Letter 19

Date (sent): 9 July 1878
Writer: Harmen Jan te Selle
Sender: Harmen Jan te Selle
Place: Firth, Lancaster County, Nebraska
Addressee: Mrs. Diela ten Damme te Selle and Brothers
Address (sent to): Winterswijk, Netherlands


Harmen Jan te Selle expresses gratitude for his mother's visit to the United States. Dela ten Damme te Selle was 76 years old when she came to America for the first time to visit her three sons in Nebraska. Interestingly, Harmen Jan also wrote extensively about the history and development of the United States.

Firth  Lancaster July 9 /78

Dear Respected Mother and Brothers.

We received your letter of June in good health. We understand and it really pleases us to learn that you all are very healthy as well.  And it pleased us even more that Mother just once came and visited us in her old age, and made this “little trip” over the Atlantic Ocean. And then traveled an additional 14 or 15 hundred miles overland in America by railroad.  That was quite an undertaking by Mother in her old age!  And she still looks good, although a bit older, because we had not seen her in 12 years. And especially because she is already over 76 years old. So therefore we now say thank you, Mother, for the portrait.

As far as the crops are concerned, everything grows and stands very nicely. The barley is ready, but lies a bit flat on the ground because of the rain. The barley is of good quality. The rye which we sowed is also good, although only little is sowed here. Oats is extraordinarily good. I didn’t sow much oats, only 8 acres or 20 schepelzaat. That’s, however, a lot for your standards! Wheat is reasonably good and I did about 70 acres, that’s about 175 schepelzaat in Gelderland. In corn I did 40 acres (or 100 schepelzaat) and if the harvest is good a lot can grow. We have a total of 130 acres farmland. As far as America is concerned, it is one of the best continents for wheat. The United States, or, in Dutch, de Verenigde Staten, is the best for all kinds of crops. You read already a lot in the papers about America, and so I cannot write you too much news. However, I can inform you in this letter a bit on the background of America.

As you know from history, Columbus discovered America.  America is populated by Europeans, English, French, Spanish, etc.

Due to several wars from time to time, England had gotten the upper hand, however, in North America and the Spanish in South America. But after awhile America got more populated by Europeans and natives.  And England made big profits and dictated laws and rights, as they pleased.   And that became a burden for America. So in the year 1776 there was a meeting in which it was decided that America should be an independent state.  That meeting was held on July 4, 1776, in attendance of 13 states then present.   And up until today we have here, in America, on July 4, the celebration of the remembrance of the independence of America.

But it was not over yet with this declaration of independence.   England did not want to give up so soon. So it cost 7 years of war and a lot of bloodshed to get liberated from English dominance. But at long last, England gave up.

In 1783 the English granted freedom to America, which was then recognized as the United States or “Verenigde Staten.” The United States is ruled by a president. There are now 45 million people and the surface area is 3.420.000 square miles. lt is divided into 48 states and territories. So each state is more than three times as big as the Netherlands. There are three American miles in an hour’s walk. Relatively, taken into account the total population, an additional couple of million people could be added before it is as crowded as in Holland. Furthermore, the United States are only a small part of America.

So we have British America, which belongs to England, Mexico and Cuba, which belong, for the largest share, to Spain. Then there is Brazil, which is even bigger than the United States, and a lot of other smaller states.

From this you can see, that America has room for many more millions of people.

The United States are less dependent on any other country. Gold, copper, iron, cotton, tobacco, etc. are found or grown here.   We are, however, dependent on Europe as such, because if we would not export all of these goods, then we would have everything in excess and we would not get good prices for these goods. And still there are thousands of acres of fertile land which is not cultivated.

The natives of America, which were here before the discovery by Columbus, are primitive people. They were called Indians by Columbus. Copper colored or redskins they are mostly called. They live off hunting, fishing, and stealing. But it will happen to them similar as to the Canaanites. They are removed by the whites. They cannot be taught how to farm, and they don’t even want to. As far as religion is concerned, they are hopeless, because they are very hostile to the missionaries. Therefore, they just live in uninhabited areas. They don’t have homes, as they live in huts made of bark.  There are various Indian tribes which each have a special name. One tribe is hostile to the other tribe, and they have wars among each other constantly, and try to exterminate each other so there are less and less of them. Our government always has soldiers (mercenaries) handy in areas where Indians dwell in order to protect whites and settlements, because sometimes they rob and murder tremendously. You must have noticed in the Pella that their greatest wealth consists of horse, dog, and bow.

Women and men can barely be distinguished because clothes are about the same. Men don’t have beards, as their beard hair doesn’t grow. They don’t care about money, only if they want to get gin or tobacco. We don’ t see them very often, but sometimes there are a few who have government freedom to beg.

A lot of scientists and writers don’t agree where the redskins come from.   Before Columbus visited America, they were already here despite the fact that America is separated by water similar to Europe and Asia.  But I can’t write much any more, because I don’t have enough paper, so enough is enough.

You did that nicely, Jan[i], by becoming a soldier (very good). Derk Willem, from the package of newspapers, one was lost or kept because the ties were broken. There were three left of them. Last week I sent another three. Next week I will again send three, because three costs the same as one.

The wheat is ready now very soon, or else I would have come to see how a wonderful field you make as you spread out the flax to let it dry. Now mother is over here after all, D.W. , you should also come and see our crops.  The very best regards.

H. J. te Selle.


On the side is added:

Regards from us to the other brothers. J.H. and G. Jan and family are also very healthy.

[i]. Jan Albert te Selle, born 3 March 1856, died 12 April 1939, son of Derk Willem te Selle (1827-1904)