Treasure at the Archives

I finally managed to make time to go to the Library of Congress and the National Archives. I went a few days ago, but have been so busy with schoolwork that I haven’t been able to update on what I found.

My original plan was to search for some documents based off the information I had gathered about the local sheriffs, in the surrounding counties. I also wanted to look into seeing if I could find out any reports of suspicious activity on the Bay, or reported crimes. Going off the newspaper articles I located at the local historical society, I narrowed the search field to around 1876, going a year before and a year after.

Unfortunately there was not much. Perhaps there was another courthouse fire, or the records are buried somewhere, or they don’t exist. A lot of local records get lost and destroyed. Whatever the reason I was unsuccessful in finding anything that helped me.

I then decided to change my focus. From my conversation with Sarah and my own research, I found out that the U.S. Coast Guard did not exist officially until 1915, but there was a Cutter Service. All its essential functions were the same, but it simply operated under another name. Therefore, I decided to go through the records for the Cutter Service. With the help of the archivist I was able to locate quite a few.

Anyway, the Cutter Service seems to have sent back an awfully short, slightly condescending letter to the sheriff of Gloucester County that stated simply that it was too busy to deal with someone as minor as the small-time pirate that the initial letter (which I was unable to locate) described.

The following is a transcription because I was unable to copy the document any other way because I forgot my camera:

“To: Sherriff Hance Lawson

We have received your notification regarding the misconduct of a vessel on the Chesapeake Bay. However, I have to inform you that it is not probable that the Department will have occasion to pursue your request.

Very Respectfully,

{Signature was illegible}

I was able to make out neither the position of the person who signed the letter nor the signature itself, but there you have it. [However, due to research I believe the document was written and signed by S. Kimball, the Chief of Revenue Marine who worked for the US Cutter Service in 1878 – but, not 100% accurate.] This is proof that someone actually did seek larger legal help for this situation and was unable to get any because the case was deemed too insignificant! This must have made our pirate feel both slighted and relieved; it was probably as a result of not being pursued harder that he was able to continue.

At the Library of Congress, one of the librarians helped me find this map of the Bay from the time I’m working on. It’s on their website, but I found the website super confusing. She was able to locate it in a snap though.

3 Responses to “Treasure at the Archives”

  1. Clinton says:

    Congratulations on the find! It is really cool that you were able to find a letter that was almost certainly pertaining to the guy you were researching! This is the real historians work bravo!

  2. Katie says:

    Wow! What a find! This seems like such an obscure document..but if it is in the National Archives that has to count for something.

    Best of luck on pulling this together!

  3. Tom says:

    That letter is proof that deffinatly something pirate-like was going on in the Bay. Keep up the good work!