“Postcard” from the past

This 1844 letter describing a pleasure trip up the New Jersey coast to New York City, and points north, aboard the Steamboat Independence, is laden with sights and sounds of a time departed. It invites us into a world of tall ships and the quiet villages surrounding what today is the most iconic city in the world. The travelers boarded the Independence in South Amboy, New Jersey and

“was soon ploughing our way through the salt water towards the ocean”.

I can picture the passengers parading on deck, ladies with their parasols and gentlemen in their morning coats, delighting in the cooling breeze and ocean spray. The trip held the promise of exciting sights and an escape from the August heat and humidity. The descriptions the author gives of New York, its harbor and the surrounding area seem foreign as we read them 170 years after they were written. Consider that the most impressionable architecture of New York City is its

“spires and domes”

and his account of the tall ships in one of the busiest ports in the country

“looks like a forest of old trees without foliage”

offer a wildly different scene of the area. As any tourist today, sending a postcard to a friend, would highlight the interesting points of their trip, so does our author. His letter is dotted with vignettes that invite investigation. For example as the Independence passed close to the anchored American warship North Carolina, he describes her

“ugly eyes looking out of the port holes in the shape of cannon”.

Traveling farther up the North (Hudson) River he mentions Castle Garden. Before Ellis Island, this was used as the United States first immigration depot. Continuing their trip and approaching Hoboken, he makes a note of passing Elysian Field: another vignette. It’s on this plot, in 1846, that the first organized baseball game would be played. The scenes continue to float by until the end of their six hour excursion, docking at South Amboy, they depart for home with the snappy tunes of the ships brass band still playing in their ears.

USS North Carolina

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