Letter 2

Letters From America

Date (sent): November 26, 1865
Writer: Harmen Jan te Selle
Sender: Harmen Jan te Selle, Jan Hendrik te Selle, Hanna Berendina te Selle-Onnink
Place: Gibbsville, Wisconsin
Addressee: Mrs. Dela te Selle-ten Damme, Derk Willem te Selle and brothers
Address (sent to): Fökkink farm, Winterswijk, NL


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.

  • departure at October 6th and arrival at Bloemers family at November 6th 1865
  • welcome by curious relatives and acquaintances
  • travelstory Rotterdam - Liverpool - New York.
  • arrival New York October 29th 1865.
  • description of New York
  • travel story from New York-Buffalo-Detroit-Grand Rapids

Gibbsville (Wisconsin) November 26, 1865

Dearly beloved parents, brothers and sisters and further friends and acquaintances. We are letting you know that we are still in a state of good health. And we hope to hear the same from you. If it would be otherwise we should be very sorry to hear so. As you know we left you on 6th October and we also arrived here on the 6th of this month at the’ home who were very happy to see us arrive in good health. Yes, all friends and acquaintances who heard of our arrival came speedily to see us, to hear out of our mouths some news again out of Holland.

And thus we were asked if there weren’t any more people who had put their minds to coming to America. We told them that there were indeed a few who would like to do so, but who sometimes lacked the money. And others who could afford it, did not want to, because they were worried about the trip and that consequently there were not many who did come. So they told us here that those people should be crazy to bring the landowners so much yield and to toil from dawn till dusk and yet not have barely enough bread to eat. I will not write anything further about this, for we really cannot say much about America as yet.

First of all I will just give you a brief account of our trip, of which I have already given you some details I think as far as Rotterdam. So I will start again from that point onwards.

On Saturday the 7th of October at 2 in the afternoon we left from there for Hull where we arrived Sunday night. But before I proceed I should let you know that we were in the company of 2 Americans. One by the name of J. Vogel, who had fetched his family from Holland. The other had been to Holland just for fun. Those two were of great use to us that way, for they had a good command of English and could speak to the people and then those men told us what we should do. So we arrived at Hull when it was getting dark already, but they told us just to follow them.

There were 33 Dutchmen of us. And thus we proceeded until we came to an inn. But that troupe was too big for one inn. Therefore we split up into two parties, but we stayed in one house with two dwellings in it. There we had to pay 12 nickels (stuivers) each for two times coffee and a night’s lodging. Monday morning at eight we left Hull for Liverpool by train, which was quite a pleasant trip, although we encountered there such amazingly high mountains and rock cliffs which the train had to go through over and over again.

One could wonder how it should be possible to pass underneath, sometimes for long stretches, and then it was so dark in the coach that we could not see each other. But there were also lovely acres of farmland and meadows with cattle having good grazing. We also saw camels or beasts of burden. And then there were many factories that belched so much smoke that the sky was always darkened by it and not so clear as at your place. But one could also tell by the state of the houses: they were likewise black and far from bright.

So Monday night we arrived at Liverpool and we had to stay there till Thursday morning. Otherwise the departure could have been on Wednesday the 11th. But when you are told to wait for another day, you cannot do much about it. There we spent 5 guilders and 14 nickels (stuivers), which was not much really for such a long time for the three of us.

So (on) Thursday at 2 in the afternoon we embarked with a troupe of a thousand men. The wind was quite in our favour, it was slightly north. After two days we came to the coast of Ireland; there another two hundred men joined us in a small boat. Subsequently we were 1200 altogether on that ship. You will say that was quite a bunch. It should be full up. And indeed it was, but that ship was pretty big, measuring 460 feet long and 40 wide. I do not know how deep, she was pretty deep, for she lay quite high on the water.

Yes, there were all sorts of people: Frenchmen, Englishmen, Irishmen, Germans, Italians, and only 33 of us Dutchmen. There were also three blacks, but those are mainly to be found in New York over here. Thus we sailed on, but the wind started to turn against us and on the 15th it started blowing fiercely and straight in front of us. The ship then rocked slightly so that many had to throw up, but it lasted only for 24 hours, although the wind kept blowing against us. Thus we sailed on slowly. However on Thursday the 19th the sea started to get a bit more turbulent so that the water several times washed over the deck, so that many of us got wet and then were intensely laughed at by the others.

Yes, I as well as Jan Hendrik found out for ourselves; we got soaking wet. But I lay down in bed fully dressed and I soon dried up. This went on for 2 nights and a day, but everyone stayed below since no-one felt like getting soaked again. It wasn’t too bad for seasickness. Most had to throw up and so did I and Jan Hendrik, but just once and I was only bedridden for one day. There were women who suffered longer but only one child in the age of six months died.

I shall also tell you about our food. Many did not like it, but we ourselves cannot say we didn’t. In the morning we had fresh bread with ample butter on it and coffee with sugar. In the afternoon we started off with soup first and afterwards potatoes with meat, and so much meat one could hardly eat it all. In the evening tea with sugar and sea biscuits, as many as we liked and again with butter, and Saturday rice instead of potatoes with either molasses or sugar on it and Sunday we had pudding and so we cannot say it was that bad really.

So we sailed slowly on and after traveling for 17 days we arrived at New York on Sunday afternoon the 29th. The wind had been against us all the time, otherwise (as it had been calculated) it could have been done in 12 or 13 days. Yet we had to stay off shore from that Sunday afternoon until Monday afternoon when we were taken to Castle Garden and there we had to pay again for the remaining stretch to Milwaukee, 46 and a half dollars as well as 6 dollars for the excess weight of the luggage. Then we were taken from Castle Garden to an Inn. There that man Vogel made an agreement for a dollar a day for each of us, but when we came to pay we were charged two dollars. We did not like that too much: six dollars for the three of us.

So I’ll tell you a little about the city. It was the prettiest that we have seen on our journey. The houses were so high: sometimes 5 or 6 floors. But then again it was a very big city for we were told there were around 2 million inhabitants. This city was divided into three parts with two rivers separating them.

Tuesday the 31st at 7 in the evening we left New York for Buffalo by train, where we arrived on Thursday at 6 in the morning. We could not leave any earlier than at 2 in the afternoon, but at that time some of our goods had not yet arrived. So some had to stay behind to see when the goods would come, particularly the bedding, since the chests had indeed arrived. I and another Dutchman stayed behind and the others went on to Detroit. Many wagons arrived, but our goods were still lacking when the fifth wagon rolled in. At 10 in the evening one chest of ours arrived that had also stayed behind, but still no bedding which did not arrive until 12.

However by that time we could not get away any earlier than at 2 the next afternoon. We arrived in Detroit between 1 and 1.30, where Jan Hendrik and Hanna and that man Vogel had waited. The others had moved on to Grand Rapids where they were going to settle.