The Dead Letters
[Letter to Mr. Henry Gifford on board the Bark Theophilus Chase, courtesy NBWM]
In addition to being a prominent ship owner and whaling merchant, Alexander H. Cory also served as postmaster for Westport Point 1840 – 1897. Among the Cory Family Papers at the New Bedford Whaling Museum is a fascinating collection of letters sent from Westport to crew members aboard vessels from their friends and family, but which were never delivered. These dead letters offer a personal insight into the nature of communication between whalemen and their families. Filled with local gossip, the letters convey both good and bad news, with widely varying literacy levels.
Cynthia Briggs to Captain Walter Briggs, July 27th, 1848
with pleasure I take my pen in hand to address a few lines to you to inform you that through the goodness of god my health is quite good. I received a letter from you in May written about 3 weeks before and was very glad to hear from you and hear you was well. You wrote you had been very unfortunate. I am sorry but it does not worry me atall as long as I can hear you are alive and well. That is the most I think off. Georg Walter is well. He is in the kitchen taking care of baby while I write. I had to take my writing materials and go into the front room for he pulls and handels me so I cant do nothing where he is. You have a fine son here nearly ten months old. I think he is a none such and grand man. Georg thinks their never was such a child before. He has been the best child I ever saw. He has been rather tousy lately. He is getting teeth and he is so fleshy he suffers a sight with the heat. He appears to be a very well child and I want his farther to see him while he is so cunning. Georgy tells him to say how de do and bows his head and he tells him to say no no and he shakes his head back and forth and he calls his dad dad half the time when he is awake. Content Davis has got a daughter three weeks younger than my babe. Mary Devoll has lost a daughter. I have had to stop to get baby to sleep and it is so dark I have to write by guess and what you cant read you must guess at. Nancy is up on a visit. They are well. Rebecca has been up and made a visit and gone home. She has a Walter B. added to her family. Abner Tucker has not got home yet. I think you will be home before him now. Henry Tucker has been home and has gone out master of the Bark America. Capt. Stephen Devoll has gone. Edward Sherman’s mate Amos Baker has been at home, made a first rate voyage and gone again in the George Washington. Maria’s Husband has gone away and she stays with her mother now. Charles Gidley’s wife died one week ago and left a babe about one week old. Mrs. Staples died last winter and they say the Deacon is courting again. Sammy was married a few weeks after his mother died to Ruth Sherman. Mary Macomber an Elwood Studley is married. My babe is so fussy I shall to give up writing for he creeps to me as fast as George carrys him away. I did not have time to write last night so I must finish in a hurry this morning. When you come I will tell you the rest. I shall begin to look for you in October and look till you come. The Janet arrived at Westport about a month ago with 160 barrels out two years and the Gov. Hopkins a year and half out 40 of sperm and 15 blackfish. So the(re) is others unfortunate as well as you and never grieve about it. So good bye for the present. Excuse all imperfections. From your affectionate wife Cynthia Briggs
George wants to write a little so I will give it up to him. I hope you will be to home in three months to see our baby. He creeps now. I drag him in his little waggon sometimes. He loves to ride. He has got a stamingstool andhe hollors dad. You must come home as soon as you can to see the baby. He is cunning. I go to school …
Owen D. Colson to Daniel Cushman, on Board Brig Mattapoisett, Atlantic Ocean, Brightman (Captain), New Bedford, Sept. 29th, 1844
I received yours of August 27 and was glad to hear your health was good. We are all well and were glad to hear that you stuck the first whale and hope you will sur… them all so. Your Mother is here. She got back last Thursday. Her health is about the same as usual. Mary Ann is here and the children. The(y) are well. Joan has got a boy. His name is Horis. They would not name it Daniel Owen. I think it had ought to have be(e)n Noah. They are well. Give my respects to Capt. Brightman. Tell him Albert is well but is not married yet but I expect he will be soon if not before his Brother William is at home but I supose he has heard of it before this. Things are about the same as usual. We are as busy as the devil in a gale of wind. All send there love to you. Your Mother would write but she says you must make this do for both of us. You must take good care of your self and do the best you can. I shall send this by the Theopilus Chase of Westport (My children are all well). I do not think of any thing more at present.
This is from your friend Owen D Colson
PS Your mother has lost 3 of her front teeth eating cabage
HBC to her husband, October 3, 1858
Ever dear Husband
I once more take my pen in Hand to let you know I am in the land of the living: my health is very good at present, much better than when you left me and hoping through the mercies of God you are enjoying the same blessing. Although it is hard to be separated I have the happy assurance of one day meeting with one that is dearest to my heart than all else in this poor unfriendly world. I have found friends not in relations since you have been absent. My prayer is that you may be permitted to return home, that you with me may enjoy a long and happy life, that our last days may be our best forgetting all that is past, and looking for a happy future. I did not know till I was deprived of you how much I did love you. I know if I know my own heart, my heart yearns after you in the most endearing ties. There is not a moment in the day but what my mind is on one that is dearer than life to me. The morning you left the house I shall never forget. I have the letter in my possession I found in the stand drawer. I commend you for it. I could never bare for you to of taken your leave of me. I begin to feel rather encouraged to think one year of your time has passed. I want you should write me when you think of coming home. I have written several letters to you. Probably you have not received them. I have received two from you. Your last letter came first by a New York ship. Glad was I to hear. Where I go these letters go and are read and re read over and over. You requested a lock of my hair. I sent one in my letter. You must not be frightened if you should find a few gray ones as I am growing old. I am now stopping at Mattapoisett with Cousin Eliza Merrihew. Her husband is at sea in the Ship Sarah and is espected home this spring. I have not been to Sippican lately. I believe they are all well there. Grandpar has left Fathers long a go and is a boarding at Mr. Holllys on account of their religion. They had a dispute. Father told grandpar to leave the house after they had got nearly all his money out of him. It was a town talk how they served the poor old man but he bore up nobly under his troubles. He is as smart as a cricket, walks from Sippican to Mattapoisett and back. Father is as big a hog as ever. Alls lacking is a tail to finish him. Excuse me for being so vulgar. His children are all down on him for using Grandpar so but Jim and he is a devil. Emilys Husband has never returned home yet and probably never will. She is living at Fathers yet. I do not trouble them very often since they have used grandpar so. I have written you in my other letters of the deaths of our relations. Uncle Isaac Uncle Eben at New York and likewise Josep Barker in California and the particulars. News there does not seem to be any. It is very dull here and is esepected to be this winter. A great many men are out of employment. For my part I do not go out unless I have an errand or go to meeting. I do not have any inclination to go as you are not here to go with me. I am waiting patiently as I can for you. I count the days and hours as they pass and think one the less for you to stay. You
cautioned me against Aunt Susan. I thank you kindly for it. You need never fear. I shall never make a confident of her. I have not been in her house but once since you left and then Martha Allen whent with me and staid all night. They are most to important for poor folks. Sarah is a finished hour to speak plain. I must bring my scribbling to a close as it is getting late and my pen very poor. I shall probably have more news to write next time. Write every time you have a chance. I will do the same. It seems to me like seeing your own dear self. May heavens richest blessing attend you through life is my sincere praye r, your loving wife HBC
Stephen Howland to his Brother, Westport, October 2nd, 1845
I take this opportunity to inform you that my Family and myself are enjoying usual health hoping that these lines will find you your Officer and Crew in good health. Your Family and connections are all as well as usual as far as I know and it is about a usual time of health in the neighborhood at this time. I was at Fall River a short time since and Mr. Durfee handed me the amount of the Brig Guanimeter and outfitts. All amounted to about 8150 dollars including about 700 advance to the Crew. It is rather more than we expected but at the same time I do not know of any thing you have that will not be needed in a whale voyage. There is no Insurance on the Brig or outfitts. We enquired at several offices and they asked more premium than we thought but to pay so Mr. Durfee and all the owners here thought but to have nothing insured on her so of course should any thing happen to the Brig it would stand you in hand to save everything you could as you would not have any underwriter to call upon for what may be lost. I am in hopes that you will get along in harmony with your officer and crew do justice by them and I am in hopes you will be blessed with a good voyage. Your wife called in to our house last evening and said she should write to you. Capt Francis is getting along with his house very well. I have not heard him say any thing about going to sea soon. Thomas Mayhew has shipped a Capt Cushing from Mattapoisett for the Catherwood she calculates to sail in a few days. Joseph Thompson has got married since you sailed.
Philip Sanford to George L. Davis, on board Bark T. Ch(ase) of Westport, April the 28th, 1850
Dear friend I take this time to wright a few lines two you. We air all well at presant. Your grandfathers and your fathers folks air all smart. I was over to your house last week. Your uncle abner has gon to keeping house in knew bedford. He and your father works in the candle house. I hav bin sick and come home. I left to floras from thair went to fial and from thair went to boston and from thair home. I hav bin to home abought three months. Giv my best respects to gideon soul and samuel snell. Tell sam that gideon allen gows to sea his Mary and expects to get marrade in abought to or three weeks. Tell gideon that Rebach talant is over hear and sends her best respects to him. I cant think of enny nore to tell. You know you must be a good boy and kep study. This is from your well wished friend Philip Sanford
George you must be a good boy and do the best you can. We are all well at preusent and I hope thes few lines will find you the same. I don’t know as I have enny newse to right to you at preusent. This is from your Ant Rebeca Sanford
William C. Davol to his brother, Edward S. Davol, Westport, May 14th, 1841
I improve this opportunity to inform you of my health which am berry good at present and hope these few lines will find you enjoying the same proper good blessin. Our folks are all well etc. George F. Davol sailed on the 5th of April last in the good Bark Marcella Capt Worth of New Bedford for the A Ocean. He came home in the right time when there was nothing for him to do. He hared round a while then he went to school at the head of the river about 6 weeks then he swore that he would go no more for he had got learning enough. He like his older brother on former voyages spent nearly all of his voyage before he sailed. And Father not having horseflesh enough for him he bought the bay mare that Fred Brownell used to have. She used to have to goit about every night. Sleighing him especially. So no more about your amorous brother. Perry G. Lawton has married Miss Hannah P. Brownell, and Ei P. Lawton waited on your June meeting gal. Look out or you will lose her sure as hell. We have received no letters from you since you was at the western islands. In your letter to George you requested hi to acknowledge to ___ Brownell. When
I improve this opportunity to inform you of my health which am berry good at present and hope these few lines will find you enjoying the same proper good blessin. Our folks are all well etc. George F. Davol sailed on the 5th of April last in the good Bark Marcella Capt Worth of New Bedford for the A Ocean. He came home in the right time when there was nothing for him to do. He hared round a while then he went to school at the head of the river about 6 weeks then he swore that he would go no more for he had got learning enough. He like his older brother on former voyages spent nearly all of his voyage before he sailed. And Father not having horseflesh enough for him he bought the bay mare that Fred Brownell used to have. She used to have to goit about every night. Sleighing him especially. So no more about your amorous brother. Perry G. Lawton has married Miss Hannah P. Brownell, and Ei P. Lawton waited on your June meeting gal. Look out or you will lose her sure as hell. We have received no letters from you since you was at the western islands. In your letter to George you requested him to acknowledge to Sallee Brownell. When he read it he said he should do no such thing and I suppose he has not. Now since he has saved you from impending ruin by writing an anonymous letter, instead of heaping reproaches and execrations on his head, you ought (in my opinion) render to him the greatest tribute of your gratitude and love. Perhaps you think me jesting but I am in earnest. You say you would not marry for skin now. What else is she good for. I should consider you as insane indeed if you were to marry a girl that was not virtuous and had lost her maidenhead. Now it can be proved to a demonstration that a certain chap in Westport did stay with Father the night before he sailed, and she having the flowers did paint the map of the world on his shirt-tail, and w hen he went a board he gave it to davy Jones. She has turned off her beau and some think that you will marry her yet. Should that take place and I live I should be under the disagreeable necessity of banishing myself from New England. I consider you as having stood on the verge of an awful precipice and crawled back just in time to save your neck, etc. I am engaged in farming this summer and have given up all ideas of whaling. The spring is very backward. It snowed on the first of this month, and we had ice on the 6th. Today we have a cold northeaster and it seems as if old winter’s frosty breath had come over our land and that we doomed to be an eternal winter. I expect to go back to Middleboro’ next July. George has got learning enough but I not being so lucky as he, have not. Charles H. Macomber came hoe the first part of spring. Please write at every opportunity. Now if I have wrote anything that will hurt your feelings rest assured it was unintentional. I was to show you your situation which you could not see (for love has no eyes) rather than hurt your feelings.
Your affectionate Brother William C. Davol
Darius Davis to his son, Westport, June 15th, 1862
My dear son I take this opportunity to let you know that I am well as usual hoping these few lines will find you enjoying the same blesing. Your mother is about the same as when you left home. Hannah is smart. She is eating parcht corn now. I received yours of April 11th last. fryday 13th. I was glad to hear from you and to hear that you are trying to bee a good boy. May God bless and assist you. I have writen 3 letters. I hov not much new to write. The war is knot over yet. There is a grate battle expected evry day. There has been 2 or 3 bundles of papers sent lately for the ship. You did not write how you liked whaleing. I thought by the way you wrote you found my words true. When you left me you left home. I hope you will try to doo your duty and pleas the oficers. To your request I will send the deaths Capt Robinson Capt E. Mayhew Capt Jobs wife Capt James Sowls wife Anthony Gifford wife Andrew Macomber Daughter Wm. Capin baby.
I hav been â€” in the shop for a few weeks but it is about over. The grayhound and kate cory is about ready to sail. I don’t expect much to doo in the shop the rest of the season. They are giting thin out here. Allen G & Filander Capt. New Sowle Christopher Davis Cap Devaul Parden Tripp has gon to California. Tom Mayhew and Wm A. Hammon and â€” is going in the hound with Capt Sowl and Joseph Pery William Sowle is going out of bedford with benjamin Gifford. Til Sowl has got married and gone mackareaing.
17th John Hasards youngest child died today about 10 o’clock, Jimey Carter is lounging round as usual. He sends his best respect to you. Your uncle Williams daughter has been here and mad a visit. She sends her lov to you and wants you to get her some shels. She ses she will pay you for them. I don’t seem to hav any more news at present. I hope you will try to liv a prayful life and I will do the same should w ee never meet on the shores of time that we may met in heaven. May Gold bles and save us all in his kingdom, so good by for the present. Hannah lef out her going to school so I will just say she has been at the heads next to hear of her speling class fore weeks fryda next,
From Your Effectionate Father, Darius Davis
William Howland to his Brother, no date
We received a letter from you last October and informed us that you had fifty barrels of oil and I sat myself down to write you a letter to inform you how we got along. We had a schoolmaster from Newhamshire. He was not very good teacher. When he turned his back the schollars would whisper and laugh. Our school is out now and we have commenced plowing. I should to like for you to write to me and tell me how your health is. I should like for you to come home buy next fall. William Howland L. Compton RI
Richmond Macomber to his brother, Capt. Pardon Macomber, Bark Tho Chase of Westport Ms., June the 5th, 1849
I now take the third opportunity to inform you that our little number is well and hope that you are the same. Our mother and Caroline and Mary and George P. Dyer last fall with the disintery. It was very syckly a grate many dyed. John was vay sick but now is well and a coasting and Charles H. Macomber Charles is married to Sylvia George. Frank and Nancy is married and Philip Davol. Uncle Levy has gon out west. Warren Tripp ben to gale for stealing out of or in Churces store and was bailed out by Jerry Davol and Stepehn Kerby. Joseph Tripp has mooved to Fall River. It is very dull times in this place and others verry dull. I am sick a looking for work. I have given up whaling. I got home last December with 200 bbs.