A UNIQUE AND HISTORIC ARTIFACT OF THE BRITISH IMPRESSMENT OF AMERICAN SAILORS, ONE OF THE PRINCIPAL GRIEVANCES LEADING TO THE WAR BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES AND GREAT BRITAIN IN 1812.
"Lat. 10. Long 74 [Note: location off the Caribbean coast of South America] on Board the Pethel Sloop of War. I am American Born at Boston aged 26 years. Sailed from New York on Board the Brig Lyon Nov 26, 1805. Nothing Occured worthy of Remark for 14 days after. We lost sight of the Hook when at 6 o'clock in the Evening we was brought to by the above Vesel and after undergoing many Species of Insult myself & three others mainly Frederick Fenton, Simon Alongos & Aaron Stusio, all native Americans were ordered on board which we refused & on so doing was beaten & Kicked into the Boat, was then thrown into Irons for ten days, after which time was brought on Deck & Interrogated if we would enter in his Majesties Service with the Alternative of a good flogging and to live on bread and Water until we should comply with their Imperious mandates, after a short Consultation amongst us we agreed to enter & Embrace the first Opportunity that Occured to free us from the Slavery in which we was involved. Accordingly we Signified our Willingness to become the Tools of the Navy of his Britannic Majesty./Tis impossible to say any more as my watch on Deck is called. I must therefore conclude hoping that some Effectial mode of Redressing the grievances of American Tars will be thought of & put into Execution by our Govt./John Johnston/Jany. 10, 1806."
The accompanying folded transmittal letter is datelined "Collectors Office, Baltimore 10 June 1806" from the Collector of Customs at Baltimore, R. Purviance, to David Gelston, Collector of Customs at New York. It bears a red "Balte. Md. Jun. 9" circular datestamp and ms. "34" rate. The letter reads:
"Sir, The enclosed letter was handed to me this morning by William Jennett, Master of a coasting vessel, who found corked up in a Bottle on Shore, the State of North Carolina./As the writer, as well as the other sufferers, who were Impressed with him, sailed from your Port in the month of November last, in the Brig Lion, I hope you may have it in your power to furnish the necessary proofs for their relief./I have the honor to be very respectfully, Sir, you mo(st) ob(edient) serv(ant), R. Purviance, Coll." The receipt docketing reads "R Purviance 10 June 1806. No discovery can be made."
Accompanied by P.S. No. 6 (Journal of Postal History) featuring the "Bottle Letter".
EXTREMELY FINE. A PICTURE-PERFECT IMPRESSION OF THE MOST SPECTACULAR OF ALL STEAMBOAT MARKINGS.
Our Levi records contain six genuine covers with the pictorial Steamer Rapides handstamp. The clarity of five of the six strikes suggests that the marking was appreciated in its own time and applied very carefully.
VERY FINE. ONE OF 12-14 RECORDED EXAMPLES OF THE NORTHERN LIBERTIES NEWS ROOMS MARKING, WHICH WAS APPLIED TO MAIL HANDLED BY THE SUB POST OFFICE OPERATED BY ANDREW McMAKIN.
Prior to 1854, the Northern Liberties area (north of Vine Street) was outside Philadelphia's city limits. Carriers were used to transport mail between outlying areas and the main post office in Philadelphia. The term Sub Post Office refers to a location where letters could be deposited for delivery to the main post office. The Northern Liberties News Rooms, which advertised its services as early as 1833, established a Sub Post Office in 1835. The proprietor at this time was Andrew McMakin. A news item appearing in the October 10, 1835, edition of the Philadelphia Saturday Courier states: "The enterprising, attentive and indefatigable proprietor of that popular establishment, the Northern Liberties Free Admission News Room, has found the business of his Sub Post Office so much on the increase, as to induce him to prepare a new and appropriate stamp, which we perceive is now imprinted upon all letters deposited at his office." (from research by Elliott Perry and J. William Middendorf). Later advertisements link the Sub Post Office in Northern Liberties with the main Philadelphia post office, which reinforces its status as an authorized drop point for mail.
Debate among postal historians (Perry, Hahn et al) has focused on when the distinctive marking (Type I or II) was applied to letters. Some have argued that it is a press-printed impression applied to lettersheets prior to use and is, therefore, a carrier stamp. In support of the press-printed argument is the consistent orientation of the marking at the left side and at the same degree relative to the paper upon which it is impressed; it would be impossible to apply a hand-held striking device so consistently. Arguing against this press-printed theory are those who cite the effects of folds on the markings and impressions thru the paper, physical evidence that proves the marking was applied after the lettersheet had been folded. Our opinion is that the markings were applied after the letter was folded and given to the Sub Post Office, but that a mechanical device -- similar to a corporate seal -- was used to make the impression. Each letter, when inserted into the device along the guides, would receive the impression in the same relative position and orientation, not unlike a three-hole paper-punch device commonly used today.
In summary, historical evidence supports the status of the Northern Liberties News Rooms Sub Post Office as an official carrier drop point for mail to the main Philadelphia post office. However, physical evidence refutes the claim that these lettersheets were sold to patrons as stamped stationery to indicate prepayment of the carrier fee; the marking is better classified as an elaborate and mechanically-applied indication of letter handling.
Calvet M. Hahn records between 12 and 14 examples of Type I (some duplication of items is possible).