Harry and Agnes (Gratton) Billups, Letters

excerpt of letter 3

Aug 4, 1873, letter, excerpt

The documents section of this website has a transcription of thirty-five letters sent by Henry "Harry" Billups and his wife Agnes Gratton from Mifflin County, Pennsylvania, to Agnes' sister Emily Hall in Derbyshire, England. The first letter was actually written in England on Harry's behalf by Agnes' sister Maria Boswell. They are in a collection entitled Agnes and Harry Billups, Letters from America to Emily and William Hall, at the Derbyshire Record Office, with the Reference Number D2941/2/1/1-35.H.

The early letters reflect the Billups' enchantment with their new country, "all hills and holes where we are." They stayed with Henry's brother Thomas upon arrival, until they got their own home, "for the houses are all wood here and they're carried here." (Letter 6, Oct 20th, 1873).

Henry would send back coins and other "new world" curiosities to Agnes' younger brother. Once Henry sent back a lightning bug to England saying  "this little fly is A curiosity for it lights Every time it Draws its breath. the Natives Call them littiningbugs And thay Sleep All Day And fly About All Nite time many A hundred of them" (Letter 3, Aug 4 1873).

Henry never identifies his actual place of employment, but it is some kind of factory. Work seems always to have been scarce, with much talk of half-shifts, weeks laid off and so forth. They had a garden and Henry hunted to supplement their income. The 1870's were difficult times everywhere.

Axe Works at Mann Narrows (ca. 1885)

Axe Works at Mann Narrows (ca. 1885)

His first letter home was sent from Freedom Forge, which is in Logan, Pennsylvania. Then in 1880 his place on the census puts him in company owned housing labeled Wm Mann Mfg. & Co. on an 1877 map of Yeagertown, copyright but viewable here: Mifflin County 1877 Pennsylvania Historical Atlas. So he might have changed employment from a factory in Logan to the Mann Axe Works in Yeagertown at point in some time.

There was a lot of discussion about returning to England, either for a visit or temporarily, but they never actually had the money to make the journey. They evidently decided to stick it out in a country where [if Henry went to Indiana with his brother] "i have been [in] this Country long Enuf So that i cood Get 1060 [or 10-60?] Aikers of land free. All it wood cost me is forteen Dollers for the rittens but i have not Got Enuff to Just Give Me A start. And that is More then England wood Do for A pore man."

All talk of returning, moving to Indiana, or improving their situation ended when Agnes was found to have breast cancer. In Letter 19, dated Jan 26, 1878, Henry says "[all is well here] At present Ondly for My Maggys brest And it is very bad And keep Gettin Wors, but i hope it will be better After a wile, for thire is A Old Docter 12 Miles from us that has Cured lotts of boath Men And Wimen of Cancers And i hop And trust in the man Above that he will Cure My Wife of hers for God Above knows best wot i Should Do withOut her for i Do not."

In Letter 24, Yeagertown August 17 1878, Agnes writes: "[we had] the Docter to see it and he sad that cud not be cut out for it is lo on the Brast but he thinks the stuf I ham usen will Cure it." Despite everything they tried, Agnes' condition worsened. They soon needed assistance to care for her and the children. She died in March 1880, a year and a half after her last child's birth.

In Letter 33, edged in black, dated Mar 29 1880, Henry says "now i Sit Down to right to you All with A hard foal of Sorrow And Grief" to inform them of his wife's death. In Letters 33 and 34 he tells them of the arrangements for the funeral and burial '[not] in Yeager but in Lewistown it was the Episcople Church Or the Church Of England Cemitery the best Around heair." And in Letter 35 he includes the inscription for Agnes' headstone.

There are no more letters. Within a few months Henry was forced to start breaking up the family, placing the youngest child, Thomas, with his sister Naomi Jackson in Pittsburgh. The daughter Jane was raised by Quakers, possibly in eastern Pennsylvania. Harry and his two other sons moved to Philadelphia where a son William died in 1882. The oldest son John remained in Philadelphia and Henry went to join his sister in Pittsburgh. The three surviving children were reunited as adults.

Harry's date of death and place of burial have not yet been determined. For what is known of Henry Billups later life, see Henry "Harry" Billups, Pittsburgh, 1890.


The image of the Mann Axe works comes from File:Mann's Narrows upstream.jpg at Wikipedia, and is said to be in the public domain.

My Old Ohio Home
Most of the information here is about my family or my wife’s, or about families with ties to Cleveland, Ohio, or the area near Rostrevor and Kilkeel in County Down, Ireland. There are also some unrelated families included that I came across. Whatever the case, I hope the material is helpful in your own research.
-- Ed Hamilton