Letter #35 – JULY 20, 1874  

Thomas Jackson now feels very old and is grieving because of the death of his first born son at only 41 years.

He continues to think back nostalgically to his home land and still hopes that he may return there before he dies

To make matters worse, his rope making factory has been burned down to the ground with a total devastation of all his business. He suspects arson since the city wanted to build streets through his property and had been giving him much trouble.

"I am too old to live long enough to be made happy any more in this world."

Thomas Jackson Jnr was the first son of Thomas Jackson Snr, who was the author of this collection of letters. This letter expresses the father's deepest possible grief for the loss of his cherished son "the first pledge of my young manhoods happy love." His name reflects the total bond of his mother and father; his first name obviously being that if his father while is second-Hayward-was the maiden name of his mother. Thomas Jackson's broken heart tells him that "I am too old to live long enough to be made happy any more in this world."

(The writing on Thomas Jackson Jnr's grave stone was temporarily made more legible by the application of flour.)

All photographs courtesy Neil D Scheidt, Find A Grave Memorial 109902096, Charles Evans Cemetery, Reading PA


[on letterhead of:] Office of Reading Steam Cordage Manufactory.

Reading, Pa., July 20th 1874

My Dear Cousin Caleb

It is now a long time since I wrote to you last, but please do not think that it is because I am forgeting you. Oh! no, I think of you all and Dear old England very very often. But the reason why I have not written to you is because I had only devastation, death, & disaster to tell you about and I could not, or did not know how to begin. I sent you a newspaper when the devastation came upon us, and I have sent you some papers since. But really I have been in poor state of mind to write to my dear English friends. "Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward". Time too, it is said, sooths all sorrows, but it may take a long time to heal deep wounds in our memories and our hearts some times, and I am too old to live long enough to be made happy any more in this world.

Pecuniary losses and business disappointments I have met and surmounted often before, and am doing so again successfully and hope to live long enough to make all good again. But the loss of my dear first born son is a loss forever in this world and cannot be made good again. He was taken sick on the 31st of August and died on the 17th of September last year, aged 41 years & 13 days. He never married so left no children to cherish and love for his sake. For over 41 years, as babe, and boy and man I had cherished and clung to him, the first pledge of my young manhoods happy love, one of the three mementos left to me

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of his long lost mother and her matronly affections. Ah! well, let us hope that he has met his mother in "another and a better world than this", and they are both happy together.

On the morning of June 24th 1873. Our spinning factory and the 2 story part of our rope walk, (120 yards long) were burnt down and all the valuable machinery made into old iron. The fire began about 1 Oclock A.M. The weather had been very warm & dry for some weeks. It was a very strong heavy wooden building, especially the spinning factory which was 110 feet by 48 feet & three stories high, floored with 12 inch joists and two layers of 1 inch pine boards. It had a great deal of wood in it and made a fire so hot that much of the cast iron machinery was melted, and with the wraught iron was twisted into all manner of shapes.

The whole loss was over fifty thousand dollars. We had 25500 dollars insurence. But only 17100 has been paid so far. The balance they will cheat us out of if they can. I have two law suits with two insurence companies, but how I shall come out I dont know.

The city wants to cut two new streets through our walk and made us a good deal of trouble after the fire. I more than suspect that our factory was set on fire to get us out of the way so that the new streets might be opened. We were always very careful of fire and took every possible precaution. There had been no fire in the factory for the last 10 years. It was heated by steam from the engine in winter & we only run during daylight. We did not begin building up again untill after my dear sons death, and did not get all ready to start again untill about May 1st But our factory

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is built of brick now. Brick floors, Slate roof & Iron doors and window shutters all round. The machinery is all iron. There is no wood about it except the large timbers that support the roof. It will be heated by steam from the Engine which is 20 yards away and no fire or lights will ever go into it. But I have only one son to give it to now & if he follows up the trade for ten or 15 years, as I have taught him, and meets with no large losses, it will make him a rich man. Aye well.

My son Harry has always been a very. steady hard working boy. He has been married six years & has two girls and a boy. very fine children, & a very good wife & a handsome good house of his own & has a half interest in a good trade which, after a little while, will be all his own. He is about as well off as any reasonable young man could wish to be. He was 3 years old when I had him with me in England in 1842. My daughter has been married about eleven years to a very nice steady and prosperous man. They have had 5 sons. The first born died in infancy. The other four are fine boys. She has a good & handsome home of her own, and I make my home with them. Harry lives by the rope walk & we live half a mile away, but the two houses are fully in sight.

My poor son Tom lays in a cematery less than than half a mile north of us. My father, Mother, brother Samuel & two more of my children sleep near him. So does my brother Edwards first wife. And it cannot be long before I shall sleep with them. I am 68½ years old but I feel older than you are. 1873 was too hard on me. A month after my son died I came near losing over half what the fire had left me. Well I would still have had enough for my own support in my old age. If I had never left my native land I dont know how it would have been with me. But I have had a hard, a Slave's life here

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in america. 45 years ago me and Edwd started a small rope walk on only 100 dollars. 7 years afterwards we desolved partnership & had 1500 dollars each, Since then I can count up losses to about one hundred thousand dollars. Well, it is gone and I dont need it any how. We have a new factory and another fair start and are free from debt. Dont owe a dollar and are able to pay cash for all we buy & my two children & seven grandchildren are comfortably well off. When in 1850, my whole rope walk, dwelling house and all I had, was, for the second time, washed away in a flood, some americans Laughed and said "the poor Englishman is done for now. He will never get up again now". But other good hearted americans were my friends & I did get up again higher than before.

This time, when our Whole factory was in flames and going to destruction, the tag rag and bob tail among the lookers on stood with hands in their pockets and cried "Oh! let it burn, the old fellow has made money enough". Such is the dark side of poor green eyed human nature. Well, we had made money enough to build up & start again, and now all is right again for the third time after total distruction twice before.

But there is one loss that cannot be made good. I have lost my first born son. The dear boy worked hard after the fire and was much worried about building again, I think may have been one cause of his sickness and death. Well. I know he is at rest now & is better off than his poor old bereaved Father. I should have come to England this summer if the fire had not hindered me. But now I may never see my native land again nor the few dear friends that are left there. Not because I have not the means. No. Dear cousin. I am well off yet, after all, and my two dear remaining children are both very happily and very satisfactorilly situated. But I feel very weak & crushed down. But if I live untill next summer & feel any thing like able to stand the voyage I will come. Steamers cross quick now and I do so long to see you all. John Watson sent me a letter he got from your daughter Sarah. I should be very glad if she would write to me and tell me all about you and the family, & you write too, if only a few lines for yourself

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just to acknowledge the receipt of this, and to say how you are You are 15 or 16 years older than me in years but not in bodily health. You are very likely to outlive me yet and I most devoutly hope that we may both live to meet on earth once more. I will send you newspapers whenever they are interesting. I am much obliged to you for the papers you send me. I like to read about old England and all the places that I played and rambled in 60 years ago. I want to see all the old places. I would write William if I knew how to direct to him. Please to send me his direction. Strange things have happened and there have been great changes

[a line is lost here from the page being folded]

his little son too. I hope you and all of yours are well. I should be very glad to have a letter from you and also from your daughter, cousin sarah.

I inclose you a likeness of my dear departed son. Perhaps you may remember him

I also inclose you a Photograph of our place as it was before the fire, taken from a picture painted about 8 years ago. I will close now with best love to you all I am

Yours very affectionately
Thomas Jackson


Throughout this series of letters, TJ has come across as a very capable businessman who brings great dedication and determination to his work. Here however, he sounds to be broken man even as he is picking himself up after the third total loss of his buildings and starting all over again.

The death of his first son at the age of only 41 has totally devastated him and leaves him wretched in his grief. We learn that there is cemetery nearby where " My poor son Tom lays less than half a mile north of us. My father, Mother, brother Samuel & two more of my children sleep near him. So does my brother Edward's first wife. And it cannot be long before I shall sleep with them."

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Notes From: Irvin Rathman

In this letter Jackson muses over his business career. For a quick peek, note that someone in his household told the 1860 censustaker that he was worth a total of $15,000. In 1870 it was up to $80,000.

His obituary painted a rosy picture of his business progress, noting his move inland after the 1850 flood:

"Here he erected the longest rope-walk in Pennsylvania, measuring 1,600 feet in length, and Jackson's establishment soon became famous throughout the country for the manufacture of long ropes and cordage. During the war when there was a great demand for long ropes, and but few places in the country where they could be obtained, Jackson's establishment did an extensive business."

After his death in 1878, appraisers valued his total worth at a little over $91,400. His business, bequeathed to his son Henry, was valued broadly at $35,000: - $15,000 for the real estate and machinery, $10,000 for stock on hand and book accounts, and $10,000 cash in the bank.

Sources: 1860 census, S.W. Ward, p. 1224. 1870 census, 6th Ward, p. 76A. Reading Times and Dispatch, Aug. 7, 1878.
8/26/1878 and 8/31/1878 appraisals in estate file for Thomas Jackson, Reading, 1878, at Register of Wills office, Berks County Courthouse.