This letter was written by 21 year-old Edwin Peer (1812-1839), the son of John Daniel Peer (1783-1840) and Eleanor Parliman (1785-1870) of Morris County, New Jersey. Edwin was an itinerant tailor by profession and we learn from this letter that he left his home in New Jersey in 1831 to ply his trade among the landed gentry in Virginia. Though no details are provided, the New York Commercial Advertiser of 10 May 1839 carried a notice of Edwin’s death in Fluvanna County, Virginia. The Richmond Equirer of 7 May 1839 adds that Edwin died on 8 April at the residence of Col. D. W. K. Bowles in Bowlesville.
Edwin mentions his older brother, John Parliman Peer (1805-1890) in the letter but none of his other siblings.
References are made to the Virginia Earthquake of 1833 that Edwin experienced the previous month and to the extended drought in Virginia that was driving up the price of cotton and slaves.
Addressed to Mr. John Daniel Peer, Parsippany, Morris County, New Jersey
Golansville, Caroline County, Virginia
September 18th 1833
I received your letter of the 29th of August on Wednesday last and should have wrote to you on that day but that the mail remained too short a time in the place. I am very happy to learn that you (mother) have had another opportunity of going to New York. I hope the journey may have been a pleasant one and an improvement to your health. I am also happy to learn that the family was well when you wrote and I hope this may find you in the same good health.
I was upon the point of writing to John two or three weeks ago but finally concluded to put it off until I received a letter from you. As for myself, I am in as good health as ever I was in my life. The part of the country I am in is very healthy. Indeed, I know of no place more so at present.
I am quite uncertain about what length of time I may remain in this place. I have ever since I have been in Virginia had some idea of going to Richmond which is only thirty miles from this place, and if I should conclude to leave here, it is more than probable that I shall go there as a journeyman again this fall.
There has nothing very remarkable taken place since my stay here except the effects produced by an earthquake which happened about three weeks since. Probably it may have been felt in New Jersey. The shock was felt here between six and seven o’clock in the morning and continued about fifteen seconds. It was said to be the hardest ever felt in these parts.¹
We have had very dry weather in this section of country. Last night fell the first rain we have had for at least six weeks, if not a longer time. The crops have suffered severely. I know some farmers that have scarcely made grain enough for seed. There is a probability that money will be more plenty here than it has been. Slaves have risen at least fifty percent in consequence of the mortality that has swept them off in the more southerly states within the last twelve months. Cotton also is worth twice as much as it was six months ago and tobacco and many other kinds of produce are on the rise here. I also shall expect a small show of this income because the more money the people have here the more extravagant they are in their dress.
Although this state is perhaps as good or among the best of any in the Union for my business, yet I begin to get restless and weary of it, though perhaps this is because I wish to get home again. But the manners and customs of the people are altogether foreign to me, and consequently not very agreeable. Yet notwithstanding all this, I am not low-spirited by any means. I have in the course of time become quite habituated to strangers and their various and strange whims go more unnoticed by me than formerly.
But to return to other matters, I discovered by your letter that it was written by [my brother] John and consequently you did not give me any information respecting a small part of the contents of my last letter — namely: what impression was left upon the minds of the people in the neighborhood (or what they had to say) concerning me or my going away or anything pertaining to me or mine? My only reasons for asking this question is that I saw something mentioned in one of your letters which gave rise to the idea that something must be in circulation at my expense, and though it cannot injure me here, yet I have curiosity enough to wish to know it if there be anything curious about it.
I was very much amused at the news your letter gave me indeed — especially that Harvey should have been carried off so suddenly to Schooley’s Mountain by a kitchen maid surprises me very much. I thought he aimed at something on the very topmost branch but perhaps he was like Nimble Dick — instead of shooting the crow, he killed the old cat or made some such blunder. ² However, she may be as good a crow perhaps. You said in your next letter you would give me a more detailed account of incidents that have taken place since I left there. I should be very glad if you would take the trouble to do so. I should like to learn whether or no Miss Maria Pollard has ever gone off among the other birds. A Mr. Smith was very desirous of her favor about the time I left there and I thought there was a probability that he might succeed.
I expect there has been a great many changes about the place within the last two years. I feel as if I should be quite a stranger if should return to Morris County. All the boys have become men. All the girls have become women. And all the men and women are married. No doubt this is partly the case. But when I shall return to New Jersey is to me quite uncertain, nor do I expect to know a week before I start because I never have my mind made up long beforehand. To see you all again would be be to accomplish my chief desire, but I have no prospect of doing as well in any of the Northern States at present and can here I hope however that some change of tide or of fortune may place me in a situation shortly to return as I wish.
Give my love to the boys one and all and accept of the same from your ever affectionate son, — Edwin Peer
¹ One account of the Virginia earthquake of 1833 says:
August 27, 1833. An earthquake shook buildings and violently rattled windows in Lynchburg. It was described as “severe” in Charlottesville and fences shook near Louisa Courthouse. Near Richmond, two miners were killed in a panic caused by the tremor. Probably centered in Goochland County. Estimated magnitude: 4.5.
Another account says:
A moderately strong earthquake occurred in central Virginia shortly after 6:00 A.M. on August 27, 1833. It had an intensity of about 6, and was felt over more than 52,000 square miles. This shock is described in terms of contemporary accounts.
² “Nimble Dick” is a children’s nursery rhyme which goes:
Nimble Dick, he was so quick
He tumbled over a stick of timber;
He bent his bow to shoot a crow,
And killed a cat in the window.