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A Lincoln-signed whaling ship sea letter - as much as 100 times scarcer than a Civil War military commission. President Lincoln gives permission for the whaler Almira to sail to the North Pacific. ABRAHAM LINCOLN.
Document Signed “Abraham Lincoln” as President, co-signed by Secretary of State William H.Seward, August 8, 1864. In French, Spanish, English and Dutch, with white wafer seal of U.S., and two U.S. revenue stamps. 1 p. 21½ x 16¾ in. Professionally conserved.
“TO ALL WHO SHALL SEE THESE PRESENTS, GREETING: BE IT KNOWN, That leave and permission is hereby given to Abraham Osborn Jr master or commander of the Ship called Almira ... lying at present in the port of Edgartown bound for Pacific Ocean laden and outfitted with Casks, Provisions, Ship’s Stores, and Whaling Utensils for a Whaling voyage... to depart and proceed with the said Ship on his said voyage”.
The whaling business, hazardous in the best of times, was beset by the threat of Confederate attacks during the Civil War. As a result, the whale-rich waters of the Bering Sea between Siberia and Alaska became a haven for whalers avoiding American waters. Sea letters such as this offered proof of nationality and some protection to a vessel in foreign waters, though they were of no help against Confederate raiders. The owners of the Almira had already lost one vessel to the feared Confederate raider Alabama. In 1865 the CSS Shenandoah destroyed 20 of the 58 Yankee whalers in the Bering Sea, most after Lee’s surrender.
The 362-ton Almira, commanded by a member of the Osborn shipping family of Martha’s Vineyard, did return from her four-year voyage to the North Pacific, in October 1868. She brought back 1,310 barrels of whale oil, having already sent home 1,845 barrels of sperm oil and 70,000 pounds of whale bone. In 1871, after 49 years of plying the world’s oceans, the Almira was stove by ice and lost in the Arctic.
Additional Historical Background
Almira of Edgartown
The whaling vessel Almira was a 362 ton ship built in 1822 near Edgartown, Massachusetts. She set sail on her first voyage to the Pacific Ocean on February 2, 1822. She worked the whaling grounds for two years under the command of a Captain Daggett, returning on May 8, 1824 with 2300 barrels of sperm oil.
Almira was in her home port just four months before returning to the Pacific Ocean whaling grounds on September 9, 1824, under a new Captain, Abraham Osborn, who bought her not long after the trip. She again worked for two years, returning December 14, 1826 with another 2300 barrels of sperm oil. She laid over in port for two years before returning to the whaling grounds in the Pacific for three more trips, each with a different captain. Each trip lasted two-three years and netted about 2000 barrels of oil.
In 1837 Almira set sail for New Zealand, returning in 1839 with 1200 barrels of whale oil, having sold 1100 in Bahia. She made five more trips to the Pacific Ocean whaling grounds between 1839 and 1858, under five different Captains, some trips lasting four years. She added whale bone to her bounty in 1847, carrying as much as 30,000 pounds on some voyages. On August 23, 1858 she sailed to the Indian Ocean. In three years she netted just 1500 barrels of sperm oil.
Upon her return in May, 1861 the paper trail detailing her activities ends. She was still owned by Abraham Osborn, but nothing is written about her until August 8 1864. The whaling business in the best of times was hazardous, but during the Civil War whalers faced the additional danger of Confederate attacks. From June 22 to June 28, 1865, the Confederate Raider Shenandoah almost completely destroyed the American whaling fleet in the Arctic, burning 20 ships and capturing 4 more. During the war, many privately owned whaling vessels avoided American waters for fear of being confiscated. Many went to a foreign port, or stayed in an isolated location, only to resume their business after the war.
In August, 1864 the Almira traveled to the North Pacific Ocean under Captain Osborn. She returned in October,
1868 with 1310 barrels of whale oil, having sent home 1,845 barrels of sperm oil and 70,000 pounds of whale bone. In 1869 she had a new managing owner, Samuel Osborn, Jr. who sent her on her last trip to the North Pacific. She sent home 185 barrels of sperm oil before being stove by ice and lost in the Arctic in 1871.
Source: Starbuck, A. History of The American Whale Fishery. (Secaucus, N.J.: Castle Books,. 1989).
The sea letter, including a statement of cargo and destination, signed by the President, gained currency after 1789. Through years of maritime use, such letters became accepted as proof of nationality and provided some protection for the vessel and her owner.
Even with the sea letter's plea for safe passage, maritime trade was a hazardous endeavor due to piracy, privateering, impressment and other dangers.
For additional background, see American Maritime Documents, 1776-1860, by Douglas L. Stein.
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865). 16th President of the United States (1861-1865). Lincoln is considered one of the nation’s most important and best-loved Presidents. Lincoln’s education was almost entirely self-administered, and he worked variously as a storekeeper, rail splitter, postmaster and surveyor while studying law in his leisure hours. Elected to the Illinois Legislature (1834-1841), Lincoln moved to Springfield to practice law in 1837. Served as Whig member of the House of Representatives from 1847 to 1849 and rose to become a prominent Illinois circuit-riding lawyer (from 1849). Lincoln was nominated for US Senate in 1858 and during the campaign, stumped Illinois in a series of debates with his Democratic opponent, Stephen A. Douglas, taking a stand against slavery. Although he was defeated, his oratory skills and personal presence made him the leading candidate for the next Republican Presidential nomination, a nomination he secured in 1860. After the attack on Fort Sumter, Lincoln proclaimed a blockade of southern ports (April 1861). During the Civil War, he supported loyally his generals in the field, choosing successively to command the Army of the Potomac McClellan, Burnside, Hooker, Meade and Grant. In January 1863, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, and declared freedom for the slaves of all states in rebellion against the Union. In November 1863, Lincoln made his immortal Gettysburg Address, dedicating the national cemetery there. Was re-elected in 1864. Just five days after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House ended the Civil War (April 14, 1865), Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth in Ford’s Theater, Washington D.C., and died the following day.