Eunice and Ron Shanahan have shared with readers of the Victorian Web this material from their website, Letters from the Past. Click on thumbnails for larger images.

This "Letter from the past" is addressed to Mr Thomas Penney, No.1 New Buckingham Sq Dover Road London, from his son (also Thomas Penney) in New York. < I wonder if the Penney family made good as emigrants from England to America — the land of opportunity — and what picture postcards of the towns of Appalachicola and Columbus would show today.

Postal Markings

It has three British postal markings

  1. a black two-line stamp, LIVERPOOL SHIP LRE
  2. a London receiving date stamp - double ring morning duty in red of November 19, 1832

a manuscript charge mark of 3/2 - This was made up of : 2/2 America to England - plus 11d the inland post Liverpool to London. This leaves 1d, which is presumably the London local delivery fee.

The Letter

This is a fascinating, long and informative letter, full of advice and tentative suggestions to his father and sisters. It is dated New York October 19, 1832.

My dear sisters,

I have recommended to your father to sail for N. Orleans rather than to any of these ports, but at the same time I would be understood as not in any manner pressing this advice, provided that circumstances may in any manner, of which I should be unable to judge, make it either more agreeable or more advantageous to take passage for some port on the Atlantic. Neither is it upon the whole a matter of such importance as to require you to put yourselves in any respect out of the way about because whether you go to New Orleans first, or to this place, you will in either case have to take shipping a second time to reach Appalachicola1. And the facilities from hence are always as good as from New Orleans and in respect to vessels, better, so that on this point I wish you all to exercise your opinion and discretion freely, according to circumstances.

The voyage by the way of New Orleans would lead you within the tropics and in view probably of several of the West India islands, but your voyage also from hence to Appalachicola would take you by the Bahamas and along the coast of Cuba."

The new steamboat which I have lately built is now on her voyage, I presume from New Orleans to Appalachicola. When you reach the latter place, the intention is that you go up to Columbus2 in her. The distance up is estimated at 450 miles, but I think it not quite so much.

"I have made no kind of arrangements in regard to house keeping when you get there and at first we shall have to do as well as we can. A house will have to be rented, and as for furnishing, we must put up with a few necessaries until you can secure what may be wanting either at this place or New Orleans.

In the hope of seeing you and speaking verbally on these matters before many months, I remain as ever, affectionately yrs

Thos. Penney

However, the other two pages of the letter are also filled, and it is hard to see where the letter actually begins, as both pages start at the beginning of a sentence:

every description. The contrast between a rude uncultivated country, partly inhabited by the natives, and one sophisticated and refined to the last pitch, where all the asperities of nature have been tempered and softened again and again, and when outward luxuries and conveniences are common property, cannot fail to be deeply felt at first. But it is to be hoped there may arise circumstances to compensate for these privations, and that if some luxuries be wanting, there may be greater certainty of always possessing the necessaries and comforts of life.

As it regards society, I think you may probably meet with several agreeable persons of sentiment congenial with your own."

He then gets down to brass tacks - Duty Free Imports :

Since I came here, I have made a special enquiry at the Custom House, concerning goods or effects which have the privilege of entry free of duty; they are - wearing apparel in situ - any not used pays 50 pds, bed and bedding, linens etc, included provided in actual use, implements of trade or professional books — other books subject to high duties.

They generally are not quite strict on these points.

Musical instruments - unless professionally used, are prohibited without paying duty

Carpets, looking glasses, mantel ornaments, sideboards, tables, chairs, furniture of all kinds are dutiable.

I cannot tell of any articles which it would be advisable to purchase for shipment being entirely out of the way of knowing anything of the trade between this country and Europe. I know the business between the two continents is so systematised and regular that there is but little opening for profit or small adventures. Perhaps plated saddlery, purchased at Birmingham at their lowest prices would pay as well as anything else."

The final paragraph sounds as though he is covering himself 'all-ends up' for whatever the future might hold for his father and sisters:

If after you arrive, and we have some consultation on future plans, it should appear that thro any connections which you might be able to form, a better or safer or more agreeable business could be established between any of the principal cities, here and England, and if with other prospects concurring we should think well to remove to this, certainly, more desirable part of the country.

It might be well for you in reference to such a prospect, or at least possibility to turn the thought in your mind before leaving and so far as opportunity offers, to lay a foundation, and furnish yourself with every information and learn what advantages you might be enabled to bring into use, in the way of friends or connections.

The idea I convey to you is but vague, and might refer to Agency or Commission, or a business on our own account, and I merely suggest it, because the information to be acquired or the views to be formed in reference to it, could only be accurately be determined whilst you are on the spot."

In a postscript, he adds :

19th, my cold continues unabated, and lest it should settle I intend to confine myself tomorrow. The Sovereign for London is up for tomorrow - and this must go by her. The other side I employ for a few lines for my sisters.

As ever - yours Thos. Penney"

He has then scribbled on it sideways:

"PS October 20, I intend writing you again before I leave this place for home."



ew Political History Social History Letters from the Past

Last modified 26 May 2010