1785. Unpaginated, though 40 pp. 1st & last leaf blank, with 2 quarters of an unidentified watermark visible. Vertical chain-lines. 6-1/8" x 4" [15.8 cm x 10 cm]. Period marbled paper wrappers, with hand-inked title label to front wrapper. Wrappers neatly rebacked and resewn; occasional neat correction to text or small ink spot. VG+. Item #36163
A manuscript journal written by John Hall, a mechanical engineer from Leicester, England, during his ocean voyage to the U.S. in 1785. Hall emigrated to Philadelphia that year carrying papers for Thomas Paine and escorting the wife of Revolutionary Captain Robert Coltman’s wife, Sarah, and their son, William, both of whom appear as passengers in the journal. Hall’s journals, of which 63 numbered volumes are known to exist and which span his long friendship and engineering projects with Paine, have long been considered a major primary source for biographical material about Paine. This journal is a copy of the first in that series, and deals only with Hall’s journey to Philadelphia. Discussion with the Library Company of Philadelphia, who hold almost all of Hall’s numbered journals, including the original of this one, and digital comparison of the two, reveal that the copy offered here is in Hall’s hand and has minor textual differences and editing.
The journal begins with a full list of passengers and crew aboard the Eagle, sailing from London to Philadelphia under the command of Captain John Ker. The first dated entry is June 3rd, when Hall, Mrs. Coltman, and a Miss Johnson leave London for Gravesend, where Hall and Coltman board the ship. Hall notes that, like many, “On Entering the downs I began to be Sick in the afternoon”; although Hall recovered from seasickness somewhat, Mrs. Coltman appears to have suffered severely throughout the voyage.
Hall then recounts in detail life on the ship, which includes arguments between crew members (“Fraser sitting upon the Binacle going down to the Steerage over the Sailors asleep Read with an audible voice a Chapter or two out of the word of God as so unusual affair disturbed the men below who arose in a passion and an uproar ensued whitch Occationed the Interference of the Captain --- and where is the wonder!”) as well as between passengers. In one instance Captain Ker is locked in his cabin by one passenger, nearly leading to a duel between him and another passenger). Hall also notes whale and porpoise sightings (“Saw a Grampus Whale along side of us very near this day and he made his appearances several times as he passed from us”); a run-in with a poorly-faring Portuguese ship; the increasing lack of food and water due to the journey taking longer than expected and supplies running low, and minute observations about the speed of the wind, etc., provided with an engineer’s eye to mechanical detail.
John Hall worked for the British engineering firm Boulton and Wact, designers and builders of marine and stationary steam engines in the 1770s, and later installed steam engines for both Walkers and Wilkinson’s Snedhill works. Shortly after he arrived in Philadelphia, Hall began working with Paine on the latter’s innovative iron bridge across the Schuylkill River, built to link Philadelphia with Pennsylvania’s farmlands and withstand the ice and wind that traditionally damaged wooden bridges; the bridge ultimately failed in the U.S., but became the blueprint for bridge construction in Britain during the Industrial Revolution. Hall’s steam engine expertise was later sought by inventor John Fitch, operator of the first steamboat service in the U.S.
That this is a “recopied journal” is noted in Hall’s hand to the front wrapper. As research indicates that no other “recopied journals” exist, either of this journal or others, we speculate that the one offered here was copied after arrival in the US to provide a neater version than the original, which was likely subject to errors, soiling, etc., from being written aboard a ship at sea.
Discussions with the LCP lead us to posit that this journal and the LCP’s probably share the same provenance in the Pacific Northwest.