Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Miller Seward, August 12, 1857

  • Posted on: 29 July 2022
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Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Miller Seward, August 12, 1857



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Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Miller Seward, August 12, 1857

action: sent

sender: William Seward
Birth: 1801-05-16  Death: 1872-10-10

location: Mingan Island, Canada

receiver: Frances Seward
Birth: 1805-09-24  Death: 1865-06-21

location: Auburn, NY

transcription: tap 

revision: jxw 2022-02-20


Page 1


Editorial Note

This letter was originally enclosed in a letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Adeline Miller Seward, written August 10, 1857.
Wednesday morning August 12th 1857
Mignan Harbor, Labrador –
Of all the experiences of August we beg that hereafter we may not have a recurrance
of this one in the 50th degree of North latitude. Notwithstanding the promise of yesterday
morning it was not until noon that we reached the anchorage at Mignan and
by that time a cold wet North Easter had set in. As we looked off towards
the coast the question was whether Anna
Birth: 1834-03-29 Death: 1919-05-02
should go ashore in the rain with her pro-
tectors. It was decided in the affirmative by herself, on the ground that it was ne-
cessary to get warm. We found the town on the beach to consist only of the Agent
Birth: 1811 Death: 1859
the Hudson Bay Company and his servants and laborers. These consist of a clerk, a farmer
a cooper a carpenter & a blacksmith with a domestic or two. But there is not a woman
at the station and the Agent pronounces Anna the only white woman who was ever
here. Her appearance of course is a marked event in this great country, there
is a rude and wretched looking Catholic Chapel just leavened from the old
one founded by the earlier missions for the conversion of the Indians. Along the
coast near the chapel there are the poles which have served to uphold the
birch bark tents or wigwams of the Indians recently. We learn that in May
June and July the Indians from the unbroken wilderness of the North gather here
to bed at the station. Then a missionary arrives and the church is opened. Before
the first of August the treaty is finished the church is closed and the missionary
disappears. The Indians at that time scatter into the forest to gather beaver
otter and mink and other peltries during the autumn & winter and do not
return until the next year. You will learn something about the polity
that prevails here from the fact that the Indians their roving and wretched
contributed to rebuild their chapel with the aid of $2000 given to that object
by the Hudson Bay Company.
Mr Henderson the agent has a very plain square red house
without carpets or other modern furniture. a huge stove, a vast wood hill
a garden in which only the rhubarb plant the onion and the potatoes
grow and then are only at the maturity they reach by the middle of
Page 2

June in our latitude. Hay is just being cut and is laid in place when the wind has
cleared the shores. It was quite pleasant to find green house plants in the
rooms of the agency, a rose and a geranium in full flower, and ever that
tropical luxury a cage of canary birds, but it was sad to think that as we
were informed they do not sing neither can they rear their young ones.
Mr Henderson built up a generous fire and we got ourselves warm and
dry. Hardly had we reached our schooner for dinner then a boat came off to
for a whale lying in the Harbor – It brought us a fine present of a dozen
more trout newly caught. The whaler is from Gaspe

a port on the South
Coast of the St. Lawrence. The oarmen were athletic spirited fellows, amongst
them a young tall Indian
one of the finest specimens of mankind I ever saw.
After dinner Fredrick
Birth: 1830-07-08 Death: 1915-04-25
and I went to t with them to their schooner a
vessel of 40 tons with a crew or ships company of fifteen persons
. They
have been about a fortnight without getting a barrel of ril of oil. They repre-
sent that they have struck four and killed at least one huge whale.
That this first drew them so roughly and so fast by their two lines attached
to the harpoon that they were obliged to cut the line. They doubt not that he
is dead and they came over to us as they hail any vessel that
overtakes them to inquire whether we had seen their lost whale.
Only think of people looking up a whale lost as Mrs. Worden
Birth: 1803-11-01 Death: 1875-10-03
of any body that passes by her for her lost spectacles. The Whalers were
merry joyous men. T[ h ]


Reason: hole
ey regaled us with Jamaican Rum and sent us back
to our schooner with a notable salmon speared by the Young Indian
fisherman. After fishing an hour or two and making another visit to the
Agency Fred and I went ashore on the Island lying under our lee and
gathered some beautiful lichens some native blue bells and some
sea shells – We have or had just one bottle of brandy when we left
Quebec. We had entertained the whalers with it during their visit. Just
as the day was closing wet and cold a boy
came up to us from
a Nova Scotia fisherman lying near by, with an empty bottle and
Page 3

hailing me as as the Owner and Master of this craft asked me if I had
grog to sell. Do not let this get into the organ of the Know
Nothings. It would break the hearts of those who sigh already de
profundis over the store of William B. Rhoades
Birth: 1834 Death: 1895-11-30
Altogether our prospect of fishing here is not very flattering. Mr
Henderson tells us that the salmon nets are taken up. That we can take
none with our lines because we have not rods, that the mackerel bite
only at the hooks of the Yankees while the cods have taken
offence at something here and last week moved down the river –
to a bar beyond our reach. Still our whaling friends promise us
a chance at the Salmon if the weather will permit. By the way their
luck seems as unpropitious as our own – Last night while I was standing
on deck a whale passed directly between their schooner and
ours, playing most fantastic hydraulic sports, as he moved rapidly
on. I hailed the Captain of the Whaler. He answered that he was
obliged but they could not catch that whale. He went too fast
for them. Doubtless he is off the coast of Anti Costi. If I find him
there he shall have a wide berth before I report him again to his
pursuers. My days fishing resulted in the taking of a rough cod –
and at night we gathered into our cabin, all except Anna wet through
all our garments to the very skin. It poured all night long. With
the aid of the Captain we conquered bed time by playing a game of
whist and then we went to sleep & slept until ten this
morning. It yet rains and is cold & we are obliged to keep in the
Cabin, and to cover our feet with blankets. But thus far we all are well –