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Herbert Benezet Tyson Letters

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Document Type: Autograph Letter Signed

Author: Herbert B. Tyson
Date: March 19-21, 1865
Place: Off Charlotte Amalie, Island of St. Thomas
To: Carroll S. Tyson

Physical Description: ink on paper; 8 pages (26 x 20 cm) on 2 folded sheets

Number: MSN/CW 5010-3

Transcribed by: Paul Patterson and George Rugg, 2002, 2006

(Please click on our Technical Details button at left
for more information on transcription conventions,
image scanning conventions, etc.)

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U.S. Str. Connecticut.
off Charlotte Amelia,
Island of St. Thomas. March 19th, 1865.

My dearest Brother,

     I hope you have, ere this, received some of my letters. The mails are so uncertain, and from our short stay at different places, we are compelled to take advantage of any opportunity that may present, be it good or bad; so you may possibly receive Some of later date before those written earlier. I believe the last letter of any length, (although I sent a few lines the other day from San Juan) from me, we mailed a day or two previous to our departure from Cape Haïtien. At this place we remained until the tenth. Myself (I have written it first and don't like to scratch it out.) the chief Engineer, Surgeon and Paymaster--All of them very fine gentlemen by the way--Spent most of our time on shore; either riding horseback or taking long walks over the mountains. These latter were most delightful, our party being ardent admirers of Nature and fully able to appreciate its many beauties. Our walk had the advantage of being free from the heat of the Sun, as most of the paths lead where hardly a single ray could penetrate. At different hights of the mountain we would stop and gaze around us

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in wonder at the magnificant scenery displayed on every side. I could not convey to you a faint idea of what we saw. At one time we would be on the edge of a precipice, with the foaming breakers dashing against the rocks below, while far above us towered the lofty clifs of a neighboring mount. Again we would find ourselves in a sweet valley,--the air "laden with perfume" from the numberless plants and wild flowers,--almost surrounded by hills covered with the richest foliage, while through the openings on the trees, far off could be seen the deep blue ocean, its waves sparkling like gems in the sunlight. It was at once grand and beautiful, lovely and sublime. How I wish you could have been with us! In this way we would stroll along, stopping occaisonally to pick some tempting fruit, until the Sinking sun would warn us to turn our steps to the town. Leaving Cape Haïtien on the morning of the tenth, we steered to the Wd. along the North coast of Haïti, about two miles from shore, between it and the Island of Tortuga, thence to Navassa Island, off the South West coast. Here we hoped to fall in with the mail Steamer, but learned from an American vessel that it had passed the day before. Navassa is a small Island, with scarcely any vegitation; but is visited by vessels for the purpose of obtaining guans, large quanitites of which are found here. Remaining near the Island about an hour, we Steamed off to the Ed. and ran along the South Coast of Haïti.

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Cruising in this way, near the land is much pleasanter than far off at sea, as we can obtain a tolerably correct idea of the topography of the country. A little before sunset we passed the rock of Alto Vela, a high, rocky barren mound which rises out of the sea some twenty miles from the main land. As the water is very deep close alongside of it, we passed within a few hundred yards, and could distinguish the numerous caverns washed in its sides by the constant dash of the Sea. We next passed the Isle of Vache, (at the distance of about a quarter of a mile) against whose precipitous sides the sea dashed with great violence. Small chance the vessel would have that was unlucky enough to drift in here too close. Leaving this Island astern, our course took us about forty miles from land which we would not see before the following day. The next morning, the 13th, at ten oclock we anchored off the City of San Domingo. The Paymaster and myself went on shore to pay an official visit to the American Consul. We found him in, & had a plesant talk with him, smoking his Havanas. Remaining here about three quarters of an hour, we set out to call on the Captain General, the Consul accompanying us. The name of the former is José de la Gandara, a most polished gentleman, to all appearances. He received us in his palace on the second floor. This of course was georgeously fitted up, consisting (this floor) of three large rooms opening into each other, with windows on all sides to give a free passage of air. The floors were

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marble, and they with the easy chairs and lounges, covered with some light colored material, gave the rooms a cool refreshing appearance. Several paintings were hanging about, the most prominent of which were a life size picture of the Queen of Spain and one of the Prince. The General could not speak English, and not being particularly well posted in Spanish, we kept the Consul occupied in interpreting for us. The Gen. did the decent thing, getting out his sherry and Havana segars. I suppse we remained here nearly an hour and then returned to the ship. In the afternoon we saluted the Spanish flag which was returned from the fort.

March 21st.
Off Fredericksted, Island of Santa Cruz.

Since the night before last, I have been flying about at such a rate, that I really have not had a chance to add a word to this before this evening. Learning however that a Schooner would leave this port for New York tomorrow, I must endeavor to finish it in some way, and get it off. Well to Continue, and you must make all due allowances for haste. On the afternoon of the 19th, we left San Domingo, and running through the Mona Passage in the night, arrived at the town of San Juan, in Porto Rico, on the following day. In passing Saona Island we discovered a brig among the breakers wrecked;--Evidently very recently. A warning to me, as I am the Navigator of the Connecticut. San Juan, you know, is built on Morro Island and connected with the Main land

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by the bridge of San Antonio. It is a walled city and the fortifications are numerous, though of course rather old fashioned. It is a place of some size containing about 20,000 inhabitants, mostly Spanish, or at least claiming to be so. After anchoring in the harbor, I went on shore, called on the Consul and paid a visit of Courtesy to a Spanish Man-of-War, anchored near. The next morning the visit was returned by Some Navel officers and also some of the Army officers. They appeared to enjoy themselves very much and invited us to come on board in the afternoon, which the Paymaster and I concluded to accept. Going on board in the afternoon we met all the officers who paid us every attention. Although we could speak no more spanish than they could English, some of them knew a little French and this language, with the aid of a few Signs enabled us to comprehend each other very readily. The chief Engineer, however was an Englishman and could speak both languages fluently. We remained on board until Sundown and then went ashore with two chief Engineers of the Spanish Navy, both of whom could speak English. In the Evening we adjourned to the house of one Poliguy (a spaniard, which five dark eyed daughters) where music and dancing was the programme until about eleven, when we returned, well pleased, to our Ships. In the morning at daylight

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we again went to sea and stood for the Island of St. Thomas, which we reached about three P.M. The town of Charlotte Amelia, off which we anchored is beautifully situated on the slopes of three hills, the houses forming three triangles. As soon as we anchored the Chief Eng'r. and myself were on shore again, to call on the Consul. The name of the latter is Edgar. We found him to be a very fine gentleman and spent an hour at his office very pleasantly smoking his segars! The next morning being Sunday I did not go ashore, but on Monday at 7. A.M. the Doctor, Paymaster, Chief Eng'r. & myself strolled about the town, seeing what was to be seen, until ten oclock, at which hour breakfast is ready, at the Hotel. This we enjoyed universely, our walk having given us an appetite. A Spanish breakfast, however, partakes more of the nature of a dinner than any thing else. At 12 o'clock we saluted the Danish Flag which the Fort returned. Going aboard Ship a little after 12, I amused myself drilling until the dinner hour was posted, when I was informed I had been invited to dine at the Consul's with the Capt., Doctor, Chief Eng'r. & Paymaster. Some of us, having risen rather early, and been on our feet a greater part of the day, would not have gone but that the Docter had told Mr. Edgar we would be most happy to come. I was really tired and tried to get out of it, but, all declared they would not go unless I went, and in its being suggested to the Capt. that probably I

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would not go, that worthy instantly sent me a message that he wanted me to go on shore with him and see the Consul's pretty daughter! This of course was equivalent to an order, So amid the general laugh at my expense, we dove into our "shore clothes" and a little before six o'clock were pulling ashore in the Captain's Gig. The Consul's house is not large but very pleasantly located. From the veranda, which is secured from the heat of the Sun by a thick network of vines, a view of the whole harbor may be obtained, the rooms are open, and a breeze is constantly passing through rendering them cool and comfortable. Mrs. Edgar, the Consul's wife, is a very agreeable, hospitable woman; Her daugter, a very sweet looking girl of about seventeen, I like much, Unfortunately she has not been in society much in St. Thomas, there not being a great abundance at that place. At half past six we sat down to dinner, Mr. & Mrs. Edgar the daughter, Mary, an old gentleman named Smith from the U.S. and our party. I had the pleasure of sitting next to the fair Mary, and think I did the decent thing through dinner. This latter was superb. We had over ten courses! With Claret Champagne, Madiera and Claret Sherry. In getting it up, Edgar threw himself. Dinner was not over until half past eight, at which time we rose from the table and smoked the best Havanas, Edgar, of course, still doing it. In the evening I "flung my language" at the fair Mary for some time and then induced her to claw the ivory, which she did quite neatly.

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I was very glad I had gone, as we had such a pleasant time, and it was fast approaching midnight when we took our departure for the Ship. The goodbyes were of course affecting, and it was agreed that miss Edgar should wave a white Handkerchief from the balcony when the Connecticut got underway in the morning. Accordingly this morning a little after daylight, the Capt. and I saw the white Handkerchief as we were steaming out and waving ours in return, three loud blasts of the whistle were sounded, and so we bade farewell to Mary. We stood to the S'd. and by eleven oclock were anchored off this port in the Island of Santa Cruz. I always have to pay the official visit to the Consul, so started ashore with the Doctor, as soon as the anchor was down. The Consul was at Christianstead but we met the vice Consul a Mr. More who is a most gentlemanly man. He introduced us to his Mother, Father & Brother and to Horace Fry of Philada who has been here spending the winter with his wife. He (Fry) acted decently, insisting on my bringing two of my friends ashore in the afternoon and using his carriage to drive about the Island. This the Chief Eng'r. Doctor and myself did and a very pleasant time we had, visiting some of the sugar mills &c. &c. Returning about sunset, we were going to call on Fry and thank him, but met him and his wife out riding in his other carriage. We will call on him however tomorrow. I can't say dear C. how much longer we will remain here. Our next port I think is Guadaloupe Do you think you can read this miserable scrawl I trust you can. Most probably we will be in Aspinwall in six weeks or two months, when I expect to receive a large number of letters from home. How I should love to hear from you all now. But it is late I must say good night. With dearest love to them

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all at home, ever think of me as

your loving and devoted brother,
Herbert B. Tyson.

As dear Mama suggested, "Kind remembrances to Mathers" also Jess and old Adam. God Bless you all.


P.S. I forgot to say that in looking over Moore's Album I came across a picture of Tenzen. He says he knows him quite well. Also the Stewarts. Good bye.

Transcription last modified: 06 Mar 2007 at 10:44 AM EST

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