[Manuscript Journal of a Boston Merchant]. Ralph Haskins.

[Manuscript Journal of a Boston Merchant].

Boston, Providence, New York and elsewhere, June 1803-April 1809. Folio, tan paper spine with blue paper over boards. 132 pages of manuscript entries, 40 blank pages.

Manuscript journal of a Boston merchant—an uncle of Ralph Waldo Emerson—illuminating trade, shipping, and life in Boston during the early years of the American republic.

Ralph Haskins, born in Boston on April 5, 1779, was apprenticed to Theodore Lyman, a well-established merchant, at a time when Boston was a leader in the Northwest fur trade and the China trade. At the age of twenty-one, Haskins was put in charge of cargo for one of Lyman’s expeditions and spent almost three years aboard the ship Atahualpa, engaged in trading furs for goods from China. During this time he kept a detailed journal, excerpts of which were later published.

After returning to Boston, Haskins at first continued a business arrangement with Lyman. Within a few years it was terminated, however, and he began to trade on his own. The present journal begins in August 1803, six months after his stint on the Atahualpa. It offers an engaging first-person account of the period during which United States commerce was conducted largely by sea. As someone who bought and sold goods that were transported by ship, Haskins faithfully records the departures and arrivals as well as the loading and unloading of brigs and sloops on the Boston wharves. In the course of his journal he mentions sixty-eight vessels by name, some only once and others numerous times:

March 8th 1804. Little John floated for the first time for some days. Bent sails & made her ready for sea. The Charles…arrived from Kennebunk with a load of lumber & haul’d in to the end of the wharf & began to unload. Mr. Keating’s schooner Friendship arrived from the West Indies with sugar, coffee…The packet Trott arrived yesterday from Liverpool—remarkable short passage of 19 days. A few of the goods Bromfield is purchasing have come in her. There are two vessels arrived at Salem from Calcutta—120 days—Mercury had not then arrived there.

January 29th 1805. Wind NE. Snowstorm continues and the weather grows colder. News of ship Favorite who sailed from here for Lisbon on Saturday being lost, near our light house, was rec’d this day. There is also a vessel from Martinico lost.

January 30th 1805. Wind NW, fair day. News from Plymouth is received of the loss of the ship Hybernia & cargo—with 11 out of 12 men that were on board. Also two other vessels are lost near her. One supposed to be the Ceres—a very fine new ship belonging to Webber & Page and the other supposed to be a Spanish brig. All three of these vessels sailed from here last Saturday morning.

At the age of twenty-five, Haskins becomes a partial owner of a ship to be built in Maine. Delivery of the ship was not without problems, but Haskins is, eventually, very pleased:

11th. Rec’d a letter from Plymouth saying that a new ship anchored off Gurnett on Sunday afternoon lost an anchor in the night—sent on shore for one on Monday & on the boat’s returning with one at night the ship was gone. They supposed for Cape Cod harbor. We instantly on receipt of this intelligence engaged Cole with his pilot boat to run down to Cape Cod with an anchor & cable which we borrowed from Mr. Wm Parsons. The boat sailed at 11 PM…We are very anxious.

13th. About 1 o’clock this morning the ship Aristides arrived & anchored…She is a handsome ship & a good ship—and answers my expectations. Gridley it is said will lose money by building her.

Once the Aristides is delivered there are a number of later references to it, including its departure for Rotterdam and Russia.

Haskins apparently traded in a number of different goods. Rum and other alcoholic beverages are mentioned, as well as molasses, salt, flour, and so on. A few of his business dealings seem fraught with difficulty, and he notes in particular a dispute with Lyman:

April 6th 1805. All the afternoon was lost at Mr. Lyman’s counting room. I was under the painful necessity of talking very plain to him—and expect he will cheat me out of my third of brig Little John which he seems inclined to do.

July 26th 1805. Settled my a/c with Mr. Lyman and finished it forever. He made me pay 1/2 of the wharf rent—say 262.50—& an int. a/c say 502.26—calculated at 10%—which was more than I expected. And he refused to allow me anything for a charge I had made of commissions on fitting out a number of vessels…Notwithstanding his fleecing me out of all this I thought it better to settle with him than to commence a lawsuit—which he insisted upon it he would suffer sooner than pay more.

Haskins records leaving Boston only a few times, including one trip to New York and Philadelphia via Providence and Newport. He offers lively descriptions of both people and places on the trip:

April 19th 1805. Walked round about the town of Providence in the morning then took a packet and was 3 3/4 hours going down the river to Newport with a fine Easterly breeze all the way…In the town the buildings are old & inelegant—the situation for a town is very pleasant & handsome but the buz of business is not loud.

21st. On board our packet I had like to forget to mention the company I fell in with as fellow passengers—tis strange what a mix’d medley we sometimes meet with. There was on board one English, 2 Scotch, 2 French, 1 Dutch & 4 or 5 American men and 2 Quaker women—1 of the Americans was a raw foolish countryman, 1 a [illegible] sea captain, one a Methodist minister & 1 or 2 traders—it would be impossible not to meet with a little entertainment & sport among such a company as this.—I forgot to mention Col Wilcox one of our old Revolutionary officers—who contributed his full share to or amusement.

22nd. I walked much thro the City [New York]—I was pleased with some of the streets. Broadway is the most elegant one. At night went to the theater saw “School for Scandal”…I do not think the theater is near so handsome as ours in Boston.

February 7th 1805. At ball in the evening 70 ladies & 60 gents or thereabouts—past quite an agreeable evening. I thought myself superior to those violent love fits which usually assail us from the age of 18 to 21—but I find I still want fortitude. There was a pretty little Miss Wms there that I could not help looking at—particularly as another was absent.

Occasionally Haskins mentions notable events from beyond Boston:

August 20th 1803. The yellow fever prevails in New York—last news 18 new cases 6 deaths in a day.

July 14th 1804. News in town today of a duel between Hamilton & Burr—the former wounded perhaps mortally.

March 4th 1805. The Jacobins are wasting powder—on a/c of the inauguration of their God Jefferson.

One later entry of interest records Native American chiefs visiting Boston:

March 1st 1806 Spring comes in with very cold weather…Indian chiefs in town—were introduced to the Govr, council, Genl Court, Senate, etc. they are of the Osage, Sac & other tribes.

An unusual and intriguing aspect of the journal is a handful of entries in a foreign or invented language, possibly an amalgam of languages or a trade language he picked up during his years sailing the Pacific. For example, he writes on May 18, 1805:

Yesterday I rec’d a letter from Mr. Hart [?] containing information on an interesting subject—very decisive. Eena coosoo cum lux—anni coosoo kesek D. quan coosoo annis keelily ogo howinee eena annis tzar—uski uwon peshack.

The journal ends in 1809, although after 1806 the entries are briefer, more sporadic, and more difficult to read. Perhaps Haskins found that he lacked the time to write after, in 1809, he became part owner of a distillery. He continued trading for a number of years before eventually retiring from business and devoting himself to his real estate properties and to farming the land he bought in Roxbury, Massachusetts, where he died on November 9, 1852.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Haskins’ nephew, remembered him fondly in a letter to Haskins’ son David:

Your father was the admired brother of my mother. I learned from her that I was named Ralph for him,—he being at that time far absent in the Pacific Ocean. Great was her joy in his safe return home ; and he met her affection by careful interest and advise in her affairs from year to year. His house was to my brothers and myself a joyful place. I recall many visits to it, particularly Roxbury. I confess, too, that I was proud of his manly beauties in the Boston Hussars, and which I think he never lost.

A compelling glimpse into the business life of a notable young Bostonian in the early 19th century.

REFERENCES: Haskins, David Greene. Memoir of Ralph Haskins. Cambridge: John Wilson & Son, 1881.

CONDITION: Two leaves of text excised, another loss of half a leaf, three leaves clipped at bottom with loss of text, one leaf with strip torn out across center.

Item #2100

Price: $1,950.00

See all items in Autographs & Manuscripts
See all items by