My partner and I spent two years as American Expats living in London. It was an amazing experience, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. In fact, if I had a do-over, I'd probably stay longer. We had it easy though. Thanks to email, Facetime, phone calls, and Facebook, it was as if we were hardly disconnected from our friends and family at all. And thanks to air travel, we made it home for most birthdays and other special family events.
While we were living there, I came across this seemingly simple piece of ephemera. A letter home, from a British immigrant to Salem, written to his parents back in the UK. It was written in 1843. How it has survived to this day, I don't know. But it had an immediate impact on me. Can you imagine a time when communication back home took months? When by the time your news was received, it was already out of date? And a quick visit was out of the question.
Given the Salem connection, and the interesting juxtaposition to my own situation, I 'needed' to own it. Images of the letter are below, and I've transcribed it as well for easier reading. There is so much interesting information packed into this letter, so much history. For example, "Mr. Miller", likely refers to William Miller, who led a radical religious cult in the 1830's to 40's called Millerism. The Millerites believed that the world would end in 1843...I guess we know how that ended... Or Mr. Jewett, a Salem publisher, best known for publishing Uncle Tom's Cabin and The Lamplighter (after moving his business to Boston in the mid-1840s). I'll dedicate the next couple of blog posts to dissecting this letter, but here is the complete letter to pique your interest....
I should have answered your letter by the last steamer, but the letter bag closed before I was aware of it. And now you shall have an account of what I am doing & intend to do. I have been working for more than a year at bookbinding; when I was free I made a bargain with Mr. Jewett to stay with him for 6 months longer, at least, as I had not had time to learn the art of bookbinding sufficiently well during the time the bindery has been opened so I thought it best to stay a little longer with him; besides I probably could not have done much better if any by leaving at this time. I have about 18/s per week wages, it costs me for board lodging etc etc - about 11s/6d per week, so that I have 6s/6d for clothing etc. Mr. Jewett gave me, according to the custom here, a new suit of clothes which with what I had will last me some time, so my money I can save for the present, what there is of it. Perhaps you will think it costs considerable for me to live to spend 11s/6 for board, but it is as cheap as I can get boarded for, without going to live among the Irish which would not do at all here. I board with Capt. Harron the same who Miss Towndrow saw at Mrs. Goodhues' when he was at home from sea. We are going to have a grand time on the 17th of June next, Bunker Hill Monument is just completed, & the 17th – the anniversary of the battle, Daniel Webster is to deliver an oration. The President of The United States and Governors from different States together with the Military Companies etc. will be there & a great time we shall have. Bunker Hill is about 11 miles from Salem & 2 from Boston. But I suppose that you do not care anything about it. We have had a long though not very cold winter. The spring thus far is backward, little or no warm weather as yet. My health is good as usual though I cannot expect it to continue so always but I hope it will, it is bad enough to be unwell at home but amongst strangers it is more so. I trust that God in his providence will grant me a continuance of this great blessing & I trust that I shall be truly thankful for it. Dear Mother I am grateful for the advice and council which you send me & I hope for more from you and that I shall profit by it. I told you in my last that it was my intention to unite with a church of Christ in this city this I did last March; our Pastor is a good and faithful minister one who preaches the Gospel in its purity and simplicity. Quite an excitement exists here at this time about the world being destroyed this year, Mr. Miller started it some time since & he has found a great many who believe him in this City. Some have given up business & shut up their shops thinking that it is no use making any more money as they will not want it, and I see by late papers that they are preaching these views in England but with what success I do not know. People will believe almost anything in these days, Mormonism made quite a stir here some time since but it is now almost out of date, something new is wanted, how different from all these systems of error is the religion of the Bible that will stand when they are all forgotten. I have been here so long that people and things appear quite natural and when I see or hear anything would be new to you I do not tell you of it because it is to me it is a common event. I like to fall in with an old sailor who has been all over the world & hear him spin yarns about his adventures, & manners & customs in foreign climes. I not only derive amusement but instruction from it and I can get considerable information in this way though they cannot always be believed. The newspapers, the London news that Brother George sends me. I receive them about every month & I am much obliged to him for them. I intended to have written to him this time, but as I missed the last steamer I will write to him by the next. Tell me in the next letter which you write me, if Mr. Towndrow is in England or not. I have not heard anything of him for a long time. When I heard last he was about to sail for home, whether or not he has gone home I cannot say. How differently things have turned out from what I expected when I left home but it is for the best as it is. And now I must close for this time by sending to you all; Parents. Brother. Sisters. Uncles. Aunts & Cousins and all my friends my best love & wishes for your happiness & prosperity. And I remain – Your Affectionate Son – Edward Lee.