Relph, Andrew
Collection of Letters of Andrew Relph, of Buffalo, New York, to Capt. Benjamin Burlingame, of Coventry, Kent County, Rhode Island, 1821-1838

7 letters, 20 manuscript pages, folding stamp-less letter-sheets, posted from Pomfret (1) and Buffalo, New York (5), dated from 14 November 1821 to 22 January 1838. Of the seven letters, six are written by Andrew Relph to Capt. Burlingame, the remaining letter is written to Capt. Burlingame by his son Henry. The earliest letter (1821) is written by Relph to Burlingame and posted from Pomfret, New York, about 50 miles southwest of Buffalo on Lake Erie. The other six letters (five from Relph, one from Henry Burlingame) are all posted from Buffalo.

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Relph’s letters contain considerable historical information on the early business history, social history, and development of Buffalo. In 1804, as principal agent opening the area for the Holland Land Company, the architect of Washington D.C., Joseph Ellicott, designed a radial street and grid system that branches out from downtown Buffalo like bicycle spokes similar to the street system he used in the nation's capital. Although Ellicott named the settlement "New Amsterdam," the name did not catch on. During the War of 1812, on December 30, 1813, Buffalo was burned by British forces. On October 26, 1825, the Erie Canal was completed with Buffalo a port-of-call for settlers heading westward. At the time, the population was about 2,400.The Erie Canal brought about a surge in population and commerce, which led Buffalo to incorporate as a city in 1832. It was during this boom time that the present letters were written.

 

         These letters act as series of reports on the progress of Buffalo, with updates on business conditions in the city, in particular Relph’s steam mill (lumber) business, the ongoing construction in the city (houses, stores, churches, a new jail), various fires and destruction of buildings, various boats, or steamers on the river, cargoes, mentions of the canals, and occasional mentions of Niagara Falls and people going "over" the falls. There is also much on the costs of food and commodities in Buffalo, as well as the relative costs of labor for various occupations, and a mention of the death of Red Jacket, the famous Seneca leader.

 

         Andrew Relph (c1788-?) and Capt. Benj. Burlingame (1773-1849)

 

         Andrew Relph was born about 1788 at Rhode Island. He moved at an early date to Buffalo, New York and appears to have married a woman named Celia. In the 1850 Census he had a "steam mill" listed as his occupation. By the 1860 Census he was listed as a "gentleman" (retired). Relph writes to a Capt. Benjamin Burlingame (1773-1849), who was born and died at the Burlingame family home in Coventry, Rhode Island. The Burlingame homestead was located in the Town of Coventry, just south of the Scituate Town Line, and near the Village of Hope. Eight generations of the family lived at this home. Burlingame was the son of Stephen Burlingame (1742-1808) and Ruth King (1741-1815). In 1794, Capt. Burlingame married Hannah Henry (1779-1857) the daughter of Caleb Henry (1746-1829) and Hannah Sheldon (1753-1829). Hannah Henry died on 4 February 1857. Together Capt. Burlingame and Hannah had at least three children, one of whom was Henry Burlingame (1814-1849), one of the correspondents in this collection. Henry Burlingame married Sally Ann Matteson in 1835. Henry died on 10 July 1849, his wife on 14 July 1889. Captain Burlingame died on 26 March 1849. They are all buried at the family cemetery near the family home in Coventry.

 

         Sample Quotes:

 

         "Buffalo, January 24 -1830

 

          Well Sir perhaps you want to hear what is going on in this quarter of the world. I will just give you a touch of the times, in the first place it is pretty darn cold weather & first rate sleighing. I expect Capt Colvin told you some darn big stories about our country people, &c., particularly the Swiss, there farming talk &c such as scythes, hoes & working oxen by the horns, but I don't see as you can ascertain the fact any other way than to take a tramp on here, I wish Capt. Moses had been at the falls when Sam Patch jumped off., I don't supposed you would believed that but Sam has jumped his last. The schooner Superior was to have gone over the falls in October, but she run on rocks and staid there until sometime in November when she got off and leapt the falls, whether Lawton got her off or no I never learnt. I suspect that he did. About the first of December there were two schooners 80 tons each arrived in Buffalo from Lake Ontario they come through the Welland Canal around the falls and in to Niagara River at [Chipeway] two miles above the falls & so on to Buffalo, so took in loading & went back the same way. One was an American, the other British. There was a large fire in Buffalo in the month of December burnt 16 buildings opposite the Farmers Tavern.  Jan 28th 2nd fire in Buffalo last night over the Little Buffalo Creek opposite the Travelers Home five or six buildings burnt, one of them was where Barber formerly kept, [Benoni] knows fire in Black Rock three buildings burnt belonging to Doc [Olsted]. The buildings at both places were all under insurance they are to be built again immediately. United States Branch Bank went into operation in Buffalo on the [5th]. 40 hands employed they have been casting two boilers for the steam boat Superior that weighs 9 tons each. A Large woolen factory to be built this summer near the hydraulic mills in Buffalo. Also a Roman Catholic meeting house for the Swizz...

             ...Wheat is 62 ½ cents per bushel, rye 50 cents, corn 37 ½, oats 25, potatoes 25, flour $4.00 per barrel, fresh port $4.00 per [hund], hay $8.00 per tun, cider $2.00 per barrel, whiskey 25 gallon, wood $1.00 per cord, coal $5.00 per hund, there is a turnpike road to be built this season from Buffalo to Hamburg of South. Red Jacket the Seneca chief of Buffalo Indian died on 19th of Jan. I must let Benoni know what some of them is driving at here I would writer a letter to him but don't know where to direct it until I can receive one from him...Andrew Relph to Capt. Benjamin Burlingame"

 

         "Buffalo, February 13th, 1833

         Capt Burlingame,

 

             Sir I received Henry's letter on 24th of Jan which pleased us much, as it being the first I think that we have received from him...Since Capt Colvin wrote in March 1831 not even seen a man from that state [Rhode Island]. I think since you was here, I hope the Ague & Fever  has not frightened you all, its nothing more than what every good man ought to have. Last season the Cholera raged in Buffalo, there was something like two hundred that died of that disease of all classes. It paid respects to anyone, it is very healthy now not any body sick to my knowledge in this town...There was a most destructive fire in Buffalo in Dec there being something like fifty buildings burnt it being set on fire in the night. Since then there has been two more fires with considerable damage. There was between seventy and one hundred buildings built last season, one brick block built last season for stores and dwelling that is 150 feet long 4 story high in the center of the city on the east side of Main Street, one large universal meeting house, there is now five meeting houses in Buffalo that is, one Baptist, one Presbyterian, one Universal, one Congregational, one Methodist, & one Catholic, also a new jail built last season very large, the old one was full the most of the time...

 

               I continue in the same place as when you was here and follow the same business that I have for the two last winters, that is of tending sawmill, there is a man by the name of Rogers, Rhode Island descent, that tends with me this winter he lives in the old house by the mill, we have sawed since the first of Dec between 60 & 70 sixty and seventy thousand. We keep the old mill raging night & day when we have water I take one half of the night & Rogers the other half & both in the day and make pretty fair business. We are lying on our ass at present being froze up & have been for about one month. We are all ready for a thaw having something like three hundred logs in the yard and coming in all the time. I expect to go into the stone business after the first of May. Stone is worth $6.00 per [cord/load] on hand and $3.00 at the quarry...Mr. Bill has built a new house this last fall. Mr. Rom has also built a large 2 story stone house. Mr Bean is building a stone barn one hundred feet long; two large houses going up this season between here & the cold spring. Plenty of business in this country, and good common work hands by the month from 10 to 13 dollars by the month on the farm & from 12 to 16 in the stone quarry. About 30 hands to work in the furnace...Andrew Relph of Buffalo to Benjamin Burlingame of Coventry"