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Packet Ship Liverpool Letters

Identifier: MSN/EA 5022

Scope and Contents

Ten of the eleven manuscripts authored by Coles are letters directed to his wife Catherine. The first of these was begun on 17 July, one day after Liverpool's departure from New York. Coles continued writing following the wreck—from the ship's boats, from St. John's, and ultimately from the schooner Eliza,—until 25 August, the day prior to his return. There is also a ballad recounting the wreck, in 20 stanzas, composed by Coles aboard Eliza. Coles' manuscripts are at once fervent love letters and an epistolary diary, recording his adventure as events unfolded. There is no reason to believe these are not Coles' original manuscripts, perhaps given to Catherine on his return to Long Island (each of the sheets is enclosed in a numbered wrapper, as described by Coles in the letter dated 11 August). The collection also includes two supplementary accounts of the disaster. In a three-page letter written on his return to New York, Capt. Lee informs his father of the "Total Loss" of the ship, describing the wreck and its aftermath. And in another letter Lee's nephew William L. Woodard, who was also aboard Liverpool, recounts the same events in greater detail.


  • Creation: 1822


Conditions Governing Access

There are no access restrictions on this collection.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright status for collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Biographical / Historical

Eleven of the fourteen manuscripts in the collection were written by Hewlett Townsend Coles, second officer of the packet ship Liverpool on her maiden voyage from New York in July 1822. Coles was born around 1800 at Glen Cove, Queens Co., New York, son of Rev. Benjamin Coles and Anne Townsend. In June 1822, one month before Liverpool's departure, he married Catherine Vanderbilt Suydam (b. ca. 1801), of Oyster Bay, Queens County. The couple was married for six years and had three children before Hewlett Coles' death, in 1828. Records show that following the Liverpool affair Coles was master of several vessels making transatlantic runs, including the brig Wilson and the ship Josephine, both of New York. The three remaining letters in the collection were written by William Lee, Jr. (b. ca. 1784), Nancy Lee (b. 1788), and William Woodward (b. 1801). The three were related; the Lees were siblings and Woodward was their nephew. Lee was master of Liverpool on its maiden voyage; Woodward was on board in an unidentified capacity.

The 496-ton Liverpool was a packet in the Black Ball Line, founded in 1817 as a transatlantic service offering regular, scheduled crossings between New York and Liverpool. The ship left New York on her maiden voyage on 16 July 1822, with mail, specie, cargo, and thirty-six passengers and crew. The trip was uneventful until the afternoon of 25 July, when Liverpool struck an iceberg just east of the Grand Banks. The ship sank in two hours; all on board were evacuated to Liverpool's three boats. After five days on the open ocean, the boats approached St. John's, Newfoundland and were discovered by a local fishing vessel. All survived with the exception of a nursing infant. Captain Lee commissioned the brig Dart to take the passengers on to Liverpool while he and the crew, including Coles, returned to New York aboard another hired vessel, the schooner Eliza.


14 items (1 container)

Language of Materials



A collection of fourteen manuscripts, mostly letters, providing first-hand accounts of the sinking of the packet ship Liverpool in the North Atlantic in July 1822. The principal author is Hewlett Townsend Coles, the ship's second officer.


This collection is arranged chronologically, with one item per folder.

Related Materials

Related materials, including correspondence of Hewlett and Catherine Coles, are located in the Coles Family Papers at the New-York Historical Society.

Packet Ship Liverpool Letters
Jacob Baska
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Notre Dame Rare Books & Special Collections Repository

102 Hesburgh Library
Notre Dame IN 46556