Esarey-Esrey & Rhoads-Esrey Letters
Records of a 19th Century American Migration
An introduction to the Esarey-Esrey and Rhoads-Esrey letters:
A massive wave of westward migrating AngloAmerican settlers spanned the western three quarters of what is now the United States in about sixty years between 1790 and 1850 and then the next fifty years filled up the continent very rapidly. Because this migration was so directional in nature, many of the families involved dropped descendant branches along the way. In the case of John and Hester Clark Essery, who left Pennsylvania in the 1780s, this migration pattern by 1850 had spread their 9 children and 45 grandchildren across Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri, with a number of grandchildren by their youngest son (Jesse Esrey 1800-1855) moving to “Upper California” in the years just before the famous California Gold Rush.
The Essery surname is particularly common in Devon, England and it is unknown how many Essery lines migrated from there in the 18th century. Other spellings of the name independently also stabilized as Esrey in the Chester, Pennsylvania region, and as Essary in another branch that also moved south and west across the country. Likewise, there is an Esary line distributed across the United States. Although the exact relationship to these branches to John and Hester’s branch is very probably historically close, the details have apparently been lost.
A sample of 19th century letters survives from three different sources. There are two early letters dated 1814 and 1832 between Jesse Esrey in Illinois and his brother Jonathon Davis Esarey (1783-1858) back in Indiana. Jesse, as the youngest son, had moved on west with his father John Essery a few years after they crossed from Kenucky to Southern Indiana, where most of the family settled. In subsequent years Jesse Esrey served in the Illinois legislature and then moved on west to Ray County, Missouri, where he remained the rest of his life.
There the story rested until 2002 when Stephen P. Emanuels, of Lemoore, California edited a volume of letters entitled The Rhoads-Esrey letters: 1846-1873. Emanuels obtained copies of Rhoads-Esrey letters from descendants of Earl Rhoads, descendants of Jonathan Esrey (1831-1904), and other sources in California, amassing a sample of 19 letters. Only five of the letters in Emmanuels 2002 collection duplicate those found in Myra Esarey Evans’ 1968 volume! The two sources together present us with 30 letters showing one family’s part of this momentous history.
Historical overviews and annotations of some of these letters can be found in several sources and at various locations elsewhere on the internet. But because all of the known letters have never been presented as a body in one place, we wish to present transcriptions of all of them together here for the first time.
We do so with special thanks and appreciation to Stephen P. Emanuels and (via permissions by Patsy Van Kesteren and John Logan Van Kesteren) Myra Esarey Evans, the authors who previously published these documents.
Go to the letters.