1837: William Donaldson to James Donaldson

This letter was written by Irish emigrant William Donaldson (1810-1855) who we learn settled in Steubenville, Jefferson county, Ohio in 1837 with his wife Margaret Murphy (1814-Aft1850), daughter Mary Jane Donaldson (b. 1833) and son John Donaldson (b. 1835). The couple would eventually add six more children to their family. We can infer that William was a weaver when he settled in Steubenville but he eventually became an Innkeeper.

William was the first adult burial to take place in the Union Cemetery located on west Market Street in Steubenville, Ohio.


Steubenville, [Ohio]
January 21, 1837

Dear Brother,

You will no doubt think it strange that I did not write sooner but I think you will be satisfied on that point when the reasons for such delay is explained shortly after we came here. David Lindsey wrote to N. Hartford and mentioned our names which I expected you would hear but the chief reason was this—that we left our chest of clothes aboard of a steamboat on Lake Erie and did not get it to a few days ago. The particulars on this point you will hear in the part of our letter on the Sunday following after we left Utica.

We arrived in Buffalo that afternoon. There set in a heavy northwest snowstorm which lasted to the Thursday following. On that day (Thursday) about 1 o’clock we sailed for Cleveland in the steamboat DeWitt Clinton but was not long out to a fresh blow set in and the boat was obliged to put in for land on the Canada side where she lay at anchor part of that night. We then put out again and kept under way to the afternoon the next day. We were then about 15 miles past Erie in Pennsylvania where another blow compelled her to turn about and put in at Erie where we landed after dark. We were all very sick on the Lake except John Rainey. Wm. Johnston and Hunter left us at Rochester and ew did not see them till we came here. John’s family and mine all cried out to leave the boat at Erie & which we consented to do and also done.

At Buffalo we took all the clothes out of the large box and tied them in bundles to save the freight as it was very high. Our other chest was marked for Cleveland and stowed in the hold. Them we could not get out at Erie as they were covered very deep with other goods for the same place so we took what we had in the bundles with us and left the boat, leaving our chest and one of John Rainey’s at risk in the boat. We directed them to be forwarded to Pittsburgh which they were and a few days ago, we got them.

We spent the evening with James Scott and his family in Erie, Pennsylvania. He told me that our Uncle James is going to come to America in the Spring. We together with John Rainey and family engaged our package from Erie to Pittsburgh in the stage and left on Sunday morning at 4 o’clock. About a mile and a half from Erie, the stage upset and Margaret was considerably hurt. I then left the stage, taking her and little John with me and went back to Erie. John Rainey took Mary Jean with him to the next Inn where he left the stage to wait on us. Margaret soon recovered, or so much so as to permit of us proceeding on our journey. The agent paid the doctor and our expenses till the next stage went out which started on Tuesday morning.

We arrived in Pittsburgh on the Thursday morning next. We took a steamboat that day and landed here the next day which was Friday. The next day John Rainey and I hired two rooms on the third story of an Inn for which we pay 4 dollars per month as houses here are very scarce and dear. We could get no other place nor don’t expect any other before the first of April. I engaged work shortly after I came here and in one week got to work. We are furnished with loom and stand by our employers. John R. and I got one wheel and swifts between us from our employers and we bought another as it is the rule to give one wheel and swifts to every two looms. The price of one wheel & swifts is $5. We are paid $2 for spadling one warp. The No. of skeins are 480. I am weaving what is called Kentucky jean, 3 leaf twill with 5 treadles, cotton warp and woolen filling. Both blue. I am weaving a 900 at present. The price I have for it is 14.5 cents per yard of which I can weave more than ever I could of bedticking. Our webs comes out about 195 yards. I am now on the third for very hundred of a reed finer than this. There is 2.5 cents of an advance for weaving.

As John Rainey has stated the price of provisions, I will postpone it at this time. You will please write as soon as you receive this and give me all the particulars which you think will most interest me. But be particular to state all you know about Nancy as I am very uneasy to hear from her. I have not wrote to Ireland yet nor want to [till] I get your answer to this.

William & Antney Wilson is living 3 miles from Pittsburgh. William is talking of going to Ireland to see the farm. If he goes, I intend to send a letter with him. Antney is married. Let brother George know that journeymen carpenters wages here is $1.25 per day. I understood in Buffalo that carpenters wages was $1.75 in the summer but living high. Let William Ross know that a man that understands coloring wool can get from 9 to 10 dollars per week. The color is all made blue on both cotton and wool. We forgot to pay Mrs. Murphy the milk we had from them. I would be glad you would settle it. I have not room to say all that I want but in my next I will give you the particulars more fully.

John Ferguson wishes to let his friends know that he is well and thinks strange he has got no answer to his letter. Margaret wishes you to send particular word how her sister Mary Murphy is and if they moved to John Rainey’s house. Likewise if John, his brother, is still in Utica. We must conclude by remaining your affectionate brother, — William Donaldson

Let Hugh Murphy know that I cannot give him any particulars about his trade yet but one thing I do know that boots and shoes sell very high in my next. I will let him know more about it. Margaret sends her love to her sister Catherine and wants to know if she likes the place any better. She likewise sends her love to your wife Jean, her Uncle William Murphy and family, R. McCord, and Direct to Steubenville, Jefferson county, Ohio.

It cost me about $58 to come here on account of it being late in the season. We were a good deal put about.

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