Out of Our Past

An East Boothbay Mariner Goes to China, Part II

Posted:  Tuesday, March 13, 2018 - 7:00am
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The last article provided the East Boothbay background on Andrew Hagan who left the village in 1877 to board the tea clipper Golden State in New York city for voyages to China. His 1877 and 1878 letters home mentioned his intent to get a “pitchure” of a tintype painted there for his brother Dennis.

The Tintype and Painting

About the “pitchure”. . . . We have a small framed tintype of Dennis Hagan’s children, Florence and Fred, made in 1877. And we also have a much larger oil painting of the two children, the paint cracked nearly all over in little irregular pieces the way safety glass cracks. It’s rather stilted and stylized, but we were informed by the donor, Birdene Webster Shackleton, that it was painted in China. Andrew expected it would have arrived in Maine before he sent a August 1878 letter during another trip to China. Being gone more than a year, he must have made repeated trips to China on the Golden State, thus leaving the tintype to be painted and shipped to Maine during an earlier voyage.

In his letters, which were quoted in the preceding article, Andrew certainly sounded like a lively, fun-loving man with deep and affectionate relationships with his mother and neighborhood girls which he expressed in a teasing manner. He must have written more letters that did not come to us. Our information on the family comes from three different local sources, but many other descendants left town and may have taken letters.

Managing Andrew's Shanghai Death

After Andrew’s August 1878 letter the correspondence made an abrupt turn from easy familiarity to businesslike management of details. The next letter regarding Andrew was sent to Miles from the U.S. Consul General of Shanghai on December 31, 1878, with the news “of the death of your son, Andrew Hagan, late 2nd mate on board the American ship Golden State, who died in Shanghai on the 25th of October.” The consul general’s name was illegible, but the internet brought up David Bailey, which approximated the scribble. Bailey was sending Andrew’s wages of $96.99 which the ship's captain gave him. The wages were to go to a New York District Court, while Andrew’s effects would be sent to his mother or sold, with the proceeds being sent to her. Bailey enclosed a detailed list of Andrews possessions in a trunk and a bag: bedclothes and a surprising amount of clothes (19 shirts, five pairs of shoes, full suits, and so on)—in all 49 items with 13 pairs of socks, shoes, and boots. Andrew also had a pair of marine glasses (binoculars) and a package of letters.

The news of Andrew’s death, however long it took to arrive, must have cast a pall over the Hagan family and the surrounding village. We don’t see any of the letters sent to Andrew by the family or sent by them to officials. But a May 15, 1879 letter from Captain Delano seems to be a reply to an inquiry from Miles Hagan, sent May 12, just three days earlier. The Golden State was back in New York and steamers were quick with mail. Captain Delano explained that Andrew died of cholera after getting sick at 10 a.m. on October 24 and dying at 10 p.m. the next day. Delano wrote, “He is buried in the New Cemetery and a headstone erected stating the place of his birth, age, and day of his death. The headstone was paid for by his brother officers.”

More Complications

Next the consul general wrote again on June 13, 1879 that “owing to an inadvertence” by the consulate a tailor's bill from Eu Don, on Hongkow Road nearly opposite the Old Dock, was not deducted from the wages sent to New York. The original bill was included. So the consul had to sell 4/5ths of Andrew’s clothes to cover the $24.10 bill, leaving just a few to send home. The clothing, “having belonged to a person deceased of a contagious disease, did not sell to good advantage.” The balance was intended to be loaded on the next ship to New York.

Andrew’s father died in 1880; his mother Jane lived on to 1895. Nothing further was heard about Andrew’s estate after 1879 until a flurry of nine letters in 1882 to Dennis Hagan consisting of correspondence from/to the consulate and the state department in Washington; who knows how many copies were penned for all entities. Evidently some of the carefully written prior letters had been lost in the mail and no effects had ever been received by the family. So copies of old letters and other letters reviewing what had taken place with the Shanghai consulate, the New York district court, Eu Don, and the family were sent around so everyone knew what was intended and perhaps what did happen.

It’s jarring to have a sad death wrapped into mundane details by bureaucracy, and this one was more than most because it was half a world away from home. I was impressed with how painstaking and diligent the late 1870s consular letters seemed to be in handling Andrew’s affairs. It's too bad the good intent was undercut by undelivered letters, leading to undone tasks. We never do see the full story from long ago, but every piece of paper that survives helps profile others’ lives. We can tell bits of this story thanks to those who donated the letters: Birdene Shackleton and Harriet Shepardson (through Birdene’s sister-in-law Mildred Webster), all Seavey descendants and donors, and Evelyn Tibbetts who lived in Dennis Hagan’s house.