The young, professional music teacher Frederick N. Palmer came to Brattleboro in 1836 and remained for nine years. Palmer composed and published five popular waltzes and one rollicking polka, created the now extremely rare and expensive provisional "Brattleboro stamp", and worked as a dental surgeon with an office in "Hall's Long Building", one door south from Postmaster Franklin H. Fessenden's post office.
Frederick Palmer married Ellen Douglas Keyes on April 29, 1840. She was the daughter of Judge Asa Keyes. Palmer was admitted to the Windham County bar the following year but never enoyed the practice. Music was always his first love. With a Boston publisher in early 1844, Palmer popularized six slow waltzes, de capo pieces that he had composed while living in a room rented in Asa Keyes' house along the Putney Road---
Hopefully a musical artist in Windham County will some day give Brattleboro the gift of a simple, elegant, and truthful arrangement for solo peformance on violin or piano, for these six waltzes, that is more respectful than the bizarre, historically twisted, yet perfectly politically correct "orchestration" that was presented on October 27, 2013 at the Latchis Theater. These waltz scores are given toward the close of this page.
The new bookstore that he opened in the ante-chamber to the post office in 1848 was called, appropriately, "Palmer's".
Hall's Long Building In 1849
Brattleboro's Post Office 1845-1849
Frederick Niles Palmer was born in Boston, Massachusetts on March 19, 1814 to Benjamin Palmer and Mary Niles. Benjamin dying in 1816, the family moved to Bangor, Maine. The Palmer family lived in Scituate, Massachusetts and Bristol, Maine. William Palmer arrived from Plymouth in 1621 aboard the ship "Fortune" and the descent is through John, John, Jr., Bezaliel, Bezaliel, Nathaniel, and Benjamin to Frederick.
Frederick Palmer's in-laws' judicial connections later helped him to secure an appointment for three years as Postmaster of Brattleboro from July 4,1845 to November 21, 1848 under the President James K. Polk administration. Palmer introduced the provisional "Brattleboro stamp", with a design by local engraver Thomas Chubbuck, who had his office one flight up from the post office in Hall's Long building.
Five or six hundred stamps were printed and were used until July 1, 1847, when the unused stamps were ordered destroyed by the United States Post Office Department.
Thomas Chubbuck fashioned the Brattleboro stamp engraving plate from "a small copper plate from which a previously engraved musical score had been burnished off". Such copper plates were mass-produced for the burgeoning music publishing industry.
Frederick Palmer's music-plate-turned-stamp-plate may have been in his possession since 1844, and quite possibly the original music engraving that was burnished away represented a Palmer waltz, published by Keith's Music Publishing House on Court Street in Boston, Massachusetts.
The final size and shape of the Postmaster's stamp was partly determined by the printed dimensions of one measure or bar of music. The possibility remains that the original engraving for music was not entirely burnished away, but became part of the stamp design.
Chubbuck's records show that he sold the plate for "seven and a half dollars"---the most likely purchaser was Hon. Asa Keyes, the individual who sent the most Brattleboro stamps in his mailing. The copper plate was reported, in one account, to be in the possession of Judge Charles Royall Tyler by 1911, and "The Postal History of Vermont" by George C. Slawson, Arthur W. Bingham, and Sprague W. Drenan (New York: Collectors Club, 1969), gives this account---
The plate of ten subjects, which Mr. Palmer retained to guard against fraud, has completely disappeared. It was never found among Mr. Palmer's possessions, and there is a distinct possibility it was passed on to Judge Keyes. This latter idea is based on a reputed statement by Mrs. Royall Tyler, a sister of Mrs. Palmer's and another daughter of Judge Keyes, that it had been in the possession of the Keyes' family long after Mr. Palmer had left Brattleboro. Whatever may have happended to the plate, it has never been seen in the past hundred years, and no printings have been made from it to confuse collectors, or to yield exact information on it make-up to specialists.
Reports persist concerning the whereabouts of the postmaster's provisional copper engraving plate. The most convincing report claims that it was kept in a safe in the house of Alfred W. Bushnell on Pleasant Street during the 1950s.
The witness grew up on nearby Estey Street. Alfred's brother was the well-known antiques and curiosity collector, and museum owner Jason Bushnell. This connection lends an apparent credibility to this particular report.
The five-cent Brattleboro stamp became a philatelic rarity overnight, one selling in London in 1874 for five hundred pounds British sterling. One thrifty gentleman so admired the Brattleboro stamp that he forged it in 1893---so successfully that when he was apprehended, the walls of his lodging place were found to be entirely papered with sheets of ten stamps each.
And the Postmaster That Issued It--
A Dash of Reminiscence of the Old Days
To those whose memories go back to the good old days of fugues as sung in the old meeting-house on the common by a choir of 50 strong voices with orchestral accompaniment, all under the skillful direction of Frederick Holbrook, the name of Dr. Frederick N. Palmer, Brattleboro's postmaster from July, 1845, to November, 1848 and the inventor of the famous postage stamp will recall most pleasant recollections. Mr. Palmer was born in Belfast, Me., in 1815, and came to Brattleboro some time in 1836 as a music teacher.
Although an accomplished pianist, he encountered considerable competition, for this town then, as now, had its musical societies with a wealth of good musicians. The young teacher finally concluded to turn his attention to the law and began as a student to Judge Asa Keyes's office, though he found time to give considerable attention to society matters, in which he was one of the foremost lights, being a thorough gentleman of the old school.
In 1840 he married Miss Ellen, eldest daughter of of Judge Keyes, and five years later he was appointed postmaster. It was during his three years' incumbancy that he inaugurated several improvements in the office, and in 1846 issued the little stamp for which collectors are now willing to pay fabulous prices.
It was probably not the first postage-stamp issued or used in this country, as is often claimed, being ante dated by a stamp issued by the New York postmaster nearly four years before, and by one in the St. Louis postoffice a year before. Great Britain had adopted the use of postage stamps in 1840, Brazil in 1831, though it was left to the United States to follow Palmer's invention a year later, July 1847.
The following authentic narrative contributed by the inventor to the Children's New Church magazine, is of public interest:
In the year 1846---a full year before the government issued its first postage stamps---the deputy postmaster at Brattleboro, Vt., among other attempted improvements in his office, issued its little private stamp now so well known among collectors. This was simply an experiment. It was at once recognized by the department as allowable, but as being of use only between the Brattleboro office and its patrons. That is to say, its use upon a letter showed that the Brattleboro office had been paid, but it must pay the main office at Washington.
As I remember it now, there were not over 500 of these stamps printed, and never a second edition, as the experiment was rather a disappointment. The postmaster prepared the little sheets himself, applying the gum with a camel's hair pencil. He little thought how famous this first stamp was to become. I say first stamp, for, though it is claimed that one or two others were issued the same year, it must have been later in the year; and when the postmaster at Bratleboro issued the stamp in 1846, he honestly believed it to be thje first postage stamp issued from any postoffice in this country---and he still honestly so believes.
This stamp is now extremely rare and much sought after by collectors. About 12 years ago a dealer sought out the postmaster and offered him $75 for the little copper plate saying he would, perhaps, give more than that sum. But diligent effort had been made before then to find it, without success. It had probably been lost with the rubbish at the office. No doubt, had some one succeeded in finding it the "Brattleboro stamp" would be now more abundant and much less expensive. there can really be but few genuine specimens now remaining. One has recently been sold for the extraordinary price of $175.
Some of the older residents of the town keenly enjoy any reference to the old church concerts which were given by the leading musicians of the town during the long winter's nights, and which were liberally patronized by the country folk for miles around. Postmaster Palmer and William Fessenden, the flutists, were prominent performers, and the way in which they led the rounds and glees, was an inspiration to Conductor Holbrook, and his enthusiastic auditors.
In speaking of his old time musicians yesterday the venerable war governor's eyes brightened as he emphaticaly declared that Fred Palmer was one of the best musicians of his day, and besides, he added, "he was a man of ability and charming accomplishments."
Soon after leaving the postoffice Mr. and Mrs. Palmer removed to Bangor, Me., where he began the study of dentistry, which, however, he abandoned after turning his attention to homeopathy and before taking a course of lectures in Philadelphia. He subsequently began the practice of his profession in Newtonville, Mass., where his wife died in 1860 or 1861, leaving three children, all of whom survive, Miss Sarah, the eldest, living in Illinois, a son in Denver, and the youngest the wife of Cashier Valentine at South Framingham. The doctor married Mrs. Smith for his second wife and continued a successful practice in Boston for several years, and till his sad death by drowning a few years ago.
He was accustomed to take short walks before his tea with a favorite grandchild, and it was on one of these occasions that he did not return. His family after dilgent search first learned of his sad fate, together with that of his four years old grandchild, after the return to Boston of a Portland steamer on which the doctor and the child had taken passage on the outward trip on the night of their mysterious disappearance. During the night the doctor called on the steward for a blanket with which to cover the child that he declared was ill in the stateroom. Soon after, he was seen pacing the deck with the child in his arms. That was the last ever seen of the doctor or his little charge, and both of them are supposed to have been lost overboard, whether by accident or design will never be known. Careful watch was kept for the discovery of the bodies, which were never found.
Several years ago, the late Mr. Chubbuck of your city, the engraver of the stamp, found among his specimens of work a single sheet of eight of these stamps. Judge of his astonishment when the purchaser afterward told him that he sold the eight stamps for $10, "but the man to whom I sold them," he added, "got $20 each for them." It is said that only two Boston collectors can boast of owning a Palmer stamp; one was bought about 50 years ago for 75 cents, the other bought in 1882 cost perhaps $100.
The story goes that a Mr. Collins of New York has the only canceled Brattleboro stamp known to be in existence. He has won the philatelic blue ribbon for securing the rarest stamp on the American catalog, and that means the whole world. A few years ago a resident of your city, while looking over a lot of old newspapers in a Bennington garret came across one of the Palmer stamps which was attached to the original envelope and bore the Brattleboro postmark. He unwittingly detached the stamp from the envelope, thereby robbing it of much of its value, and afterwards sold the stamp for $25.
Letters inquiring about this stamp are occasionally received here at the post office. The wife of Judge Royall Tyler, a sister of the late Mrs. Palmer, is sure that the plate from which the little stamp was engraved has been in the possession of the family of Judge Keyes since Dr. Palmer's removal from Brattleboro, but it has doubtless been destroyed as no trace of it can be found. The stamp was recognized by all postmasters as a voucher of the prepayment of the letter to which it was affixed. Dr. Palmer returned to Brattleboro but once since his removal from town in 1845.
Tribute By Maj. Frederick W. Childs.
Frederick Palmer's dentist office was in "Hall's Long Building", later called the Fisk Block. Four months after starting his practice, Dr. Palmer sold his piano forte. Around this time he also published six waltzes with Keith's Music Publishing House on Court Street in Boston. The following year Frederick Palmer became Brattleboro's postmaster, following Franklin H. Fessenden.
Frederick N. Palmer placed an advertisement in the Vermont Phoenix during April and May, 1844, for the sale of his piano forte---in the same year that he published the sheet music for six da capo pieces that he called "The Social Waltzes; Being a Sett of Simple Slow Movements Designed for the Use of Social Dancing Parties".
Frederick N. Palmer
Frederick Palmer attended the Church on the Common in Brattleboro following 1836, playing the flute and helping to lead the rounds and the glees with another flutist, William Fessenden, in such a way as to delight their conductor, Frederick C. Holbrook. Holbrook later recalled Palmer as one of the best musicians of his day, and said that, besides, "he was a man of ability and charming accomplishments"---
The "Vermont Phoenix, and Record and Farmer" for Friday, May 14, 1886 carried this description of Dr. Frederick N. Palmer, in an article entitled "A Strange Suicide"---
He sang, and played well on several instruments---the violin, flute and organ. He played the first organ which was put in the Unitarian church. He had a generally versatile and rather uncertain mind, and, taking a notion to the study of law, studied enough with Hon. Asa Keyes to gain admission to the Windham county bar. In 1840 he married Miss Ellen Keyes, daughter of Judge Keyes. The wedding took place at the Keyes homestead, where Capt. Devens now lives. The occasion was a "double" one, the wedding of Hon. Royall Tyler with a sister of the bride taking place at the same time.
William Bainbridge Hale posted this envelope to his brother Matthew in Chelsea, Vermont. He enclosed a letter written the day before, and took the unusual step of paying the postage before mailing, with this postscript---
William Bainbridge Hale began as an editor of Brattleboro's Semi-Weekly Eagle newspaper in August 1847. William and Matthew were the grandsons of Capt. Nathan Hale, who was hanged for a spy by the British on Long Island, on September 22, 1776. Nathan Hale is remembered for his courageous last words---
The Brattleboro Stamp Sold Here In 1846
Photograph Taken After 1872
This letter was sent to McKeel's Stamp News by "M", who recollects his youthful days visiting the American House in Brattleboro, located on the east side Main Street near the Whetstone Brook. The writer recalls mine host, Capt. Thomas C. Lord---
Aug. 11, 1903
My Dear Editor -
Some stamp collectors are always rushing into print with their "remarkable finds." I have had in my possession for over fifty-five years a "Brattleboro" in fine condition, that came to me under peculiar circumstances, when I lived in Winchester, N.H. in 1848. As a matter of history, I may say that in 1840-9, old Captain Lord kept the American House--there were not hotels then--at Brattleboro, Vt., and it was known throughout the land for its genial landlord, game suppers and old Jamaica rum. It was frequented, in winter, by extensive sleighing parties, attracted by its fine dancing hall, and, above all, the presence of old Pouscha, the famous fiddler of that age. Few, if any, are living who can remember his "call"--"First-four-right-and-left, turn pardners." No one was expected to leave the "American" without a sample of "old Jamaica," which was put up in pint bottles and labeled, "Capt. Lord's American House, Fine Jamaica." By accident the word "Brattleboro" had been omitted from the label, but Captain Lord had supplied it by affixing a Brattleboro stamp, the first adhesive known, and it was attached to the bottle, as was the label, by copal varnish. At the "dam" in Winchester, N.H., lived old Timothy Balch, a veteran fisherman, who was always prospecting for some new sort of bait. One day in overturning a huge stone, he found a nondescript, a connecting link, he thought, between an army canteen and a frog. However, he baited his strongest hook and line with it, and at night squelched its ugliness in the waters of the Ashuelot. In the morning when he went for his "haul" the buoy attached to his line was floating down the river, evidently bound for Hinsdale. With the assistance of a friend, he succeeded in landing his bait. It had assumed enormous proportions, for it had not been idle, and was found to contain 144 perch, 119 bullheads, a Mexican saddle, a tin bottle, good as new, an empty bottle which contained Captain Lord's fine Jamaica, label and Brattleboro stamp intact, but n.g.
Letter by "M." to McKeel's Stamp News
Reprinted as "A Brattleboro Stamp Story".
The Springfield Republican claims, in a paragraph printed last Friday, that the late Dr. Palmer's "Brattleboro stamp" was not the first postage stamp issued or used in this country, as has been generally supposed, but that it was ante-dated by a stamp issued as early as 1842 by the New York postmaster, while the St. Louis post office had used stamps of these denominations at least a year before Mr. Palmer's stamp appeared in 1846. Probably Thos Chubbuck of Springfield, who engraved the Palmer stamp, is the authority for this statement. Following is a correct representation of the stamp, which we were unable to secure in season for use last week, but which we now have through the courtesy of the Boston Globe:
The Globe has this to say of the stamp:
In the American Stamp Mercury, published by Mr. Trifet, a former Boston dealer in stamps, in 1869, are these remarks:
The Brattleboro, Vermont, P. O. 5 Cents.
This is a stamp which as being ostensibly a government issue, is entitled to be placed with the stamps of the United States. In 1848 F. N. Palmer, postmaster, of Brattleboro, VT, a place since immortalized in the celebrated play of "Our American Cousin," issued a stamp which did duty in Brattleboro and vicinity, in the place of five cent Franklin, the then current issue, which could not at times be readily obtained, and which was recognized by all postmasters as a voucher of the prepayment of the letter to which it was affixed.
The lettering was black on brown paper, and as will be seen by the sketch above, it was a small oblong, at top the words "Brattleboro, Vt," at the bottom the words "5 cents," at each side respectively, "P," "O," and in the centre the initials "F. N. P." in facsimile.
Collectors are willing to pay fabulous prices for it, and vie with each other in a struggle to add it to their collections.
Mr. Trifet said, "I only know of two persons in Boston who can boast of having a Palmer stamp in their possession. One of these stamps was bought about twenty years ago for seventy-five cents, the other brought four years ago cost perhaps $100. As to the simplicity of its design it was nothing to do with its value. The price of a stamp depends entirely upon its scarcity."
Mr. Trifet doubts that the Palmer stamp ever brought as high as $350 as reported, but it is certain that one recently sold for $145, at which price it is marked in his stamp album.
Suicide of Dr. Palmer on a Portland Steamer.
The old gentleman jumps from the
deck with his grandson in his
arms and both are lost.
Boston, May 11.---Late yesterday afternoon Dr. Frederick N. Palmer, an old gentleman of 73, left his house at No. 226 West Chester Park with his little grandson, Wendell R. Smith, for a walk, saying he would return in half and hour. When night came and he did not appear his family became alarmed. Inquiries were first made of the neighbors, and then a thorough search was instituted, but nothing could be learned concerning him or his little charge. The search was not given up until late at night, to be resumed this morning when Deputy Superintendent Burrill was notified. He had just sent word to all the police stations of the disappearance, it being thought that the old man had wandered off while suffering from mental aberration, when a dispatch was received from the Chief of Police of Portland stating that while on the way from Boston to Portland on the steamer John Brooks last night Dr. Palmer had jumped overboard with his little grandson and that the two were lost.
The news was at once carried to the anxious family, who were greatly shocked by it. When he left the house he was in good spirits and apparently in excellent health, though feeling the effects of his age. He was devotedly attached to the boy, and the family could only account for his course on the supposition that his mind became deranged after he started out, and conceiving the idea that some one desired to take the child away from him, in order to prevent this he took passage on the steamer and leaped overboard with his pet in his arms. It was recalled that two years ago he had a slight paralytic stroke, but having shown no ill effect from it for some time it had almost been forgotten.
The story of the tragedy as told in Portland dispatches is a most pathetic one. The old gentleman, who appeared to be about 60, with white hair and gray beard, accompanied by the boy, a bright little lad of 4, came on board just before the steamer started and engaged stateroom No. 51. After the steamer started on her trip the child played about the saloon and made friends with the passengers. No one seemed to observe anything strange or out of the way with the white-haired kindly-faced old man, who followed the little one about and seemed greatly pleased when any one favored it with a pleasant word. Getting out his box of paints, the child amused himself daubing bright colors upon his grandfather's business cards. At last he grew tired and sleepy, and the old gentleman put him to bed. About 10 o'clock Dr. Palmer left his stateroom, having the child in his arms. The boy seemed to be quietly sleeping, except when the doctor made a misstep and almost fell to the deck. He went back for a moment, left the child, and went below. Returning, he said to a gentleman who was seated in a chair almost opposite to his stateroom:
"What time is it, Sir?"
"Just seven minutes to ten, doctor," he answered, then adding, "It is a lovely night."
"Perfectly lovely," replied Dr. Palmer, who then entered his stateroom.
A moment later he came out again, walking backward with a bundle in his arms. As he passed the gentleman who had just spoken to him the latter observed that the bundle was the child, well wrapped up except the feet. Dr. Palmer was in full dress at the time, including a light Summer overcoat. Passing to the side of the boat Dr. Palmer spoke to one of the cabin boys, saying:
"My boy doesn't seem to feel well." The cabin boy looked at the little fellow and said:
"Isn't he cold?"
"Perhaps he is," said the doctor. "Please go to my stateroom and bring me a blanket."
The boy did so, and Dr. Palmer, as he took it, said: "Thank you." He then wrapped the child up in it and sat down by the side of the rail. Once after that he was seen to bend over and kiss the sleeping child. He seemed all the while he was observed by others to be perfectly quiet. A few moments after he took his seat the cabin boy went below and met the Captain, who was just coming up. The boy told him of the old gentleman and the sick child, and the Captain said he would see them, as they might need some assistance. As the two approached the rail they noticed a bundle on the deck. Looking up they saw Dr. Palmer standing on the rail waving his arms about in a most excited manner, and evidently about to plunge over the side. They started to him. For an instant he turned his head and looked at them. Then, without a word, he went over the side, taking a perfect "header." He did not give a cry after he disappeared.
The steamer was at once stopped and backed. A boat was lowered and every effort possible was made to find and save him. For the moment it was supposed that the bundle on the deck was the child still wrapped up and sleeping, but an examination showed only the blanket, making it but too evident that the suicide had taken the child with him. Stateroom No. 51 was examined as soon as the search for the suicide was given up, but nothing was found. The doctor had only a grip sack with him when he came on board at Boston, and even that had disappeared. The officers, crew, and passengers of the boat are unable to assign the slightest cause for the dreadful affair. All unite in saying that Dr. Palmer did not manifest the slightest degree of excitement; that he moved quietly about; that he did not avoid observation, but rather the reverse; that he talked in an intelligent manner; and that he showed to the fullest degree not only ordinary solicitude for his child, but even a marked degree of affection.
Dr. Palmer was a native of Boston. He went to Bangor with his parents when a child, and was educated there. He studied law at Brattleborough and medicine at Philadelphia. He then began the practice of medicine at Newton, this State. Here he built up a large and lucrative business. He was a member of the Massachusetts Homeopathic Society, and was one of the parishoners of the New Jerusalem Church. He was married twice, and leaves two adult daughters by his first wife and two grown up daughters by his second wife. Ten years ago he moved to this city. Walter Smith, the father of the boy, was the son of his second wife, a widow when he married her. Mr. Smith has been in the hardware business, but at present is in ill health and is not engaged in business. Through some misunderstanding he separated from his wife, whom he married some five years ago, and returned and lived with the doctor and his mother, bringing the boy Wendell with him.
Lin Barrell from Illinois proposes that Dr. Palmer was first waving his hands for attention, and then leaping overboard in a desperate effort to save his grandchild.
The case for a loss of balance, resulting in the grandchild falling overboard---rather than any suicide---is strengthened by the witness who observed that shortly before, Palmer had "made a misstep and almost fell to the deck". Dr. Palmer's slight paralytic stroke from two years before may also have a bearing here.
An aged man with a burden, struggling on a rolling deck and suffering a fall, is far more in keeping with Dr. Frederick Palmer's known condition and character. The shipboard witnesses were seeing, but not understanding the sight, mistakenly interpreting the action as a suicide.
Captain William Snowman worked for the Boston & Portland Steamship Company, and built the first cottage on Hog Island, now called Diamond Island, in Portland Harbor, Maine. On May 10, 1886 he was just off Thatcher's Island lights when he ordered the gong sounded to stop the "John Brooks"---
Thatcher's Island is named for Anthony Thacher, and celebrated for the shipwreck in 1635 that John Greenleaf Whittier set to rhyme in "The Swan Song of Parson Avery".
One of the keepers said to me---and habitual care is stamped upon the faces of these men---
"We know how eyes may be strained in thick weather at sea to get hold of the light; and that makes us painfully anxious to keep it up to its full power, especially when frosts or sea-scud dims the lantern; for that is the very time when minutes count for hours on board ship."
That in the sudden death of our friend and associate, Frederick Niles Palmer, M. D., this Society has lost one of its esteemed members, whose friendly presence will long be missed, whose kindness and gentleness will be well remembered, and whose conscientiousness, uprightness, and integrity made him a bright example worthy of our respect and imitation.
That we tender to the family of Dr. Palmer our warmest sympathies
in this hour of deep affliction.
North Street And Putney Road, Formerly Keyes Lane
Frederick Palmer Owned An Interest Here Until 1859
Hopefully a musical artist in Windham County will some day give Brattleboro the gift of a simple, elegant, and truthful arrangement, on violin or piano, in peformance for these six waltzes!
Courtesy Of Lin Barrell