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Papers, 1786-1818, 1855-1857, of the Peronneau and Porcher Families
    A gift to the SCL Manuscripts Division announced in 2003

| Gifts to Manuscripts 2003 | Front Page 2003 | Endowments | Friends of the Library |

Correspondence between Mrs. Arthur Peronneau of Charleston and her children and other relatives and two account books, 1794-1818 and 1797-1816, provide details concerning the estate of Arthur Peronneau (d. 1774) and family activities.

A letter, 10 February 1786, Beaufort, of daughter Ann Cooper thanks her mother for taking care of Peggy, who may have been a family slave, sends cloth for making a gown and aprons, and comments on a “certain Gentleman for engrossing so much of my Cousin Betseys time and thoughts that her absent Friends are entirely forgotten.....I...suppose by this time she has...approach'd the Altar of Hymen and there vowed perpetual ob. I cannot write the word out.”

Eight years later, 25 April 1794, Ann Cooper was in London and Peggy and her children remained with Mrs. Peronneau. Ann Cooper’s letter acknowledged the family news that had been conveyed to her by Mr. Gibbes and regretted the necessity of removing Peggy and her children—“It was my wish and intention that she shou’d have continued with you...but having had very pressing applications from her to change her situation, I have at length yielded to her request.” Another resident in Mrs. Peronneau’s household was the daughter of S[usannah] H[ayne] Simmons. In a letter, 7 August 1791, to her daughter Caroline, Mrs. Simmons conveys her brother’s message that “your birds have grown so tame, that we let them out of the cage into the Piazza, and they never attempt to go out,” and relates that her father, John Simmons, had consented to her studying French—“I hope you will consider, that without application, nothing is to be acquired...and that it will be doing great injustice to your Brothers to lay out Money on your Education, unless you apply yourself closely.”

Three letters, 13 June 1792, 9 May 1795, and undated, from Mrs. Peronneau’s daughter Elizabeth Hayne concern requests of her mother for procuring household items and other articles that were to be shipped by boat to her family in the country. Elizabeth’s letters are indicative of a deep spirituality that acknowledged God’s hand in all of life’s affairs. Commenting on the necessity of the family’s remaining in the country through the fall, Elizabeth observed—“God is able to support us under what ever affliction he sees fit to lay us under.” Following the death of one of her children, she recalled that “he seemed to depart in a gentle sleep. I indeavour now not to view him in the cold grave, but at the right hand of God singing praises to the Lord that has redeemed him.”

The two volumes of receipts for the estate of Arthur Peronneau reveal much about the life of Mary Peronneau and her children. The names of the children who appear are Henry Peronneau, Mrs. Mary Finley, William Peronneau, Elizabeth Hayne, and Mrs. Ann Ford, whose second husband, Jacob, administered the estate. The children’s mother Mary apparently died in 1799. Arthur Peronneau held membership in the Mechanic Society of Charleston. The family owned several slaves and rented residential property at 11 and 12 Broad Street. At various times John Black, Robert Brodie, John Reid, and William Veitch worked on the tenements. The receipts provide information about household and kitchen furniture and implements as well as plate and other articles.

The other volume in this collection is a journal kept by Midshipman Philip Porcher (1835-1864) aboard the USS Constellation. Porcher’s account begins on 28 July 1855 and continues through 20 May 1857. The ship on which Porcher, a recent graduate of the Naval Academy, served was the second Constellation. The original ship was broken up at the Gosport Navy Yard in Norfolk, Va., in 1853. The second Constellation was launched from Gosport in 1854. The ship’s first assignment involved intercepting slave traders off the coast of Africa. The cruise on which Porcher sailed was in the Mediterranean Sea. The early entries detail preparations for the cruise, including the receipt of personnel from the Marine barracks in Washington and the loading of sixty gallons of whiskey and sixty-four pounds of bread. By the first week of August the crew was training with guns and sails and taking short trips out on the water.

They departed Gosport on 10 August and passed through the Straits of Gibraltar on 8 September. Throughout the cruise of the Constellation, Porcher carefully recorded the direction and force of the winds and air and water temperature. One of the Marines, Samuel Wilson, died and was buried at sea; and a summary court martial was held for James Watson. The sentence was later overturned “through some informality in the proceedings.”

The Constellation stopped at various ports in Italy. Visits by local dignitaries and officers from other ships were occasions for pomp and ceremony. The life of a Navy seaman was not without peril. On 21 October Yeoman Richard Howell fell overboard and was rescued, and on the 18 November seaman John Lawrence suffered serious injury when he fell from the mizzen stay. When in port, the men went on liberty and occasionally neglected to return. Summary court-martials occurred with some regularity.

While Philip Porcher was on leave in February 1856, the person assigned to make entries in the journal noted that on 22 February they decorated the ship in honor of George Washington’s birthday and received a twenty-one gun salute from the flagship and a Sardinian frigate.

The Constellation cruised throughout the Mediterranean Sea during the time that Porcher was keeping the journal. At the time of the final entry on 20 May 1857 the Constellation was at sea off Algiers. On the whole it was an uneventful cruise with the exception of an incident in the harbor at Marseilles when a party of officers and armed men were dispatched to “the American ship Atalanta which had just returned in a state of mutiny after an absence of 12 days on her way to New York.” During the time that the Constellation was in the harbor at Marseilles there were more desertions than at any other port.

Porcher’s journal provides a detailed account of military life at sea in the age of sail. Making repairs, taking on provisions, and training on the sails and guns were the principal activities of the ordinary seamen. This regimen may explain why the attractions of Mediterranean ports caused many of the men to overstay their leaves.

This page updated 16 Jan. 2004
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