Dry Tortugas Lighthouse keeper; former ship commander in Mexican Navy


Date Written

May 10, 1834

Alexander "Sandy" Thompson was 35 years old when this was written.
It was written 189 years, 4 months, 25 days ago.
It was a Saturday.

Tortugas, 10th May 1834

Many thanks, my much esteemed friend, for your truly satisfactory epistle of 10th March which only reached me by the April mail a few days since communication between this place & K. West being precarious your letter was so long delayed that I really began to do you the injustice of fearing I had appealed to our ancient friendship in vain, for which suspicion I pray to be forgiven; you see by the place from which this is dated that I have obtained my wish & I have been about 3 months quietly settled here as “Lord of the Isles”. I find that you are little acquainted with my present state of mind, when you suggest that an isolated situation would ill agree with me, believe that since I left the Navy, I have seen so much of the cold heartlessness of mankind in general, met with so few sunny spots in the devious path I have since pursued; that I am perfectly satisfied to withdraw myself from the insolence, caprice, and chicanery of those amongst whom I should otherwise have to earn my bread, and seek with an affectionate partner & exposed to few wants and temptations, that tranquility and happiness so seldom to be found “amid the crowd, the hum, the shock of men”. My time never hangs heavy on my hands, for when I have no books there are a thousand little things about the place to employ me both mentally and manually. Then I have a sextant chronometer, artificial horizon, Hutton & Tables, so how can I be at a loss for amusement? Then occasionally on the event of an arrival from K. West we get a lot of books, reviews, newspapers etc. and we find out (though late) what is passing in the external world.

In your letter you touch upon a subject on which I have given myself up to a morbid sensibility perhaps, and I beg to assure you that it was not pique, it was not the mean spirit that refuses to ratify the terms on which all join the service which on my “reflection” induced me leave it; I then saw one of our most distinguished commanders (deceived like myself) apparently about to ruin a glorious career, in defense of Liberty & all the imprescriptible rights that man is born to. He did not seduce me from the service but he promised what he did perform; I hoped that by serving foreigners in a good cause to fight myself ahead and some day prove to the world that those who searched into my abilities were mistaken, and perhaps convince themselves that they had done me an injustice: This daydream fondly nursed did for years amidst all kinds of trials buoy up my spirit against all the persecutions of the enemies of my adopted country both internal & external, and even was a solace for the privation of the society of the friends of my youth whom I had lost: I sincerely hope that your experiment (whatever may be the nature of it), may prove successful & enable you to relinquish a profession which under all circumstances cannot be highly congenial, but allow me to beg of you not to leave it on an uncertainty. If you knew all I have suffered you would forgive my presumption in making this request.

As for my Mexican adventures, they are many & varied but as “a sad tale saddens doubly when tis long”. I shall defer till some other time; giving you any details sufficient to say. I was off hand appointed a “Temiente de Navio”—served some time as 1st. Lt. of Brig Bravo of 18 guns, then 1st. Lt. of flag ship frigate Libertad, then in comd. of a detachment on the coast of Cuba was taken prisoner (wounded) & exchanged, then commanded Brig Victoria 20 guns, 1 cruise, then Bravo 18 guns 1 cruise, then detached on a survey on the coast of Texas & the interior. This was my last service before I resigned, when poverty and persecution was our only reward for 3 ½ years of service.—

As for poetic resuscitation the case is hopeless I have seen too many of the sad realities of life ever to be able to wing my way again into the regions of poetry or romance; nevertheless I do sometimes yet commit rhyme, but it is either vile doggerel of dedicated only to my wife & child and is of no use except to the owner; a copy of Morris’ certificate & the landsman at sea, would be so delicate a treat to me that I almost despair of being indulged in it. My sister-in-law & myself take the Albion, she being nearer the Post Office (at Sand Key) read them first & then send them to me where they are filed. I shall subscribe for the navel & military magazine where I hope frequently to find the traces of your pen. I think I could pick out yours even without the key. When I see the work and the plan on which it is conducted, I can better determine whether my feeble pen can be usefully employed.

Since the receipt of yours and finding that you prize shells not as ornamental but in a scientific way I shall reserve all I procure in your department and send them by the first safe conveyance. I have already procured some, it takes them some time to clear of the meal and get sweet and I despair of having an opportunity I can depend on until the Autumn when you may depend on receiving the results of the labor of many a sunny day. And in exchange I only ask hear from you often, but I cannot well expect that even, this will be too late for the May mail in K. West & consequently will not reach you until a quarter of a year (or nearly) after its date. If you please let us keep more than one letter on the road at a time. The mail leaves Charleston for K. West on 1st. of each month and Key West on the 15th for Charleston. Between Key West and this place the communications is irregular and little to be depended on, otherwise it might lay aside in the stores at K. West for and age and be forgotten. At last—

In the winter when there are fishing smacks here they go frequently to Havana and often found vessels bound direct to Newport & always to N. York and as these smackmen are all obliging to me, I shall have many opportunities of sending to you when they come out again in the Autumn. If you have anything in the literary way that can be sent by mail send it directed as before, my literary digestion is so sharpened by abstinence or rather privation, that it can assimilate anything, but I fear if this state be long continued it may be destroyed by inanition.

Ever y. friend
Sandy Thompson

If you see Capt. Turner again, do tell him he has never answered my last letter, when he does I will be gratified. Do kiss your children once on my account; mine is a sweet little girl 22 months old, and in about 2 months more I expect the happiness of greeting her brother.

Scans of Letter