These two letters were written to one of four Johnston siblings who moved to Canada.
James Johnston (1820-1906) married Margaret Jane McFarlane (1815-1890) in Ireland, probably in 1841 or 1842, and came to Canada soon after. Their first child was born in Kingston, Ontario in May 1844.
John Johnston (1822-1907) married Sarah McFarlane (1824-ca1863) in Ireland (I think in Lissan Parish, where the McFarlane family appears in records). Margaret and Sarah McFarlane are sisters.
Sisters Margaret Johnston (1828-1903) and Sarah Johnston (1829-1899) married in Canada.
The first letter is from their cousin “Big John” Johnston. I think it was written to Uncle John Johnston. My great grandfather brought John’s widowed second wife (Mary Wallace) home to live with him until her death in 1910. The second is from “Big John’s” daughter, Matilda Johnston, who had married a Nelson. From the 1911 census record for her son, John (see below), this second letter must be from about 1894.As far as I know, the parents of my Johnstons, Thomas and Margaret/Elizabeth Johnston, stayed in Ireland. The McFarlane family, James McFarlane, wife Mary Crooks, and all of their other children, are said to have emigrated in 1847 on a famine ship.
LETTER # 1From John Johnston to one of the three siblings of James Johnston
Cookstown Dec. 31, 1877
I take the opportunity of writing you these few lines to let you know that we are both alive yet. Thanks be to God for his bountiful providence to us. After an elapse of time I take the opportunity of letting you know that I sent you a newspaper and am awaiting an answer as to whether you received it or not. I am wondering whether something is wrong.
I wish you could find out whether John Neely is in New York or where he is.
Matilda, her husband and their family are well. Sally and her husband are well. Arthur McCelhone is alive yet. Joseph Johnston and his wife are well. James and his family are well. Robert and his family are well. John Reid and his family are well. Henry and his family are well. John Rea is dead. Mary Ann died last Feb. 5th. Sally would be very glad to have a few lines from James.
Could you find out anything about Thomas Neely? His address is Mr. Thomas Neely, watchmaker and jeweler, 64 Ann St., Boston, Mass., America.
I wish you could find out where John and Joseph Neely are. The last account we got they were in New York.
You talked much about homesteads and pads. You might come home and see them. Wages are good in Ireland. They are boring for iron ore. Wages are from two shillings to 2/6 per day. Oatmeal is from 12 to 14 shillings per hundred. Pork is 43 shillings to 46 per hundred. Indian meal is 9/4 per hundred, butter from 1 shilling to 1/6 per pound, potatoes ------ 5 shillings per hundred, eggs 1-5 per doz., beef from 7 to 9 pence per pound.
Matilda’s oldest son is at the letters from Cookstown to Dunmore. Alexander is in Mr. Weir’s shop.
Now we have reared a large family. They are all dead but two--- Sally and Matilda. We are living alone. This has been a very wet season. Corn has suffered severely here. In some places it is a complete loss. Turf is scarce. Some men have very wee fires.
I wish you a happy new year as I am posting this letter on the first of Jan. 1878. I am now, on the first of Jan., seventy-seven years of age, dear cousin. This might be the last for ought we know. But when it comes we hope and trust that though sea and land divide us now, on that day, when the whole world be summoned to that great white throne I hope and trust that we shall all meet there to spend an eternity forever, an unbroken band singing the praises of God forever. Let me know if David McFarland and wife are still alive.
Written by my hand from yours truly. J. Johnston
P. S. I received your last letter on May the 30th all right.2nd LETTERFrom Matilda (Johnston) Nelson to one of the four Johnston siblings
33 Chapel Street
As we sat by the fire talking about old times, we just began to talk about you. So we thought of dropping a line to see if you were alive and well or what about you. The one who is writing is Big John’s daughter Matilda. We have heard no news about you since before my mother died, and I just thought that after the lapse of seven years I would write. I am the only cousin except Sarah. She was married to a man named William NcNeely before my father died. She has no family.
I have two boys myself--- John and Alexander. They are both married. John has one child, a girl. Alexander has a boy and a girl. Alexander is in a boot shop in Cookstown for the last number of years. John has been in the Post Office for the last 18 years, and he is expecting to work there until he gets a pension for life. Alexander is living in my father’s house. I am living in one my husband bought along with my son John and his wife.
I have a brother’s son of mine in Canada this last five years or better. He is married and working at the boot trade. His address is 305 Brook St., Kingston, Ontario, Canada. His name is John Edwin Johnston.
I suppose you have heard of Joseph and Robert Johnston. They are both dead, and not one of those girls or boys are living now but James. He is getting very gray. The years are creeping up on him. His son Samuel John is living in Joseph’s place. James has one boy at home with him and either two or three daughters. Esther looks as well as she has for some time past.
My son John is the writer. He has not a great number of friends, and he would like to get up an acquaintance with either you or some of the family.
I think I will stop for this time. If we can get a letter from you, we will give you more news in our next one.
Mrs. Matilda Nelson
33 Chapel Street
Cookstown,Co. Tyrone, Ireland
Yours & c John Nelson
1911 Census data on this family1911 TYRONE, IRE COOKSTOWN CHAPEL STREET TAKEN 04/12/1911
ONE FAMILY DWELLING OF 7 ROOMS WITH 5 PERSONS
JOHN NELSON H 55 PSBY PENSIONER BORN CO TYRONE MAR
MARTHA NELSON W 51 “ “ “
MATILDA NELSON D 18 “ SCHOLAR “ SINGLE
ISABELLA NELSON D 16 “ DRESSMAKER “ “
SAMUEL JOHN NELSON S 13 “ SCHOLAR “ “
John Nelson, s/o Matilda Johnston, d/o John Johnston, cousin of our James. We see from the ages of the girls that Matilda’s letter is from 1894 +/- 1 year. They have been married 21 years, and she has had three live births with all three still living. All can read & write.