Letter to Maud from Charles Holland Kermott (1899)
[The following paper titled “Kermott History” was typed by David E. Kermott on May 4, 1997. I am using Win95 with MS Office 97 Word for Windows. The original paper is very old, transparent, crumbling, and yellow from age and is in my fathers possession. I am typing from a photo copy of the original legal sized paper. The lower right corner of the first page was missing and will be noted in the text. I will have Dad bring the originals to my home sometime so that I may scan them into the computer as well. We will also search for the missing corner and complete the frustrating omissions. If any of my siblings have a photo copy of the complete first page please notify me. This letter was written to Maud Kermott from Charles Holland Kermott discussing some history of Edward Kermott]
[Additional note: I have received from my father the actual original letters that were in better condition that the copied version]
Fort Totten, N. Dakota
Feb. 12th, 1899
I promised to write you a letter in which I would give a slight history of my Father, but my calling is of such a nature that I never know one minute what I may have to do the next. I have sat down to write a great many times, to you, and just so often have I been called from this work to attend to patients. I am now resolved when I am called again I will return and commence where I left off. We are all well at present although we are just emerging from an especially cold period as the thermometer has been as low as 52 and 54 degrees below zero, but tonight it is up to zero which is the highest it has been for several weeks. Louis is the only one at home with us. He is studying medicine with me. I expect he will attend the Chicago University this fall. He has spent on year at the U. of Minneapolis. He is attending band practice this evening. The Indian School band, said to be the best band in the Dakotas or Minnesota. I wish you could hear it play. Two white boys play in it, one of which is Lou. Hope you will be able to come and hear it this summer.
My Father Edward Kermott, was born in the city of Douglas on the Isle of Man, July 4th, 1794. The son of William Kermott of the same city, who was a Professor of Mathematics, Surveying, Navigation, and Astronomy.
My father, as I remember him when I was only eight years of age, was a man of vigor, strength, education, and diligence. A man that was never idle. He also was kind and indulgent, yet over anxious to see his children improve every spare minute, and always encouraging us, either in our studies of labors, and some times sparing a few minutes to teach us how to play ball or some other game. He was a warm hearted Christian man, who was always ready to help the poor, to sympathize with them in a substantial way, either by providing them with food, clothing, shelter, or labor, as the case might require. I never knew him to turn any away from his house without first satisfying their needs, and although tender hearted, yet he was a man of firmness and decision of character. When he had made up his mind as to what was his duty, nothing would divert him from it. I was the youngest of nine childres and consequently know how he was in his family. He loved us all and loved us all alike. I never heard any one of the Children intimate that either father or mother loved one child more than another.
At this period, A.D. 1844, father’s mind was either on the present or in the future. He had no time for the past, consequently we heard very little of the early part of his history and not until A.D. 1864 when father had reached his seventieth year, did he talk much about his past. His family were all separated, either by death, or had married and gone to distant parts, no two being within 500 miles of each other. Father had become too old for labor. Then his mind would wander back to the scenes of his youth, and in the twilight of the day he would sit and tell me the history of the past, about the way he and his brother William spent their boyish days. William was younger than he. I was now a married man and both he and mother came to live with me. They in their advanced years, enjoyed each other’s company as much as ever. Mother was the elder by two years. The history he gave me was not connected, but I received a little more and a little there, so you must excuse me if I wander, and do not give it in correct order, but I will as nearly as I can, in a hastily written letter.
The Isle of Man at the period in which my history commences, as under British control, (for a long time it had a king of its own) but at last being conquered, it was put in charge of one person who had to render account to the King of England for moneys received by taxes and otherwise and for moneys expended on public works. All balances had to be forwarded to the English government. The “Primagenature Act” was then in force, so that the eldest son received everything in the shape of property, position or title. The younger sons, and the daughters received nothing but their education. Grandfather’s father fell heir to the estate and position, consequently he had everything his own way. The children were John and William. John was the elder so he came to the estate. William therefor had nothing but his education, and became a teacher. William had two sons Edward and William. Edward was the elder, he was my father, of whom I shall now attempt to give a short history. Father was the son of the teacher, and remembered going to school to him with his little brother William, in the same city where they were born. They spoke Manx at home and English at school. Played with his brother and a few other boys at home in Manx, but at school they were obliged to play and recite in English so that unconsciously he was being educated in two languages and not until his 13th year, did he have much experience in anything but that of attending school Father was at the fish market one day, and heard an Irishman and a Scotchman trying to make a bargain, the former speaking in the Erse of Irish language, the latter in the Galic, which is sometimes called the Scotch language. Neither could understand the other. Father understood both and was their interpreter. Father saw by this event that the Galic, Manx and Erse, were distinct dialects of the old Celtic language, which his father had assisted him in learning Scotch or Irish and in this manner he learned the Erse and Galic, thus he became master of four languages. Many an amusing anecdote he tells resulting from his knowledge of these languages and dialects.
An English man met an Irishman on the pier an Ramsey in the Isle-of-Man. The Englishman had a few Manx words and supposed that the Irishman was was Manx. He asked him to direct him to a boarding house. The Irishman thought he had challenged him to fight, and squared up to the other who was also ready. Then father explained matters to them and when they understood the cause of the mistake they had a good laugh, shook hands, and parted.
The pupils in the school were few in number as any who attended the school had to pay a heavy amount for instruction, and as there were but few wealthy families in the island, his school companions were necessarily few. At the age of thirteen, Father’s father died, therefor the family, mother and two sons, went to their Uncle’s estate, to on it. The Estate was five miles out from Douglas.
Father, as he was a good penman, was put into his Uncle’s office, that is the office on the estate as there was another in Douglas which was only open when his Uncle chose to be there. His work was to copy forms, fill out blanks which were partly written, (for there were no printed forms in those days) or write letters for his uncle. His mother had a sister living in Douglas where he was often sent, Uncle allowing him to take an ass to ride on whenever he desired to. The ass was full of tricks and had a great fashion of starting off at full speed, the suddenly stopping with its head between its front legs, would throw the rider off head first, but if that did not get him off, it would lie down and roll over. Father got acquainted with its tricks and would throw his arms around the ass’s neck and thus save himself from falling, and when it would roll over, he would spring off and jump on again just as it was rising. He found out that by kindness and coaxing it, he could get along very well with it. When the ass was inclined to balk he would but a carrot on a sharp stick and while on its back he would reach the carrot in front of the ass’s nose, and it would run all the way into Douglas trying to catch the carrot, which father would give it when he got there.
The tenth part of all products of the fields, and the tenth part of the increase of animals of all kinds, had to be given to the priests, and father would often be sent to keep account of the loads that went into the farmer’s granery and that which went into the priest’s. There was about one priest to every four hundred families, hence for every load the farmer received the priest would receive forty loads. The people murmured at this, but still the priests were penurious and would exact all that they could get. On one occasion a priest called on one of his parishioners and saw that he had a number of new beehives, and calling the farmer, asked him, “How many swarms of bees have you this year”? “Ten, your reverence”. “Then you must bring me one”. “Your reverence does not tithe bees, do you”? “Oh yes, don’t you know they are nature’s production”. The farmer promised to bring him a swarm, but inwardly made up his mind to be revenged. Next morning he started to the priest’s with his bees, took them into the room where the priest was and said, “Your Reverence, I have brought you the bees. You are welcome to the, but I paid four pence for the hive and you cannot have that.” So saying, he overturned the hive, struck it on the table, ran off with the hive leaving the priest to be well stung by the bees. Such petty warfare was continually going on between the priests and their parishoners.
Father himself, was a strict attendant at church and was well posted in the prayer book, ten commandments, creed and catechism. He tells a story of two boys, Willie Simpson and John Storm, who on their way to church one Sunday morning called on the priest’s wife who lived in an orchard not far from the church and asked for some apples. Her reply was, “No!” “Oh but”, said Simpson, “we will pay you for them”. As she was an avaricious woman, she took the money and they the applies, and went on to church, but concluded between themselves that there were only nine commandments now, side by side, and it so happened when the priest asked. “”How many commandments are there”?, it was John Storm’s turn to answer, and he replied, “Nine, your Reverence”. “Ah, you are a block head, John Storm, but Willie Simpson can answer”. “Willie Simpson how many commandments are there”? “Nine, your Reverence”. “Ah, Willie, how is how is it you have one less than usual”? “Please, your Reverence, your wife broke it in selling apples to us on our way to church this morning”. The priest unbraided the boys for offering money for anything on the Sabbath day, compared them to the serpent that tempted Eve, but justified his wife saying, “Seeing you were so desirous to have the apples , my wife was justifiable in taking the money from you, for it would not be right for such boys as you are to get them for nothing, even if it was the Sabbath day. Father here thought that he saw a slight inconsistency.
The Church of England was established by law. Father was made a member of it when he was an unconscious babe, by being sprinkled by the priest and having his name recorded in the church books, and he was preparing to pass his examination for confirmation, as the bishop from London was soon to arrive to examine all who were fit to be confirmed. He had been taught that his godfather and godmother were responsible for his sins, and was informed that as soon as he was confirmed he would be responsible for his own sins. Therefore he looked forward to that event with a degree of solemnity. The bishop arrived. Over 300 boys and about as many girls having passed their catechetical examination were stood in ranks for the bishop to lay his hands on them. One boy withdrew. The priest asked him why he had left the ranks. The reply was, “My godfather and godmother are now responsible for my sins and I do not want to take them upon myself.” Another boy thought, “I would like to do the same”, but upon a second thought he said to himself, “Would it not be mean not to take the responsibility upon myself as my godfather and my godmother have been so kind as to be responsible for me up to the present time”. Therefore he was confirmed. That boy was Father. After the bishop had laid his hands on each, he gave them a short address, closing with the remarks, “May you ever after be as holy as you were on the day that the bishop laid his hands on you”. Half of the boys were from Douglas and the other half from the country. The city boys began to pick on the country boys, until it resulted in a pitched battle. The country boys were victorious. The Priest and Bishop watched the strife through the church windows. Still Father adhered closely to the church in which he was born and in which he had been confirmed. He knew of no other church. He returned to his uncle’s office, busied himself in writing which when completed, he would invariable turn to peruse the few books that were on his uncle’s bookshelves. Father’s uncle was one of those overbearing men who must be implicitly obeyed and one who took an unintentional slight as an offence. On one occasion, however, Father was walking along in deep meditation and neglected the usual politeness of removing his hat. His uncle became enraged at this and threatened him with a horsewhipping should the offence be repeated. Father apologized saying it was by accident. His uncle would not accept the apology. This raised Father’s anger and he determined to keep his hat on the next time, expecting however to receive the punishment designated. The next day they passed each other, both carrying themselves erect.
A British Man-of-war lay at the wharf in Douglas, and the seamen were beating up recruits for the navy. That evening father having finished the work left in the office for him to do, returned home threw himself down on the dias in his mother’s house and felt that his uncle was designing greater mischief against him than the punishment he had been promised. Father’s mother entered the hall where he was and said, “Edward, I wish you to take a message to my sister in Douglas. You may stay there all night and return in the morning in time for your office duties.” Father brought the ass to the door, bade his mother good night and gave her a parting kiss, sprang on the ass’s back and was soon safely ensconsed in his aunt’s house in Douglas. That night a dozen marines suddenly burst into his mother’s house, one standing at each door. The leader demanded her eldest son. In vain she told them he was not at home, but when asked “Where is he then?” she made no reply. An instant search was begun. Every nook and corner of the house was examined, and when they found him not, they removed many of the boards from the dias and finally gave up the search. They then left and went to his uncle’s house. In the darkness she followed them. She saw that Father’s uncle gave them a cordial reception. A feast was prepared for them and by the music from the rostrum she knew they were preparing for a dance. She returned home, took her son, William, who was only twelve years of age, and started in the cover of the night, for Douglas. She told Father not to return as the pressgan were after him to put him aboard the Man-of-war, but to flee from the island if possible. No one was allowed to leave the island withoug his uncle’s consent. Father had written passes daily, and his uncle has signed them. He determined to write one more and sign his uncle’s name to it. This, he declared was the only piece of forgery he ever committed in his life, and under the circumstances, he felt that the act was justifiable. A small be fleet trading vessel lay at the wharf, that was to set sail for London by daybreak. He bade his mother, brother, and aunt a long farewel, went down to thedock, presented his pass to the centry that was on duty. It was accepted, and at the age of fourteen, with only enough money to pay his passage to London, he started forth to combat with the world. He made a vow to his mother before parting from her, to avoid bad company, to read his bible she had brought to him, every Sabbath day if possible, to avoid bad language, to speak the truth, and never deceive a young woman, all of which promises he adhered to te end of his life.
Out on St. George’s Channel, with a brisk breeze, the vessel started South. The shores of his native Island fast receeded from view. Very sadly he parted from his mother and brother, but with a strong hope that God would guide him arright. The wind proved favorable and the vessel soon reached the Lands End, doubled the Lizard, sailed thru the English Channel, the Straits of Dover, and up the Thames to London. With no guide but the guiding hand of God, he entered the Lloyd Company’s office, chich was the greatest ship building company in the world, and asked, “Do you want a boy, Sir?” An elderly man with bald head and soft blue eyes and rosy checks, a pure type of the Anglo Saxon race, looked down upon him from his desk and said, “Well, my boy, and what can you do?” I will try and do anything you want me to “, was the reply. “That is right”. Said the man. The try boys are just the kind we want. “Can you read?” “Yes sir”, was Father’s reply. “There, read this”, said Mr. Lloyd Sr., for it was he with whom Father was conversing. Father took the book and read a paragraph. “Yes”, said Mr. Lloyd “that is read well”. Then taking down a book on coast surveying in which there were many hard words and difficult sentences which only appear in scientific works. “Read this “. Again Father read, it happened to be a copy of the work in which his Father had drilled him. “Where did you get your education, my boy?” In Douglas, in the Isle-of-man. “Who was your teacher?” “My father was my teacher”. “What was his name?” “William Kermott”. “Why did you leave home?” “At my mother’s request, for sir, but I did not wish to be forced to go on it”. So at Mr. Lloyd’s request, Father narrated briefly the circumstances which lead him toleave the island. “Now, my boy”, said Mr. Lloyd, “A vessel of Marque is a trading vessel which is well armed and is prepared to fight as well as trade. Are you willing to be bound to sail on board such a vessel under instructions until you are twenty-one years of age, and you will be advanced step by step, just as soon as you are capable of filling advanced situations, and as vacancies occur, until you become Captain of one of the vessels”. “I am willing and glad of the opportunities”, said Father. The indentures were soon made and signed, and Father thus bound himself to become a navigator. A boy then entered the office about Father’s age. Mr. Lloyd said “Henry Boyd, this is Edward Kermott who is an apprentice, and will probably sail on the same boat with you. As there are ten days yet before the vessel sails, you will have time to see London. You will, however, be required to be in your quarters at meal time and at bed time”. Then turning to Father he said, “Edward, your wages begin today. You may call on me for anything you need. You are both now excused”. Boyd and Father continued fast friends thru all their journies on the ocean. They visited all the most noted places in London, and enjoyed themselves well. It was now A.D. 1808. In 1805, the power of Napoleaon was minished on the sea by the battle of Trafalzar which was won by Admiral Lord Nelson. All the powers of Europe were combined to wage war with Great Britain, hence as soon as the Swift (the name of the vessel on which they sailed), left the mouth of the Thames, a watch was constantly kept for the enemie’s vessels. The Swift carried three of the best cannons then built, one in front, and two in the stern. A few days out, a man-of-war bore down on them. Every inch of sail was immediately spread and all speed made possible. A cannon ball shot over the bow of the Swift and was immediately answered by the steam guns with such effect that the man-of-war gave up the pursuit. The destiny of the Swift was the Island of Manaca (Jamaica)*, for a cargo of Rum, sugar and tropical fruits.
Both England and France forbade the United States to trade with the other, under penalty of losing both cargo and vessels, but the English made a still greater demand on the U.S., that was to search their vessels for seamen, and if they found any who could not show their indentures, they would press them to serve Britain. Several trips were made in safety. Each time Father drew but little money, but left it in the care of the company. He had now become first mate, and the full care of navigation on his shoulders, except when the Captain would relieve him of those duties. On the fourth trip they met with a violent storm. The ship became wreacked and a raft was made but they were unable to save any provisions. Without food or water they spent three days upon the ocean, when they were sighted by a vessel carrying the Stars and Stripes which bore down on them, picked them out of the jaws of death, and divided their rations with them. The United States vessel had encountered a severe storm and had been driven out to sea and was returning when they picked up the crew, and were then on short allowances of bread and water. The Americans had warm hearts, helped them all they could, so that Father’s sympathies henceforth were with and for America. On the fifth day they were picked up by a homeward bound trading English vessel and carried back to London, but he never forgot the kindness of the American crew, and he resolved never to fight against such sailors whose only fault was that they wished to be free from English oppression. I must skip a lot or otherwise write a book. His last trip on the ocean was to New Brunswick. This time he had put both his money and books on board, although he intended to go back, as in a few months more he would be made a Sea Captain. A violent storm arose, Father was at the helm. Every one was working to save not only the ship but their lives.
At this juncture, the Captain came along and gave Father a blow with a rope end. This was the first and only blow that Father received upon the ocean. He therefore inwardly resolved to desert the ship if they ever reached land. They soon reached St. John upon the St. Johns river, discharged their cargo loaded with lumber, and he and Boyd volunteered to take the night watches place for the first part of the night.
When everything was still, about midnight they lowered a boat, having first put their worldly possessions in it, and started up the St. Johns river. They rowed up the river until daylight, put their trunks ashore in a secluded place and left the boat to float down the river. The captain made a fruitless search for them. The ship set sail for London but never reached there. All hands perished. Father always after that believed that the blow saved his life.
February 28th: I have just completed a short sketch of Father’s life on the ocean. This has been a very busy month with me, having only a few evenings to spend at the work, and as I read it over, I see that there are many things of interest that I have omitted, and yet the last part of Father’s life is the most interesting. His life in New Brunswick, his acquaintance with Mother, their conversion, baptism, and their gradual acceptation of Baptist principles, are all of interest to me and probably would be to you, but at present I have not time. Should you be able to make us a visit, it would be pleasant to be here in June. I have engaged by the year, a ticket, so that I and my visitors may go to and from our place to the Chautauqua which is nine miles by water. We had a tent there and probably will have one this year. Remember us kindly to your brother. Our regards to your husband, and love to yourself and children.
Your affectionate uncle,
C. H. Kermott
* May have been transcribed incorrectly