1850: Gilbert Moore Small to Wilson Godfrey

This letter was written by Master Mariner Gilbert Moore Small (1825-1856), the son of Benjamin Small (1785-1828) and Syrena Wakefield (1795-1866) of Machias, Washington county, Maine. He married Eleanor Godfrey Moore (1828-1900) in 1847.

The letter was written from aboard ship in Winyah Bay near Georgetown, South Carolina, as Small awaiting westerly winds and a high tide to cross the bar so that he could sail back to Maine. He does not reveal what his cargo was but at that time, Georgetown was a major exporter of rice. We learn from the letter that his vessel was called The Forest and she drafted 12 feet when full of cargo. We also learn that his owners had recently expressed some displeasure with him as master of the vessel.


Addressed to Wilson Godfrey, Esq., Prospect Harbour, Maine

Georgetown Bar [South Carolina]
April 13, 1850

Wilson Godfrey, Esq.
Prospect Harbour [Maine]
Dear Sir,

I regret to state that I am yet detained at this bar in consequence of a continuation of Easterly winds. I have had two severe gales from the Northeast — one on the 30th ult., & the other on the 12th of April. There has been one chance since I have been here when 3 vessels went over the bar but the one drawing the most water 10’2″, struck heavy on the bar. My pilot — seeing the above mentioned vessel strike, & indeed she lost her headway — we tacked ship but touched once as we pulled away. The Forest is drawing 11 feet. It so happened that when there was a chance to get to sea, there was not water sufficient on the bar & when there is water, the wind is sure to be out & to the Eastward.

Have been here about 3 weeks with a pilot on board. Have a plenty of company. There is two brigs & one schooner here drawing the same draft of water the Forest does. Do not know how much longer we may be obliged to lay here as the wind still continues blowing fresh from the Northeast or rather about E. N. E.

I do not know how it is or why it is but I have had a deal of hard luck this voyage in quite a variety of ways. In the first place, I had a long passage out & a hard one too. Then I was obliged to wait one week for my cargo & about the time I got my cargo coming, it set in rainy weather & detained us about half the time. My mate was taken sick about the time we commenced loading & was obliged to discharge him. About the same time one man run away so I was left pretty short handed & I found it would not answer to hire extra labour much for it rained about half the time & all I could do with men was to look at them if I had employed them so I worked along the best way I could & at last got loaded & down to the bar & here I have been ever since.

A few days since, the cook had one of his fingers broken & it becoming dangerous, I was obliged to carry him to town & leave him. I made out to get two men here out of other vessels so I am now only one short & I believe have crew enough to handle her pretty quick. I have always been taught to believe that “everything is for the best,” but I must confess that I am obliged to summon all reverence for religious principles that I am able to command in order to believe that good old saying to be true sometimes this voyage. However, be that as it may, I am the last one to be discouraged & I am determined to press along in as much as I am able & do all in my power both for the vessel & myself.

I half suspect that this long cruise will fan the dissatisfaction which has been somewhat suppressed of late in to a more destructive flame than ever when it becomes known to a part of my owners. Perhaps you will think this appears like jealousy. Well there was a time & not long since when I had not the remotest idea that anyone of my owners was in the least dissatisfied with me & would have scorned to have harbored such a thought had I not been beyond a doubt convinced through your kindness & I argue that as they have found so much fault with me as I believe for nothing, why perhaps they will find a reason out of  this long voyage to scandalize me — a reason which may seem plausible to their prejudiced minds. Well all the punishment that I would wish to fall upon those who have spoken so much evil of me is that they might have to pass through & encounter with the same difficulties & obstacles, the same nights of anxiety in some dangerous navigation, or dismal gale of wind or be pressed upon shoals & for hours to be expecting to hear & see the white foam of the mighty ocean breaking over some shoal which would in a moment swallow up the frail vessel with all on board in the awful abyss of eternity. And for all of this, to receive the same pay that I have. I say this is all the punishment I would wish to befall them & so it is, if I were to wish them punished at all, which I am sure I do not & only hope their own consciences will forgive them as freely as I do.

— G. M. S.

I am happy to acknowledge the receipt of your kind letter dated February 21st & would thank you most respectfully for the good advice expressed therein. I would also say to Mother Godfrey that the more I become acquainted with this world, the more I become disgusted with it — the more vividly I appreciate her unselfish kindness & respect.

I was much pleased to learn that William Wood was so friendly towards me & as to his Father, why the man is quite advanced in years & I make great allowance for him. But Capt. William Handy ¹ — a man in the prime of life — for such a man to report & (I sincerely believe) fabricate such a set of falsehoods. For such a man there is no allowance to be made. For such a man there is no excuse to be made. I understand by vessels which have arrived lately that business is on the decrease & that vessels must haul up this summer. It will not do for us to haul up the Forest for she is in good order & can be sailed without a great deal of expense this summer but there is another idea if business is any worse than it has been this winter. I can not sail the vessel on shares & shall be obliged to give her up to someone who can sail on a snugger sale than I can unless I am insured a certain amount per month. For I must live & pay my debts & will if I am obliged to give the vessel up to someone else & go mate with him.

I have some hopes of getting to sea tomorrow as it seems to light up in the West now.

I noted that you stated that I need not insure anymore on freight for the vessel & accordingly will not. I make a practice of insuring or rather shall ensure pretty highly on freight on my own account as there is so many accidents & so many vessels lost. I do not know as this will be mailed for a week or more as there is no office & I depend on the pilots mailing of it. I hope this may find you all well. As for myself, I never enjoyed better health than now.

Yours truly, — Gilbert M. Small

¹ Capt. William Handy (1829-1875) — a master mariner — of Washington county, Maine.



Griff View All →

My passion is studying American history leading up to & including the Civil War. I particularly enjoy reading, transcribing & researching primary sources such as letters and diaries.

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