1795 – Letter from an English merchant to his brother in New York City commiserating over his “plundering” by the French, describing his plan to elude the same fate, and requesting a description of life in the city
Alnwick, Northumberland, England: 1794. Envelope or Cover. This two-page stampless folded letter measures 14½” x 8¾” unfolded. It was sent by George Egdell in Alnwick, Northumberland, England to his brother, William, in New York City. The letter is datelined “Alnwick Decr. 10th 1794” and bears an Alnwick postmark and a scarce circular experimental cancel, “DE/13/94/PAID” that was only used between August and December of 1794. (See Willcocks & Jay’s Postal History of Great Britain & Ireland, 98)
The dateline suggests that the letter arrived in Falmouth too late to be carried to the United States on the ship Tankerville, which departed Falmouth on 14 December 1794 (The Tankerville was the same ship that carried two original copies of the Jay Treaty formally ending the American Revolution, however that vessel was captured and burnt at sea by the French who sent its crew to the West Indies.) So, it was likely transported on the next ship to depart, the Princess Royal, which left Falmouth on 28 January 1795 for Halifax, Nova Scotia, where its mail was moved to the Schooner Nancy for delivery to New York. (See “British Packet Sailings . . . Falmouth-North America 1755-1840” at rfrajola.com.)
Following the French Revolution, as the Jacobins attempted to export rebellion into other European monarchies, a naval war developed between England and France. This was compounded by French resentment over the Jay Treaty which reestablished trade relationships between the United States and Great Britain. As a result British and French privateers wreaked havoc upon each other’s commercial shipping as well as American merchant vessels who engaged in trading with both sides. (See “The French Revolutionary Wars” at the HistoryWorld website.)
George’s letter was written in the midst of that confusion. In it, he expresses concern about William’s capture by the French while crossing to America and his loss of all belongings.
““We were very sorry to heare that you were taken by the French and plundered. when I receaved your letter my Master receaved one the sam time from Mather. . ..” He also discusses his plans for evading the same fate during his upcoming visit to the United States.
““I will not git over before midsummer but if it should hapan that I cannot git an american vessel to come over in I will take care that if I be taken by the French that they shall have very little from me except they streep me naked and if it be summer I will not find the want of [my clothes] very much. . ..”
And he dearly wants to know about life in New York City so he knows what to expect and determine what to bring with him.
““I would like to know about other busnesseass: Viz Tannors skinners weavers taylors washleather dressors hair dressers or barbours shoemakers or any other trade not mentioned in my letter. I would like also to know what sort of meat you cheafly live upon and what sort of drink you cheafly drink whither you have any good Porter any good ale and what is the price for I intend to have a good drink when I come over supose I have not a nother penny in the world. I would like to know what sort of clothes would be most necessary to bring over with me or whither it would be better to portches clothes when I come over. . ..”Interestingly, George also mentions another Alnwick mariner, Mather Scott, in his letter.
““When I receaved your letter [about being plundered] my Master receaved one the sam time from Mather. . .. I conclude at present by giveing my best respects to Mr. Scott. . ..”
(In 2017, we sold a letter written by Mather Scott the previous October. At the time, he had just been released in New York after being captured and impressed by the Royal Navy while serving on an American merchantman.). Very good. Item #009954
Rather scarce. At the time of listing, there is no similar first-person material related to the maritime trade turmoil created by the French Revolutionary Wars. Neither is there any similar material listed by the Rare Book Hub as ever having been auctioned. OCLC shows only five similar items held by institutions (one letter, two diaries, and two ship’s logs).