Ship Mail Letters from the 18th & 19th Century

19th century ship mail stampless letter from Marblehead, Massachusetts to East Haddam, Connecticut

Excellent example of a stampless 19th century ship mail letter, with manuscript MHead postmark, and manuscript Sh 19, reflecting the 17 ct rate from Marblehead, Massachusetts to East Haddam, Connecticut. The letter regards boarding and seizure by the British Cambrian Frigate in 1805.

Please visit my Biblio store to view my current offerings of 18th & 19th century ship mail letters and more postal history for sale:

18th Century Ship Mail

19th Century Ship Mail

18th & 19th Century Ship Mail

Letter conveyance was an uncertain procedure in the early days of the American Colonial Period. The emigrants of that day on the Eastern Atlantic seaboard relied upon their acquaintances or ship's captains for postal requirements. Ship's captains were the principal mail carriers of the day. In many seaports, including New York and Boston, the letters arriving by ships were delivered to a coffee house near the wharf, where they lay exposed on a table until they were called for.

As time went on, ships and their mail traveled to many small ports along the Eastern seaboard. The ship's captains carried the mail, and upon arrival in port, the captain took the letters to the local post office where he received a small fee for his troubles. Upon receipt of the letter, the local postmaster would mark the name of the town, many times in manuscript, plus a manuscript sh or ship to indicate carriage by ship. A manuscript rate based on the distance from the post office to the addressee, plus a fee of 2cts for the ship carriage would be included in the rate. As time went on, more and more of these ship marking were applied using hand stamps, especially in the larger cities. The various rates and ship markings in effect during the Colonial, Revolutionary War, and War of 1812 periods, make for an interesting study of American history during our formative years.

Part of this information was taken from “Colonial & Revolutionary Posts by Harry M Konwiser, 1931.”

Offered for sale is a wonderful example of a stampless letter carried by private ship into Marblehead, Massachusetts. The letter was placed in the mail, and received a manuscript MHead postmark, and was rated Sh 19, for the 17ct rate to East Haddam Ct, plus the 2ct ship fee for the captain.

The captain writes to merchants at East Haddam, Connecticut, regarding his time at sea. Halifax November 17, 1805 has been crossed out and At Sea written in it's place. He writes that “I was boarded by the Cambrian Frigate and ordered on board with my papers. After they were examined the captain told me he should detain me and send me to Halifax. My mate and all my men, except the cook was taken out. A prize master mate and seven men put on board and made sail for this place.” This letter is an example of events which lead up to the Embargo of 1807, and the War of 1812.

HMS Cambrian was a Royal Navy 40 gun fifth rate frigate. She served in the English channel, and off North America. In 1805 Cambrian transferred to the Halifax, Nova Scotia station, where she harassed French and Spanish Shipping, and captured several privateers and merchantmen.

My main area of concentration is from the 1740's to 1820, with emphasis on the war periods, and early ship letters to the United States. Please click on the links below to view my postal history offerings, or contact me directly at . Thanks very much for your interest.

Please visit my online Biblio store to view ship mail letters and other postal history for sale, including soldier's letters and stampless folded letters, covering the mid 18th century to early 19th century periods in US history:

18th Century Ship Mail

19th Century Ship Mail

If you prefer to buy privately, please email me your want list, and I'll send scans of what is available for sale.

I am a life member of the APS, and a registered dealer member. American Philatelic Society

Thanks for visiting. —Brad Sheff


P.O. Box 246  |  Northfield, Vermont 05663  |  802-485-8239