Poignant Letter of Reference

In the summer of 1862, a wagon-maker from Charles City, Iowa returned to his former home near Detroit, Michigan in order to volunteer for the United States Army, now at war with the South. His name was Elliot P. Harrington, and six years earlier he had accomplished the most stunning feat in the history of underwater exploration to that point. However, his fame had been a brief few weeks, and did not earn him any great reward. He retired from diving and moved to Iowa to earn a living as a mechanic.

When war came, Harrington knew he had a skill that might be needed–underwater work. But he needed to document his background in that vocation. Therefore, he contacted the people who best remembered his exploits and could vouch for him: officers of the American Express Company. The following letter of reference is included in the Charles Harrington papers collection at SUNY Fredonia:


“Office of American Express Company, Buffalo, Aug 8, 1862,

To Whom it May Concern,

In the month of August, 1852, the money chest of the American Express Company was sunk in the steamer Atlantic to the depth of one hundred and sixty feet off Long Point, Lake Erie. Was recovered by E. P. Harrington in the month of June, 1856.

For American Express Co., William B. Peck”

With this credential, Harrington was assigned work on the Union wrecking steamship Dirigo.


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