A Long and Winding Road

Travel at this time was much more difficult and time consuming than it is today. Mendes’ steam boat crossing lasted 19 days, but similar voyages could be much longer.


To prepare for the journey, Mendes gathered an interesting list of supplies he described in a letter to his brother Jacob.

New York, NY - October 15, 1829

“Have purchased pickles, onions, anchovies, lemons, oranges, limes, Congress water, lavender, smelling salts.”

From another letter dated November 6, 1829, we know that while on board Mendes also ate “Nova Scotia herring… smoked tongues with rice… corn bread…weak green tea.”

Staying in Touch

Mendes was a prolific letter writer. Each letter home was filled with fascinating information. Almost like journals, the letters contained his itinerary and appointments, as well as impressions of the people and places he visited. They also provide insight into his character.

Many opened with how Mendes’ family could contact him and from where to expect his next letter. This was intended to help his family stay in contact, but despite his clear instructions, his brothers sometimes failed to reach him.

 Mendes’ writing style varied depending on who he was writing to. Letters to his mother included more details about personal experiences and religious observance. Letters to his brothers related more to business and political matters.

Travel Writing Desk

This mahogany portable writing desk belonged to Mendes and may have accompanied him during his travels. Its many drawers and compartments store writing supplies and the desk folds up making it easy to transport.


Gift of Sadie B. and Rosetta Feldman, JMM 1987.149.5.

Writing Between the Lines

Mendes often had a lot to say and was keen to make the most of the materials he had available. Once he reached the bottom of this page, Mendes turned the paper upside down and continued to write between the lines.

Letter courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society.

Can you read it?

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The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen was created by:

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Special thanks to: 

The David Berg Foundation; The David and Barbara B. Hirschhorn Foundation; Maryland Heritage Area Authority; Homer and Martha Gudelsky Foundation; The Richard and Rosalee C. Davison Foundation; Morris Schapiro + Family Foundation, Barbara P. Katz; The Eliasberg Family Foundation; Members of the Jewish Museum of Maryland and Minotaur Mazes.