Monday, May 20

A Letter to the Doctor


19 December 1813

Dear Sir,
                                                                                        
It will most likely come as surprise to hear from your old loblolly boy, but rest assured Sir I have not forgotten you. Perhaps you may have asked yourself over the years ”I wonder what has ever became of old Silas Craig?”. 

Well Sir, for such a kind and generous soul as yourself, the true story would make you weep. The very next commission after I served with you I had a gun to crush my foot. The surgeon took it off at the ankle, but after a bit the leg Above it become corrupted and he took it off at the knee and they sent me to the hospital in Greenwich, but I survived anyhow. 

I had hoped to get a commission then as a cook, but there was none to be had and they sent me off a poor cripple with just a small pension to try and survive on. What was I to do? Well Sir, you will well remember I was never one to beg charity- and no one was handier than me on a make and mend day. 

I begun to take old discarded clothes and patch and mend them up and sell them again at a fair price. I done good enough at it that folks begun to bring me clothes they no longer needed which I would buy from them and mend and sell. After a bit they begun to bring me broken or old odds and ends that I would patch and mend and polish to sale at a fair price. My father was a tinker so I knew a bit of how to do such things. 

With my pension and my mending and such I was getting by when- who could have known- the constables grab me up! They claim that the things I had been buying was stold! And a bunch of them blackhearts what sold things to me lined up in court to say so. A sorry situation it was. I might have been hanged were it not for Lieutenant Murtry- you will remember him as midshipman Murtry- stepping up and putting in a kind word for me. 

As it was they sent me to Botany Bay. Oh Sir, I well remember how fond you was of seeing the bushes and bugs and fish and such of a new place- but there is nothing to love here! Every bush that does not draw blood with thorns and such will give you a rash. The animals here is all scorpions, spiders and snakes and such so poisonous that a fellow does not go three paces after he is bit. 

And the people from here is all Blackfellas that would just as soon spear a man as look at him. So here I am a poor cripple, innocent of any crime, condemned to labor in such a place. So I survived my time- and a miracle it was, me being a cripple and all- and now I am a gain a free man, if free it can be called to have to live in such a desolate and God forsaken place as this. 

Now I scrape by as a servant for Reverand Elias Penwell, who was an innocent persecuted unjustly on false testimony of villains and sent here like myself. His eyes are going and often times he will have me to read for him. I was reading him an old copy of the Navy list which had made its way here when I come across you as the surgeon of the Acasta.

"Is that the same Doctor Roberts you always peak so highly of?" he asks me. 

"I am sure it is the same " I reply. 

"You should write him of your distress here" he says to me. 

"Oh Sir " say I "I could never bother him with my problems". 

"Why Mister Craig" he says  "I am surprised you would treat the good Doctor Roberts with such disrespect!" 

"Never in this life should I disrespect the Doctor!" says I. 

"Well Sir, you should well know that nothing cheers a Christian heart more than helping those in need and distress! If this Doctor Roberts is half the magnanimous fellow you describe he would be distressed beyond measure to find he could have helped you in your time of need but was deprived of the opportunity through ignorance. To deprive him of this opportunity to practice Christian Charity would be cruel indeed!"

So after the Reverand had explained things with such intelligence the wisdom of his words was undeniable.

So Sir you might send whatever charitable ammount you seen fit to me here at Botany Bay through the Reverand Penwell.  Also good would be - if you have any influence at home- would be to see that I might be allowed to return to my native land and not die here a poor cripple in this desolate place.

Ever your loving and obedient Servant, 
Silas Craig

Friday, May 17

A Letter from Baptiste



Marie, Baptiste's wife, finds an old tar to read her her letter.

16 May 1814

Dearest Marie, 

I miss you so! And the Boys! I suppose that by now they can say hole thoughts not just words. I am writing to you in English. Perhaps Mr Clark will read this for you. I have been trying hard to learn this. My friend Apple the Carpenter, and sometimes the Doctor, tutor me. I find that writing in English is much like talking in English. You no how English is almost the same as French, just pronounced incorectly? Witting is much the same. In English each letter has something to say, none of them seem to be there just to make the word more handsome. Once I became accustomed to this lack of beauty in English words it was not so difficult.

We are back on the Blockade of Baltimore and things are very dull except the times we chase after a prize. We have captured several, and I am entitled to an amount of money for each. It is called prize money. None of our captures have put up what could be called a fight, and do not fear for me in anycase, for when we come close I am safe below decks with the surgeon.

Things are so dull I find I become meloncoly. Most this is from missing you and the boys- but I find I also miss the small creatures of the land- birds in the morning and crickets in the evening. The only creatures here are rats and roaches. I do have some leeches- and they have become my friends! I won at cards them from an apothacary’s assistant when we were in Halifax. They are the good leeches from Europe. A  pressed man named Booke stole many for fishing bait. He and I later become friends and he told me he was sorry for thiefing them. He escaped in Bermuda. He offered for me to go with him, but I was afraid the risk was to great and the chance of success to small. I suppose he succeeded, for I have heard no more of him and I am sure news would have reached us if he were caught. But back to my friends the leeches. Dear old Messer Duvall once told me that their behavior changes with the weather, and I have found this to be true. Each morning I see what they are doing  and  compare it with the weather. They do more than you would thing a worm would do. Sometimes they climb out of the water and hang like grapes on the jar edge, sometimes they swim frantically and sometimes they even lay on the bottom on their backs.  The first time I saw this I thought they were dead, but now I know it is just something they do. I have found sometime I can predict a change in weather coming by what they are doing.

I have had one accident. A big pressed landsman fell down a hatch and knocked off a fellow coming down below him. I just happened to be passing below with a small oil lamp I use for cupping. Both fellows landed on me. I was nocked almost senseless with my face pressed into the oil from the lamp which caught fire! I was able to kill the fire with my cap, but it burned off almost all my side whiskers on the one side.  I shaved them off so the other fellows would not make a jest of me. I no how handsome you think they are- but I promise I will have them grown back buy the time you read these words.

I will close now. This letter will be sent out with others of the Doctor’s. He has made a friend of another natural philosopher in America, so it should not have a problem reaching you. My love to you and the boys.

Always your loving husband, 
Baptiste

Thursday, May 16

A Letter to Mr. Apple

to: Jas. Apple
Carpenter
H.M.S. Acasta
At Sea

March 5, 1814

Dear James,                                                                                          

I hope this letter finds you in good health and spirits. Everyone here is in good health. You know, poor hand that I am at it, I would never take to write you were it not of some important matter. As you know your father left some time past for Germany, leaving the business in the hands of your mother and I. Thomas has took a clerk position in Shoreditch and they has a fine, healthy baby boy, which keeps most of his time occupied. Which brings me to the problem. 

Your mother, good hearted soul that she is, is to soft hearted in extending credit and insisting on payment. You remember Lord Hathcock's young son Bradford? Well as soon as his old Father passed he ordered a top of the line carriage- and a finer coach we have never put to wheels. Now he spends all of his time running about town playing the rake- even has a livery dressed in silk more colorful than a dancing monkey- but we have yet to see payment beyond that which he put down to begin with. When pressed for payment he comes up with a story about having trouble collecting from his tenants and we will be paid as soon as they are settled. Yet he has the money to dress his livery in silk and be about town all evening? And now two of his young rake friends has put in carriage orders also. 


Now James you have known me since you was small and we are as close to family as people can get without being blood kin. I have tried to speak with your brother about this, but he is occupied with other affairs. I do not want to overstep my position or offend your mother, but she does not take my advice on insisting on payment when payment is due. I am feared we may be in ruin before your father returns. If you could write to her and encourage her to allow me to take charge of debts and payments I am sure I could soon set matters straight. Please do so as soon as you may be able. Hopefully this war will end soon and you can have liberty to come home. 

yr, Obt. Svt,
Wm. Driver

Tuesday, May 14

A letter to Miss Nowack

My dearest Miss Nowack

I don't mean to have you worry about not hearing from me for so long. The Doctor keeps me so busy I hardly get a moment to stop and write. Slave driver, he is. Last month he left his new bride behind to drag myself, one of the midshipmen, Haberfield, and Taylor inland for a covert mission to recover something or other related to the war.

Don't imagine my lovely Miss Nowack that I strayed an inch away from you, even surrounded as I was by some rather lovely ladies all eager to dance with me. I vowed I shant dance with a soul whilst apart from you. I'll be as true to you as I ever was.


I don't suspect I can be too candid in my note to you, you understand, on account it was for the Admiralty, but I can tell you we were successful in our mission and all returned safely. Since we have been back, though, our ship has fallen under a plague of lice, the Doctor, Jean Baptiste and I have set a large quantity of men aboard ship to the razor to remove their hair to help rid us of the pests. But don't worry my sweet, I've managed to stay clean of the vermin and keep my hair.

I will end this letter for now, but not to end my love for you, dear Miss Nowack. Write me soon so I may survive the long days apart from you.

Ever yours,
James

Friday, May 10

Acastas Read Their Mail




More video of Acastas having gotten their mail and reading through it!


Thursday, May 9

Wednesday, May 8

Wax Sealing Your Letter

By now, we've written our letters and folded them and addressed them, now we just need to seal it shut so that the postman doesn't sneak a peek. Sealing wax was the common method of securing your letter. Red seems to be the most oft seen color when looking at extant examples of letters, but you also occasionally see blue and green as well. Letters sealed in black wax generally meant that someone had died, so if you get a letter sealed in black, you'd better sit down before you open it. The process of sealing is simple enough, Jas. Townsend has a good instructional video which can be seen Above: 

There are several places that offer wax and wax seals for the purpose of sealing your letter, Jas. Townsend carries wax and seals: 

I've purchased items from Nostalgic Impressions in the past, but you'll want to root through their inventory carefully. They carry a lot of modern looking seals, so choose wisely: 


Be sure to exercise caution, don't forget you're playing with fire and paper in close proximity. 




Did I answer all of your questions this week? I hope so… but if I didn't, you can contact me via email or Facebook… or post you question in the comments below. I hope this helped, and we're looking forward to getting your letters as part of the MAIL PACKET project. Who's planning on participating? Let us hear from you!

Tuesday, May 7

Addressing Your Letter

This may be the easiest part of the whole letter writing process... if you're participating in the Acasta's Mail Packet project, then addressing your letter is EASY, it would be addressed thusly:

Recipient's Rank and Name
HMS Acasta
PORTSMOUTH

While a 'return address' was occasionally added, it was not a universal thing like we know on the mail of today.

Here are a few examples from the period:




From the British Postal Museum & Archive

and the Bath Postal Museum

and some examples from letters that were part of the last Mail Packet addressed specifically to members of the Acasta:



Stop by again tomorrow and let's tackle my favorite bit... the wax seal!

Monday, May 6

Letter-Folding

So now you've written your letter and are about ready to send it on its merry way... You don't really find examples of envelopes from the period, people would fold the paper up that their letter was written on and MAKE a little envelope.

How in the world do you do that? I'm glad you asked!

I was rooting around in an attempt to find some resources and stumbled across the following tutorials. Some are easy, some are more difficult.

  


PLUS a video that shows a fairly common folding method...



 

Friday, May 3

How to Speak and Write...


Here's a cool printable guide (from Colonial Williamsburg) to 18th century letter writing - kind of an easy primer or cheat sheet for those interested in participating in the mail packet project!

http://www.history.org/history/teaching/enewsletter/volume10/sept11/images/letterslessonmaterials.pdf


Thursday, May 2

What should I write?

Need help with letter content? People wrote letters for all manner of reasons in the period, business, duty, amusement, love, courtship, marriage, friendship etc.

Imagine all the things you do in your modern life that involve communication, now imagine if it all had to be done with a pen and paper. The people we portray wrote as a part of their daily lives, because they had to.

There are a few interesting resources I'd like to share that might inspire you to create content for letters of the period.

A well known book was 'The Complete Letter-Writer', which offered up samples of various types of letters that people wrote. Thank heavens for the fine folks at Google Books for offering a digital version online:

Below, you'll find a the text from a letter of the period to a Royal naval Lieutenant from his Aunt back home, taken from a collection of letters that you can view HERE:

to:
Lieut. F. Bond
on board His Majestys Ship Pompee, Devonshire
Cambridge 9th. March 1798 Received 24th. April

Dear Nephew,


With pleasure and a most agreeable surprise did I receive your letter of ye 29th. December many circumstances have occurred which has prevented me from answering it at ye time intended, and I am in fears least your ship should have left ye port - you find I am like all the world apt to flatter myself in thinking a letter may be agreeable but how natural it is to judge from ones own feelings - your apologies are and ought to be accepted as I know your time must be much taken up in professional Duties: I will candidly own that I imputed your silence at being weary of a correspondance with your aunt - and that I had no right to blame you yet I severely felt its loss - with your turn of mind ye company on board a ship cannot be pleasant whose ideas in general extend chiefly to conviviality - but you have comforts which to them are denied -they if alone find time heavy and irksome and know not what to do to arrouse them - whereas you can always find resources within yourself -if providence sends to some more tryals and likewise sensibility to feel them -yet surely the pleasures abovementioned are in some degree adequate - if so the distribution of the almighty are more equal than we are apt to imagine or allow - such has been my firm opinion for many years and thro' it have obtained many comforts in this chequered Life - you could not expect your Brother Thomas to meet with a wife like ye first I fear they are few if any like her and it is wonderful to me he should venture. You did not mention wether your Mother or Charlotte was well if you see them remember me kindly - or when you should at any time chance to meet with an officer belonging to the alarm - you would think of your deceased uncle and inquire wither any writing was found or how his effects was disposed of -I would have wrote when ye vessell came home but as I think they often change their captains knew not what mode to persue. Neither do I make an apology for troubling you to a Benevolent mind - ye acting ye part of a Father to the poor infant will meet its own reward - your uncle Charles and Family were well when I last heard of them - but living fourteen miles distant do not often see or write. I cannot prevail with your cousins to correspond with a gentleman not personally known - but I hope the time will arrive when you will meet and persuade them - I long to see peace wave Her olive branch over this once happy land -but wither it will be in my time I know not my health tho' something better than when I last wrote owing I believe to the mildness of the winter - is far from being established and I have my fears that it never will - may you enjoy that blessing and every other this world affords is the wish of 


your affectionate aunt
M Bond


Need some ideas for what to write? Try one of these:

Letter from a friend or colleague back home. 
(But none from immediate 'family' this year if you please.)
A bill or request for payment.
An overdue payment of debt.
A letter carrying news of the war(s)

Wednesday, May 1

Period Handwriting

 
There has been quite a bit of interest in the Mail Packet project that we're doing for the guys in the the Acasta group. I've gotten a lot of questions about writing letters of the period, so we'll be taking you step-by-step through the process of writing a letter that looks like it came from the era. Each day will deal with a different aspect of the process, we'll cover:

Period Handwriting
Period Content
Letter Folding
Addressing
Wax Seals


First up we tackle...

Period Handwriting
The first problem that people tend to encounter when undertaking a hand written letter project is "I don't have nice handwriting". Well, neither did a lot of people in the period... so don't be too hard on yourself. People wrote letters to communicate with friends and loved ones over a great distance, and so long as it was legible, that was what mattered.

There is a great period reference to make use of when trying to learn how to create lettering from the period. I highly recommend George Bickham's little book about penmanship! I have owned several copies of this very book and it is delightful. Not only does it show you how to create each individual letter in various styles, it also has pages for the reader to copy for practice!

You can find a modern edition for sale on Amazon HERE:

Or, if you'd like a period correct copy along with some beginning writing supplies as seen in the image above, click HERE:

If you decide to purchase the period letter writing pack, be sure to tell them the Doctor referred you!

And to see some lovely samples of letters from the period that revolve around Royal Naval officer Francis Godolphin Bond circa 1765-1839, click HERE.

In the meantime, get out your pen and paper and practice, have some fun with it!