Let's Party Like It's 1838 and We Are Train Conductors

Ken Lopez
Posted by Ken Lopez on May 9, 2021 11:18:07 AM

It's 1838, just after Christmas, the Potomac River was frozen solid, and William Coates sat down to pen a letter to his friend and former colleague, Edwin. They had both recently moved from Alexandria, Virginia to seek higher wages. William moved to Richmond, Virginia, Edwin to Philadelphia. William repaired railroads, and Edwin is a similarly situated tradesman.

William is recounting for Edwin a "blow out" party in Richmond:

Mr. Robertson who is superintendent of repairs on our road, gave a blow out on that night. Joe Clements and myself including one or two train captains attended. After partaking of a real Virginia supper consisting of turkey oysters etc., the cloth was removed, and after one balloting, Mr. Watson was elected President and Mr. Joe Clements to assist him as Vice. I don’t know what purpose the company to elect Joe but he made out admirably well and after two or three glasses of wine had been swallowed he astonished the company with his eloquence. My seat being at the right hand of the president I had to drink every toast very deeply or else I was considered out of order by him. We all behaved very well until 6 o’clock when sundry of the company, having been drinking a glass of wine every five minutes for the last three hours, begin to rather too loud for the good of the neighborhood. The empty glasses were lowered with such force, that the brittle glass was broken in more than instance. Mr. Clements gave as his parting toast, the Lady of Virginia, and moved that it should be drank standing and in silence. This last proviso required all of the units of the company to comply with it correctly, for I am going to say that most of the guests were obliged to hold on to their chairs while the toast was drink. Joe, when he proposed it, was thinking of General Washington, but the wine that we had drank made us confound them all together. At length Mr. President having proposed so many toasts and having backed each one with a large quantity of wine became incapable of giving any more and after hearing Old Lang Syne sung with great vigor, we broke up about three in the morning.

It's amazing how little things have changed in 183 years. Wine and song are timeless.

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The entire letter plus transcription is below:

LetterText1

Richmond 28 December 1838

Dear Ned

I have been in daily expectation of receiving a letter from you ever since your removal, but I suppose that you have been waiting for me to fulfill the promise I made you in my last letter. I hope on your receiving this that you will answer it at once, and give a full and minute account of all of your transactions, since your arrival in Philadelphia. Tell me how you like your new shop and how many hands William H has employed? Let me know whether you are an apprentice yet or a saucy Journeyman - how much wages you get too. I hope that the amount of the latter exceeds the paultry $150 per year that we used to get in Alexandria. All these things would interest me very much as I am perfectly ignorant of everything that is going on in your line on Philadelphia.

 

Reeve started from here last Sunday morning for Alexandria where he is completely frozen up, as the navigation in the Potomac is stopped on account of the ice. He has no doubt been spending a very merry Christmas. I suppose have enjoyed yourself greatly. I had hoped two or three weeks back to have been in Charleston at the present time, but all things would not suit. Here in Richmond the people are all crazy when the Christmas holiday arrives. For my part I wish that they were all over. Negros, that have had no clothes for the last six months appear in their new suits in the greatest quantity and all mechanic mechanics stop work until the new year has commenced. For my part I have not seen any pleasures worth speaking about except on last Saturday night. Mr. Robertson

LetterText2

who is superintendent of repairs on our road, gave a blow out in the night. Joe Clements and myself including one or two train captains attended. After partaking of a real Virginia supper consisting of turkey oysters etc., The cloth was removed, and after one balloting, Mr. Watson was elected President and Mr. Joe Clements to assist him as Vice. I don’t know what purpose the company to elect Joe but he made out admirably well and after two or three glasses of wine had been swallowed he astonished the company with his eloquence. My seat being at the right hand of the president I had to drink every toast very deeply or else I was considered out of order by him. We all behaved very well until 6 o’clock when sundry of the company, having been drinking a glass of wine every five minutes for the last three hours, begin to rather too loud for the good of the neighborhood. The empty glasses were lowered with such force, that the brittle glass was broken in more than instance. Mr. Clements gave as his parting toast the Lady of Virginia and moved that it should be drank standing and in silence. This last proviso required all of the units of the company to comply with it correctly, for I am going to say that most of the guests were obliged to hold on to their chairs while the toast was drink. Joe, when he proposed it, was thinking of General Washington, but the wine that we had drank made us confound them all together. At length Mr. President having proposed so many toasts and having backed each one with a large quantity of wine became incapable of giving any more and after hearing Old Lang Syne sung with great vigor, we broke up about three in the morning. Berry was perfectly and fried and to my surprise quoted Shakespeare in great style and beat Mr. President made a speech, the language of which suited the

LetterText3

occasion, but the voice and gestures were evidently word from some jersey quaker preacher.

 

We all get on very smoothly at the depot. We have the little stationary engine up but none of the pulleys and shafts for driving the machinery are ready. All of the latter are in the shop. The shears of one of them weighs 6 ton. The D. Pres is the handsomest I ever saw and it is all finished up in very expensive style. It cost upwards of $1000. I have had very little to do with finishing since I left Alexandria the fitting up of some eccentric rods and cutting some engines is all benchwork this that I had. Tell Fisch to write soon and don’t forget to do so yourself. Same to all of your folks and to Aunt Hannah and Isemain.

 

Very affectionately William S Coats

 

PS tell Sam West if he intends writing me as he said he would, he ought to do so very shortly. I wrote to him when he was in Alexandria but he has not condescended to answer my letter yet.

 

LetterFrontAddress-1

 

William S Coats Richmond 28 December 1838 Mr. Edwin Louis care of Benjamin Howell M. D. 150 S. 3rd St., Philadelphia

Topics: Alexandria, VA, Potomac River, Alexandria, D.C., Philadelphia, PA, William S. Coates, Edwin Lewis, Richmond, VA, Dr. Benjamin Howell, Railroad, People, Things

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