Letter 5

Letters From America

Date (sent): 8 June 1868
Writer: Harmen Jan te Selle
Place: Holland, Wisconsin
Addressee: Mrs. Dela te Selle-ten Damme, Derk Willem te Selle
Address (sent to): Fökkink farm, Winterswijk, NL
Date (received): 28 June 1868
Remarks: A notation on the letter indicates, "Posted at New York the 13th ‑ received June 28, 1868


Harmen Jan pokes fun at Derk Willem for not writing more often. Harmen Jan assures his brother that "if we have to pay a few cents for it, it doesn’t make us any poorer."

Harmen Jan tells about the arrival of his first-born child, a daughter, Dela (Dillije), born April 21, 1868. He encourages his mother and brother to come to Wisconsin for a family celebration in August.

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 of the two areas.

  • chastises brother Derk Willem for not writing more often
  • announces the birth of daughter Dillije on 21 April 1868
  • reports on the weather, crops, and livestock
  • detailed discussion about how to cultivate the Wisconsin soil, and how it differs from Winterswijk farming
  • comparison of the Wisconsin climate to the Winterswijk climate

Town Holland (Wisconsin) June 8, 1868

Highly regarded Mother and Brothers with your wives and children. We let you know that we are all well and healthy yet, and we hope to hear the same about you. If it were otherwise it would make us heavy-hearted. But brother, what is the reason why you have not written us a letter? I wrote you last October and have not yet received an answer.

I don’t think that you have forgotten us altogether, or are you afraid that it might bring too much expense. No, Brother, do not be afraid of that, because I would rather have you write three or four times a year than only once, because if we have to pay a few cents for it, it doesn’t make us any poorer. Therefore, write as soon as possible, then I will know that you have received it. I will no longer let this delay me, but will inform you about this and that.

As to the circumstances here I will first let you know that we have received a new young daughter on April 21. Wife and child are well and healthy. Her name is Dela… named after mother. That name, here in America is Dillije. So I invite you to come on August 1st to the children-meal.

Now I will also write you a few lines about nature (the climate). From the first of May it was very dry and cold here, so the grain, now up, has not made much progress. The grain stands well on the ground, even though it is not growing. So I believe that if we get warm weather and rain there will be some growth. So I think we will get a nice little pile of seed, because we have sowed 5 acres of wheat and 2 acres of rye more than we did last year.

We have also sowed 23 acres of wheat. To your standards that means 57 Schepelzaad[1. “Schepel” (a bushel) is:
(a). An old measure of volume, originally one quarter hectoliter and therefore it differed per region; on introducing the metric system it was fixed on a standard of 10 liters;

(b). An old land measure; in the Dutch provinces of Drenthe and Gelderland also called “schepelgezaai” and “schepelzaad” (a bushel’s sowing) indicating the area of land that can be sown with one bushel of rye; e.g. the Gelderland schepel equals 1450 m², whereas the Drenthe schepel measures 833 m².] Beyond that we have 4 acres of oats, 2 acres of peas, also ryecorn (roggekoren) and buckwheat. So we have about 40 acres under cultivation. You will say that is 100 Schepelzaad. How can you work all that? For that, you would need four or five hired men here, but that goes better here than there by you. Here you don’t have to mow sods like you have to do. As soon as the crop is off the land, then the work is mostly done in the winter, because in the summer the animals do not come in the barn. Then the manure is brought on the land, and the plowing begins immediately until it begins to freeze. While there is work, the land stays lying fallow until spring when the time comes to sow. Then one goes over it with a cultivator. There are nine or eleven blades which are five and five quarters to an inch and a half… four‑sided.

One hitches either two horses or two oxen to it, according to what one has. With that, the land is made loose, then sowed, and afterwards dragged. So you can easily realize that we don’t need as many people here as over there.

But in the harvest it is busy here. If we needed as many people (as much help) here as over there, there would be no profit, since one has to pay a hired man from 100 to 140 dollars, and the day workers a dollar to a dollar and a half. We have made very little money yet this year. We sold wheat and hay for about $100. But that is not all profit, because the $80 daily wages and $100 for the hired man is subtracted. That’s a lot.

Wheat is rather expensive here and costs $2 a bushel and sometimes more then $2 a bushel. Rye is about $1 a bushel here, oats 74 cents, buckwheat $1, potatoes 50 cents a bushel, butter 25 cents a pound, eggs 1 cent each.

Cattle are still quite high… cows 30 to 40 dollars, and good, heavy work‑oxen $130 to $140 a pair. Here they go 2 and 2 in a yoke. So, one cannot buy them here otherwise than in a pair. We bought a yoke of oxen yet this spring for 130 dollars. So this year we worked with 2 teams of oxen, and broke up some new land. One cannot do that with horses.

I gave you above the price of cattle, but I didn’t write about horses. You may think that they are worth no money here, but definitely they are presently worth some money! They cost from $150 to $200 and a young foal (veulen‑filly) of three months old brings $40 to $50. We bought a young filly for $40, and some days ago, we had ourselves a colt from a horse. So, I believe if they stay well, they will become a good team.

Yes, beloved, what more shall I write. I could write you a little about the climate (lugtgesteldheid). lt is very healthy here, even as healthy as over there, but there are times when it is not so healthy. Sometimes the winter can be very cold, and the westwind can be very strong. No person can then stay outside.

In the summer it can be burning hot…much hotter than over there. It’s because at midday the sun is much more directly overhead. Also we are at a much higher altitude, so the sun can become much stronger, but the summer is not as long here as it is there. Also the crops can ripen more quickly, so one hardly knows where it will go. In the summer, the days here are much shorter, and in the winter much longer than by you. I don’t understand how everything works. Also in the summer we have heavy thunderstorms.

Here I must end with the pen but not with the heart. Have the greetings from all of us, also J H and his wife.

H. J. te Selle