1805: Capt. John Moulton to Sally (Weber) Moulton

What Capt. John Moulton might have looked like

This letter was written by Capt. John Moulton (1762-1824), the second son of Jonathan Moulton (1736-1807) and Mary Tarbox (1738-1820). John Moulton married a woman named Davidson in 1785, but she died in 1788 leaving only one son named John (1789-1801). John’s second wife was Sally (Weber) Springer (1761-1806), the widow of Capt. William Springer, who had a daughter named Sally (the “widow Sally Oliver”). John mentions his sons, William Moulton (1796-1880), and Charles Moulton (1799-1805) — the latter dying less than three months after this letter was written. John’s second wife Sally died the following year (1806) at the age of 45.

In his youth, John Moulton’s hair was described as being as red as a beet by his aunt, although it was white by the time he was sixty-two. He had a high forehead, large blue eyes that were deep-set, a large nose, a slender figure, and a stooped frame. He is described as not being a handsome man, but calm, thoughtful, and kindly.

When John was only 14 years old (although full grown), he was allowed to serve as a substitute for his father, who had been drafted soon after his discharge from a term of voluntary service. The family and business dealings of the elder Moulton had suffered from his absence. The younger John Moulton served nine months on Long Island and in New Jersey. He served for a time under George Washington. He was in engagments at Long Island and Brandywine and suffered much from cold and hunger. Later in life, he would try to obtain a pension for his time served, but he was only able to locate one man from his company, and that man could not remember him. It was a disappointment to him and one of the reasons he died in poverty.

After leaving the Revolutionary War, John worked with the noted privateer, Captain Hugh Hill, as a cabin boy. On the first day out, the Captain explained to him the names and uses of some parts of the rigging. On the second day, the Captain found that the boy had forgotten some things he had been told, and he game him a flogging that ended with the remark, “there d— ye, see if you will forget what the halyards are again.” John did not forget.

At the close of the Revolutionary War, John continued to go to sea. Once he wrecked on Cape Cod and lost everything except the clothes he was wearing. On another occasion, the ship in which he was returning from England foundered and the crew, taking to the boat, lived fourteen days on an allowance of two dates and a little water apiece per day.

Learning navigation in the forecastle, John rapidly rose to be a master marine. In that capacity, he visited principal places in the southern United States and the West Indies; also in Bristol, Havre, Bilboa, Lisbon, Oports, and many of the Spanish, French, and Italian ports of the Mediterranean Sea.

Before the passage of the embargo act, while on a voyage from the West Indies to Europe, John was captured by a vessel commanded by a Frenchman and bearing the French flag. He was carried into Havana where the ship and cargo were confiscated. He owned one-fourth of the ship and one-third of the cargo. All was lost.

After giving up his sea-faring life, John tried his hand at agriculture, but did very poorly. He died of dysentery at the age of 61. [Source: One Big Family Tree]

Stampless Letter


Addressed to Capt. John Moulton, Wenham, Massachusetts
to be left at the Post Office Beverly

Norfolk [Virginia]
10th July 1805

Dear Companion,

I wrote to you last Saturday after I had received yours of the 22nd June & have been waiting with impatience to get another from you ____ since but nothing from you. By this day’s mail I certainly expected a letter from you in answer to mine as you said you was going to Beverly that day & you must consequently have got 3 or 4 from me as I have received answers to Capt. Kimball’s letters of the same dates as yours.

I have nothing particular to write — only that I am in indifferent health and the ship is about two-thirds loaded & I am in hopes to get to sea in the course of 10 or 12 days for I am absolutely tired of this detested place. It has been so very warm for 4 or 5 days past that it is very uncomfortable — much warmer than has been known in this place upwards of 20 years.

I have in general been to meeting every Sunday since I have been here but last Sunday had an invitation to spend the day about 6 miles up the country with a small party of my acquaintance. We started early in the morning in my boat & sailed up the river to the house & spent the day very agreeably as we had a fine country ____, and a great plenty of fruits & berries of different kinds & perfectly ripe. When we came to collect to dinner, I found we had a party of between forty & fifty to partake, & among them a new married couple — the man about 20 years of age & the lady between twelve & thirteen. She was very small & would have appeared more like a child than woman if it had not been for the thickness in her waist which I judge was pretty far advanced. She was the daughter of a very rich planter & the man that invited me. But as much of a child as she was, she found means to get a quarter of a dollar from me in a wager in which she herself was to paddle a canoe faster than I could row my boat with four men. And in the distance we had to go, she beat nearly one half. Perhaps you tire of reading my nonsense. Therefore, I conclude with wishing you with our children & friends health & happiness & remain your affectionate husband, — John Moulton

P.S. Tell my friends ___ is in perfect health & give my love to William & Charles & to Sally Oliver & their children, and am in hopes that William has now got a letter or two to me on the road.


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