Rhode Island Stampless Covers & Letters
May 19, 1857-59 Ship Letter - Via Brig "Helen Lane" Origin Unknown 
to Mrs. George F. Usher - Bristol, Rhode Island

(Scroll Down for Background Information  History and Text of Letter)

The origin of the above cover is unknown, however, it was carried by the Brig Helen Lane and delivered to the Post Office at the Port of New York on May 19. (There were no contents.)

The "New York Ship - May 19 - 5 cts" marking was applied at the New York Post Office. This marking was in use between the 1853 to 1859. The cancel is known only in Black and measures 34 mm in circumference. The 1987 edition of the "American Stampless Cover Catalog" adds $45 to the value of a cover for this marking. The Postal Act of March 3, 1855, (effective April 1, 1855) set the inland rate for mail traveling under 3000 miles at 3 cents and made the prepayment of all domestic letters compulsory. Foreign mail could still be sent collect. Thus the rate shown on the cover above (5 cents) is the 3 cent rate to be collected from the recipient, (Mrs. Usher) plus the 2 cent fee paid to the Captain of the Helen Lane.

All mail during this time that was carried on the high seas aboard a private ship that did not have a mail contract with the U.S. Postal Service was marked "Ship," whether it was sent from a foreign country or from another city in the United States. 

NOTE: If the letter had been addressed to New York instead of Bristol, it would have been charged an additional penny. The rate for mail addressed to the port of entry was set at six cents until 1861 when it was reduced to 5 cents.

The marking above indicates that the letter was sent sometime after 1855, but before 1859 when this marking was in use by the New York Post Office. However the census records for the town of Bristol, Rhode Island indicate that Emily French Usher married George Usher on September 22, 1857. (His first wife had passed away some time before.) This narrows down the time frame that the letter was sent to between 1857 and 1859.

George F. Usher was born in 1794 in Bristol, Rhode Island. He is listed on the 1850 census as a merchant and on the 1860 and 1870 census' respectively as a Consul and Ex. R.I. Consul. He married his second wife Emily F. French, (b. 1827) on September 22 1857. The name of his first wife is unknown, however there were two daughters from that marriage; Helen and Irene. The 1860 census lists three domestic servants residing in the home; Emily, Helen and Ida.

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