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Two Letters to Charles Earl Carpenter, Ice Baron, 1844 and Circa 1863

We take ice for granted. As Amy Brady writes in Ice: From Mixed Drinks to Skating Rinks - A Cool History of a Hot Commodity, "Ice is everywhere, in gas stations, restaurants, hospitals, our homes. Americans think nothing of dropping a few cubes in a tall glass of tea on a hot summer day. They fill large coolers with ice for weeklong camping trips. They wrap ice in dish towels and press it to the skin of their bruised arms. They skate, race, and play hockey and curling matches throughout the year on indoor ice rinks. Parties end when the ice runs out."

But 200 years ago, before the invention of modern refrigeration, ice was a precious commodity that could only be sourced in the wintertime from frozen lakes and rivers. It was difficult to store and even more challenging to transport. Amy Brady's book tells the story of Frederic Tudor of Boston who pioneered the international ice trade in the early 19th century. It's a fascinating story.

Another pioneer in the ice trade was Earl Carpenter who was born in Cranston, Rhode Island in 1794. Earl opened a grocery store in 1815 in Providence, and in 1822 he started an ice business, perhaps motivated by the success of Tudor in Boston.

In 1824, Earl and his wife Sarah Ann had a son they named Charles Earl Carpenter (Figure 1). According to a 1901 book titled, History and Genealogy of the Carpenter Family in America, Charles's "education was of a character fitting him for college, but instead he early entered upon a business life with his the ice business." In 1855, the ice business was renamed Earl Carpenter & Sons, and Earl and Charles remained involved in the business until their deaths in 1863 and 1898, respectively.

Figure 1 - Charles Earl Carpenter

What does all that have to do with philately? Well, in a box of covers I acquired a while back there was a stampless folded letter from 1844 that Earl sent to his son Charles. Through, I connected with Charlene Klatt. Earl was her 3rd great grandfather, and Charles her 2nd great grandfather on her mother's side. Charlene has been doing genealogy research on her family for more than 20 years and has a lot of information on the Carpenters, including many letters. I sent her the stampless folded letter described below and in turn she sent me a Civil War patriotic cover that was addressed to Charles circa 1863!

1844 Stampless Folded Letter from Earl Carpenter to Charles Earl Carpenter

To send the letter to his son Charles, Earl used a relatively new mail service called Hale & Company. That company was founded in 1843 by James W. Hale in New York with offices in other locations including Boston, Philadelphia, and Detroit. They were one of the largest independent mail carriers in the country until they were forced to close due to postal reforms enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1845.

Their rates made them an attractive option for postal customers. Hale & Co. charged 6-1/4 cents for a half-ounce letter mailed in the Northeast and 12-1/2 cents for a half-ounce letter going west to Cleveland, Detroit, and Chicago. By comparison, U.S. postage rates prior to July 1, 1845, ranged between 6 cents and 25 cents for a half-ounce depending on distance traveled. Indeed, for any letter traveling more than 30 miles, Hale & Co. beat the government's rates hands down. For a businessman like Earl, spending 6-1/4 cents with Hale & Co. versus 18-3/4 cents to mail the same letter through the government mail service was too good of a deal to pass up.

Hale & Co. issued its own stamps, and I wrote about one example in this blog: But not all the letters they carried were posted with stamps. Some are stampless covers with a forwarding handstamp such as the one Earl sent Charles (Figure 2).

This item was mailed from Philadelphia to Providence, Rhode Island in September 1844. It has a Hale & Co. forwarding handstamp from Philadelphia and is stamped "PAID." That might mean Earl prepaid the postage, but it also could have been stamped "PAID" when Charles picked it up in Providence. Prepayment of postage was not required until 1855, and it was not unusual before then for the recipient to pay the postage. There also was no home delivery back then. Charles learned from the newspaper or by word-of-mouth that he had a letter to pick up at the post office.

Figure 2 - Front of Stampless Folded Letter

Figure 3 - Content of Letter

The letter that Earl sent Charles is shown in Figure 3. It reads:

Philadelphia     Sept 25th Sunday




I drop you a line informing you of our progress.  We have visited Washington since the convention was over.  Every thing has passed off finely so far.  The party are well and in good traveling condition.  We arrived here yesterday about 3 o.c.  Intend on leaving on Tuesday morning for N.Y.  I think that we shall be able to leave N.Y. on Friday morning by the L.I. R.  You can have the carriage at the depot.  If there is anything that requires Mr. Millers services or mine at home before the time mentioned you will please direct me a letter at N.Y.  I shall not not [sic] attempt to give you any description of our journey no more than to say that it has been first rate so far.  Mr. Bacon preaches this afternoon.  There is to be a conference in the morning.  I have not rec a letter from you as yet may get one this evening.  I may write when I arrive in N.Y.  If I do I hope that I shall have a letter first.


Yours in haste Earl Carpenter


Morning September 25th 1844

I don't know what "convention" Earl attended. It could have been political since 1844 was an election year. On the other hand, the national conventions, at least, took place several months before Earl posted this letter. Perhaps Earl attended a religious convention. Charles and Earl were both Universalists, and the "Mr. Bacon" Earl mentions in the letter is likely Reverend Henry Bacon, a Universalist based in Providence in the early 1840s. I did find a record of a Universalist convention that Earl and Mr. Bacon attended in Rhode Island in May 1844, so it is certainly possible they attended one later in the year.

I found the reference to “leave N.Y. … by the L.I.R.” to be especially interesting. I believe Earl was referring to the Long Island Railroad. That railroad started passenger service from Brooklyn to Greenport, New York in mid-1844. From Greenport, Earl would have traveled by boat across Long Island Sound to Stonington, Connecticut. From there, he would have caught the train back to Providence, where Charles hopefully was waiting with his father's carriage.

A Civil War-Era Cover to Charles Earl Carpenter

Charles was just 20 years old when he received the stampless letter from his father. Charles received the Civil War patriotic cover Charlene gave to me (Figure 4) almost 20 years later when he was well established in the ice business and an active member of his community and of the Universalist Church in Providence.

This cover was postmarked in Rock Island, Illinois on May 17, but I'm not certain of the year. I'm guessing either 1862 or 1863 based on the smudge just below the "7" in the circular date stamp (Figure 5). Most patriotic covers hail from early in the war when morale and hopes for a quick victory ran high.

On the other hand, the cover could have been sent as late as 1865. Note that the sender wrote "To Texas" following "ONWARD!" Union troops arrived in Texas on June 19, 1865, to restore order. Was the writer a Union soldier on his way to Texas or someone anticipating the liberation of slaves in Texas, an event we now celebrate as Juneteeth?

Figure 4 - Civil War Patriotic Cover. Design is ML-68 in Weiss and L-2037 in Walcott.

Figure 5 - Stamp on Cover Rotated 180 Degrees and Enlarged.

The design on the cover features a Union soldier, likely an officer with a saber, in a quasi-Zouave uniform. (I say "quasi" because Zouave's uniforms typically feature baggy red pants.) The figure is holding a flag, which by my count has 23 stars. That was number of Union states at the start of the Civil War. There is a similar design to this one where the soldier is standing on a trampled Confederate flag. In catalogs of Civil War patriotic covers, this design is listed as ML-68 in Weiss and L-2037 in Walcott.

From a postal history perspective, this letter demonstrates how dramatically mail service had changed in the years following Earl's stampless folded letter to Charles.

First, postage rates had come down significantly. In 1844, this letter would have cost 25-cents to send from Rock Island to Providence. In the 1860s, the postage was just 3-cents.

Second, the sender had to prepay the postage and attach a stamp. The stamp on this cover is a 3-cent from the Series of 1861. This stamp is quite common - more than 1.8 billion were printed - and is seen on many covers from the Civil War era.

Third, this cover probably arrived in Providence in a matter of days rather than weeks. In the 1840s there were about 2,800 miles of railroads in the U.S., and the first railroad from Chicago to New York wasn't completed until 1853. If this letter had been mailed in 1844, it would have traveled by horse or coach for a good part of its journey. By 1865, there were more than 30,000 miles of railroads in the U.S. and this letter almost certainly traveled the entire distance by that mode of transportation.

Who sent this cover to Charles and for what reason remain a mystery, but it is a very attractive item. I thank Charlene for her willingness to entrust it to my care.

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