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A Sudden and Unexpected Death

Updated: Oct 11, 2022

Prior to the Postal Act of 1845, rates to send mail through the US postal service were complicated to calculate, and some people opted to send mail via private mail carriers. These private carriers often charged lower rates, as well.(i)

One of the largest private mail carriers was Hale & Company, which had offices in Boston, Philadelphia, and Detroit. It delivered mail to more than 140 different towns. It was in business from 1843 to 1845.(ii)

This is one of the letters delivered by Hale & Company in 1844. It bears a Hale & Co. stamp that is number 75L1 in the US Scott Specialized Catalog. It is canceled with a red P-8 handstamp.

The letter was mailed from New York City to Boston on October 14, 1844, by Henry Stevens. Henry was born in Massachusetts circa 1810 and married Elizaeth Bigelow Prescott in Taunton, Massachusetts in 1839. By 1840 he was living in New York City as an importer per that city's 1840 directory. He ran frequent ads in New York City newspapers in 1844 touting imported dry goods from Liverpool that were available at his store at 46 Exchange Place. The last time he is listed in the New York City directory is in the 1856-57 edition. He is also listed in the New York State census for 1855. The trail on Henry runs cold after that point.

The letter was addressed to Thomas Parkman Cushing (Figure 3), who also was an importer per the 1840 Boston City Directory. Here's his entry in Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, 1600-1889:

CUSHING, Thomas Parkman, merchant, b. in Ashburnham, Mass., in 1787; d. in Boston, 23 Nov., 1854. He carried on business in Boston, and bequeathed the bulk of his fortune, supposed to amount to $150,000, for the maintenance of two schools in his native town.

One of those two schools is Cushing Academy, a private, co-ed boarding school for grades 9-12 and a postgraduate year. You can learn more about Cushing Academy at their website: History and Future of Cushing | Cushing Academy.

In the letter, Mr. Stevens informs Mr. Cushing of the “sudden and unexpected death of our friend and neighbor Joel Stone.” Mr. Stone was a New York City merchant who died on October 13, 1844, age 50. He was born in Watertown, Massachusetts.

Mr. Stevens closes the letter with the philosophical remark, “How true in the midst of life we are in death.“

This item was acquired from Mystic Stamp Company sometime in 2021 for about $140.00

Figure 1 - Front

Figure 2 - Text of letter

Figure 3

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