Letter 8-b

Date (sent): 22 August 1870
Writer: Harmen Jan te Selle
Place: Holland, Wisconsin
Addressee: Derk Willem te Selle
Address (sent to): Winterswijk, Netherlands


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! As Harmen Jan says, "Therefore, brother, judge for yourself what you should do about it."

Here are some of the main topics of the letter:

  • Derk Willem te Selle has asked younger brothere Harmen Jan whether it would be a good idea for Derk Willem to move his family to America.
  • Harmen Jan enumerates the prices of goods and services.
  • Harmen Jan also advises Derk Willem on the cost and availability of good land, and the interest cost on land purchases.
  • Harmen Jan makes no specific recommendation to Derk Willem.

Brother Derk Willem, you have written me a letter which I have given a lot of consideration, and yet I have not come to a conclusion to advise you one way or the other. Therefore, I’ll leave it to you. Yet I should say it will not be as worthwile for you as for your children. But I will put a few things in writing for you.

First of all you should realize that the guilders become dollars here and things are no longer as they were when we got here. At that time a lot of gold was mined which is no longer of much value now.. One dollar is calculated at one rijksdaalder[1. Rijksdaalder – A coin that equals two Dutch guilders and fifty cents] or two and a half guilders. Today I think you could get a dollar for two guilders and five or six stivers[2. Stiver – Dutch five-cent piece or a nickel]. So much more is the gold of greater value than the banknotes. Today there is plenty for sale here, but very little for hire. If you can manage to buy forty acres, which would be sufficient for a yoke of oxen or two small horses, you can make a good living. And you can easily work that with one of your little boys, and then you won’t have to cut so many sods[3. In Winterswijk, Gelderland the sods were cut 30 by 30 centimeters, and taken to the cowhouse in order to get them fertilized by the cow’s manure. Afterwards they were taken to the arable fields]. In this way you could have your other children take on a job, because hired hands earn a lot of money here. There are hands here who earn as much as 120 to 150 dollars a year. Now you may think that they have to work extremely hard, but it is nothing worse than at your place in Holland. Therefore I say that for your children it would be better here. They could become good farmers here in the course of time.

But I should get back to you again Derk Willem. It wouldn’t matter very much whether or not you would be able to pay for it all or whether you had a debt of a few hundred dollars. Though I must say that the interest rates are tremendously high: 8 or 9 percent at the lowest, but most of the time as much as 10 percent. So he who has a lot of debt cannot easily get out of it. To have much less than 40 acres here, would make things very difficult. In that case you cannot keep a team of oxen or horses, and with one ox or one horse you cannot work the land here properly.

I suppose you would like to know what such a piece of land would cost here. It varies a lot. At the moment the land is not so expensive as it used to be, because the grain was cheap for a couple of years. Today you can buy 40 acres of land for 1400…1600 as much as 2000 dollars. Depending on the (wooden) buildings that are on it. Nor do I know how it would suit you in those new areas where Jan Hendrik lives. The land over there is quite cheap. Some say the land is very good there, whereas others say it would not suit us there. I don’t know what it is like there; up to now I have had only one letter from Jan Hendrik and he has not written much about it. I have been expecting a letter for quite some time now but so far I have not received a single one. I myself have written as many as two letters to him, but I haven’t had a reply to either of them. He is in good health for sure because that is what someone has written who went there last fall. But he is not much of a writer and that’s that.

Yes loved ones, what more shall I write you. I have written you earlier what it would cost to settle here, so I don’t think it necessary to repeat this once again. Dear brother I don’t know what more I should write you about this. I have written as much about it as I could. Therefore, brother judge for yourself what you should do about it. You won’t have to eat black bread[4. Swart brood – Roggebrood – Ryebread]. I haven’t seen that again. Well, this should do.

Have the kindest regards from us all

Harmen Jan te Selle