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These letters were written by various members of the Abercrombie family from the 1850s to the turn of the century. At this time, the family was scattered all over the globe – from Scotland to Illinois, Massachusetts, and other locales in the United States. As seen below, the letters offer a wonderful glimpse into American history, from the Civil War to the experience of new immigrants to the country.

Thanks to Pat Thomson (nee Abercrombie) who shared copies of these letters with me in March 2005. Pat is descended from Peter Abercrombie.

To help the reader understand the family relationships, a brief family genealogy is shown below. Additional information on the family may be found at my genealogy page. If you wish to skip the family information, you can go directly to the letters.

Pertinent Family Information

Henry Abercrombie (b. 1800, Scotland; d. 1860, Scotland) married Helen Yuill (b. 1802, Stirling, Scotland; d. 1878, Glasgow, Scotland) in 1820. They had nine children of whom at least five immigrated to the United States:

  1. John A. (1823-1889) Immigrated to Massachusetts about 1855. See below.
  2. Henry (1824 - ?) Immigrated to US about 1851. Married Margaret Waldie.
  3. Jane (b. 1825, married John Alexander)
  4. Thomas (1828- After 1900) Immigrated to Pennsylvania. Married Margaret Crage. Daughter Emily wrote one of the letters below.
  5. Margaret (1830 - ?) Immigrated to Pennsylvania. Married Jonathan Lawson
  6. James (1831-1865) Immigrated to Massachusetts. Married.
  7. Andrew (b. 1832, married)
  8. Peter (b. 1836, married)
  9. Elizabeth (b. 1838)
  10. Mary (b. 1843)

John A. Abercrombie, son of Henry above, is my 3rd great-grandfather. He was married twice, as was his wife, so a brief history of his family will help the reader. John Abercrombie married first, Sarah Ogden, in Scotland in 1849. John and Sarah had four children (see below) before Sarah's death. John immigrated to Massachusetts about 1855 without his surviving children, who never joined him here. John and Sarah (Ogden) Abercrombie had the following children:

  1. Mary (1850 - ?)
  2. Sarah Ellen (1851 - 1855)
  3. John Henry (1853 - ?) Probably died young
  4. Sarah Ogden

When John immigrated to Massachusetts, he came initially to Holyoke, Massachusetts where he married Flora (McKee) Kelly in 1856, the widow of James Kelly and a recent immigrant herself. Flora had emigrated from Thornley Bank, Scotland after the death of her husband in 1850. She was accompanied by her three children: Robert (b. 1845), Isaac (b. 1848), and Mary (b. 1851).

Following the marriage, between Flora and John, the entire family, including the Kelly children, relocated to Lawrence, Massachusetts, where they would reside for the rest of their lives. Flora and John had four children together:

  1. Allan H. (b. 1857)
  2. Ralph H. (b. 1859)
  3. John A. (b. 1861) [father of Ralph D. Abercrombie who wrote the last letter]
  4. Flora Ellen (b. 1862)

John enlisted with Company H, 50th Regiment, Massachusetts Infantry in December 1862 and was honorably discharged in 1863. His company saw little action while he was a member although they occupied New Orleans, Louisiana for a while. John A. Abercrombie died in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1889.

The Letters

Letter from Henry Abercrombie to his parents, Henry and Helen (Yuill) Abercrombie, in Scotland

New Albany
January 4, 1852

Dear Father and Mother

I take the present opportunity of thanking you for your very kind and welcome letter which I received in due time and I can assure you that it gives me great pleasure to hear that you were both enjoying your ordinary health and I trust you may both long continue to do so. Dear Father accept of my best thanks for the many kind advice which I have received from you but more especially the one contained in your letter and I may just mention that I have read it over and over again and each time is the better and I have no doubt you will be glad to know that I will follow it as far as I am able. Tell John [brother] that I was highly pleased with his letter. I was glad to hear that he has an opportunity of seeing the Great Exhibition in London and the other great sights of that place and I will certainly not forget the kindness that he showed in getting the two very neat slips for the purpose of sending them to me. Tell him also that it gives me great pleasure to hear that he is enjoying good health and I hope he may long continue to do so. I congratulate both him and Sarah on having another daughter added to their family [Sarah Ellen] but I expect the next one will be a son and heir for I know that would please Sarah's father very much. Give Sarah my best wishes for her good health also my two nieces and I wish John to remember me to Mr. and Mrs. Ogden [Sarah's parents] also to Mary and Elizabeth [Henry's sisters] and I would like to know if she is getting well. Tell John that I thank him for the newspapers that he has sent me. Give Thomas [Henry's brother] my best thanks for the few lines he wrote to me. I am glad to hear that he is enjoying good health. I am also glad to hear that he is working for Mr. Nimmo. I am also happy to hear that his wife and child are well. Tell Thomas to give Mary my best wishes for her good health and his daughter. I must now thank James [Henry's brother] for the few lines he wrote to me. I must say I was mighty well pleased with James part of the family letter. James says he has a notion of coming to America.

Tell James that he is to wait till I write again and then I will advise with him about it, but I wish him in the meantime to pay all the attention he can to his present business and to be kind to Andy [Henry's brother] and also to improve himself in writing a good hand and this brings me to Andrew. Tell him that I am glad to hear he is going to school. Tell him to pay all the attention he can to his sessions so that he may become a good scholar.

Tell him that he is to keep up his spirits and I hope I will yet be able to do something for him and now give my best wishes to Jane [Henry's sister] and when you write again tell me if she is going to get married soon. I hope she still thinks as much of her father for I know he thinks a good deal of her. Remember me to sisters Elizabeth and Mary. I hope they are well. Having said this much I may now inform you that I am enjoying good health and still working as a carpenter with Mr. Woodruff. I like the business very well and I expect to make a tolerable good hand after a while. I may also tell you that I like the town very well. It is a rising place and promises to become a city of some importance in a few years and it is very likely that I will settle down in it if I get my wife out soon. If not I may perhaps leave it and go to some new country but that will depend on circumstances. I may mention that business has been rather dull these few months back on account of the Ohio River being too low for boats to run on it and it has been frozen over once and it has made money scarce but they say that it will become more plentiful towards spring. I hope it will for I am wearying very much on account of not having my wife out.

I dare say you would like to know what sort of place this is for a working man and his family. I may mention in the first place that this town is much better than Cincinnatti or Pittsburgh or even Richmond in Virginia. There is no factory here. The principle works are two foundries and several Steam Boat Building Yards. There is a railroad which is to run to one of the Lakes but it is not completed yet and several plank roads all of which are outlets to the produce of the State which is taken up by the steamboats and carried down to Orleans and other places. The above form the principle businesses of this place. Mechanics get eight or nine dollars per week. Labourers get one dollar per day and some five dollars per week. The labourers are mostly Irish and German who have been used to hard work all their lives. A Mechanic has far the best chance in this country. When I say mechanic I mean any kind of tradesmen for they are all called mechanics in this country. Clerks are very seldom employed and mostly all the stores are kept by the owners of them so you see from the above that I had a very poor chance in the western part of America. Mostly all the manufacturing is done in the Eastern States so you see I have the chance of two ways. Either to go as a labourer and that I was not used to and in fact the work was too hard for me especially in the summertime when the weather is hot for I tried it. The other was to set in and learn a trade and I concluded to do so as it will be better for me in the end although it is hard just now. Provisions are just about the same price here that they are with yourself with the exception of pork and beef. House rent is some higher than at home but everyone tries to have a house of their own. Clothing is rather dearer and not quite so good but I have no doubt that it is easy to raise a family here than what it is at home. There is not much to be paid for and there is plenty of fine schools where every one has the privelege of sending their children.

There are two Presbyterian Churches and several Methodists besides. Sundays are very well kept. I may tell you I went out about twenty six miles into the country at Christmas with a young man that works with me and stayed a week. His mother has a farm of about eighty acres and most of it cleared. The farmers appear to me to be very well off. The most of them spin their own yarn and weave their own cloth and make them too. I must now conclude this very imperfect scrawl but when I write again I will perhaps do a little better. Dear Father tell John that I would like he would write to me again. I will certainly answer his letters soon and hope you will also write to me for it will always give me pleasure to hear from you. Give my mother my best wishes and tell her that I hope yet to see her. Tell John to give my compliments to Willie Stewart and to W. Warner and family also all the others and to Alick Stewart and his wife when you write again let me know if Mr. Nimmo his wife and family are well. I will now conclude by hoping that this will find you atlas well as I can wish you.

I remain your affectionate son

H. Abercrombie

p.s. I had almost forgot to tell you that Adam is down the river just now.

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Letter from John A. Abercrombie to his mother Helen (Yuill) Abercrombie, in Scotland

"The War for the Union (headed paper)
February 16, 1862

John Abercrombie
John A. Abercrombie

Dear Mother Brothers and Sisters

Since I last wrote to you I received a note through Thomas Houston and I am glad to see that you are all well and in work. I hope that before long things will take a turn for the better. The war here I think is taking a favourable turn for the Union. At all events things look more cheerful here. I see by your letter that John McLachlan is with you in Glasgow and what is so singular his mother came here to Lawrence about the same time I got your letter. I told his mother and she wished me to send her address. She sends her love to you all and she also sends a paper to John, Andrew, and Peter. She wishes John to write right away and let her know how he is and what he intends to do. He can write fully and freely as she can read and write her own letters. We are all in good health and a moderate share of work. Hoping you are all well and still working. I close with my affectionate regards to you and yours

John Abercrombie

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Letter from Mary Abercrombie (John's daughter by Sarah Ogden) to her grandmother, Helen (Yuill) Abercrombie

Dear grandmother,

I am glad to tell you that we have had a letter from my father and I have sent you a copy of it as I did not like to part with the letter. We hope you are all quite well as it leaves us quite well. I am glad to tell you that my grandfather is working. We all join with our love to you all

I remain your affectionate granddaughter

M Abercrombie

[Inserted copy of letter from Mary's father John Abercrombie]

Baton Rouge, Louisiana February 20 1863

My Dear Daughter and Friends

I have no doubt that you will be anxious to hear from us. It is a good while since you last heard from me. I am glad to let you know that I am in pretty good health and doing well. The last word I had from home they were all well and would be better if I was only there, however it won't be so long if God spares me as we are now going in the sixth month. We expect to be back again in Mass. By the 15th of next June. I may tell you we have been in no fighting yet but still we have had considerable hardships to endure. The Confederates are within three miles of us where we are now. It is supposed we will have some warm work before long as the United States are bent on having control of this great river the Mississippi. I may as well give you a short sketch of our career so far. We went in camp (that is in tents) 12th September 1862 to learn our drill, stopped till the 9th November and started from N York to join Banks expedition. We remained in camp there until the 13th December when we were put on an old steamer not fit to leave the river for a journey of 1800 miles to N Orleans. We could not help ourselves so on we went after being out 24 hours on a comparatively quiet sea our officers found some of the timbers giving way as also we had a narrow escape from fire so that we ran to Philadelphia which suited me as then I could see my brother James and sister Margaret and families.

We had a most excellent time there. We lived like gentlemen there. Brother Thomas came from Baltimore and stayed three days. He is the old sixpence after making money he and family as also James and Margaret's families were all well. Tom for a year or more before then had ran up to some portions of the Army goods for sale. He had done very well on that business until taken prisoner at Henchest [?]. He was four weeks with them when he and another young fellow escaped and traveled 50 miles through the woods to the Potomac.

We left Philadelphia on the 7th January and stopped at fortress Alonroe. Left there on 17th January, had a very fair passage through some of the Bahamas in the West India Islands, got to the mouth of the Mississippi on the 4th February. We got to N Orleans on the 13th where I had the pleasure of seeing Alexander Warner who was in good health. He likes pretty well he is stationed in N Orleans. You can tell his people so if you see them any time. We got to this place on the 15th February 125 miles above N Orleans. We expect every day to be sent up the river to a stronger fortified place called Fort Huchon. We have somewhere about 4000 soldiers, likewise a great number of gunboats. This country is a very fruitful and a great sugar growing country. Very flat but some beautiful estates all along the river. This place is quite interesting and considered very healthy. There was a great fight here last August, since when the Federalize have held possession. It is the purpose of the Federal government to get command of this river if possible, though it is my decided opinion that they will never subdue the Southern People. If the war makes no better progress by the 1st May next they will have to come to terms. I have a very little opinion of the army as a whole. The material is good enough but the great evil is there is no cohesion, too much individual opinion. For my part I care very little how it goes since I have seen the Yankee in his full character think they deserve to be whipped. We have received no pay yet though we expect it every day. I should send you a little if it was not that exchange has got so high that we would have to pay about 70 cents on the 100. You will see that it is too much of a loss. Dear Mary I wish you send this to your grandmother in Scotland and if you see Mr. Livesey give him my very best wishes for him and his families welfare. Give my best wishes to grandfather, grandmother, Henry, Ann, and all the family. I send my best wishes to Mother and family hoping I shall soon be in a better position to write to you all. Excuse all in particular and accept of kind love from your affectionate father

(Direct John Abercrombie, Laurence, Mass)

My mother [actually, Mary's stepmother] also sent me a letter in this and I have sent you a copy

[Inserted copy of letter from Mary's stepmother Flora (McKee-Kelly) Abercrombie]

Laurence Mass March 22 1863
Dear Daughter

I take the opportunity of writing to you to let you know that we are all in good health at present thank God, hoping you are enjoying the same. You father has gone away for four months now. He is in the place where there is going to be a great fight which we don't know what this war is going to turn to. We think it will be serious. We hope by the help of God he will come back again but it is very uncertain for there was a man shot by the rebels in the place where your father is. I may let you know that your little brother Allan is getting a big boy and he is always talking about his sister Mary Abercrombie. Ralph and John are fine boys too and you have got another little sister Flora Ellen [all half-siblings]. I was sick for two months after father went away but I am getting better now. We all join and send our love to Mrs. Ogden [Mary's maternal grandparents], Mr. and Mrs. Firth. No more at present your affectionate mother,

Flora Abercrombie

Please direct your letter by the same directions your father sent this letter from the army to send to you.

Dear Grandmother I have copied these letters just as they are. We intend writing to America next week and if you wish to send a few words to my father would you please send them soon and then they can join our letter. I now conclude with our love to you all.

Mary Abercrombie

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Letter from John A. Abercrombie to his mother Helen (Yuill) Abercrombie, in Scotland

July 15 1867

Dear Mother Brothers & Sisters

You will be anxious no doubt to hear from me I have nothing to tell you that is very encouraging in consequence of poor trade we have been compelled to stop our work I cannot tell yet how long. I went to South Boston to see James McMartin. He has been away from there about three months. They could not tell me where he went. They thought he went to New York. I have not seen Charles Alexander yet. Shall try and see him soon. I saw James and family about a week ago, he is working. [John's brother] They are well.

I have written to Philadelphia to Peggy [probably John's sister-in-law] but yet no answer. Tom [John's brother] and them must be moved. We expect a good trade this fall as they are going to be great crops of everything which will be a great blessing to all of us.

I am making arrangements to get Mary [John's daughter by first wife] out here by the beginning of October. There is a friend of mine going to see his friends in England , one that I can trust to take care of her. He is a partner with me in our business. You can send the enclosed to Mary.

We all join in our kind love to Mother, Andrew and wife, Peter and wife, Jane and Mary [John's siblings]. I hope Mary has got a letter from her husband by this time. She must keep her heart up. No doubt he will come out al I right.

No more at present from yours


John Abercrombie.

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Letter from Emily Abercrombie to her grandmother Helen (Yuill) Abercrombie, in Scotland

66 Camelon Street
October 9 1868

Dear Grandmother

We are all well in health at present hoping that this will find you all the same. We have not gone to Philadelphia yet but we expect to go soon. Mrs. McClain was saying that you wrote to her wanting to know if we were all safe from the flood.

Father [Emily's father was Thomas, b. 1828] has not been doing anything for the last five or six months. But he is in Philadelphia and has taken a store and he expects to do well.

Mother was there last week and Aunt Maggy and family was all well. I guess you have heard about Cousin Mary and Harry being dead.

Mary Jane and me sends you our pictures with our love. Mother and father will send you theirs and the rest of the family another time.

We all join in sending our love to our Uncle Aunt and Cousins and accept the same yourself.

No more at present but remain your loving granddaughter

Emily Abercrombie

PS Do not answer this till I write again.

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Letter from John A. Abercrombie to his mother Helen (Yuill) Abercrombie, in Scotland

Laurence Feb 2nd 1870
Dear Mother Brothers & Sisters

It grieves me very much to see by your letter that Jane [John's sister] met with so serious an accident and yet it might have been worse. I am sorry at the same time I cannot do more for you. I wrote to Tom & Peggy [John's brother and sister?] and gave them your directions 2 weeks ago. They have not wrote back to me as yet.

It is needless for me to tell you that the concern I was connected with failed from various causes not the least of which were the selfishness of the Johnny Bulls connected with it. At all events it has cost me close on a thousand dollars. I had to scheme to send you this trifle. It will take me all this summer yet to get it straight. I should have written before this but I had no heart to do so.

James widow [John's sister-in-law] left this State and went to Pennsylvania six months ago. Her and Mary are in service and she got her boy John into Gerard College in Philadelphia, an institution for boys who have lost a parent. It is a grand place and a good job for the boy. Tom I understand is in the grocery trade in Philadelphia but I hear is not doing so well. Margaret and husband keeps a furniture store in the same city - doing pretty fair as I hear.

I have not heard from Henry for many years. I wish you would see John Waldie and find out where he is and what is his directory. We are all in good health at present, that is the old woman, Ralph, John and Flora Ellen and myself.

I expect by and by to come out right when they grow up. Try Try Try again as my little girl sings. I hope and trust that Jane will soon get better. I wish that you and Jane were out here as there is more inducements for women here than at home with you.

Give our love to Andrew and wife, Peter and wife and also Mary. How is her eyesight. Give my best respects to old Willie Stewart when you see him. My wife's children that was brought here - Robert and Isaac and Mary - Well Robert got married over two years ago and buried his wife a month or so after our Mary. He stays with her folks. Isaac has been off and on at sea. He is now in the US Navy for three years. They are going to China in the Colorado. Mary is with us and in the mill. She is very little however.

I now close with wishing you all well ever your affectionate son and Brother

John Abercrombie
No 16 Merrimac Street

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Letter from John A. Abercrombie, Jr. [son of John A. above] to his family in Scotland

Ralph D. Abercrombie
Ralph D. Abercrombie

Union Shuttle Co. Power Loom Shuttles (headed paper)
Lawrence Mass
April 27 1902

Dear Cousin --

Your letter of April received and we were very glad to hear from you again. We have also just receive the photographs and think that they are fine and thank you for remembering us in this way. We were sorry to hear that cousin David had been sick for so long a time and glad to hear that he is able to work again. I have just recieved a letter from him in Allegany County and was much pleased to hear from him. He informed me that he had been trying to locate Uncle Tom's family but has not succeeded as yet and wanted me to give him their address but I am not able to at present. But I will endeavor to find out where they are and will answer his letter later.

We are all very sorry to hear about the great accident at the football game as we read it in the papers the morning afterwards and wondered whether you were in the crowd. We hope uncle and aunt have returned from Millport in good health. You may tell cousin Mary we are proud to show her photograph to our friends in America and we wish he much success in her store and when she feels like taking a long vacation we would be pleased to have her pay us a visit. Also give our best regards to our other cousins not forgetting yourself. I am thinking of having a family group picture taken when my daughter comes home from school in June.

With love to all

Yours Truly

John A. Abercrombie
written by Ralph [D. Abercrombie]

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