The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

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Document associated with: Caledonia, SS
Record 1 of 1

System Number: 07636
Date: 8 August 1849[1]
Author: Anna Matilda Whistler[2]
Place: Steamer America[3]
Recipient: Joseph Harrison[4]
Place: St Petersburg
Repository: Library of Congress
Call Number: Manuscript Division, Pennell-Whistler Collection, PWC 34/39-40
Document Type: ALS

Steamer America

August 8th 49
Wednesday afternoon

Dear Mr Harrison,

This is the eleventh day of our voyage & our prospect is to arrive tomorrow morning at the docks, God has indeed considered the prayers which have been offered for us, & has distinguished us with one of the finest ever ever made across the Atlantic. We lost sight of land Sunday 29th at half past four p.m. & last Sunday at noon the New Foundland coast was in sight seven days only[,] you see our run from Cape Race to Halifax they boast to be the fastest ever made, a distance of 484 miles in about 36 hours. Our course has been northerly which is the shortest you know. for the first two days we had a rough sea even I was sick & I could only read in my berth, Every day (except today and it has not been important) they have made their observation no fog till this morning and the sun has dispersed it, or we might have had an anxious night for we expect after midnight to meet the Europa[5], which leaves NY today. It is not so far in the past since the fearful collision that we have forgotten it! and we in the ladies cabin at least express our acknowledgment of the mercy of God that the fog was not so dense as to prevent our seeing an emigrant ship crowded with passengers only a few yards from today the faces of the people could be distinguished and now that we are getting nearer US land every hour it is a favor that the fog is dispersed. What a change of climate we have gone thro, it was really cold last saturday & this was accounted for when several ice bergs passed in review - and now it is a relief to come below out of the hot sunshine.

[p. 2] Last Sunday was a most memorable day to us. after a most comforting worship in the Saloon, 22 of the crew in their neat uniform & the head steward & his eleven aides in their sunday best suits[,] we number 70 cabin passengers, all were present & joined in the good old hundred[6], The sermon was appropriate the young clergyman Mr Mac Nair[7] was among the few who left at Halifax yesterday. I had been put under his care by mutual friends at Liverpool & he was most faithful to his promise and consigned me to Revd J Dickey[8] of Pennsylvania, who seems to know your name at least - It would take a vol & a week were I to give details of our voyage, and to you in the world such incidents as have interested us in this floating castle, the 200 souls on board forming our world & sympathy in proportion to situation - but I must record tho two novelties which attracted me to the deck on Sunday after public worship & induced me to remain there several hours. Our Capt[9] supposed we might see the Caledonia[10], as he knew her commander would also choose the northerly passage, & he told our boys they should fire the salute but when they came near enough to exchange signals, guns were superfluous, as news of importance was to be communicated! & soon the boat was lowered when each Steamer halted that the Capt of the C might board us, if I had not been so interested in watching him being rowed across the waves & curious to know what he has to tell - for he left N York last Wednesday - I might have surprised my friends in England by expecting letters, a fortnight after my adieus at Liverpool, I deposited them at Halifax for the Europas mail - A [p. 3] report of the loss of a screw mail Steamer[11] of Cunards's line[12], running between Halifax & New Foundland every body lost! had just reached the Capt of the C & therefore he came on board that our Capt should take the sad news to Halifax, Oh how it thrilled thro us for we had but just passed Cape Race the fatal point to so many - think then what a relief to us on arriving at Halifax that all had been saved from the afore said Steamer - the vessel only was lost, even the mail was saved - On sunday while I was on deck an Ice berg was another object of interest to me, as I never before saw one, it was very large, it looked like a large snowy tent, but thro the glass, with the sun shining bright upon it, rainbow colors were added to its magnificence. We were supplied by the Caledonian with Boston papers & again at Halifax with late dates from N York where it seems the Cholera[13] has increased alarmingly how thankful we ought to be, that numbering more than 200 we can present a bill of perfect health to the doctor, who will visit us at the Narrows. I have been brought by the Almighty power of God to think of the welcome awaiting me in native land with thankfulness, tho my tears have often flowed on this homeward voyage at the contrast between sad realities, & fond anticipations connected with this return from a protracted exile - yet at times a heavenly reasoner has given me solacing views - once while sitting at the stern musing & weeping in selfish indulgence as I gazed at the broad wake of our ship I misleantenly [sic] thought "Ah had my beloved husband[14] been here with me, how unalloyed my delight in admiring to him "His emerald[15] & crystal road upon the smooth summer sea!" every hour taking us twelve miles nearer our dear native land together! Suddenly his gentle patient accents sounded from my faithful memory. [p. 4] "I do not wish to suffer less, only for patience to bear what God orders for me" To every good thought the loved promoter of my joys is linked[,] his consistency in practice with his opinions[.] I will endeavour by God's help to attain[,] to talk to Jemie of his fathers example is a benefit to us both for we weep together & are more closely bound to each other after every repetition of his tender care of each of us! The text chosen by Mr MacNair on Sunday was relating to the jubilee years[16] & when he explained that year of rest as succeeding 49 years of toil & care, a more holy preacher than even that good young divine, whispered, "he whose departure you so mourn, had just fulfilled his term of labor when his jubilee years the Lords own appointment - secured him rest - eternal rest & joy in heaven! at such thoughts tho my heart is melted, my soul is so elevated that I feel a holy awe, that God should bestow so much care for our enduring welfare & can only pray, let none of us be missing when the elect are collected at the right hand of the judge of quick & dead[17]. How wisely, how mercifully has my heavenly Conductor led me on, blessing every means for the restoration of my health, and on the wide sea has caused an interest to be awakened in the arrival at our haven which I could not bring myself to think of while in London - I have comforting reflections in connection also with this[,] in passing thro the deep waters of suffering my beloved husband was led to a true appreciation of temporal vicissituedes [sic] - & to a value for a heavenly home. Our dear boys are great favorites, it is the inheritance of the good mans children, an excellent old English gentleman has taken a Fatherly interest in Jemie who goes to the saloon table - Willie & I take our meals in the ladies cabin.

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1.  8 August 1849
The list of passengers of the Steamer America, was reported in the New York Daily Tribune, 10 August 1849, vol 9, no. 105, to have arrived in New York, 'from Liverpool - via Halifax on 9 August: Capt Vidals, 2 children and nurse, Capts Wethereil and Cooper MaKhennes, Lieut Noble, Prof John Stone, Rev Mr McNair, Mr Traverger and lady, Mr Coates and lady, Mrs Whistler, 2 boys and servant, Mrs Rosenbaum, Mrs Smallwood, Mrs Chase, Mrs Thomson, Master and Miss Collins, Messrs Trapan, Kruger, Grabb, Caster, Wendle, Wright, Trumbull, Thomas, Gana, Playfair, Renfrew, Foules, Beans, Kingston, Shulton, Dickey, Beales, Hitchkock, Whitwell, Crooker, Lanresteyne, Redie, Livermore, Shelton...'

2.  Anna Matilda Whistler
Anna Matilda Whistler (1804-1881), née McNeill, JW's mother [more].

3.  Steamer America
Steamer America (1848), Cunard Line (1,826 tons.). See N. R. P. Bonsor, North Atlantic Seaway, An Illustrated History of the Passenger Services Linking the Old World with the New, Lancashire, 1955.

4.  Joseph Harrison
Joseph Harrison (1810-1874), jr, partner in Eastwick and Harrison, locomotive manufacturers, and later in Harrison, Winans and Eastwick [more].

5.  Mr Mac Nair
Rev. McNair, clergyman.

6.  Revd J Dickey
Rev. J. Dickey, of Pennsylvania.

7.  Our Capt
Captain Vidals, master mariner.

8.  Europa
Steamer Europa (1848), Cunard Line (1,834 tons.). See N. R. P. Bonsor, North Atlantic Seaway, An Illustrated History of the Passenger Services Linking the Old World with the New, Lancashire, 1955, p. 35.

9.  old hundred
Old Hundredth, a famous Christian hymn, composed or adapted by Louis Bourgeois in 16th century.

10.  Caledonia
Steamer Caledonia (1840), Cunard Line (1,154 tons.).

11.  screw mail Steamer
The steamer Kestrel was reported in The Nova Scotian, 13 August 1849 as follows: 'Arrival of the America. The Royal Mail Steamer America, 9 1/2 days from Liverpool, arrived at this port soon after 6 o'clock yesterday morning, bringing 97 passengers - 7 being for Halifax ... Kestrel which turned left when it should have turned right ... even the mail was saved.' Information from Iain MacInnes, Halifax Naval Dockyard.

12.  Cunards's line
British company, formed in 1840 as British & North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Co, its purpose, the service of steamers between Liverpool, Halifax and Boston. Sir Samuel Cunard (1787-1865), was its founder, and from the early days the company was known as the Cunard Line.

13.  cholera
The weekly report of deaths, in the city and county of New York, from 28 July to 4 August 1849 was 156 men, 378 women, 293 boys, and 252 girls; see New York Daily Tribune, 6 August 1849, vol. 9.

14.  my beloved husband
George Washington Whistler (1800-1849), engineer, JW's father [more].

15.  emerald
Probably 'And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald,' Rev. 21.19.

16.  jubilee years
'Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land. And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubile unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.' Lev. 25.9-10.

17.  judge of quick & dead
'I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom;' 2 Tim. 4.1; 'Who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead,' 1 Pet. 4.5; 'And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead,' Acts 10.42.