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Title: John Kerr to Uncle
CollectionUlster Migration to America. Letters from three Irish Families [R.A. Wells]
SenderKerr, John
Sender Gendermale
Sender Occupationclerk
Sender Religionunknown
OriginNew Orleans, Louisiana, USA
DestinationNewpark, Co. Antrim
RecipientGraham, James
Recipient Gendermale
Doc. No.
Partial Date
Doc. Type
Word Count3821
Genrecorrespondence, family, friends, gold rush, politics
TranscriptFrom: New Orleans
Date: 29 January 1849

It is now about a year and a half since I heard from you; it is therefore fully time
I was thinking of adopting some way of enabling you to send me a letter. You could
not have known where I have been for the last 12 or 14 months for I did not write
to you. Yet it has not been altogether my fault. William promised to write to you
last winter. He said he would write in February or March, but he put it off and off,
till August came before he overcame the inertia of procrastination. Well he
expected an answer from you in 3 months but he has waited five, and none has come.
He thinks his or your letter must have been lost by the way—for he says you surely
would answer his letter. I got a letter from him on the 11th of this month. He says
he sent his letter to you about the first of August and both he and David are very
anxious to hear from Newpark. I would have written long ago myself, but I was
always waiting till W[illiam] would get an answer to his. It is strange that the letter
has been miscarried, for it is rather unusual.
William and David are very well—they are both learning trades. William is
learning that of a machinist, that making engines for steam boats etc., and David is
at another branch of the same business—his is sheet iron work etc. He has to serve
3 years but is not bound—they never bind boys in the West to a trade, and they get
along far better than if they did, for the conviction of being bound makes many feel
their trade irksome, whereas if they were free, it would not. He gets 3< dollars per
week for the first year, 15 dollars per week the second and 17 the third. He pays 2
dollars per week for board. I think he will learn Wm's trade when he has lime in at
this one he is learning now. He can learn as easily then and get good wages at the
same time. William's wages arc $2.75 cents or $3 per week, an increase every year
until his time is in—they increase 50 or 75 cents per year I think. A trade is a much
more independent way of living than clerking—there are too many clerks; and [a?]
good mechanick or tradesmen can make as good wages as a clerk can, and never be
out of employment so much, nor so long, at a time. William shows this himself—
he was offered a situation, as clerk in a concern in New York but he would not take
it He said it would be better to learn a trade and he thought that the sedentary life
of one [writing?]. Most of the time would not be good for his health. The situation
he was offered in New York was in the office of a machine shop, to keep the accounts
etc. The wages would not have been good. David went to learn the cabinet making
business in New York; but his employer treated [him?] very ill—made him do things that did not belong to his trade at all, and he left that and came on West to Cincinatti,
and went there to bookbinding, but not liking it very well and his employer not
paying him enough even for board, he quit it—he is, however, at a better trade.
I came on from New York with William to Cincinatti after David had got to his
place he got there. William wanted to learn a trade in New York, but he could not
get what he wanted. Indeed it was very difficult to get any occupation there at that
time. Cincinatti or St. Louis, or any of the Western cities is much better for a
stranger than the cities on the seaboard. There is better wages in the West—much
better for beginners. David came from New York to Cincinatti—about 1,000 miles
himself travelling by railroad, stagecoach and steamboat, stopping in 2 large cities,
Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, all night, and passing through many towns and all this
without losing anything or being imposed upon to the value of one shilling. William
and I came by the Falls of Niagara—they are truly a grand spectacle and worth the
journey even across the Atlantic. It would be a very pleasant place to live about the
Falls. The land is good, they say, and there is a good market. I don't know a place
in all America I would prefer as a place of residence to the neighbourhood of the
Falls of Niagara. I left Cincinatti about the beginning of November 1847 and came
To New Orleans. I was travelling agent for a paper publisher in New York but I could
do little with it. I quit it. Since I came to New Orleans I have been at various
employments. I am now in a Commission House. I get 30 per month, which is a
small salary when it is considered that I pay the half of it for board. I may, however,
get more after a while. A person must be in New Orleans for some lime and be well
known before he can get a good situation. Samuel Rainey is clerk in a Bank here.
He has $125 per month. He is a very good clerk, and a most excellent writer or
penman, which is a very essential to qualification here. A good penman, if he has
in other respects but a very poor education commands the best salary. Sam says
Boyd taught him to write well, and if he had never gone to him he never would have
written well. The half of the teachers in Ireland care very little about writing and
cannot teach it. William Rainey is clerk in a Cotton Press, he has 100 dollars per
month. James, who was doing so well when I was here first, failed since, and is doing
very little at present. He is a cotton broker, but does but a small business. Francis
Henderson came here in the beginning of the winter. He came from New York
where he was engaged by his present employer. He is in a fancy store where fine
articles of ladies clothing is sold. He was in the same kind of place in New York.
I have seen him only at church at a distance. I have not spoken to him. I was told
that Robert Gamble (his first name I think, is Robert or Wm) was here this winter,
but I have not seen. Wm Rainey saw him. He was here many years ago, and shipped cotton to Liverpool in his own name instead of the name of his employer, then left,
went to Liverpool, collected the money and bragged of making a fortune in New
Orleans in a short time. The parties he robbed are now dead and he had ventured
back poorer than ever. I don't know what he is doing or whether he is here now or not.
I have not seen Wm Kyle since I left Pennsylvania in the spring of '47. He was
then well and living very comfortably, and better so far as eating goes than the two thirds
of Lord O'Neill's tenants; certainly much more independently. Wm and I
wrote to his father when I was at his house; I [stayed?] a week with him. William
had then some yearnings for home, which is quite natural at first; save these,
however, he was very contented. Nancy is perfectly contented; much more so than
William. She likes to live in America better than in Ireland, as every person who
has been in both countries for sometime would. Although Wm and Nancy are doing
pretty well, still they are not able to send much aid to Davy and Sally. Nancy had
to borrow money to bring William out to this country and that has to be paid. If they
were able I have no doubt that they would send Davy something.
William Kerr does not think the least long—or what they call it in this country
"homesick." David, I think does, at least a little. He will soon get over that, however.
He will not be so lonesome with William there in the town with him as if he were
at a distance. I would like very well to have remained in Cincinatti, but it is not easy
getting a situation there. There are fewer vacancies than in [New] Orleans where
many arc leaving and more [deaths?] than in Cincinatti. There are, however, plenty
of people here for every situation. This place, has so rapid, easy, and frequent
communication with Cincinatti that I look upon that place as near as Glasgow is to
Belfast; although Cincinatti is about 1,500 miles from New Orleans. There are 2 or
3 and sometimes more arrivals of steamboats everyday during winter and spring
from Cincinatti and as many boats leave each day for that place. The price of passage
in the Cabin is from 12 to 15 dollars, on deck 3 dollars. Boats go in 8 or 10 days.
By telegraph we can get news in a few hours.
All cities of importance have communications by telegraph now in this country.
It is a wonderful invention indeed. When a steamer arrives in New York or Boston
from Europe we have a synopsis of the news in the papers of the following morning
or evening. The rise or fall of cotton, etc., the new revolutions etc. etc., that occur
weekly now in Europe.
I suppose you have heard of the gold mines lately found in California, a country
on the Pacific Ocean in latitude about 40 degrees north. It is indeed true, all we have
heard about it. There is more gold there than ever has been found in any one place before, that we have any account of. Many have found 15 and 20 dollars worth in
a few hours. It is washed from the sands of the Sacramento River and every washer
averages 15 dollars per day, many average more. Provisions and everything else are
very high there. Flour is said to be 100 dollars per barrel, but ships are going round
there loaded with every kind of provisions and clothing etc. Numbers of people are
going from every part of the United States. There will be a large population in that
country before 2 years, if the gold holds out. I think from what I hear, it will. Some
of the gold dust has arrived here in New York already, from California, and it is said
to be very fine. I would go very readily to that country, but it takes a good deal of
money, more than I could raise just now. I will be able to go, however, in another
year. The climate is said to be very good—better than in the Atlantic side of the
continent. I believe however the land is not so good, and that they have sometimes
very long droughts which are often the cause of much suffering among men and the
lower animals. California is south of Oregon and borders on the American part of
that territory. Every arrival from the gold region gives more glowing accounts of
the vast quantity of gold—it is said however, that provisions are scarce, board 4
dollars per day, washing 5 dollars per day. I cannot say all I want on one sheet, so
I'll lake two. The cholera has reached this country—has been in this city, but it is
now almost gone. It appeared here about the 14th of December last, was very fatal
and continued as an epidemick about 3 weeks. There was an average of 50 or 60
deaths per day from cholera. The greatest mortality was 114 deaths in a day, 93 of
which were of cholera. It was worst among the intemperate and exposed, but some
in every situation and position in life died. There are a few cases yet but no one
thinks anything of that. It has visited Cincinatti, but very slightly. The last I heard
of it from that city was, that it was confined wholly to those who had fled from this
place and who had taken it on the way or when they arrived there. At its worst here,
business was almost stopped. Before and while it was here the weather was very
wet and unusually warm. The atmosphere was also exceedingly damp. This winter
thus far has been the warmest known in New Orleans for many years. The
thermometer stood sometimes at 90 and 92 in the shade. This I have seen, in the
month of December and January. Last winter here was much dryer and colder.
There was ice sometimes as thick as window glass, in the morning, not so this winter.
There ha[ve?] been only 3 or 4 with frost in the month of November, none since. In
summer here the heat is not so great as people in a more Northern climate imagine.
I have felt hotter days in Pennsylvania, and have seen the mercury higher there than
here. Last summer it ranged here from 92 to 98 not often above the latter figure,
never 100. I have seen it in Pittsburgh 105, frequently 100, but there it does not last long. It is not heat that makes a place unhealthy—it is the state of the atmosphere.
The air here in summer is very far from being pure—it has a heavy smell and people
feel debilitated. Not so in the North. I had no yellow fever last summer altho[ugh]
it was here and pretty bad too. I was not very well. I felt weak and was troubled with
indigestion. I am now tolerably well, but my health is not so good as it was 3 years
ago. For the first 3 years I was in this country I had better health than ever [I?] had
in my life. And I believe that lake everything into consideration there is less sickness
and suffering from ill health in the older parts of the United States where the country
is cleared, than in Ireland. The people live better, that is have more wholesome food
and plenty of it, and this I take to be the cause. I do not think that potatoes are so
wholesome an article of food as people in Ireland generally consider them. It is
certain, I know from experience that a [man can?] do half as much more work,
perhaps as much more in the same time, if his food is wheat bread and beef, than he
can, if it be potatoes and beef and twice as much if the only potatoes and buttermilk.
Potatoes alone are not good food they do not contain a sufficient quantity of
nutrients. A person can't eat enough of them to enable him to work vigorously for
5 to 6 hours, not even 3. I think the people of Ireland should not regret the failure
of that root so much it is certain they ought not to depend wholly upon it. I tried to
get some potato seed to send you but I cannot. I will send you some seed in the paper
soon, it is broomcorn seed. The packet is used to make brooms to sweep with—they
are much better than anything I ever saw in Ireland. I sent you a paper sometime
ago with Cuba tobacco seed. If you pay the duly, I will send you a box of tobacco,
very good "first rate" tobacco. I don't think the duty would amount to more than
the price of tobacco there—you can make some enquiry about it and tell me whom
to consign it to in Belfast. There is sometimes a vessel going from this to Belfast
direct. I could send it to [Nathanial?] Dickey there or anyone you like. One pound
could be better than 2 of what you make. People here don't smoke manufactured
tobacco. They use cut and dry which is much better I think. If you would like it,
I could send you [some?]. The duty is not much I mink or I could send some of the
leaf. I want you, however, to smoke some good American plug, real genuine stuff,
no oak leaves in it.
You have seen by the papers, that we have had another election for president
Zachary Taylor, a general in the Mexican war—the Whig candidate, is elected. He
is a very nice old man, very plain—with no haughtiness nor pride whatsoever.
It has been a bad time for Crowned heads in Europe during the last year. Old
Louis Phillipe was shoved off very nicely. There was great exaltation here.
Everybody said "Well done France," and if the phlegmatic, obstinate English had tipped Queen Vic's throne over ever so gently and made a lady of Her Majesty
instead of a Queen and driven all the pampered aristocracy from the country—
declared every man equal and established a Republick—there would have arisen
here form Maine to Georgia, from the Atlantic to the Pacific such a short shout of
triumphant delight and joy, that you would have heard it across the Atlantic! But
no, John Bull is too closely wedded to his idols to overthrow them, and poor Ireland
must bear the tread of the tyrant's heel and wear the chains of oppression until the
English and Scottish people are convinced that the vile British Government is
tyrannical and despotic. But the English people will not for sometime yet know this.
A people must be intelligent to know their rights. It required a man, raised in Europe
and in society organized as it sits here, to have a mind of the first order, to enable
him with no other aid than his own reasoning, even to discover what are the rights
of man. Many there understand their rights—no doubt—but few are old enough to
declare them opposed as they would be by the Govemment, the aristocracy, the large
landed proprietors, and those sycophants of power, those servile tools of the rich in
almost every land, the clergy. Whatever political change may take place in the
British Isles there will be no real relief come to the mass of the people until a social
revolution destroys completely the relation existing at present between lord and
tenant. The tiller of the soil—the farmer, should enjoy the whole fruits of his labor,
and not be compelled to give any portion whatever to landlord or any one else. It
is totally inconsistent with those rights which are born with every being who comes
into this world to make him labor for the support of others, and to have laws that
enable one man to live upon the labor of thousands, to revel in luxury while they
starve in rags is monstrous horrible. A man has no right anywhere in no country
under Heaven, to own hundreds and thousands of acres of land, while there are
human beings around him whose existence depends upon what that land produces.
The first cry in all Europe should be "down with landlordism" and let every man who
owns any quantity of land from 3 or 400 acres and cultivates it down to 1 rod, retain
possession of it without paying a farthing of rent. Then repeal the iniquitous and
unnatural law of primogeniture, give everyone who can read a vote and the people
the right and privilege of bearing arms, disband the army and me country is free. The
whole British people must do this. There is not use for Ireland to attempt it with her
people divided and England against her. John Mitchell would have brought these
things about if he had been successful, but poor fellow, he had too many enemies
both foreign and domestick. and too few friends. John Mitchell was the best man
in Ireland, however, and his name will live when those of the bloody [ ] who
banished him will be forgotten or remembered only with desecration. The people of this country looked with much interest on the state of affairs in Ireland about the
time of Mitchell's trial and sentence. If the people there had arisen and struck one
blow for liberty and made one successful effort, there would have gone from it
country 20 perhaps 50,000 volunteers to her aid. But they (the Irish) saw him
[tried?], sentenced and transported without raising an arm, without even giving one
[loud?] hearty curse upon the heads of his enemies. There was money raised here
[in?] every part of the country and preparations made of which event the British
Government nor people have never heard nor will they be likely to know, until the
Irish make another and better attempt. I think however, Ireland will have to suffer
awhile longer. Her time is not yet come. Enough of this subject.
William informed me that William Brown was security for his brother John for
some money the latter got from my father and that this evidence of such security is
in the hands of Win Orr the Attorney. He said that you wanted Orr to send said
evidence or paper to me that I might try if I could collect it off Wm Brown who lives
in South Carolina somewhere. But it appears that Orr refused to entrust it to me,
fearing that I would get the money and keep it etc. I wish you would let me know
all about this; what prospect there would be of getting anything from Wm Brown,
if I had the papers, supposing he was good for the money. Tell me if Orr really
refused and upon what grounds, etc. etc. Let me know where the Browns are, if you
can ascertain and what they are doing. I would like to know if Orr really made that
a pretext for refusing to give up the paper.
I must stop. I have written a long letter and I expect one equally as long. [Give?]
me all news. I hear last winter that Uncle James of Liskinie was dead. Whiteside
Miller's son was in this city and he had got a letter from Ireland shortly before, with
the news. Get paper like this and let Sam Graham and James Kerr write a sheet and
put it in your letter. Give my best wishes to all, Mr. and Mrs. Finlay and everyone
I know—my best wishes to all in Newpark. Write soon, soon. I am very impatient
to hear from you, so are William and David. Believe me, yours as ever.

John Kerr