“Capt. Alexander, Greenock, Scotland, 1800.”
This article concerns two letters written by Thomas Alexander of Greenock, to the Revd Mr John Ramsay of Kirkmichael. This is in Ayrshire, about 3 miles from Maybole and 11 miles from Greenock.
and GREENOCK 11 DEC 1800, (Fig.2)
however the one dated the 8th is charged 6 and the one on the 11th is charged 5. On the face of it these both appear to be wrong as Kirkmichael is about 15 miles from Greenock as the crow flies, and at that time up to 15 miles, within Scotland, cost 4d.
On checking with the map in Haldane’s book the route is not as straightforward as it looks, and the journey could have gone from Greenock to Glasgow via Paisley by mail coach, then another mail coach to Ayr via Kilmarnock, then horse post to Maybole and onto Kirkmichael, which is about 3 miles east of Maybole. The whole distance appears to be about 60 miles, and up to 60 the charge is 5d and then 60 to 100 is 6d. The only thing I can guess is that the letter which is charged 5d is addressed to Maybole, and the other is addressed Kirkmichael, without the Maybole part of the address, and that extra distance could just have tipped it into the next rate.
Another option from these maps is a different route altogether going around the coast using foot post, gig and mail coach, ending up with a Maybole Penny Post to Kirkmichael. I have no way of knowing which way the letters travelled, as there are no other postmarks to tie it down.
Both the letters are beautifully written, and perfectly legible, but there is something odd about them. In the first letter the spelling is quite individual, and some words appear to have been missed out, as if the writer was in a hurry. In the second one the spelling is much more conventional with only an occasional odd spelling.
The first part of the letter concerns his marriage, and I have been unable to discover what he means by “a fanting”, and if any reader knows I would be pleased to hear about it. It sounds as though it might be a Scottish bridal custom. The first was written from Greenock on Monday 8th December 1800.
The filing notes on the outside in a different ink and handwriting, presumably written by the receiver of the letter. (see Fig.1).
‘Greenock 8th Dec 1800 Capt. Alexander – his marriage, silk Gloves
The second letter is written on the following Thursday addressed The Revd John Ramsay, Kirkmichael, Maybole. It has the red GREENOCK date stamp for 11 Dec 1800 and a manuscript 5. In both these letters the Greenock date stamp looks as if it is only 800 not 1800.
click here for larger image
The filing note on the outside, is in the same writing as on the first letter. (see Fig.2)
It seems odd that in the first one which he began “my dear friend” he signs it “my dear friend, ever yours.”
yet the second one,although to apparently the same person, he addresses it 'Dear Sir,'
and finishes up with 'Your most humble servant,"
There is also a report praising him for being the founder and the first President of the Carrick Farmers’ Society, which deserved special notice as being one of the first, and for successfully promoting the interests of agriculture in the district. Obviously Thomas Alexander was confident that the minister would help to sort things out since the death of his father, Thomas Alexander in Maybole, in June 1800.
That the writer of these letters is linked to the area is shown by a headstone in Kirkmichael churchyard, with this wording :
“Erected by Capt. THOMAS ALEXANDER Greenock to the memory of ROBERT ALEXANDER Mercht in Maybole his grandfather died 2 May 1747 aged 63. And THOMAS ALEXANDER Merchant Maybole his father died 03 Jun 1800 aged 79.”
Oddly enough, I could find no information about Captain Alexander’s business in Greenock, yet as he was then a ship owner, I would have thought it would be available. Because of the rum mentioned and date of letter received from his brother, I wondered if they were ship owners with trade in the West Indies. I have had surprising feedback from my articles, so maybe a Stamp News reader may know something about the Alexanders or Ritchies in Greenock.
(Sources : ‘Three centuries of Scottish Posts’ A.R.B. Haldane; ‘Great Britain Post Roads, Post Towns and Postal Rates 1635-1839’ Alan W. Robertson)
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