Apr 15, 2021 - Sale 2564

Sale 2564 - Lot 278

Price Realized: $ 250
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 250 - $ 350
(PENNSYLVANIA.) Letters from a Pittsburgh steamboat clerk helping to build what would be Mark Twain's first vessel. 8 manuscript letters from John Francis Gaitree and his half-brothers to mother Mary Ann Terry Miraben and other family members; generally minor wear; one letter with stampless cover bearing New Orleans postmark. Vp, 1850-63

Additional Details

John Francis "Frank" Gaitree, who was a steamboat clerk and captain based out of Pittsburgh, PA. His 4 letters in this lot are dated 1853-58. Most notably, on 10 April 1854 he wrote: "I am at presant building a boat which employs most of my time. I am building the largest steam wheel boat that ever was built here. When finished she will cost me about twenty-one thousand dollars. I own one fourth." This may have been the steamer Paul Jones, a very large 353-ton vessel launched out of Pittsburgh on New Year's Day, 1855. The Pittsburg Daily Post of 1 December 1854 mentions Gaitree as the new ship's clerk. The Paul Jones was most famous as the ship on which young Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain) began his practical studies as a river pilot in 1857.

The remaining letters are written by 3 of Gaitree's half-brothers. Eldest half-brother John Paul Grimball (1826-1866) was somehow separated from his mother at birth and raised in rural Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana. His 1850 letter begins poignantly: "It would be impossible were I to undertake to describe to you my feelings on receiving intelligence that my dear mother was yet alive, and that I had four brothers & a kind sister liveing whom I knew not & who I suppose never knew they had such a brother living."

Another half-brother, Joseph N. Miraben (1837-1863), was also involved in the steamboat trade. He wrote from Louisiana in 1860: "I want [brother John Gaitree] to take my place for a while, so that I can rusticate. He made a trip up on the boat, or he would have been here 10 days ago. The Pine Bluff left New Orleans last Saturday for Arkansas River. I think she is doing a good business as the papers speak very highly of her." The New Orleans Times-Picayune of 19 Jan 1860 notes the steamer Pine Bluff leaving for the Arkansas River with John F. Gaitree, clerk.

The youngest brother Leonidas Romulus Miraben (1839-1892) wrote one final letter while serving in the Civil War as a sergeant in Battery C of the West Virginia Light Artillery, 23 September 1863: "We are now camped near the Culpepper C.H., it being only about five miles from here to the front, it being on the Rapidan. I think from present appearances we will move forward soon, as I think the rebels have or are going to evacuate Virginia, with the exception of holding Richmond." More detailed descriptions of these letters are available upon request.