Stephen Bolles Letter

Original content by: Mimi Houston

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About This Document

In January of 1861, Stephen G. Bolles found himself in Whampoa, China, waiting for a shipment of tea to be loaded on the clipper ship Comet, of which he was a crew member.   In this letter, Bolles writes to his young daughter Amelia (though, given her young age, it also served as information for his wife) who is living back in Connecticut. He describes his thoughts on being in China, as well as his opinions and concerns on the impending Civil War in the United States.

Read by Brian Donlon.

Historical Context

By January 19, 1861, South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, and Alabama had already seceded from the United States. That same day, Georgia also seceded. As leaders in these states were setting up their government as a sovereign power, other southern states were contemplating doing the same thing. America as a nation was facing a crossroads, and every home, North and South, was talking about the future of the country. Even as far away as China, American citizens were worried about what was happening in their homeland. Bolles’s letter to little Amelia tells of rumors in China that several more states are getting ready to leave the Union, and it expresses his concern about a Civil War in the near future.

Questions for Further Thought

  1. Bolles expresses anxiety about sailing through the Straits of Gaspar. Indeed, many ships were lost in this dangerous area. Do you think Bolles' choice of profession was worth the risk, considering he was a husband and a father?
  2. How would you feel as a child if your parents were regularly gone for months at a time? How would it affect your relationship?
  3. How do you think people in Connecticut felt when they heard Southern states were beginning to secede? Do you think most people felt war was immanent?