The first elephant arrived in New York on this day, in a ship that had sailed from Calcutta, according to several accounts. The ship America, with Jacob Crowninshield as its captain, had sailed from Calcutta on December 3, 1795.
Its logbook written by Nathaniel Hathorne, the writer Nathaniel Hawthorne’s father (who wrote his surname without the “w”), records events on Wednesday, February 17, 1796, at St Helena, when “23 sacks of coffee” are landed and “several pumpkins and cabbages, some fresh fish for ship’s use, and greens for the elephant” are taken on board.
The last page entry records the sighting of Long Island at 7pm on April 11. It is estimated from the time, distance and future reports, that the ship, with the elephant on board, had landed in New York on April 13, 1796.
The captain had written to his brothers: “We take home a fine young elephant two years old, at $450.00. It is almost as large as a very large ox, and I dare say we shall get it home safe, if so it will bring at least $5000.00…of course you know it will be a great thing to carry the first elephant to America.”
Crowninshield would be pleasantly surprised: the elephant sold for $10,000 – and became a celebrity. She aroused great curiosity.
An advertisement on April 23, 1796, in The Argus and Green Leaf Advertiser is about the first elephant in New York being exhibited at the corner of Beaver Street and Broadway. Several such advertisements follow.
The elephant seemed to have been exhibited at several places.Some believe she could have been “Old Bet”, the first circus elephant in America, who was bought by circus owner Hackaliah Bailey. He toured the country with the elephant as the star attraction. But Old Bet’s end was horribly tragic. Several accounts claim that she was killed by a gunshot, but they do not agree on the date or place. After her death Bailey built a monument to Old Bet in front of his Elephant Hotel at Somers, New York. It is the figure of an elephant carved in wood standing tall on a column.