decided to go west where he expected to do some kind of business)
TranscriptChicago, Illinois, 4th Aug. 1847.

My Dear Father & Mother,
I am now about 5000 miles from Portaferry a long distance you
will say, but not thought much of now-a-days, in a very short time
three weeks will be sufficient to travel the whole distance,
railroads are going on strong here as well as in England, Steamers
are on every navigable river and lake, and there will soon be
Steamers from New York, Boston and New Orleans every week to England.
I left New York with Mr. Lascelles Maxwell, on the 20th ult.,
on board the Hudson river Steamer, Niagara, for Troy a distance of
160 miles for 1/2 dollar, the Niagara is a good boat. but, not equal
to some of the others. I had not an opportunity of seeing the crack
boats so I can't say whether they are equal to the descriptions we
read of them or not, there are several of them as long and longer
than the Great Britain, but they are not more than half as broad and
not one third the height, The scenery up the river is beautiful and
much varied, hill 1600 feet high rising from the water edges and
covered with wood, houses thinly scattered along the banks in most
romantic situations, with a field of Indian corn or potatoes in the
rear, villages and small towns at which the boat stopped, landing
and taking on board passengers, there are no farms cultivated along
the river, as farmers prefer a better soil further in the interior.
The dry weather had lowered the river a little so we stuck fast a
few miles below Albany, a small steamer had to come and take us off,
we got to Troy just in time for the train of Buffalo, took our seats
for Rochester some 250 or 300 miles for which we paid $9 1/2 about
39/- these roads are only temporarily laid yet, bar of cart showing
iron nailed on logs of wood, it is very uncomfortable travelling,
the cars hold fifty or sixty people each, there are seats to hold
two persons along each side, I got a seat to myself, got coiled up
in it to sleep, when I awoke about 3 o'clock I had a twist in my
neck, my head on my left shoulder, so that I could not get it
straight up for an hour, you might as well ride in an old wheel car
without springs. It is amusing to think of the names that the
Americans give their towns, in twenty four hours, I passed through
Troy, Utica, Syracuse, Rome, Geneva, Waterloo, Carthage, Vienna,
with some others with English names, and not a few with Indian
names, as difficult to pronounce and spell as the Missionary
settlements in India that you get the letters from, regular
jawbreakers. We reached Rochester next day about 3 o'clock got
dinner and walked about the city till tea time, not many lions
there, we took a steam-boat down the Genesso river into lake Ontario
and landed next morning at Princetown, I think that is the name,
took the Railroad for Niagara, got there in time for breakfast,
weather rather cloudy, went out to see the Falls, there is a bridge
across the river to Goat Island, for the privelege [privilege?] to
pass over to the Island while you remain at the Falls you pay 1/4
Dollar, this is the Island that divides the river and causes the two
falls. We went to the Horseshoe Falls first, it is certainly the
most sublime sight I ever beheld, such an immense body of water
coming dashing down the rapids, you would almost think each wave
racing with that next to it, which would first be over the
precipice, and down they do come some 200 feet, with a noise like
thunder, raising the spray a great height, andmaking the water boil
and whirl about at a fearful rate below while admiring this splendid
sight and a beautiful rainbow in the spray, down came a tremendous
shower which made us run for shelter in double quick time. After
dinner we crossed the river to Canada to have a view of both Falls
at the same time the sun shone brightly and we had a splendid view
of them, the longer a person looks at them the more enchanting they
become, you almost feel sorry at leaving them, there is a Museum
here with a pretty large collection of curiosities belonging to the
guide who conducts you under the falls, he has also got two live
Buffalo, that were caught on the Rocky Mountains, Bears, Wolves,
Racoons, Golden Black, and White headed Eagles, with others too
numerous to mention; to go under the falls you must strip and put on
a canvas suit the guide gives you, you wont get much for your
trouble, except a shower bath and have to say you were there. We
went again and saw them by moonlight, and the sight repaid us well
for our trouble, we saw a beautiful lunar rainbow in the spray of
the American Falls, I shant forget them soon. I am sorry we did not
stay another day, as we would have lost nothing by doing so, as the
steamer that sailed 24 hours after us was in 12 hours before us. We
started next morning for Buffalo, this is a large flourishing and
important town on Lake Eyrie [Erie?]. We sailed that evening on
Board the Steamer Superior, we were told she was a good boat, but we
found her a most inferior one, we had some sixty or seventy cabin
passengers, the weather was beautiful, while sailing up lake Eyri
[Erie?], and Lake St. Clair, a little lake between lakes Eyri
[Erie?]and Huron, but it came to blow a stiff gale, right a head in
lake Huron, so that we had to run about 100 miles back again to St.
Clair river, we went into a harbour on the Canada side, this place
was swarming with Indians, a number of them miserable looking
creatures, they are very lazy, wont work at all. We started sometime
that night and at length got as far as Milwaukee about 100 from
Chicago on lake Michigan, so I have sailed on all the large American
lakes except Lake Superior, Milwaukee is a strange looking place it
is about 10 years settled and has a a population of 18000 scattered
over as much ground as would hold 200,000, the town is built on a a
number of small hills, and in America where this is the case, the
hills are always levelled and the hollows filled up, this is not
done immediately when the place is settled, they wait till they have
leisure and strength enough to do it, this is the case in Milwaukee,
you may see one side of a street levelled and the houses on the
other side some 10 feet off the street with a step ladder up to the
door, when that side is ready for cutting the houses are put on
wheels and taken away till their proper situations are ready for
them, I saw a house going up a street with the people inside at
their work as if nothing was wrong, they take care not to put up a
brick house where it will have to be removed, the brick that are
made along this lake are the colour of Bath brick, so the brick
buildings have a strage [strange?] appearance, you would think they
were painted a dirty yellow.
I have finished one sheet and as you dont like crossing I am
going to give you part of another, although I dont know what to
write about, I have so much to say. Well, I'll give you an outline
of Chicago, first it is situated on the South Western shore of Lake
Michigan at the mouth of Chicago river, I think it is some six or
eight feet higher than the river, and as flat as a pancake for at
least 30 miles, and only a small grove of trees at each side of the
town, there is scarcely a stone in the country, there are very few
brick houses, and wooden houses are all built the gable to the
street. the roads are mere tracks in the prairie unpassable when the
frost breaks up in a spring, the streets have got wooden side paths
about a foot above the street, there is about six inches of dust on
the streets in dry weather folks here wear the legs of the
inexpressibles inside their boots when rain comes on, then it would
take New York to turn out more religious sects, than is done here, I
do think every sect of christians known have a house of worship
here, there are two or three kinds I never heard of till I came
here, it is 15 years settled has 15000 inhabitants and does a large
trade, it is expected to become one of the first business cities in
the union, so much for Chicago. There is a striking difference
between the towns here and at home, which is easier seen than
described, the wooden house, the number of Hotels, and the shady
trees in the streets form part of the difference, but if you see an
American town from a height it resembles the description given of
cities in Asia more than anything else. What we read in Dicken's
works about the manner in which the Yankees rush into dinner and
devour it off, as if each thought his neighbour was going to eat all
on the table and leave none for him, is all stuff as far as New York
and the eastern towns are concerned, but just come out West and if
you dont find his description realized it's strange, at the Hotels
in this country all persons residing or putting up at them,
breakfast dine and take Tea together, dinner hour is one o'clock, a
little before that hour the reading room is full, the steps of the
door are crowded and parties of two, three and four are standing
picking their teeth on the side path, to a stranger it would appear
as if something momentous was going to take place, then the gong
sounds and such a rush up stairs I never did see, about 1/4 of a
minute suffices to make the soup disappear then it is really
astonishing the rate at which the more solid articles are demolished
and afterwards the dessert, I never saw a dinner since I came to
America without a dessert 'tis no great wonder that dispepsia is
prevalent, from the way they bolt their food, and the quantity of
stuff that they eat; the busy season commences in September when I
expect to get a situation if I dont, I expect to be able to do
without one.
I have not got any letters yet and I am getting anxious to hear
from you, Mr. Maxwell is to forward any that may come to New York to
this place, I hope you are all well, I am I think better than I was
at home, the warm weather has pulled me down in flesh a little and I
am getting a tolerable Yankee
colour. I have written far more than I had any intention of when I
commenced, but I cant help going on I must give up now. Remember me
to all inquiring friends, how are Ballyburn folk, the papers here
have nothing but advertisements in them or I would send some, Jane
Ellen must remember me to Mr. Blows family when she writes, I should
very much like to hear from Thos. Warnock how is Mr. W. James and
Misses W. I hope Miss Margaret is recovering, and Mr. M'Cleery's
family are all well, Mrs, Welsh Mr. Donnan, and Mrs S & Mrs J M'K -
'tis a pity Mr. Bowden or Dr. Tom could not make it convenient to
get a month's shooting here. Prairie hens a kind of Grouse are very
plenty whole cart loads of them are brought to market here, and wild
Ducks in any quantity, direct your letter to the care of Messrs
George Smith & Co.. Chicago, Illinois.
I am Dear Father & Mother
Your Affect. [Affectionate?] Son,
John M. Orr.

P.S., How do you like the Daguerreotype portrait I sent with Capt.
Lawrence, I think you would know it, I hope Uncle J. M'C is well,
you shall hear from me soon if not by first mail, by the one after.
J.M. Orr.