1845 – Letter from a prospector describing life in the heart of Wisconsin’s lead mining country
New Diggings, Wisconsin Territory: 1845. Envelope or Cover.
This stampless letter measures 16” x 12½” unfolded. It was written by D. Haskell at New Diggings, Wisconsin Territory on December 5, 1845 and sent to Phineas Whitney in Cumberland Center, Maine. It bears an excellent strike of rare combination handstamp and manuscript postmark that reads “NEW DIGGINS DEC 8th / W.T.” (see ASCC Vol 1 p 444) and a manuscript “10” rate mark. There is old pencil docketing that includes “1-2010 Risvold Sale 525.000 555 / 600.00. . ..” (The Risvold Sale was an auction conducted 27-29 January 2010 by the Spink Shreves Galleries. This letter was one of three in Lot 1140 that realized $1350 for the value of their philatelic markings alone with no mention of their contents.) The letter is in nice shape with some mended splits along several mailing folds that do not affect the text.
European explorers had known of the lead deposits in what today is southwestern Wisconsin since the mid-1600s. However local tribes prevented access to all but a few Frenchmen from whom they had learned of the mineral’s value as ammunition. By 1810, they were bartering over 400,000 pounds per year for trading post manufactured goods. In 1816, a St. Louisan named John Shaw passed himself off as a French and shipped twenty tons of lead to St. louis; the boom was on and prospectors surged up the Mississippi, overwhelming the local tribes who abandoned the area. The town of New Diggings sprang up in the heart of the mining district, and Haskell’s letter describes what life was like in the area. Despite the hardships, the boom continued, and by the time of this letter, the region’s population exceeded 10,000 and over 12 million pounds of lead was shipped annually by ox-train to and riverboat to St. Louis and New Orleans.
“I will write a few lines letting you no that am well . . . although it has ben verry Sickley in the western country . . . thare has ben several deaths but they are mostley strangers come from down the river they are a flocking in to this cuntry lik sheep I had a letter from Brother Moses son a short time ago he said thar was lots of them that had the wisconsin fever. . .. I was a tending windlass [probably to hoist ore] in the fornoon it being so cold I did not go out in the afternoon . . .. Thare are about 25 to 30 mules from hear [and although] timber is scarce they draw timbers 5 miles to make a farme [frame]. . .. i have not spent quite enough prospecting I and my partners have a share in three prospects wich we wan to prove this winter & we are at work in two of them. . .. I think you would not write often than i if you had the same chance ware I boarderd this summer was in an old log cabbin with one rom 16 fet squar & ten persons young & old with the rats runing over our faces. . ..”. Very good. Item #009991
(For more information, see Henry’s Galena, Illinois During the Lead Mine Era, Legler’s Life in the Diggings, and Carter’s New Diggings is an Old Diggins, all available online.)
A description of early life Wisconsin’s lead region, both historically and philatelically valuable. At the time of listing nothing similar is for sale in the trade. Rare Book Hub reports no listings for similar items. OCLC shows personal paper collections at the Wisconsin Historical Society contain mining records..