The undertaking of transcribing and sharing the Kaine letters over the last ten months has taken me on many interesting journeys into the past and brought to life the history of Canada in a way that I could not have imagined. All of the letters have piqued my curiosity about the lives of my pioneer relatives and the context in which they lived but this letter from Charles Kane in Brooklyn, New York to Aunt Bess distressed me as I came face to face with the racism he so vividly expressed. Reading the racist comments in a letter written over 150 years ago highlighted the fact that this issue has plagued us for generations.
Over the last few months I have experienced overwhelming feelings of sadness and despair as the systemic racism that underlies our North American society has been once again exposed as Black Lives Matter has come to prominence and many others have spoken their truths. I grew up in the 1950’s and 60’s when the American Civil rights movement gave me high hopes of a brighter future for us all. It seemed so possible and achievable, even inevitable.
To avoid offending people, at first I thought I would leave the letter out of the collection but then thought that I should not take it upon myself to censor the past completely. It is not up to me to rewrite history! I pondered my dilemma with friends, family and others and had the good fortune to meet a young historian, Faith Rajasingham, who generously helped me in my deliberations. Thanks Faith! Her biography follows:
“Faith Rajasingham (she/her) is a historian of the 19th and 20th century. Focused on Canadian immigration, transnational communities, colonialism and imperialism, and sovereignty movements, her research aims to provide resources and services for racialized and/or marginalized BIPOC communities globally. Faith is based out of Toronto and earned her M.A in History at York University (2019). She currently works at Scarborough Historical Museum operated by the City of Toronto. As an advocate for community, Faith also co-founded TamilReads – a digital page to break down accessibility barriers for Tamil and BIPOC students at all levels. For more information, she can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org”
I followed Faith’s suggestions to redact some of the words that may cause trauma for others and warn my readers that this post contains sensitive material. The following links may be of interest for those who would like to explore this issue further. The first link is to anti racist resources and the second is to why the word I redacted is so highly offensive :
I can only hope that there will be no need for these dialogues 150 years in the future!
10. Kaine Letter March 16, 1863 Transcribed from the original by Kerrin Churchill January 3, 2020 C. Kane to Aunt Bess from Brooklyn New York to Freshford, Kilkenny, Ireland
Note: Holes were made by mice! Could not read all words
After a long silence I address you in these few lines hoping to find you and all friends in the enjoyment of good health as I may say this leaves me and all friends at present. Dear Aunt I sopose you have given up all hopes of ever hearing from me as its so long since I wrote to you. But to tell you the truth, the thoughts of sitting down to write I do hate as I am such a poor letter writer. . Dear Aunt where I sit down to write I do forget all I do have to say but if it were at ….paper missing……when in Bed I could write you a long letter. I sopose you hear regular from Uncle Charly. I would like to know how he is getting along. I sopose you are well posted as to our War. Poor old America is near played out and all on account of the Nxxxx and the Abolition Government that is now in power. Dear Aunt it is a pity to see the ???men maimed and crippled for life that is now here and all over the United States and all for the Dam Nxxxx and his worshipers. But now they see into it where it is too late and I hope they will feel the nxxxx worse before they are through with this war. Jerry Peters is home minus a leg and he is happy for life. All those poor fellows will be inmates for the Poor House after a little while for the country will be over run with them and the Nxxxxx. As for my part I am leaving here I am engaged now to go to Perue in South America. I am engaged for two or three years which ever I wish to stay at 1500 dollars per year at the same Business as I have been at. All the fault I have to the place is they are all Spanish. I have been head Foreman here since the War broke out work got slack
So my Boss let the foreman go and gave me his place. My Boss would give me any wages if I would consent to stay with him for I have pleased him and all his Customer much better than the other man. I have been with him since I came to America.
Dear Aunt this is the third letter that I have sat down to write to you but I hope to finish so you may hear once more from me. Once more it is not for want of thought that me so long silent for there is not one day that I rise that I dont think of home. In some way or other I sopose there is a great many Changes in Freshford since I heard from you. Give my respects to all the Boncrusha friends. Remember me in the humblest manner to the Revd James Mease. Let me know where Mr. Wellwood is for I heard some time ago that he left ??Firbush??. I would like to write to Brooklyn and Carolan will forward it to me. I thought to write in time to have a letter from you but putting it from day to day I was near not writing but I hope never to be so long without writing to you again. Let me now if your hear anything of William. We had a letter from him sometime in 1860 and I wrote to him and never got any answer but we write to the War Office and gets word of his still living. Let me know if Bell ever wrote home since she came here. She is living with James keeping house for him. Hannah is with Juliana and Bella with Harriet. I will send you a likeness of me in this letter thinking you would like to have it. Let me know how Aunt Mary is. I was often sorry for what occurred between me and her for she might know Jim?? was without saying of me what she did. John Tynan told me Mary was married to R. Stone. Remember me to Richard and Mary also Christy and John Kane Timothy Dempsey and Family Mrs. Suzanne? and Family .
So farewell for the present. No more at present from your silent but thinking Nephew C. Kane. Direct your letter to Patrick Carolan Brooklyn Post Office. Kept ??called for excuse this sheet as I am sending the likeness. Write soon.
P. S. John Stack got shot through the back and side in one of the last battles he is all right again for a while
Who is C. Kane and what was he doing in New York? I believe that he is Charles Kane(Kaine) the 24 year old brother of John, James and Ann who I have written about previously. A letter written by their father, Charles, indicates that his son Charles left for the states without telling him! Comment from Letter #13 written by Charles Kaine August 1863: P. S. This has been delayed in being mailed in consequence of our son Charles having gone off to the States without acquainting us of it. He is however all right as we are glad to say.
The Kaine family must have had acquaintances from Freshford who were located in Brooklyn, New York. Obviously twenty-four year old Charles had an adventurous spirit as he mentions he is heading to “Perue” after New York! Hopefully he lost some of his racist views on his world travels.
The mention Charles made of young men injured in the Civil War reminded me that in 1863 the United States was undergoing a terrible war and confederation had not yet happened in British North America. I was interested to read the following information that indicated that the Canadian newspapers of the day were not necessarily anti slavery but sympathetic to the rebellion of the South. This may explain some of the views held by young Charles Kane.
“Despite the official stance, the majority of Canadian and Maritime newspapers sympathized with the South, not because they supported slavery, but because they saw the Confederacy as a small power defying a distant, larger one that was not protecting its interests. Many Canadians and Maritimers opposed Lincoln because he said the war was not about freeing slaves but was about reuniting his country or, as he phrased it, preserving the union. Many Canadian and Maritime business people sold weapons and offered other support to both sides.
Record keeping was rather shoddy, and so exact numbers are impossible to determine, but about 40,000 Canadians and Maritimers served in the war. Despite sympathies for the Confederacy, most fought for the North. Some were working in the United States when the war began and volunteered with local regiments. Others left Canada to enlist. Some were tricked, bribed and even kidnapped by ruthless American recruiters, called crimpers. Canadian and Maritime soldiers and sailors fought in nearly every battle of the American Civil War. By the war’s end, many had become officers and 29 had won the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest military honour in the United States.” https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/american-civil-war
My research also informed me that the American Civil war influenced the direction that the Fathers of Confederation would take to ensure that the new Canada would have a central government. I appreciate this approach today as we are faced with the COVD-19 pandemic. The more centralized Canadian approach has supported the coordination of efforts on a national basis and avoided the division, conflict and chaos that have been evident in the United States in the reaction to the crisis facing them.
“The American Civil War had decisive political effects on the BNA colonies. The tensions between the United States and Britain, which had been ignited by the war and made worse by the Fenian raids, led to concern for the security and independence of the colonies, helping to consolidate momentum for the confederation of the colonies in 1867.
In this regard, the conflict also had an important effect on discussions concerning the nature of the emerging federation. Many Fathers of Confederation concluded that the secessionist war was caused by too much power being given to the states, and thus resolved to create a more centralized federation. It was also believed that too much democracy was a contributing factor and the Canadian system was thus equipped with checks and balances such as the appointed Senate and powers of the British appointed Governor-General. The guiding principles of the legislation which created Canada – the British North America Act – were peace, order, and good government. This was a collectivist antithesis to American individualism that became central to Canadian identity. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canada_and_the_American_Civil_War
As his letter continues, Charles is thinking of the friends and neighbours he left behind in Ireland. The mention of all the names makes me curious and I hope that some day in the future I will once again be able to travel to Ireland and discover more abut the folks who lived in Freshford and fill in some of the blanks in the family tree. To my great delight, I was contacted recently by a distant relative in Ireland who is on a similar quest and I look forward to sharing stories with her as we go forward.