(This article was provided by the Western Cover Society. It won the Society's Basil C Pearce award for the Best Paper of the Year in 2019. It was published in the March 2019 issue of Western Express)
Dodge & Co.’s Express, which also advertised under the names Dodge & Co.’s California Express and Dodge & Co.’s South American and California Express, operated between late July 1850 and October 1851. They were the fifth transcontinental express to reach California following Adams & Co.’s. Express and Berford & Co.’s Express in late 1849, Palmer & Co.’s Express in March 1850, and Gregory & Co.’s Express in April 1850.
Levi Dodge, at their New York headquarters, is thought to have been the senior partner, although he was never specifically identified as such. George Fisher in Panama City, Panama (or New Granada as it was then known) and H.D.B. Cutler at Chagres, Panama are the only named partners. Possibly there were others.
Dodge & Co. advertised delivery to thirty-five cities in twelve countries on three continents. Additional- ly, they advertised delivery to Canada and Europe, but no specific connections or routes were ever advertised. Dodge & Co.’s Express was nearly a global operation during their almost 15 months of operation.
Dodge & Co.’s Express services included the carriage of letters, packages, parcels and gold dust. Package size was restricted to four cubic feet and a maximum weight of 125 pounds, probably owing to their use of mule trains on portions of the Isthmus of Panama.
Dodge & Co also advertised themselves as express merchants and bankers. They dealt in bills of exchange and sight drafts at several of their branch offices in the United States, Havana, and Panama.
This article will show that Dodge & Co.’s Express was a true express company, in the sense that they carried letter mail, and not just a forwarding agent as has been suggested.(1)
Additional details on the routes and towns served are given and several of the individuals involved in the operation of this company will be discussed. A few published errors or misinterpretations will be corrected. The seven extant Dodge & Co. Express covers are illustrated and discussed.
One caveat needs mentioning. In 1845, a similarly named, but apparently unrelated banking company was formed in New York City which operated under the name of E.W. Clark, Dodge & Co. The principals of that company were Enoch W. Clark and Edward Dodge, Enoch’s brother-in-law. Edward Dodge was from a Rhode Island family whereas our Levi Dodge of interest was born in New York State. The E. W. Clark, Dodge & Co. New York office was at 60 Wall St. Although Clark, Dodge & Co. had banking houses in several of the major cities in which Dodge & Co.’s Express operated, they did not share premises.
E.W. Clark, Dodge & Co. were exchange and commission merchants who, by 1849, were shipping California gold to the east coast. Although many newspaper notices specifically refer to E.W. Clark, Dodge & Co. as the shipper, others report simply show Dodge & Co. Whether these references always refer to Dodge & Co.’s Express or to the other New York house through the careless dropping of the “E.W. Clark” from the name, is not known. However, a Clark, Dodge & Co. history published in 1945, fails to mention any express endeavors, other than shipping gold, associated with that company. (2)
The author concludes that there was no operational or financial tie between these two similarly named companies.
Review of Previous Work:
Published articles on Dodge & Co.’s Express are few in number and have concentrated on either listing the cities served or providing a cover census.
A.J. Hertz, in his series on western express companies published in Western Express, transcribed several newspaper advertisements that listed many, but not all, of the cities served by Dodge & Co.’s Express. (3) He gave passing attention to the North American routes of this company, but did not name or discuss the personnel involved in its operation.
Mel Nathan provided no new route or personnel information, but did provide tantalizing clues as to the existence of a Dodge & Co. waybill and a photograph of their San Francisco office. (4) These items have not been located.
Oscar Thomas, in his opus on The Western Express Companies, provided a brief review of Dodge’s operation, but provided no details of the personnel involved. (5) Thomas did provide a cover census, but one listed cover was not illustrated and another cover’s address was misread.
Richard Frajola, in his well done and informative exhibit “California Private Mails, 1849 to 1856” (6) cites the earliest Dodge & Co. ocean-to-ocean advertisement date as October 20, 1850, and this start-up date has found its way into at least one other exhibit. However, Dodge & Co. first advertised for their first New York to San Francisco shipment some three months earlier.
The 1850 Federal Census lists Levi Dodge as a bookkeeper living in the Tenth Ward of Brooklyn, New York. (7) This was on July 18, a week prior to the first Dodge & Co.’s Express advertisement. Levi is listed as being 40 years of age (born 1810), but other documents suggest a birth year of 1808. (8) He was living with a Mary Dodge, age 30 (possibly rounded), and with a William Pairnsen, age 26 and Mary Pairnsen, age 19. The latter couple is Levi’s daughter and son-in-law. Their surname is correctly spelled “Parisen.” William has no listed occupation, but soon thereafter was put to work as a Dodge & Co.’s express messenger. William Parisen and Mary E. Dodge were married on September 5, 1849, at the Church of the Holy Trinity, Brooklyn. (9)
Dodge & Co.’s earliest advertising, discussed later in this article, lists Dodge & Co.’s address as 118 West Street. This is four doors north of Cortlandt Street. Figure 1 is a portion of a nearly contempo- rary street map locating these streets. (10) Dodge continued to list the 118 West Street address in his advertisements though mid-January 1851 when he moved to 25 Cortlandt Street. Doggett and Rode’s 1851-1852 Directory of New York City (published in 1851) lists Levi Dodge as operating an express from that address. (11)
Levi’s home address is given as 216 Atlantic St, Brooklyn. The later address is in the Tenth Ward, agreeing with the 1850 census.
Figure 1. A portion of Johnson & Ward’s 1865 Street Map of New York City and Brooklyn. Dodge & Co.’s New York office was first at 118 West Street (red arrow) and in early 1851 he moved to 25 Cortlandt Street (approximately at the black arrow just above the cen- ter of map). Levi Dodge would have taken the ferry to work from his home in Brooklyn.
Figure 2. North River Banking Co. $5 post note issued in 1840. Signed by Levi Dodge as cashier. Note that it was payable nine months after it was issued
(taken from an eBay posting).
William B. Parisen is listed on page 416 as working at the express office at 25 Cortlandt Street. William’s home is listed simply as Brooklyn. Perhaps he was still living with his in-laws.
The earlier history of Levi Dodge is less certain owing to the difficulty in sorting out the several individuals with this name living in New York State prior to 1850. All Federal census prior to 1850 name only the head of the household. Other family members are unnamed and simply tallied by sex in five-year age groupings. The given name Levi was common to the various Dodge families in New Hampshire, New York, Maine and Massachusetts and appears in all generations since the Revolutionary War.
A Levi Dodge is listed as the cashier of the Hudson River Bank in 1838 and 1839. (12)(13)
The location of this bank at 26 Cortlandt Street was across from the office that later became Dodge & Co.’s New York office. This may be coincidental, but it leads the author to suggest that this is the same Levi Dodge and that he used his earlier familiarity with this part of New York City to locate premises for his later express endeavors.
The North River Bank succeeded the Hudson River Bank in 1840, with Levi Dodge again as cashier. Levi Dodge’s name appears on several denominations of North River Bank post notes. An example of a five dollar denomination post note is shown in Figure 2. Post notes were payable at a specified future date. It is likely that the North River Bank failed before many of these notes could be redeemed and some of them, particularly the $5 denomination, are known to have been fraudulently altered. (14)
Levi Dodge is never specifically named as a partner or owner of Dodge & Co.’s Express in any of their newspaper advertisements. However, other companies used him as a reference in their advertisements, stating “Levi Dodge of Dodge & Co.’s Express” and listing the 118 West Street, New York address. (15)
Perhaps Levi Dodge was a rather reserved individual who did not need to flout his position? Either that or he was hiding the fact that he may have been associated with the failed North River Bank. We shall return to Levi Dodge at the end of this article.
The information in this paragraph is condensed from a descendant-produced biography. (16) Djordge Shagic or George Fisher, as he later styled his name, was born of Slavano-Serbian parents near Budapest, Hungary in 1795. His father died when George was young and he was placed under the care of the Archbishop in Carlowitz, Austria. Here George learned Latin, Greek and many of the 16 languages which he eventually mastered.
In 1813, he joined the revolutionary forces under “Black George” Petrovitch attempting, but failing, to keep Belgrade from re-capture by the Turks. He eventually took a Dutch ship to Philadelphia, arriving in September 1815. It was here he analogized his name. After a time he settled in Port Gibson, Mississippi where he opened a tailoring shop.
He applied for American citizenship in 1818 and in October of that year he married the first of his three wives. About 1824, he moved to Mexico, becoming a citizen in 1829 and then a Texas citizen in 1836. He became a major in the Texas army in 1843 (Figure 3), and for the next several years he served as translator and keeper of Spanish records at the Texas general land office.
In 1849, Fisher, along with one son, went to California. The son returned to the States and George Fisher went to Panama City, Panama by the spring of 1850.
Figure 3: An image of George Fisher as a Major in the Texas army (circa 1843)
Many examples of this image are posted on the internet, but the original source was neither identified nor located. The postings state that this image is in the public domain.
The Col. James T. DeVoss collection of Panama Forwarding Agents, (17) sold by Sotheby, Parke, Bernet in October 1978, (18) contained a cover pertinent to this study (Figure 4). It is docketed in manuscript on the reverse, “Panama 5th May 1850, forwarded by Geo: Fisher.” This cover is the earliest document found placing Fisher in Panama and showing him to be engaged as a forwarding agent. DeVoss concluded that Fisher was at that time an agent of Dodge & Co.’s Express. (19)
Figure 4: Folded out cover signed by George Fisher as a Panama Forwarder on May 5, 1850. Ex Col. James T. DeVoss collection
Although this could be true, the fact that Dodge & Co.’s first shipment from New York to Panama did not sail until August 13, 1850, suggests that Fisher was operating independently in May 1850, and only later became a principal in Dodge & Co.’s Express. DeVoss suggested that Dodge & Co.’s sole operation was running a ferry service between Panama City and Taboga Island, a few miles offshore, where the steamers found deep enough water to anchor. (20) He seems to have missed the wider, semi-global nature of Dodge’s operation, but Col. DeVoss was specializing in Panama postal history.
George Fisher at this time was also acting in the capacity of an official translator for the Governor of the province of Panama. The Honolulu Polynesian reprinted a May 19, 1850 letter from Panama’s provincial Governor Manuel Maria Diaz for which George Fisher is credited with the translation. (21)
Other examples of Fisher’s interpreting efforts are known.
Figure 5. G. Fisher signed for Dodge & Co. in a letter published in the October 4, 1850 issue of the Panama Star.
Figure 6. George Fisher and Demetrio Pórras advertised their law practice at Dodge & Co.’s office in Panama City.
The earliest notice from a Panama newspaper establishing George Fisher as the agent of Dodge & Co. is found in the Panama Star issue of October 4, 1850. (22) Fisher is one of many signatories to a letter to the Governor of Panama pledging to remain neutral during the ongoing political turmoil. Fisher signed “Dodge & Co., G. Fisher” (Figure 5). Fisher also was an attorney in partnership with Demetrio Pórras. (23)
They conducted their law practice from Dodge & Co.’s Panama City office on Main Street (Figure 6).
Dodge & Co., Initial Advertising:
The earliest Dodge & Co. advertisements were simultaneously published in New York City (24) (Figure 7) and in Boston (25) on July 22, 1850.
Figure 7. First Dodge & Co. advertisement.
Published July 22, 1850 in the New York Evening Post.
Figure 8. Kinsley and Co.’s Express advertisement listing James Gay as the Boston agent. Note the text balloon behind the rider which says “Gay, Kinsley & Co. Express”.
George Adams, 1851, Boston Directory, page 47.
The New York and Boston office addresses are given, but Levi Dodge is not named. J.R. Hathaway is listed as the contact for the Boston office and he is later known to be one of Dodge’s messengers that accompanied the Dodge & Co.’s shipments. (26)
However, James Gay is associated with the 11 State Street, Boston address at this time and is later named as Dodge’s agent. (27) He also ran his own express company with partner R. B. Kinsley. They were a domestic express serving the same east coast port cities between Boston, Massachusetts and Savannah, Georgia that were served by Dodge & Co.’s Express (Figure 8).
This seems odd. Either Dodge was using Kinsley and Gay’s agents at those locations, and was seemingly competing directly with Kinsley and Gay, or possibly, Gay parted ways with Kinsley in 1851. This remains unclear as the Boston City directories were issued annually and no other specific information has been found.
Only partner George Fisher at Panama is named in the inaugural advertisements. They detail the route, via Panama to San Francisco, and list the available services provided by Dodge & Co. Their first west- bound shipment aboard the United States Mail Steamship Company (USMSC) steamer Georgia was announced to depart August 13, 1850, as it in fact did.
Their earliest Panama advertisement is a near contemporary of the New York and Boston advertisements. The Panama Star of September 13, 1850, has a noted first insertion date of “a16” (Figure 9). This printer’s mark is interpreted to mean August 16. The August 16th issue of the Panama Star no longer exists as the consecutive issues are missing after November 10, 1849, and up to the September 13, 1850 issue.
Figure 9. First Panama advertisement of Dodge & Co. from Panama Star of September 13, 1850. First insertion date is noted as August 16, but issues before September 13 are no longer available.
This advertisement was published three days after the sailing of their first shipment aboard the SS Georgia from New York and five days prior to this ship’s arrival at Chagres on the north coast of Panama. Their shipment should have crossed the Isthmus of Panama in time for the September 1, 1850 sailing of the Pacific Mail Steamship Co.’s (PMSS) Panama which arrived at San Francisco on September 21.
Figure 10. Earliest west coast Dodge & Co. advertisement, from the Sacramento Transcript of September 18, 1850.
The earliest west coast advertisement appears in the September 18, 1850 edition of the Sacramento Transcript (Figure 10). (28)
The advertisement carries a same day first insertion date. The advertising copy must have been sent on an earlier ship and held for printing until near the date of Dodge & Co.’s first eastbound shipment. Interestingly, this advertisement is essentially an east-to-west coast ad, the only mention of west-to- east coast service is as follows:
“Parties expecting remittances from California, can make arrangements with the said proprietor, on his return, to take charge of the same, or to transact any other business they may have.”
San Francisco advertisements give the address of Dodge & Co.’s Express office as within the fire- proof Howard Building on Montgomery Street near Clay St. Their choice of location was providential, as it enabled them to escape San Francisco’s fifth major conflagration which razed that part of San Francisco on May 5-6, 1851. (29)
Dodge & Co.’s Express Routes:
Dodge & Co.’s Express operated over four main routes. These are as follows:
- Boston and New York to San Francisco via Panama (red dashed line, Figure 11)
- Pacific Northwest. San Francisco to Portland, Oregon Territory (blue dashed line, Figure 11)
- South American. Panama to Valparaiso using Pacific Steam Navigation Co. ships (Figure 16, on page 15)
- Trans-Pacific. San Francisco to Canton, China via Honolulu, Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) (Figure 19 on page 17).
Figure 11. Map of Dodge & Co.’s New York to San Francisco route shown with the red dashed line. It is uncertain if the Boston to New York portion of this route was served by ship or by railroad. The Northwest Pacific extension route is shown with the dark blue dashed line.
The light blue route to Guaymas, Mexico must have been served by a secondary line as the PMSS steamers did not stop there.
The ocean-to-ocean route connecting the North American east and west coasts utilized the existing mail steamers that had been put in place about a year previous to Dodge & Co.’s July 1850 startup. Outbound from New York, Dodge & Co. initially used the USMSC Georgia and Ohio. Their route via Charleston, Savannah, Havana, New Orleans, and Chagres is shown in Figure 11. These ships sometimes stopped at Kingston, Jamaica for coal.
Construction of the Panama railroad had just commenced when Dodge & Co. began operations. However, the first passengers, and possibly the mail, were not conducted over the first ten miles of track until a full month after the demise of Dodge & Co. (30) Thus, passage across the Isthmus was by the only route available to Dodge & Co. This required their own river craft from Chagres up the Chagres River to Cruces and then overland with their own pack mules.
Although the earliest advertisement of this fact, noted below, is dated August 6, 1851, (31) they must have had this transport in place much earlier.
“To ensure safety and dispatch, we have Five boats of our own, on the Chagres River, and one hundred mules at command at Cruces. A large lighter for passenger, baggage and specie.”
Contemporary accounts suggest that transit time south-bound across the Isthmus was about four days during the dry season and two days north-bound. (32) Perhaps with their own mules and river craft Dodge could make this trip somewhat faster. The journey could take much longer during the rainy season.
Dodge & Co. used the small PMSS steamer Taboga to move passengers, letters, packages and specie from Panama City to the steamers that anchored at Taboga Island, a few miles offshore (Figure 12). The mail steamers of both the Pacific Steam Navigation Company (PSN) (33) and the Pacific Mail Steamship Company (PMSS) could not anchor off of Panama City owing to the water being too shallow, in fact, at low tide the immediate offshore became a very wide mud flat. (34)
Figure 12. A portion of J. Tallis’ 1851 map of the Isthmus of Panama showing locations of Chagres, Panama (City), Taboga Island and the approximate location of the future Panama Railroad. Mail was conveyed on and adjacent to the Chagres River.
The PMSS steamers between Panama and San Francisco did not always stop at all of the ports shown in Figure 11, however, all of these ports were served at various times and on various voyages by PMSS steamers. The PMSS Company also had the mail contract along the west coast during Dodge’s operational period. All known Dodge & Co. covers were carried along some portion of their Atlantic to Pacific route.
Figure 13. Earliest advertisement showing that Mumby’s Express connected at San Francisco with Dodge & Co. Sacramento Transcript, April 30, 1851.
At Dodge’s San Francisco terminus they connected with Mumby & Co.’s Express for Sacramento, Marysville and “all the Northern Mining Districts”. Mumby’s express mail left their San Francisco office by daily messenger at 4:00 pm (35) to catch the Union Line of river steamers. Figure 13 is the earliest advertisement of the Mumby-Dodge connection. It was published in the Sacramento Transcript on April 30, 1851. (36) It reveals that Mumby & Co.’s agent shared space in Dodge & Co.’s San Francisco office. This was in the Howard Building on Montgomery Street near Clay St.
Joseph H. Mumby had been the Sacramento agent for Palmer & Co.’s Express, a Pacific-to-Atlantic states express via Panama. After Palmer & Co.’s Express went out of business in April 1851, J. H. Mumby and Palmer’s San Francisco agent, Henry Reed, started Mumby’s & Co.’s Express by April 30, 1851. (37) They confined their operations to the northern mines and hence were in need of a connecting company serving the east coast. The Mumby-Dodge connection thus came into being.
Note in Figure 13 that Mumby refers to Dodge as “Dodge & Co.’s great Atlantic semi-monthly express.” They seem to have borrowed the wording Gregory’s express used in their advertising at the same time.
Mumby’s Express did not survive Dodge & Co., Mumby having sold out to Freeman & Co.’s Express in the summer of 1851. (38)
At that point in time, Freeman was advertising that they connected with Adams & Co. at San Francisco for New Orleans, New York, Boston and all the principal cites in the Atlantic States. It seems that after Mumby’s demise, Dodge & Co. had no connecting company for California delivery beyond San Francisco. This may have been a contributing factor in their downfall a few months later.
The discovery gold in the black sand beaches below the bluffs north of the Klamath River estuary in Humboldt County, California in April, 1850, had an impact on Dodge & Co.’s delivery points. The discovery resulted in a modest stampede, probably encouraged by the local vested interests. Many sailing vessels, such as the schooner Lydia and the clipper Capacity, (39) and a few steamers, such as the screw steamer Sea Gull (40) advertised trips to this new gold field. Dodge & Co. got caught up in the excitement and began advertising in the Daily San Francisco Herald on February 20, 1851, that they sent their company agent weekly to Humboldt Bay, Trinidad and Gold Bluff in northernmost California. (41)
This advertisement is shown in Figure 14. The same advertisement announced semi-monthly service to Portland, Oregon. These advertisements continued in the Daily San Francisco Herald through July 10, 1851.
Figure 14. The first advertisement showing Dodge & Co. had extended their route to the new gold fields at Gold Bluff, California. Thus commenced Dodge’s Pacific Northwest route extension. Daily San Francisco Herald, February 20, 1851.
Figure 15. First Dodge & Co. advertisement of their South American route. A partial list of stops is given including Honolulu and Canton, China. California Daily Courier, January 16, 1851. From a photograph of the original newspaper in the Pasadena, California library
Dodge’s Pacific Northwest route is shown with the dark blue dashed lines in Figure 11, shown previously. Dodge’s deliveries to Portland would have used the normal semi-monthly trips of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company steamers. No covers have yet been discovered that were carried on Dodge’s Pacific Northwest route.
Just after Dodge added the Gold Bluff gold rush stops, a new express company, F. Montgomery & Co.’s Express, commenced running to Humboldt, Trinidad and Gold Bluff from San Francisco. (42)
Very little is known of this company, but its operation, plus the many private ships offering to take passengers and goods to these new discoveries, added additional competition that probably impacted Dodge’s bottom line on this route.
Figure 16. Map of Dodge & Co.’s South American route. Dodge used the British owned Pacific Steam Navigation Company steamers for their South American deliveries.
No Dodge covers are known from this route.
The Gold Bluff gold rush never amounted to very much with some miners calling it a humbug. The problem was that the gold had been reduced in size to what is called flour gold, this owing to the action of the waves breaking along the coast. Thus, panning and sluicing methods of gold recovery were ineffective. Although mercury could be used to form an amalgam with the gold, this process was more expensive and was poisonous.
By January 1851, Dodge & Co. began advertising that they were delivering to many Pacific ports on the west coast of South America as shown in Figure 15, an advertisement from the California Daily Courier. (43)
Figure 16 is a map showing Dodge’s South America route. Their west coast delivery points match the stops of the British owned Pacific Steam Navigation (PSN) steamers. Dodge & Co. undoubtedly used the PSN steamers for their shipments sent south from Panama. The northern end of the PSN line was at Taboga Island offshore Panama City (refer back to Figure 12). Thus, the PNS line connected with Dodge’s Panama office for transfers to other lines for delivery either further up the Pacific coast or for carriage to Dodge’s Gulf Coast and East Coast offices.
Figure 17. Advertisement showing the first use of the name
“Dodge & Co.’s South American and California Express”
Boston Herald, August 6, 1851
A few additional South American ports served by Dodge are listed in the January 6, 1851 issue of the New York Evening Post. (44) These ports were also served by the PSN steamers. Although Dodge began advertising their South American delivery points in January, 1851, they only started using the name “Dodge & Co.’s South American and California Express” on August 6, 1851 (Figure 17).(45)
They also began advertising under this name in the Boston Courier as of August 23, 1851. (46)
The Boston Courier advertisements were renewed on September 23 and the last one appears on November 24, 1851. As we shall see, Dodge & Co. probably ended operations somewhat before this date and these later issues probably resulted from Dodge just letting their pre-paid advertisements run out. In Copway’s American Indian, Dodge & Co. advertised under the expanded name of Dodge & Co.’s South American and California Express and Isthmus Transportation Line.
Dodge’s advertisements, in the August 23 and September 9, 1851 issues of Copway’s, inform us that Dodge had the following transportation on the Isthmus; “one large outside lighter, 5 first class river barges, and 100 saddle and pack mules.” (Figure 18) (47)
Figure 18. Advertisement in Copway’s American Indian issue of August 23, 1851 listing Dodge’s transportation equipment on the Isthmus.
One of the messengers accompanying Dodge’s shipments on the New York to South America run was Levi Dodge’s son in-law, William Parisen. A note of thanks in the Panama Star of September 2, 1851, records the following: (48)
“We return our thanks to Messrs. Dodge & Co., for the early delivery to us yesterday morning, through Mr. Parrison (sic), of a late Valparaiso paper.”
Figure 19. Map of Dodge & Co.’s trans-Pacific route.
No Dodge covers are known from this route.
That Parisen was engaged in this work for some time is shown by two Port of New York arriving passenger lists. In the oldest, dated February 8, 1851, Parisen is noted as arriving from Chagres on board the USMSC Georgia. (49)
He is listed as W.B. Parisen, 32, express agent. The second record marks his New York arrival from Chagres via Havana on board the USMSC Georgia which arrived on December 21, 1851. (50)
This was after Dodge & Co. went out of business and may explain why he is listed as a boatman. Perhaps he had to work-off his return fare home. He is listed as W.B. Parisen, 28. It appears that recording the actual age of their passengers was not a priority with the USMSC, but ages recorded in the Federal Census of that era are also known to be horribly wrong.
Dodge & Co. also advertised trans-Pacific service to Honolulu and Canton China (see Figure 15). A map of this trans-Pacific route map is shown in Figure 19. Dodge & Co.’s agent in Honolulu was a Mr. B.F. Snow and they were represented in Canton by Messrs. Wetmore & Co. The editor of the Honolulu Polynesian several times printed his thanks to Dodge & Co.’s Express for furnishing him with US newspapers, thus demonstrating that Dodge & Co. did indeed ship material over this route. (51)
An interesting article appeared in the Honolulu Polynesian of October 11, 1851. It quotes from a letter written to “George Fisher, of Dodge & Co.’s Express, of this city…” (52)
If the information is correct, then Fisher was in Honolulu just before Dodge & Co.’s cessation of business. Perhaps he was attending to the closing of that segment of their operation. As was the case with the South American and Pacific Northwest routes, there are no known Dodge & Co. Express covers carried over any part of their trans-Pacific route.
A summary of the cities having service advertised by Dodge & Co. is shown in Table I.
The cities are listed alphabetically and list the first and last known dates of advertisement and the local agent’s name, if known.
Dates listed after the agent’s name are his first and/or last advertised service if they differ from the advertised city dates. Those cities having some form of banking service, albeit bills of exchange or sight drafts, are indicated along with their earliest and latest advertised dates. Many of the South American cities were listed in short-lived newspapers or those having only a single available issue. Thus, Dodge’s service to many of the South American cities is probably longer than listed.
Table II lists the value of several of the gold shipments made by Dodge & Co.
Shipments from E.W. Clark, Dodge & Co. are omitted from this list, but the reader is reminded that sloppy newspaper reporting could result in the inclusion of some of the latter company’s shipments if the E.W. Clark had been inadvertently dropped from the Dodge & Co. name.
Not all steamships are identified in the newspaper notices, as some of them co-mingle the shipments of several named ships. The dates shown are usually the sailing date of PMSS ships departing San Francisco, but in the case of eastern newspapers reporting on the arrival of gold shipments at New York, then the dates are the date of the published notice.
The value of gold shipped by Dodge & Co., Adams & Co. Express, and Gregory’s Express are shown so the reader may get a perspective of the relative size of Dodge’s operation, at least with respect to gold shipments.
Dodge & Co. was always third at best in the value of the gold shipped on any given trip. Interestingly, Dodge is usually not too far behind Gregory in the value of gold shipped, yet there are more than 220 Gregory’s Express covers known versus only seven Dodge’s Express covers. True, Gregory’s Express operated just over twice as long as Dodge, but even with this allowance it seems likely that Dodge’s bread and butter was the carriage of packaged goods and gold rather than letter correspondence.
Nevertheless, the fact that Dodge did occasionally advertise that they carried letters and that they charged for this service qualifies them as an express company rather than strictly a forwarder.
Figure 20. Probably mailed from San Francisco, this Dodge & Co. Express cover has the only known Dodge & Co. “FREE” hand stamp
(courtesy of Ken Stach)
Dodge & Co.’s Express Covers:
Red Oval Hand Stamp:
Figure 20 illustrates a Dodge & Co. cover with their red oval hand stamp. It is also the only Dodge & Co. cover with their “FREE” hand stamp. It was delivered to the editor of the Panama Echo at Panama City. Express companies normally carried correspondence to or from local newspaper editors free of charge. In return, the express company expected to see notices printed in those papers thanking them for bringing the latest newspapers from along their route.
The addressee presumably added the notation “Chas Umber to C.T.W.” at the right hand side of the cover. The C.T.W. was Charles Wilson, the proprietor of the Panama Echo. (53)
Initially, it was not certain that the sender’s surname reads Umber, but searching for various surname permutations in the 1852 California State Census found only a Chas (Charles) Umber family living in San Francisco. They were there on July 8th, the date of enumeration. (54) He is listed as an Innkeeper.
The family was comprised of Charles, age 32; Louisa age 24; Chas (Jr.), age 7 and Fernando, age 10 months. They had moved from New Orleans to San Francisco by way of Panama. Son Charles Jr. was born in New Orleans about 1845 and son Fernando was born in Panama in September 1851. Using this information, Charles Umber was found to be a wholesale supplier of groceries and liquors at 20 Montegut St, New Orleans in 1849, (55) and at 25 Levee St., New Orleans in 1850, (56) and for at least a part of 1851. (57)
The birth of their son, Fernando, in Panama in September 1851, shows that they had begun their move to California sometime before that date. A search of San Francisco passenger arrival lists for the Umber family’s probable continued emigration found that Mrs. C. Umber and two children arrived in San Francisco aboard the brig Ceres from Panama on April 27, 1852. (58) Husband Charles was not with them and seemingly went on ahead. The published San Francisco passenger lists frequently omitted the names of steamer steerage class passengers and this may be why Charles Umber was not found in any San Francisco passenger list.
Although not fully proven, the above circumstantial evidence suggests that the Dodge cover illustrated in Figure 20 probably was mailed from San Francisco, assuming husband Charles went on ahead of his family. Although it is possible that the subject cover was mailed from New Orleans before Umber emigrated, it is more likely that Umber met the editor of the Panama Star on his way to San Francisco and then had occasion to write to him after his arrival. Thus, Dodge’s San Francisco office is most likely the source of the red oval “Dodge & Co. Express Forwarders” hand stamps.
Figure 21. West-to-east cover carried by Dodge & Co.’s California Express
This scenario suggests this cover may be the latest mailed of the extant Dodge carried covers. As an additional note of possible interest, Charles Umber and family had moved to Yreka, California by 1860 and then to Idaho about 1862. They went to Arizona for a few years in the 1880’s, (59) and then returned to Idaho where Charles died at Sinker Creek on February 8, 1892. (60) Little Fernando died prior to 1860 and wife Louisa by 1865.
Figure 21 shows an east bound, coast-to-coast cover carried by Dodge & Co.’s California Express. It probably originated in San Francisco, where Dodge had their main west coast office. The manuscript “No 31” on this cover may indicate this was the 31st letter of this correspondence. It was also marked with a manuscript “Paid to NO”, which meant the Dodge & Co. express charge had been paid for delivery of this cover to the New Orleans post office. Although the express charge is not indicated on this cover, other Dodge & Co. covers have “25” or “50” written on them, presumably Dodge’s single and double rate express charges. Many of the express companies serving the California gold camps at that time were charging between $1.50 and $2.00 for letter delivery.
The cover of Figure 21 normally would have gone first to Dodge’s agent in New Orleans, in this case E. W. Wiley at 57 Camp Street. He then would have delivered it to the New Orleans post office. That post office would have sent it on as an unpaid letter to the addressee in St. Louis, Missouri. However, this did not happen, as this cover entered the mails in New York on April 20, 1851. Fortunately, research has found a plausible explanation.
A review of ships arriving at New York on either the 19th or 20th of April, 1851, shows that the USMSC steamer Philadelphia from Chagres via New Orleans arrived on April 20 in time for its mails to reach the New York post office that day. (61) The Philadelphia departed Chagres, Panama on March 11 with the west coast mails along with the Dodge & Co. Express letters and packages. She arrived at Kingston, Jamaica on the 14th and sailed on the 16th for New Orleans via Havana, Cuba.
Under normal circumstances when the Philadelphia reached New Orleans, the subject Dodge & Co. letter would have been forwarded via that post office. However, on this voyage Philadelphia ran into strong northeast winds, and on March 19 broke the inner crank of her starboard engine. (62)
She made it into New Orleans using only the larboard (port) engine and sidewheel. For an unknown reason, the Dodge & Co. mails were kept onboard the Philadelphia instead of being put ashore at New Orleans. Perhaps the accompanying Dodge agent believed the repairs would be completed in a timelier manner. However, the ship remained in port for several weeks before proceeding to New York where the subject letter finally entered the US mails.
Shipping tables suggest the subject letter was put on board PMSS Oregon which sailed from San Francisco on February 16 and reached Panama City on March 5. (63) George Fisher, Dodge’s Panama City agent, would have seen to the forwarding of these mails across the Isthmus in time for the March 11 sailing of the Philadelphia. It took this letter over two months to reach its destination, a very long passage indeed and not up to usual express company efficiencies.
However, there is evidence that Dodge & Co. could be very speedy in transporting their cargoes across the Isthmus of Panama. An unsolicited testimonial noting their promptness in transporting goods across the Isthmus was published in the Boston Herald of August 13, 1851. (64)
The Panama Herald has the following:
Notice to the Public.
Deeming it a duty we owe the worthy and enterprising firm of Dodge & Co., conducting the Express business between the Atlantic States and California, of the promptness and energy manifested in all business transactions which we have had with them in transporting our goods across the Isthmus, we with pleasure embrace this opportunity of making public our approval. By the steamers of the 15th June, at Chagres, Co. Fisher, the resident agent at Panama, received for conveyance from Chagres to this city, one of the largest invoices of goods probably ever taken on the Isthmus for transportation, and we are happy in being able to state that every parcel reached here in time for the steamer of the 1st instant; and so great was our confidence in the integrity and honor of this firm, that we forwarded them without procuring any insurance on the goods. When we say that their facilities on the Isthmus, and the promptness of their agents are unsurpassed, we say that which we believe to be the fact; and we take great pleasure in having it in our power to testify to their integrity and energy in conducting their business.
Cronin & Markley, San Francisco. Panama, July 1, 1851
Figure 22 is a Dodge & Co. cover that entered the U.S. mails at Houston, Texas. It has the red “Forwarded by Dodge & Co.’s Express” oval hand stamp, suggesting a San Francisco origin. Dodge & Co. did not advertise delivery to Houston, but did advertise “for all parts of the United States, by every steamer.” (65)
Figure 22. Dodge & Co. Express cover entering the mails at Houston, Texas
(courtesy United Postal Stationary Society., Thomas census WC1649)
Figure 23. Dodge & Co. Express cover carried outside of the mails
and delivered at Houston, Texas
(courtesy United Postal Stationary Society, Thomas census WC1647)
Figure 24. Dodge & Co.’s California Express cover from New York to Panama.
The blue shield label advertised their main offices
The cover illustrated in Figure 23 has no US postal markings on it, indicating it somehow was delivered privately to the Houston lodge addressee by Dodge & Co.’s Express. George Fisher, Dodge’s agent in Panama, is known to have been an active Mason in Panama, but he probably did not send it, as the subject cover appears to have been addressed by a left-handed person. Examples of Fisher’s handwriting suggest he was right-handed (see Figures 4, 28 and 29).
E. W. Wiley, Dodge’s agent at New Orleans, was thanked by the editor of the New Orleans Times Picayune for delivery of the Galveston (Texas) papers. (66) This does not mean those newspapers had been delivered to Wiley by Dodge & Co.’s Express, but it shows that Wiley, in his capacity as a news agent, was connected with other Texas coastal cities and perhaps aided Dodge in delivery to Houston of one or both of the above covers.
Applied Shield Labels:
Three Dodge & Co.’s California Express covers are known with an applied, cut-out advertising shield label made of paper. These were carried along Dodge’s coast-to-coast route. Thomas (2017) stated that the applied shield labels were made of thin metal. He discounts aluminum and suggests they were probably made of tin. Perhaps Oscar Thomas never handled one of these covers, as the blue shield label cover in the author’s collection has the shield made of paper (Figure 24). Communication with the owner of the other two shield label covers has confirmed that the labels on those covers are also made of paper. These shield labels are known in blue and in green.
They advertised the locations of Dodge’s principal offices; namely, New York, Boston, New Orleans, Panama and San Francisco.
Figure 25. The second known Dodge & Co.’s Express cover with an applied blue shield label (courtesy of anonymous collector)
Not illustrated in Thomas (2013 or 2017)
The blue shield label cover shown in Figure 24 originated in New York City, per the “Conner & Son’s United States Type Foundry Co., New York” cameo on the reverse. The reverse was also annotated “Jas. Conner & Son,” probably by the addressee. This cover was carried by steamer to Chagres and then delivered in Panama, N.G. The N.G. stood for “New Granada,” as Panama was sometimes called at that time. The address on this cover was misread as Paulina, NJ (New Jersey) by Thomas (2013, 2017). (67)
The second known blue shield label cover is illustrated in Figure 25. It is the only known east- bound coast-to-coast Dodge & Co.’s Express cover. It is marked in manuscript “paid 50”, which shows Dodge’s double rate express charge. The sender’s known abode in San Francisco in 1849, (68) 1850 and 1852 and the manuscript dates, probably added by Harvey Loomis, the addressee, are consistent with this letter being mailed from San Francisco. It was written by Charles B. Loomis on December 14, 1850 and departed San Francisco for Panama on the PMSS California the next day. The California arrived at Panama on January 3, 1851 where George Fisher facilitated the Isthmus transit. Dodge’s agent at Chagres, either George B. Watts or H.D.B. Cutler, did not hold it for the sailing of the next mail steamer, the USMSC Falcon on January 12, but sent it out on the Vanderbilt line’s Prometheus on the 11th. This ship arrived in New York on the morning of January 21, (69) and Harvey Loomis, probably a relative and possibly a brother of the sender, received the letter later that day. Harvey Loomis lived in Brooklyn and worked for many years as an importer for iron merchants Egleston & Battell at 166 South Street, New York. (70)
Figure 26. Dodge & Co.’s California Express cover with a green shield label serving as a frank (courtesy United Postal Stationary Society, Thomas census WC1650)
One would initially assume that the blue shield label on the subject cover was applied at Dodge & Co.’s San Francisco office. It is certainly possible that the New York office sent some of these labels to branch offices.
However, there would be little advertising advantage in doing this, as the Dodge express letters would have gone in closed bags from their office of origin to the office that placed them in the U.S. Mails, in this case, New York.
Recalling the discussion of the cover illustrated in Figure 20 raises a question. If that cover was mailed from San Francisco, probably in later 1851, and it has the Dodge red oval hand stamp, why does the earlier, December 1850 cover (Figure 25), have a shield label instead of the hand stamp? It seems more likely that the blue shield label was applied for advertising purposes at Dodge’s New York office prior to delivery. If this is the case, then all of the known labels were applied in New York.
The one known green shield label cover is illustrated in Figure 26. It has the only known Dodge’s “COLLECT” hand stamp in red and a manuscript 25¢, indicating Dodge’s express charge for a single rate cover. Its letter has survived and is datelined “156 Broadway, New York, June 28, 1851.” (71)
This address was within one block of Dodge & Co.’s office at 25 Cortlandt Street. This green shield label cover could have gone out June 28 on the USMSC Cherokee. This was not an advertised sailing used by Dodge & Co., but Dodge frequently advertised “by every steamer that connects with the Atlantic ports.” (72)
It is concluded that both the green and the blue shield labels originated in New York and not at separate offices as suggested by Thomas. (73) He apparently had not seen the reverse of the cover illustrated in Figure 24 and hence, was unaware of its city of origin.
Dodge & Co. Banking Services:
Dodge & Co.’s Express began offering sight drafts at New Orleans, New York and Boston as early as late November 1850. It was not stated whether or not these were drawn on their own houses. (74)
Beginning December 27, 1850, Dodge & Co. styled themselves as “Express Merchants and Bankers” and offered bills of exchange drawn on their own houses in New Orleans, Charleston, Savannah, Philadelphia, New York and Boston. (75) This advertisement continued until June 26, 1851. (76)
By January 1851, Dodge & Co. added Panama and Havana to this listing. Dodge & Co. never advertised package or letter delivery to Havana, but it was on the route of the USMSC ships used by Dodge, so it is possible that Havana was also a delivery point.
Figure 27. Edward E. Dunbar was hired as the superintendent of Dodge’s exchange department in San Francisco. The Pacific News, February 27, 1851
By February 27, 1851, Dodge & Co. had made an arrangement with Edward E. Dunbar to superintend their San Francisco exchange department. Figure 27 shows this announcement in The Pacific News of that date. (77) The exchange department office was in the office previously occupied by Dunbar’s California Bank in Howard & Green’s fire proof building on Montgomery Street near Clay St. This is the same building in which Dodge & Co. had their San Francisco operations office.
The extent of Dodge & Co.’s banking services, which at least included sight drafts and bills of exchange, remains unclear. However, in September of 1851, some of Dodge & Co.’s sight drafts may have been protested (refused) on the east coast. (78)
Excerpts from a November 11, 1851, article in the Sacramento Daily Union follow. This article was taken from earlier articles printed in the Boston Times and The Journal. The author was unable to locate copies of the latter two newspapers for review.
An Important Fact, - We mention it as a fact of importance to those interested, that by the last two or three steamers from New York to Chagres, very considerable numbers of drafts purchased by miners and others, and forwarded to the Atlantic cities for payment, have been returned to California under protest.”
“We are informed that very large amounts drawn by the house of Wells & Co. at San Francisco, and others drawn by Dodge & Co. have been protested in Boston and N. York for non-payment on demand, or non- acceptance by the correspondents of those houses here; and by the last one or two steamers, these drafts go back unpaid to the parties that purchased them. By the Illinois, which sails 27th inst. (September 27, from New York), a large number of drafts are to be returned, which have been protested the present week. It is therefore an affair of serious consequence to those interested, that they obtain their drafts hereafter from the best houses at San Francisco."
– Boston Times
An article in the Christian Intelligencer (NYC) of November 9, 1851, (79) reported the protested drafts (without mentioning Dodge) were reported earlier in the New York Herald. A search of the September 1 through November 9 issues of the New York Herald newspaper failed to find any such article. The Boston Herald issue of September 26, 1851, reported from New York the same day, the following:
“It is stated that large numbers of drafts purchased by miners and others in California and forwarded to the Atlantic cities for payment, have been returned under protest. This is an important fact to purchasers of drafts in California.” (80)
A search of all New York newspapers on-line at the Library of Congress and on the pay-for-use websites of Newspapers.com and Genealogybank.com failed to find an original source for these reprinted news items. Thus, the veracity of these stories could not be confirmed. However, even if not true, damage must have been done to Dodge & Co.’s reputation in California and their bottom line was undoubtedly impacted. The fact that this occurred a month or so prior to Dodge & Co. ceasing operations suggests this may have been a factor leading to their doom.
A loss of confidence is implied in an interesting letter that George Fisher, Dodge’s partner and former agent in Panama, wrote to Mr. R. C. Wyllie, the minister of foreign affairs to the King of Hawaii. The original is in the Hawaii State Archives and they kindly gave the author permission to publish this letter. (81) The letter was written from San Francisco on December 18, 1851.
Figure 28. A December 18, 1851 letter from George Fisher to R. C. Willey in which Fisher announces the demise of Dodge & Co.’s Express
(top of page 1, courtesy Hawaii State Archives)
Figure 29. Bottom of page 1 of the letter shown in Figure 28, showing George Fisher’s signature. Top of page 2 (postscript) showing that his personal mail could still be delivered to Dodge’s San Francisco address (courtesy Hawaii State Archives)
Pertinent parts of this letter are illustrated in Figures 28 and 29, with portions transcribed on the following page.
“San Francisco, Ca. 18th Decy  Hon. R. C. Wyllie
Minister to: Honolulu Dear Sir.
I arrived here on the 14th inst [December] p [per] Steamer Tennessee, 16 days from Panama, for the purpose of closing the business of the Firm of Dodge & Co. Express forwarders at this place; the said Firm having discontinued business for want of sufficient patronage & Capital to continue it to advantage to the parties concerned.”
[This letter continues at the bottom of page one and top of page two as follows]
“I am my dear Sir, Respectfully & amity yours:
Please address me to the care of Dodge & Co San Francisco, Cal.”
This letter shows that George Fisher departed Panama on the PMSS Tennessee on November 28, 1851, (82) knowing that Dodge & Co. had collapsed. This puts an absolute end date on Dodge’s operation, but perhaps more telling is the date of their last paid advertisement. This was in the Boston Daily Atlas of October 29, 1851. This terminal advertisement was placed in that newspaper on October 8th. Perhaps Dodge & Co. just allowed the pre-paid insertions to run out. It appears safe to say that Dodge & Co.’s Express ceased to operate by the end of October 1851.
The author concludes that the demise of Dodge & Co.’s Express was caused by a combination of increased competition, possible overextension of their routes, loss of an intra-California feeder line, and reduction in confidence owing to the real or supposed protestation of their drafts.
So what became of Levi Dodge and George Fisher, the two main partners in Dodge & Co.’s California Express? As to Levi Dodge, the year 1852 is pretty much silent. However, on February 14, 1853 he sold to his son-in-law, William Parisen, his full interest in Dodge & Co.’s Virginia and North Carolina Express. (83) Advertisements commencing soon thereafter (Figure 30) also inform us that they made arrangements with the New York and Virginia Steamship Company to use their steamers Roanoke and Jamestown for conducting their business of transporting freight, packages, jewelry, specie, bank notes and parcels at the lowest rates.
The same article includes a partnership notice between Wm. Parisen and James King dated February 14, 1853.
Figure 30. Advertisement announcing that Levi Dodge sold his Virginia and North Carolina Express to his son-in-law and his partner as of February 14, 1853.
A notice from Levi Dodge of the same date is included in the advertisement.
“Having disposed of my entire interest in the Express business heretofore known as ‘Dodge’s Virginia and North Carolina Express,’ I take pleasure in recommending to the community at large, the enterprising gentlemen composing the firm of Messrs. Parisen & King, who have assumed that business as Express Forwarders."
Little additional information has been found about this express company, other than the New York City Directory for 1852-1853 (published in 1852) lists Levi Dodge as running an unnamed express from 203 Broadway. He was living at 280 Atlantic St., Brooklyn. (84)
The same directory, in the express company listings in the appendix, lists the following:
“NORFOLK, PORTSMOUTH, Petersburg,
Richmond, Lynchburgh, Raleigh, and interior of N.C.
Dodge & Co., 203 Broadway.”
After Levi Dodge finally quit expressing he went back to his banking roots.
The Brooklyn Evening Star of October 10, 1853, states: (85)
“The Central Bank [of Brooklyn] opened this morning. … Mr. Levi Dodge, formerly associated with the City Bank (Atlantic Street), has been appointed [cashier], and is reported to be a man fully qualified for the performance of the duties.”
Levi Dodge died in Brooklyn, Kings County, New York on April 3, 1868. He was survived by his wife, Hannah R. Dodge (presumably his second wife) who was his executrix. He left his estate to her and to his grandchildren, the children of his deceased daughter Mary E. Parisen. (86)
After the demise of Dodge & Co.’s Express, George Fisher became the translator and secretary of the Claims Commission appointed to settle land claims after the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the Mexican War. (87)
He remained in San Francisco for the rest of his life, being appointed Greek Consul in that city a few years before his death there on June 11, 1873. (88)
The author wishes to thank Western Cover Society member Dale Forster for his input on mail delivery to the Pacific Northwest and for help in locating certain early gold camps along the northern coast of California.
References for this article