An autograph letter from John Hancock to James Athearn, a prominent citizen of Tisbury in the period just preceding the American Revolution, has been acquired by the Dukes County Historical Society. Not only does the letter bear Hancock’s signature in the same clear style as that which adorns the Declaration of Independence, but it gives a picture of a business transaction in that early era.
Hancock was in need of oil, which meant sperm oil or whale oil, and even as early as 1769 the Vineyard was the place to negotiate for it. The letter shows his friendship with Athearn. The text is as follows:
Boston, July 16, 1769.
I received your letter of 29th June & Note the Contents. I could have wished that my interest had Influenced you to have pursued your Journey to Boston, instead of giving way to the Courtier. With Respect to Oil have to Say that I cannot Give more than 170 pounds and ten for the best Oil White, delivered at Boston free of Charge, if that will Suit I will Take it Delivered here & Brown & West India Oil in proportion or if they or you will Send it up and Submit it to the Market here, I will Give as much as anyone will. My Brig Captain Lyde is now loaded & I want some Oil but I cannot Give more than the worth of it. Upon the whole, if the Oil could be had for 170 pounds including your Commission I would take it, I leave you upon the whole to Act as you Judge most for my interest, but If I have it, the oil must be here as quick as possible.
I am your Sincere Friend
John Hancock.

Largely Due to Two Members

Acquisition of the letter by the historical society was largely due to the interest of two members, Alexander O. Vietor who discovered it in the hands of a New York dealer, and F. Hallett Lovell, who helped make the purchase possible.
Another important accession of the society is a massive silver pitcher presented in 1854 to Capt. William C. Pease of Edgartown then of master of the revenue cutter Jefferson Davis. The pitcher bears this inscription:
“Presented to Capt. Wm. C. Pease by the friends of the late officers and crew of the Revenue Cutter Hamilton, wrecked Dec. 9, 1853. In appreciation of his services as a man and an officer. Charleston, January, 1854.”
The pitcher was preserved by Captain Pease’s descendants and was given by the late William Worth Pease to Marshall Shepard, who has now given it to the historical society.
In the course of the presentation address an old report shows that these words occurred: “Whilst your efforts to save were fruitless, it has been your melancholy privilege to rescue the remains of some and consign them to a decent sepulchre.”
Captain Pease was master of a number of revenue cutters in his time, including the Jefferson Davis, Caleb Thompson, Argus, Shubrick, William L. Marcy and General Sumner. He also sailed as master of a 1400 ton passenger steamer Orizaba.
During the Civil War he “declared his intention to blow his vessel heavenward rather than that she should fall into the hands of pirates.” The necessity, however, did not arise.