Sibling Rivalry on The High Seas of 19th-Century Alexandria and Boston

Ken Lopez
Posted by Ken Lopez on May 21, 2021 11:41:55 AM

One hundred seventy-two years ago, Zachary Taylor was sworn in as president, the California gold rush was just starting, and the ship the Antelope was passing through Alexandria, Virginia, on its way to the Caribbean. A seaman on board that ship paused long enough to pen a very condescending letter to his brother in Boston, a fellow mariner.

I'm dismayed by how this man speaks to his brother. I do not have experience with this sort of sibling rivalry neither as a sibling nor as a father of 13-year-old triplet girls. Of course, I've seen how it plays out in adulthood. The competitive behavior taught in youth leads to adults who compete reflexively with friends, family, and colleagues. Here are some choice lines from the letter laden with backhanded compliments, aspersions, and overall pretentiousness:

"I was happy to hear of your safe arrival but think that you made a mistake when you left Manila."

"Your determination to follow the sea may be a wise one. You ought to be a fair sailor by this time if you have paid any attention to the thoughts pertaining to a seaman’s duty. But I fear that your physical frame is too small to contain the strength necessary to become a usable seaman . . ."

"As for myself I am fairly set out for life, and I’m perfectly satisfied with my success thus far."

I don't believe the Antelope mentioned here is the notorious 1802 enslaved person ship of the same name. The horrific story of that vessel is well known and well described. By 1849, when this letter was written, it was thirty years after the U.S. Supreme Court case involving that ship, and the ship had been renamed. Indeed, many ships sailed under the name Antelope. I think this may be the speedy ship built for the opium trade described below and pictured above:

Another clipper in the China trade was the brig "Antelope," of 370 tons, built in 1843 at East Boston by Samuel Hall, for Russell & Co. The "Antelope" and her captain were very popular, and no vessel could be unloaded or refitted in port until the "Antelope" was cared for. She, and the "Brenda," "Zephyr," "Mazeppa," "Ariel," and others, were Russell & Co.'s fastest opium clippers, and soon enabled the company almost to control the opium trade with China. [pdf]

I really can't read the first names of either brother. Their last name is clearly Kingman. The transcription of the letter and the images of it are below interspersed with one another below.

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KingmanLetter-p1

 

Alexandria, April 9, 1849

 

Brother Lussi

 

Your kind favor of the 23rd ulti was duly received. I was happy to hear of your safe arrival but think that you made a mistake when you left Manila. Although I doubt not but that you was very desirous of getting home as soon as possible; Not knowing any of the circumstances by which you _____, more or less, controlled, I do not wish to pass judgment;

 

Your determination to follow the sea may be a wise one. You ought to be a fair sailor by this time if you have paid any attention to the thoughts pertaining to a seaman’s duty. But I fear that your physical frame is too small to contain the strength necessary to become usable seamen, at present, if you intend to go to sea again you should lose no time for this is the season to go and by the time winter comes you will get more used to this northern clime and better able to withstand its storms, which

 

KingmanLetter-p2

 

I assure you are neither fair nor light. As for myself I am fairly set out for life, and I’m perfectly satisfied with my success thus far. I am in a good craft and wish us good a man as ever used a trumpet and I trust that when I come to Boston again I shall be competent to go mate of any craft. You are doubtless aware that I am mate of the Antelope.

 

We are to sail in a day or two/provided it shifts naming 20 that we can finish heading for Barbados and from hence I know not where, perhaps Havana. Perhaps to some other port in Cuba, or some other island, so that there is no use in writing me, at present.

 

You will give my respects to all the “folks“ and accept for yourself my best wishes

 

I remain your affectionate brother

 

NE Kingman

 

KingmanLetter-env

 

Mr. L.F. Kingman

Care Niles Henry Lincoln + Co

Boston Mass

Topics: Alexandria, Virginia, Boston, MA, Antelope (ship), Havana, Cuba, Kingman, Barbados, Shipping

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