Evan & Elizabeth Davis
NLW 14111D: The Letters of Edward Peat
The highly readable and lively letters of Edward Peat to his brother in Llanbryn-mair include a wealth of information about his new life in Gomer, Ohio, between 1868 and 1883.
A detailed picture of their daily lives is given, of farming and the weather, of the prices of stock, crops and supplies as well as an account of the children succeeding to find work and earn a good living. Borrowing money is also discussed often, as well as the constant pressure on the family to try and repay the debt.
Many people from the area Edward Peat had been born, had also settled in Gomer therefore it was quite natural for him to send stories about "local" people home to his brother, as well as what was happening in the Chapel and in Welsh events, such as the eisteddfod and the choir. From time to time we feel Edward's hiraeth or homesickness and we also have an account of his death in December 1878.
Leaving WalesEdward Peat and his family left their home in Braichodnant, Llanbryn-mair, and emigrated to America in 1868. They were not doing anything out of the ordinary, of course. They were following in the footsteps of many people from that region who had already left their homeland to seek a better life in the United States.
"... every omen now shows that America will be one of the most Blissful countries under the sun, in every way."Morris Peat, Edward's brother, had emigrated a few years earlier and he had soon succeeded in finding his feet in the new land. Undoubtedly, Morris's success and his descriptions of life in America inspired Edward and his family to follow him.
Waterloo Dock (1864)
(By permission of Liverpool Records Office)
The VoyageA letter sent from Liverpool, a day before setting out to sea, is in this collection. Ann, the daughter, wrote another letter when they were on board the France in May 1868.
that he had been thinking a great deal about his extended family and old neighbors during the voyage and that his mind had winged its way often to Llanbryn-mair, flitting from one house to another.
First impressions of the United States
"But whoever comes here of the same age as I was when I came will surely be sorely regretful. Not for coming here but that they did not come here sooner."Despite the voyage and his homesickness, Edward's first impressions of America were very favorable. Indeed, everything was better than expected:
. (The same feeling is expressed in
"Well, Dear Brothers, and elderly Mother, it is quite a big thing to come to America, but after Coming everything is better than I thought, the people look better and very respectful of each other, wearing good attire - living in good houses."
The family lived at first in Ebensburg and they were warmly welcomed by their neighbors. Edward soon came to realize that he should have emigrated twenty years earlier as the standard of living was much higher in America. He also realized he could easily have brought his elderly mother with him to America.
Moving to GomerIt appears that the family had no intention right from the start of settling in Ebensburg. It was only a temporary place to stay until they found somewhere more suitable in the state.
A few months after arriving, Edward was keen to know more about the land in Allen County. He noted his intentions in . The letter also includes interesting information about crops, prices, funeral arrangements, "the ladies of America", utensils to wash clothes, fruit gathering and the weather (English translation available)
By the end of 1868 or the beginning of 1869, the family had moved and settled in the district of Gomer. In the first letters he sent from his new home, he writes about the in the area and , as well as the tools used to cut hay and corn.
They had forty acres of flat, fertile land to farm. In the six acre field next to the house, wheat was planted on five acres and oats and grass on the rest. Edward went to Lima to buy thirty apple trees to plant in front of the house and currants, gooseberries, grapes and hop plants for the small garden. They had to clear parts of the land after arriving and put up a fence around two other fields.
is described, as well as how a large ash tree on their land was felled.
, Edward describes the different trees which grew in the area and which wood was used for different purposes. There is also a description of the large sawmill in the same letter.
" It is much easier to live here ..."
"... and what is better for the well-being of a man's body than that: - plenty of fatty meat - beef and ham on the table at all times - families in this country do not kill "breeding sows", no, they insist on the best for their families."Without doubt, life was easier for the family in Gomer than it was in Wales. Edward and his family did not lack anything after moving to America. Plenty of everything was available there. One strange custom which never ceased to amaze Edward was the custom of eating meat - and so much of it - with every meal. he said, while discussing their preparations for Christmas in 1875.
A year later, after hearing that Dafydd and his family had to live sparingly, Edward once again noted that he himself had had a hard time in the past but that he was better off after moving to America:
"I had seen the same thing there but not here, - they are here 'full of food, no clothes hanging on them'. Families smaller than the family of Glanllyn; killing 4 or 5 large hogs and a fat bullock every year - meat with every meal, - and butter, and probably there will be cheese on the table as well!"
In he says how pleased he was that he had brought the children to this new country because they had a much better chance of earning a good living there. He often gives details of their lives, for example in letters sent in and . Details of the wages of young people are to be seen in another letter sent in .
Edward came across many things which astounded him in the new country. It has been already mentioned that he was amazed at the variety of trees which grew in the region and the sawmills and the machines used. He was astonished as well by how smart the town of Lima was. In one letter, a detailed description of the stores and the town center is given. We can imagine Edward himself being amazed at the sight but we can also wonder how would the letter have been received at the hearth of Dafydd Peat, in Llanbryn-mair. Edward tried hard to record every detail to give as full and vivid a picture as possible to his family in Wales.
(Allen County Ohio Genealogy Society)
"In front of the stores, there is a sidewalk which is about 4 yards wide, marked out, and large blue flags a foot higher than the street, - and a little on the side of the sidewalk, around the whole square, bollards have been put up 6 yards from each other, and pieces of wood from one bollard to the other, and iron chains here and there, to fasten the horses."
Borrowing money and "desiring too much"Shortly after arriving in Gomer, Edward was amazed at how easy it was to borrow money. It seems that the Welsh did just that when they moved to the area - borrow money to build houses and buy land.
"Well, there is no cause for complaint, - but Debt is the burden"Edward also had to borrow money. He borrowed from friends and from his children and he mentions often that he is under a great burden of debt; in a few letters he details how much he owes to different individuals. For more information, turn to two letters he sent to Dafydd: ; . In another letter he pleads to Dafydd to send to him because he has many bills to pay.
The same was the situation in Iowa for his brother, Morris. After borrowing money he brought a great deal of land and he had to pay interest of between 10 and 15 percent. He mentions his debts more than once, for example in and in .
In spite of this burden, Edward did not worry too much about his situation. He was confident enough that he could cope with the payments in America, but he says more than once that he would feel very different if he was in as much debt in Wales - , he said, .
Edward was tempted to buy land cheaply a few years after the family had settled down in Gomer. He felt like going west, to the district of Kansas, as many people were moving there at the time and he could buy a farm each for his children with the money raised from selling one farm in Gomer.
It is not known why the family did not venture to another state but it can be assumed, from Edward's words in a year or two later, that they were happy enough with their new lives in Gomer and that they felt there was no need to venture further. By now, Edward was aware of the dangers of "becoming rich" and he said that the greatest danger for those moving to live to the United States was the .
"... this country shows men that there is such opportunity to 'make oneself rich' that not many drown whilst getting on in the world, - ministers are as good as any for scraping as much as they can gather, - and the country is so large that nobody is poisoned against each other, - there are some near me J. Watkin, and Thos Watkin, both from Llanerfyl - they have been here for many years now, they were the first to come to the area, and they acquired land at that time for a dollar and a quarter an acre (I gave 50 Dollars an acre) and even though they did not have but little money, yet as the price was so low; they bought land in abundance, and they are now worth a lot, and live nobly, - you wouldn't think it from looking at them, that they are worth a cent, - land cannot be bought here now, even full of trees, for under 40 and often 50 Dollar an acre."
FarmingOne of the most interesting subjects in this collection of letters are the descriptions of daily life on the farm and the details about stock and crops and the price of merchandise. Here are a few links to these descriptions:
From time to time Edward mentions the weather in his letters. He describes and the state of the roads, for example, and in another letter he mentions which enticed the young and old to sledge! Descriptions are also given of in the state.
The Welsh community in Gomer
Naturally enough, Edward would include the latest news about the Welsh people in Gomer in his letters home. He would regularly recount news about those who had come originally from Llanbryn-mair and the nearby villages. Here are a few examples: ; . In a few letters, and are mentioned. One of the most somber letters of the collection is the one Edward sent to his mother in 1875 noting which Welsh people had died in the Welsh communities of Ebensburg, Pittsburgh, Iowa and Gomer.
"... not many people here walk to chapel if they have a horse, or two, - everybody in their wagons, and many in their spring wagon. - The chapel is quite a bit larger than Bont's schoolhouse, without a gallery ..."Of course, the chapel was the center point of the community. He wrote about , held in Gomer and Leatherwood as well as descriptions of built around 1876. According to Edward, was quite a bit higher than expected and he gives an estimation of that cost in a letter he sent in March 1876.
"The Welsh are going to have an Eisteddfod in Lima on New Year's Day, a good time should be had, as 5 choirs will be competing for the main piece. This is what is heard here these days. Singing and preparing for battle ..."As well as for worshipping, the Welsh also came together to compete in Eisteddfodau and to sing in choirs. During , a kind of Eisteddfod was held in the village itself and it seems that it was a tradition to hold on New Year's Day. A few years later traveled to Columbus to compete in the Eisteddfod which was held there on Christmas Day and among them was Dafydd, the son of Edward and Elizabeth Peat.
He did not miss his old neighborhood in Wales as such, because the quality of life in the new land was so much better for the whole family. Yet he admitted that he missed his family constantly:
Even though they couldn't meet face to face, he was comforted by the fact that they could .
Edward Peat's death
"We as a family do not know as what to do now, I never would have believed before that losing my father would be such a loss, even though he could not do much, the house is empty and cold without him."Edward's health had slowly deteriorated during the last years of his life. He died in December 1878 and was buried in the cemetery of Tawelfan, near two of his friends - William and Mary Jones, Tawelfan. Losing the head of the family was a heavy blow to his wife and children and one can imagine that his extended family and friends in his homeland would have felt the same loss when the news of his death reached them. The eldest son, Edward, was the one responsible for sending the sad letter to Llanbryn-mair.
Other lettersThe manuscript also includes: