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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 Count1654
Genrecorrespondence, work, emigratoin, family, economy
TranscriptFrom: New Orleans
Date: 1 February 1850

I received a letter from you on the 28th of May last, dated April 27th and
answered it on the 5th July and sent you several (a good many) papers since, but I
have nothing from you since by which I may know that you are yet in the land of
the living. My letter may have been lost or your answer miscarried, but as you say
that Sam Graham intended to write to me during the summer, it is strange that your
letter, if you wrote one and his should both fail to reach me. Besides I advised Sam
K. in my letter to come out, gave him all directions etc., told him to be here about
the middle of November and all that, and taken these altogether I think it odd that
I have not heard something from you. Neither have James nor Wm, nor David in
Cincinatti. On the arrival of every steamer mails here I ran to the Post Office,
expecting latterly almost certain that I would get a letter, but there was no more from
Ireland for me. Sam has neither come nor sent me any intimation that he was or was
not coming. Several vessels arrived here from Belfast, I expected him in one of
them, but no. My letter advising him to come may very possibly never have reached
you and you may like myself be yet looking for an answer. I certainly ought to have
written again before this, but as several times before I was rather long in receiving
an answer, 1 thought 1 would wait a little longer and I have waited until my patience
is exhausted. Have I not been patient? I am very anxious to hear from Newpark,
to know how you all are, to know about Elizabeth, if she is even yet living or not.
Indeed I expect unfavourable news on this subject. The knowledge of the worst,
however, is never so bad as suspense.
I have been in this city ever since, in the same place or with the same man as when
I wrote you in July. My salary is not much better as he is not able to pay more, yet
by continuing here I have a chance, as I get acquainted, to get something better. In
this respect New Orleans is rather better than the large Northern or Western cities.
Yet it is rather difficult here to get anything worth risking one's health and even
[after?] life for. The Raineys have all done well and I sometimes think I may do
so too! Yet they had circumstances in their favour which I have not had. I have had
some notion lately of going to California, and would perhaps have been there before
this if I had had money enough, if I did not expect Sam K; it is very probable that
I will go yet in the course of 8 or 10 months. From what I can learn, a man who will
neither gamble nor drink will do well there if he can only work. The climate is as
healthy as that of New Orleans anyhow. A new country as a general rule without an exception is better for a man without capital, who can do something with cither
head or hands, especially with the latter. Then you prosper as the country prospers
and one is able to get something there such as property which must necessarily
increase in value.
You ask my opinion, in your last letter, about your selling off and emigrating to
America and I gave it to you at some length, as it is possible you got that letter I need
not say anything on the subject farther than this: if I had any amount or kind of
property in Ireland no matter how much or how little I would sell it and leave the
miserable, ground to the lowest point of degradation and poverty by greedy,
cowardly tyrants more ravenous [and?] far more cruel than hungry wolves. I would
never subject myself to such circumstances that though any contingency, however
improbable, I or anyone belonging to me, or my posterity, if I should have any,
should be trampled upon and insulted with impunity too, by such infernal beings as
the vast majority of the Irish landlords are. It would actually make my soul burst
from my body to have to stand and impassively suffer what many, almost all, the
Irish tenantry suffer from the landlords and their more than infernal agents and
drivers. I cannot express how much I hate them, why I consider the old Devil himself
a humane gentleman compared with them, "Nuf sed."
I had a letter from Cincinatti 3 weeks ago, William was very well and was getting
on well at his trade. David had taken the smallpox or rather the [virioloid?]. He had
but a slight attack and was getting better fast, and would be at work again, William
said, in a week. I wrote him not to go to work too soon. James was doing nothing
just then as business was dull and had not commenced for the winter. He had been
at work for a good while before that in a type foundry. Not finding anything else
to do he threw off his coat and went to work just as every man should who has hands
and needs something to eat. I sent him some money and he had beside some of his
own left, but he thought it was no use to go about idle, so he took the first thing that
offered. I was glad to learn that he had so little of that stinking Irish pride so very
common to young men raised in the "Isle of Saints," God save the [ ]!—it should
be, isle of Demons and Slaves!
Since I wrote you before, the cholera visited the western cities. I think it was
since I wrote. It was very bad in Cincinatti, St. Louis and in many of the smaller
cities of the West. It visited Pittsburgh, but very slightly. New York, Philadelphia
and Boston suffered. Baltimore, Charleston and Savannah escaped without a single
case, which puzzles the physician here to account for. It is certainly the most
mysterious disease in the world. Its progress is governed by no laws known. The
3 cities I named that escaped it, I believe all. I am certain Charleston escaped the disease the time it visited this country before. There must be a cause, however
obscure. This city has been very healthy since last spring except a few cases of
Yellow Fever in the end of summer. The country all over is quite healthy now and
as cotton, tobacco, flour, corn, pork, etc. bring good prices, especially the first two.
This year will be a very favourable one for the country. You would be amazed to
stand on the wharves in this city and see the vast amount of produce brought there.
This is all the product of the West, and one wonders, not where it can come from but
what so much is raised by only a few million inhabitants in the Mississippi valley,
and which 50 years ago was a vast unbroken wilderness. But this 300,000 a year
formerly only 100,000 a year; and it is thought immigration will increase for the next
3 or 4 years rather than decrease. Those who have come the last 2 years have been
in general better off than the immigrants of former years. A great many of them had
capital. A few of them however from Ireland appeared when they landed here to be
in a most destitute condition. I saw some come from the ship who appeared to have
been starved for a year before and who had hardly enough clothes to cover their
nakedness. I never saw such melancholy specimens of humanity. Why they were
far more ragged, torn, and emaciated looking than the soldiers when they returned
from Mexico after a hard campaign. They bore evidence of cruel bondage grinding
oppression. The people of Ireland talk, in the most horrified terms of negro
slavery in this country, but these same slaves present an appearance of comfort,
happiness, and content, a hundred per cent greater than the poor Irish, and they are
more comfortable and happy. I don't mean to defend slavery here, but [I?] say that
it is not half so bad so grindingly oppressive as in Ireland. Why, an American
however absolute his power never exercises such tyranny as do Irishmen. They treat
their "Niggers" with kindness and with some consideration. No consideration
would induce them, however great the gain might be, to starve them. An Irish
landlord would see all his tenants expire in the agonies of hunger to gratify his
vanity, or increase his rent roll. I think there is no country in the world, where there
may be found so many human beings lost to all sense of humanity as are in Ireland,
though one half of them are [Hanans?] They treat slaves worse here than the men
of any other nation that comes here.
I have little more to say. I sent you a paper a few weeks ago which would give
you all the news. I am enjoying pretty good health, as good as I can expect from
sedentary habits and in New Orleans. I wish you would write me immediately on
receiving this. You will not. I hope, put it off more than a week. Let me know how
cousin Elizabeth is, now Mrs. Carson, or if she is living yet. Give my respects to
all friends and tell them they shall never see me in Ireland. Direct to me care of Frederick
Camerden, New Orleans and I am ever yours. Postscript. You need not
prepay your letters to me.

John Kerr