Letters  from the Past

New York  to Gillingham, near Beccles
via Liverpool, 1839.
“Wealthy vicar invests in New York State Stock.”

  This letter, as usual, has other things of interest, as well as the postal markings:- Liverpool Ship Letter, transit date stamp of London, manuscript charges and a manuscript name for the vessel.
 To begin with, it was sent by Ogden Ferguson & Co who were merchants in New York, in business from the 1820s to the early 1900s. They must have been successful as their Archives are held in the New York History museum. Post marks: (Fig.1)

address panel

There are no American markings, but I understand that the US Post Offices did not stamp outgoing, overseas mail. The letter may have been delivered to the ship or agents for transport to England.
1) Liverpool Ship Letter.  During the time they were in use from 1781 to 1881 there were 28 different SHIP LETTER stamps. This unframed stamp was in use only from 20th October 1838 to 1841. The catalogues rate this unframed one as ‘common’, but this is the only one I have, all the others are framed. I am surprised that there was not a Liverpool date stamp applied on receipt of the letter.
2) Transit mark,  London date stamp in red for 8th November 1839.
The letter was not prepaid,  
3) Manuscript charge marks to show the cost to the addressee for delivery. The inward ship letter cost for all letters coming into Great Britain on board a private ship in force from 1st August 1815 to 5th December 1839 was 8d, plus inland cost from the port of landing. There was no distinction between letters sent in sealed bags by the Post Office’s Agents and those brought casually by sailors or passengers. Liverpool to London was 206 miles plus the London to Beccles 110 miles  = 316 miles, and the charge for single letter between 300-400 miles was 1shilling 1 penny. This was a total of 1shilling 9d. (1/9). The manuscript charge which was originally written was 1/7, which would have been the cost from London to Liverpool, not all the way to the destination, so it was crossed out, and the correct amount inserted.
In a very short time after this letter was posted, (after the introduction of the penny post in 1840), that ‘8d’ charge would cover the cost of delivery to any destination in the British Isles with no inland charges. So to receive later notification of dividends on his New York State Stock the Reverend Lewis would have had to pay only 8d instead of 1/9d.
The letter was addressed to The Revd John Lewis, Gillingham, Nr.  Beccles, Suffolk. In fact, Gillingham was actually in Norfolk, but the post town was Beccles, which is in Suffolk, and coaches and carriers passed daily to Yarmouth, Ipswich, Lowestoft.

map beccles

(Fig.2 – beccles )
In William White’s Gazetteer and Directory of Norfolk in 1845 (only six years after this letter was written), the entry showed that the combined parishes of Gillingham All Saints and St. Mary had a population of 404 ‘souls’ and that the pleasant village of Gillingham, adjoined the marshes on the north side of the river Waveney, 1 mile N. of Beccles, and 16 miles S.E. of Norwich.  St. Mary's Church, on the opposite side of the road, a fine specimen of Norman architecture, had a square tower containing three bells. The Rev. John Lewis, was the current incumbent, and the tithes were valued at £482.18s. 1d. per annum.
So now to the letter which is purely business :- (Fig.3)

letter contents

New York Octr 7 1839
We had this pleasure on the 23rd August Enclosing Certificate for £5000 New York State Stock transferred to your name. We have now to advise the receipt of the Octr dividend on this and the other Stock in your name amounting to £16.5.00 say $206.25 less 1% Comm. $2.07 = $204.19. at 110 Pct Exchange = £41.15.4.
We have likewise recd the same amount on Miss Mary Lewis Stock pr $16.5.00 and for the two together £83.10.8. Enclose you herewith A G Ogden Custmr of the Phoenix Bank Bill on Palmer MacKillop Denk & Co London which please credit accordingly
With respect we are Sir
Your Obedt Servts
Ogden Ferguson & Co

Then there is a  written record of the amounts quoted in the letter.
Palmer MacKillop Denk  were apparently  London Bankers – but I was unable to find out anything about their operations.

The letter was also marked “Per George Washington”.  There are many ships named after the man who was the first President of the United States, (from 1789-1797) but this one would most likely have been  that of the Blue Swallowtail line, one of 4 Liverpool lines from America, and had a monthly service to and from Liverpool. It began in 1822, was known as the Blue Swallowtail Line from its distinctive blue and white swallowtailed house flag (in which the dividing line between blue and white followed the shape of the swallowtailed fly). Its vessels originally sailed monthly and, like the other Liverpool-New York packet lines, did a thriving business in the wave of Irish immigration.

"The  Transatlantic Mail" by Frank Staff lists the George Washington with a tonnage of 609 noting it was in service from 1832 to 1845.  It also says that the vessel was sold after damage in a gale off the Irish Coast.
In view of the income of the vicar of this parish, it is hard to see how he could have invested £10,000 in the New York State Stock.  He must have had a private income, and a lot of confidence in the security of the money for himself and his daughter. A letter like this is a window into the past, giving a view of an actual event in the life of ordinary people 170 years ago.

References :
‘Great Britain Post Roads Post Towns and Postal Rates 1635-1839’  and ‘Ship Letter Marks’ of Liverpool by Alan Robertson,  and ‘for the Port & carriage of letters’ by David Robinson.

This article was first published in Stamp News the Australian monthly magazine.

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