Sunday, 12 October 2008

Letter To America

The world has become smaller in terms of time and space. Communication is getting better and faster. Information technology and transport (ferries and air access), for small island societies has also improved greatly. For my peice i selected a letter published in our local paper in 1841." Preparing to Emigrate" Written by a Mr John MacIsaac, Ardnamonie - the letter clearly depicts a time of hardship and poverty. Prince Edward Island became home to many emigrants from the Hebrides in a bid to make a new start and through this letter we are able to experience, on a more personal level, the difficulties endured by the people of Uist at the time and share in the concerns of those who attempted to get themselves across the Atlantic to be with those who had already left. As a newcomer to the island, having moved recently from shetland i have found reaserching the past has given me a greater insight into the "sense and spirit" of this special place.

Iochdar 30th June 1841

My Dear Cousin
I was most happy to receive your excellent letter of May last, which was only thirty days on its way and was the most satisfactory letter that came to this place from that quarter for the last thirty years. You will be sorry to hear that the people in your native country are becoming poorer and poorer every year since you left. Colonel Gordon who is now the sole proprietor of all South Uist, Benbecula, and Barra, seems to be a very hard and selfish man, and the opinion generally entertained of him, is that the sooner people are quit of him, the better for them.Considerable numbers are going to America from Benbecula and some from Iochdar this same season, and many more are likely to go next season.
I myself would have gone this year but that I am resolved not to part with my poor aged father while he lives. The good old man is now very frail and requires all the kindness and attention that I can pay him. It is probable that next year will see me either in your Island or in Cape Breton. I request of you most earnestly to write me again soon after you receive this letter, and let me know how far my Uncles Neil and Donald MacAulay will assist me for the first twelve months after my arrival there. If those good men cannot or will not help me to support myself, my sisters, and my wife, I cannot venture to go there at all.All the means that I possess will do more than clear me out of this country and pay our passage money, but we are all healthy and I trust we would not be a burden upon our relatives there longer than the first year, and therefore I shall be preparing to emigrate. My wife is Mary, the eldest daughter left by Ian or John MacAllan who was in Carnan. Perhaps you have already heard that this decent man and his also decent wife died some years ago. She died of fever and he of inflammation in the brain. Our excellent Aunt Mary MacAulay spouse of Alexander MacDonald of Dugald died of consumption on the 7th of November 1839.
The rest of your relatives are nearly in the state that you left them. Donald your brother has this year removed from Garvyflinch to a croft here in Uchonasian. His eldest son Angus is now twenty years old, a stout fellow and a good shoemaker to trade. Mary the second eldest daughter is a smart promising girl and a good weaver, though only 13 years of age. Donald desires me to ask you would those two of his children do well in your island by their handicrafts, and also would he himself get his pension drawn there the same as here, for he has still some thoughts of emigrating although he has been baffled in it so often already. You say you have written four letters from that country. Only two of them reached us (received the first and the last). In the first you omitted to give your address completely, and therefore I could not write you with any chance that my letter would find you.Your stepmother and her son John are well and quite overjoyed by the encouragement your letters gives them in regard to America. They will be preparing to go next year. Alexander MacDonald your master, is married for some years to Marion the youngest daughter of Neil MacPhee Mason, son of Norman Ban of Aerdvachin (Ardamhachair). He has three young children.
Two of his brothers namely John from Uchonasian and Angus from Lianaquee (Linique) are going to Cape Breton this year, and it is most probable that Alex himself will follow them as soon as he can. Their father, poor old Lachlan is alive yet and very frail. Their mother Marianne, your Aunt, died 18th of April 1839. Since the month of July 1832 when you sailed for America, fifty-two persons, full-grown died in Iochdair. I cannot name them all but I shall give a few: Archie MacPhee of Neil Rhutharnish (Rughasinish), Norman Ban Ardbhachan (Aramhachair), Donald Mor MacCormick, Carnan, Mary McCormick, widow Balgarua (Balgarva), John McDonald son of John of Lachlan, Ardnamoner (Ardnamonie), Catherine MacIsaac daughter of Donald 'Goom' and Angus McDonald her husband and Flora her daughter in Killualay (Kilaulay), John McInnes of Finlay in Bualdu (Bualadubh) - Ronald MacDonald of Garryflinch, old Angus MacAulay in Balfarbee (Balgarva), a convert and also his wife Margaret Mor, and Archibald MacDonald, the biggest man in Iochdar being six feet five inches tall - May their souls rest in peace.Among other things you will let me know if the son of your Uncle John is a priest yet, and where he is.
You informed me before that the boy was in Rome in College. All your relatives unite with me in sending our love to your brothers and all your acquaintances request me to send you an offer of their very best wishes. Rev James MacGregor is quite well and happy in wishing me to say that your brother Neil was the best servant lad he ever saw or expected to see.You will continue attentive to the priceless Holy Religion and ever bear in mind America is a very good place. The Kingdom of Heaven is infinitely better. I remain, My Dear Archie,Your affectionate cousin
John MacIsaac of Donald of Angus