The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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System Number: 09560
Date: February 1855[1]
Author: Anna Matilda Whistler[2]
Place: [Baltimore[3]]
Recipient: Thomas Henry Seymour[4]
Place: St Petersburg
Repository: Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT
Call Number: Thomas Henry Seymour Papers (64928)
Document Type: ALS[5]

[embossed monogram:] A M W

Thro the Dept at Washington City,

Feb 1855.

To The Honble Seymour
Minister Plenipotentiary &c.
To The Court of St. Petersburg -

Honored Sir

You will not deem it intrusive in a countrywoman asking the favour in your power to grant, for you are privileged in your office to dispense benefits to the citizens of the United States in connection with their interests in His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of Russia[6] dominions at this present time. Allow me to introduce my claim to your notice as the widow of Major George W Whistler[7], whose faithful & efficient services as Engineer of the St P & Moscow R R [8] must have been reported to you. Our sojourn for nearly seven years[9] at St Petersburg rendered us quite familiar with the peculiarities of its court &c. but tho aware of the caution needed in every negotiation of any vital importance, an unsettled claim between the Rail Road Dept & their late Engineer, his services so fresh in the minds of all, seemed to me in November 1849 only required to be presented to the Chief The Count Klien [p. 2] Michel[10]. The Contract in 1843 with my husband Major George W Whistler allowed the sum of Three Thousand Dollars - "Return Expences" but His Highness The Count Klienmichel argued it impolitic to admit it, & that the successor to my husband (Major Brown[11]) might if it were granted, demand the same! So sure am I that had my petition to the Emperor been delivered (asking a testimonial of His Majesty's approval of the last work of Major Whistler) each claim so just would have been accorded the widow & her sons, in honor of their lamented father's memory. But my respectful petition to His Majesty was set aside, & of course the other! Now I have waited patiently for more than five years, Major Brown having left the Russian service, the justice of my claim encourages me thro the Ambassador of my native land at St P to make another effort . My necessities also impelling me, while I add in sincerity & truth I ask only justice, I wish nothing more. Will you avail of an interview which a Court Circle may afford, to put the enclosed in the hand of His Majesty, or the Gd Duke Alexander the Hérétier[12], only impressing the privacy of its nature, as I desire while using "the wisdom [13] of the serpent" to be ever [p. 3] "harmless as the dove" I act now by the example of him whose representative I am & whose name I bear, & he was conspicuous in the amicable relation his forbearance & circumspection maintained in his official & familiar intercourse with the Count Klienmichel. I would not for the value of $3000 offend his Highness. I do not question the policy of endeavouring to silence the claim of Major Whistlers survivors, & of course the same would be adhered to, if discussed again as it was at the R R Dept in 1849. Oblige me by simply doing my errand - without even consulting any American at St P. It seems to me justice to the Russian Govt. as to our own, that the Contract considered satisfactory mutually so, in 1849 should be mutually so now. Major Whistler asked no alteration tho he realized his disadvantages pecuniarily - his honor bound him to keep the contract. I have understood that the Count Klienmichel concluded Major Whistler a partner in the Contract at Alexandroffsky[14], but his co-operation there for the benefit of the R R & for his countrymen, was entirely gratuitous, he never was mercenary, but truly self sacrificing & devoted to his duty. His memory is unsullied. God grant it may remain so! I depend upon you Honored Sir, tho personally a stranger to me to use this confidence in you with the utmost delicacy, if the enclosed cannot be delivered to one of the Imperial family return it to

Mrs Whistler

[enclosure:] To The Emperor of all the Russias.
From the widow of Major George W Whistler.
with cherished memories of deep respect,
To His Majesty Nicolas the First.


Five years have been fulfilled since I was prompted by a sense of your justice to solicit the favor for my children[15] of a written testimonial at your Majestys hand of satisfaction in their lamented fathers faithful discharge of duty in his last work. I take now the liberty to enclose a copy of that letter. With it went one to the Chief of the St P & Moscow Rail road the Count Klienmichel, requesting the attention of His Highness to the closing the Contract between the Russian Government & the late Engineer of that work, but reasons were returned to me why my application was considered inconvenient, and my letter to your Majesty was set aside. Far be it from my intention to reflect any but honor to [p. 2] the faithfulness to your Majesty's service of His Highness the Count Klienmichel, who objected to the payment of "return expences[16]" tho according to the contract with Major Whistler, because of the unfinished state of the work & that Major Brown might if it were granted us, demand the same.

I should not have the temerity to intrude this matter upon the attention of Your Majesty, but for the reliance I have upon the justice administered ever by Your Majesty. Three thousand dollars seem so small in comparison! and I crave no more than this the sum agreed upon in 1842[17] when terms were offered my lamented husband for his leaving his own country to undertake the great work the building for Your Majesty the St Petersburg & Moscow Rail Road

When I add that your faithful Engineer realized no pecuniary benefit from his seven years devotion to the interests of this his last work, because of the expences of ill health to his family requiring his sending them to England[18] year after year, & that at his death, he left them no increase to the amount he had saved previous to the year 1842, it may excuse his widow [p. 3] to Your Majesty that her necessities impel her to seek justice. Survivors & witnesses to Major G W Whistler's contract in the City of Washington 1842 will vouch for my truth. Capt W H Swift[19] at Boston his brother in law advised in 1849 my application for a settlement of the Contract and we feel assured had Your Majesty been informed, it would not have been in vain.

Let me assure your Majesty that I would ask nothing inconsistent with the high estimation formed in the mind of my husband Major Whistler of Your Majesty's noble attributes in the exercise of wisdom & justice.

Be assured the Americans who have been under the protection of Your Majesty in Russia cherish heartfelt interest in success to the cause now exhibiting to the world how vast the talents of the Czar of All the Russias!

Praying that the Ruler of the Universe may bless your cause to Evangelize the East,[20] I humbly take my leave of your Majesty

The widow of George W Whistler.

United States of America.

February 1855.

This document is protected by copyright.


1.  February 1855
No further correspondence on this subject has been located. This letter may have been returned by Seymour, or it may be a copy by AMW of the original. It does not seem that it was forwarded to the Tsar.

2.  Anna Matilda Whistler
Anna Matilda Whistler (1804-1881), née McNeill, JW's mother [more].

3.  Washington
Although this letter is addressed as being sent through Washington, AMW was staying in Baltimore in February 1855 (see #06451-6). It is possible that she passed on the letter to Donald McNeill Fairfax (1821-1894), naval officer, JW's cousin [more], who was visiting JW in Washington; see AMW to JW, 15 January 1855, #06450.

4.  Thomas Henry Seymour
Thomas Henry Seymour (1807-1868), congressman, Governor of Connecticut (1850-1853), and Minister to Russia (1853-1858) [more].

5.  ALS
Not to be published without the written permission of the Connecticut Historical Society, 1 Elizabeth Street, Hartford, CT 06105, USA.

6.  Emperor of Russia
Nicolas I Romanov (1796-1855), Tsar of Russia from 1825-1855 [more].

7.  George W Whistler
George Washington Whistler (1800-1849), engineer, JW's father [more].

8.  St P & Moscow R R
George Washington Whistler signed a contract with the Russian government on 11 May 1842. He was to supervise the construction of the first railroad built between St Petersburg and Moscow; see Richard Mowbray Haywood, Russia Enters the Railway Age, 1842-1855, New York, 1998, p. 367, and Evelyn Jasiulko-Harden, 'Major George Washington Whistler, Railroad Engineer in Russia: 1842-49' in Ex Oriente Lux, Mélanges, vol. 1, Brussels, 1991, p. 152.

9.  seven years
Major Whistler was in Russia from 1842 until his death on 7 April 1849. AMW and family arrived in September 1843 and left after the Major's death.

10.  Klienmichel
Count Peter Andreyevich Kleinmikhel (1793-1869), Minister of Public Works [more]; he was dismissed in October 1855.

11.  Major Brown
Major Thompson S. Brown (1807-1855), civil engineer [more].

12.  Alexander the Hérétier
Alexander III Romanov (1845-1894), Tsar of Russia from 1881-1894 [more].

13.  the wisdom
'Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves,' Matt. 10.16.

14.  Alexandroffsky
'Alexandroffsky Mechanical Works' was the name of the firm and house owned by Harrison, Winans and Eastwick; see AMW to JW, 15, 16 and 18 September 1848, #06363. Alexandroffsky's main task in the 1840s was to provide the rolling stock and locomotives for the St Petersburg - Moscow Railroad. The obituary of Joseph Harrison stated that the firm signed a contract in 1843 to complete the work in five years for three million dollars. The firm not only fulfilled the contract but also obtained others of nearly equal value. Before their new contract was concluded a new one was made to maintain in running order for twelve years the rolling stock of the railway. This was concluded in 1862. Ross Winans (1796-1877) of Baltimore, an important inventor, railroad pioneer and mechanic, was invited to go to Russia, most probably through the influence of Major Whistler, but instead he sent his sons Thomas De Kay (1820-1878) and William L. Winans. It is not known if Major Whistler signed a contract which would have enabled him to earm an extra allowance for his involvement in the firm Alexandroffsky. What it is known though is that the Major was apprehensive about the Alexandroffky firm and its work on the railroad, which was not completed until 1851. As early as 1845 Whistler wrote: '… this establishment has always been a source of great anxiety to me - for in all matters relating to it they have left me to do as I thought best - never investigating the merits of the Engines or Cars - leaving all to me - … in the beginning the responsibility I felt here was very heavy - for where so much was doing - if it was not right - the wrong would be irreparable.' See George Washington Whistler to General Joseph Gardner Swift, 19 December 1845, Swift Papers, New York Public Library, NY.

15.  children
AMW appears to be appealing on behalf of her own children William McNeill Whistler (1836-1900), physician, JW's brother [more], who was still in Russia at the time of Major Whistler's death, and JW. Deborah ('Debo' or 'Sis') Delano Haden (1825-1908), née Whistler, JW's half-sister [more] had also lived in Russia.

16.  return expences
In 1850 AMW wrote to the Tsar asking for the sum of two thousand dollars for travel expenses back to the US. This question involved the interpretation of the terms of Major Whistler's original contract, which stated that the Major would receive two thousand dollars for travel expenses back to the US if he left after one year in Russia, having given three months notice. Finally in July 1850 AMW was awarded the sum of one thousand dollars from the Russian government as a result of negotiations between Joseph Harrison (1810-1874), partner in the firm Eastwick, Winans and Harrison, and Peter Andreyevich Klienmichel. See Richard M. Haywood, Russia Enters the Railway Age, 1842-1855, New York, 1998, p. 368; Evelyn J. Harden, 'Major George Washington Whistler, Railroad Engineer in Russia: 1842-49' in Ex Oriente Lux, Mélanges, vol. 1, Brussels, 1991, p. 160.

17.  sum agreed upon in 1842
The salary agreed in 1842 was twelve thousand dollars, and two thousand dollars for travelling expenses to Russia and travel conveniences when travelling in Russia on work related matters.

18.  England
AMW took her two boys to England during the summers of 1847 and 1848, and JW stayed on through the winter of 1848-49.

19.  W H Swift
Captain William Henry Swift (1800-1879), brother-in-law of JW's father [more].

20.  Evangelize the East
Russian campaigns in the Caucasus, Afghanistan, and China, aimed at extending and securing the Russian Empire, were presented to the West as Christian crusades against the heathen East. The British army and secret service in India was deployed to limit any extension of Russian influence in Afghanistan.