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Henry C. Pratt journals

Identifier: MSS 0097-Item 0160

Scope and Contents

In these two journal volumes, Henry C. Pratt recorded his travels through southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey in 1825 and his voyages as Surgeon’s Mate in the United States Navy between 1826 and 1828.

The first volume of Pratt’s journals contains a description of a journey around southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey between August 5 and August 18, 1825. Pratt traveled with two friends, identified as Kennedy and Harrison, covering over 300 miles in 2 weeks. The friends traveled to Reading, Hamburg, Orwigsburg, Lehighton, and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, before crossing the Delaware River into New Jersey. The travelers then visited Schooley’s Mountain, Pennington, and Trenton before returning to Philadelphia on August 18. Pratt notes that they traveled over half the distance on foot, but the group also traveled by wagon and via boat on the Schuylkill Canal. Pratt and his compatriots were particularly interested in local industry, and visited coal mines at Mount Carbon and Mauch Chunk during their journey.

Pratt commented extensively on the local inhabitants and quality of accommodations. He noted that in Reading almost everyone spoke “Dutch,” referring to the local dialect of Pennsylvania German. In Orwigsburg, he observed that “the German language is universally spoken in this part of the Country—tho on the high ways and in Public places English is mostly understood.” While staying at a tavern in Kreidersville, he noted that their “chamber was bedecked in great style with a variety of devout pictures and strangely worked samplers, but what astounded us most was a true & veritable piano—but altho so grand our room lacked a door & there no barrier existed between us & a drunken Canadian who was deposited in the adjoining chamber & afforded us some amusement.” Pratt also commented on the education and musical talents of Moravians in Bethlehem. Although Pratt described a number of friendly individuals, his overall impression of the local inhabitants was not so favorable. On August 10, he observed that “this day has given us enough of the Dutch, they are a selfish inhospitable race.”

At the end of Volume 1, Pratt recorded the starting locations, dates, and latitude and longitude coordinates of his voyages aboard the U.S.S. Brandywine and the U.S.S. United States. He recorded a journal of these two voyages in Volume 2, which he titled “Journal of a Cruise &c.” At the front of the journal, Pratt recorded the list of officers and passengers aboard both U.S. frigates. After travelling from Philadelphia to New York City, Pratt set sail aboard the U.S.S. Brandywine on August 31, 1826. After a two month voyage, the ship arrived at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on October 27, where it remained anchored until November 18. Following a dispute with the local government regarding their ability to sail during an embargo, the crew set sail for Valparaiso, Chile. After some difficulty traveling around Cape Horn, the ship arrived in Valparaiso on December 25. Pratt then made a brief excursion inland to Santiago, returning to the coast on January 4, 1827. He soon received orders to report to Commander Isaac Hull aboard the U.S.S. United States, which set sail for New York on January 23. After a brief visit to Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, the ship sailed through the West Indies and arrived at New York on April 28, 1827. At the end of the journal, Pratt briefly recorded his next assignments in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Norfolk, Virginia, as well as his completion of medical school in 1827-1828.

Throughout Volume 2 of his journal, Pratt recorded detailed descriptions of seafaring life and observations of people, cities, and ports of South America. He was clearly well educated, making frequent literary references and explaining the history and government of the cities he visited. While on board the Brandywine and United States, he described his sleeping quarters, meals, first bout of sea sickness, and various sea creatures observed, including whales, barracuda, and porpoises. He noted that they often encountered other ships on their voyage, communicating via speaking trumpets and exchanging recent newspapers when possible. Following the death of the master at arms on September 7, 1826, Pratt provided a detailed account of his last rites and burial, observing that “it was over in a moment and all ears had been strained to catch the sound, a dead silence was kept, the poor master at arms had sunk far beneath the Atlantic wave, away went the ship cutting her way through the sea…& in five minutes the poor fellow seemed forgotten.”

Pratt also provided detailed accounts of the people, buildings, and customs he observed while in Brazil, Chile, and Barbados. He frequently compared the beauty of women in various ports to the inhabitants of Philadelphia. During his excursion to Santiago, Chile, Pratt carefully observed the dress and equipment of local horsemen. While in Santiago, he made further observations on the climate, local industry, governmental structure, recent struggle for independence from Spain, and effects of a devastating earthquake in November 1822. Pratt seemed to regard Catholic institutions and customs with a mixture of amusement and disdain. He visited several convents, and theorized that their windows were barred to present the escape of young women being held there against their will. While in Rio de Janeiro, Pratt was scolded by locals for failing to genuflect when the Eucharist passed by in a procession. Describing a Lenten parade in Salvador da Bahia, Pratt noted his bewilderment, but ultimately concluded that everyone had a right to his own way of thinking and moved on.

Pratt offered several descriptions of slavery and slave markets in Brazil during his journeys. In general, he was horrified with the treatment of the enslaved, noting that those in Salvador da Bahia “were busy doing all the offices performed at home by horses.” After observing a slave market in Rio de Janeiro, Pratt described a wealthy woman “trotting about from store to store, pricing, examining, cheapening the slaves, precisely as a fair Philadelphian would spend an afternoon in Second Street buying a shawl.” He concluded that Rio de Janeiro “has given me enough of slavery a curse entailed on my own country,” and believed that every “honest man” should work to “free the bondaged African.” However, he also cautioned not to let “enthusiasm, unrestrained by prudence, break a chain whose sudden parting may prove destructive to many.” Oddly, Pratt later observed that enslaved men and women in Brazil were “perfectly happy”: “As far as I can learn the Brazilians are excellent slave masters & I am told that when opportunities offer the negroes never try to escape.”

At the end of Volume 2 of his journal, Pratt drew a map of the track of his two voyages around South America and “A profile of the Entrance of Rio Janeiro Harbour,” which included Sugarloaf Mountain and Fort Santa Cruz. He also included several pages of “thermometrical and barometrical observations” made aboard the Brandywine and United States. Pratt noted that the observations for September 4 through September 30, 1826 were taken from the Brandywine’s logbook, but he made the rest of the observations himself.

Volume 1 consists of 38 pages of wove paper sewn without a cover and contains handwritten text in black ink. Volume 2 is bound with three quarter sheep over boards and has remnants of leather on the spine and corners of the covers. An inscription on the front cover reads “Henry C. Pratt U.S. Navy.” An inscription on the front pastedown reads “Henry C. Pratt U.S.N./Frigate Brandywine/at anchor off Sandy Hook/August 31st, 1826.” The covers are detached and many of the leaves are loose. This volume contains 168 pages, including 127 journal pages handwritten in black ink, 2 pages describing those on board the U.S.S. Brandywine and U.S.S. United States, 1 full-page pen and ink map, one full-page pen and ink land profile of the entrance to Rio de Janeiro’s harbor, 3 pages of manuscript log entries, and 34 blank pages. The manuscript log entries continue on the end pastedown. The first few pages are unlined wove paper; the rest are faintly-lined wove paper.


  • Creation: 1825, 1826-1828


Language of Materials

Materials entirely in English.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S. Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections, University of Delaware Library,

Biographical Note

Henry C. Pratt of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was commissioned as Surgeon’s Mate in the U.S. Navy on August 9, 1826 and set sail aboard the U.S.S. Brandywine at the end of the month. Upon arriving in Valparaiso, Chile, Pratt was ordered to report for duty under Commander Isaac Hull aboard the U.S.S. United States in January 1827. After sailing around Cape Horn and through the West Indies, Pratt noted in his journal that he arrived in New York City at the end of April 1827. Following service on the U.S.S. Cyane and U.S.S. North Carolina, Pratt finished his medical studies at the University of Pennsylvania in January 1828, where he wrote an essay on amputation. Shortly thereafter, Pratt resumed his naval service as an assistant surgeon. He died of unknown causes on board the U.S.S. Delaware on March 10, 1828.

General Catalogue of the Medical Graduates of the University of Pennsylvania; With an Historical Sketch of the Origin, Progress, and Present State of the Medical Department. Philadelphia: Lydia R. Bailey, 1845.“Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America, Forty-Ninth Session, December 12, 1826-March 2, 1827,” in Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America, from the Commencement of the First, to the Termination of the Nineteenth Congress. Vol. III. Washington. D.C.: Duff Green, 1828.U.S. Navy Casualty Books, 1776-1941, Officers and Enlisted Men (Volume 1), 1776-1885 (accessed via on March 13, 2017)Columbian Centinel (Massachusetts), May 21, 1828. In U.S. Newspaper Extractions from the Northeast, 1704-1930, (accessed via on March 13, 2017)Information derived from the collection.


2 volume : Volume 1: 38 pages ; Volume 2: 168 pages ; Volume 1: 20 cm; Volume 2: 25 cm


In these two journal volumes, Henry C. Pratt recorded his travels through southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey in 1825 and his voyages as Surgeon’s Mate in the United States Navy between 1826 and 1828.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchase, December 2006

Related Materials

This item forms part of MSS 0097 Diaries, Journals, and Ships' Logs collection.

Shelving Summary

Item 0160: Shelved in SPEC MSS 0097

Processing Information

Processed and encoded by Elizabeth Jones-Minsinger, July 2017.

Finding aid for Henry C. Pratt journals
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
2017 July 10
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Delaware Library Special Collections Repository

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