This letter was written by Benjamin Harvey Brush (1820-1853), the son of Joshua Brush (1794-1864) and Sarah Rolph (1795-1873) of Smithtown, Long Island, New York. The Brooklyn Historical Society has in its collection a passport issued to Benjamin granting him the right to travel to Cuba from St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands.
From the letter, we surmise that Benjamin was employed by Jonathan Thompson, a New York City merchant trading in cotton, molasses, and other articles imported from Mobile, Alabama. An ad placed in the New York Herald in July 1847 suggests that Thompson was also already importing sugar and tobacco from Cuba.
Addressed to Jonathan Thompson, Esq., New York
New Orleans [Louisiana]
February 11th 1848
Jonathan Thompson, Esq., New York
The mail failed this morning beyond Charleston, S.C.
I have been trying for a long time past to collect from Capt. Wright the $50 borrowed of you. As often as I met him, he promised to pay it. Finally tired of his promises, I wrote him a note requesting him if he designed to pay, to do at once. In answer, he sent me a very insulting reply, doubting my authority to receive it &c. He is in command of the Government Steamer General Butler ¹ and receives $200 per month and is therefore able to pay it. If you think I have left here, send an order to Burke to collect it and direct him to threaten to sue him if he does not.
The British mail steamer “Dee” ² will touch at Ship Island on the 20th for passengers to Havana and by her I wish to go if I receive from you orders to that effect in season. If not, of course I shall be compelled to defer it. Price of passage $25. There is nothing here to keep me except to receive & forward funds of draft in Mobile. These I have determined to put in Mr. Whitlock’s hands instead of sending them to ___. He will forward them to his friend (Brown Bros. & Co.’s agents) for collection & when in receipt of funds will remit it to you either in sight or undoubled 60 d/Bills as directed by me. Mr. Whitlock does this out of friendship to me & will make no charge. In his hands they are as safe as my own. Please excuse the liberty taken in this matter.
I have at last succeeded in collecting from Doctor balance due on the Segars say 49.82 which amount please carry to “exchangers B.H.B.” He offered me the interest from 20 [?] but as it was a mere ___table, I told him it was not necessary. Van Winkle promises as soon as he sees Robertson again to get the exact location of the land & advise you. He will not withdraw the suit until in possession of the property. You will yet get something for amount due you. The “Harney” affair is in status quo.
I enclose Mr. Burke proforma draft dated 1st inst. for $3490.74 drawn for balance of ___ shipment for Montreal. Also his fraft dated 27th altho for $1671.57 drawn for balance of cost of shipment per “Hudson.” Credit “Exchanges B.H.B.” with both those drafts making them due the same time as mine for 5000 favor I. Nicholson. The balance in my hands I shall probably pay over to Burke against cotton purchase. I cannot get a good bill for so small an amount at better than 2% interest.
From a friend I obtained the following respecting sugar & molasses. Am’t gone forward to N. Y. to date of sugar 14653 Hogsheads against 10788 Hhds last year & 13801 Hhds the year before that. Of molasses, 2906 Hhds & 22614 Barrels against 1227 Hhds & 11,583 Barrels last year, & 1688 Hhds & 12,471 Barrels the year before. The reported sale of molasses @ 18 __ plantation is a humbug. 16½ ___ has been paid & 17 )) is generally asked for, Any shipments made your way at these figures will lose heavily. I have no longer any faith in the article as it will not be long before the receipts with you will exceed the demand. While the demand exceeds the supply, there was no danger of any decline & it was on this basis that I made you the several shipments. As regards sugars, my views as to prices here have been correct. Prices have kept up higher than was generally anticipated and have been too high to warrant extensive operations for your way. Morgan’s partner has been buying daily since he has been here and I do not believe he will realize more than commissions that far.
Your market during the spring will be pretty well sustained but by June the less one has to do with it the better. Your growers will before that find out that their avenues for sale of the article will be small. Every place to Buffalo will be supplied by way of the Mississippi & Ohio Rivers. New Orleans molasses will lose the favor heretofore given it. So much sour cane has been ground among it that but very little will keep through the summer.
Sugars on the levee today are lower. The Western men are compelled to keep out of the market from difficulty in getting freight as well as high rates of freight. If this difficulty continues, prices may go down ¼ within the next few days. Molasses from 21.
Very truly yours, — Benj. H. Brush
[P.S.] Mr. Burke writes you today. A good business will be done in cotton at about old prices — probably a shade easier.
¹ A 24 December 1847 newspaper notice announced the arrival of Steamer General Butler at New Orleans transporting many officers and soldiers from the war in Mexico.
² “One of the first of the so-called “ocean stagecoaches” built in the 1840s to carry mail between British colonies, the R.M.S.P. Dee actually served a variety of purposes. First and foremost she was, as her named implied, a carrier for the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. In order to provide the most reliable service possible among the scattered islands of the West Indies, the Dee and her fourteen sister ships were equipped with steam-powered paddle wheels as well as a complete sailing rig. These hybrids, all named after British rivers, chugged through the Caribbean at speeds averaging eight knots; a copper-plated hull protected them from the ravages of the tropical toredo worm. But, in the days when the sun never set on the British flag, the Royal Navy was spread thin and the British Admiralty was more concerned about the ravages of hostile nations than the ravages of nature. For this reason they insisted the steamers carry a variety of small arms, including muskets, pistols, and pikes. Furthermore, their decks were specially reinforced to enable them to carry heavy cannon in the event of a war. While the Dee was never forced to do battle at sea, she did serve for a time as a troop carrier for the “Irish Brigade” during the Vatican’s campaign against Garibaldi in 1860. The Dee resumed her appointed rounds in 1861, but, weakened by rigorous use, broke apart in a storm soon thereafter, a loyal British servant to the last.” [Source: Wind River Studios Website]