As he mentioned in letter #10 in my post on October 18, Charles Kane was planning to leave Brooklyn to take a job in “Perue”. Obviously, he made the journey as this letter was written from Callao, stamped in transit in Panama and arrived in Freshford on August 28, 1863. It must have been thrilling for Aunt Bess to receive a letter that travelled 6,000 miles from Lima, Peru in South America!

As I learned when he commented on the American Civil War, Charles was not short on opinions about others as in this letter he said, “The natives are a very curious race of people and very superstitious and bigoted” and “they are all a dysopated lot for they are drunk one half the time” . Maybe Charles is a bigot himself!

Page 1 Letter from C. Kane to Aunt Bess July 28, 1863
Page 2 Letter from C. Kane to Aunt Bess July 28, 1863
Front of envelope from letter from Charles Kane to Aunt Bess July 28, 1863
Back of envelope from letter from Charles Kane to Aunt Bess July 28, 1863

12 Kaine Letter July 28, 1863 Transcribed from the original by Kerrin Churchill January 3, 2020 C. Kane to Aunt Bess from Callao, Peru to Freshford, Kilkenny, Ireland

Dear Aunt

I would have posted this in Brooklyn but I thought it better to wait until I would arrive here so that I could hear direct from you. Dear Aunt this is a splendid country. It never rains here and yet the climate is mild an very fruitful. It is now winter here and yet everything is as green as the are home at present. The hotest time in summer is never higher than 80 and in winter never lower than 60 so winter and summer are near alike. The natives are a very curious race of people and very superstitious and bigoted. They allow no church here except the Catholic Church so I have no chance to go to church now whatever. Where I was north I always attended regular but now it is quite different. The Inhabitants has a great time here. Today it is the Anniversary day of their Independence. They keep it up for one week. At night the town is all Illuminated and is very??? There is Fireworks so they have a very heavy ??? and as for rum there is more drank than in the North for three months in fact they are all a dysopated lot for they are drunk one half the time. Everything is very dear here. Board is seven dollars per week and everything accordingly so if there is large wages there is larger prices to meet it. This is not so pleasant a place to live in as in the north but then I am content. Dear Aunt I would like to hear from you as soon as it is convenient for you to write. Send me a long letter and I hope I shall never be so long without hearing from you. Now that I know my direction you can direct it to me as I can have it much sooner. Write soon so goodbye for the present. I remain your Affectionate Nephew  C. Kane

Direct your letter to

Mr. Hevner & Co 36 Constitution St

Callao   South America

What took young Charles from New York to Peru in 1863? In my research I was surprised to discover that Peru was in the midst of an economic boom based on bird guano or “poop” of all things! I read that 300 ships a year visited Peru and took away the rich natural fertilizer for such crops as turnips in Britain!

“The three tiny Chincha Islands lie off the southern coast of Peru. For millennia, they served as home for seabirds. The birds fed and bred in the rich waters packed with fish and absent of predators, allowing their droppings to accumulate to a depth of up to 200 feet. The dry weather and cool ocean currents there maintained the guano’s nitrate-rich quality.

In the early 19th century, farmers and chemists worldwide claimed that Chincha Islands guano was the world’s finest fertilizer. Hundreds of British, German, and American ships purchased it from the Peruvian government for their own agriculture, waiting offshore up to eight months to load the precious cargo. These nations’ ships also sought, claimed, and mined other guano islands in the Pacific and Caribbean.”

Obviously, the boom times in Peru provided work for many people including Charles. He worked for a Mr. Hevner who appears to have been a storekeeper after working as a contractor in construction. I found information online related to Mr. Hevner as follows:

In closure J Deposition of Peter Hevner City and County of New York Peter Hevner being duly sworn says I was born in Corbin County Pennsylvania in 1819 Brought up to general building and contracting First went to Peru in 1853 went into general contracting built railroad from Lima to Chorillos in 1854 for Don Pedro Coredama Road was over nine miles staid about six years built the powder works penitentiary and a great deal other government work. In I860 I went into mercantile business in Lima Callao Arequipa and Trugillo had a house in each place Hevner DockendorfY & Co In 1865 and 1866 I took a contract of the government under which I remodeled the monitor Loa and rifled the Peruvian cannon which defended the harbor of Callao against Spain until 1866 ” Message Transmitting Papers Relating to the War in South America

Unfortunately, this letter is the last one in the collection that was written by Charles. How long did he stay in Peru? What happened to him after that? More research is needed to track down these details though there is some mention of him in letters written later by other family members. At this point we leave Charles enjoying the hot weather of South America as his relatives in Canada carry on with their farming in Huron County in a very different climate indeed!

3 thoughts on “Letter #12 July 28, 1863: Rum and Fireworks

  1. Aunt Bess must have been very impressed to receive a letter from a country as far away as Peru. Incredible how this country was like the Eldorado. Everyone came from far away to take everything they could as if it had no end. What a shame! In French we have a saying. When something is of little value we say “Itn’t Peru” in opposition to the former wealth of that country.
    Thanks for that glimpse of a time and place we know so little about.:)

    Liked by 1 person

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