Main content

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
OriginNapoleon, Arkansas, USA
DestinationNewpark, Co. Antrim
RecipientGraham, James
Recipient Gendermale
Doc. No.
Partial Date
Doc. Type
Word Count1896
Genrefamily, work, change of residence, account of place, economy
TranscriptFrom: Napoleon, Arkansas
Date: 25 May 1851

It is now a good while since I wrote you—perhaps too long—but I depended on
Wm or David to write, altho[ugh] I think they have not done so. Sam arrived safe
and well in New Orleans about the 1st of March and went up to Cincinnati in a few
days after. He was concluded to learn the carpenter trade and has gone to work—
has been to work for some time. He gets $30 for the first year, $40 for the second and S50 for the third, and is found, besides, in everything but clothing. A friend of
Wm's there got him the place and volunteered to be his guardian and stand security
for him putting in his time. David says his employer likes him well and Sam likes
the place. He is now working about 8 miles from Cincinnati and is in good health.
David is still in Cincinnati and Win is at work at a small place called Hamilton, 22
miles from Cincinnati. David says he has got a good job. I had no letter from him
since he went there. They are all well.
I came to this place, "Napoleon," in the beginning of April. I was not doing well
in New Orleans and got an offer of better wages to come here. It is a small village
situated at the mouth of the Arkansas river, 640 miles above New Orleans. A
merchant of N.O. and one of this state established a house, to do a general business,
grocery, dry goods etc., and also for the purpose of reshipping goods left here by
Cincinnati and New Orleans boats intended for the interior of this state. The concern
Is a new one, but is doing pretty well. I keep the books and attend to things in general.
I get $50 per month and found in board, etc., which is equal to $80 in New Orleans
without board, which is considered good wages there. There are other advantages,
however, which make the situation worth more, that is by forming acquaintance and
learning something of the country 1 probably can, before long, get into business on
my own account, A new country presents a much better prospect for that than a city
of an old country. I wish I had come here to this state rather instead of going to
Pennsylvania and killing myself leaching school for nearly nothing and studying
what has been of no pecuniary advantage to me. While the best wages in
Pennsylvania for teaching was $20 in one or two places S25 without board. The
other day a planter across the river (Mississippi) offered me $250 for 10 months to
reach his family, about 4 children, and give board, washing, etc. besides. That would
be $25 per month clear. Now James K. could get that if he was here just now. I wish
he was. Anyhow, if he is getting better and thinks he has any reason to believe he
will get better, I would advise him to come out here, I can get him plenty of situations
to leach. The schools will be small, perhaps only a family or two and he can do it
well. People are anxious to get teachers. Many, I might say most, of the planters
have to send their children from home 4 or 500 miles and they would much rather
employ a teacher at home. If James can stand another voyage across the "Big Pond"
and if he desires, let him bundle up his "duds" and make for New Orleans, then strike
for Napoleon and he can get employment in a short time. When tired of teaching
he can go home again, if he feels unwell—he will have money—or he can get into
a store, I mink after a while. This is a fine healthy state when you get back from the
Mississippi. There are many flourishing towns in it and it is settling fast. I expect to settle in some healthy little town on the Arkansas river, by and by, and have a share
in a store. I have one or two places in view where a store will do well and when I
have about $2,000 capital I can commence for myself. I do wish I had come to
Arkansas 10 years ago.
This place Napoleon is but very small, containing about 100 inhabitants. It is not
a pleasant place to live; the Mississippi overflows it every year, sometimes twice,
this renders it unhealthy. They are going to make "Levee," (embankment) this year
to keep out the water. It has good facilities for trade and many say that in 10 years
it will be a large place. The people of the place are not like those of the North, in
fact die southern American are different from the northern a great deal. They are
far inferior in intelligence and morality. They have not the same steady, sober,
peaceably, quiet, persevering, and enterprising character possessed by their northern
brethren. Many of them are ignorant, (unable to read) rude, filthy in their habits,—
intemperate. Those of this town particularly so, especially as to filth and intemperance.
Drinking is their principal, and I might say their only, enjoyment. And Oh,
how strong the drink degrades a people—turns them from men to imbeciles and
demons by turns. I never was before so strongly impressed with the evil tendency
of alcohol on man than now. Its habitual use produces the most melancholy effects,
deteriorates the body, stupifies the mind and degrades the soul. Besides it almost
destroys the moral feelings and blunts all the sensibilities of our nature. The
intemperate habits of the people here, form my principal objection to this place.
This country consumes a vast quantity of "liquor" and it presents a greater amount
of mortality, taken from the statistics of the state than any other county in it. The
state of Mississippi lies across the river opposite to us. The county in it directly
opposite this one is by no means unhealthy and there is not a glass of liquor sold in
it and very few use it. The passengers with Sam were very kind to him. He got his
leg hurt somehow and an old woman and her daughter cooked for him halfway over.
The mate was very kind to him. The ship came in about 8 o'clock and I was on board
about 10. Sam was in bed but someone brought him up. I wouldn't have known him
from Adam. Sam is quite childish and a little dull I think, but it will brighten 1 hope.
I don't know where the two young men went, that came with him. One of them got
drunk the day after their arrival and some tavern runner blackened his eye because
he wouldn't go with him. I would have nothing to do with him nor take any interest
on him after his being drunk. From what I saw among the passengers the night of
their arrival, 1 could not help thinking that the Irish character presented a feature
different from that of any other nation. When I got aboard, the bacchanalian songs
and boisterous laughter of about 30 almost drowned every other sound. A number of them were running round the vessel, staggering, swearing, and boasting of how
they could fight etc. There they were in all their native filth, unwashed and unshorn,
swallowing drafts of their countries curse and as careless of what was to come of
them as if they were to take possession of a farm each and be independent tomorrow.
Just at a time when they required all the forethought and prudence they possessed,
they drowned all in drink. Did ever the lunatic display greater folly than this? I saw
many steady, sober, sensible people, but many were drunk, even the women were
staggering under the effects of whiskey! A newly come Irishman despises the
negroes here, but they are more civilised than he.
This part of the United States is almost exclusively a cotton growing country and
it is considered the best for that article of any other in the country. Farming is done
altogether by negroes; planters owning from 10 to 100 of these. The land is very rich
and planters have done well the Iast2or 3 years, cotton having been high for the three
seasons. An acre produces, I think, if I remember right, about 500 pounds cotton,
which sells for about $50—1 believe they raise sometimes 800 pounds. The plant
is coming up now, I have not seen it in the field in any other shape. I can tell you
what it is like and how raised etc. again October. I frequently visit at a planter across
the river—he shows me his farm etc. and I will learn how planting and raising cotton
is performed. So far the process resembles that of sowing turnips. The plant now
is very small and quite a tender one, as much so as any vegetable or flower of the
I have but little news to send you. Robert Thompson and family who lived in New
Orleans went all to California in March last. Francis Henderson is there. In coming
from N.O. to Napoleon I got acquainted with John F. Douglas from near Parkgate.
He was clerk on the steamboat I came up on. He had lived in N.O. for the last 3 years
but I never saw him. He was well when I saw him last a few days ago. Tell James
that Sam Rainey is married. David wants Ja[me]s to send him a newspaper—he says
he has seen no Belfast paper since he came to this country. Ja[me]s promised to send
him some.
I hope you are all in good health and trust that Elizabeth still continues well. In
my opinion she should take plenty of exercise in the open air. Avoid close rooms.
Bath or wash the whole body frequently with cold water, and with proper precautions
in regard to food she need not fear consumption. I am convinced people bring
almost every disease upon themselves and this among the rest. Close rooms with
the windows always down, and 3 or 4 sleeping in a room, perhaps 2 in a bed is quite
sufficient to create disease. It is almost sure to do so in time. I expect to hear from
you soon after the receipt of this. Let me know what James thinks of coming. If he thinks his health will admit, I think he ought to come. When he was returning home
I told him if he wished to come back I would pay his passage, so I will. I can send
a draft you if you furnish some money. Let him come when he chooses, anytime
will do. The draft Sam brought was paid in New York, I sent it to a merchant there
who got it cashed. If I had known no merchant or responsible person there it would
not have been worth a cent. Crawford is a fool is he said that anyone in N. Orleans
would pay it. My health is middling; I am troubled with dyspepsia a little. Write
soon, my regards to all—to Uncle David and Samuel. Yours as old.

John Kerr