On a blustery autumn day in 1791, an 18-year-old Isaac Hull sat down to write a letter to his father, Joseph. For a year, the future naval hero had been serving before the mast on merchant vessels trading with Europe, learning the practical seamanship for which he would later become so famous. The letter, though written in the formal style common in correspondence between fathers and sons in the 18th century, betrays some measure of filial affection. The young sailor is anxious for news from home, and equally anxious to make his family proud. He offers his opinion about this brother Joseph’s decision to teach school, and acknowledges that he could have gone to school too, but chooses the sea.
So here is his letter, with all its quirks of spelling and punctuation, and all of its insight into the formative years of Constitution’s most famous commander.
Boston Oct 8th 1791
It being Now a year since I left home and have not heard from home till now by Capt more he informs me of my aunt Betseys Death which I was very sorry to hear I under stand that you was Downhere this spring and was very uneasy a bout me but I am very sorry to hear for I think my self Better off than at home I have the offer of going second mate of a brig 160 tons but am at a loss wheather to Except or not the oner that I am with hes 2 brigs and the ship I am at Presant alone in Relaiding salt out I have 9 Doller Pr month- Sir Please to remember me to my mother and ask hir to forgive my staying so long Let my little brothers no I am well. I under stand that Joseph has left my uncle David which in my opinion is the worst thing he Could do I should ad vise him not to spend his time in keeping school for I think that no business at all my uncle Coud hab got me in to a Chool at 10 dolers Pr month But Choose the sea –
I shall onely beg your Patens for not Comeing home but you shall hear from me every opertunity and I wish you to advise me how to Conduct as I do not forget that I have a father –
Sir I remain your son
This letter is part of the Collection of Isaac Hull Papers, 1791-1961, which is on loan to the USS Constitution Museum from a private collection. You can view the letter in full via Digital Commonwealth.
Research Historian, USS Constitution Museum
Matthew Brenckle was the Research Historian at the USS Constitution Museum from 2006 to 2016.