Please Help Decipher a 1846 Maine Sailors' Letter

+6 votes

UPDATE: A Photo image of the original 1846 letter is now posted on the profile page of George Edwards (Edwards-28522)... I hope that leads to a better transcription/deciphering of his letter! 

UPDATE 2: according to the input & expertise received so far, (Please add or comment more) this could be the voyage 'path' of the Triumph in 1846:

"I expect to sail for home in about two months, the first harbor we put in was Pirates Cove, the neat was Neatsquare (Natashquan, Québec ), the next Wappeatygun (Ouapitagone Archipelago, Quebec), the next Port Island (New Foundland), the next Bon Esperance, (Bonne-Espérance, Quebec) the next Belsemore."  


In 1846 a ship named Triumph left the harbor of Portland, Maine.  On board was George Edwards, an 18 year-old on his very first ocean voyage.  Several months later the Triumph ported and George wrote a letter home to his parents.  I have the 1846 letter George Edwards wrote, and I am trying to decipher his handwriting of 176 years ago.  I am in Colo., a landlocked interior state and know NOTHING about ports in the upper Maine-New England-Canada coast in the mid-1840’s.  I am hoping that someone with that knowledge can help me ‘decode’ the voyage of George Edwards (1846-1847).  In his 1846 letter George writes that the Triumph set sail for the coast of Labrador (Canada).  The ship’s first stop was Pirates Cove,  the second stop is unreadable… looks something like “Neatsquare”, the third is also unreadable ?Wappeatygun?, then Port Island, and then Bonne-Espérance, Quebec.  The port that George writes the letter from is hard to decipher as well.. ? Belsemore?  I am fascinated by this historic old letter, and am researching it and George Edwards for his new profile.  Could someone with knowledge/expertise on the shipping ports in that 1846 era/area, help me with the voyage of George Edwards and the Triumph?

WikiTree profile: George Edwards
in Genealogy Help by Steve Archuleta G2G6 (8.7k points)
edited by Steve Archuleta

These are fun but challenging! I would suggest you work from some old maps of the region. Port Island is on the northern peninsula of Newfoundland. Try checking on these maps on Wikicommons, and try a few searches there. Here's a current day Google Map for Port Island on Newfoundland.

It is interesting, and it is a challenge especially for a land locked person with no knowledge at all regarding that upper coast line from Maine through Labrador.. and in key areas the 176 year old handwriting is just unreadible.   I would guess (remember I am clueless) that the Truimph followed the coastline, which is why I hope that someone may be able to help me put the pieces of the puzzle together.  Young George Edwards kept sailing... was in the New Orleans area just a year (1847) after he wrote this letter.  Thank you for your suggestions and advice.  Port Island does not appear on many maps I have looked at so far... so your links have really been helpful.  THANK YOU.
I'd also suggest re-tagging the question with Canada, as the route followed much of their coastline, swap it for "east" and "coast" as those won't help much.
I just got the letters back!  Sailor George Edwards' 1846 letter is posted on his profile page.  I greatly appreciate those of you who have offered do a 2nd (needed) transcription of the letter.  Lets see if we can trace the path of the schooner Truimph and in George's first Ocean voyage!
I don't know for sure, but the ''NeatSquan'' sounds like a close phonetic rendition of Natashquan, which is in Québec but on the north coast. map, ctrl with scroll to expand.

Thank you, I bet you are right!

3 Answers

+4 votes
Where's the letter?  I looked on George's profile and didn't find it.  I do transcriptions for the Brick Store Museum in Kennebunk so I'm pretty good at transcription... in addition my grandmother was from Newfoundland so I know about sailing up the Labrador too!   Glad to help you out.
by Jeffrey Martin G2G4 (4.9k points)
Count me in too, Steve.  I'm familiar with that coastline, and may be able to help you identify a place or two.  Have you posted the letter somewhere so we can view it?
I will have the first ever pictures of the letter/s within a week.  I also have two letters written by his brother John Jr. . He was a West Point Graduate and Union Artillery officer during the Civil War.  The Edwards family is my current genealogy project because of the letters.  John Jr. had a truly amazing life. It's sort of sad that sailor/brother George, our letter writer, died at sea almost an exact year after writing the letter to his father.
This is so exciting!  There are lots of people on WikiTree that are excellent as deciphering old documents.

NOW THAT THE LETTER IS POSTED... (Edwards-28522) I hope that people with the right knowledge & expertise, and skills in reading old documents will be able to improve the original transcription... I am looking forward to tracing the voyage of George Edwards on the schooner Truimph for the first time!

Steve, I'm searching maps right now!  His handwriting is very good and I think you had the place names very close in your original transcription.  

Is this the "Bon Experance" in George's letter? Bonne-Espérance is a municipality in the Côte-Nord region of the province of Quebec in Canada.

The ship's probable route from Maine to Bonne-Experance could be to travel east of Nova Scotia, northward between Cape Breton Island and Newfoundland, and then along the south coast of Labrador to Bon Experance.  

Ports: Pirates Cove, Neatsquare?, Wappestygun?, Port Island, Bon Esparance, Resemore.

If the ship docked at Port Island, then Bon Esperance, it may have traveled along the eastern coast of Newfoundland.

Laurie, have you had time to read the original letter?
+3 votes
Thanks for posting the letter. It's really cool.
by Elizabeth x G2G6 Mach 4 (47.9k points)
It is... there is something about how George Edwards writes this letter that just sort of grabs you and pulls you in.  18 yrs old... grew up seeing ships in port in his hometown.  RAN AWAY to become a sailor... start an adventure of a lifetime... the way he keeps apologizing about how he left... and that it wasn't because he didn't like home.  And then the 1st stop on his grand adventure.... Pirates Cove, that had to be exciting/incredible for him.

I have three more letters all written before 1863, written either by his brother John, or about him.  In the future... I will add those to John Jr.'s profile page.   But first, I want to continue work more on this profile... make George's story really special, make it shine (!)......

In looking through a book of Micmac Names, on page 12  I ran across Pirate's Cove being on the Canso Strait in Nova Scotia. I would assume that is now where Pirate Harbour is on google maps. This seems like the more likely of the options I found.

There are many references in the 1892 Catalog of Canadian Plants that refer to the Canso Straits location as being Pirates Cove as well.

I also saw reference to Devonian formations in the region around Challeur Bay (between Campbellton(NB) and Miguasha (QC)) that were called the Pirate Cove Formation being near the Pirate Cove Brook, but I could not find a corresponding reference on a map current or historical, although I have only been looking at this for an hour or so and could not find my old link to geological maps. 

Also I found a reference from 1864 of the Schooner Triumph, owned by John Low Jr. under Captain Campbell was run down and sunk on her passage to New York on March 17th by the steamer Western Metropolis. Captain and 3 crew were saved by the steamer but a John Miller of Kittery, ME and a Lighthill Pearce of Bristol, ME were drowned. 

I wasn't sure if any of the other letters mentioned other names that might correspond to see if that might be the same boat.  see this link page 32.

Cheers and good luck with the rest of it!

+5 votes


It is likely this area: In the Wikipedia article it states "Navigators in the past often used the islands as a source of fresh water."

The area is seen when you zoom in on this map as "Wapitagun H. (Harbor?)" (look just to the south of Watagheistie Sound)

Yes, the name Natashquan is all around it too and sounds alot like "Neatsquan"

Edited to add:

Rosemere could maybe be your Resemore as well :)

by Colleen Griffin G2G6 Mach 1 (18.6k points)
edited by Colleen Griffin

Oh My Gosh... THANK YOU SO MUCH!  I think you are probably right!   Can't ask George of course :) ... but I bet you nailed it!.

In my weird brain I can picture a PDF map on his profile page....a schnooner ship sailing up this specific coast, and little tiny ships in each of the ports the Triumph sailed into.  How often is there a chance to map out the journey of a 1846 schooner ship?  Something to think about....

My pleasure, Steve! I come from a long line of sea captains and shipbuilders from Maine and Nova Scotia and I love bringing their stories to life through the old maps, I would encourage you to make a graphic. In general I believe most old maps before 1923 are copyright free, you could probably just trace George's journey in photoshop on a screenshot. My ancestors participated in the first naval battle of the American Revolution at the Battle of Machias. They were founders of Jonesport and Boothbay Harbor, Maine and several members of a family along with local business owners would own shares in a ship. Sometimes they were named after wives or daughters. I enjoyed working on your letter, it is a treasure, and I am glad I had some resources to share. This was a lot of fun!

Colleen-Jo- & Others Helping out... Does Rosemere feel logical to and common sense you for the port where George wrote his letter?  

I am having trouble finding an online map that puts Rosemere close to Bon-Esperance, Quebec which was the port stop prior.  Maybe I just don't know why/how to look for the right map for confirmation. 

In looking at the letter again, it just might be an "R" instead of a "B". We really thought it was a B when we did the first transcription years ago... but we could have been wrong all these years. If it is Rosemere, it needs to make sense on a map to someone who knows the coastline that the Triumph was sailing.,_Quebec

Bonne Espérance can be seen on the map, the municipality is newly formed from 1990, but the name was used up there previously, just not an incorporated town.

The Rosemère Colleen referred to is definitely not it, that is a place near where I live, and I am nowhere near the coast of Labrador.  wink

Wrong Bonne Espérance, found the right one.,+newfoundland/@50.1883909,-60.1372323,11z

This is a pretty good interactive map, not finding Resemore so far, but you can see Natasquan along route 138, going to the right you will come to île de Ouapitagone, haven't figured out where Port Island is, unless that should read Fort Island, which you will see named Old Fort Bay (it's an island) then you get Bonne Espérance which is most likely île de Bonne Espérance.  Still can't figure out where Resemore is.

Note that none of these is in Newfoundland (1 word, not 2), and wasn't back when your man wrote his letter also.  He is going up the Labrador coast, what I have outlined follows that coast.  Haven't got a clue where Pirates' cove is though.  That could have been a local joke name.

Please excuse the Rosemere suggestion, I had gotten turned around looking for Natasquan and should have headed north not south. ;) I do favor a "B" over an "R" for Besemore, as well but trying all options. At first I thought it sounds like Bessemer but I could not find anything along those lines.

Good news, I may have found Nancy Belong! In this book pg. 28 it suggests Nancy Belong was a nickname for Blanc-Sablon, which is located on the north coast of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence near the entrance of the Strait of Belle Isle.,_Quebec

so, going up the coast as they are doing, Old Fort Bay or alternately Old Fort Island (next to each other on the map), the Île de Belle Espérance, your Resemore or Besemore or R/Besernore is between Belle Espérance and Blanc Sablon.  Blanc Sablon is clearly shown on the maps.  So whatever the true name of the other location is, it lies between île Belle Espérance and Blanc Sablon.  Looks to me like they were mostly island hopping, maybe the place is called Réserve something and he didn't speak the language so rendered it as he rendered the native names.

Bingo! I'm convinced "Besemore" is actually Belles Amours Harbor now.

The cartographer Jacques-Nicolas Bellin wrote "Belsamont or Belles Amours" on his maps of 1744 and 1755. The form "Belles Amours" prevailed from this date.

Finding Pirates Cove has been elusive so far.

makes sense.  Pirates' cove is too generic a name, English to boot, so you are going to have quite the search to figure out what he was talking about.  Has to be south of Natashquan but not too far south, since they wouldn't make a great detour before stopping I don't think.

This may also be of interest to you, Steve. It's only one small line from an 1855 Boston publication but maybe could be George's schooner?

Ballou's Pictorial, Vol 8, Issue 23, pg 366 left column:

"The schooner Triumph has sailed from Newburyport bound to the shores of Labrador for the purpose of obtaining wild birds' eggs, which abound there."

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