Letter from Mr Morris Birkbeck

“English Prairie, (Illinoia,) Nov.25. 1818.

” Sir – Your favour of 15th June is before me. Presuming you retain a copy of the queries, I proceed to answer then in order: – Respecting domestic servants ; what may be the condition of our colony in two years it is impossible to foresee, but should it be in your power to bring with you female domestics, it would be well to do so ; also a carpenter or two and a few labourers ; if with families, so much the better. Written engagements for a term, or indentures, are not binding, unless renewed on this side of the Atlantic. I have not seen any of these documents, and can therefore give you no precise directions for them : perhaps a simple engagement from the parties, acknowledging as a debt the expence incurred in bringing our, might be a sufficient security, leaving their wages to be determined here according to the current rates, yet to be established by the proportion of supply to the demand, which, as I remarked above, it is now impossible to ascertain. As to the number of labourers, or female domestics, you would need perhaps six of the former and two of the latter would a safe adventure, looking to the colony for an addition, should you need it, after you are settled – before that you will find a greater number an incumbrance : this is, I think, all I can say to your first, third, fourth, and fifth queries. All expence of transfer of your family and luggage, supposing the latter to weigh ten thousand pounds, I should estimate under L.1000 sterling. On this particular subject Mr R. Flower would give you most particular information – The luggage would cost about ten dollars per 100 lbs. So much for your query. To the seventh query – I think L.200 would assist your family in plenty for a year, exclusive of wages and clothing. Eighth query – L.3000 would be a good capital for a section, or 640 acres, and I question your wishing to hold in cultivation a larger tract. Ninth query – I consider our situation not liable to future disturbance from Indians, in the event of a war between Great Britain and the United States, being covered by increasing settlements to the west, north-west, and north. Tenth query – The earthquakes mentioned by Bradbury I have heard of from many persons ; but I have not discovered that it has left any impression on the public mind ; on this score, for my own part, I feel no anxiety about the matter ; Great Britain, I suppose, in proportion to its dimensions, is equally liable to earthquakes. Elenventh query, – The route by New Orleans will, I have no doubt, be preferable to that by the eastern cities. When due precaution against the diseases of the climate are observed, I have never failed to recommend it. Twelfth query – The health of my family has not suffered from the climate. One of my sons has been affected with ague. This summer has been more sickly in these parts than any season for seven years past, and has afforded me a most encouraging confirmation of the temperature and salubrity of our settlement, and has also afforded immeasurable proofs of those facts regarding the sufferings of new settlers, to which I have so anxiously invited the attention of the readers of my journal. On the whole, provided common sense should be seconded by common industry, in the inclosure and cultivation of our colony, I think we shall not be visisted by more than our due share of physical calamity. I deferred noticing your second query, the subject being connected with the proposal respecting land, at the conclusion of your letter. I would strongly recommend your deferring the purchase of land until your arrival. It would be difficult to convey to you the reasons, but you would feel the propriety of my advice, should you come. I think you would have as good a choice two years hence as now, because excellent siutations, as yet unsurveyed, will then be on sale. I have no eligible offer to make you beyond a section. You inquire concerning venomous reptiles ; they are no source of injury or alarm to us. Insects, in new countries, often abound to an astonishing degree, and are sufficiently teazing to man and beast. Many species yield instantly to cultivation, and are heard of no more as plagues ; others will continue until conquered by order and industry. The thermometer ranges from 13 below zero to 89 above ; the extremes are, of course, of rare occurence, and short duration. At Philadelphia, I understand, it rose this summer 97, and in this neighbourhood, in the low river bottoms, I believe it might reach that degree. On our praire I think it never reached 89. The smaller streams are rapid and soon dry ; the larger sluggish in the extreme – catfish, perch, sturgeons abound, and many others I believe. I think 1000 dollars would build a comfortable plain dwelling. – Your obedient servant, M. Birkbeck.”

“Directed to W. Wilson, Esq. Batson’s Coffeehouse, London.”

Citation: Caledonian Mercury (Edinburgh, United Kingdom), 28 June 1819, available at the Scissors and Paste Database, http://www.scissorsandpaste.net/146.