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.