Scots Abroad: Stories of Scottish Emigration

Letter of John Kerr, 1844

Letter of John Kerr to his father Hugh Kerr giving news about his farming, house building activities and news about other Scottish settlers in the area. Kerrsland, Illinois, 21 July 1844:

Dear Father

After a long silence I lift the pen to inform you how we are geting along in the Far West.

When Mr Crawford arrived he brought us a great many letters & other tokens of remembrance. I must say that they were received with joy and gratitude of which please inform our friends & give them all our best wishes, and tell them that we will be glad to receive letters from any or all of them. We had a letter from Janet Currie yesterday which I expect Martha will answer before long.

In my last letter I tried to give you some notion of American Farming I will now remark that this section of this Country is not adapted to raise wheat my own observation and experience prove it – last year I reaped ten Bushel of Wheat off Five acres of land sown & Hugh Ritchie had six bushel off Eight acres & James Patterson had 21 bushel off 3 acres which was the best product about here – We sow only 1½ bushel per acre and in general only doubled our seed last year. This year our wheat looked well till it commenced filling when it rusted very bad and I dont expect it will average over ten or twelve bushel per acre Corn last year brought a fair price but we had a bad crop of corn had none to sell but some to buy so it did us no good but harm. Corn looks worse this year that last and I will have to buy again if I can get it.

Oats last year was a good Crop. Brother had some acres of first rate Oats last year, which he harvasted and ofered them for sale at ten shillings per acre but could not find a buyer he thrashed them and fared worse than if he had got the above mentioned price Potatoes was a good price last year but the produce only one sixth of the former year I only sold fifteen dollars worth of them.

When Mr Crawford came here he employed me purchas land for him and I succeeded in geting one of the best peices of land to him that I ever saw I was tired farming and susceeded in geting three houses to build to Andrew, I contracted for them very cheap I will not make over fifteen shilings a week but that is a mighty sight better than farming.

I have also got a house to build for the trustees of Hugh Kerr he has got land joining Mr Crawfords There was no fewer than eight ofers put in to build Kerrs house but I got it being 20 dollars below any of them. They are all frame houses built in the folowing maner We take down 4 trees and hew them 9 inches on the side and make a frame of them and lay it on blocks of wood for a foundation. We cut trees for sleepers joints hewing one side of them and then sink them into the frame at the end. We then Mortice round the frame for standards which are all Oak and 4 inches by 3 inches 4 corners one 6 inches by 6 we put these in and put plates on on the top of 6 inches by 4 inches we then put in sawn joists and raise our couple we now put in our window and door frames, and then get our Weather Boarding which is Walnat 7 inches broad and ½ inch thick we commence at the foundation and nail on one board we then take another board and covers 2 inches off the first board with it and carries on so to the Roof showing 5 inches to the weather. The Roof is covered with shingles 18 inches long & broad ½ inch thick at the lower end and as thin as they can be made at the other – Our shingles are mostly Oak there is no pine here except what is brought down the river about 500 miles it is sawn with Mills where it grows and rafted down and is sold here at about a penny per foot 1 inch thick. Oak is sold at the Mill here at one half penny per foot so you see timber is cheap enough

Brother Robert is well he is working my land on the halfs, that is I give him team and horse feed seed and all farming inplements and I get one half of the produce in lieu of rent, this has been the wetest season in mans remembrance the crops of Oats and Wheat are secured and near an average but the Corn Crop will be greatly short – there will be little or no pork made here this season by the present apearance of things, there is no old corn here and a great many farmers will not make as much this year as do themselfes that is the case with me Robert planted 15 acres I do not think it will bring 100 bushel of Corn – our patotoes are prety good. I sowed 12 acres of wheat last fall Robert gets one third of it for harvasting and thrashing.

My attention is all taken up with building at present I have got two of Andrew houses finished and they moved into them last week we have had Andrew & wife and James Patterson and wife living in our house since March. We are only 1½ mile off now this is geting quite a Scots Settlement they are even leaveing Bunker and coming to our side.

I am happy to inform you that Dalry folks are all tolorable well Robert Kirkwood has been with me for two months back and is well.

Andrew got a letter from J. Mont to day I have not heard the contents yet. I was glad to hear from R. Currie that building is prity brisk about Dalry. I beleive I would have been as well about you as here but I am here I want to give this Country a fair trial and will push any trade awhile here, and if I do not get on better at it than farming, I think it likely I may return to Scotland before two years goes round I hope you will write soon request Brother Hugh to write me. Say to Sisters & Brothers that I want them to write at least send a news paper

Martha Jeanie & Agness Mary are well so am I never was better, in winter I was rideing the horse fell I went over his head he got up before me & set his foot on my hand and bruised my hand so that I wrought none for four weeks it is now well I am going to write to Hugh Archibald soon, they are very mindful of us, let all my Friends see this, I do not regard criticisem being conscious of no evil I defy the Clever Smart ones to destroy my peice of mind let them come here and see with there with there oun eyes and judge for themselves tell Lauren Crawford to write me soon and tell them that are geting papers from to send in return. I send them as a token of Friendship and to inform them that we are well and I look for a responce I have no word from David write me about him

Your Affectionate son

John Kerr

Paddocks Grove Illinois 23 July 1844               Paid 25

Mr Hugh Kerr