Various: 1857-1874. Unbound. These three letters were all written by Edward (“Santa”) St. Croix Oliver to family members during his time as a sea captain; one also includes a letter from his wife Sarah (“Sallie”) Jane Johnson St. Croix. Two of the letters are in nice shape, and one has some insect/rodent predation that affects a very small amount of text. One is enclosed in a heavily worn mailing envelope from the Canary Islands that bears a manuscript annotation “African Mail”, a Liverpool “Paid” transit mark, and a New York City “U.S. Currency” postmark. The other two letters are from Guanape, Peru and Leghorn (Livorno), Italy Transcripts will be provided.
Oliver ran away from his Boston home in 1850 at the age of 17 to become a sailor for the next thirty years. He captained three different ships, all with disastrous results.
His first ship, the Harry Bluff, struck South Shoal off Nantucket and ruptured its hull while carrying a cargo that included 1,200 tons of salt. As the salt began to quickly dissolve, Oliver and his 17-man crew were forced to abandon the top-heavy vessel. Two crewmembers drowned. The other 16 men spent hours drifting in an open longboat; two of them froze to death.
His second ship, the Garnet, lost its rudder and split its stern post while rounding Cape Horn; the ship was lost but the crew rescued.
Oliver’s last captaincy of the Cashmere ended with his arrest for allowing his First Mate to beat a crewmember to death with a belaying pin and sanctioning other cruel punishments as well. Although criminal charges appear to have been dismissed, Oliver was dismissed by his employer and blackballed from ever captaining another vessel.
Subsequently, he and Sallie settled in the port of Vineyard Vines and in 1882 opened a combination ship chandlery, grocery, general store, and bathhouse where Steamship Authority now stands. Their business became a popular gathering spot for sailors and captains to swap yarns and exchange the latest maritime news. Oliver retired and sold his store in 1907 after which he wintered in Bermuda until his death seven years later.
Oliver’s letters are especially entertaining and include stories about the birth of his son aboard ship while loading guano off the coast of Peru, a devasting storm that destroyed the harbor at Valencia, and the astonishment of Europeans over a monitor when pulled into port. They read in part:
“We had a Splendid run to Gibraltar making the passage in eighty five days and besting every thing on the road we Lay at that port a week for Orders since then proceeded to Valencia in Spain where we lay fifty days discharging our cargo during which time we had a fearfull gale which drove three the Large Ships, a Brig and a Schooner ashore Staving them all to pieces and losing about fifty lives in Sight of thousands of people who could not render the least assistance the “Henry Bluff” just escaped by getting inside of the Breakwater the day before the gale came on had she not got in on that day She would have been a wreck on the next. . ..
“The Man of War Steamer 'August' accompanied by one of our double turreted Monitors has just left here for Rome I tell you Ned it makes the people up this way Stick theire eyes out when they think what we Yankeys can do I Suppose theire was not a Man Woman or Child in Leghorn that [didn’t go] on board of the Monitor. . .. One of the Officers of her told me that She had Surprised them at every port at which they had touched. [They] say that the Yankees have some dealings with the Devil to get up a thing like her. . ..
“It is now just one week since Our Boy was born and I am happy to Say that both Mother and child are doing finely. . .. He is hearty as a Buck and lungs in him like the Boatswain of a ‘seventy four’. . .. twice Theire are about 60 Ships here and the day after he was born they all had hoisted their flags in his honor . . . he is a true full blooded American of the first water. You may think it strange but he had not been this world an hour and a half before he had on a pair of Boots and was going = never mind where, we saw his intentions and put a stop to any thing of the sort, as we do not allow the boat to be lowered Sundays Since which time he has not been so forward and never thinks of going out without saying “By your Leave”. . .. we have to Stay on board Ship all of the time as we cannot go on Shore or we could go if we wished but there is nothing to See but Guano and dirty-Chinamen a digging of it. . ..
“After a very long passage of One hundred and twenty one days from “Guanapes” We had quite fine weather . . . except off of the Horn where we had N.E. gales (two of them) and then fine weather again ‘till we Sighted the Island of Maderia when we had head winds and gales for eight days and did not make as much those eight days as we had ought to have made in three. . .. We are now unloading at the rate of 60 tons per day and if we have fine weather expect to be ready for Sea by February 20th. do not know our future destination yet perhaps we may go to Savannah, Geo. . ..”. Very good. Item #010117
(For more information, see Baer’s “This Was Then, Narrated: St. Croix Oliver: Washashore with a checkered past” in the Martha Vineyard Times – 14 April 2014, Baer’s “E. St. Croix Oliver's Home” at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum website, and various online genealogical sources including Ancestry.com)
At the time of listing, nothing similar is for sale in the trade. Rare Book Hub shows no Edward St. Croix Oliver material has ever appeared at auction, and OCLC shows none is held by institutions..