Item #010163 1809 – Letter from a pioneer steamboat captain requesting approval from the New London Customs House Collector, a former general officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, for a sailor to receive medical care under the Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen. Moses Rogers, General Jedidiah Huntington.
1809 – Letter from a pioneer steamboat captain requesting approval from the New London Customs House Collector, a former general officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, for a sailor to receive medical care under the Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen
1809 – Letter from a pioneer steamboat captain requesting approval from the New London Customs House Collector, a former general officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, for a sailor to receive medical care under the Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen
1809 – Letter from a pioneer steamboat captain requesting approval from the New London Customs House Collector, a former general officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, for a sailor to receive medical care under the Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen
1809 – Letter from a pioneer steamboat captain requesting approval from the New London Customs House Collector, a former general officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, for a sailor to receive medical care under the Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen

1809 – Letter from a pioneer steamboat captain requesting approval from the New London Customs House Collector, a former general officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, for a sailor to receive medical care under the Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen

1809. Unbound.

This turned, two-page stampless folded letter, measuring 16” x 13” unfolded, was first sent by Moses Rogers, master of the steamboat Phoenix which traveled between New York Harbor and the Delaware River on the first steam-powered, ocean-going voyage in American waters between New York Harbor and the Delaware River. The letter was answered by General Jedidiah Huntington, the “Collector of the Port” in New London, Connecticut on August 30, 1809. It bears a “17” rate mark, a curved “PAID” handstamp, and an indistinct circular handstamp. It was turned, i.e., returned and addressed to Rogers “onboard the Steam boat Phanex (Phoenix), with a “17” rate mark and a manuscript postmark reading “N. London / Septr 5”. (This is likely the fourth earliest known steamboat-carried letter and the first that was not carried by Robert Fulton’s North River Line). In nice shape.

In it, Rogers requested that Huntington issue his associate, a “sick & disabled’ merchant seaman named Martin A. Gardiner, a hospital ‘passport’ which was necessary for Gardner to be admitted in and cared at the New London Marine Hospital. It reads in part:

“I have a man by the name of John A. Gardner who Sailed & Paid hospital money a long time out of the port of New London. His at present a proper subject for an Hospital & as such is recd into that of Pennsylvania, but as I have become surety for certain expenses in the event of non-procuring a Certificate of the man’s having paid Hospital Charges, I make bold to request you will be so obliging as to forward one to me without delay. . ..”

Huntington granted Roger’s request and signed an endorsement on the letter that reads,

“District of port of New London 4 Sep. 1809 I certify that the above named John A Gardner is entitled to the relief provided by law for sick & disabled seamen.”

Rogers also requests,

“Please be so good as direct to me on board the Steam Boat Phoenix Trenton, N Jersey & the expenses . . . my father (Amos Rogers of Groton), to settle with you.”

. Very good. Item #010163

Moses Rogers, a native of New London, made a name for himself by captaining first-generation steamboats between 1809 and 1817, including boats for Robert Fulton, and as master on the pioneer voyage of the Phoenix between New York Harbor and the Delaware River in 1809, which was the first ocean-going steam-powered voyage in American waters. However, he is best known for commanding the S.S. Savannah, on its steam and wind-powered transoceanic voyage from Savannah, Georgia, to Liverpool in 1819.

Jedidiah Huntington, of Norwich, Connecticut, joined the city militia as an ensign in 1769 when discord began to develop between the colonies and Great Britian. He rose to the rank of colonel and commanded a regiment that was instrumental in lifting the siege of Boston. He was promoted to general and served at the Battles of Ridgefield and Monmouth. Later, he was appointed to the court-martial board that tried Benedict Arnold. Following the war, President Washington appointed him to be the Customs House Collector at New London.

In the late 1790s, Congress began to suspect that a series of serious yellow fever epidemics in coastal cities might somehow be related to the ever-changing population of sailors who temporarily resided in those ports. At the urging of Alexander Hamilton and the Marine Society of Boston, it established the Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen in July of 1798. This law established the first federal social insurance program, the Marine Hospital Service, the forerunner of the U.S. Public Health Service. To fund the program, ships’ masters or owners were required to collect a mandatory 20-cent per month tax on each U.S. ship that arrived in country from a foreign port. These taxes were given to the Secretary of the Treasury who was directed to either establish a hospital in each east coast port “to provide for the temporary relief and maintenance of sick, or disabled seamen” or provide such services in another manner, which could include contracting with existing facilities, i.e., Benjamin Franklin’s “Pennsylvania” Hospital referenced in this letter. Mariners desiring care at these hospitals were first required to obtain a “passport” from a customshouse. Usually, a letter from a ship’s captain was sufficient to establish eligibility. Also, tax rolls were examined to ensure that taxes for the sailor’s voyages had been collected. If both criteria were met, the seaman was presented with paperwork authorizing his treatment and care at a Marine Hospital, contracted facility, or, perhaps, by an approved local physician.

(For more information, see Richard’s “Sketch of General Jedidiah” in A genealogical memoir of the Huntington family. . ., Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen at the Statutes and Stories website, Rao’s “Sailors’ Health and National Wealth” at commonplace.online, and Lot 4066 “1809 Hudson River Steamboat Mail” in Seigel Auction Sale #1071 on 20-21 May 2014.)

This important first-hand historical letter documents the exceptionally early operation of steamboats, the function of Marine Hospitals, and the involvement of both a Revolutionary War General and one of the first steamboat pioneers.

At the time of listing, nothing similar is for sale in the trade. The Rare Book Hub shows nothing similar in its listing although several letters from Robert Fulton regarding non-steamboat issues have occasionally appeared at auction. OCLC shows one 1808 diary written by a steamboat passenger traveling between New York City and Albany, and Robert Fulton’s early papers are held in the New York State Historical Documents Collection.

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Price: $2,000.00