These five letters were written by Dr. George Willing Clymer (1804-1881) — an Army Surgeon about to embark on a two-year tour-of-duty aboard the U.S.S. St. Lawrence. All three letters were written just before the frigate set sail across the Atlantic on its maiden voyage. They were addressed to his wife, Mary (Shubrick) Clymer (1819-1902), the daughter of Rear Admiral William Branford Shubrick and Harriet Cordelia Wethered. The “babe” or “sweet child” frequently referred to in these letters was George and Mary’s firstborn, Mary Willing Clymer, born 20 May 1848. Clymer eventually became the Medical Director of the U.S. Navy and rose to the rank of Commodore.
“On 29 August, the Navy Department, at the request of the Prussian Minister to the United States, directed Captain Hiram Paulding of the U.S.S. St. Lawrence to “take on board a Mister H. W. Foster and rate him Master’s Mate.” The German states, then striving to establish a German Federation, had recently become aware of the need for a German navy and had asked the United States for help in establishing and training a national fighting force afloat.
The ship got underway on 8 September 1848 and headed eastward across the Atlantic. After touching at Cowes, on the Isle of Wight, the ship reached the mouth of the Weser River on 7 October. The next day, she was towed to Bremerhaven. She remained at that port for the next month and one-half while Capt. Paulding visited important cities in several German states to discuss with various leaders matters important to the establishment of the new navy.
Before departing Bremerhaven, St. Lawrence received on board four Prussian midshipmen for training, and they served on the frigate, learning the customs, discipline, and seamanship of the United States Navy.
The frigate left the mouth of the Weser on 22 November and reached Southampton, England, on 2 December. She was anchored at the port for more than a month while her officers and men exchanged courtesies with their English counterparts, building good will between the two nations. Early in January 1849, the ship sailed for Portugal and reached Lisbon on the 12th. But for a visit to Cadiz, Spain, from 5 February to 14 March, she remained at Lisbon until again sailing for England on 1 May. In July, she returned to Bremerhaven where Paulding discharged the German midshipmen on the 10th, since Prussia was then at war with Denmark, the next country on the frigate’s itinerary.
St. Lawrence got underway on the 19th and visited Copenhagen until 2 August when she sailed for Sweden. She arrived at Stockholm five days later and remained at that Baltic port until the 16th.
On her voyage back south, the frigate touched again at Copenhagen, and spent much of the autumn at Bremerhaven before heading for the Mediterranean. She reached Port Mahon, Minorca, in the Balearics, on 3 December 1849. At that time, political conditions in Europe were still unstable in the aftermath of the revolutions which had shaken Europe in 1848; and the American naval force in the Mediterranean had been increased to its greatest strength since the Barbary Wars. During the protracted series of crises, it had been a source of stability in the area without offending any nation or faction.
In the summer of 1850, when tension in Europe began to subside, St. Lawrence was ordered to proceed once more to the Baltic for a short cruise before returning home. She touched at Boston, Massachusetts on 1 November, reached New York on the 6th, and was decommissioned there on the 15th of November 1850.” [Source: Wikipedia]
TRANSCRIPTION OF LETTER ONE
Addressed to Mrs. Clymer, Washington D.C.
U.S. Ship St. Lawrence
Saturday Morning 6½ September 2, 1848
My dearly loved, sweet, little wife,
It is two weeks, dearest, dearest Mary, since we parted for many long days, but we parted not in heart and in affection, and in mutual prayers for each other. And oh! what a happiness it is for both of us that though thus cruelly separated, we are thus most happily united and ever present with each other. You are a dear, good, lovely, and affectionate devoted wife; and I think of you daily with my whole heart closely bound up with yours in everything; and what a happiness I feel it to have such a wife whom I can love with so much devotion. Though it will not be in my power to kneel tomorrow at the communion table, and to partake of the holy and sanctifying rite which our Blessed Savior has ordained for our spiritual comfort both here and hereafter, I shall feel that there is one at the Altar who will think of me and wish me there, and whose fervent prayers will find audience at the throne of Grace for one who stands in need of all that Grace and Mercy.
My dear wife, I go to sea thinking with an overflowing heart of you, of our sweet angel, and of all our dear friends, but when I reflect that such are the dear ones that I leave behind, who love me and each other, I take courage again, and feel thankful in spirit that I have so much to comfort me during my absence. May our Heavenly Father in his merciful goodness, bless and preserve them all to welcome and gladden my return.
I retired at half past eleven last night, commending my wife and child and all who are near and dear to me to the care of our Father in Heaven, and I rose at half past five and am now preparing a hurried letter to send on shore by Mr. King who is coming off to breakfast with the bills for the medicines. I went on shore for the last time on Monday and made several calls, leaving cards. The extreme heat has since kept me aboard. We are towed to Hampton Roads today or, more probably tomorrow. Commodore Hout visits the ship at 11 today. We shall stay two or three days in the Roads; [then] proceed to Southampton to get letters, and communicate with our minister in London, and then go to Bremen. We shall reach Southampton by October 1st and Breman by October 15th, and by the 1st November leave for Lisbon. Our going to Copenhagen will depend on the weather probably.
I wrote to Mary on the 29th and to Mother last night telling them you will communicate any intelligence you could obtain from Mr. Mason about writing. Direct to care of U.S. Consul at Bremen. Write to Southampton after I have been gone a week or ten days, and to Bremen as late as October 10th or 12th for it takes the steamer 17 days to Bremen.
I acknowledged the caps by Mr. Carter and all the letters up to the one on Tuesday.
I told you in my last of our party on board. Mr. Stockton expects Mr. Hurst to take her. Mrs. Hoff went wit her two children yesterday to N.Y. Field has not been dropped from the list. The Assistant Surgeons have got two of the cockpit ____ by _____ of Commodore Skinner. He says they have no claim, but he sees no reason why they should not have them, but that he would never consent to a watch office as a lieutenant, or passed midshipman living in the cockpit, on account of carrying lights there to call him to his watch. Commodore Warrington (now at NOrfolk) says that our 6th Lieut. is a supernumerary and is not entitled to a room anywhere. The Captain is satisfied with Commodore Skinner’s decision. He had placed the purser’s clerk and captain’s clerk in two of the rooms, and had intended the other two for the two senior _____ mid___ if the department had not otherwise decided.
You ask about Carter. He appears very gentlemanly and correct. He is on duty aboard. My reason for wishing you to pay your letters is that I find difficulty in refunding the hotel keeper who sends them off. Williw is well.
Love to Kate and Julia and to your mother. Kiss our sweet Charles.
May God bless my ever dear and sweet wife, — G.C.
We go to breakfast at 8. It is now 7½. We are not to get Felix Jones. We will get a servant from the crew. I have fallen and the bad habit of shaving.
TRANSCRIPTION OF LETTER TWO
Addressed to Mrs. Clymer, Washington D.C.
U.S. St. Lawrence, Hampton Roads
Monday 11 A.M., September 4th 1848
How dearly I love to write and receive letters from my own sweet’ lovely wife, who is always in my thoughts and heart. By an hour after this time, you will see Mr. Hurst with my letter of yesterday. He leaves Mrs. Stockton at Bowman’s to take a run of a few hours to Washington to see his Dulcinea (as Mrs. Stockton told me just now 00 I use his language).
Mr. Hatch, of Norfolk, our provisioner, came down in the Osiris (leaving Norfolk at 8) with fresh grub for our mess for several days. He was aboard by 9 ½ with all the letters and papers. Thank you, my sweet wife, for your letter of Saturday; your letter of Friday having come duly to hand yesterday morning. I regret, indeed, your mother’s indisposition and hope that the sickness has now attained its worst and will soon change for the better. Respects to her, my love, and sympathy for her sickness.
Do give our lovely babe, who I feel will be admired and loved wherever she is seen, many affectionate kisses for “papa” who longs to see and kiss his dear little angel. I know that Ellen loves, and will take care of her.
By all means write to me by the Cunard line to Southampton [England] where we shall be October 1st and also in the early part of November on our way to Lisbon. Write to Bremerhaven where we shall be during the last half of October by the Bremen steamer from New York which runs only once or twice a month.
Mr. Stockton ¹ requests that you will communicate to Mrs. Stockton any information you may receive in regard to sending letters. Be particular in directing your letters to her, “Berkley Springs (Bath), Virginia.” There are other Berkley’s in Virginia, hence put in Bath. Thank Cornelia Jones for the lines; they are most beautiful. You can feel their truth and inspiration. I am sorry that you will not get this letter before Wednesday for Mr. Hatch cannot return to Norfolk by the Old Point Boat till three or four 0’clock — too late for the two o’clock mail for days.
There is no sickness at Norfolk. The troops at Old Point (the regulars from Mexico) have had typhoid fever (ship fever, not yellow fever I presume) for three weeks. It is on the decline. Some time ago, ten or a dozen deaths occurred daily. Mrs. Stockton will return to Washington via the 1st to the middle of October, according to the weather. The day before I left Washington, poor Henry asked me quietly for a recommendation. I had almost forgotten it in the multiplicity of subjects I have had to think of. I should have been very sorry to go off without giving it, for he has been a good and faithful servant. I will write it presently, as soon as I shall have have added a pass to the letter I began to my dear mother last night. I do not know whether we get out today or not and I cannot tell in any letter I may send you if it is to be the last. You will know this only by suddenly receiving no more.
I know you love my letters and I know it will be very sad to you when Henry returns from the office without anything in my well known hand. So, my sweet wife, will it be with me when my forenoons are no longer cheered by your dear letters.
Mr. Stockton and myself have a good boy from the crew. He is white. His name is David Anderson. So you can fancy you hear from me, saying, “David, give me the bread &c.” Our 2st, 2nd, & 4th Lieut.’s are married. Baxtor (the 3rd) has been divorced from his second wife. The Master, Purser, & Surgeon, and the two assistants are married, and the senior marine officer (Brook) is a widower.
Do not be surprised if this should be my last [letter]. I presume you wrote on Sunday a line. I hope I may get it. Any later date, I shall not (probably) get.
How very hot and sultry it has been for two weeks.
A kind remembrance to neighbors. Love to your mother, and to Julia, and Kate. Kiss sweet baby. Tell the servants, including Ellen, I remember them all and hope always to hear favorable accounts of them.
Adieu, Adieu, sweet wife. — G. C.
Willie is well and in spirits. He is a worthy fellow, and is very correct in every thing.
My Sweet C. On the voyage across when my mind becomes a little composed, after the confusion of the moment, I will write a kind letter to Mr. Pyne. I shall not forget Charlotte, and I will write to your father from Lisbon to Rio. Meantime, remember me most affectionately to him when you write. I mean to write to Eliza Field. I hope you will write to the dear old lady an affectionate line which she may receive on the 15th. Join my best love with yours to her and dear Molly. — G.C.
TRANSCRIPTION OF LETTER THREE
St. Lawrence, Hampton Roads
Tuesday Morning, 10½ September 5th 1848
My Dear Wife,
Half an hour since the steamer from Norfolk to Old Point put on board our letters and among them one from my dear mother of Saturday 2nd, the other from my dear wife of Sunday afternoon & evening; both farewell letters. Both assure me, to my great happiness, of health — an assurance dear to me at parting.
The ship is now getting under way and unless the wind dies away, will stand right out to sea. Otherwise she may have to come to anchor in Lynhaven Bay. Yesterday afternoon, too late for the sail, I sent up to Norfolk a hasty letter to you with one to my dear mother and it is quite uncertain whether I can send this before afternoon. That depends on whether the steamer comes alongside on her return. If she comes, it will be in a few minutes. Hence, my great haste.
I have only time to thank you for your affectionate letter and to offer my sincere prayers for your health & happiness. Kiss baby. Love to your mother. Remembrance to neighbors. You ought to have got a letter on Sunday.
Ever affectionate, your find husband, – G. C.
I send a line to mother. Mr. Stockton sends kind regards.
TRANSCRIPTION OF LETTER FOUR
U.S.S. St. Lawrence
Outside of Hampton Roads at anchor
4 P.M. September 5th 1848
My own sweet wife and child,
I wrote the enclosed very hastily as we were getting underway this morning with a fair prospect as the pilot said of going straight to sea. But, true to the variableness of the winds, no sooner had we got well out beyond the fort than the wind came out dead ahead and we were obliged to come to again. So we anchored at 1 o’clock outside the rip raps, waiting a change of wind. Mr. Hatch, who brought out our letters this morning, leaves us at 5 for Norfolk and will take this — he going in the boat for Old Point. You know as well as I do when we shall get to sea. Perhaps tonight, perhaps tomorrow.
I was with you in heart and in spirit all day on Sunday. I thought of my sweet wife every moment and knew every sentiment and feeling of her heart. Oh! how I do long to be with my dear wife and child once more. They are my happiness and I am always with them in thought and in affection.
I do not expect you to write again. You have written, I presume, your last letter.
We have a large mess and harmonize admirably. The Capt. [Hiram Paulding] dined with us today. I shall [write a] post script to my dear mother.
Ever affectionately, my sweet wife and child, your, — G.C.
TRANSCRIPTION OF LETTER FIVE
Friday 7 A.M.
September 8th 1848
Truly the Pilot Letter
My dear Mary,
At 6 this morning, all hands were called to get the ship under way; the wind having hauled round to the Northward and Westward. We are now (7 a.m.) under sail, as I know by the careen of the vessel. It is a fine, bright day, emblematic, my dear wife, of our hopes for the future and our experience of the past; for our married life has been full of happiness, as, in the the good providence of God, do we both pray and believe that it will continue to be to its close. Farewell, sweet wife; and let us dwell on pleasant memories and bright hopes; for our path has been strewed with flowers and we have everything to be thankful for.
The Captain told me last night that his directions to his family were to write to him at Southampton, not later than two weeks from the present time; after that to Lisbon, where he expects to be in November, and where he means to lie sometime, after which he goes to Cadiz, to return to Lisbon, and in the spring to the North Sea, and Baltic as far as Chronstadt. From Southampton, he goes to Mense [?], but, probably not to Copenhagen this fall. He does not direct his family to write to Mense; and he can give the officers no promise that he will travel at Southampton after leaving Mense. He may find it expedient to do so, but he cannot be certain of it now, and hence says nothing about it. His orders leave a good deal to his discretion and he will be governed by circumstances, which he cannot at present foresee.
You will get a double letter from me tomorrow, but I do not know whether this will be mailed in time for you to receive it at the same time. I must break off to write a line to my dear mother. Give my love to your mother, Julia, and Kate. Kiss most affectionately our sweet little angel, and remember me to our neighbors, Ellen & the servants.
May our Heavenly Father continue in his merciful goodness to preserve and bless, now and forever, my dear, dear wife, ever prays her devotedly affectionate husband, — G. C.
We are fairly off and fairly out at last, beyond a doubt, notwithstanding it is Friday. Adieu, dear wife. — G. C.
¹ Possibly Robert F. Stockton. He didn’t resign from the Navy until May 1850.