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Title: John Kerr to James Graham
CollectionUlster Migration to America. Letters from three Irish Families [R.A. Wells]
SenderKerr, John
Sender Gendermale
Sender Occupationschoolmaster
Sender Religionunknown
OriginPittsburgh, Penn., USA
DestinationNewpark, Co. Antrim
RecipientGraham, James
Recipient Gendermale
Doc. No.
Partial Date
Doc. Type
Word Count1995
Genrecorrespondence, society, account of the country, weather, family
TranscriptFrom: Upper St. Clair, near Pittsburgh
Date: 23 January 1844

I wrote to you on the 16th June last, and have waited long and patiently for an
answer but have received none, I came therefore to the conclusion that either your
letter, or mine had been lost. As I received an answer to my first letter of 8lh August,
[1842?] about 3 months after I wrote, and as it takes generally that time for persons
to receive an answer from home, I therefore expect an answer about the middle of
September. Having received none then I would have written again but I thought you
had not written immediately on the receipt of my letter. Besides this, I lived at a
considerable distance from the place to which I informed you to send your letter. It
has of late often made me wonder to think that I have been in this country more than
2 years, and have heard but once from home—allow me to say "home," for all
foreigners here call the country which they had left their "home." I beg you not to
impute to me, for my conduct in this respect, want of affection for my friends, for
be assured they are dearer to me than ever. Whatever influence a foreign country
may have upon an, or whatever affects that inordinant love of gain which is so
prevalent here may have upon others, still they can never cause me to forget my
country, or my childhood home.
I informed you in my last letter that I was teaching school, and at mat business
I am still obliged to continue. There is nothing better I can get here at present. I am
paid 8 dollars per month, and pay 5 dollars per month for boarding. There are
numbers of clerks in Pittsburgh who do not get more than 15 dollars per month, some
even less. I live about 10 miles from Pittsburgh. This part of the country is the
closest settled, and best cultivated part of any I have yet seen in America. Indeed
the houses are almost as near each other here as in Ireland. The name of the man in whose house I live is Kerr. he is from Dungannon, Co. Tyrone (Ireland), and came
to this country in the year 1801. He has been very friendly, and kind to me since I
came here, which was about the 21st May last. There are a great many persons in
Pittsburgh and the neighbourhood, of the name of Kerr, many of whom came from
Ireland. Three brothers, Moses, Joseph and William, (but no relation of the man
with whom I live) were obliged to leave Ireland for taking part in the rebellion of
1798. Moses and Joseph were ministers, but are dead. Mr. Oliver tells me that he
Heard my father speak of Moses as being a distant relation of his. William, a younger
brother, lives about 2 miles from this. I have been at his house often and am well
acquainted with him. Mr. Oliver is now a clergyman and preaches to a congregation
about 50 miles from Pittsburgh, at a place called Fairview, Butler County, (Pennsylvania).
He has been a kind and useful friend to me since I came here, and you
may be assured that a faithful friend is valuable in this country, where the people are
so selfish and avaricious. There is scarcely one in ten who will not take advantage
of any person who will place any confidence in them. Everything honourable seems
to be seared up, or rooted out, by that reigning passion, the love of money, which
pervades all classes from the priest to the infidel. I gave you in my last letter a short
description of the American character, and as it is not improbable that it has reached
you, I shall say nothing upon it at present, more than that their character, given in
Weld's Travels in the United States, is true to the letter, if it leans any way, it is upon
their side. He is certainly right in saying that "money is their God, at whose shrine
they worship."
The country here is very uneven and broken. Indeed every part of this state west
of the Allegheny Mountains, may be compared to a country once level, but which
has been with some great convulsion of nature, cut into deep ravines, and the
excavated earth thrown up on the ground on each side, the greater part of the level
land being the highest, these ravines or "guts," as they are called here, are so sleep
that their sides cannot be cultivated, but at the bottom of the gut there is generally
a level piece of land called here "bottoms," 30 or 40 yards broad, which is excellent
soil. Through many of these bottoms a stream of water runs and along the side of
this, Indian corn and potatoes are planted. Indian corn is planted in rows like
potatoes about 3 feet apart and 2 feet between the stocks. The seed is dropped from
the hand. In the course of the season it is hoed once or twice. It grows very fast and
when at its maturity it is generally 6 or 7 feet high, sometimes it attains 10 or 12 feet.
The ears of corn grow along the side of the stock and are 3 or 4 in number. This
country is exceedingly well supplied with coal. Immense beds lie underground
throughout all this neighbourhood. The coal is very easily got, a digger having nothing to do but to open a hole in the side of a hill—dig and wheel out. He has no
sinking of pits; the coal running straight in level into the hills. A man can dig about
100 bushels in a day. It sells at 2 cents per bushel in the country. Every man has
coal in his farm, but in many places it lies so deep, that farmers choose rather to buy
where it can be easily got at. In this neighbourhood there is not much woodland.
This country being very well clear, yet farmers leave a few acres of woods on then farms,
for die purpose of making fences around their fields, etc. It may seem strange
to you, that, instead of ditches of clay and stones, they have fences of wood—yet
it is so. A large tree is split up into [rails?] Ten feet long, and [of these?] the fences
arc built. The greater number of houses in this country are built of logs. That is,
timber squared with an axe and placed on another to form the walls. The spaces
between beams arc filled with clay and lime for mortar. Frame houses, (or houses
built with board) are numerous. There are also many brick houses built by those who
are able or who have taste anough to do it. Still everyone must say who knows, that
this country cannot be compared with Ireland for beauty or [ ].
The times. about which there is so much talk here, although dull, are yet mending.
Farmers produce is very cheap, so much so indeed, that farming [ ]. I send you
several Pittsburgh papers by which you know the state of the markets, but as there
arc some things sold by farmers which the papers do not mention I will mention a
few. The weather in this state and indeed all parts of this country is very changeable
that is from heat to cold. In winter it rains and snows, freezes and thaws, often 3 or
4 times in the week. I never saw a frost continue a whole week at once without
thawing. The thermometer stands sometimes in winter, 15 degrees below the
freezing point, last summer it stood sometimes 80 degrees in the shade, besides this,
scarcely an air of wind. Indeed there are very seldom high winds or even good
breezes here. Although] this is the healthiest part of the United States, there is a
good deal of sickness here; much of bilious fever, a great deal of consumption,
toothache is universal from the child of 5 years to the man of forty; after that they
have few teeth to ache. I have not been sick a day since I came to America, the pain
in my shoulder troubles me little in the summer, but last winter it was frequent and
severe. In [ ] the beginning of this winter it was worse than I ever felt it, but I was
advised to wear flannel and now do do—since I put it on, I have scarcely fell a pain
in it. Rheumatism is worse here than in Ireland. When you write give me all the
[news?] Do not let the price of posting on my account deter you from writing.
Let me know how the temperance cause is getting on in Ireland. You will be
surprised to know, that I am now a tee-totaler. I have drunk no spirits, liquors, wine,
beer, nor ale, for more than a year past. Father Mathew has certainly made a great movement in Ireland. The friends of temperance here very much admire him, and
I am very glad that so many of my countrymen have become temperate also. Give
me all the news about the repeal, etc., if you think the Repeal Law will be passed.
The papers state that O'Connell has been arrested and under bail to stand his trial—
perhaps he will now give over his agitations. Let me know what die result of his trial
is, if it be finished. I wish very much that you would send me some Belfast
newspapers. If you wish 1 will send you a Philadelphia paper every week. I get
one—it costs me only 50 cents or half dollar, which is half price. The postage on
the papers which I sent [you?] was a cent and a half each—let me know what you
paid for them.
Let me know how all my friends are. Remember me to Uncle David and Samuel,
Aunt Matilda and Hessy, Cousin Elizabeth in [Liskinie?], and Uncle [and Aunt
there?]. Let me know hat William is doing, and if he has not run off again. I wish
him and the rest of my brothers to be good boys, and Elizabeth to be a belter girl and
to do what is desired her by her aunts, and let me know how James, David and
Samuel behave.
Give my respects to all old acquaintances and neighbours—to Mr. and Mrs.
Fleming, to Mr. Ferguson, Alick Black, Alex Davison, A. Finlay and James Finlay,
etc. but my letter would not hold all I would wish to remember. I did not write to
A. Black,—postage is so dear that I do not wish to make him pay so much for my
letters. I have been thinking about sending you some tobacco to you but as I am so
far from any sea port town, (being 300 miles from Philadelphia, that I find it
impractiable.) Write soon direct to John Kerr, Herriottsville, Alleghenny County,
Pennsylvania, United States. I have enclosed in the seal a five cent piece as a
curiosity. You can take the wax off with warm water.
Let me know if you got my last letter, and if you did, mention if you wrote.
Mention also how many newspapers you got. There is a man who lives in this
neighbourhood named James [Cotter?] who came from Ireland about 20 years ago.
He lived when a boy with William Clark of Craigham, who wished to know of me
if his mother was living. I could not tell him. Her name is, I think, Molly Stevenson,
she is married again. Let me know when you write if she is alive. William Clark
can tell. My letter is full. Believe me I am still your affectionate nephew.

John Kerr