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Lot #163
Declaration of Independence: Ellery, William

BEACONS OF FREEDOM: ELLERY reports on the condition of Rhode Island lighthouses, including one “burnt by the British in the revolutionary war”

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BEACONS OF FREEDOM: ELLERY reports on the condition of Rhode Island lighthouses, including one “burnt by the British in the revolutionary war”

ALS signed “Wm. Ellery,” eight pages on four sheets, 6.5 x 8, May 4, 1815. Ellery, then Customs Collector of Newport, pens a lengthy, detailed letter to Commissioner of the Revenue Samuel Smith on the condition of the fledgling nation’s lighthouses, buoys, and piers. In part: “Buoy was carried away with its moorings from the South end of Goat Island.... The Stakes there, are every winter broken more or less, or move from their places by the Tie, storms & currents, and repaired or renewed, and refixed as soon in the Spring as the weather will allow. Besides these buoys, and this Stakeage, no beacons, buoys, public piers, piers, stakeage of channels, bays, & shoals, are or have been under my Superintendence. The Light House at Point Judith & Watch Hill, by the … returns of their keepers, were in good order, but the Light House at Jamestown, not withstanding the repairs it has had, has leaked more or less ever since I have had the charge of it…. I would observe that the Light is without doubt more brilliant…. It is not so clear that superior brilliancy has been produced with one half the quantity of oil is used in the former mode of lighting but I believe it to be so.... The Lights have not been extinguished in either of the Light Houses during the War. Thirty five casks of oil were received by me from Genos Coffin of Nantucket … of which I gave notice to the then Secretary of the Treasury…. It is supported by some that the leaking of the Light House at Jamestown, which is built of stone, was occasioned by the inside wooden work being burnt by the British in the revolutionary war; but the … leak now, is through the stone work erected a few years past on the former top of it…. There are no windows on the exposed side of the superstructure, as the rain enters beneath the opening, the lantern and the appeture are safe, and the Light House appears to be as strong as it ever was. But how to make & keep it tight is the difficulty. Perhaps a cement may be found that will answer. The mortar with which the old point was jointed some years ago was made of stone lime, and inland sand, and the best mason we have was employed to joint it; but his work did not endure…. The Keeper’s House is so very much out of repair that I question whether it can be made tenantable another winter without great expense, and it is so badly planned and situated, that in my opinion it is not worth repairing.” Bisecting vertical fold to all pages, some scattered light foxing, and light toning to final page, otherwise fine condition. A most remarkable document of America’s early “infrastructure!” Auction LOA John Reznikoff/PSA/DNA and R&R COA.

Auction Info

  • Auction Title:
  • Dates: #332 - Ended April 16, 2008