…and their use of codes in business
Lately, Marco discovered that the library at the University of New Orleans had a cache of papers from the archives of the Poitevent and Favre Lumber Mill. This firm and its competitor, the Weston mill, were in the forefront of the important logging and lumber industry in early Hancock County.
The papers were donated by Eads Poitevent, and described by UNO in a summary as follows:
Personal and business records of Eads Poitevent and the Poitevent family, especially Eads Poitevent, Jr. Includes correspondence, banking records, legal documents, and related miscellany.
Curious, Marco and I met at the library and spent an entire day, unloading boxes of papers and perusing many original documents. One day, we may write more extensively on what we found, but another part of the UNO summary gives the dates of the collection as 1954-1995. Actually, there are older documents, but not ones going back to the beginning. We were a little disappointed, but Marco’s excitement was aroused and he became interested in information about the many ships owned by the mill, some having fascinating history.
Marco found an account that tells of the 1893 hurricane which destroyed three schooners belonging to Poitevent and Favre with the loss of sixteen lives. It states, “…fully three-fourths of all the vessels on the Mississippi sound from Pearl River to Biloxi…are either wrecked or capsized. Our notes show that at one time, the company owned fifteen schooners, four tugs, and one sternwheeler.
For myself, excitement came early, even before our visit, when Marco told me on the phone that on an initial inspection he found what appeared to be coded messages. Having been trained in the army many years ago as a cryptanalyst, naturally, I had to know more. A cyber trip to Google was in order.
What I found was that code use in industry dated back at least to 1845. Code books were being published and sold to various takers, initially very simple but becoming more complex as time went on. Eventually, methods moved from simple numbering for a particular word according to a code book to more sophisticated ciphers using digits for letters.
Businesses, which had a desire to correspond quickly but also confidentially with customers and between its own offices, used Western Union.
This was the case with Poitevent and Favre. Some examples follow, taken from some of their ledger books. It may take some study to see what was actually being communicated, as there may well have been other transmissions and answers not included in the documents available. It is also curious that some of what follows includes both the coded message and its decryption; apparently, such were “in-house” or delivered to trusted recipients at another location.
Also, there are – in a few cases – plain texts, i.e. words not encoded, included in that they may give meaning to the communications of the same period. In an endeavor to identify the Pitch Pine Lumber Co., mentioned in several messages, I could find only that it had offices in both New York and Mobile; a 1905 lawsuit involving Pitch Pine is to be found in Southern Reporter; presumably it was a customer of Poitevent and Favre Lumber.
August 2 to Pitch Pine Lumber– Your telegram of even date “Palsy demain floated half nabob tawdrily peonage” received and translate same “at what price can you sell 1200 feet 3×9 half 30 feet and up usual Rio Cargo. How soon can you deliver?
August 5 [on same page as above]: H.W. Magee Franklingtron Louisiana and Ptich Pine [same date] 11 Williams St. NYC, “Torsion depress deals delivery obolus Cherot always net delivery obloquy.”
August 6 To Pitch Pine: “Toreion depress deals delivery obolus, Cherot always delivery obloquy which you will translate “we will furnish at price named two million deals delivery [illegible] Mrs. Cherot 11.50 net delivery 2 months.”
August 6: C.S. Laugdon and CO. 66 Broad St. NYC
Traitor Pettus always net foC. Ship Island
Which you will translate
“will furnish Pettus eleven fifty (11.50) net f.o.C Ship Island.”
August 6 turned down an order from Mr. W. L. Wright 1110 Chemical Building St. Louis, MO
“our mills being away from a R.R. it will be impossible for us to furnish to you the lumber you require.”
“Piketin Tongs Rio deals obeying salary provided texture demain.” Which you have translated: “What is the capacity of vessel? Will deliver Rio deal 6 weeks from receipt of Order provided vessel capacity does not exceed 1200 m feet.”
August 15 to Syfau: did you get the first tons loaded before the storm began?”
August 16: F. C. Shepard, Esq.
Gene? Fort Agent L+W RR Co.
We enclose letter from Captain Boardman of Steamer “Pearlington” in regard to fort [?] from Mobile to Pearlington.”
August 23 to Wm. M. Sayfass [?] Ship Island: Weston Lumber Company appears to be shipping PF logs.
August 22 to Syfau: [mentions] losing 160 pieces from “Eva” 3 ton. All lumber was loaded on the “Wearside” before the storm. Weston Lumber CO. schooner “Lois” at Ship Island but believe they are trying to get the timber off and deliver to “Wearside”.
August 20 to Messrs. W.S. Keyserol: We are loading the Schooner “Lillie Schinide” for the Zanzibar 40 m ft. All we have is prime. Will begin cutting for the “Centa”.
August 20 to Pitch Pine wire of the 16th received today only on a/c of wire being down from the recent storm. We lost 16 [illegible] of timber in the storm but have replaced same. Expect to clear the “Wearside” this week. The “Wearside” did not see [illegible] any damages from…
August 19, to Syfau
Will you kindly let us know how many days remain after the 19th for the loading of the “Wearside”. Do you get any allowance for the storm?”
August 24: 66 Broad St., NY City – Fordela. Torrita obige Rio deals Alsace Net for Ship Island
August 27, Arrival of “Asia”.
September 2 1901 refers to conversation W. J. Poitevent had with N.O. District [illegible] C. R.R. (Mr. Dunn, Esq.) to extend activities to their lumber yard. [Encloses sketch.]
August 24: Dear Sir – We send you last of your timber by Eva last eve ——Western. Expect to finish today. We will be ready to make real progress Monday. Will you be coming then?
September 5, to consul Argentian, Moss Point. Visa for the “Asia” going to Buenos Aires, signed Gravel [?]
Barque “Asia” Captain M. Jenason.
Pitch Pine Lumber Co. NY, Sept 10, 1901
Telegram : cluster torent Brazil Resaca amazing net FOB Ship Island
Sept. 9: Cloud amazing. Cloud Alsace Gulf Merchantable Amazing Savannah Merchantable Moment
It is not my intention to try to make sense of the above, but only to give a hint of the complexities of business at the turn of the century, when Poitevent and Favre was a mature business in an important industry.
In the process of looking into the UNO collection, we have made substantial notes regarding Poitevent and Favre Lumber. In addition, I have made a basic comparison to the Weston mill, and hope to have a follow-up article soon that will illustrate the parallel histories of these two vital parts of Hancock County’s development during the 19th and early 20th centuries.