Barnum Bolton's Plans


Background Notes

The economy of nineteenth−century New England was closely tied to the sea and many young men who lived close to the coast made their living as sailors, fishermen and whalers. Occasionally a young man from an inland community would choose to follow the sea. One who did so was Barnum Bolton, the son of a farming family in Oakham, a town in central Massachusetts. Bolton had done well, rising to the rank of second officer (third in command) of a merchant vessel. Yet in this letter to his parents, he writes about his dissatisfaction with seafaring and his plans to buy land and live near his brothers. In fact he never did. He spent the remaining years of his life as a sailor and died at the Marine Hospital of the United States in Charlestown, Massachusetts in 1818. Barnum Bolton used almost no punctuation, therefore periods have been added sparingly for readability. His spelling has not been changed.

Transcription of Primary Source

Savannah January 25th 1812

Honoured Parents,

Once more with pleasure after a long absence from you I attempt to write a few lines to let you know that I am in health…We arrived here about 20 Days ago af[ter] a passage of 44 Days from Plymouth Eng[land]. We have Discharged our Ballist and shall…be Reddy for sea in about 20 Days. The ship…is bound to St. Petersburg in Russia and then to Boston and then if I live I shall come to Oakham. I have wrote Several Letters to Abisha [his brother] and have Given him Directions to Buy me some Land for this is the last Voyage that ever I intend to go to Sea for I have got Sick of it. These long voyages when you Ship to go you Dont know when you will Return. When I left Orrinton [Maine] I did not expect to be gone but 4 or 5 months and it will be 20 months before I See it from the time I left home. But I am a Doing verry well Shall make 5 or 6 Hundred Dollars if I have good luck. I still Remain Second Officer on Bord the ship. You may look for me at home the last of September Next for I Shall Sertainly Come home if I live to git to any Part of the Northern States if I can git a Chance from England to Boston I shall leave the Ship when her Cargo is Discharged in Plymouth or Portsmouth for I Cannot bare the thoughts of Running 7000 miles right from home although it is nothing with a fare wind. I am very anxious to here from Some of you for I have heard nothing Since that letter I got in Boston Directed to Oliver [his brother] nor have heard nothing from Oliver nor Abisha Since I left home. I have weighed these matters a great Deal in my mind and there is but a Small family of us only 3 Brothers of us and I mean to live where we can see each other and take some comfort not to be as it [is] now in a heavy Storm a hundred feet in the air a Rooling abot although I Dont think much of it but it is a Dogs life and I Shall Quit it though I am not at all Concerned but what I could have a Chief Mates Birth on Bord a Better Ship than this. If mother is well I Should be glad for her to make me 3 or 4 pair of long Stockings seemed and I will pay her well for it for I cannot get any to do me half the Servise as those She made me. I have got them Trowses [trousers] on now that She made me and the Shirts I set a great deal by they are as good as every they was. I shall conclude in hopes to See you all in the cours of 7 or 8 months no more. This from your loving son Till Death

Barnum Bolton
from the Ship Venus of Hampden

Curator Notes

Probable Date: 
January 25, 1812
Barnum Bolton to Nathaniel and Jane Bolton, January 25, 1812.
Bolton, Barnum
American Antiquarian Society

Nathaniel Bolton Papers, American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts. Edited by Old Sturbridge Village.