Posted on 3 Comments

Irishman’s Letter From America – 1840. Never Seen Before.

Irish Immigrant letter 1840.

Can you help us solve a mystery?   This letter has not been seen for 183 years.  It is the 2nd in a series of approximately 20 letters.  The first Irish immigrant letter we have dates from 1836 and was digitized and published on this site 12 months ago.  The original letters still sit on a shelf in box in Ireland.  Using a non-flash iPhone I photographed the letters to preserve them for posterity.  I am making this 2nd digital copy available to you today, on the 4th of July, to celebrate the long shared history between America & Ireland; I hope you enjoy.

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.
Yours, Charles Lord. M.Ed.

The letter begins “Louisville, KY.  Nov 16th 1840…. Dear Father, I again take my pen to write…”

Letter from America. 1840.

Irishman's letter home to Ireland from America. 1840.

Old immigrant letter from American to Ireland. 1840.

You can see from the stamps below, the letter was written Nov 16th 1840.  By Nov 23rd it was stamped in NY.  Did it travel by Pony Express?  The letter is also clearly stamped “Liverpool Ship Mail” so it probably sailed from New York to Liverpool England.  From England it would have made its way to Ireland.   Interestingly the letter is not addressed to Mr. Neill’s father; it is addressed “Care Mr. Robert Shaw, Silversmith.  Banbridge, Co. Down. Ireland.  I can only assume Mr. Shaw knew to keep the mail for the Neill family who were living on a farm a few miles outside town.  Perhaps they were members of the same congregation & could exchange correspondence for the mail on a Sunday.  Perhaps there was no Post Office in Banbridge, Co. Down, in 1840.  There is sufficient information there for to pull up some good background information.

It would be great to read your comments and insights in the comments below.

Stamped letter to Ireland from USA. 1840.

3 thoughts on “Irishman’s Letter From America – 1840. Never Seen Before.

  1. Not only excellent penmanship and grammar, but also political awareness. I have photographed and transcribed many letters from the 1840s and later. Mr. Neill packed a lot of information into a small space, it is very readable. Most of my research is focused on California Gold Rush where Irish immigrants comprised the largest block of Europeans in the placer gold mines.

    It is evident from census records that many Irish immigrants came to the U.S. before 1849 and migrated to California with families of wives, children, and parents. It is nice to read a letter from an Irish immigrant and his life before 1849.

    To your question of transit, the Pony Express did not come into existence until 1860. So, the letter could not have traveled through that delivery system. Possibly influencing Neill’s gravitation to the Whig party was the central figure of the party, Henry Clay, who lived in Kentucky.

    I did not find any Neill in my database of residents on the lower American River gold mining region from 1860. However, if Neill owned land, he may have been hesitant to even consider travelling to California in 1849 or later. I’m sure you should be able to track his life through census and property records either on or other website.

    Thank you for sharing.

  2. Well, the letter didn’t travel by Pony Express because that service only operated 1860-1861.
    I wish the rest of the letter were transcribed for us; it is difficult to read despite the clear and elegant penmanship.

  3. This is so totally amazing and so very important. If only penmanship were still just as appealing today as it was then, not to mention the art of letter writing. I still have correspondence relating with my great grandparents, I take them out from time to time just to enjoy. It would be interesting to perceive what he writes about America of that time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *