This list of the Letters from America briefly summarizes the content of each letter, and gives the writer’s name and date for each letter. Simply click on the letter title (e.g., Letter 1-a) to see the entire letter.
This is the first letter from America that was preserved by the TeSelle family. The author Gerrit Willem Bloemers and his wife Janna te Selle emigrated to Wisconsin in 1846. In October 1865 Gerrit Willem and Janna welcomed and took care of her nephews, brothers Jan Hendrik and Harmen Jan te Selle, when they emigrated from Winterswijk to America.
The first letter (Letter 1-a) was returned to G.W. Bloemers four or five months after being sent. Bloemers added the new letter 1-b and sent both together. Letter 1-b has some interesting insights into how the U.S. Civil War was affecting rural farm life in Wisconsin. The South has surrendered and now President Lincoln has been assassinated.
This is the first letter from Harmen Jan and Jan Hendrik te Selle since their arrival in the United States in October 1865. They are staying with their Uncle Gerrit Bloemers and Aunt Janna te Selle Bloemers in Wisconsin. This letter contains a fascinating detailed account of the journey from Hull (England) to Liverpool via train, and then on to New York via ship. After 17 days at sea, they finally arrived in New York harbor on October 29. They spent the night aboard ship, and were taken to Castle Garden Immigration Center the next day. From New York they headed toward Gibbsville, Wisconsin, by way of Buffalo and Detroit. This letter is a wonderful record of a difficult, but ultimately rewarding, journey.
Harmen Jan te Selle is doing well in Wisconsin, and is anxious to share all this news with his mother and brothers back home.
Harmen Jan inquires about the marriage of his older brother Gerrit Jan and reports various aspects of the farm. He also has a question for his brother Derk Willem.
Letter 4 is the first letter written by Jan Hendrik te Selle. He and his wife, Hanna Berendina Onnink, are still in Wisconsin, but are thinking about moving further west where “the land is better and cheaper.” Jan Hendrik talks a little about the Homestead Act, where settlers can get land for free if they stay on it for five years. He also talks at length about his land, crops, livestock, the weather, and about his life in Wisconsin.
Harmen Jan announces the birth of his first child, Dela (Dillije), born in April 1968 and named after his mother. Harmen Jan then writes a lengthy discussion of the weather, the crops, and the livestock, and compares the farming techniques of Wisconsin to those of Winterswijk — an interesting insight into the similarities and differences between the two areas.
Harmen Jan spends most of this letter berating the behavior of his older brother Hendrik Jan back home in Winterswijk, who is unhappily married to his second wife, and now wants to leave her and come to America. Harmen Jan has few kind words for Hendrik Jan, and advises him not to come, for he will not be well received by other Dutch immigrants in Wisconsin. Harmen Jan also touches on a number of other topics, and announces that brother Jan Hendrik has had a daughter named Dela.
Harmen Jan reports that his brother, Jan Hendrik has moved his family from Wisconsin to the new territory of Nebraska. The news from Nebraska so far is sketchy, but conditions there sound fairly difficult. Harmen Jan does not yet express any interest in moving to Nebraska himself, but he certainly seems anxious for news about his brother’s situation there.
Harmen Jan writes to his mother and brother, reporting that all is well with him and his family in Wisconsin. He received a letter two weeks ago from his brother Jan Hendrik in Nebraska. Jan Hendrik and his family are apparently all healthy, but the weather has been very dry and crops have not done well. Harmen Jan says that the weather and crops in Wisconsin have never been better. However, the bountiful crop has caused the crop prices to drop. The farmers are hurt by the falling prices, but the day laborers who harvest the plentiful crops are all doing well. Farm land for purchase or rent is expensive and scarce, which discourages more Holland farmers from immigrating to Wisconsin.
Apparently Derk Willem te Selle wrote an earlier letter asking his brother, Harmen Jan, whether it would be a good idea for Derk Willem and his family to consider moving to America. Harmen Jan is reluctant to give definite advice to his oldest brother, so he simply explains the costs of various items and the interest rate on borrowed money. It is hard to tell from this letter whether Harmen Jan thinks his brother should move to America or not!
Jan Hendrik te Selle wants to assure his family back in the Netherlands that the new territory of Nebraska is safe and prosperous. He describes the rich soil and extensive grassland. He describes the good profit he made by selling his Wisconsin land, and then moving to Nebraska, where he could get 80 acres of land for free, just by occupying and farming it for 5 years. He sounds very pleased with his decision to leave Wisconsin, and to venture southwest to Nebraska.
This letter is the first from Harmen Jan in more than a year. Very likely there are letters missing from our collection. Harmen Jan has now moved from Wisconsin to Nebraska, yet he makes very little mention of the move. He is focused on Nebraska crops and prices. He has a new 2-month old son William, born in September 1871. He also relates the tragic loss af a neighbor, Niklaas Vandervelde, who lost his oldest daughter in a prairie fire, along with his farmhouse, crops, and livestock.
Jan Hendrik writes to his mother and brothers in some detail about the livestock, crop yields, and prices. He also itemizes some of his clever transactions to acquire livestock and machinery. He clearly seems proud of his accomplishments. He mentions his three young children, and a fourth child born that year who survived only a few months. Jan Hendrik asks about the health of his mother, whom he says is “already so far in her days.”
Holland, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin February 8, 1873 Worthy Nephew, D. W. te Selle, Upon invitation of your uncle G. W. Bloemers, I am taking up the pen to write you some lines in his name and in his presence hoping that these lines will find you and your family with my two sisters in good… Read more »
These brief notes were written on the back of Letter 12-a. The first note was written from Derk Willem te Selle to the Grutters family, and forwarded along with Letter 12-a, as originally requested by G.W. Bloemers in Letter 12-a. The second note was written back to Derk Willem te Selle by G.Z. Bloemers and C.A. Grutters, thanking Derk Willem for forwarding the letter, and returning the original Letter 12-a to Derk Willem as he had requested.
Gerrit Willem te Selle was quite a religious person, so this letter begins with several paragraphs that sound more like a sermon than a letter — there is very little actual “news”. Eventually Gerrit Willem shares the news that his granddaughter, Gezina Woordes, got married. Gezina is the child of Gerrit Willem’s daughter Anna. Gerrit Willem sends photo of his deceased wife, Janna te Selle Bloemers (1796-1870), who was an aunt to Derk Willem te Selle, as well as to Jan Hendrik and Harmen Jan te Selle.
Gerrit Jan te Selle indicates that this is his second letter back home, but it is the first that has been preserved. He announces the birth of his third child, a daughter Dela (1873-1940). He then describes in detail the family’s journey from the Netherlands to Panama, Nebraska, by ship, rail, and finally by wagon for the last nine miles. Gerrit Jan next describes his purchase of 80 acres of land followed by the building of his farm house in just 7 days. Finally, he gives a detailed account of farming methods and crop prices. This letter is an excellent description of how Dutch farmers got their start in Nebraska in the 1870’s.
A letter to Dela ten Damme-teSelle from her sister and brother-in-law in Wisconsin, encouraging Dela to write to them and tell them about friends and family in the Netherlands.
Gerrit Jan conveys the sad news of the death of Uncle Christiaan Graaskamp, husband of Harmina te Selle Graaskamp, the aunt of the Gerrit Jan, Jan Hendrik, and Harmen Jan te Selle. Christiaan and Harmina lived with Gerrit Jan in Holland, Nebraska. Gerrit Jan also describes the recent drought and plague of locusts which devastated the Nebraska plains.
Gerrit Jan te Selle sends news that Harmen Jan te Selle got a new daughter Dina, born on March 4, 1876. However, Harmen Jan’s wife, Berendina Aleida Reusink, died on March 11 from complications with childbirth. Harmen Jan is left alone with four children.
Derk Willem had written to Harmen Jan about the death of Derk Willem’s wife, Janna Berendina Weerkamp. Harmen Jan consoles his older brother, saying that he knows from experience how hard it is to lose one’s wife. He also consoles his mother and cousins.
Harmen Jan te Selle thanks his mother, Dela ten Damme te Selle, age 76 years, for visiting her three sons in Nebraska. Interestingly, Harmen Jan also wrote extensively about the history and development of the United States.
Gerrit Jan te Selle warns his older brother Derk Willem te Selle about an unscrupulous neighbor in Nebraska, Willem Lefferdink. Lefferdink is making a trip to the Netherlands to recruit people to come to Nebraska. Gerrit Jan does not want Derk’s sons to be unwisely persuaded to come to America without first getting advice from Derk’s brothers, G.J., H.J., and J.H. te Selle in America.
In very religious language Gerrit Jan te Selle congratulates his mother, Dela ten Damme te Selle, on her birthday. He hopes that his mother has completely entrusted herself to Jesus.
Harmen Jan te Selle reports that most everyone is healthy, except for several kids that have whooping cough. The winter has been mild so far. Prices have risen because of low agricultural yields. HJ reads three newspapers and is a writer for one of them. HJ’s first mother-in-law recently died at age 60. HJ sends the Lord’s blessing to his mother and brother.
Harmen Jan te Selle thinks that recent letters between him and his mother have crossed in the mail. He encourages her to write again soon. Most everyone is in good health, except many of the children still have whooping cough. They had an early snowfall. Some farmers who sowed wheat early got surprised! Some banks have recently failed, but HJ doesn’t know why. HJ wants to know if his mother is receiving the newspapers that he is sending to her.
Harmen Jan expresses gratitude for everyone’s health. Apparently, Mother Dela does not always receive the newspapers that HJ has sent. Brother Derk is now an agent for a Rotterdam steamship line. HJ offers to help with advertising by writing an article about America for the Winterswijk newspaper.
Harmen Jan te Selle answers a letter from his mother and brother, philosophizing about life and death. HJ then moves on to more practical matters, such as the prices of agricultural products, cattle, and horses. HJ tells his brother Derk that his is an American agent for a Netherlands shipping company, but has not made much money from it. He makes more money as the County overseer of local roads and bridges. Recently, HJ installed a wind-driven water pump on his farm.
Gerrit Jan and Jan Hendrik te Selle respond to the news that their mother, Dela ten Damme te Selle, has died (March 26, 1883). Gerrit Jan had sent a book to Dela and to Derk around New Year, and GJ was glad she had received it before her death. The brothers ask about their brother Tobias, who was very ill. Regarding their mother’s possessions, the brothers waive their rights, but they would like to have their share of any money, so that can buy a memorial for her. Jan Hendrik had sent the news of Dela’s death to his Uncle Bloemers in Wisconsin. JH is also curious whether Derk had received a registered letter containing five dollars.
Harmen Jan te Selle is concerned that he hasn’t heard from his brother Derk since Derk sent news of Mother Dela’s death. HJ would like some news from home about family and friends, particularly his brother Tobias. HJ reports that brother Gerrit Jan and his son Jan Albert have been working a lot and making good money. Apparently, Gerrit Jan’s brother-in-law Willem Jonkers is thinking about returning to the Netherlands from Wisconsin. HJ thinks Willem is “a dope!” HJ also gives the usual report on agricultural prices and weather conditions.
Harmen Jan te Selle sends condolences to his brother Derk Willem on the death of his oldest son, also named Derk Willem (1859-1886). HJ also sends news about each of his 9 children. Harmen Jan describes his recent trip to Wisconsin to visit family and friends, particularly his Uncle G.W. Bloemers, husband of HJ’s Aunt Janna. Harmen Jan encourages Derk Willem to visit his three brothers in Nebraska soon. Jan Hendrik te Selle writes an addendum also encouraging Derk Willem to come to Nebraska.
Harmen Jan te Selle declines brother Derk Willem’s invitation to his son’s wedding in February 1888. The Nebraska winter was just too cold and wet to get away. HJ invites Derk Willem to come to Nebraska to attend his daughter Dela’s wedding to Dick Abbink. Harmen Jan writes his customary review of agricultural prices and weather. He also inquires about the health and families of his other brothers in the Netherlands, Hendrik Jan and Jan Albert, with whom he apparently has had no contact.
Gerrit Jan te Selle seems to chastise his brother Derk Willem for not responding to any of GJ’s last three letters. But there is some doubt whether DW even received the letters, so GJ is polite about his disappointment. Gerrit Jan is excited about his prosperous harvest, as well as about his good fortune in acquiring additional prime farmland near his own farm. GJ also reports that his daughter Dela has a good job as a housekeeper and server at a hotel in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Gerrit Jan te Selle sends news to Derk Willem te Selle that their Aunt Harmina Graaskamp passed away at the home of Gerrit Jan. She was 80 years of age. GJ wonders why he doesn’t receive any letters from Derk, although he has sent pictures himself. GJ has purchased a shop for his son Albert (Jan Albert te Selle).
Gerrit Jan te Selle says that he continues to write to Derk Willem te Selle, and continues to hope for a reply, even though GJ has received no response to his past several letters. GJ mentions that his daughter Dina was married on January 8, 1894, to J.B. Sikkink. GJ raves about his visit to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. He gives a lot of detail about the buildings, equipment, and exhibits — he was very impressed. While he was in Chicago, GJ twice heard sermons by pastor J.W. Dunnewold, who originates from farm “Pikkers” farm in Winterswijk. The pastor “had spoken a lot with dad (Jan Albert te Selle) during his illness”
Jan Hendrik te Selle gives thanks for the blessings of health and prosperity, and he admits that he has not written for several years. He is saddened by the death of his brother Jan Albert. JH doubts that the Dutch postal service ever delivers all the mail, compared to the American postal service, which is very reliable. JH’s son, Jan Willem, is studying to be a minister. His two older daughters are doing well also. Jan Hendrik gives a detailed report of his farm holdings and agricultural prices.
Gerrit Jan te Selle opens with his customary thanks to God for the blessings of health and prosperity. GJ’s daughter Dela and son-in-law Veneklaasen are moving to South Dakota for cheaper land. Gerrit Jan has been very busy supervising the remodeling of the local church, but that project has just finished. GJ explains the new postal service, which now offers daily delivery to individual post boxes located at each farm. Gerrit Jan has been in touch with his cousins from the Netherlands who now live in Kansas.
Gerrit Jan te Selle now writes to Jan Albert te Selle, the oldest son of Derk Willem te Selle, now that brother DW has passed away. GJ acknowledges the recent news about the death of another brother, Hendrik Jan te Selle (1832-1911). GJ thanks Jan Albert for inviting him to attend the wedding of Jan Albert’s daughter, Christina Janna. GJ and his brothers Jan Hendrik and Harmen Jan are sending a money order to the bridal couple in Winterswijk. Gerrit Jan also offers the usual report on crop and livestock prices and weather conditions in Nebraska. The is the last available letter in the “Letters from America” collection.