Petter Claesson 1776


Letter from Matthias August to Petter Claesson, 17 June 1776.
Finnish National Archives,

Letters are an important source of historical research material. Information about Finnish history has been preserved continuously from the twelfth-century papal letters onwards. The letter material can be divided into official archival correspondence and personal archival collections. Sometimes the distinction between government and private archives is difficult to draw. Even in the seventeenth century, persons in the service of the crown and church do not distinguish between private and official documents. All documents produced through their own activities were considered personal property that could be taken with them when they changed from one task to another in another location. This means that a lot of documentary material has disappeared and, up to the nineteenth century, succeeding office–holders have always been able to use their preceding officials' documents for "necessary" tasks such as wrapping, kindling or as cigarette papers. Official archives in particular often classified letters separately as received and sent correspondence. Also, older private archives may include letters classified by recipient, but the closer we get to modernity, the less common this is. In general, the collection of letters received makes up a significant proportion of private archives. The letters are dialogical in character: it is often inferred from the text of the letter what the recipient may have written earlier or said face–to–face to the sender. 

At the end of the eighteenth century, Turku was the Swedish kingdom's third most important port city immediately after Stockholm and Gothenburg. The selected sample document is from the private archive of Turku-based sea captain Petter Claesson (1739–1810), which is a significant collection of letters shedding light on sea shipping and commercial networks of the period. The letter was sent to Claesson on 17 June 1776 by a person called Matthias August. From 1762 onwards, Petter Claesson sailed as captain of several ships to France, especially the ports of Bordeaux and Marseilles, Spain, England, several Mediterranean ports and even as far as Haiti in the West Indies. For a short period of time (1777–1780) he made a living cultivating a farm he bought in his father's home region of Skåne in southern Sweden. Soon, however, the captain returned to Turku, continued his career and conducted a lively correspondence with commercial customers and relatives. The first letters in Petter Claesson's archive date from 1762, when he served as captain for the first time on a voyage abroad, in a ship called the Patentia, owned by his father. The last letter is dated April 1810. Captain Petter Claesson died on 6 August 1810. Petter Claesson's archive is kept at the Finnish National Archives and is accessible in digital format at: