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An 1848 Letter from Wisconsin Territory to New York City

Updated: Oct 12, 2022

The Territory of Wisconsin existed from July 3, 1836, until May 29, 1848, when Wisconsin became the 30th state. This is one of only four such covers posted with a US Scott #2 known to remain from that period.

In the U.S. Philatelic Classic Society's census of 1847 covers, this is number 14388. This cover also has a Philatelic Foundation certificate (#321413) opining that it is a "genuine usage." I acquired this cover at a Cherrystone Auction held on September 13-14, 2022, for $750.00 plus a 15% buyers' premium. That was more than the estimate but below the 2022 Scott catalog value of $1,000.00 and well below the $4,000.00 someone paid for this cover in the late 1990s when stamp prices, in general, were reaching record levels.

The 10-cent postage paid for the transit of this folded letter from Milwaukee to New York City, a distance of roughly 900 miles. The letter was written by Peck & Baker, a dry goods wholesaler located at 140 East Water Street in Milwaukee, on January 14, 1848. It was postmarked in Milwaukee on January 15, 1848. The letter was received by Brown & Dimock, a dry goods firm in New York City located at 70 Beaver, on January 27, 1848.

Based on the letter's contents, Peck & Baker were settling up some accounts with Brown & Dimock to the tune of $415.00. Although both firms were engaged in the sale of dry goods, the settling of accounts seems to be related to the exchange of wheat; at least the funds that were remitted by Peck & Baker were "proceeds of a lot of wheat sold."

Peck & Baker were dubious about their ability to remit additional funds in the near term due to the weather. They wrote: "The roads are now almost impassable and nothing doing -- we have no idea when we shall be able to remit again." They do strike an optimistic tone, however, when they refer to a Mr. Chappell who had apparently paid them half of what he owed from the fall of 1847 and was doing excellent business.

Before getting to the people behind the letter, two interesting observations:

First, in a side note at the bottom right of the letter, Peck & Baker mention that "the Britannia had arrived" bringing news of a decline in flour or wheat prices. The letter could be referring to a 200-ton Canadian schooner by that name that plied the Great Lakes between 1833 and 1870 when it sunk near Erie, Pennsylvania. The other and more likely possibility is the steamer Britannia that sailed between England and the US in the 1840s. The Milwaukee Daily Sentinel in 1847 ran regular stories headlined "Arrival of the Steamer Britannia" reprinted from the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser with reports on commodity prices from overseas.

Second, there's an embossed stamp at the top left of the letter. An enlarged photo of this embossed stamp is shown in Figure 5. It's an oval-shaped stamp with a bird in the middle with "John Butler" at the top and "Hartford" at the bottom. This indicates that the paper on which the letter was written was manufactured at John Butler's paper mill in Hartford, Connecticut. Butler was born in Connecticut in 1772, acquired the paper mill in 1814, and died in Hartford in 1849.

As for the people behind Peck & Baker and Brown & Dimock:

The Peck of Peck & Baker was Henry Pratt Peck, who was born in Berlin. Connecticut in 1812 and died in Milwaukee in 1854. (Berlin is just 14 miles southwest of Hartford. Could that explain why Henry used John Hartford letter paper?) His body was transported to Connecticut, and he was buried at Riverside Cemetery in Waterbury. He left behind his wife Harriet and three minor children (per the probate documents).

His passing was front page news in the August 9, 1854, issue, of the Weekly Wisconsin published in Milwaukee:

We regret to announce the death of Henry P. Peck -- one of our oldest and most esteemed merchants. He expired this morning [Wednesday] of a disease of the kidneys. Mr. Peck has been a merchant in this city, for the past nine years, and during all that time he has enjoyed the confidence of the community in an eminent degree, as an honest man whose integrity was a model for a merchant.

Mr. Peck was one of those unassuming men whose influence existed in the force of a silent example. Such men give a moral character to a new city, and therefore his loss must be felt. Our young city has suffered severely by the death of such men as Bradford, Burton, Badgley and Peck. The void of wealth is easily supplied, but net of men whose influence and personal example alike, are cost on the right side.

We have spoken of Mr. Peck as a citizen, but he was also one whose manly and sterling qualities, blended with a winning gentleness, gave him the utmost love of those who were so fortunate as to be brought in the close relations of husband, father, brother and friend.

Mr. Peck was in his forty-second year -- the very prime of his life and the maturity of his usefulness.

It is pertinently suggested that the stores be closed on Saturday, during the funeral, to allow the mercantile community to render the last tribute of respect to the dead.

While I found much information on Henry Peck, I came up empty on his partner Baker. There were six Baker's listed in the Milwaukee city directory from 1848, but none had a profession consistent or compatible with a merchant. It is very possible that this Baker was someone that Henry knew from outside the area, perhaps a business associate from another part of the territory or someone from his home state of Connecticut. After all, based on his obituary, he only started doing business in Milwaukee in 1845.

The partners of the firm of Brown & Dimock in New York City were Andrew Dimock and Peleg Brown. (I know this because I found the address of Brown & Dimock in the New York City directory first and then two individuals -- Andre Dimock and Peleg Brown -- with this same business address. That was the same way I figured out Henry Peck was the Peck of Peck & Baker.) Andrew and Peleg were business partners from at least 1835, which is the first year I found them both listed as merchants with the same address in the New York City directory.

Andrew Dimock was born in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, in 1801 and passed away in New Jersey in 1878. Rocky Hill is just eight miles east of Berlin, Connecticut where Henry Peck was born, so it is very possible they knew one another before Henry moved west to Milwaukee.

Peleg Brown resided in New York City until 1857 when his business address remained the same as Andrew Dimock's but his home was listed as Mobile, Alabama. The earliest Mobile city directory is from 1861, and he is listed in there as a cotton factor or broker, which certainly is related to the business of dry goods. His name appears in the Mobile city directory until 1878. Based on his probate documents, he passed away in 1886 in Pittsfield, New York. The probate documents include his will which begins, "I, Peleg Brown, of Mobile, Alabama, now sojourning [meaning a temporary stay] at Pittsfield, Ostego County New York..."

Tracking down when and where Peleg was born was much more challenging. I finally found a reference to him in the History of Chenango and Madison Counties, New York, published in 1880. That history included a paragraph on Barnabas Brown, a respected judge from New Berlin, New York who had two sons: "Lewis residing in New Berlin; and Peleg, another son, is a resident of Alabama." From that history, I knew that Barnabas was born in 1762 and died in 1855 and that gave me enough information to find him on, and there is listed his son, Peleg Brown, born in New Berlin, New York in 1806.

What I find fascinating is how mobile two of the characters of this letter where. You think of people in mid-19th century America as being rooted to the land and many no doubt where, but Henry Peck moved from Connecticut to the territory of Wisconsin to make his mark, and Peleg Brown relocated from upstate New York to New York City to Mobile, Alabama and back again.

Figure 1 - Front

Figure 2 - Back

Figure 3 - Letter

Figure 4- Unfolded letter sheet

Figure 5 - Embossed stamp

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