Colonial Relics ([ 1895 ])

1895 - Manuscript Letter with Photos of New England Settlers - Bromfield

Revival Era Tour of Nantucket

Date: [ 1895 ]

Nantucket, 1895. Manuscript signed letter by Arthur Bromfield of Nantucket, describing the city and including 8 original photographs mounted within the text. 8vo. 11 pages written on 3 double leafs of the writer's personal letterhead embossed with his surname Bromfield, and measuring approximately 20 x 13 cm. Together with covers, addressed in the same hand, addressed to the writer's nephew, named Arthur after him, measuring approximately 16 x 8 cm. Photographs measure approximately 4 x 5 cm and feature embedded manuscript captions. A witty and captivating account of Nantucket in its era of revival. The writer, Arthur Bromfield, and the recipient, his nephew, may be descendants of Edward Bromfield (1648-1734), a New England settler who emigrated from New Forest in Hampshire, England, to America in 1675, settling in Boston and becoming a peace commissioner. The settler's father was British MP Henry Bromfield (born circa 1610 - died 1683); his grandfather was Arthur Bromfield of MP Allington Hampshire (born circa 1565 - died 1650) who sat in the House of Commons between 1604 and 1622. It is also interesting to note that John Bromfield Jr. (1779-1849), Boston merchant and benefactor of the Boston Athenaeum, is also a descendant of the aforementioned Edward Bromfield. Further research may result in a connection to the writer of the present letter. The Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston holds a collection of Bromfield family papers. A period description of Nantucket Island, dating approximately twenty-five years after the start of the Island Renaissance (1870) and only thirty years after the American Civil War (1861-1865) unfolds in an eloquent manuscript letter. Few accounts from Nantucket residents survive from this era, as the island was in a period of revival after somewhat of a dormancy, but for a few writers, artists, and sojourners that had begun visiting, and a scant few visionary entrepreneurs who began development. Following the mid-nineteenth-century decline of the whaling industry, most residents had abandoned the island, leaving it in a deep economic depression. Arthur Bromfield, however, remained. His description forms a primary source account of Nantucket's emergence as a most desirable summer retreat destination and a developing community. Following are some excerpts from the letter: "... you sail into the harbour, the big steamer almost touching the point of land called Brant Point... you can see the light-house and the big Nantucket Hotel... a favourite place for visitors to catch fish..." "... there is one nice cat-boat called the 'Dauntless,' that has big red star painted on her sail, that runs once an hour every morning (except Sunday) between the Old North Wharf in town to the bathing beach.... 10 cents each way." [In the mid-1880s a Boston developper purchased Brant Point, relocating Atlantic Hall there, which became the center of the grand hotel complex called Nantucket Hotel. The luxurious hotel operated from 1884 to 1904.] "... you remember Brant Point Light, it was painted a dark red color when I was here a dozen years ago, but now it is white... stands right at the entrance of the harbor..." [First erected in 1746, the Brant Point Light is America's second oldest lighthouse. The ever-shifting battalion of sandbars, or shoals, lurking beneath the waters that surround Nantucket have caused between 700 and 800 shipwrecks in recorded history. Owing to decay or marauders, the light house has been resconstructed throughout history. The existing structure has lasted for over 110 years.] "Here is a picture of the Pacific National Bank... I had a thousand dollars in this bank last June. The thousand dollars is almost gone (largely for back bills) but the bank remains." [The Pacific National Bank of Nantucket opened in 1865, assigned charter number 714. It stopped printing money in 1935, which is considering a long operation period for a national bank. Over this period, it issued 31 different types and denominations of national currency.] "The bank is a better building than the jail which is a little ways out of town. A prisoner came to town one day and told the select men that he wouldn't stay in this jail unless they kept the sheep out. I think that when they have a prisoner now they let him go where he pleases in the day time if he will promise to go and sleep in the jail at night." "...the Methodist Church... built about fifty years ago when the whale fishing was at its heighth and the population of Nantucket was at 10,000. Since the discovery of petroleum Nantucket has declined and I think the population is now less than 4,000... there are thousands of visitors... next Sunday I plan to attend morning worship at the Quaker church." [Architect Frederick Brown Coleman designed several important buildings in Nantucket, including the Atheneum, the Unitarian Church, and the Methodist Church - built on Fair Street in the year 1800 and now a protected U.S. landmark.] "There is another famous Nantucket church - the Unitarian... all night, every night a watchman sits in the tower on the look-out for fires. The houses here are nearly all of wood..." [Originally built as a Unitarian Meeting House for worship in 1808, it officially named a church in 1837. In the nineteenth century, many of the town's leading citizens attended services here. Throughout its history, the meeting house has also played an important community role by opening its doors to intellectual discourse as well as to entertainment, community events. Perhaps the most famous example is librarian and famed astronomer Maria Mitchell, who probably heard Ralph Waldo Emerson speak in 1845, and Lucretia Coffin Mott, the antislavery and women's rights activist who spoke in 1856.] "Stone Alley shown in the picture above is characteristic of many streets about town, narrow, stony, and tree-less... Center Street... " "... Ocean House, which is the hotel... looks toward Main Street..." [Ocean House, now called The Jared Coffin House, is a historic mansion. It was constructed in 1845 by Jared Coffin, one of the most successful ship owners during the island's prime whaling days. It was the first mansion to be built on the New England island, and stands today as a stately landmark, and still hosting guests as a charming hotel.] "The Jethro Coffin House, which is 209 years old, is an interesting landmark... The inverted U... on the chimney... is supposed to represent a horse-shoe doing guard duty against witches. I can se this old house from my bedroom window... What stories this old house could tell if it could talk... Here in this old house souls have been born and bodies have died, Indians have attacked and been repulsed, people have rejoiced and mourned, and still the house with honest old timbers stands and bids fair to outlast all of the modern Queen Anne combinations of shingles and glue a la McKnight and Newman..." [Jethro Coffin House, now popularly known as The Oldest House, is in fact the oldest residence on Nantucket. Built as a wedding gift in 1686 for Jethro Coffin and Mary Gardner, it is a traditional New England style saltbox house and the sole surviving structure from the island's original 17th century English settlement. Jethro Coffin, who is listed as a blacksmith at the time of his death in 1727, was the grandson of one of the island's first white settlers and original proprietors, Tristram Coffin. Coffin sold the house in 1708 to island weaver Nathaniel Paddack. From the Paddack family, it passed into the hands of George Turner, a cooper, in the 1840s. Turner later abandoned the building during the depressed years of the Civil War. In 1923 it was acquired by the Nantucket Historical Association.] "... the Old Mill which is nearly 150 years old..." [Built in 1746, the Old Mill functioned as a gristmill until 1892, grinding corn and grain. It is the only surviving mill of the four "smock mills" that once stood overlooking Nantucket town. In 1897 Miss Caroline French, of Boston, purchased it at auction for $850 and donated it to the Nantucket Historical Association.]

Envelope partially clipped, otherwise in very good condition.


Offered by Voyager Press Rare Books & Manuscripts