1852: Frederic Henry D’Estimauville to Benjaline French

This letter was offered for sale on eBay in February 2011. I transcribed it directly from the internet.

The letter was written in August 1852 by Frederic H. D’Estimauville. It was written to Miss Benjaline French, the 15 year-old daughter of Philadelphia coal dealer Samuel French (b. 1789-1873) and his wife Susan. It is believed that Samuel French was the son of Andrew French (1761-1832) and Rachel Harper (1768-1841). According to an 1855 Philadelphia Directory, Samuel French’s coal yard was located on 9th Street, above Poplar. His residence is given as 580 North 7th. The letter was addressed to “North Seventh Street, Above Poplar” in Philadelphia. (As a matter of interest, Edgar Allen Poe lived in the house at 532 North 7th during the early 1840’s.)

In the 1860 Census, children still living in the French household in Philadelphia included: Andrew French, age 44 (a surveyor); Julia French, age 27; Rachel French, age 25; Benjaline French, age 23; Susan M. French, age 20; and Anna L. French, age 17 (a school teacher).

In the 1870 Census, children still living in the French household in Philadelphia included: Julianna French, Rachel French, Anna L. French, and Benjaline, though she was married to Andrew Cresson (born abt 1820) and had a 5 year-old daughter named Susan.

There is notice of Frederic H. D’Estimauville graduating from the Philadelphia public schools in July, 1849. The Philadelphia school records indicate he was from Constantinople but I think his parents settled in Quebec or Montreal, Canada.

I cannot find any other record for him until the American Civil War where it appears that Frederic volunteered for the U.S. Navy and served as a clerk to Lt. Commander John Henry Upshur aboard the USS Flambeau. He was nearly shot or captured by Confederates on Bull’s Island in South Carolina during a foraging expedition on the plantation known as Gibbes’ farm. There is notice of him in May 1864, being transferred as an Acting Ensign from the USS Tecumseh to the USS Otsego. The Otsego was sunk in the Roanoke River in December 1864 when she hit a couple of mines but I am not aware that he was a casualty. It is uncertain whether he ever married or survived the war.

Frederic D’Estimauville may have been a brother of Robert D’Estimauville, who anglicized his name to Desty when he came to the United States from Canada. Like Frederic, Robert spent time in Philadelphia before going to California.


Brooklyn [New York]
16 August 1852

Dear Benj.

Before commencing my letter I’ll tell you why I am in Brooklyn – instead of Montreal. When I arrived in New York, a gentleman of my acquaintance – President of the Brooklyn Gas Light Co. – received me very kindly for a few hours (as I thought) into his house. He laughed at my idea of going to Montreal and asked me to enter his office. Though the proposition was so sudden, I at last, after an hour’s important deliberation, determined to accept it. So here I am comfortably domiciled as Assistant Secretary of Gas Office – much nearer as you see to my Philadelphia friend.

One of the charmed – has departed, whether owing to your benign influence or my remedies, I am unable to say. My lip is still occupied – no change –

I have very little further to say. New York is a dull place. I don’t like it, but Brooklyn is a delightful retreat in summer. I board here with my friend’s family, and have a very pleasant walk to and from the office.

Give my compliments and best respects to your fair sisters and also to your mother. I may add – to as many of my friends as you can find between Burlington & Cape May [New Jersey].

And now, I will conclude by remaining your most obedient servant & slave, — Frederic H. D’Estimauville

N.B. Write soon and by doing so you will oblige me, — Frederic

Gas Office
No 7 Court Street


As for the Brooklyn Gas Light Company, I found the following:

“In 1825 these entrepreneurs sought and gained approval from the New York State legislature for the establishment of the Brooklyn Gas Light Company. The fledgling company soon formed a board of directors and sold stock. Unfortunately for investors, the young village felt it was not ready for street lighting and would not sign a contract. With no business, the company bought back its stock and folded.

Not long for the mothballs, Brooklyn Gas Light was revived in the mid-1840s and in 1847 signed a contract to light the streets of Brooklyn. Since natural gas from underground deposits was not then available, the company built a gas manufacturing plant on the East River by the Brooklyn Navy Yard. In that plant, it heated coal until it became coke and captured the methane that was released in the process. This was known as the coke-oven-gas method. By 1849 methane was coursing through six-and-a-half miles of mains and lighting the village’s most prosperous areas.”

Though no name was attached to this article, I found elsewhere that the company was founded by Arthur W. Benson (1798-1889) and he appears to have been affiliated with the company up until at least 1869, but I don’t believe he was President of the Company in 1852. That title belonged to Robert Charles Nichols (1814-1883) who was married to Harriet Agnes Stanton in 1837. Perhaps it was Nichols who offered Frederic D’Estimauville the job at the Brooklyn Gas Light Company and with whom Frederic boarded.

1860 US Census for Philadelphia, PA showing French Family

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