Scots Abroad: Stories of Scottish Emigration

Letter of Hugh Kerr, 1845

Letter of Hugh Kerr to his brother John Kerr in Paddocks Grove, Illinois. He gives news about Dalry friends, comments on the difficulties of emigrant farmers in America, and urges him to return to Scotland. Dalry, 2 February 1845:

Dear Brother

I intended to have written to you a considerable time ago, but have delayed doing so untill now, the steam ship will leave Britain in 2 days & less than one month should put you in possession of this letter. It appears from your letter to Father you intend as soon as convenient to return to Scotland, I am glad of this believing you will never feel contented unless you are making money, the chances for doing which at farming in Illenios must be next to none. I do think you will be happier in Dalry & be more likly to make a little cash. I shall not take up much space withe remarks regarding America, but as you will be curious to see what my oppinions may be now, I may state that when you left I had doubts if any man in recapt of 20 s a week should emigrate now in the altered circumstances of America I think if there is good prospect of continuance at 20 s a week here he should decidedly not go to the United States of America, but as to one half nearly of the population of Britian the able bodied men of whom receive from 4 s to 8 s a week, I should think it would be a vast improvement for them to be removed to the Western States of America. You or I have never known almost anything of the privations endured by Millions of our Countrymen.

With regard to Facts mentioned by you & Brother Robert I have seen nothing that was not to have been expected & call not the truth of one in question. I have observed in more that 1 or 2 of your Letters accounts given of hardships endured by Landlords – sons going barfoot etc etc The greatest recomendation America possesses in my Eyes is the plentifulness of land, & while it continues so the Landless will be nearly if not quite as well as the Proprietors, the Fact is Land will never be in any place worth as much as a means for acumulating money as the price of it lent at Interest & consequently of money is lent at 10 per cent a farm costing £100 will be worth about £6 or so a year you must be aware however your painting the Hardships of Landlords as you do must cause most People to form most exaggerated oppinions of the misery in Illenios, seeing the wealth that a farm or two gives here, aquired from the denseness of the Population & the power of making Laws which the landowners possess, One more remark & I will have done, you state the discomfort of your house snow coming in etc, & think you hear some of us say why not borrow money, now on reeding this their was at once presented to my mind a House at Templand built with turf & covered with Heather – and also a Bean stack of Father in Auchingan yard against either of which the snows in Illiniois might have beat in vain – you may have no Heather nor good Turf but surely you have straw of some sort which with a little labour might make an appartment weather tight your Sister Mrs Laird Mrs Archbald & Mrs Stirrat their Husbands & Families are all in usual health. Hugh Archbald is however a good deal faded since you left – Millar Anderson lost his situation with Mr Patrick at Martinmas, but got another with a Mr Alston near Strathaven he has upward of £30 a year with Coals Potatoes Milk House etc Ann & Family have removed with him – Jannet Kerr Neilson was married 2 or 3 weeks ago to Alexander Kerr & have taken up Anns House, Father is well and will weary much for your return. I consider it very fortunate for him that he still will have Jannet beside him – from David I have had no word these 6 months, I sent him a long letter about 4 months ago but think it must have miscarried and will send him another to night – from Robert I had a letter about 3 months ago he then stated he was going south in winter I am expecting word shortly from him.

I am glad to say my Children are Stout my wife has been confined for about 6 weeks having hurt her knee from scrubbing the Floor, I rejoiece however that it is now all but quite cured, & she is not likly to find mor desconvenience beyond using it sheglelly for a few weeks longer – I have enjoyed good health myself since you left with but trifling Interruptions Trade in general has been good these 2 years past, but fashion has rather gone against Paisley goods these 2 last Autumns, and although we have been as cautious as most, we have lost full one half of what we had gained, I trust the next 3 months will make up for losses, still no person can tell, The Paisley shaul Trade is a most fickle one, Its very unsteadiness however causes Profits to be sometimes good, I have been busy since the new year puting up 4 Looms, in the Warhouse for working light worsted shauls, & am trying to keep them secret for a few months, there are however one man in Barrhead & 2 in Glasgow who have in all about 6 more Looms, the few weavers who have them can earn […] a day, the shauls look splendid & the weavers will find it there interest to keep them secret, as long as possible, a few months however will expose them I am puting Machines on them, I get them for 29 s 120 cords is the size they work fine – with regard to your Father in Law & the rest of Mrs Kerr Freinds I have not heard any work latley but suppose they are well, – Dalry is very much altered since you left, the whole country round is broken up with Coal & Iron Stone Mines, & the Population is greatly changed & in quality likly deteriorated, from the great number of Irish & strangers, as a sample of the marks I may state they have got a Shooting Salloon on the Steading where William Harvie had his house, A long gallery mostly of Metal, a Penny is the charge for a shot & I am informed it pays well – There is also a Pawn Borker office in the place & a Catholic Chapel will soon be had also – the change with Iron works etc has benefitted the ouners of Property very much, as also Tailors, Smiths, Wrights etc Shopkeepers & Whisky sellers, – the Weavers it has injured by raising Rents, Coals, & to some extent provisions.

The country generaly is in a better position than when you left, we have had two good Harvests & provisions are lowered, & Trade is consequently better & wages higher – the Anti Corn Law Leauge has been, & is working a vast change on the oppinions of the country, & a short time a year or two will decidedly in my oppinion overturn the Corns Laws, and other Monopolies, when I calculate upon a long time of prosperous & good Trade, – I do not know exactly what Trade you could do in machines in Dalry at present but have little doubt that with your Character Abilities & Perseverance you would command a fair trade at them yet, give Mrs Kerr my best wishes & ever will happy to see her & Family in Scotland soon, I am in daily expectation of geting a letter from you, if you have not written one this arrives, lose no time in writing then, I have been so busy one way & another of late that I have neglected to send Papers, but will endeavour to send one every 2 or 3 weeks, having made up your mind to return to Scotland you will feel more interested in news from it, – this letter is very indeferently wrote but trust you will be able to find your way through it, trusting this will find you in good health & comfortable I remain your Brother

Hugh Kerr

Mr John Kerr
Paddocks Post Office
Madison County
State of Illenios