LEE, WILLIAM LITTLE & CATHERINE.
Lot 3058
LEE, WILLIAM LITTLE & CATHERINE.
Sold for US$ 7,320 inc. premium
Auction Details
Lot Details
LEE, WILLIAM LITTLE & CATHERINE.
7 Autograph Letters Signed ("W.L. Lee" and/or "C.N. Lee," "Kate Lee," "Kate" - some letters with postscripts or cross-written addenda to the spouse's letter), 40 pages mostly recto and verso, various sizes, mostly Honolulu, one each from Kauai and New York, October 1, 1848 to September 8, 1855, to Caroline Scott of Buffalo, New York, very occasional light foxing, minor creasing.

A revealing series of letters from one of the most important secular American settlers in Hawaii. En route to Oregon in 1846, the ship carrying William Lee was forced to stop at the Islands. He became only the second lawyer in Hawaii, just a few years after they had adopted their first constitution. The 26-year-old from New York state was offered, and accepted, a position as head of the Hawaiian judicial system. Amongst other legal achievements, he went on to help draft the 1852 constitution, being "one of the little group of statesmen who were the real creators of the Hawaiian constitutional monarchy" (Dictionary of American Biography).
Caroline Scott was a childhood friend of William Lee, and wrote to him two years after he arrived in Hawaii. In his reply, Lee describes himself, his fiancée Catherine E. Newton of Albany, and current news: "This part of the world is much disturbed at present with the great Gold Excitement of California ... Six men, says a private letter from a person of good authority, have gathered $12,000 within the last six weeks." He goes on to give an overview of the life of "the 600 foreigners" in Hawaii: "We have a good deal of heart and intellect, but politics, the conflicting interests of trade and other minor matters have split up the society in every direction. However, we have most of the comforts and luxuries of the world.... Don't, I beg you don't think we are living in a land of savages and darkness. No, no, the fair blossoms of an enlightened Christian civilization are fast opening in our midst, and you and I, I trust, will live to see and taste their fruits. Perhaps it may be possible to save the Hawaiian race from melting away, before the iron march of the sturdy Saxon.... Hawaii is the sun of the Pacific and long will be."
In his letter of September 28, 1849, William Lee answers his correspondent's request for an account of the harrowing voyage to Hawaii - "the longest passage on record" with the ship "being abandoned as lost for some months." On the journey, their water became putrified, they had a minor mutiny against the mate, fell into storms and icebergs off the Cape ("Our days were only five hours long at the best and for sixteen of them we drifted about entirely at the mercy of the winds and waves without once being able to catch a glimpse of the sun"), and eventually reached Hawaii - their ship so badly damaged that the onward trip to Oregon was ruled out.
Further highlights include Lee's views of the missionaries and their spread through the South Pacific ("Depopulation is at work throughout Polynesia. The measles have decimated the Hawaiian race. Alas! for the poor Hawaiian. My heart bleeds at the thought of his approaching destiny!"), Catherine Lee's description of their home and Honolulu society, her views on "the possibility of these islands resting under the folds of the stars and stripes," details of a plantation near Lihu'e on Kauai ("between two and five hundred acres of sugar cane ... The trees are principally kukui ... ohia ... koa ... and a very few orange trees and cocoa-nuts") and eventually the first signs of William Lee's fatal illness. Through a combination of overwork and looking after "between fifty and sixty of the loathsome small-pox patients," he fell ill himself, and died in 1857.
The only other letters by William Lee to appear in ABPC were a group of thirteen sold at the celebrated Sang sale of 1981.
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