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Foreword to Winter Sketches from the Saddle

When The Long Riders' Guild Press republished John Codman’s classic book about equestrian travel, Winter Sketches from the Saddle, we were contacted by the non-fiction author, Brandon R. Schrand.  He wrote this memorable Foreword to the LRG Press edition – which includes Codman’s little-known Introduction to one edition of Black Beauty.

            On December 2, 1886, The New York Times ran an article titled “Capt. Codman’s Ride.” The commentary was succinct. The Times noted that “Capt. John Codman . . . has arrived in Boston after a ride of six days on horseback from New York. He was 72 years old last October, but is in the best of health, hearty, and vigorous.”[1] The brief notice is telling not merely because it was extraordinary. Indeed it was. In fact it was so extraordinary that Codman drew on that experience for writing Winter Sketches From the Saddle published two years later. But the article also illustrates the public spectacle Captain Codman’s life had become as the end of the nineteenth century approached. There was little the venerated sea captain did in daily life that wasn’t covered by the major newspapers. From attending dinners, or delivering speeches, to traveling in the Far West, Codman’s presence figured prominently among his fellow Victorians. Wherever he went, news was certain to follow.

            John Codman (the fifth of his name) was born on October 16, 1814 in Dorchester, Massachusetts to the Reverend John and Mary (Wheelwright) Codman. John’s father, a Harvard graduate, was an orthodox Congregational minister who preached fiery and candent tracts from the pulpit of Dorchester’s Second Congregational Church that stands today in Codman Square, named for him. The Codman mansion, which sprawled across Codman Hill in Dorchester (then a “suburb” of Boston), was a regular meeting place for local clerics. The clergymen debated theological matters late into the evenings while, as one writer puts it, “making devastating inroads into their host's supplies of rum and smoking tobacco.”[2]  The young John Codman—the oldest of six siblings—listened to the men’s discussions on all matters of the world, and there, under plumes of smoke in the library or perhaps in the drawing room, he first learned the art of story telling. And on special evenings occasioned by a visit from young Codman’s maternal grandfather, Captain Ebenezer Wheelwright, the impressionable boy listened most carefully to the mariner’s tales of the high seas from the period of the Napoleonic Wars.

            But Codman’s education was by no means limited to the banter in the opulent halls of his family’s mansion. In 1819, at the age of five, he was enrolled in Jesse Pierce’s Private Academy at Milton where he studied in the company of R. B. Forbes, Asaph Churchill, and Fletcher Webster, son of Daniel Webster. It is worth pointing out that the Codmans and Websters enjoyed a close and enduring relationship, the kind that typified the interwoven social milieu of upper-class Boston. And it was that monied social structure that Codman grew into and, in some ways, came to reject.

            In 1823 he entered the Phillips Academy at Andover where he became schoolmates with Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. and a handful of other boys who would become some of the most influential men in the nineteenth century. But Codman did not wax sentimental when reflecting on his days at Andover. Instead, in an article to the Christian Register titled “Dr. Holmes’s Flogging” in which he recalled the academy’s old ways of discipline, Codman spoke of his time spent there as drudgery endured under an “ancient regime . . . of orthodoxy and cruelty.”[3] Codman’s recollection of Phillips Academy reveals his sharp wit if not a little distaste for that institution in particular and formal education in general.

            Perhaps the one and only exception to Codman’s jaded view of the formalities of academe was the time he spent at the short-lived Mount Pleasant Classical Institution at Amherst. Upon completing his work at Andover, Codman entered Mount Pleasant in 1829 at the age of fifteen. There he met a young and vibrant Henry Ward Beecher and the two young men would become lifelong friends. Codman’s remembrances of Mount Pleasant were fond, perhaps, because they were more closely associated with trouble making than the rigors of study.

            Both Codman and Beecher graduated Mount Pleasant in the spring of 1832 and entered Amherst College the following fall. Although Beecher—who had long dreamed of going to sea—completed his degree at Amherst, Codman did not. No doubt lured—at least in part—by his grandfather’s tales of the sailor’s life, Codman dropped out of Amherst after completing just two years and set out for open water. By 1836 he had already earned the rank of captain. At an extraordinary young age of twenty-two, the newly appointed captain had been given command of The Argyle, a “fast sailing brig” noted in the American papers for fleeing Chile which was then in the throes of a revolution.[4]

            Codman’s rapid ascension in the merchant marine earned him an esteemed reputation and marked the beginnings of what would be a remarkable career. But it was more than that. His induction as a sea captain was the surrogate for his college graduation. Like Ishmael in Melville’s Moby Dick, Codman too viewed the seafaring vessel as his “Yale College and Harvard.”[5] And not unlike Melville himself, Codman also possessed the twin passions for the sea and for writing.

            Those twin passions, as it turned out, came to fruition in the 1847 publication of his first book titled—not surprisingly—Sailors’ Life and Sailors’ Yarns by  “Captain Ringbolt,” Codman’s pseudonym. Herman Melville, who had not yet written the tour de force, Moby Dick, wrote a mixed, but not altogether unfavorable review of Codman’s debut achievement. The American Whig Review, on the other hand, gave nothing but the highest praise of what would be Codman’s only known foray into fiction.

            For the clear-eyed and lean thirty-three year old who wore dark, moppish hair, 1847 marked a significant year. He had just made his modest entry into the world of letters, established a lucrative shipping business, and, on November 3, married Miss Anna Gertrude Dey of New York. No sooner than the wedding had ended, though, Codman’s good fortune took a sobering turn. Just two days before Christmas, his father, the Reverend John Codman, died at home after an extended illness.[6] Whatever pain the newlywed might have felt over the loss of his father would, one year later, be assuaged by the birth of his one and only child, Mary, named for his widowed mother.

            How exactly the Captain passed the years between 1848 and 1854 is unclear. Presumably  he was attending to his new family and his burgeoning shipping business. His trade soon won him the beginnings of what would become a considerable fortune. On one particular voyage from China, Codman cleared $100,000.00 for a single ship’s cargo of tea. His profit, nearly unheard of at the time, is legendary in maritime history.[7]

             In 1854, however, the youngish mariner took a brief respite from the China tea trade. With his wife and five year old daughter in tow, Codman took command The William Penn, a U.S. steamer chartered by the French to transport troops and stores in the Crimean War. Again, in an effort to marry his passions—navigation and narrative—Codman kept his journal pages filled with colorful observations of this otherwise obscure war. Some forty years later, Codman would exhume those dusty notebooks and fashion them into An American Transport in the Crimean War, published in 1896. The book was adorned with an introduction by his cousin, John Codman Ropes, the once famous lawyer, Civil War historian, and founder of the American Law Review.

            The Crimean War ended in 1856 and Codman returned home to find his mother failing in health, and on April 10,1857, she died. It was an uncertain time for the forty-three year old as it was for everyone snared in the middle of the Victorian century. One war had drawn to a close across the Atlantic and another one was stirring up on American soil. Like most able-bodied men at the time, Codman too saw action in the Civil War, but not in the usual mode. Instead of leading a regiment across an open battlefield, the Captain reportedly hired on as a commander of the Quaker City, an armed transport based out of Port Royal, South Carolina. Following the war, the Quaker City was decommissioned and turned over to the commercial market where it became widely known as the steamer in Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad.

            On December 2, 1864, Codman—having completed his duties in the war—was commissioned to take the Cotopaxi, a defunct armed cruiser, from New York to Brazil where he was to sell her to the Brazilian Government. Again, the globe-trotting Captain took his daughter and wife on another adventure, this time into the heart of South America. As it happened, the Codmans spent nearly a year in Brazil where they enjoyed the company of luminaries such as Louis Agassiz and General Santa Anna. During their residence, the Captain took volumes of notes on customs, industry, cultural nuances, resources, and trade (to which he paid the closest attention). Once back in the states, Codman collected his notes and wrote what would be his second book, Ten Months in Brazil with Notes on the Paraguayan War, first published in 1867. Characteristic of all of his work, Ten Months in Brazil is peppered with wit, humor, and sharp (if not harsh) insights and observations. Although Ten Months in Brazil has been footnoted in scholarly work for the last fifty years, it was met with a number of sour reviews by his contemporaries. More recently, scholars have nevertheless called the book “an excellent study” that is “full of important information and accurate observations.”[8]

            Despite the less than praising reviews for his second work, Codman had  fully established himself as newspaper correspondent for the major New York and Boston papers. He wrote variously and voluminously under the names “Ringbolt,” “J.C.,” and “John Codman.” His dispatches, sent from all parts of the world, touched on an astounding array of topics and issues. While he wrote on the particulars of public education, Chinese immigration, railroad tycoons, Mormonism, Indian policy, and “equestrianopathy” (riding for one’s health), none demanded more ink from his pens than tariff reform and free-trade. By 1870, his career as a ship captain had ebbed into retirement, and his second career as a writer and public figure was on the bloom.

            In 1870 alone, Codman had published a number of letters, written dozens of newspaper articles, and had drafted four monographs on tariff reform and navigational law, one of which was delivered before a Special Committee of the House of Representatives, another submitted to Congress, and the last penned for the public at large. His pamphlets were circulated in the corridors of Washington D.C. while his articles lined the pages of the New York Times, the Boston Transcript, the New York Herald, and the New York Evening Post. By the early 1870s, Codman had become one of those rare newspapermen who was written about as often as he wrote about his subjects. People either adored him or hated him. In either case his name bore household recognition.

            As a Democrat and “ardent anti-imperialist,” as one paper called him, Codman kept a discerning eye on his  “target” audience which was mainly the Republican Party. But his distaste for politicians in general, or “demagogues” as he was wont to call them,  was, by and large, indiscriminate. If a fellow Democrat required a good public lashing, Codman was obliged to issue it. Indeed the Captain felt no compunction about calling out an adversary in the papers to spar a round or two. It is what he did best. And he often sparred with dozens of period notables over as many boiling issues. His provocations actually led to personal confrontations on more than one occasion. The most noted and most interesting of these exchanges occurred just days after his free-trade monograph was delivered to the House Committee. The captain, acting as a lobbyist, had retired after a jam-packed day of speeches and debate, and had removed to The Arlington House off of Capitol Hill for drinks among a cadre of political scions. Soon he had been engaged by former Civil War General and Congressman, James Scott Negley—a Republican—on the issue of tariff reform. The conversation quickly turned to blows. The New York Herald reports that “in the case of Negley vs. Codman … everything was strictly to code. First the lie, then a prompt and satisfactory knockdown, [Codman, at 56, was knocked down] then a hit back and then apologies and drinks.”[9] Perhaps the most delightful detail of the exchange is that Codman’s “hit back” was done with a cane. Apparently the captain-cum-lobbyist spoke loudly and carried a big stick. 

            The idea that Codman acted in accordance to any “code,” as the paper wryly suggested, is a fascinating proposition. In many ways the Captain adhered—perhaps inextricably—to the principles of the nineteenth-century Bostonian or “Brahmin” code. He was a man of blue-blooded wealth. He was world traveled. He moved in the highest echelons of society. He possessed a nimble wit and was enormously well-read. Indeed, he was the exemplum of the “Proper Bostonian.” Yet he also squirmed under the strictures of such pretensions. He shrugged off his formal education and passed up both the clergy and the law as viable occupations—careers that, in some ways, typified the Codman family’s professional imprint on the Eastern seaboard. In fact, the captain seemed more improper than proper when it came to heated topics in political discourse.  He met gladly the opportunities to puncture swollen egos, and to repudiate pompous individuals. And yet he was a gentleman’s gentleman.

             In 1873, the gentlemanly captain boarded a Pullman Palace Car in New York and traveled the overland route to the mountains of Utah and Idaho. It was then “fashionable,” of course, to “go out West”—per Horace Greeley’s charge. To venture West was, after all, in line with the code. The transcontinental railroad had  been completed just four years earlier and wealthy Easterners formed the majority of travelers who journeyed into the “far West” where they could ogle “curiosities” like Indians, cowboys, miners, and Mormons. In this matter, at least to a certain extent, Codman acted according to the code of the wealthy easterner.

            The private party he traveled with further gives rise to his social standing as his companions comprised a conspicuous cast of Eastern notables: James G. Blaine, then Speaker of the House; Mary Abigail Dodge or “Gail Hamilton,” the fiery suffragist and writer; Horace F. Clark, son-in-law of Cornelius Vanderbilt and then President of the Union Pacific Railroad; and George Pullman, inventor of the palace car on which the group was traveling. Like those in his party, Codman no doubt indulged himself with food and drink and cigars—the usual luxuries and accouterments of transcontinental travel. But unlike the rest of his party (all of whom had political interests in the West generally and Utah in particular) Codman stayed on in “Mormon country” for the summer. In this manner, Codman forsook the code. It was fine for proper easterners to visit the West and to view it from the safety of a dining car, but to live there in sagging huts and plank-board hovels was, for most among Codman’s class, out of the question.

            Little could the 59 year old captain have known the extent to which the American West would influence him personally and professionally. He knew well the paintings of Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran and the grandiosity they made of the West. The real contours of that unexpected landscape, though—the Wasatch peaks jutting skyward, expansive deserts, mountain lakes, and cold trout streams—so fully impressed him that little time passed before he bought a “ranche” in Soda Springs, Idaho, a small Mormon settlement two hundred miles north of Salt Lake City. There he would build his own cabin and live nine months out of the year in the quiet valley. In Tosoiba: “Sparkling Waters,” the history of Soda Springs, the authors remark on Codman’s attachment to the country, and his commitment to “equestrianopathy.” They note how “[h]e loved the brisk mountain air, and was often seen riding his white horse over the green hills at daybreak. Wherever he went the Captain filled his notebook with descriptive notations to be used later in the stories he was so apt at telling.”[10] Codman had at last found a landscape over which he could ride, and a country that furnished a well of inspiration for his writerly imagination.

            Indeed, he was so taken with the environs and its inhabitants that in 1874, one year after his first visit to Utah and Idaho, he published The Mormon Country: A Summer with the “Latter-day Saints.”  The book received little attention, critical or otherwise, save a semi-favorable announcement in Salt Lake City’s Deseret Evening News, then an unapologetic mouthpiece of the Mormon Church. In fact, in the introduction to the book, Codman confesses that “[t]he manuscript was first offered to a prominent literary magazine. It was returned with the objection that it was too impartial. No higher praise is asked for the book.” His statement here is not only telling in how he treated the Mormons (which was atypically fair at the time), but it is also a not-so-subtle indictment of the Eastern literary establishment.

            What further sets Codman apart from many of the nineteenth-century writers-turned-tourists who wandered the west is how he often wrote against the romantic grain so popular at the time. On his first trip to Soda Springs—then a Mormon settlement of maybe two-dozen cabins—the Captain took lodgings at the Sterrit Hotel. Growling (with tongue-in-cheek) he writes that “[s]ome ‘hotels’ I have seen in the wilds of Africa, the plains of India, the slums of Constantinople; but the ‘Hotel Sterrit’ of Soda Springs is the meanest building of that description into which I have ever crept.”[11] Unlike his effete Eastern contemporaries, Codman preferred such ramshackle accommodations.

            Upon the Captain’s return to the genteel East in late 1873, he found himself busy with the demands of the writing life. He had no sooner found a press to publish his “impartial” manuscript on the Mormons, than he sent off a short piece to Harper’s titled “Equestrianopathy.” The article, based on his long rides, would be the impetus for Winter Sketches From the Saddle which he would publish eleven years later. In the article—which differs slightly from the first chapter of Winter Sketches—Codman proclaims that his “chief delight” in life “is to mount a fine saddle-horse on one of those glorious winter mornings and gallop over the hills.” Furthermore, he advises his readership that “If you will practice equestrianopathy in winter, you will find its sanitary effects greater than at any other season of the year.” One cannot doubt Codman’s sincerity when it came to horses and riding. “The horse,” he tells us “has been a kingdom for me, as my Mormon friends interpret the word—happiness, exaltation.”[12] It is clear that having just returned from the far west that Codman still felt its alluring tug as his writing is peppered with references.

            The Captain, his wife, Anna, and daughter, Mary, would return to the Mormon country the next summer and every summer thereafter staying late into the fall until the snows necessitated their return to New York. By the late 1870s, Codman was not only considered an authority on maritime matters, equestrianism, and free trade, but he had now made himself an authority on the American west. In 1879, he published his second book on the distant territories. The volume’s lengthy title gives some indication of the breadth of his observations. Dubbed The Round Trip by Way of Panama, Through California, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, and Colorado with Notes on Railroads, Commerce, Agriculture, Mining, Scenery, and People, the book, at 331 pages (his lengthiest work), was the first to enjoy unanimous critical success and numerous printings. The Atlantic Monthly called the book “interesting and valuable” citing that “there is little [Codman] has seen that he has not formed a very definite opinion about, an opinion based on a good deal of experience” and that his “practical advice is well worthy of consideration.”[13]  Harper’s noted that “No more companionable and genial volume could be desired than that in which Captain Codman gives an account of The Round Trip.”[14] And The New Englander zeroed in on what may be the most significant portion of the book. They write that Codman’s “views on the ‘Chinese problem’ are especially deserving of attention.”[15] While the United States in general and California in particular were embroiled in a fit of anti-Chinese fervor, Codman—the iconoclast—seethed with venom and unleashed a no-holds barred attack on his fellow countrymen who opposed Chinese immigration.

To the everlasting disgrace of Congress, in obedience to the insensate clamor of politicians—but for the President’s veto power—it would have humiliated our nation in the eyes of the Christian and the heathen world by the violation of a solemn treaty. Now let this be partially atoned by justice to the Chinese. Because they are yellow, not white—yellow, not black, let our treatment of them no longer give lie to our Declaration of Independence and to our profession of religion. Let us prove our belief that all men are free and equal . . . Let us give the Chinese the boon of suffrage.[16]

            Codman’s boiling rebuke, however, was for naught. Three years later, James G. Blaine (Codman’s acquaintance and western travel companion) and the majority of Washington bureaucrats pushed through the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, effectively ceasing the influx of Chinese immigration (which was almost exclusively male) into the United States. What is most astonishing about Codman’s stance on the “Chinese question,” though, is not that he saw the Chinese as merely as “quiet, orderly, industrious, [and] temperate,” but that he argued for their right to vote.[17]

            In the period between 1878 and 1889, the American printing presses saw the full thrust of Codman’s substantial literary output. He penned hundreds of newspaper articles on as many subjects while sending off weighty pieces to The North American Review, The Century, Harper’s, Belford’s, and myriad other magazines. Additionally, he wrote two pamphlets on free trade—Free Ships: The Restoration of the American Carrying Trade and Shipping Subsidies and Bounties—and another on the Latter-day Saints titled, A Solution of the Mormon Problem. His solution was simply to leave the Mormons alone. He was as opposed to polygamy as he was to any legislation designed to abolish it. Codman thought it was fundamentally wrong for the government to construct laws that singled out and punished a group of people based on their beliefs

            In 1888, following A Solution of the Mormon Problem, Codman resurrected his “Equestrianopathy” article and used it as a starting point for Winter Sketches From the Saddle. The equestrian travelogue is dedicated to George Bancroft, the venerated historian and, as it happens, riding partner of Codman’s. In an article published over a decade after the Captain’s death, Journalist E.J. Edwards (a friend of Codman’s) noted how the old mariner “used occasionally to ride with George Bancroft . . . in the suburbs of Washington [D.C.]; and it was a common fondness for equestrianship which led those two men in to most friendly relations, which lasted during the lifetime of Bancroft.”[18] Codman calls Bancroft the “Octogenarian Equestrian” and refers to himself as a “septuagenarian,” striking a kind of teacher-student comparison between the historian and himself.

            It is no small thing that Codman reflects on age so early on in Winter Sketches From the Saddle. While the book contains its share of his trademark witticisms and clever insights, there is something lying beneath the surface that seems melancholy, a kind of clear awareness of his own mortality. And it is an obvious point, too, that the title of the book signifies more than just seasonal reflections. As a “septuagenarian,” Codman himself is in the “winter” of his life, and this work—precisely because of its personal nature—is his crown memoir.

            In many ways Codman allows for a vulnerability in Winter Sketches that is utterly absent in all of his other writing. “As I paced,” he ruminates

. . .a sadness again came upon me such as all men must feel in the reflection that sentient beings like ourselves . . . once living on God’s beautiful earth were now mouldering beneath its ground, and that we who occupy their places must soon follow them, to be followed turn after turn, in the ceaseless round of existence and death. God only knows why He made us to live and to die.[19]

It is a mournful valediction to be sure but Codman—while vulnerable in moments such as this one—does not wallow. Instead, he simply moves the narrative into a remembrance of his time passed at an inn where his horse was well-stabled and the caretaker let the gin and cider flow freely. The spirits flowed so freely, in fact, that Codman confesses he wished he could recount some of the stories told that night. “But,” he adds “owing to the circumstances, the recollection of these stories is somewhat confusing.”[20] And so goes his narrative. Winter Sketches is a wonderful tapestry of  poignant, convivial, and entertaining threads carried out by a long forgotten master of storytelling. It is a touching book but not in a sentimental sense. It is touching because we can feel a human connection to this man and his love for horses and the bright and crisp countryside of New England. And it is touching because it is real, and its integrity did not go unnoticed.

            Indeed, it must have been a comfort for the “ancient mariner” (as he was often called) that his books were gaining universal accolades and that the days of the poor and ambivalent reviews had faded from public memory. In April of 1889 The Atlantic Monthly called Winter Sketches  

a racy [i.e. sprightly, piquant] book, which is really more autobiographical and anecdotical than descriptive, but is an admirable view of life from the vantage point of the saddle. One can see that Captain Codman has kept his spirits up by his companionship with a good nag, and the breeze that blows through his little book is a healthy tonic.[21]  

And so it is a comfort for his readers even today—nearly 120 years later—to feel “the breeze that blows through” this volume. We stand to learn much from Codman’s legacy, from this figure plucked from a period enamored with itself. We see that he was fascinated with the Revolutionary War and with the natural world. We take note as he compares the landscape of his childhood with the industrialized landscape of his later years. The Captain, too, flexes his Victorian muscles particularly when he quotes at length his favorite authors. We can imagine the gilt lettered spines that no doubt lined his library shelves. We can be sure that volumes by Sir Walter Scott, Washington Irving, Thomas Campbell, and James Fenimore Cooper saw the Captain’s hearty indulgence on many a night. The bard he quotes most often in Winter Sketches is William Cowper, an English poet who trained his eye on the natural world and the sensibilities of the commoner. We are not surprised that Codman gravitated toward Cowper as he saw in his words inclinations and opinions that mirrored his own.

            On a late night in the spring of 1890, Codman found himself completely taken with another volume that expressed ideals that reflected his own, particularly those dealing with horses: Anna Sewell’s classic, Black Beauty. The result of that late-night reading was a lengthy article the Captain drafted for the New York Commercial Advertiser. Shortly after the run of his article, The American Humane Education Society published a special edition of Black Beauty and featured an excerpt from Codman’s article in the book aptly titled “Capt. John Codman on ‘Black Beauty.’”

            “I sat down to read it last night,” Codman remarks of Sewell’s book, “and did not move from my chair until it was finished.”[22] From the window of his St. Denis Hotel Apartment in downtown New York City, Codman looked out upon the throng of carriage horses that stood outside of the Grace Church waiting for their “masters.” Feeling a twinge of pain and pity for the creatures, Codman writes how he “crossed over there . . . and interviewed some of the horses. In every one of them there was a pained expression of the eye and often a nervous twitching of the upper lip. Their faces betokened unspeakable agony. Alas, that it was unspeakable!” He then writes,


The poor beasts seemed to discern pity in my face, and every feature of their own had a tongue that said, “For God’s sake,—yes, for God’s sake, for we are his creatures,—go into that church and tell the preacher to cut short his ‘lessons for the day,’ and to send his congregation out here to take an object lesson from us!”   I wish Dr. Huntington would take Black Beauty into his pulpit and let him preach to his people.[23]

Following Codman’s remarks in this rare edition of Black Beauty, George T. Angell, President and Founder of the American Band of Mercy—an early animal rights’ organization—wrote, “These are eloquent words of Captain Codman. In behalf of all Boston horses we thank him for them. May they reach the hearts of those for whom they were written, and help ‘Black Beauty’ do for the horses of America what ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ [sic] did for the slave.”[24] Codman’s plea for the humane treatment of the horse was as sincere as it was timely. A groundswell of support for animal rights rose in the late nineteenth century, and the captain—at seventy-six—took this cause as one of his own.

Age did not deter Codman when it came to arguing for causes that he saw as genuine and important. In fact the opposite seems to have been the case. From 1890, when he wrote on Black Beauty, up until his death in 1900, Codman wrote widely and often. He also delivered scores of lectures and addresses around the country and continued to travel frequently. In 1896, the captain exhumed his notes from his time spent in the Crimea and wrote what would be his final book which was, of course, An American Transport in the Crimean War.  And in 1898 he published “A Batch of Yarns of Men and Ships” in The New York Sun. This article signals a kind of return to his roots as a sea captain and storyteller. It also marks a return to his early foray into the world of letters that commenced, ultimately, with Sailors’ Life and Sailors’ Yarns published over a half-century earlier.

            Codman’s final words appeared in The New York Times as a letter titled, “The Results of Expansion.” The letter exudes a tone of finality and resignation. It is not maudlin or dour, however. Codman lambastes Jacob Gould Schurman, Cornell University’s third president, for claiming that the great result of economic expansion into China was that the U.S. would be opening the doors of Chinese souls for “salvation.” Humorous and keen to the last, Codman rebuffs Schurman by adding “He is scarcely correct . . . Souls do not have doors.”[25] Codman scoffs at Schurman’s assertion that “Providence” and not “cannons and rifles” is the arbiter of U.S. economic power. Six weeks later, on  April 6th, 1900, Codman’s name again made the front page of the Times, only this time under the banner, “Capt. John Codman Dead: Famous Advocate of Free Ships and Free Trade Expires at Boston.”[26] Other papers gave extended biographical sketches of the “ancient mariner” and none, including the Times,  could resist relating an anecdote. The Dorchester Beacon reported that Codman was “a wanderer to the end of his days.” And that “[i]t has been said of him that if one should ask for him in any part of the globe, one would find that he was there now, shortly coming, or had just left.” And it is by no means surprising that another paper mentioned how “[t]he captain was all his active life a great horseman and made frequent long journeys on horseback, sometimes travelling [sic] between Boston and New York.”[27]

Captain John Codman. Captain Ringbolt. J.C. The Ancient Mariner. Citizen of the World. Each name refers to one man of infinite depth and extraordinary compassion. John Codman was in many ways the paragon of the nineteenth-century man. But he was also a paradox. And no closer or more intimate portrait of this man can be found than in Winter Sketches From the Saddle—a wonderful book, deceptively simple, and unmistakably smart. 

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[1] “Captain Codman’s Ride.” The New York Times. December 2, 1886. P. 4.

[2] Genzmer,George H.  “John Codman.” Dictionary of American Biography Base Set. American Council of Learned Societies, 1928-1936. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, MI: The The Gale Group, 2003.

[3]John Codman. The Christian Register. “Dr. Holmes’s Flogging.” Date unknown. John Codman Papers. Box 4, Folder 21. Courtesy of Historic New England Library and Archives, Boston.

[4] Huron Reflector. November 20, 1836. Page unknown. 

[5] Herman Melville. Moby Dick; or The Whale. (New York: Bobbs Merrill Company, 1964), p 156. 

[6] William Allen, D.D. and Joshua Bates, D.D. John Codman: Memoir, Reminiscences, and Sermons. (Boston: T.R. Marvin & S.K. Whipple and Co., 1853), p. 56. 

[7] Don Martindale. American Social Structure: Historical Antecedents and Contemporary Analysis. (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1960), p. 474. 

[8] Rubens Borba de Morales. Bibliographia Braziliana: Rare Books About Brazil Published from 1504 to 1900 and Works by Brazilian Authors of the Colonial Period. (Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center Publications, 1983), p. 187. 

[9] “Codman vs. Negley.” New York Herald. May 27, 1870. P. 1.

 [10] Barnard, Lula, Faunda Bybee, and Lola Walker. Tosoiba: “Sparkling Waters”. (Salt Lake City: Utah Printing Company, 1958), p. 242.

 [11] John Codman. The Mormon Country: A Summer with the Latter-day Saints. (New York: United States Publishing Co., 1874),  p. 20.

 [12] John Codman. “Equestrianopathy.” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. Vol. LIV. May 1877. P. 912.

 [13] The Atlantic Monthly. 44:265. November 1879. P 651.

 [14] Harper’s. 59:353. October 1879. P. 793

 [15] The New Englander. 38:___ 1879. P. 717.

[16] John Codman. The Round Trip. G.P. Putnam’s. 1879. P. 134.

 [17] Ibid. P. 133.

 [18] E.J. Edwards. “Treasures of an Old Sea Captain in Heaven.” The Indiana Progress. January 31, 1912. P. 8

 [19] John Codman. Winter Sketches From the Saddle. P.47-48.

[20]Ibid.  P. 49. 

[21] The Atlantic Monthly. 63:378. April 1889. P. 576.  

[22] John Codman. The New York Commercial Advertiser. May 13, 1890. P. 3-8. 


[24] Black Beauty: His Grooms and Companions.  

[25] John Codman. “The Results of Expansion.” The New York Times. January 24, 1900. P. 6. 

[26] The New York Times. “Capt. John Codman Dead.” April 7, 1900. P. 1. 

[27]The Dorchester Beacon. Date unknown. Page unknown. John Codman Papers. Box 4, Folder


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