Letter dated at Burnabat, Turkey, May 27, 1831, from David Offley, to his sister, Mrs Mary Offley Sharpless, at Philadelphia, Pa.

Folded letter has red “NEW-YORK/SHIP” cds, and manuscript “27” rate. The NYC postmark is dated Sept. 1st, indicating that the letter took over 3 months to reach the U.S.

The writer of this letter, David Offley, (1779-1838), was born in Philadelphia; He served as 1st Lieutenant in the 10th U.S. Infantry, at Carlisle Barracks, Pa., 1798-1800; Established the first American commercial firm in Turkey, at Smyrna in 1811, and was the chief U.S. merchant in Turkey; U.S. Commercial Agent to Turkey; Negotiated the first U.S.-Turkey commercial treaty in 1830, and in 1832, was appointed by President Andrew Jackson, 1st U.S. Consul at Smyrna.

He writes being sceptical about reports he has seen in U.S. newspapers that the Government will compensate him for his services in Turkey (as U.S. Commercial Agent, and in negotiating the U.S.-Turkey commercial treaty). He also writes of his 3 sons from his first marriage (Richard, David & Holmes), who came to live with him in Turkey when they were young, one of whom is working in a Counting House in Constantinople, another has sailed on a commercial venture to the U.S., etc., and also ponders where in the U.S. to send his 2 young sons from his second marriage to a Greek woman in Turkey, so they can be educated. Some of his friends in the U.S. Navy have recommended Virginia, but he doesn’t want to send them to a boarding school, preferring that they go to a country school. He also writes of his daughter Ann, who he left to be raised by his mother in America when he went to Turkey, and his concerns over her going to parties, and how he thinks it is fortunate that her “young man” has sailed to Calcutta.


My Dear Sister,
I have had the great satisfaction to receive your letter 23 February and to learn that you were in the enjoyment of good health. Before the receipt of this I trust you will have seen Richard [his son, Richard J. Offley, who lived with him Turkey] and I hope his councils to his sister may have a good effect. I disapproved very much of the parties [my daughter] Ann appears to make not infrequently into the country. Of course I do not allude to those to our relations or when accompanied by them. Before the departure of Richard, we frequently spoke together on this subject. He will communicate my wishes to her and which I repeat in the enclosed letter. Ann has had every advantage of good example and if she has not profited by it, I must suppose her hereditary disposition are more strong [a reference to Ann’s mother, his first wife who he divorced, and who he describes as a “monster” in another letter]. I think it is unfortunate both for the young man in question and Ann that he should have made the voyage to Calcutta. She has not said a word to me on the subject nor have I myself to her letter.

I have always feared the climate of Woodbury [New Jersey] was not good. As I find my recollections are correct, have abandoned the idea of ever sending them there [a reference to sending his young sons to the U.S. for their education]. If it had been otherwise and agreeable to our sister and her husband, I should have sent them this fall. Although young, I have that confidence in the character of Edward that I would not only trust him in a great measure to take care of himself but also of his brother who is to accompany him. My ideas on the subject of education has undergone a great change since last we were together and perhaps some day I may have a fair opportunity of judging by comparison if the change has been for the better. Having said this much, I must, however, in justice to my sons Richard & David add that I know not two more respectable and respected young men. their conduct on all occasions has been moral & correct. Of Holmes, I cannot in truth say so much. The difficulties he has had will be a lesson to himself and wife (for never was sister & brother more alike) which will be of future service to them.

David is in a Counting house at Constantinople. I hear frequently from him and trust he is in a fair way to get rid of some of his excessive pride and high ideas. As to my little ones, I feel undecided when or where I shall send them. Some of my Navy friends advise me to send them to Virginia and offer to take them. I cannot, however, decide so to do. I would rather have them boarded with some happy and good family in Country and to attend some Country school where they would be happy than to send them to any boarding school where as much pains are taken to excite their emulation, envy, or ambition — call it what you will — and which must tend to make them bad and unhappy...

Please present my best regards and thanks to your kind husband for his letter. The vessel by which the box was sent went first to Constantinople. The Captain says David took it out of the vessel as I had another box Garden sent & newspapers from New York. Perhaps he thought one was enough for me. I have wrote to him enquiring if it was so and have not yet received an answer. I shall by next opportunity write to my old friend S. Hagan to thank him for his kind attention. I trust to you my dear sister to make my thanks acceptable to your husband for his present of the Annals of Philadelphia. I have had a copy sent me some time past and I see the mention of our father although his name is not spelled right. I am anxious to see the account of J.S. Lewis. I think there will be something remaining in his hands to add to the sum. I am preparing for the education of my children in the U.S. I see a great deal said in the newspapers relative to a compensation to be made by our Gov. I much doubt having as little confidence as their generosity as justice within anything worthwhile will be offered for my acceptance.

Give my love to our dear Mother, Brothers & Sisters. My little family or rather family of little ones are in the enjoyment of high health & happiness. My dear Helen requests to join me in love to you all.

With sincere affection my dear sister, — your brother David

Below is another, 3 pgs letter, dated at Smyrna, Turkey, Dec. 15, 1831, from David Offley, to his sister, Mrs. Mary Offley Sharpless, at Philadelphia, Pa.

Folded letter has red “NEW-YORK” cds, red “SHIP” handstamp, and manuscript rate. The NYC postmark is dated March (1832), indicating that the letter took about 3 months to reach the U.S.


“Since I last wrote you, our City has been visited by one of the most dreadful diseases that I believe ever afflicted mankind. The Cholera Morbus raged here for about six weeks with great violence, particularly during the middle of that period, and notwithstanding a good proportion escaped death when timely assistance was given, the number of deaths during that short period exceed seven thousand. In the first part of the disease, it was not a very uncommon sight to witness on our streets of a person, apparently in good health, falling down instantly as if dead, the extremities cold as ice, and the countenance that of a person some hours after death. These cases, when immediate assistance was given, were generally saved. As the disease advanced, it assumed other appearances, and even to this day, we hear of occasional attacks. I retired with my family to the country, where the disease was not near so violent. By a strict attention to diet, and avoiding exposure to the night and morning air, no attacks occured in my family. The diet consisted in soup, boiled & roasted beef or fowls, avoiding all kinds of fruit, vegetables, fish, & milk in all its varieties; in fact, everything but soup & boiled or roasted meat. And I believe when strict attention has been paid to this diet, no attacks have taken place.

The first part of the year, we had the plague, and then the word was don’t touch that; afterwards the Cholera, and then, don’t eat that. Here you will say, then why, my brother, remain in a Country so afflicted? I must confess I cannot answer reasonably, either to you or myself. It appears as if we were spell tied to this Country. During the Greek Rebellion, many Europeans, in a fit of desperation, left here. They have all returned, one after the other... Our doings, and even our opinions are so acted on by previous circumstances beyond our control, that when the moment of action arrives, we are obliged, as it were, to act according to our different characters at that time, formed from the millions of circumstances which have happened to us thro’ life, and then to life itself. Circumstances which happened in my early boyhood, had they been otherwise, I should perhaps not entertain the opinion I now do, and certainly (almost) never been a resident in Smyrna. The death of our father is among the most prominent ones, and to those but acquainted with his opinions and force of character, would I look for a coincidenc with my opinion. Present appearances are (and much I regret it) that here I shall end my days. There are many circumstances, however, within the range of possibility, any one of which happening would cause me to leave here before night.

After a very long silence, I have at length received a letter from Richard [his son, Richard J. Offley, who came to live with him in Turkey around 1820], and I regret to find the ten years which have passed since his previous visit to the U. States, appears to have affected but little change in his character, at least so far as Commercial enterprize and Industry are concerned. His present visit appears likely to end without any advantage to him, and most serious disadvantage to me, and will oblige me to deprive myself and family of some of our accustomed expenses, and what I most regret, will entirely put it out of my power to send my two sons to the U.S. In place thereof, if a person qualified to give my children a plain English education could be found, who would be willing to come here for $200 per annum, board, lodging & washing, I should be glad to have such a one. There would remain for him a sufficiency of time, either by trading, in which I would assist him, or by giving lessons to other children, to add very considerably to his gains. I have wrote Richard several times on this subject. I should wish a person acquainted with teaching children, and if a friend [a Quaker - David Offley was the son of a Quaker minister, and his sister remained a devout Quaker], could reconcile to himself to mix with those who are not so, I should be pleased.

David [another son who came to Turkey to live with his Father] is back again. His intellectual pride will, I fear, prevent him from ever being a subordinate to anyone, & I see nothing in his character or abilities which affords much hope that he will ever be anything else. Holmes [another son who came to Turkey] appears to be, or certainly is, the only one of my children who secured for themselves a piece of bread since he has been forced to lay aside his pride and go to work in the best way he can; is doing well. He now maintains himself by his own exertions and industry... Richard has not wrote so to me, but I have heard that in July, he was jaunting about with his sister, spending my money instead of occupying his mind with business, at which I most highly disapprove of. My sons are gentlemen, moral, and with fair abilities, but they are as... unenterprising and idle as any I know of. They rely entirely on me. What will become of them after me, they ought at least to think of...

My family are all well. When next I write you, I expect to have to request you to make another entry in the family bible. I am very unfortunate in getting letters from the U.S. My friends I hear, say they write me, but their letters never come to hand...I endeavour not to let these disappointments distress me as they once did. Besides, perhaps it is only natural after so many years of absence, that I should be nearly forgotten. There is something so painful in this idea, that I frequently tell my wife that I shall be obliged to make at least six months visit to the United States to renew my acquaintances...”

Contents of other letters written by David Offley, 1815, 1818, 1820, 1821, 1822, 1823, 1824, 1829.