A Thousand Letters

Letters were a lifeline for the Bones family and their associates to their families in Ireland in the 19th century. They communicated the latest family news, neighborhood changes, business dealings, and political perspectives. But their letters also had limits. Some letter writers were limited by a scarcity of paper or ink, keeping letter writers to one sheet of paper, front and back. Sometimes they were limited by money for high postage rates. Many letters were carried by friends or family members crossing the ocean, delivered by hand or dropped in the mail after arriving in the country, reducing or eliminating the cost of sending the letter.

The limits of letters made rare in-person visits a treasure. Reverend William John Stavely writes to his brother-in-law, James Bones, to express the joy of seeing James’ son John in 1834. John traveled to the United Kingdom for business and made a point to see his relatives in County Antrim Ireland. Mr. Stavely writes,

John, your excellent Son, has surpassed a thousand letters, for he could answer many little questions which we would not have thought of committing to paper. It is my unfeigned prayer that he may live long, be prosperous + a blessing to all the members of the family of which he is [at] present an ornament.

John Bones, ca. 1845

Think of it. What questions would you ask a member of a related family you hadn’t seen in 23 years, whom you only communicated with a few times a year with short letters? So many questions and feelings would come. I can only imagine the exhilaration all must have felt as questions were asked as they came to mind and were answered just as quickly. What a blessing John’s visit must have been.

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