1841: David Johnston to James Johnston, Jr.

What Michigan farmer James Johnston might have looked like in the 1840s

This letter was written by David Johnston (1797-Aft1875), who was residing in the same household as William Johnston (1779-Aft1850), Joseph Johnston (1790-Aft1850), and Mary Ann Nealy [Neely?] (1831-Aft1850) — all natives of Ireland — in Sparta, Livingston, New York, in the 1850 census. [They were enumerated as “Johnson” rather than “Johnston” though it’s clear from this letter that they went by the latter name.] I have found a record for a baptism in Ireland that suggests David Johnston came from Kircubbin, County Down, Ireland, and that his father’s name was William. The 1860 and 1870 Census records show David residing in Sparta with a wife named Nancy, born about 1801 in Ireland. An agricultural survey conducted in 1860 shows David with 66 acres of land near Sparta, most of it improved and planted to wheat and rye.

David wrote the letter to his nephew,  James Johnston, Jr. (182-Aft1860) — a native of Ireland — then residing and farming in Somerset, Hillsdale County, Michigan. The 1860 census enumerates James as a bachelor in the same household as Hiram Baird (1795-Aft1860) — a mason born in New Jersey. James is still enumerated in Somerset in the 1870 census, this time sharing his residence with James McClain (1820-Aft1870) and also from Ireland.

Stampless Cover


Addressed to James Johnston, Junior, Somerset, Hillsdale County, Michigan

Sparta, New York
May 1841

Dear Friends,

Page 1

I now sit down to write a few lines to you to let you know that we are as well as usual at present. Mother is declining fast. She is troubled with wind working in her breast and lightness in her head. Thanks be to God for all those mercies. I received your letter dated June the 6, 1840. I also received one May the 10, dated April the 3, 1841, and I received Widow Deacon’s today dated May the 11th and we feel very sorry for her losses and we all felt very sorry when we heard of the numerous complaints your mother had before she died.

We are living the same way now as when you left here. You wanted to know how we got our washing done. I have done it myself since Mary Ann went to the Doctors. We have two working horses. We have a young stud horse two years old. We were offered one hundred dollars for him but would not take it. We have one yoke of working cattle. We have three cows, and two heifers. We have thirty-eight head of sheep. We have twelve old hogs and eleven young ones. We had one hundred and ninety-five bushels of wheat last fall and we have sold none of it yet. We traded off our bay mare for a new wagon about a year ago and bought a set of new harness. We made a new stable ourselves which holds six horses ath south end of the old stable.

Page 2

Your father wanted to know how long it was since he was married. Your Uncle John says that he was thirty-nine years a married man. Your Aunt Ann and family is all well but Maryann that has the fever and ague, but is now getting better. They all have had the measles but Margaret escaped as yet. John Macy is well and is living at Judge McNair’s. He hired with him for a year and he says he has twelve dollars per month. His time will be up in five months. Alexander Russell and wife is well and is going to move this week into a new house the Doctor has built for then. Your Uncle Hugh Blare [Blair] is dead about two years ago. Your cousin Hugh Blare [Blair] of Rochester and family was well last winter. We have no account since. Your friends that went home to Ireland would like to be back in America again. James McKlary [McClary] is well and is working on the Geneseo Flats and I have not seen him since I received your letter. Orlow Hopkins and family is well and sends their love to you and wants to know if you think of coming back to work on his seat again as he would ___ to see you let Thomas McClean now that his father is living with his son Hugh in Groveland and his health is as usual and has one cow. Your Aunt Mary is also living with your brother Hugh in Groveland. Widow Beuty is sick at present with an inflammation in her head and eyes. All the rest of the family is well.

John Jorden of the mile burn came to Sparta last fall and staid three weeks here and then went home again for his mother and sisters. Alexander Russel’s father and his family is expected to come back with him and also his mother-in-law is expected to come. Robert JOhnston’s wife expects two of her sisters and one brother-in-law to come along. We hear that they were to sail in April but they had not got to Sparta yet, but they are expected to be here in about two weeks. Jack Adams of Lissa__soo is come to New York this spring. James Finley and family from below Cloughmills came to Rochester last spring and also a family of the Youns came last spring to Rochester from Lislabin.

We heard that Charles McNeel and family came to America and went home again. We hear that Daniel McNeel came to America but we did not hear whether he went home again or not. All your old neighbors and their families are well at present. Maryann and Rosalie is both at home now but Maryann is going back to the Doctors as soon as she gets well. She don’t shake at present. She has broke it by taking barks and wine. They intend to write to you sometime soon.

Page 4 (top)

You wanted to know about all deaths and marriages. James White — the blacksmith, Billy Rodment, John Fi_____, Samuel McGown, James Wa___, old Mitch Cushmain and wife both died at once with a fever, old Ann Graham, Ann Ross, Jane Fenton; we heard that these were all dead in Ireland. Old Mr. Scott is dead. Mr. Mills at the schoolhouse is dead. Charles Youngs is dead. Old Mr. Reed, Esquire, Sally and two children all dead in one year. Out of one house  old Mr. Ronnck, his wife and son were all buried in one day. Three funerals were to be seen following each other. It was a dreadful sight. The scarlet fever was raging here about a year ago. Robert Ross’ son Hugh died with it on May the 6th 1840. Archibald McFabridge had a son who died about the same time with the fever. His name was William, aged fifteen _____They have another son; his name is Edward Logan. Robert Johnston had a daughter killed with their own cow about a year ago. There is a great number of deaths in Dansville at present. Charles Moos is married to Ellen Kemp. James Hammons is married to Maria Galaspay [Galespie].

Page 4 (bottom)

Dear brother Camuel, your mother would like to see you once more before she dies as she does not expect to be a long liver. Let us know in the first letter you write whether you are going to return or not. We looked for your coming hime last fall and this spring both as we heard you were determined to come. Remember me to Rebecca Mark and tell her to le me know whether she keeps anything to drink at the end of the bridge or not. Margaret sends her love to her cousins. I have given you all the accounts I have heard about any of your friends.

John Craig is now a Doctor. He has been to college and is now doing very well. He lives in Rork Center and is liked very well. James Craig has two sons, William and James. Mrs. Craig is well and wishes to be remembered to you all. Eleanor Craig sends her best respects to you all. Roseann Prestin and her man came on a visit from Rochester and staid two weeks with us.

My mother, brothers and sister join with me in sending their love to you all. I add no more at present but remain your loving and affectionate uncle till death, — David Johnston


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