Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Miller Seward, August 20, 1857

  • Posted on: 29 July 2022
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Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Miller Seward, August 20, 1857



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Institution:University of Rochester

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Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Miller Seward, August 20, 1857

action: sent

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

location: Anticosti Island

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

location: Gloucester, MA

transcription: les 

revision: jxw 2022-05-08


Page 1


Editorial Note

Editorial Note: This letter was originally enclosed in a letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Adeline Miller Seward, written on August 19, 1857.
Thursday August 2 AM 1857 Anticosti
Let us finish the whale history before we open a new chapter of natural science
On arriving here in the port & casting anchor yesterday it was voted that we should
go aboard the Schooner that lay near us also at anchor and ask for
some fresh cod mackerel or the like. On getting alongside I accosted the
prominent person
Birth: 1813 Death: 1894-03-09
on deck, and asked him what his schooner was engaged in.
He answered I am kind of Jack of all trades sir confined to no one
thing." "Are you American?" "No I belong to the Island." " Fishing for Mackerel
now, I suppose No, I am the lessee of the island. I set out last week
for Quebec but on the the way I fell in with a pretty large whale and
he being too heavy for my boat to manage I towed him in here into shoal
and am now cutting him up and getting out the oil" He had no fish whatever
but that carcass of a whale which lay off on the lee shore. On our return to our
vessel our lady passenger
Birth: 1834-03-29 Death: 1919-05-02
remarked that that was probably our friend
Captain Coffins


lost whale. From which I magisterially dissented, but she
replied that the proprietor of Anticosti took care to avoid claiming to have
killed or even taken the whale alive. But I said to myself what do women
know about whaling?
After making a dinner with some haste, we embarked again in our small
boat, this time for the House of Refuge on shore, distant two full miles
over a broad and beautiful bay. We found the water quite shallow
but reached the whale's carcass easily lying extended in about 18 inches
depth of water, and half a dozen men
in boats were hacking it to pieces
We rowed around it and observed it carefully. It was sixty six feet long 10
feet longer than our own ship the Eminence. Its thickness must have been 12 or
15 feet. The far or extreme end of its tail was seventeen feet wide. The
odor of the oil infected the atmosphere for a mile around it. On reaching
the shore, we found a neat convenient house kept by a Canadian French
and his family
, all of whom assiduously devoted themselves to us
We ordered tea for half-past 5, that we might go and fish for lobsters with
the low tide. Meantime we strolled over the farm – 50 acres the only
Page 2

land reclaimed from Nature on the Island of Anticosti. The beach of the
bay was common, vulgar. It had no shells no curiosities of any kind
The potato crop had been flourishing but was blighted by the frost on the
previous night. There was a beautiful brook filled with fine trout.
A dozen persons
were cutting the whale-meat into small parcels of a quarter or
half a pound. The oil gushed from these and filled up the vessel. Kettles
were all around us, and nothing was seen heard touched or smelt of
that was not redolent of the great prize. We asked for eggs, butter
vinegar & such like. Our host had them but they were all saved for
the lady that lived up stairs. Occasionally a lady
Birth: 1825 Death: 1897-02-25
appeared on the
balcony or descended from it with her children
and we soon came to
understand that she was a privileged person–but who? We could not learn.
At length tea time came. The lady from up stairs was introduced to us by
the lessee of Anticosti, as his wife, and here the patroon and his family
spend the summer. He was a Scotchman of pleasant address and quite
well informed. His wife agreeable and ladylike. The conversation of course
turned on his great prize. I cautiously told him about how Captain Coffin of
Gaspe had Called on us on our going into Mingan to inquire about
a whale that he had killed and lost, and laughingly said that some
of our party were simple enough to think that this was possibly Capt
Coffins whale. He inquired the date of Capt Coffins report and then very
frankly and magnanimously said beyond a doubt this is the very whale
that he killed. We found it dead and horribly mangled by sharks.
Now I am prepared for being turned over to the marines for credit
to my fish story. But it is true for all that.
I will not set down minute incidents illustrative of life in
Anticosti. How we found two seals mounted as sentries on a great rock
one of the gate ways of the port. Nor how our ladys wardrobe is enriched
by a bottle of genuine bears oil the native product of the island and given by
the mistress of Anticosti herself. But I proceed to the important subject
of our adventures in lobster fishing.
Page 3

At ½ past 6 last night the Frenchman reported that the water was low enough and
summoned us to the fishing Where are we to go?" I asked He pointed to a
series of huge rocks in the water near the opposite shore of the bay two
miles off. Very well. How do we go there Do we walk around on the
beach, Oh no. we ride" Do we row out. Oh no-we ride in a
cart. Which road I asked. Right across through the water. See us then
I, Fredrick
Birth: 1830-07-08 Death: 1915-04-25
, the host and a driver
embarked on the bay in a common
cart drawn by a strong square built black horse. On he went splash
splash and we after him. He understood French well, and obeyed
all commands. At length we reached the fishing ground. The Frenchman
took his stick, to which was attached a codfish hook, and proceeded
to ferret out the lobsters in their retreats under the rocks. He found one
or two under every stone. They clung to the stones or whatever else offered
so tenaciously that often their claws broke off. The horse waded from rock
to rock most patiently, and in an hour or two we filled
our basket with two dozen.
The evening we pleasantly spent with Mr. Corbet and his wife (the
proprietors of the island, and at ten o'clock we retired to comfortable
beds, the first we had enjoyed on shore since we left Quebec.
This morning The lobster-fishing was resumed with no variation except
that Anna was of the party ^and I drove the cart^ , and here we are now on board
the Eminence once more with well replenished stores waiting for the
"fair wind' which has already been adjourned until tomorrow.