An article appeared in the Mid-Ulster Mail on Saturday 9 February 1957, concerning a letter which had been written in Highland Creek, Canada, in 1824 and sent to Coagh, Co Tyrone. The Mid-Ulster Mail article was as follows –
133-YEARS-OLD LETTER – FROM A COAGH EMIGRANT
A letter published in an Ontario newspaper recently gave some of the experiences of a Coagh emigrant of 133 years ago, from the time of departure from Ireland till his arrival and first few days in Canada. The newspaper was forwarded to “The Postmaster, Coagh” by Mrs Mary E Spurge of Montreal who ‘thought the article might be of some interest to the people of the town.’
Mr Berkeley Elliott, sub-postmaster, Coagh, does not know Mrs Spurge, or anyone connected with her, in the district. The names of several people resident in the district at that time are mentioned in the letter and Mr Elliott understands that the person to whom it was addressed – Mr William Humphrey of Coagh – was one of those connected with the erection of Coagh Orange Hall.
The letter reads –
September 24, 1824
Dear Father and Mother and Sisters
I take this opportunity of writing to you to let you know that we are all well at present. Thanks be to God for all his kind mercy to us since we left you. At four o’clock on Saturday, the 12th of June, we weighed anchor and had a fair wind. The next morning we took our departure from Derry mountains and saw land no more. We had one hundred and seventeen passengers. They were almost all sick; only myself and a few others.
Margaret was sick for three weeks, my mother-in-law was sick for two weeks and my father-in-law had not one hour’s sickness since he left home and he is quite mended of the old complaint. Samuel was but a few days at sea until he got well. My William was not sick since he left home and he can talk very well and he is fatter than when he left you.
On the 16th of June we lost our mast and got up another one. On the 18th our brig fell on her side and it was wonderful to hear the shouts of the passengers for about five minutes. On the 24th of June we had high winds and snow and on the 27th of June we lost our mast again, but did not get it mended until we landed. On the 5th of July we passed mountains of ice as high as the mast of our ship.
The wind blew hard and we were driven down to the North that night. We saw Newfoundland but it was the north part of it and our course was to the west. On the 9th, we passed Cape Ray and entered the Gulf of St Lawrence. The Gulf is four hundred miles long and the river three hundred, so that is seven hundred miles from you first see land to Quebec, so we had contrary winds from we first saw Newfoundland.
On the 12th of July there were 26 Orangemen dressed themselves and walked three times around the deck and gave three cheers for old Ireland and went and bought four gallons of rum and parted in peace. On the 29th of July we landed all in perfect health after a passage of seven weeks. Thanks be to God for it.
We stopped two days in Quebec; it has a black appearance. There are full fine stores in it. I saw John Egnew, he was very kind to us. I saw James McCana, he is well and going home. He and Edward McAnaway were very kind to us. We then took a steamboat to Montreal and stayed two days there. Mr Richardson went to Benjamin Workman and left the letter for Robert Workman. He told us that he was there about two weeks ago and would be back in about eight days and that they were well and doing well.
We went and hired a wagon and went out nine miles to Lachine and there took a steamboat one hundred and fifty miles to Prescott. We were nine days in our passage and when we landed in Prescott the first I saw was my sister Mary and she took us to her house and we stayed all night and then we took the steamboat sixty miles to Kingston and we stopped there six days.
You may let James Bovain know that I went out and saw George and he is well and he told me that he would send his mother six pounds. Kingston is a good town and is very rich. Mr Twigg lives five miles out of town and William and I were out and he has a beautiful place. You may let Mrs Johnston know that her brother, Will Cran, is well and has a full fine shop. We went and got a steamboat and sailed to Fort George and found George and Robert Gilmore there and they were all in good health when I saw them. It is a beautiful place: the Yankees on one side of the river and the British on the other and the centries about eight perches apart.
John Humphrey’s Joseph is dead. He lived but two days after he landed in Fort George. The steamboat stopped for about eight hours and then we went away to York, landed on the 25th of August and went to John Richardson’s place. He has two hundred acres of good land and has a house on it about two perches from the road and two days after Margaret had a daughter and it lived for three weeks and I called it for my mother.
I took a house three miles from their place and set up a tavern. It is a very pretty place, there is a river running past the door and there is a flour mill on it and saw mills within two perches of my door. I can buy rum at two shillings per gallon and sell it for eight shillings. There is a licence here as well as at home. Labouring men get twelve dollars per month and found, a girl will get five dollars per month. I would not advise any person to come here for the road is very dangerous and if anything would happen, then they would blame me, but I don’t rue it.
Weaving is doing very well. You will get 7 pence and a farthing per yard and plenty of it to do. There is nothing here that you would work at but you will be paid for it. The land is better here than at home.
My brother, Joseph, wrote to John Richardson, the twelfth of July and got word of us being here, and he said that he and his sister wanted to come. I wrote to him but I got no answer. You may let my sister Elizabeth and my brother Andrew Carson know that I was sorry I did not see them before I came away.
Give my love to them and to my sister Judy, to my aunt Nancy Johnston and other inquiring friends.
Flour sells at 2d per pound; beef at 3d per pound, potatoes at 1 shilling 3d per bushel. So no more but remain your same,
James to death.
P.S. I will write to you in the course of three months. When you write, direct to Mr Patrick, watch-clock maker, to his care for James Humphrey, Highland Creek, York, Upper Canada, and surely send your letters to New York, for the letter that Henry took for Mr Richardson to Belfast cost him two shillings and the one that came by Quebec cost him seven shillings.