Constant Somers, Manuscript Ship Navigation Notebook and Diary, May 16, 1811 - c. July 6, 1811 [American]

Constant Somers, Manuscript Ship Navigation Notebook and Diary, May 16, 1811 - c. July 6, 1811 [American] while en route to Cronstadt, Russia on U.S. Merchant Ship Dorothea, M.D. Dougherty, Master of Ship
Constant Somers, Author
manuscript ink on period laid paper string bound in notebook
Unrestored original condition
as found original condition, marbled covers some edge wear and surface loss on back cover, dark ink manuscript text in good, highly legible condition throughout, small loss to lower right corner of front cover and two sheets - nibbled 1 inch, paper spine some loss, paper lightly toned, moderately toned water stain pattern at top center of 10 pages of text without affecting legibility, some insect holes in top margin of one page, the notebook can be readily handled
12.75 × 8 × 0.25 inches
Sale Status: 
For Sale

String bound book inside blue marbled covers with 38 pages of writing in dark ink, a young man's working notebook kept during his merchant ship voyage to the Baltic Sea consisting of: manuscript inside front cover (1), Notebook of Navigation Rules (30), Ship Dorothea's Sail list (1), Personal Diary (5), blank (1).

I. Description
            "Oh May I improve" begins the Constant Somers May 16, 1811 American manuscript notebook of navigation rules, with examples for calculating time and position at sea aboard the Ship Dorothea "at Sea June 15, 1811" bound for the Baltic Sea under the command of M.D. Dougherty. The inside from cover of this book is identified in large cursive script "Constant Somers May 16, 1811 Ship Dorothea; M.D. Dougherty commanding" the writing so large it is easy to miss the very small inscription in the inside top left corner with h with his inner aspirations.  The log book contains formulas for calculating a ship's position at sea, regulating a watch et al. with examples and navigation problems for the student of navigation to answer. Constant Somers most likely copied these from a contemporary printed text. Some of the problem sets refer to Boston, 1808.  The notebook is remarkable because it also contains five pages of Constant Somers' diary when he goes ashore once the ship reaches Denmark, Sweden and enters Cronstadt, Russia.
          Constant Somers was b. Jan. 3, 1794  in Great Egg Harbor, New Jersey. He died Aug. 29, 1811 at age 17 on board ship at Cronstadt, Russia. His diary ends c. July 6, 1811,  six weeks prior to his death.  He is buried in the Col. Richard Somers family cemetery at Somers Point, Atlantic County, New Jersey. His parents are Constant and Sarah Hand Somers of Great Egg Harbor, New Jersey. Siblings are Edward Somers and Sarah Sophia Somers Learning. 1/Constant went to sea in the tradition of his father Constant Somers (1763-1799) and grandfather Richard Somers (1737-1794). 2/ The historical context of the diary is defined also by the United States declaration of war on Great Britain, June 12, 1812, one year following Somers' death. On June 12, 1812 the Baltic trade for American merchant ships was  halted. 3/

            The notebook entries devoted to sailing are organized under Constant Somers' designated, separate headings as follows:
                  Parallel Sailing
                  Middle latitude sailing
                  Mercators Sailing
                  To find the Suns declination
                  Variation of the Compass with many examples
                  To find the Latitude by Observation
                  To find the time of the Moon's passing the Meridian
                  To find the Latitude by the Moons meridian altitude obtained by a fore Observation
                  To find the Latitude by a Meridian Altitude of a Planet
                  To find the Latitude by double altitudes with examples
                  To find the latitude by a Single altitude of the Sun taken near noon with examples
                  To find the Latitude by an altitude of the Pole Star
                  To find the time at Sea and Regulate a Watch with examples, and Second Method
                  Required the beginning and ending of Twilight, June 23rd 1808 Boston
                  and Third Method
                  To find the apparent time by an altitude of a fixed Star
                  When the Time at Ship is less than the Green ---h  time the Longitude must be West but if more than G the longitude is East
                  Lunar Observations
                  Lunar Observation  Charts Tables 1st & 2nd
                  -To find the effect of the moon's Parrallax with examples
                   Lunar Observations  2nd Method Rules

III.  Transcription of Constant Somers Log and Diary on board Ship Dorothea
        The inside from cover of the notebook is dated May 16, 1811 and includes an exhortation in the top left corner "Oh May I improve" and identifies Constant Somers, the Ship Dorothea commanded by M.D. Dougherty. After the navigation rules section, Constant resumes log notes. He writes: "at Sea June 15th 1811 on board Ship Dorothea bound to St. Petersburgh Longitude by Time"   at which date he has likely been with the ship for approximately 30 days. He enters: "Observed Time, Slow Time, GT" and Latitude, Declination, Sun, and calculations at 4 o'clock. "At Sea in latitude 49.11 N longitude 36.23' W the variation by an azimuth was discovered to be 32.5 W"

            The next entry on this page is "Ship Doro [thea] June 22nd 1811" with no subsequent writing. This day is a Saturday.

            The  personal diary continues in narrative format and may be read by turning the notebook upside down. If these narrative entries are a chronological continuation of the June 22, 1811 entry, the next entry, while undated is June 25, 1811.

"Tuesday (undated c. June 25, 1811) -Crew(?) took a pilot about three miles below Elsinor who only charged three English Guineas to carry us too the Castle - Came to there about 3 o'clock P.M. was board by a boat from the Castle which left a man on board who bot a green flag which was hoisted at the Main Royal mast head - until the doctor boards the Ship is quaranteened-----went on Shore in the Cutter 6 hands, Cockswain, Capt,  & Supercargo

Spent three hours Rambling about the City a cleaner place I never saw as were also its inhabitants ----the Streets are narrow - no pavements - Passengers must use the Rough stones - I believe two thirds of the people here are Soldiers____not a few jews 4/  a Bad currency  is now on foot the Same exactly as was established during the American Revolution_____it has so depreciated that in Exchange one Spanish Dollar is equal to 8 Rix Paper Dollars, There is no hard money in circulation in this place at all   got an other Pilot ___ _____ ____

"Wednesday(undated, c. June 26) - got underway at 5 A M some difficulty in getting our anchor___Took the Starboard Side of Vine Island, on this Island the King of Sweden has an Observatory___. It appears a very Suitable place.

We passed Copenhagen about 11 o'clock  The City does not make that elegant appearance  I had formed an idea of. The Batteries compensate for this deficiency to us  military man _ they form a Noble appearance __ there lies above the batteries Three Junk ships__which are Said to be bomb Proof. The Country for some distance below Copenhagen and as far above as I had an opportunity of seeing wears a fertile(?) aspect. I counted no less than 50 wind mills __ when abrest the City adjacent thereto___Here we was boarded again from the Crown Battery__The Palace of the King of Denmark look very handsome from the Sound."

"Thursday (undated c. June 27) __ Passed the Fertile island of Bornholm a number of vessels in Sight mostly English & Americans, what must the trade of the Baltic be in good times when the commerce of this Sea is so extensive in the present"

 "Friday. (undated c. June 28) Made the S E end of Gothland Island  at one viewing I counted with a glass seven steeples the towns not visible. this Island is of great value to the Kingdom of Sweden as well as bornholm_

The Castle at Elsinor 5 /is the Same that the play tragic Performance of Hamlet Represents the ghost of Hamlet making its appearance at a more suitable place for an imaginary Theatre of Ghosts and Hobgoblins I never saw, the Country is Romantic & the Castle antiquated beyond imagination, to ornament the castle more they have fixed on the top a telgraph6/ which looks at a distance like the top of a pine tree divested of its foliage. The place where Hamlet Palace stood when he was poisoned is about a mile or So below the Castle there is a handsome building there now, I know not what use is made of it   

when ashore at Elsinor the Boats crew went up to a Cake Shop the lady of the Shop would not sell any of her nicer (?) cakes to Sailors, they were glad to get some some hard ones, they resembled our biscuits in shape but not in size or taste.

How happy ought (?) we americans to be, how thankfull - that we live in a land of liberty a land of milk and honey_-_I wish those who complain of hard times and one thing or other at home could be transported here and undergo all the severities of a tyrannical government for a day if that were possible   how happy would they pass the Remainder of their days under a free government  a government of their own___ "

"Saturday. (undated. c. June 29, 1811)nothing Remarkable, we killed a Pig for tomorrow's dinner I set that down Pleasing"

Sunday.(undated c. June 30, 1811) ___ Nothing Remarkable

Monday(undated c. July 1, 1811) _____   ______

"Tuesday (undated c. July 2, 1811)___at Sun rise saw from mast head 4 vessels  at 8 we clearly perceived we were in the track of a large fleet   at 12 we had  passed 6 of them   at 8 in the evening had passed 37 and at Midnight all of them 48 sail   we found our the Dorothea  Sailed as well as we could possibly expect of a merchantman. This afternoon at the entrance of the gulf of Finland, came on a thick fog followed a Bremen Ship until it cleared away____

Wednesday. (c. July 3, 1811) Early this morning we had the satisfaction of Seeing the Port Batteries of Cronstadt which is undoubtedly the Key (King) of this Gulf --Took a pilot from a guard ship below the Battery - hauled into the mole, which is a commodious & Secure place_____  ______

"Thursday  (undated c. July 4, 1811) we commenced dismantling our Ship. "

"Friday (undated c. July 5, 1811)Finished Stripping the Ship."

"Saturday (undated c. July 6, 1811) Potering jobs --"

This place is a compleate fortress - walls all Round it and full of Soldiers - the emperor has established here a naval academy for the exercise and instruction of young sailors, they have a Ship on the grounds of the academy compleatly Rigged which the Boys are employed in maneuvering Stripping & Rigging"


Manuscript Entry next page:7/

                  Dimensions of the Sails of Ship Dorothea
                                    Main Sail heavy duck                        320          Main Royal Do 56                              
                                    Main Topsail Do                                300          Fore Top gallant Staysail 45
                                    Fore Sail                Do                        220          Fore Royals   50
                                    Fore Top Sail      Do                           250          Flying Jib  Do  100

                                    Fore Topmast Staysail Do                    50
                                   Storm mizen       Do                            120
                                    M Staysails           Do                            66
                                    Mizen Staysails Do                                54
                                    Spankers -Light Russia  decal (?)     
                                    Large Mizen Stay Sails Do                    90
                                    Main Top gallant Sail  Do                    125
                                    Main Top mast Stay Sail Do                192
                                    Half Top Sail                         Do           110
                                    Jibb                                             Do     175
                                    Mizen Topsail                      Do            146
                                    Mizen Top gallant Sail Do                      56

II. Notes:
1. Constant Somers Jr. (1794-1811) - Find a Grave Memorial
 /pacscl/ead.html?id=PACSCL_ISM_ISM196617Barry-Hayes papers - Philadelphia Area Archives, see Series 3 for correspondence of M.D. Dougherty and Series 58 containing ships' Papers for the Ship Dorothea.
3. Please see Richard S[omers]. Smith, Baltic Paul Revere of 1812. by Alfred W. Crosby Jr., Ohio State University for a discussion of trade and its disruption by war in the Baltic locales Constant Somers identifies in his diary.
4. William Cobbett was an Englishman who wrote a set of letters from prison pertaining to the years 1810-1811 objecting to Britain's paper money system, in particular the British Parliament's Act requiring that the face value of  British paper currency be accepted and not discounted relative to coin. To those who dispute that paper currency holds less value than coin, Cobbett explains that all paper money depreciates and that even the King received from Parliament a 50% increase in his annual allotment due to the depreciation of the paper currency allotment the prior year.  This example is by way of explaining that depreciation of the paper currency is not the product of Jews and money lenders, but is of the nature of paper currency itself from time immemorial. Cobbett's letters are both persuasive and wry.
5. The Castle at Elsinore was built in the 15th c.
6. The telegraph pole reference is likely a pole for running semaphores for signaling messages to passing ships. The term predates the electrical telegraph.
7. For tall ship sail names, please see Sail Identification — Tall Ship Celebration on line.

Item Type Taxonomy: 
Geographic Scope: 
The Back Room
Published Location Freeform: 
on board American Merchant Ship, en route to St. Cronstadt, Russia