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A Letter from America – 1839, Part One.

Irish Emigrant Letter home.

Can you help us solve a mystery?  I would love to read your thoughts on this in the comments section.  When I return to Ireland from the U.S. I am in the habit of meeting with one of my Irish cousins near his workplace in the jostling heart of downtown Belfast.  I enjoy our long lunches &  laughter.   This year he shared with me a never before published series of approximately original 20 letters.  The letters were sent from America back to Ireland where they still exist today.  They catalog the story of an Irish family’s immigration to America over a period of 30 years.  We digitized the originals for posterity.  We are also in the process of transcribing the contents for those who struggle reading the old handwriting;  here is the link for the full transcription of this Irish Emigrant letter home.  Below I have shared the first of these letters and plan to publish the rest over the coming months.

We are looking for clues & internet detectives.  Any assistance is greatly appreciated.  Given the handwriting, the language & tone, this is obviously a well educated immigrant.  What else can you derive from the content?  What happened to these Irish people after they landed in America?  Do they have descendants?  Feel free to take turns & transpose the content into the comments below to help us bring this 180 year old mystery full circle.

Please note, the 2nd & 3rd pages contain writing in a different color, flowing in a different direction.  I have been told this was so the sender could get more information onto the page without incurring additional postage cost.  I would love to ready your thoughts in the comment section.  The letter begins “Louisville Ky, Oct 16th 1839,  Dear Father….”

Original Scots-Irish Letter from America.

Irish Immigrant letter from America, 1839Old Letter from America to Ireland, 1839 immigration.Irish Diaspora, letter from America, 1839

4 thoughts on “A Letter from America – 1839, Part One.

  1. My first impression is the handwriting is very good. The formal manner of writing also jumps off the page. This immigrant is well educated for his time. From the stamps on last image you can clearly see the letter was posted in Kentucky on Oct 16th. It was in New York by October 24th. I do not know if the letter would have travelled overland via the Pony Express or to some river port and carried on by river (or both). The next stamp says “Banbridge Nov 27th 1839”. Banbridge is in Co. Down, Ireland. So the letter took just over a month to reach Ireland from Kentucky via New York. The impressive wax seal says “H Neill” (letter author) but the letter is addressed to “Samuel Neill” (presumably Henry’s father), in care of “Mr. Robert Shaw, Silversmith”.

    I note at the bottom of page two, after the family discussion, the writer touches on the politics of his time, both Irish & American politics. He mentions “your O’Connell” which is a reference to the Irish leader Daniel O’Connell. However he is critical of O’Connell’s comments on the newly annexed State of Texas, saying “had it not been taken from a Papist government, he would likely have kept silent on the subject.” He then mentions something about a “Slave system” but I cannot make out the last word. Would love to hear anything you guys think on this letter. The stamps, the paper, the writer, anything.

  2. Very interesting. I am from Louisville, Kentucky. My family immigrated in the 1850s to Indiana and then some settled in Louisville, Kentucky where I was born.

    It’s hard to make out some of the writing, but he talks about the Slave system and talks about the division line between the south and north concerning slavery. Louisville, Kentucky is right across the Ohio River from Indiana. A lot of enslaved people from the south were trying to go north to Indiana and further in search of freedom. The further North in the US at the time the more states there were that were anti-slavery. The way he talks he is against the slave system and speaks of abolitionists and wishes them success as he thinks “slaves are a curse to any country”.. I’d have to read it a few more times to understand better if I can make out more of his writing. I had to turn my laptop sideways to read the different color ink text and it’s hard to read words on top of words, but I get the gist of what he is trying to explain.

    He seems surprised that there are so many different religions and churches here and that a lot of people are not religious at all.

    I used to do research with old script writing like these and sometimes it would take many readings over and over to finally decipher all that is being said. If I can figure out more of what the text is saying, I may comment more. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Hi Patricia, thank you for your response.
      I intend to transcribe the letter to the best of my ability when I get a chance. Not sure if it will be a separate blog post or incorporated into this one as an update. I will also try to post “landscape” images of the red text so that folks find it a little easier to read. In addition to his comments on slavery, I thought it was interesting how he kept referring to the “Republic of Texas, i’m am guessing it was not yet a State at the time of writing (1839). I will have to read up a wee bit on that aspect U.S. history. I hope to share the rest of the letters over the coming months. The letters scan a 40 year period through to the end of the U.S. Civil War.

      1. Yes it is sometimes difficult to “make out some of the writing”, so we have now transcribed this letter in full. You can read the letter here:
        He does seem to favor the abolitionists, and at one point he also makes reference to an aspect of U.S. politics of the time that I was unaware of when he says “The great division is Mason and Anti-mason.” There seems to have been political movement against the role of the Masons in U.S. politics. I will have to read more about it. He also mentions the “Whigs” and the “Loco Focos”, the latter of which he seems to be a supporter. Perhaps there is a link between the “Masons” and the “Loco Focos”? Again, I will have to read more on this aspect of U.S. political history.

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