Transcription: A Letter from a Cousin in the Hawaiian Islands

refer to caption
Photos of Edward Tailer Austin and Marie Estelle Herbert
refer to caption
Stampless blue lettersheet datelined Lihue Kauai, March 5, 1852, addressed to S.F. Perry, Peach Point (Plantation), Brazoria Co. TX. Bright red “Honolulu Hawaiian Islands / March 13 (1852)” handstamp with black ‘12’ rate handstamp struck on top and matching “San Francisco Cal. / 1 May (1852)” transist marking to left. This rate indicated 2c paid to the Ship’s Captain and 10c to cover the postage to Texas.....with 12c to be collected from the recipient.

The letter was written by Edward Tailer Austin to his second cousin, S.F. Perry. Mr. Austin and Mr. Perry being cousin and nephew respectively to Stephen F. Austin. Peach Point Plantation in Brazoria Co. was the home of Stephen F. Austin’s sister, Emily Margaret Austin Perry, her family, and was considered the adopted homestead of the extended Austin family after Stephen F.’s death in 1836. This most interesting correspondence chronicles Edward T. Austin’s travels to the California gold fields after its discovery in 1849, his labors in the mines, losing his fortune and eventually migrating to Hawaii where he worked as a plantation overseer.

Edward married Estelle Hebert on May 30, 1857 in Plaquemine, LA, migrated back to Texas and settled in Galveston, raising a family there. He later became an attorney, county judge and served for a time as acting mayor of Galveston.


Transcription of the Letter

Lihue Kauai March 5th 1852

Dear Stephen,

You wrote me a letter a year ago, which has just come to hand, after taking a cruise through the mines of California, and although it has been so long in coming, it is nevertheless truly welcome.

You had little idea when you wrote, that I should read your letter, on an island some two thousand miles from the mainland, yet – so it is, and I have now no idea where the next March may find me; for I am about to move again. It is said that “a rolling stone gathers no moss” and I have fully proved the truth of the adage, being no better off in a pecuniary point of view, than when I left Texas.

I have seen several of this far formed group of islands, and have seen the spot on which the famous Navigator, Cook, was killed by the natives. It is marked only by a pile of stones and the stump of a cocoanut tree. Cook’s monument is not made with hands, it is rather like Fulton’s; everywhere the ships go in these seas there Cook’s name is known and stands first among Navigators.

The great body of the inhabitants here are Indians, and nominally they have control of the Government, having the majority of votes. But in reality, the Kingdom is under Yankee rule. The King having a Cabinet, without whose advice he can do nothing, and he does not pretend to have anything to do with the business, as long as they give him plenty of brandy, he lets them have matters their own way. The Missionaries have the chief power, and have made most of the laws, some of which are equal to the old blue laws of New England.

There are many plantations on the islands belonging to Europeans and Americans. The working force is composed of Native and Chinese Coolies, the last of which have only been introduced within the last two months. I have been overseering a gang of them since their arrival and I have found them willing and humble. I have whipped most all of them, since I have been with them and they took it as though they were used to it.

This is a glorious climate, the country is healthy, the water good and fruit, vegetables and meats abundant. If I had all my interest and friends here, I would be willing to end my days on this island.

Guy (*NOTE TO RESEARCHERS...Guy Bryan, half brother to S.F. Perry*) in his letter of 21st Oct asks the question…For what do we toil and labor here? My answer is “to try to make life bearable”. At least that has been my object…a humble one enough, yet I have hardly attained it.

Life to me as a laborer is a burden, and I as well as other men labor, that some time or other, we may throw off the burden and live without labor.

I was full of hope in California, and it was through no fault of mine that I did not succeed. In part sickness overtook me, and rendered me helpless, but God took pity on me and raised me up friends even there. I came here feeble and destitute, yet here I found friends who have lightened the burden of life somewhat, and I thank God that I have not yet felt the sting of want, for though my purse has been low, I have had good spirits. A light heart and a clear conscience go a long way towards making a man happy.

Guy says, “life is a bubble and man is a fool”. I agree to the first part, but not the second. Life is essentially a bubble and afloat on the ocean of time, the least flow of wind may burst it, but man taken as a whole is not a fool. God has given him certain instincts as the rules he must go by and has furnished him with a small spark of his wisdom to light his path and as long as this guides him, he is no fool, but an intelligent being working out the great purposes of his Creator.

I will write you again when I reach the coast, at present I shall close by wishing you good luck in all you undertakings.

Yours, E.T. Austin