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Rainey, Thomas
Autograph Letter Signed Mobile, Alabama, November 11, 1856, recounting his trip from New York City to Mobile, Alabama, written to his sister Jennie, 1856

Quarto, 1 page, dated 11 November 1856, written by Thomas Rainey to his sister Jennie S. Rainey, recounting a steamer trip from New York City, to Savannah, Georgia, to Florida, and finally to Mobile, Alabama.

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Rainey writes about his trip and his travelling companions, one of which was the daughter of Florida’s governor, Richard Keith Call (1792-1862) and another being Catherine Daingerfield Willis Gray Murat (1803-1867), the great-grandniece of George Washington, and the widow of Prince Charles Louis Napoleon Achille Murat, son of Joachim Murat, King of Naples and his wife Caroline Bonaparte, sister of Napoleon.

Thomas Rainey (1824-1910)

This letter was written by Thomas Rainey (1824-1910) to his sister Jennie S. Rainey (1832- ). Thomas was born in Yanceyville, Caswell County, North Carolina — one of many children born to James Glenn Rainey (1805-1876) and Sophia Hendrick (1807-1870). Apparently schooled in engineering and eventually earning the honorific - Dr. Thomas Rainey, he led a colorful life. Rainey taught school, wrote a book, became involved in Republican Party politics, and studied steam navigation in Europe. At one time he owned a fleet of sixteen steam ferry boats in Brazil, and his brother Dabney Rainey is buried there. His fortune was made in Brazil, but it was a “bridge” that became his life’s passion.

Dr. Thomas Rainey was a resident of Ravenswood, Queens and spent 25 years of his life and most of his fortune advancing the construction of a bridge across the East River between Manhattan and Long Island City. The area that now accommodates Rainey Park (New York City) was to be the Queens anchor for the “Blackwell Island Bridge,” a project backed by leading citizens of Long Island City after the American Civil War. In 1871, they incorporated the “New York and Queens County Bridge Company.” The bridge, planned with one ramp south to Brooklyn and another out to Long Island, was promoted as a catalyst for developing growth in Queens and as a railroad link to Long Island. To the community’s disadvantage, the effort fell apart during the financial Panic of 1873.

Rainey had been one of the earliest and staunchest supporters of the project, and the burden of organizing and refinancing the company fell on him, first as treasurer in 1874, then as president in 1877. Dr. Rainey lobbied around the country to get financial backing and a bridge franchise. However, the War Department, concerned that a bridge could interfere with the defense of New York and access to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, withheld approval. Most interest in the region was for another bridge between Brooklyn and Manhattan. The sparse population in Queens at the time raised further concerns of need and profitability, and the project had once again lost steam by 1892.

A group from the community called the Committee of Forty kept the effort alive. After the consolidation of New York City in 1898, the project gained new momentum and the bridge was finally built at Queens Plaza, a few blocks south of the proposed location. On opening day in 1909, Dr. Rainey realized his dream as he crossed the new bridge with Governor Charles Evans Hughes. The Queensboro Bridge fulfilled its promise by tying the Borough of Queens into Greater New York and Rainey received a gold medal inscribed “The Father of the Bridge.”

The structure was named the Queensboro Bridge, but Rainey’s contribution was not forgotten. On April 18, 1904, the City of New York acquired several acres of waterfront property through condemnation procedures. The concrete “sea wall,” built where the park meets the East River, was completed in 1912, by which time Rainey had passed away. To honor his public spirit, the city named the property Rainey Park. This park is the largest in Ravenswood, once an exclusive neighborhood.

“Mobile, Nov. 11, 1856

My Dear Sister Jennie,

I arrived in this little city yesterday, & am going on to New Orleans to day. I came to Savannah from N. York in the Steamer ‘Alabama,’ thinking of you all frequently as I passed Cape Hetaeras; seasick all the time.

My business is about done here, & I shall return by way of this city & northern Ala & Mississippi, to Savannah & Charleston. Please write me at Charleston.

I had really delightful travelling companions from N. York to Florida. Madame Murat, whose husband, if living, would now be on the throne of Naples. The Old Princess is a Virginian & a practical, common sense & charming woman. A daughter of Gov. Call of Florida was with her; a very interesting young lady. They were in my charge from N. York. I shall get letters from them in Savannah.

Please give my love to all of the family, & don’t fail to write me.

Truly yr. Brother,

Thomas Rainey”