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    Stephen Decatur Autograph letter Signed "S Decatur," "SD," and free franked "Stephen Decatur N.C. [Navy Commissioner]." Three pages, 8" x 10", Norfolk, June 2, 1816. The U.S. Naval hero and officer addressed this letter to "Robt. T. Spence Esq./ Captn in the Navy of the U.S./ Baltimore"; the postal marking reads, "Free." The letter, which concerns the court-martial of purser Herman Thorn, reads in part:

    "I have received your two letters the one accompanied by a very fine fowling piece for which I return you my thanks. A few days before It came to hand, I received account from New York of the arrival of one from England, which I had ordered from thence, otherwise I should have retained your present as the case now stands two would be a superabundance & so soon as my New York gun arrives I will return you yours, in the mean time I will continue to use the one in possession. . . . I cannot help differing with you in opinion on several material points. . . . Had Mr. Thorn been entirely acquitted of the matters preferred against him, I do think he would have been entitled to a meeting, in the present instance I should think I degraded myself where I to place myself upon an equality with him. The enclosed not, which is an answer to one I received from Mr. T, friend will explain my view of the case & I trust it will be such as you yourself would have dictated. [Signed] Yours sincerely S. Decatur."

    Below his letter, Decatur transcribed the text of the letter he wrote to Herman Thorn's friend, Johnston Verplank, a prominent New Yorker. In part:

    "You have been misinformed as to the reason of the late court martial, in the case of Purser Thorn. Instead of a 'Public acquittal from the charges' preferred against him, the court found him guilty of part of these charges, to wit, an attempt to commit crime & awarded as the punishment of his guilt, that he should be reprimanded by the Sect. of the Navy. The consummation of this offence, had it been known to the court, must have cashiered him, & as the facts stood in proof nothing but the detection prevented in accomplishment, now, at the casuists may perhaps discuss a diversity in this guilt, & laws make a difference in the punishment of the actual crime, & an attempt (so frustrated) to commit it, I can recognize no such distinction as applicable to a question of honor. [Signed] I have the honor to be SD."

    Captain Robert Spence (1785-1826), the recipient of this letter, was appointed midshipman on the Siren in 1800. Three years later, the vessel sailed to the Mediterranean in Commodore Edward Preble's squadron. While there, Spence served honorably, as he did throughout the War of 1812. Later he was promoted to post-captain in command of Naval forces at Baltimore. Herman Thorn (1783-1829) was purser of the sloop USS Peacock. Decatur brought a complaint against him in 1816 for bringing onboard unauthorized merchandise to sell. Following his court-martial in June 1816, Thorn left the navy and started a family in New York. Fold separations and a large tear (on page three) have been repaired. A small loss of text resulted from the original unsealing of the letter (the lost text is stuck on the wax seal).


    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    October, 2010
    14th-15th Thursday-Friday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 1
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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