1840: Henry Owen to Henry Jessop

The New Orleans Fire Department

This letter was written in mid-March 1840 by Henry Owen from New Orleans, Louisiana, who we learn has just lost his inventory in a fire that took place at No. 24 Chartres Street where he had it stored. A newspaper advertisement placed by Henry Owen appearing in The Daily Picayune of Thursday, March 5, 1840—just 8 days before the fire started—indicates that he was an agent selling Joseph Gillott’s Patent Steel Pens. The advertisement states that he had “a large assortment of the well known pens for sale wholesale…at 24 Chartres street, upstairs.”

According to a newspaper article appearing in the New York Daily Express on Monday, 30 March 1840, the fire that “broke out on the night of the 13th inst., [was in] the bookstore and stationery warehouse of D. Felt & Co., No. 24 Chartres street. The flames rapidly extended to other houses on either sides; viz., to Armistead & Spring’s foreign & domestic dry goods store, No. 22, and to L. Chittenden’s importing silk and fancy store, No. 26. Notwithstanding the indefatigable exertions of the firemen, the flames took a northerly direction and rapidly consumed the clothing store of Paul Tulane & Co., No. 23, and the saddlery and harness warehouse of Smith, Cantzon, & Co., No. 30, corner of Chartres and Custom House streets.

It does not appear that Henry operated as an agent selling Gillott’s Patent Steel Pens for more than just a few months in the winter of 1839-40. From newspaper advertisements we learn that he was selling Gillott pens in New York City at 109 Beekman Street in the summer of 1837 and in 1838. He apparently returned to New York City following his loss (albeit insured) at New Orleans. There is a notice of his selling these same pens as the “sole agent” at 91 John Street in New York City in 1847 and even as late as 1864.

Henry wrote the letter to Henry Jessop (1808-1849), the son of William Jessop (1772-1835) and Rebecca Taylor (1770-1859). Henry took over his father’s firm William Jessop & Sons after his father’s death in 1835. The firm produced high quality steel in its Sheffield, England, factory, but shipped to agents in America.

Henry’s connection to the Jessop’s of Sheffield, England, convinces me he was the same Henry Owen who was born in Sheffield, England, on 10 May 1811 who was described as being 5’10” inches tall, with blue eyes and light brown hair, and 53 years old when he applied for a passport in 1864 giving 26 West 25th Street on NYC as his address.


Stampless cover addressed to Messers. William Jessop & Sons, New York

New Orleans [ Louisiana]
3 a.m., March 14, 1840

Mr. Hy. Jessop
My dear sir,

Late as it is, I must write you, as were I to trust to writing early in the morning, I should probably fail. The fact is, I am burnt out, not as a rap saved, but fully insured, my book is burnt, for fortunately, I yesterday added up the sales, and can most unequivocally swear to the amount within a trifle.

Now for particulars. I was engaged in conversation with a stationer, when the cry of “Fire” arose. We ran out of the verandah & learnt the fire was at No. 24 Chartres Street. I hurried to the spot and running into the lower store for the key, asked some gentleman to lend a hand. On opening the side door leading upstairs, I found the top of the stairs on fire. Of course I could not go through them. I got to the street and that moment every iron window shutter was burst open by the force of the flames. The fire burnt the store on the South and Four on fire on the North to Custom House St. Luckily for the neighboring [buildings], the walls fell almost as the fire reaching them. But for this, I should probably have been burned out of house as well, to make sure I did not pack up. Whiting & Stark, narrowly escaped. All I regret the loss of is the prices you sent & the power of attorney of he firm.

My friend, Mr. Montgomery of the House of Slocomb, Richards & Co., says the company I insured in are good. If their losses are heavy, we may have to wait a short while—still it is good. They will render me all the advice and assistance I require. I have Mr. Stark too, if needed. Be not afraid but I will secure the amount.

How the fire originated, I cannot learn. All I know is I left at 5 o’clock to see Crookes off to sea. There was not the semblance of a fire then. Mr. Stetson who conducts [David] Felt’s [stationery] business tells me his bookbinder was at work at 9 o’clock in the 4th story. He heard a kind of explosion [and] on looking, he found the story below all on fire. He had to escape by the spout. Therefore the fire did not originate in the story I was in—thanks be praised for that.

I proposed leaving on Sunday [but] this will keep me longer. And as all my goods are gone, show bills too, when I settle with the insurance, I do not know but I shall return by sea.

While the fire was going, I could not help wishing Phill Meaks’ [Weak’s?] goods had been there. I keep this open till breakfast time. I may, if not burnt up in the meantime, have something more to say. Very tired and sleepy, I am yours. Very respectfully, — Henry Owen

8 o’clock. No further damages. I find my [ ] of stock is lost. Expect to hear again from me soon. If you write. Address Care of Messer Slocomb, Richards, & Co. I may to be sure get this and leave before I can hear from you.

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