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A Piece from the Cotton Trade Between the North and the South Circa 1852

Updated: Oct 14, 2022

The cotton trade between the North and South was robust in the pre-Civil War era. The Northern textile mills depended on a steady supply and Southern farmers met that demand, relying on enslaved people for the labor to do so. This cover is a small piece of that trade history.

The cover was sent by Edward L. Baker, the treasurer of Wamsutta Mills located in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Wamsutta Mills was founded in 1846 and is a going brand to this day. It is owned by Bed, Bath and Beyond.

Mr. Baker was a prominent businessman in New Beford, the town in which he was born in 1814. He died in 1878, age 63, from injuries sustained in a train accident. The Boston Evening Transcript of April 8, 1878, reported on his death and life:

Mr Edward L Baker of New Bedford, who was injured by the cars at West Stockbridge last Tuesday, died on Saturday. Mr. Baker was a native and prominent business man of New Bedford. He was at one time teller in the Marine (now First National) Bank, and afterward partner with the late William W. Swain in the manufacture of candles. When the project of erecting the Wamsutta Mill was started, Mr. Baker took great interest in the enterprise, and was the first treasurer of the corporation, holding the place for some eight years. He was also for some years a director in the New Bedford & Taunton Railroad and in the Merchants bank. after leaving the treasurership of the Wamsutta Mills he opened a banking office, dealing largely with stocks and bonds. He was also early and actively interested in the Michigan Central, Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, and Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroads. He was for a time in the direction (sic) of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy road. At the time of this death he was looking after his interests in the West Stockbridge Coal Mining Company. He was sixty-three years of age.

The recipient was the cotton merchant of Greenleaf & Hubbard in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Baker Library at the Harvard Business School holds the business records of Greenleaf & Hubbard. That collection includes the following historical note:

James Greenleaf, son of Simon and Hannah (Kingman) Greenleaf, was born June 15, 1814. He attended Dartmouth College. After graduating, Greenleaf moved to New Orleans and in 1851 formed a partnership with Daniel Hubbard who was a commission merchant, specializing in the cotton trade. Greenleaf and Hubbard began their association with John A. Burnham, a Boston-based agent, representing numerous northern textile mills. Greenleaf and Hubbard purchased cotton to meet the needs of mills, negotiated prices and other financial terms, arranged for transportation of cotton from New Orleans to northern ports, and communicated news about the New Orleans' cotton market with mills, manufacturing companies, and their agents.

Greenleaf’s northern family ties were strong. He married Mary Longfellow, daughter of Stephen and Zilpha (Wadsworth) Longfellow. While living in New Orleans, the Greenleafs traveled to Cambridge, Massachusetts, during the summer months to be near their relatives. Eventually, they built a house in Cambridge. Greenleaf was a staunch Union man, so the partnership of Greenleaf and Hubbard dissolved in May 1860 due to tensions preceding the Civil War. At the outbreak of war, Greenleaf’s property in New Orleans was seized, but was restored to him at the close of the hostilities. Greenleaf died suddenly on August 22, 1865.

Interestingly, there seems to be a dearth of information on Daniel Hubbard. I can find his name in New Orleans city directories but nothing else.

The cover was postmarked in New Bedford on October 22 maybe in 1852. That is the year penciled in on the inside of the cover, but I don't know if that is original.

It is stamped with a 3-cent stamp depicting George Washington. Specifically, the stamp is US Scott 11A, which was printed between 1852 and 1855. The stamp has been plated as position 23L3.

Prior to July 1, 1851, it would have cost 10-cents to mail this letter from New Bedford to New Orleans, but due to an act of Congress in 1850, the rate to mail a 1/2-ounce letter up to 3,000 miles was reduced to just 3-cents, effective July 1, 1851.

The stamp is heavily sulfuretted. According to a posting on the US Philatelic Classics Society, "Sulfuretted stamps are stamps with higher concentrations of ferric oxide in the ink formula that have been discolored by exposure to sulfur dioxide (commonly found in air pollutants). Sulfur dioxide (sulfide) exposure converts ferric oxide (found in Venetian Red-based pigments) to ferric sulfate (dark brown." As such, it is impossible to determine the original color of this stamp, which was printed in several hues of red.

This folder letter was acquired in a group of 60 covers at a July 16, 2022, Sterling Stamps auction. The cost for all 60 covers was $170.00 plus a 15% buyers' premium, which works out to about $3.25 per cover.

Figure 1 - Front

Figure 2 - Unfolded envelope

Figure 3 - Unfolded envelope

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