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Title: Kerr, John to Graham, James and Kerr, David, 1844
CollectionDear Uncle. Immigrant Letters to Antrim from the USA (1843-1852) [R.H. Roy]
SenderKerr, John
Sender Gendermale
Sender Occupationschoolmaster
Sender Religionunknown
OriginPerrysville, Penn., USA
DestinationNewpark, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland
RecipientGraham, James and Kerr, David
Recipient Gendermale
Relationshipnephew-uncle / brothers
Doc. No.
Partial Date
Doc. Type
Word Count3379
Genrecorrespondence, politics, family
TranscriptLETTER 4
From John Kerr to James Graham
December 19th 1844
Dear Uncle,
I am again anxious to hear from your "green isle of the ocean" as
Moore says, and I now trouble you with the reading of a very long letter. I
received your letter sent by Nancy Kyle, in October last. It was posted
September 7th at a place called Locust Hill, which is not far from
Pittsburgh, as I judge from the amount of postage, but where situated I
have not yet found out.
I wrote to you in August last, by a man who was going from this
country to Ireland, and informed you that I was then at an academy near
Pittsburgh. I remained there until the first of September when the session
closed; soon after that I obtained a school and began to teach about the
middle of October, at which occupation I still continue. I am situated about
seven miles from Pittsburgh and about twenty miles from where I was last
winter. I get eighteen dollars per month and I am engaged for five months
from the time I began.
I mentioned that I got a letter from William in April last which
conveyed the same melancholy news that yours did - but I never received
Uncle David's letter; I searched and enquired for it, again and again but to
no purpose. It has been either lost or not right directed. Had your letter
been posted in Ireland, or almost any other place in America than where
it was, it would never have reached me. You forgot to put in the direction
the name of the state, which is as necessary as anything else. The name
of county is not sufficient, for every state is divided into counties, and there
is an Allegheny county in four or five different states besides this. The
postmaster, therefore, would be unable to know where to send it. Uncle
David, in directing his letter, may, perhaps, have fallen into the same
mistake. As it is very probable that you received my last letter I need not
say anything more on this, than I said in it.
I learned from your letter, as well as from the newspapers that you
have had great excitement in political affairs in Ireland. I hope that the
storm is now over. Since O'Connell's liberation he appears to behave better,
and perhaps he will now cease his agitation. I understand he has lately
manifested an inclination to give over the Repeal question, for something
he calls "Federalism". I do not know what is meant by this term in Ireland;
yet I believe many of the Irish Whigs intend to join him in this measure. When you write, I wish you would let me know what are the principles of
Federalism, and what objects its adherents wish to carry out; for I need not
inform you that I take a deep interest in every measure, and in everything
for the benefit of the British people in general, and Ireland in particular -
Ireland before any other country in the world. What ever may be for its
prosperity and glory, I wish to be successful, and I do sincerely hope that
whatever measure, or political faction may be opposed to this, or to the
welfare and happiness of its people, may be trampled in the dust. I often
doubt. Uncle, whether O'Connell is a designing political demagogue, or a
pure disinterested patriot who desires the welfare of his country. The one
or the other of these he must be - one thing I wish he was not, and that is
a Catholick.
We in America, as well as you in Ireland have had great political
excitement, in the event of the present election of President. In the bounds
of a letter I could give you no idea of the exertions of the politicians on both
sides to advance the interests of their party.
Long before the election, great "conventions" (as they are called)
of both parties, were held throughout the country. Two of these took place
in Pittsburgh last summer; one by the Democrats and one by the Whigs. On
a day appointed, vast numbers assembled from the neighbouring counties
and even from neighbouring states. Some came from Ohio - a distance of no
less than three hundred miles. Every town-ship or town-land around
Pittsburgh sent a wagon drawn by 6,8,10 and even 20 horses. One was
drawn by 98 horses. In each wagon they have something to designate the
principles of their party, or something to show the state of prosperity which
manufacturers, agriculture, trade or commerce, would enjoy if their party
would prevail.
On one wagon they had a forge erected, with a blacksmith busy at his
trade; on another a small ship, rigged and complete; another had a
steamboat with chimneys, engine etc. - the steam up and the paddles
whirling round. Some had their wagon filled with soil, with small trees,
shrubs, etc. planted in it, and men digging potatoes and beets, gathering
cucumbers, pumpkins, etc.; and then the numbers of flags, banners or
mottoes, streaming from every wagon and carriage, hanging from every
window, and extending across the street, with the firing of cannon,
horsemen dashing from place to place, with the loud cheering of the men,
and the noise of their drums, - gave it the appearance of the preparation for
some great military engagement, or celebration of a splendid victory.
The excitement spreads to every breast. The saffron daughters of
the Yankee land, waving their banners from the windows, cheer on their
party as enthusiastically as the men. The very children catches the
contagion, and altho’ scarcely able to speak, will hurrah for Clay or Polk,
as they may be taught. A number of fellows clubbed together, walks up and down the streets at night, singing songs composed for the purpose, in praise
of their candidate, and sometimes will run foul of a number of another
party, and have a real fight with stones, clubs, etc. - not often with their fists
as Irishmen do. Yet I must give the Americans the credit of being a very
peaceable people, although at each of the conventions at Pittsburgh there
were upwards of 10,000 people, yet I did not see a single fight. Large poles,
some two or three hundred feet high, are erected in conspicuous places
throughout the country, with a streamer waving from the top and with the
name of the candidate of the party painted on it.
There were three candidates for the Presidency, this election, Henry
Clay, the Whig, James K. Polk, the Democrat and James Bitney, the
abolition candidate. After all, however, Polk the Democrat, has been
elected. This choice in my opinion, shows a great want of discernment in the
American people; and it likewise shows how far political prejudice will
carry mankind into error. Folk's election has, I fear, struck a fatal blow to
the interest of the slave, has given a deadly stab to the cause of freedom;
with all their boasting pretensions to the cause of liberty, and their love of
independence, the Americans show no more readiness to grant that
blessing to others which they boast of exclusively enjoying themselves,
than the most tyrannical nation on the earth, if it be opposed to their own
sordid interest.
The great principle in political matters which secured Folk's
nomination by the Democratick Party and indeed, which secured his
election, is the annexation of Texas; or rather the stealing of Texas from
Mexico. Now any one who laments the condition of the poor slave, one who
is not dead to all the feelings of humanity, who cannot but pity the stripes
and tears of the poor unfortunate negro, who loves his country more than
his own selfish interest, would, by every lawful means in his power, have
opposed Polk upon this principle alone. That the annexation of Texas would
bind the fetters firmer upon the slave, and that it will delay the emancipation
of the negro, there can be no doubt. But it will do more than this. It will tend
to perpetuate still longer a curse upon the land - a curse which will endure
for ages, and which this country, and all others that have traded in human
beings, will feel with terrible severity. That every land in which slavery was
allowed has met with a reward due to such a crime, the history of the world
attests; and that this country now feels the bad effects of slavery, no-one,
who has been where it exists, can with candour, deny. The annexation of
Texas will throw great weight of influence into the southern states, and by
causing 2 or 3 representatives to be sent to the legislature of this country
it will bring the affairs of the nation to be controlled by a clan of unprincipled
slaveholders, who care nothing of the interests of the north, and who most
bitterly detest any one who would even wish to see the negros free.
The new party, called the Native Americans, whose object is to before they become citizens, from 5 years to 21, is rapidly increasing.
Although this party is to be blamed for its conduct at the Philadelphia riots,
yet I have nothing to say against its principles. The party, however, which
claims my sympathy, and which would obtain my support, if I had any to
give, is the Abolition, or Liberty party - that is, those who wish to abolish
slavery. They are increasing slowly, but steadily.
You may think from this letter that I am become somewhat of a
politician: it is true I read the papers and I take an interest in some party
affairs although I take no active part. I cannot consider this my country
until I become naturalised - but you know my determination on that
subject. I will consider myself a subject of Queen Victoria, and I have no
wish to renounce my allegiance - no I never would, and I cannot but despise
the man who, for mere gratification of vanity in being able to say he has a
vote, would stand up and abjure his country for ever; even more, would take
every opportunity of expressing his contempt for the land of his birth: who
despises, or at least pretends to despise, the people, the government, or the
country; who will abuse the (3 or 4 words at the top of a page in the original letter
are indistinct) the malice of the Yankees, and will ridicule
the other to gratify their pride -1 say, such a one, I despise, I detest.
I saw the Belfast "Northern Whig" lately, and I think from it that
there is a real railway mania in Ireland. It had a long article on the
respective merits of Dundalk and Newry as a terminus for the Enniskillen
Railway. I do not know which has the best claim but it appears that they
will have each a railroad, one of which will destroy the other; so much
capital wjll thus be lost. What a melancholy thing it is to consider, that
there is so little unanimity among the people in Ireland. They might learn
by dear bought experience to sacrifice their own private interest, to that of
their country, and receive more benefit at last. Let me know when you write
if the project for a railroad between Belfast and Ballymena succeeded -1
hope it has. I often wonder why some of those enterprising capitalists do not
invest some of their money in a woollen or hardware manufactory; or some
such as they have in England - it would surely succeed.
(A middle portion of this letter is missing)
Your letter gave me entire satisfaction on matters of which William's
letter left me entirely ignorant. It was well written and you do not know
what gratification one here receives in receiving a letter well written and
which gives all the news. You know I like to hear from Ireland often and I
hope you will not neglect to write. I still continue well without pain or ache,
and I hope you all enjoy the same blessing. I send my love to Uncle David
and I wish very much he would write to me when this reaches you. I will write the next letter to him as I have not sent him one yet. But when I write
one to you I consider myself addressing you all. But I wish him to be sure
to write - oh I know he won't refuse when he remembers how long we were
bedfellows together. Although I am far away, I do not forget my friends in
Ireland, especially him.
Give my regards to Uncle Samuel and to Aunt Hessy, Uncle and Aunt
in Liskinie, to cousin Elizabeth and to sister Elizabeth and to all my
brothers; I wish them to be good boys and to study hard. Tell James not to
neglect Grammar and Geography and if he be pretty well acquainted with
them, he might give Elizabeth a lesson every day. Give my best respects to
all old acquaintances and neighbours and tell Alex Black that 1 will write
to him in 2 or 3 months.
I got four Warders, a Bristol (English) paper and three Belfast
Chronicles, which last were dated after your letter. I received no Chronicle
prior to your letter. I sent you more than a dozen newspapers, and I sent
one to A. Black and one to Mr. Rodgers; but the postmasters here say that
half the newspapers which are posted here for Europe are not sent there.
He says that if they were taken together there would be a perfect ship load.
I have sent a letter with this one to Mr. Rodgers. I now make room here for
a few lines to William which can be either copied and sent to him, or if you
choose you may send him the whole letter. This letter is very long and you
will be tired out with reading it.
I will send you papers about the elections etc. They will give you the
movements of this country about Texas and Oregon; both of which the
democrats want, although the Whigs are opposed to Texas and not much
in favour of taking Oregon. The English should lay a firm hold on it, for it
belongs to them in just right. Send me papers. Believe me, ever your
affectionate nephew to death.
John Kerr.
Dear William,

I fill out my letter to Uncle James with a few lines to you. I learn by
your letter which I received on 27th of April last that you are in the police.
I think your situation by no means a bad one; it is indeed better than you
could have got in this country. Had there been the least prospect for you
here, I would certainly have written for you, but for every situation in this
country, as well as in Ireland, there are plenty of applicants. I have been
obliged, you are aware, to support myself by teaching school, and when all
is counted up, you are able to save more money than I am, and to have more
time to yourself; besides, I venture to say that your employment is more
pleasant. Now how do you employ your spare time? I know not, but I hope you
spend it usefully. I will however tell you how I would employ it. I would buy
books and learn - study all the time I had. I would commence and learn
Latin, Greek and Mathematicks etc. I would pay some person to hear my
lessons, if I could get anyone. Be assured that the best way you can spend
your time now, the best way you can lay out whatever money you may
make, is to obtain an education. This will stand you in good stead, when all
other things fail, and besides, it can never be lost to you. If you want to
emigrate, take a good education with you, rather than a thousand pounds.
Even if learning should bring you little pecuniary advantage, it is itself
worth the time and application spent in its pursuit.
All the time I have to spare I devote to the study of Latin, Greek and
Mathematicks. I am now prepared for college and would be able to graduate
in any college in this country in two years or three at the farthest. All this
I have done myself, without receiving pecuniary aid, to the amount of a
penny, from any person in America. You can do as much, and even more.
You have more time, and better opportunity. I now go seven miles once a
fortnight to say my lessons - you see I must exert myself.
Indeed, William I believe that, a man's fortune is placed, to a great
extent, in his own hands. The secret of the prosperity of almost all who have
done well in this country is, that they have been forced to exert themselves.
A foreign land especially America, is the place to teach a man energy, a
quality that a great many people in Ireland want. What do you think now?
Will you up and be doing, or spend you time in useless amusements? Study
will be irksome at first, but custom will render it delightful. Determine to
overcome everything, and you will surmount all obstacles.
You should pay more attention to your composition, and when you
write even a letter, first sketch it down upon a piece of paper, correct it, then
copy it off. You should look over your grammar again, and when you write
me again let me see an improvement in your style. Read Blair's lectures
My letter is now full and I must close -I want you to do one thing -
join the Tee Total Abstinance Society. Though the intemperate may jeer,
and the worthless may scoff, have as much independence as to disregard
them all - be a man - have nothing to do with the accursed thing - dash the
cup from your lips, and determine - resolve - with that resolution, which
anyone deserving the name of a man should have, that you will never taste
it again. What misery has not intemperance brought upon man? Another
thing I would wish you to take my advice in, and although I am young I can
give this advice bought by experience - never learn to smoke, chew, or
snuff tobacco - never take a pipe in your mouth, if you do, you have learned
to smoke. What a vast amount of money poor Ireland pays for this
unwholesome weed. Another thing remember - keep no bad company. It has broken the
neck of millions and done worse, it has ruined their souls, forever. You may
ask if I follow this advice myself. I answer. I have not tasted anything that
could intoxicate, for more than two years, and as to bad company I do avoid
it, and am determined ever to do so. The last that I have to say is; Attend
meeting every Sunday, and remember that you have to die. These remarks,
you may think, come with bad grace from me; but William, I regret the
follies of my boyhood. Attend to the advice of your Uncles. No more.
Believe, I am still, and ever shall be, your affectionate brother.

John Kerr.

To Uncle David,

P.S. When you write, let me know the population of Ireland,
as returned by the last census, also the number of Protestants and
Catholicks, likewise the population of Belfast, Dublin, and Cork and
Limerick. I have no way of obtaining the census of Ireland here, and I am
curious to know. I wish you would send me the Northern Whig and Ulster
Times, and one of the Belfast Newsletter. I like the Whig or liberal papers.
Write and send some papers before I leave this neighbourhood. I think I will
go next summer some place to study.
Direct; J. Kerr, Perrysville, Allegheny county, Pennsylvania (mind
Farewell. J. Kerr. and put no Pennsylvania), United States, America. envelope on your letter.