Letter from sawmill owners in Bath, Maine to a “Log gatherer” in Gardiner regarding an agreement to drive logs down the Kennebec River. “We thought it would be more convenient for one person to run our logs, his together, we have accordingly agreed, Capt James Crawford to run them.”.
Letter from sawmill owners in Bath, Maine to a “Log gatherer” in Gardiner regarding an agreement to drive logs down the Kennebec River
Letter from sawmill owners in Bath, Maine to a “Log gatherer” in Gardiner regarding an agreement to drive logs down the Kennebec River

Letter from sawmill owners in Bath, Maine to a “Log gatherer” in Gardiner regarding an agreement to drive logs down the Kennebec River

Bath, Maine: 1844. Envelope or Cover. This single-page stampless letter was sent by Joshua & Charles Sewall of Bath, Maine to Daniel Johnson of Gardiner, Maine. It is datelined “Bath April 1 1844”. It bears a red circular postmark that reads “Bath / Apr / 4 / Me.”, a red “PAID” handstamp, and a manuscript “6” rate mark. The letter is in nice shape. A transcript will be provided.

In this letter, the Sewalls informed Johnson, a “Log gatherer,” that his services would not be required to drive their logs the 35 miles down the Kennebec River from Gardiner to Bath during the upcoming log running season.

“We have been waiting for Mr. Rogers to make up his mind in regard to what course was best to persue in regard to moving our logs the presant season. And we thought it would be more conveniant for one person to run our logs and his together and we have accordingly agreed with Capt James Crawford to run them the present season. We wish you to name to Mr. Lawrance that Mr. Crawford has engaged to run the whole of our logs and Hugh Rogerses including those in his boom the presant season. We do not expect the business will be done any better than you would have done it but we thought it best to join with Mr. Rogers and left the business with him to agree with any one he thought best. . ..”

. Very good. Item #009843

Log driving refers to the way huge numbers of logs were floated down river to sawmills. After owners selected a cutting area, loggers worked in the woods chopping down trees. The crews often worked in small teams consisting of choppers, teamsters, and yard men to manage log storage. It was not unusual for two choppers to fell up to 7,000 trees each day. They used the first logs cut to build camps with giant buildings that could sleep hundreds of men at one time. Once the camp was established, cut logs were then stacked near frozen streams, rivers, and lakes or even within the river circled by chained-log-booms to prevent them from floating down river on their own. With the spring thaw, the owners hired log running crews to drive their logs downriver in massive concentrations with the men often working 12-16 hours, sometimes from boats and sometimes while standing on wood in the river.

Conditions were both unpleasant and hazardous. Mosquitos, biting flies, and leeches were chronic problems. Getting pinned between logs or caught in a sluice could be fatal or cause serious injury. Men who felll clothed into the cold river likely died. Log jams were common and had to be broken up with pikes and dynamite.

Online genealogy records show that the Sewalls were farmers near Bath who also owned a large sawmill.

(For more information, see Grow’s “Up and down the Kennebec Valley” online at The Town Line website, Hoy’s “Kennebec River Log Drive” at the Skowhegan Community History website and Pike’s Tall Trees, Tough Men.)

Log drive and log running letters appear to be uncommon. At the time of listing, no others are for sale in the trade, and the Rare Book Hubs shows no examples as having appeared at auction. OCLC suggests that some similar letters may be included in two institutionally held collections relating to the logging business.

Price: $150.00