« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
for delivery to the Merchants' Bank of Boston, on account of the Government, was lost with the Lexington.
Dexter Brigham, Jr., aided W. F. Harnden, both as messenger and clerk, soon after the Express was started, but only as a volunteer and without compensation. Harnden told him that the Express was only an experiment, but when it should become a paying concern, he would give him something for his services.
After the Express had been running a short time, via Providence and Newport, Harnden found it desirable to have a conductor through to New York, via Stonington, and he employed Luke Damon, who continued on that route for two or three years.
HISTORY OF WM. F. HARNDEN, AND HARNDEN & CO., COMPLETED. HARNDEN'S ILL HEALTH AND OTHER DISCOURAGEMENTS.-HIS HEROISM. NARRATIVE OF THE LOSS OF THE LEXINGTON.- MELANCHOLY DEATH OF ADOLPHUS HARNDEN, THE FIRST MAN THAT DIED IN THE EXPRESS SERVICE.-FREEZING-UP OF THE SOUND.-NOVEL WAY OF EXPRESSING. HARNDEN ESTABLISHES OFFICES IN PHILADELPHIA AND ALBANY. ALLUDES TO THE STARTING OF THE FIRST OPPOSITION EXPRESS (ADAMS & Co.).-TAKES A PARTNER AND ESTABLISHES A EUROPEAN BUSINESS.-CHARACTERISTIC CORRESPONDENCE BY HARNDEN.-HENRY WELLS AS HIS AGENT.-HARNDEN & Co.'s OPERATIONS; THEIR PROGRESS AT HOME AND ABROAD.-- SICKNESS AND DECEASE OF WILLIAM F. HARNDEN.-RESULT OF HIS ENTERPRISES.
WE have described the causes and origin of the Package Express; it now remains for us to relate how Harnden's enterprise stood the test of experience-wherein it failed, wherein it prospered, and how much of the fruits of the noble tree which he had planted, he was permitted to enjoy before he died.
To illustrate how slight a thread the Express line was at that time, Mr. James Cholwell, then a clerk in J. W. Hale's foreign letter office, but subsequently a city money-messenger with Adams & Co., informs us that he remembers that one day Harnden came to where his employer was sorting letters, and striking his hand emphatically upon the counter, declared that "he could not make it go," meaning the Express business. "He had expended," he said, "a thousand or twelve hundred upon it, and had not got half his money back." Hale reminded him that the Cunard line of steamships was about to go into operation between Liverpool and Boston, and this would necessarily make a multitude of foreign parcels for delivery, in New York and Philadelphia, by express. Harnden saw at once the force of the suggestion, and was encouraged to continue his enterprise. When the steamships commenced running, the communication between New York and Boston per
ceptibly increased, and the impetus given by it to the business of the latter city materially helped Harnden & Co.
The reader will understand that Harnden, in the struggle for the establishment of his "project," had had the odds very much against him. He had neither health, capital, nor friends to back him. As before stated, the reason of his resigning his situation as ticket master on the Boston and Worcester Railroad was that his slender constitution had been seriously injured by his steadfast application to the duty required of him ; hence he was not physically equal to the fatigue inseparable from the berth of an Express conductor or messenger; and it was a subject of wonder to all who knew him that he endured it as well as he did. The secret of it was, that he had, under a very quiet and rather taciturn demeanor, great hopefulness,' a steady zeal, and a strong will. By almost superhuman exertion of the latter faculty, when worn out by a night of harder duty than usual, by which he had been robbed of his needful rest, and exposed to the roughest weather, on sea and land, he would re-animate his exhausted system and nerve himself to discharge the recurring labor. In these days of progress it is not so easy to appreciate the severe ordeal which Harnden went through. Unless a man is stimulated by an indomitable spirit, if his body is weak and undermined by disease, he feels privileged to shun fatigue; but Harnden, on the contrary, resolutely encountered the hardships of his new business at all times, and often against the remonstrances of his friends who feared that he had undertaken a work that would soon destroy him. Among other things, it was his pride to be first to board the British mail steamer, to obtain the European news for the press; and even though it should be between midnight and morning, his office would be illuminated, and he and his men on the alert for the expected arrival. This often occurred when, instead of such exposure, he ought to have been in bed and under a doctor's care.
His Express had been in operation only a few months, when -it was in the summer or fall of 1839-O'Hearn, a part of whose little store in the basement of what is now No. 20 Wall street, at the corner of Nassau street, we have said was his original office in this city, requested him to remove, because
the receipts of parcels had so increased that they obstructed the stationer's own business. Harnden acquiesced, and hired an office at No. 2 Wall street, in a building situated where the National Bank of the Republic now stands.
His original office in Boston was in the same room with Staples, the stage agent, No. 9 Court street. B. D. & G. B. Earle, bank messengers between Boston and Providence, started an Express between those two cities, and occupied a portion of Harnden's Providence office.
In August, 1839, E. L. Stone, a native of Leicester, Mass., became a clerk in Harnden's service at No. 2 Wall street. J. W. Lawrence was agent of the Boston office; and Luke Damon and Adolphus Harnden were messengers. This arrangement continued until the 13th of January, 1840, the date of the disaster to the Lexington. On that fatal day, the business of the Express at the New York office seemed even better than usual. Harnden had been intrusted with the delivery of $20,000 to Franklin Haven, president of the Merchants' Bank and U. S. Pension Agent. Besides that large sum, they had in charge as much more for various other parties in Boston, and a considerable quantity of parcels, &c. The money and valuables were put into the portable safe or iron box as usual, and this was bestowed in the Express crate, with the packages, by Adolphus Harnden, who little imagined, when it was done, that he had packed it for the last time. It was a winter's afternoon, but the trip seemed likely to be safe enough.
There were nearly 100 passengers on board, besides 37 persons in the capacity of officers and crew. On deck was a large quantity of cotton, in bales.
At seven o'clock in the evening, when about five miles east of Eaton's Neck, L. I., and going at the rate of 12 miles an hour, the cotton near the smoke pipe was discovered to be on fire! The wind was blowing very fresh, and all endeavors to extinguish the flames being found ineffectual, the boat was headed for Long Island. Unhappily the tiller ropes were soon broken by straining, and the vessel became unmanageable.
The consternation was now so universal that two of the Lexington's boats, and the life-boat, were no sooner lifted out and let down into the water, than a crowd of panic-stricken
mortals precipitated themselves on board, and swamped them --by this means losing their own lives and depriving the rest of their only dependence in that terrible emergency. Another boat, which had been lowered very carefully, and apparently all right, was found, a day or two afterwards, with four bodies in it, and nearly full of water.
The engine, also, became useless, and the boat drifted at the mercy of the wind and sea, while the volume of fire from the rapidly-consuming cotton swept over her, and her despairing passengers and crew, with a fearfulness that defies description. The conflagration being amidships, cut off necessarily all communication from stem to stern, where the passengers were collected; some clinging to each other, some on their knees, and either imploring God to help them, or unavailingly bewailing the horrible doom which gazed grimly into their pale countenances.
The blazing wreck, shining far over the intensely cold and heavy waste of waters, exhibited the scene of the catastrophe with terrible distinctness. To remain on board was to incur certain death, and to cast themselves into the sea was the only alternative. It was a desperate resort, but, commending themselves to God, the poor creatures availed themselves of the wretched privilege of a choice in the manner of their death; for they could hardly have entertained a hope of surviving. A very few, who hesitated to precipitate themselves into the merciless deep, clung to the sides of the burning hull, in the hope of prolonging for a few moments their limited existence.
Only 4 persons were saved; and 110 men, 8 women, and 3 children are known to have perished. If any, upon spars and fragments of the wreck, escaped drowning, it was only to die by exposure. It is possible that a few survived until morning, and drew their last breath in sight of the rising sun.
Many of the victims of that awful calamity were prominent citizens of New York and Boston. The public favorite, the inimitable comedian, the wit, the scholar, and the gentleman, Henry J. Finn, enacted in that tragedy the last scene in his life. How impressively it stands out in contrast with what we remember of him, as, many a time and oft, at the annual Corporation dinner, he used to "set the table in a roar,"