1850: James Martin to Jones Perkins Veazie

Baltimore Harbor in 1850 by Fitz Hugh Lane

This letter was written by 38 year-old James Martin, a native of Scotland and residing with his wife and children in Bangor, Maine, in 1850.

Martin wrote the letter to his employer, merchant ship owner Jones Perkins Veazie (1811-1875) of Bangor, Maine, whose family was in the lumber business. In significant detail, Martin relates to Veazie his difficulties in getting underway from Baltimore to their destination (Panama) with the Brig “Brant.” An article appearing in the 15 May 1850 issue of the Charleston Courier summarizes the difficulty as follows:

Baltimore, May 11. From Swan Point, where she has been at anchor about a month, Br. ship Brant, for Panama. The detention of this vessel was in consequence of the difficulty in retaining a crew; since she left this port several crews have been shipped and deserted her.

Martins’ letter reveals that six crew members threatened a mutiny giving “various reasons” that he considered “unreasonable.” Before Martin could have the men arrested, however, the six had stolen a boat from the vessel and escaped to Havre de Grace, Maryland, leaving the crew short-handed and delaying their departure until Riggers could be found and hired.

Stampless Letter

Addressed to Jones P. Veazie, Esq., Bangor, Maine

On board Ship “Brant” off Cape Henry
Wednesday, May 15th 1850

Jones P. Veazie, Esq.
My dear sir,

You will no doubt rejoice to hear that the Brant is at last heading out to sea & that we are about to part with our Pilot [boat] & all that attaches us to to that to us a most unlucky spot Baltimore. The first fair wind we had to leave Swan Point after your father left us was on Monday ____ 6th _____ at 5 of May. The crew were ordered to weigh the anchor when they to a man refused doggedly hiving various reasons, all however, equally unreasonable. Our first impulse was to turn to haul up & flog two or three of the apparent ringleaders, but after taking into consideration the result of the first disturbance & the measures they adopted, and the great odds against us (about four to one), we thought it more advisable to rig a sail on one of the boats & go up to town & procure strength sufficient to force the crew to take the anchor with them & keep them on board. The Captain, myself, the carpenter, & a boy put off in the boat intending to beat up to Baltimore or to fall into the track of a steamer bound up or a sail craft in ____ to blow very fresh & we beat about the bay all day unable to do anything. At night, put back to the ship.

Early next morning (Tuesday the 7th), the Captain & myself went aboard a Bark bound up & on her we arrived at Baltimore about 8 o’clock evening, went direct to the British Consul’s who agreed with us in the idea of procuring eight to ten policemen & forcing the crew to duty, but he would not give us a letter to the Captain of Police before taking time to consider the matter. I urged upon his the necessity that existed for extreme & immediate action & told him that we would go out to Mr. [Henry] Mankin’s & call upon him again on our way back when I hoped that he would be ready to render in every facility in his power. We went & saw Mr. Mankin who highly approved of our plan. He took his carriage & brought us down to town, went to the Consul with us, to the Police Office, assisted in making an arrangement with the Capt. of Police. It was 8 o’clock the following morning before we could procure a boat & get the men together & start for the ship.

I shall pass over all our minor difficulties & at once bring you to the great one. On our arriving at the ship, you may imagine our sad mortification to learn that six of the seamen & the cook had cut away the boat used by us the preceeding morning & decamped about ½ past 5 o’clock Wednesday. The officers had kept a strict watch upon them during the night, regularly relieving each other & saw no signs of the men attempting to take the boat and they say that they did not for a moment imagine that there was then any danger. They saw them when only a few yards from the ship. After caulking another boat, the Mate, Second Mate, & Carpenter went after them expecting at least to recover the boat. Oh! what a dilemma I put myself in. If we were in a bad fix before, we were a thousand times worse off then. The balance of the crew went to work at once after the others left stating that they would not have joined the mutineers had they not threatened to murder them should they even stand aloof. The men that left knew the six that now shipped under the mast before the Gen. ² & I arrived at Baltimore & were no doubt the ringleaders in the disaffection. Oh! I was almost ready to die under such an accumulation od misfortune. I at once, however, resolved to procure some Riggers, weigh anchor, & proceed down the bay, & for that end left the Capt. on board & repaired to Baltimore. Agreed with five Riggers at ___ per day to assist in taking the ship to a safe anchorage off Norfolk in order to ship seven men there as it was impossible to procure them in Baltimore. On Thursday morning, the 9th, give five dollars for a small ship to put myself & the Riggers on board, bot aboard about 3 P.M., immediately weighed anchor, the wind fair, & made about 40 miles down the bay that night, came to again at 10 o’clock that night, the wind changing.

About 8 o’clock next morning, the wind again veered round [and] we weighed & made an excellent run down the Bay on Friday, the 10th — about 100 miles. Came too again about 10 o’clock that evening. Next morning, Saturday, the 11th, again weighed & made only about 6 miles, the wind baffling, thick rainey weather, & came to anchor about 20 miles from the Cape, & about 30 miles from Norfolk. And with little prospect of soon getting there, I felt if possible worse than I had ever before. I declare, I could neither sit nor stand, & my trouble seemed to have reached their very climax. There I was, these Riggers on my hand & probably might remain so for some days. I was not even certain of being able to procure men at Norfolk, did I get there. About 4 o’clock on Saturday afternoon, I was in the cabin pondering over my affliction when the Pilot came running down crying out that a Pilot boat was in sight. We immediately signaled him to run down to us. The Mate & myself & the Riggers went on board. They (the Pilot’s) were bound to “Point Comfort” where a steamboat runs to Norfolk & to Bath. We no sooner got on board the Pilot boat than it appeared to me as if Providence was beginning to smile upon us. A fresh & fair wind sprang up & the Pilot boat carried us to Point Comfort — a distance of 16 miles in 1½ hours & just in time to put our Riggers on board the steamer for Norfolk, both steamers being only weed day boats. This arrangement saved us two days pay for the Riggers & their board.

The Mate & myself got into Norfolk at half past 8 o’clock evening, Saturday, went direct to a shipping Master, & had the consolation of knowing that our prospect was good for obtaining men. I went to Mr. Mankin’s on the morning I last left Baltimore & procured from him a letter of credit to enable me to ship the men. I called upon his friend on Monday morning to who I gave my draft on Mr. Mankin for $186.55, being amount of advance & shipping men. He (Mr. Myers) said it was very fortunate that we did not anchor the ship in the Hampton Roads as we would here have been within the jurisdiction of Norfolk & subject to entry & clearance at their Custom House & Consul’s fees &c. &c. We made all dispatch, engaged a little schooner for $10 to put us & men on board the ship — a distance of over 30 miles. We sailed from Norfolk at half past one & reached the ship at half past ten Monday evening, wind ahead, & continued so during all Tuesday the 14th & up to one o’clock today, Wednesday the 15th, when  under a light, but fair wind we weighed & it gives me much pleasure to say that the gallant ship with a fair wind in now heading out to sea, and the Pilot will shortly leave us to prosecute, I hope, our onward course rapidly & successfully. And after all our almost unsurmountable trials & difficulties, every thing now promises fair for a happy voyage, & if there is any truth at all in the old adage, “That a hard beginning is a good one” success in our case must be sure. And after all, I feel compelled to reiterate your father’s remark to me on our first nearing the ship. Never mind, says he, “Martin, she is worth all the money yet.”

I asked Mr. Mankin to write to your father when I last saw him which I hope he did as I had not a moment to spare. Mr. Mankin cheered me up under my troubles by such statements as these, “Keep up good heart, Mr. Martin. I have reason,” says he, ” to believe that all with you will yet come out very well and that the loss of these six men who seem to have been the ringleaders in the disaffection will after all be actual gain & that these troubles will work out for you some lasting benefit which at present you may not be able to perceive.” I have wrote to Mr. Mankin giving him a list of the names of the Deserters as also of those men shipped at Norfolk requesting him to report them to the British Consul at Baltimore so that should it be necessary he may advise the Consul of Panama. Mr. Mankin thought that he, in connection with the Shipping Master, might be able to make something out of the Deserters. It is a pity that men should so act here with impunity. The little steamer that brought in the Policemen down to the ship towed out with us a large schooner bound for San Francisco and dropped her about ten miles from Baltimore & when I repaired in the evening, she had put back to Baltimore in consequence of a row on board. Something similar occurred on board a schooner & on board another ship. The officers resorted to the same measures that were taken by us. They procured some policemen, flogged three or four of the crew when they at once went to work & all became subordinate, and had we been able to have taken our anchor, we would soon have cured our crew of their rebellious spirits. Men have a very different idea of the nature of insubordination while the ship is at anchor than making at sea, but as it is we must only now make the most out of all our misfortunes.

I shall, if spared to settle with the remaining insubordinates deduct from their wages the expenses incurred in consequence of the last disturbance and you may depend upon iy when we reach our ports of destination, we shall keep a vigilant eye upon them & that we shall profit by experience and at no time will we trust them farther than we can see & handle them. The Captain (poor man) seems now to manifest considerable anxiety that all may go on well, and desires me to say to the Gen. that no pains nor labor on his part will be spared to render the enterprise a happy & prosperous one & to make you know from your father, is a strenuous, active, & very willing officer & I think will do his best to make things go on well. The 2nd Mate & carpenter are excellent men and they with the principal part of the crew are willing & well affected, so that now our hopes & prospects are fair for a happy termination to the voyage.

I should have mentioned if I have not done so, that the Mate had to return to the ship without the boat stolen by the deserters, but discovered that she was at Havre de Grace. I have given Mr. Mankin in my letter to him a description of the boat desiring him to send for & sell her. Please to let William read this letter to my children to whom I have simply addressed a few lines with our Pilot. My warmest regards to your father, Mr. Dermett & Capt. Young, & with much respect, I am, my dear sir, yours ever truly, — James Martin

P.S. I had waxed & closed this letter but opened it again to say that the ship sails very well & notwithstanding, as the Pilot says, that she draws more water than any other ship he ever knew to leave Baltimore yet. He thinks very few will beat her. — James Martin


¹ Henry Mankin (1804-1876) established a regular line of packets between Baltimore and Liverpool in January 1850.

General Samuel Veazie

² General Samuel Veazie (1787-1868) was the father of Jones Perkins Veazie. The “General” was a tireless entrepreneur. He built ships, a railroad and a bank and influenced legislation in the State of Maine. The Town of Veazie, Maine, was named in his honor.


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