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Henry A. Smythe, collector of customs for the Port of New York 1866-1869Herman Melville met Henry Smythe in Switzerland, which proved to be the means by which Melville finally managed to acquire a federal job in the New York Custom House. Smythe was appointed collector of customs for the collection district of New York on May 10, 1866. In lieu of obtaining the usual political endorsements, Melville applied for a job directly to Smythe, and he was rewarded with an appointment as a customs inspector in the surveyor's office on Dec. 5, 1866. Accused of corruption, Smythe barely managed to hold on to his collectorship and was forced out of office after four years, whereas Melville toiled on the piers for 19 years until his retirement in 1885.
Bottle containing the tea Thomas Melvill found in his boots after the Boston Tea Party in 1773. The Tea Party participants went to great lengths to ensure no one kept any of the precious tea. When Melvill returned to his home he discovered there were tea leaves in his boots, and so he placed the leaves in a vial and surreptitiously held them for the remainder of his life. Handed down in the Melvill family, the leaves were donated to Boston's Old State House Museum in 1899 by a descendent, Miss Mary Melvill.
The Custom House at Salem, Mass.Nathaniel Hawthorne served as customs surveyor for the Port of Salem in this customhouse from 1846-1849. The Surveyor's office was located on the first floor, to the left of the main entrance, with large windows overlooking Derby Wharf, where Hawthorne would gaze in anticipation of a ship's arrival.
Herman Melville (1819-1891)1885 portrait by Rockwood, 17 Union Square (West), New York; George Gardner, photographer. This photograph shows Herman Melville at the time of his retirement as a customs inspector at the Port of New York.
The Boston Custom House on Custom House Street, between Broad and India Streets. Constructed in 1810, this building served as the customhouse until 1849. At the time Maj. Thomas Melvill and Nathaniel Hawthorne worked here the building consisted of only two stories topped by a similar pediment displaying the American eagle. Melvill served as customs surveyor (1810-1814) and then customs naval officer (1814-1830) in this building during the last 20 years of his career with the U.S. Customs Service.Nathaniel Hawthorne served as a customs measurer of coal and salt in this building from Jan. 21, 1839 until Jan. 1, 1841.
Maj. Thomas Melvill (1751-1832)
Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864)1904 engraving from an oil portrait by Osgood shows Hawthorne at age 36, during the period he was employed as a customs measurer of coal and salt in the Boston Custom House from 1839 to 1841.
New York Custom House at 55 Wall Street.The offices of the collectors of customs were located in this building during the period Herman Melville worked as a customs inspector. Melville spent his working days as an inspector on the "outside" on various of the wharves that lined the North River (now the Hudson River). He and his partner(s) were responsible for renting their own "office" space to accommodate themselves and their equipment. When asked how he had managed to retain his job through many changes of administration, Melvill replied that he seldom made an appearance at the Wall Street customhouse -- in other words, the politicians forgot about the quiet, withdrawn older man toiling dutifully under adverse conditions that eventually broke his health and mental stability.
Map of lower Manhattan showing locations where Herman Melville was born, lived and worked throughout his life.