This letter was written by John Kaine to Aunt Bess in Ireland and fills her in on how the family was settling in to life in Canada. By 1858, two of the ten children that John and Mary were to have were born. Elizabeth Ann (1856) and Mary Jane (1858) were much loved by their grandfather, Charles, who was now making a living at his trade of shoemaking after recently arriving from Ireland with his wife, Bessie.

An excerpt from the Canadian Business Directory of 1857 lists John Kaine as a “postmaster, storekeeper, conveyancer and commissioner in Queen’s bench”. John says in the letter that he has changed from storekeeping back to teaching. A busy fellow indeed as the other people listed in this small town, population of 120, each had only one profession listed!

  1. Kaine Letter November 15, 1858
    Transcribed from the original by Kerrin Churchill 15/11/17
    John Kaine to Aunt Bess from Dungannon, Ontario Canada to Freshford, Kilkenny, Ireland
    Dungannon November 15, 1858

Dear Aunt
I am almost afraid to attempt to address you on account of my long silence but dear aunt I really was tossed about in mind very much this summer on account of some difficulties I got into last year I unadvizedly went into partnership with a young man in a transaction that almost ruined me. I lost 500 pounds by it so you must think but that was enough to annoy me. I have done very well this year. I lost nearly forty pounds by Christie’s death but after all I have managed to pay this year over two hundred and fifty pounds and against the first of January there will be 100 pounds to pay next and I have property enough to pay a good deal more only money is so scarce this year that a person can scarcely sell for anything. I would have written before now but I was waiting to see my father settled. They are very comfortable. Aunt Ann’s husband built a house and gave him two acres of land and the grass of a cow as long as they live but after they were settled I was appointed agent for Mr. McDonald who stood an allection for the Legislative Council or as ye would call at home the House of Lords. He was successful and paid me well for my trouble. After that James was getting married and my father is here at my place this last month. He is talking going home tomorrow he says that if he could write he would write every month. He is now in good health and spirits playing with this two grandchildren of which he is very fond and they seem to like him better then they do me. He says that he would never be lonly if he had them with him. Where he lives is thirty miles from here but there is a railroad all the way except 12 miles and that is a good gravel road. My father is getting more than three like him at his trade even this time that he thought to spend with me to come so many to him that he had to send for his tools and he made at my place this last month over twenty pair. James is still in the same place at Clinton. Charles is there also learning to be a carpenter. Ann was with me nearly all the summer but is at home now. The crops was very bad this year especially the potatoes. I planted eight bushels and I think I have not had more than four. The weather is very nice just now but we have a good deal of snow these last weeks which makes it very pleasant. Potatoes are 5 shillings per bushel, oats 16 shillings per 32 pounds, wheat 4 to 5 shillings per 60 pounds, peas 2/6 , barley 5 shillings, flour 10 shillings per hundred pounds, pork 17/6 per hundred pounds, beef 20 shillings per hundred pounds, hay 2 pounds per ton this is the average rate at present. My father desires to be remembered to you and says that he often went to the post office after you sent a newspaper to Mr. Cluff expecting a letter. I am at present Postmaster commissioner in the Court of Queen’s bench and Schoolmaster so you see that I have something to do. Just as I was writing this I have got my commission as returning officer for the Township of Ashfield for next year. We have to elect five councilers in each town and Township every year. I must conclude hoping that you will accept my love. My father and my wife also joins in sending prayers and I hope that you will forgive this terrible scribble as I was in a great hurry and may the Lord in his mercy and goodness grant that this will find you in good health as this leaves us at present is the earnest prayer of your
Affectionate Nephew
John Kaine
Father says that he would feel perfectly happy if you and Mary and Mary Tynan were out and he says that he will write soon don’t forget to remember us to all friends

A very newsy letter indeed that left me with a lot of new information and of course more questions!

In the last post, I described John Kaine as an entrepreneur. An entrepreneur takes risks which is obviously what John Kaine did as indicated by the details of his financial situation and the money he lost. I have had great difficulty tracking down the average annual wage in 1858 but I think that 500 pounds would have been more than 2 years salary in some professions. Regardless, John seemed filled with confidence that he could overcome this set back and came across as a hard worker willing to take on challenges. Like so many pioneers!

Another interesting job that John took on was as an agent to help Donald MacDonald get elected to the Legislative Council.

Donald McDonald Member of Legislative Council 1858

Based on some information I read about that election with accusations against Mr. McDonald’s campaign related to bribes and open taverns, it may have been a more interesting job than John let on to Aunt Bess.

“In 1858, when the first election was held for the new Legislative Council seat of Tecumseth (the counties of Huron and Perth), McDonald was nominated by the Reform party to run against his Conservative (ministerialist) opponent, Thomas Mercer Jones, his former superior at the Canada Company. He won, his majority being obtained in Huron County. The London Free Press stated that he was opposed by the Canada Company; certainly from this time his connection with the company seems to have ended. Jones contested the election, claiming that McDonald had used bribes and had opened taverns to the voters. A hearing was held, at which McDonald’s supporters objected that the presiding judge, Robert Cooper, had campaigned for Jones. A report was forwarded but no action was taken by the government; McDonald was duly seated the next year.”Frederick H. Armstrong, “McDONALD, DONALD (d. 1879),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–,

John’s parents, Charles and Bessie Kaine, are settling into the home (with the grass of a cow for as long as they shall live!) kindly provided by Aunt Ann’s husband. I have yet to determine how Aunt Ann and her husband are related to the family and will need to wait until I can travel to Ireland and do more local research on birth records etc. However, in the 1851 Census of Canada West, I discovered a William and Ann Cluff and their children living on a farm near Seaforth and assume that they must be the relatives mentioned. Just as so many newcomers to Canada in the present day, the Kaine family were fortunate to have support from family who had settled earlier in the area.

As I read the letter, I was touched by how much his grandchildren meant to Charles. Family connections are so important. Many of the oldest photographs and tintypes from the Kaine family do not indicate who is in the picture so I need to guess who they are. One picture that caught my attention is of an older woman and two children. I believe it is Bessie Kaine, Charles’ wife with some of her grandchildren. This dreary picture definitely does not illustrate the joy that she surely felt but people needed to stay very still for their image to be captured and rarely smiled. I liked the added touch of pink cheeks!

Bessie Kaine (1801-1891) and unidentified Kaine grandchildren Huron County late 1850’s

As I read the lists of various crop prices that John included near the end of the letter, I wonder why these details were so important to share in not just this but many subsequent letters. But, as I am 2 days past my self imposed deadline to share this blog post, I had better publish and think about crops another day!

3 thoughts on “Letter #5 November 15, 1858: A “John” of all Trades

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