[Havana, Cuba and onboard ship to New Orleans. March 7 - April 1, 1847]. pp. in black or blue ink, on two different Cuban pictorial letter sheets, plus a folded sheet of plain paper, the latter also used as the enclosure for the entire letter, addressed on verso of last page of enclosure. Minor soiling, old folds, with a few short fold separations and a longer separation in last folded sheet. Last sheet with small abrasion from removed wax seal (most of which remains). Overall good plus condition. Item #WRCAM56260
A lengthy and interesting letter from a Pennsylvania businessman named M.L. Dawson to his "dear wife" back in Philadelphia, written over the course of a few weeks during his time in Havana and onboard a ship traveling from Cuba to New Orleans in the spring of 1847. Being written over the course of several entries, the letter also acts as a kind of brief diary of Dawson's time in Cuba and the Gulf of Mexico, and contains much information on the people and places he saw in and around Havana, and much on the ship's activities on the way to Louisiana. Two- thirds of the letter is written on two separate Cuban letter sheets that are themselves rare and desirable printed ephemeral items from mid-19th century Cuba.
The eleven-page letter covers Dawson's stay in Havana and his voyage to New Orleans. He writes that he had previously arrived in Havana from Philadelphia. His letter begins on March 7, and Dawson details trips on horseback to the Cuban countryside, which he finds beautiful. He comments on odd Cuban funerary practices, Cuban agricultural products, seeing the home where Santa Anna spent his exile, and gives firsthand observations on the effects of slavery. He witnesses a scene in Havana where slaves are chained and forced to make repairs while being overseen by men with whips and muskets. Dawson comments that despite the beauty of the countryside, "the evidence of Slavery is every where apparent." Also apparent are "the ravages of the awful storm of the 10th month last," a reference to the devastating October 11, 1846 hurricane, the effect of which is depicted in each of the letter sheets here. Dawson also reports on being invited to breakfast by a Cuban nobleman, but was so taken aback by the food and the experience that he vows never to repeat the experience.
After departing Havana for New Orleans on May 9 on the Brig P. Soule, Dawson reports on various shipboard activities, a disagreeable, cursing captain, slow progress, boredom, and seasickness. He comments on claret as the typical drink for breakfast. The letter ends on April 1 when Dawson's ship anchors in New Orleans Road. He closes with a promise to write again soon after he lands in New Orleans, and sends kisses and love to his children and relatives.
The Cuban letter sheets Dawson employs for more than two-thirds of his letter are interesting and attractive printed items in their own right. The first, titled HURACAN DEL 11 DE OCTUBRE DE 1846 EN LA HABANA shows a lithographed scene of various ships in an angry sea being tossed against a breakwater in Havana harbor during the October 11, 1846 hurricane. One passenger is being rescued with a breeches buoy while other ships flounder in the distance. The second letter sheet is titled TEATRO PRINCIPAL DE LA HABANA. The scene at the head of this sheet shows further destruction of the October 11 hurricane, centered on the damaged ruins of the Teatro Principal (Main Theater) near the harbor. Two men in top hats survey the damage while an African-American man stands at left center holding long boards. Havana harbor is visible in the background, showing two paddlewheel steamers and other ships damaged or sunken in the harbor.
Mordecai L. Dawson was the proprietor of M.L. Dawson & Co., a brewery in Philadelphia. Here, Dawson addresses the letter to his company, noting the letter is specifically intended "for E Dawson," his wife. The Dawson brewery opened in 1820 at 79 Chestnut Street, then moved to the corner of 10th and Filbert Streets in 1830, after the company purchased the old Farmers' Brewery in 1829. Dawson apparently closed his brewery in 1849, not long after penning this letter home. Though he does not state it explicitly in his letter, Dawson may have been traveling to Cuba to establish an import business. Philadelphia was a pipeline for numerous imports into Cuba in the mid-19th century, including beer.
An interesting record of one man's sojourn to Cuba in the 1840s, with notable observations on slavery and the Cuban situation in the wake of the October 11, 1846 hurricane, written mostly on two attractive and rare Cuban letter sheets that also memorialize the hurricane.