"There are all those early memories;
one cannot get another set; one has
Willa Siebert Cather (1876–1947)
From: Shadows on the Rock
The following is from the copy of a letter written by William Watts in 1836 to his family in England. The original was obtained by his son, the late B.F.Watts of Ann Arbor, upon a visit to the old family home in England. We have thought it best not to change the spelling nor the style or the letter.
William Watts was born in England June 21st, 1799 and died in Ypsilanti March 15th, 1876. His first wife was a Rachel Horner and they had ten children. His second wife was Jemima Linn, whom he married in 1838, and they had four children. He was Superintendent of Mark Norris' Cross Street Mill for sixteen years. His health failed and he went into the grocery business. His store was at 18 Cross and his home at 22 W. Cross. Benjamin, the baby mentioned, moved from Ypsilanti to Ann Arbor in 1852 and with his brother, Joseph Cook Watts, went into the jewelry business at 10 S. Main, Ann Arbor.
The first part of the letter tells of the long trip, over eight weeks, in a ‘sailer' from London to New York, In New York they took passage to Buffalo at $6.25 per head (1/2 half price for children), and $1. per hundred for the luggage. They left New York in a large tow boat fastened to a large steamer which took them 160 miles to Albany. Then by steam coach to Schenectady and a tow boat drawn by two horses to Buffalo and and from Buffalo by boat to Detroit.
“I left my family at Detroit about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, with a few pence in my pocket, intending to walk all night, but the roads was so bad, which compelled me to stop at the tavern. They charged 3 d. for my bed.
I came to Ypsilanti about noon, 30 miles from Detroit. I went to the house of Mr. Norris the miller. I asked him for work in his mill. He said he did not want a miller at present, but thought he soon should. He offered to engage me for a month at 22 dollars. Having no money to travel with I was glad to accept it. He said twould cost near 20 dollars to get my family and luggage to Ypsilanti, in consequence of the roads being almost impassible. What to do I did not know. I had spent the last shilling. He gave me a very excellent supper and bed, and after breakfast he told me he would send his man for my family and luggage tomorrow. I felt thankful, but had no money to pay expenses on the road. Thursday morning after breakfast I told Mr. Norris I had no money. I offered him my watch which he took and lent me 4 dollars. About 8 o'clock this morning, (Friday) I came to Detroit, and the man about noon. We loaded our luggage and traveled about 4 miles that night. We staid at a Tavern where we had an excellent supper and breakfast. They charged 1 shilling for meals and half price for the children. October 1 we came about 16 miles through such a road as you never saw. We staid at a Tavern 10 miles from Ypsilanti. Mr. Norris was on his way to Detroit, and in consequence of the rain he slept at the same place. After paying for the best supper we ever had, & dry, we laid our beds on the floor. This morning I told the landlord we could not take breakfast as our money was all spent. He gave my wife and children some Coffe (sp) and gave me great encouragement, and told me Mr. Norris was an excellent man to work for. Just as we left the Tavern Mr. Norris gave me another Dollar, he said if the waggon (sp) broke down we might be another night on the road. We passed several broken wagons that were left in the mud, and about 3 o'clock in the afternoon we came to Ypsilanti.
I had engaged a very bad house, the only one I could get, for 3 shillings per week, until we could get a better one.
Monday the 3d (sp) and two following days I served the brick layer at one of Mr. Norris' new houses. One Tuesday night another brick layer came to my house and offered me $1.25 per day. I told him I was engaged. He had been all over the town and could not get a man. The next 14 days Mr. Norris set me to work in his Pearl Ash Mill. I boiled and baked 18 barrels of Pearl Ash. He was very pleased with it. Said it was almost the best he ever see, (he had ever seen) think is worth $500. He gave me 6 shillings more than my wages.
Saturday the 22nd I went to work in his Corn Mill where I am to remain. There are three men beside (s) me, one an Englishman. My wages is (are) $26 per month, a house and Garden and keeping for a cow as soon as I can get one, but that must be some time first as we have our house to furnish and a large doctors (‘s) bill to pay for my wife and children. Mr. Norris soon provided us a better home, he emptied his office where he used to do his writing and bought us a cooking stove. It cost 36 dollars and is the most convenient thing you ever see. (You have ever seen). He have (has) begun to build a new house for us in a very pleasant place, not far from the Mill, and a new Rail Road will run quite past, and there is near 1/2 acre of Excellent ground for a garden. I have made one Bedstead and my Master has sent me two Bedsteads and four chairs and he have (has) sold me a Table for 2 dollars.
Mr. Norris is an Excellent man, he have (has) in about 10 years saved a large property, he came from New York State to Ypsilanti 10 years ago. He told me he was forced to borrow money to pay his Expenses on the Road. Since that time he has done Wonders. He have (has) now one of the finest farms you ever saw, he told me he had a field of wheat last year of 80 acres the finest Crop he (has) ever see (seen). It all came ripe at once and all Carted in Excelent (sp) Condition. He have (has) also a fine handsome house where he lives and several cottages beside a Corn Mill and a fine Saw Mill that work (s) night and day. There looks to be timber enough all ready Cut out to build a town, besides hundreds of large timbers laying around the saw mill. And since I have been with him he have (has) bought a large farm. It lay (s) about a hundred miles to the West, on the Great Illinois Road. He have (has) also several shares in the New Rail Road. Next summer he intends to build a new Store and also a new Water Corn Mill.
Mrs. Norris is an Excelent (sp) Woman. She engaged Rachel the first day I went to work and she has been there evry (sp) since. She is treated as one of the family and like (s) her place very much. Her Missis (sp) is fond of her. She giver (gives her) 3 shillings per week and have (has) bought her a handsome dress for the winter.
Ypsilanti is a very pleasant place. It stands on a hill on both sides of the River. The first house was built by Mr. Norris about ten years ago. The town is rappidly enlarging and by next Spring we expect the great Western Rail Road from Detroit will be completed which will be an Excelent thing for the town as then goods of all kinds can be brought from all parts with little expense, then we expect to get Groceries much cheaper. There is in the town 4 Taverns Several Grocery and Drapery Shps 3 blacksmith Shops one Foundery, 3 Corn Mills 3 Saw, and 2 Cooper Shops, one close by our Mill. They make all the flour barrels we use about 50 in a week, there is also a new bank now opened. There is 3 Chapels, one for the Baptist one for the Presbyterians, and one for the Methodist. We joined the Class with four others on Sunday, October 9th. We have 80 members.
Wheat is 5s, Barley 3s, Oats 2s, Indian Corn 4s, Buckwheat 3s and Potatoes Is 6d per bushel. Clothing is dear, Shoes are Cheap. Tea 3s per pound, Candles 8d, Butter 3s, Cheese 6d, Sugar 8d very good, they are dearer now than ever was known, from the Roads being so bad which we hope will soon be prevented by the Rail Road. Beef and Mutton 3d per pound, plenty of Wood for the fire, we can have a two-horse load brought to our door for 2s 6d. Expected this will be one of the finest towns in the State in a few years. The Wheat is quite Equal to the Wheat in England and make the finest of Flour. All trades are in a flourishing State, farming appears to be the best, as Corn is high and tithes. No poor rates and but little expense, as plough the land only one and sew six pecks of wheat on an acre and harrow it in, and can; sell everything they grow for ready money. We have no poor people compared with England, we have no complaining in our streets. Every man appears to be comfortably enjoying the fruit of his labor. Day wages are 1.00 per day. Carpenters and brick layers get 2.00 per day. Here are a great many English and several from Norfolk. Two of them from near Swatham told me they often Earned 2.00 per day taking work.
Michigan is reconed a very fine State very Excelent and very fine timber. There is plenty of land to sell about 100 miles West and the price is 1.25 or 5s 2d per acre the same as in Illinois. The two States Join. We are according to the map about 400 miles from Mr. Read, 250 acrost this state to Chicago the first town in Ill. and then 150 southwest. Here is a Mr. Wilson from England one of the first settlers in Ypsilanti, he lives 3 miles from the town and frequently come to the Mill, he have lived here 11 years and have saved a great deal of money, but cannot save it fast enough, he intend to move to Ill. as soon as he can sell out to an advantage. He says he cannot raise so much Cattel nor grow so much corn as in Illois where the Climate is more temprate. Others say Michigan is quite equal to Illinois and hundreds have settled there this season. Tell Mr. Charles Cooper of Mattask there is plenty of room for him and his family. We very much want a good shoemaker. Tell him I am glad I am here, I like America, I like Michigan, I like Y psilanti, I like my Neighbors they are very friendly. I like my Master and I like my employment and for these reasons I am glad I am not in England. I should be very glad if you could send me a few pounds to buy a cow, as we are loosing every week for want of money to buy one as the keep with us cost us nothing. You can pay it into a bank in London which I think Mr. Windham will do for you and get their receipt and send to me, then I can take it to Detroit, but if Farms by come you had better send it by him if you spare any. If not I hope I shall get through. I hope I shall see Farms by and as many of the family as like to come. I will give him a home until he can get one, hope he will leave early in March as possible. I have no doubt if he come early he will save money enough to buy a farm, he can get employment as a Cooper or a Carpenter, as a great deal of building will be next, summer, and they are not very partickular, he may have 6s per day and his board. Let him bring plenty of Clothing as tis near double the price here. Will thank him to bring me a good piece of Beverteen and a good piece of Cord, and I will pay him when he come. If he can let him bring some Cuttings of the gooseberry and Currents, and some Sweede and white turnip seed Cabbage and Colliflower seed, and what flower seed he can get as I have 1/2 acre of Excelent, ground for Gardening.
I had begun to write you several weeks back, but in consequence of my Children being unwell and also my wife being confined I was forced to write my letter over again. I thank God my health is excelent, the Climate suit me well, and our Children since their sickness are all of them getting very healthy and very hearty. The baby, I should have told you in the first part of my letter, is a sweet little boy. His name is to be Benjamin. He is a very healthy Child and the quietest Child we ever had, but I am sorry to inform you that my wife still remain in a very weak State. She has a very bad cough and can eat very little and is so weak that she can scarcely keep from her bed.
Sometime have past away since I could write a line on this sheete, and circumstances are very much altered. I have now the Meloncholly tidings to Send you that My Wife is no more in this World. She has left me and my helpless Children behind and is now where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest. I will now endeaver to give you a short account of her sickness and death. When she had been confined five weeks, I and my family removed to our new house and Mrs. Norris took my wife and the baby and Betsey to her house, Still hoping that She would soon get better. Mrs. Norris waited on my wife herself, and nursed her as she would her own Child. She had everything that Could be thought of for her Comfort but all in vain, but still she kept getting weaker. She wished to Come home to her family. Mr. Norris sent her home in his carriage. As soon as She was home and the Neighbors knew it, presents came from all parts. Mrs. Showerman the Class Leader's wife came and took the baby, another lady took the next younger and they have them at present. My Wife had everything sent to her that could be thought of. One day three fat chickens and preserved peaches, apple tarts and many other things were sent to her. She enjoyed them very much. Two doctors attended her. They said she would soon get better. For a few days she felt herself better and eat pretty hearty. Her Cough was better and the pain in her side was gone and we hoped that she would soon get well, but the next day which was Thursday she appeared much weaker, and on Friday she had 4 doctors attending her.
They said they had little hope. It appeared to them to be a very quick Consumption. She continued much the same until half past 12 that night. Her speech began to fail and she breathed very short, but did not appear to have any pain. Two of her Neighbors were sitting up with her. They called me to her bedside and I soon found she was dying. I spoke to her several times and she tried to speak, but I could not understand her. I thought if that was dying, I should never more fear the pains of death. She appeared to have no pain, but gently, and I thought Sweetly, breathed her last breath and gave up the ghost. My prayer to God was, let me die the death of the righteous and let my last end be like hers. She died in peace, and is now far from this world of grief and sin with God eternal shut in. She died on Saturday morning at half past one, Dec 24th, 1836, and was buried on Christmas day, Sunday the 25th, in the most Respectful manner. The Custome here is to bury the dead the second day. She was taken to the Chapel in a carriage and I and my children followed in Mr. Norris's carriage and Mr. N. and Mrs. N. and family, and two other carriages beside, and a number of friends on feet. The corpse stood near the pulpit, while one of the travelling preachers preached her funeral. After she was burried, we returned to our homes the same way we went.
The neighbors are very kind and Mrs. Norris has took Joseph home to her house and send him to School. I was forced to take Rachel home to keep house, but I appear to have no home. I feel like one that is left alone. My wife and myself had been counting how comfortable we should be in our new Situation, but alas, my Exportatious are out, off, my hopes are blasted. I should be glad if Elizabeth and Sophia would come with Farnesby, as I want some one to guide my Children. I will find them both a good home. I will give them their board for looking after the Children and they may earn a great deal of money. They can have plenty of work. They get 6 or 7 shillings for making a dress. Hope they will not be afraid to come. Here is a very fruitful country, a very healthy Climate and a very pleasant situation, and everything to make them Comfortable, hope I may expect them. I hope for the sake of the dear Children I shall not be disappointed. Let them come from London in the American line of packets. It will cost them 5 pound 4s 6d, but they will Sail on the day appointed and will go in half the time and better accommodation. Bring plenty of flour and beef suite, Tea and Sugar, Cheese and Butter, and some salt pork for their passage. When they get to New York, let them leave the same afternoon, take their passage in a tow boat to Buffalo. That will cost them two and one half dollars. Get some provisions for two days, as you can get more on the way. When you get to Buffalo, take passage in a steam boat for Detroit. That will cost three dollars. Take some provision when you come to Detroit. If the Rail Road is finished that will bring you down to my house, where the Coaches stop, if not, you can come by the Stage Coach that run every day. I shall be glad to see as Many more of the family as like to come. If any of your Brother's family like to come, I shall be glad to see them. I hope you will write to me directly and let me Know who is coming. There is thousands *** thousands, acres of land you ever sow for 50 2 1/2d per acre. Timber land or Meadow land all at one price. The Climate is much the same as in England. The ground is hardly covered with snow, the frost is pretty sharp, with a fine, clear, healthy air.
Give my kind love to all the family. Hope I shall one day see them all in America. Government have now one hundred million dollars of Money that they have no use for. This is and must remain the finest Country in all the world. Mr. Norris is no Miller himself. He like me very much. He has spoken very highly of me. I have the Chief care of the Mill. I have an Excelent place, such a one as you cannot, find in England, and most likely can keep it as long as I like. I can have two other places and more wages, but I am satisfied. I must Conclude by saying that I hope to see a large part of the family next spring, and that I and all my Children are hearty and well, and that I still remain
Your affectionate son-in-law
The copy of this letter was given to the Archives of the Ypsilanti Museum some years ago by the Michigan Historical Collection, Ann Arbor.