This letter was written by 44 year-old Lt. Joshua Dawson Todd (1817-1861), the son of Samuel Poultney Todd (1791-1858) and Rebecca Ann Dawson (1790-1861). Samuel had a career in the US Navy as a purser moving his family from Washington D.C., to Philadelphia, and to Brooklyn. Joshua wrote the letter to his brother, James Todd (1813-18xx) who worked as a clerk in Brooklyn.
Like his father, Joshua made his career in the U.S. Navy. He appears to have served on the U. S. Sloop of War St. Louis as early as 1850. In this letter he tells his brother that the crew of the St. Louis suffered significant illness while on their last cruise and that the ship was lacking critical equipment to make it effective. “We have been treated shamefully,” he told his brother. He also expresses concern for his widowed mother’s health who, unbeknownst to him, had already expired on 9 August. The Philadelphia Inquirer of 30 December 1861 reported that Lt. Todd died just four months later on Christmas Day “at his residence in Brooklyn.”
In January 1861, the St. Louis was part of the Home Squadron fleet based at Pensacola, Florida. The ship was recalled from Veracruz to return to Pensacola to stand guard during the turmoil which preceded the outbreak of the American Civil War. In April, she aided in the reinforcement of Fort Pickens; then joined in the massive blockade of southern ports. On 5 September, she assisted Brooklyn in the capture of blockade-running Confederate brig, Macao, at the mouth of the Mississippi River.
U.S. Ship St. Louis
August 20th 1861
I wrote to you day before yesterday but as the steamer Rhode Island has unexpectedly been detained, I add a few lines to go by the same conveyance. We are all looking anxiously for our relief and suppose we will sail for home as soon as the Preble arrives. She was at Key West when the Rhode Island left there two weeks since, and would sail in a day or two for Fort Pickens. The Flag Officer has orders to land us North as soon as a vessel can be sent to relieve us.
I think we have been treated shamefully. The ship should have been ordered North immediately after the reinforcement of Pickens. She had then been on the station and the worst part of it, two years and three months, and employed on the sickly coast of Nicaragua fifteen months of the time, officers and crew suffering from the effects of climate and long confinement on board ship. As an instance of the effects of climate, we have sent home sick during the cruise at least one third of the ship’s company and now have quite a number of men whose term of service has expired and who are fully entitled to their discharges. Besides we have reported months since that the ship was deficient in necessary articles to render her efficient and have made requisitions to supply them but without effect.
I mention the facts to you because many letters have appeared in the papers from other ships complaining when not a line has been written from this ship referring to the subject. As you may well believe, I am much distressed about our dear Mother and look anxiously for your letters.
Your affectionate brother, — Joshua