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Guide to the Packet Ship Liverpool Letters

MSN/EA 5022

 

Collection Summary

Title: Packet Ship Liverpool letters
Dates: 1822
Collection No.: MSN/EA 5022
Creator: Coles, Hewlett Townsend, ca. 1800-1828
Creator: Lee, William, Jr., ca. 1784-ca. 1850
Creator: Woodward, William, b. 1801
Creator: Lee, Nancy, 1788-ca. 1860
Extent: 14 manuscripts; 1 container
Language: Collection material in English
Repository: University of Notre Dame. Hesburgh Libraries, Department of Special Collections. 102 Hesburgh Library, Notre Dame, IN 46556
Abstract: A collection of fourteen manuscripts, mostly letters, providing first-hand accounts of the sinking of the packet ship Liverpool in the North Atlantic in July 1822. The principal author is Hewlett Townsend Coles, the ship's second officer.

Selected Search Terms

Coles, Hewlett Townsend, d. 1828
Lee, William Jr., ca. 1784-1850
Woodward, William, b. 1801
Lee, Nancy, 1788-ca. 1860
Liverpool (Ship) -- Disasters -- North Atlantic Ocean -- 1820-1830
Seafaring life -- Personal narratives

Administrative Information

Restrictions: There are no access restrictions on this collection

Preferred Citation: Packet Ship Liverpool Letters, Department of Special Collections, Hesburgh Libraries of Notre Dame.

Acquisition and Processing Note: The eleven manuscripts in the collection written by H. T. Coles were purchased by the Hesburgh Libraries in 2005, from Schmitt Investors, Ltd. of Northport, New York. The three remaining manuscripts were purchased in 2007, from Sally Ivey of Sheridan, Oregon. Arranged and described 2007, by George Rugg. Finding aid 2009, by Jacob Baska.

Biographical Note

Eleven of the fourteen manuscripts in the collection were written by Hewlett Townsend Coles, second officer of the packet ship Liverpool on her maiden voyage from New York in July 1822. Coles was born around 1800 at Glen Cove, Queens Co., New York, son of Rev. Benjamin Coles and Anne Townsend. In June 1822, one month before Liverpool's departure, he married Catherine Vanderbilt Suydam (b. ca. 1801), of Oyster Bay, Queens County. The couple was married for six years and had three children before Hewlett Coles' death, in 1828. Records show that following the Liverpool affair Coles was master of several vessels making transatlantic runs, including the brig Wilson and the ship Josephine, both of New York. The three remaining letters in the collection were written by William Lee, Jr. (b. ca. 1784), Nancy Lee (b. 1788), and William Woodward (b. 1801). The three were related; the Lees were siblings and Woodward was their nephew. Lee was master of Liverpool on its maiden voyage; Woodward was on board in an unidentified capacity.

The 496-ton Liverpool was a packet in the Black Ball Line, founded in 1817 as a transatlantic service offering regular, scheduled crossings between New York and Liverpool. The ship left New York on her maiden voyage on 16 July 1822, with mail, specie, cargo, and thirty-six passengers and crew. The trip was uneventful until the afternoon of 25 July, when Liverpool struck an iceberg just east of the Grand Banks. The ship sank in two hours; all on board were evacuated to Liverpool's three boats. After five days on the open ocean, the boats approached St. John's, Newfoundland and were discovered by a local fishing vessel. All survived with the exception of a nursing infant. Captain Lee commissioned the brig Dart to take the passengers on to Liverpool while he and the crew, including Coles, returned to New York aboard another hired vessel, the schooner Eliza.

Scope and Content Note

Ten of the eleven manuscripts authored by Coles are letters directed to his wife Catherine. The first of these was begun on 17 July, one day after Liverpool's departure from New York. Coles continued writing following the wreck—from the ship's boats, from St. John's, and ultimately from the schooner Eliza,—until 25 August, the day prior to his return. There is also a ballad recounting the wreck, in 20 stanzas, composed by Coles aboard Eliza. Coles' manuscripts are at once fervent love letters and an epistolary diary, recording his adventure as events unfolded. There is no reason to believe these are not Coles' original manuscripts, perhaps given to Catherine on his return to Long Island (each of the sheets is enclosed in a numbered wrapper, as described by Coles in the letter dated 11 August). The collection also includes two supplementary accounts of the disaster. In a three-page letter written on his return to New York, Capt. Lee informs his father of the "Total Loss" of the ship, describing the wreck and its aftermath. And in another letter Lee's nephew William L. Woodard, who was also aboard Liverpool, recounts the same events in greater detail.

Arrangement Note

The collection is arranged chronologically, one item per folder.

Related Material

Related materials, including correspondence of Hewlett and Catherine Coles, are located in the Coles Family Papers at the New-York Historical Society.

Container List

  • Letter. [Hewlett Townsend Coles], At Sea, to "My Dear Beloved Catherine" [Catherine Van Suydam Coles], n. p., 1822 July 17-26. Folder 1 (MSN/EA 5022-1).
    AL, 4 pages (28 x 23 cm.) on 1 folded sheet, w/wrapper inscribed "No. 1".
    A letter begun on 17 July and continued on the 20th, 24th, and 26th, as follows: July 17: News of the ship's progress mingled with expressions of affection for Catherine: "all I can say is that I want nothing more to make me happy but my dear beloved wife." Coles also notes that he has received two letters from some anonymous "designing person" who is trying to enter "into my heart the most severe pangs of Jelousy" regarding Catherine. July 20: More news of Liverpool's's progress and condition: "the Ship is proving to be a strong and substantial ship . . . in fact I considder her safe as a house on shore." July 24: Mostly news of the weather; Coles notes "fog as thick as rain" and believes ice may be close. July 26: A detailed account of the wreck, from the moment Liverpool struck an "Isl'd of Ice" until just prior to her abandonment. Coles describes loss of property as well as emergency maneuvers used to save those on board. This entry is continued in the following letter.
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    • Letter. [Hewlett Townsend Coles], "Ship Liverpool's Boats towards St. Johns", to [Catherine Van Suydam Coles], n. p., 1822 July 26-August 2. Folder 2 (MSN/EA 5022-2).
      AL, 4 pages (23 x 19 cm.) on 1 folded sheet, w/ wrapper inscribed "No. 2".
      July 26: A continuation of the entry from the previous sheet. Coles describes the evacuation to the ship's boats, and provides an ink sketch of the three vessels (pinnace, launch, and jolly boat) as they proceeded southwest towards Newfoundland. He is doubtful about their chances for survival: "my Dear Beloved Wife is allmost a widdow. it is now I bid my wife Farewell, perhaps forever." July 28: A short entry describing the bad weather and conditions in the open boats. July 30: The sighting of land: "Rejoice with me my Catherine rejoice. I once more See the Land." Explains Captain Lee's plan to procure one vessel to carry the passengers on to Liverpool and another to take the crew back to New York. Expects to return home at the end of August. August 2: Writing now from St. John's, Newfoundland, Coles describes the survivors' arrival in the harbor, where the "wharve [was] lined with people asking us about our misfortune."
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      • Letter. Hewlett T[ownsend] Coles, St. John's, Newfoundland, to "My Dear Catherine" [Catherine Van Suydam Coles], n. p., 1822 August 3-7. Folder 3 (MSN/EA 5022-3).
        ALS, 4 pages (23 x 19 cm.) on 1 folded sheet, w/ wrapper inscribed "No. 3".
        August 3: Receives an order from Captain Lee to procure water for the trip back to New York. Believes that his return is imminent and is glad at the prospect of "see[ing] the dear beloved of my Love." August 4: Coles falls sick, but recovers over the course of the day, and learns of his impending departure for New York. August 6: Now writing aboard Eliza, bound for New York, Coles eagerly awaits to be in "the arms of my ever beloved." August 7: Aboard Eliza. Hopes that Catherine will not think him "Childish" for his profuse writing. Will seek a position on another ship so that he may "endeavor to make up my losses this voyage."
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        • Letter. Hewlett T[ownsend] Coles, At Sea, to "My Dear Wife" [Catherine Van Suydam Coles], n. p., 1822 August 8-9. Folder 4 (MSN/EA 5022-4).
          ALS, 4 pages (23 x 19 cm.) on 1 folded sheet, w/ wrapper inscribed "No. 4".
          August 8: Aboard Eliza. Word of the ship's progress, and expressions of love for Catherine. August 9: Coles relates a dream of the previous night in which he returned home and "as soon as You [Catherine] saw me you got up and went out of the house without speaking to me." This reminds him of a strange fear he had of Liverpool prior to its departure, and how his uncle had advised him that "if I was fearfull of her that I had better not go in her."
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          • Letter. Hewlett T[ownsend] Coles, n. p., to "My Beloved Catherine" [Catherine Van Suydam Coles], n. p., 1822 August 10. Folder 5 (MSN/EA 5022-5).
            ALS, 4 pages (23 x 19 cm.) on 1 folded sheet, w/ wrapper inscribed "No. 5".
            Aboard Eliza. Coles relates another dream, in which he returned to his father-in-law's residence in Jamaica, New York only to find Catherine unhappy at his homecoming. In his dream, Coles "at once burst into Tears." Upon awakening, he is thankful that "I put no confidence in dreams." Admits to "how happy a man am I to be bless'd with the Girl who ever since I was 14 years of age I have been wishing to call my own." The sheet also contains two poems writen by Coles for Catherine.
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            • Letter. Hewlett T[ownsend] Coles, At Sea, to Catherine V[an Suydam] Coles, n. p., 1822 August 11. Folder 6 (MSN/EA 5022-6).
              ALS, 4 pages (23 x 19 cm) on 1 folded sheet, w/ wrapper inscribed "No. 6".
              Aboard Eliza. After providing word of the vessel's progress toward New York, Coles praises Captain Lee for his actions during the shipwreck, and for his treatment of the crew in the aftermath. There follows a brief discussion of Lee's personal life: his wife in Liverpool and his loss of property in the wreck. Coles concludes with reminiscences of his and Catherine's courtship.
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              • Letter. Hewlett T[ownsend] Coles, At Sea, to Catherine V[an Suydam] Coles, n. p., 1822 August 11 (properly August 12). Folder 7 (MSN/EA 5022-7).
                ALS, 4 pages (23 x 19 cm) on 1 folded sheet, w/integral address leaf inscribed "No. 8".
                Aboard Eliza. Coles notes the vessel's slow progress toward New York. He mentions that he is enclosing each of his previous letters in separate wrappers, to better preserve them. The balance of the letter discusses his family and memories of his courtship and marriage to Catherine. He also philosophizes on the need to be happy following such a near encounter with death, and that to be "dourhearted" would "be departing entirely from my true character."
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                • Letter. Hewlett T[ownsend] Coles, n. p., to Catherine V[an Suydam] Coles, n. p., 1822 August 16. Folder 8 (MSN/EA 5022-8).
                  ALS, 3 pages (31 x 19 cm) on 1 folded sheet, w/integral address leaf inscribed "No. 9".
                  Coles dedicates much of this letter to imagining his homecoming, and telling Catherine of his adventures. He also speaks of the possibility of changing professions and becoming a farmer.
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                  • Letter. Hewlett T[ownsend] Coles, n. p., to Catherine V[an Suydam] Coles, n. p., 1822 August 22. Folder 9 (MSN/EA 5022-9).
                    ALS, 2 pages (23 x 19 cm) on 1 folded sheet, w/integral address leaf inscribed "No. 10".
                    Coles explains that Eliza continues to be delayed by inclement weather. He worries that Catherine may have heard news of the wreck, and so "suppose that we had all either met with a watery grave or if not that, perhaps in a State of Starvation either in the Boats or on some distant Land."
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                    • Letter. Hewlett T[ownsend] Coles, n. p., to Catherine V[an Suydam] Coles, n. p., 1822 August 25. Folder 10 (MSN/EA 5022-10).
                      ALS, 3 pages (31 x 19 cm) on 1 folded sheet, w/integral address leaf.
                      Eliza is now just east of Long Island; Coles expects to be home in two to three days. He writes of conversing with Liverpool's first mate, Mr. Wilson, about their respective wives, and imagines the activities Catherine might have engaged in on this particular day.
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                      • Ballad. [Hewlett Townsend Coles], [1822 August]. Folder 11 (MSN/EA 5022-11).
                        AM, 3 pages (31 x 19 cm) on 1 folded sheet. The back of the manuscript is inscribed: "Written on board the Scr Eliza bound from St Johns Newfoundland toward New York with the crew of the Ship Liverpool of New York."
                        A ballad of twenty four-line stanzas recounting Liverpool's wreck and the open-boat voyage to St John's, written by Coles for Catherine. Odd lines are in tetrameter; even lines in trimeter. Glosses are added in the margin.
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                        • Letter. W[illiam] Lee, Jr., New York, New York, to William Lee, Esq., Phippsburg, Maine, 1822 August 26. Folder 12 (MSN/EA 5022-12).
                          ALS, 3 pages (23 x 19 cm) on 1 folded sheet, w/integral address leaf.
                          On his return to New York Captain Lee writes to his father, telling him of the Liverpool disaster. He laments that his wife, in England, will not hear of his safety until the arrival of letters sent from St. John's. He also notes that his nephew William Woodward is with him and in good health.
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                          • Letter. [William Woodward], n. p., to "My Dear Aunt" [Nancy Lee], n. p., 1822 August 27. Folder 13 (MSN/EA 5022-13).
                            AL, 2 pages (25 x 20 cm) on 1 sheet.
                            Captain Lee's nephew William Woodward, who had sailed on Liverpool, tells his aunt of the wreck and the open-boat voyage to St. John's. Of note is Woodward's account of the evacuation to the ship's boats. He writes that Lee remained with Liverpool as she turned over on her beam ends, then jumped into the sea and swam to the nearest boat. Woodward also provides a pencil sketch of the sinking Liverpool and the boats.
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                            • Letter. Nancy Lee, Phippsburg, Maine, to William Woodward, New York, New York, 1822 December 16. Folder 14 (MSN/EA 5022-14).
                              ALS, 3 pages (25 x 20 cm) on 1 folded sheet, w/integral address leaf.
                              Nancy Lee's response to Woodward's letter. Lee describes her emotions upon hearing the news of the Liverpool as well as the reaction of those to whom she had shown Woodward's letter: "even strangers could not hear the letter read without crying . . . ." She concludes by reminding Woodward that "you never must forgett the Mercy of God to you, in yett preservng you from a waterry Grave."
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