History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
from the first submarine cable of 1850 to the worldwide fiber optic network

Memorabilia & Ephemera
1858 Atlantic Cable Canes

When the cable fleet arrived in New York after the initial success of laying the 1858 Atlantic cable, Charles Tiffany capitalized on the public interest in the project by buying from Cyrus Field a large amount of the leftover cable, some of it even retrieved from the ocean floor. He sold sections of the cable wrapped with an embossed brass band together with a facsimile letter of authenticity signed by Field, and there was also a large variety of other souvenirs made from pieces of the cable. These included canes with handles made from mounted cable sections.

In its issue of 11 September 1858, the Louisville Daily Courier had this news squib:

Atlantic Cable Cane.—We have been presented with a beautiful “cable cane,” by our indefatigable friend, Mr D.C. Heiskell, merchant tailor, opposite the Galt House, who has just returned from New York, with a new stock of goods in his line. The cable cane is as ingenious in its construction as it is beautiful in finish. It is made of “ebony,” and the entire handle is formed of two sections of the “great Atlantic Telegraph Cable,” and while it gives a fine and novel finish, forms a formidable weapon of defense.
We thank our friend Heiskell for his attention, and in return, we wish him a speedy sale of his “new wares,” which are, like the cable cane, just in season and all the rage.

That same issue of the Daily Courier also had three advertisements for cable sections, charms, and specimens from other local merchants.

A month later this advertisement for Atlantic Cable Canes was published in the Daily Exchange, Baltimore, on 10 October 1858:

Unlike the Tiffany cable sections, of which thousands were sold, very few cable canes were made, and only two are presently known. Both of these surviving canes are shown on this page.

1: Tiffany & Company to John Reid (and later, Judge Comley)

This silver-mounted cane made by Tiffany & Company has an L-shaped handle 3⅛" long and 2⅞" high. Silver ferrules at the end, the shoulder, and above the shaft, form the mounts for two pieces of the 1858 Atlantic cable. The shaft is ebony, with a 3½" brass ferrule at its tip, and the overall length of the cane is 32".

The silver band around the shaft is inscribed: “Tiffany and Co. to John Reid, Christmas 1859.” There is another inscription on the underside, which reads: “To Judge Comley 1911,” evidently a subsequent owner. In 1991 the cane was sold at auction as part of the collection of Judge William Comley of Stamford, Connecticut. The last record of the cane is its sale at a 2001 auction, following which its location is unknown.

2: W. Pearce to M.G. Yniestra

This Atlantic cable cane was discovered in March 2017 in Florida, where it may well have spent much of its life. The handle is very similar to that of the Tiffany cane above and has almost identical dimensions at 3⅛" long and 3" high, although I believe its mounts are silver plate rather than solid silver.

When this cane was found, only a short stub of its shaft remained. After removal of the cut-off piece from the handle, measurement of its density and inspection of the color and grain suggested that the shaft was ebony, as is that of the Tiffany cane above. The Pearce/Yniestra cane has since been restored to an overall length of 32" with a new ebony shaft and a 3" brass ferrule, both correct for the period.

The provenance of the cane can be established with reasonable certainty, as the band around the shaft is engraved in a precise script “M.G. Yniestra from W. Pearce.”

Walter Pearce was born in Rhode Island circa 1805 and moved to Norfolk, Virginia, in the early 1830s, where he married the widow of goldsmith Joseph Clarico. By 1850 he was in Mobile, Alabama, where he is listed as a jeweler and silversmith from 1850 until 1867. He died circa 1872. Pearce was evidently a well-regarded craftsman, as he is listed in directories of Southern silversmiths; silverware marked “W. Pearce” is periodically offered for sale on the open market and can be found in museum collections.

Walter Pearce & Co. advertisement in the Directory of the City of Mobile, 1859

A full-page advertisement in the 1859 Directory of the City of Mobile describes Walter Pearce & Co.’s business as dealers in watches and jewelry, silver and plated-ware; watches carefully repaired and warranted, new jewelry manufactured and diamonds set to order. Pearce listed two associates at the top of the advertisement: Brunaugh F. Yniestra and his younger brother Moses G. Yniestra, the recipient of the cane.

Brunaugh Yniestra was born on 20 March 1835 and Moses on 11 February 1837, both in Pensacola, Florida. Moses Yniestra’s middle name of is given as Gale in some references (including his marriage license and his wife’s obituary) and Gonzalez in one other (see Mobile Cadets reference below).

In May 1860 Moses G. Yniestra married Ann Elizabeth Gause (born 15 July 1842; also known as Anna, Annie, and Lizzy). The 1860 census records Moses and Lizzy Yniestra, aged 24 and 18, living in the Fifth Ward of the city of Mobile. The dwelling house sequence number on the census form is 91, and also at that house number are Arthur Yniestra (32) and Laura Yniestra (27), both born in Florida.

The 1860 census for the Second Ward of Mobile also shows a Moses Yniestra, aged 44, occupation Jeweller, and Elizabeth Yniestra, aged 18. I can find no other records relating to this Moses Yniestra, either before or after 1860, and his name does not appear in any Yniestra birth records for 1816, nor in any family tree which include the Yniestra name.

It seems very unlikely that there were two Moses Yniestras living in Mobile in 1860, both jewellers with a wife named Elizabeth, and one possibility is that the newlywed Yniestras moved house during the course of the census and were recorded twice, the second time with an error in the age of Moses.

The 1861 Mobile City Directory has these entries:

Yniestra, B F, firm W Pearce & co, res 191 conti
Yniestra, M G, of above firm, res 181 conti
Yniestra, A T, clerk above firm. res 181 conti

With M G and A T Yniestra both recorded at 181 Conti St in the 1861 city directory, and Moses G and Arthur listed as being in the same dwelling house on the 1860 census, it seems reasonable to assume that Moses G. Yniestra was Pearce's associate, and hence the recipient of the cane.

When the enthusiasm for Atlantic cable souvenirs was at its peak, in August and September 1858, the two brothers would have been 23 and 21 years old respectively. It is very likely that Walter Pearce presented the cane to Moses Yniestra around that time, as interest in cable souvenirs rapidly diminished with the failure of the cable by the end of September 1858.

Immediately after the completion of the 1858 Atlantic cable, sections of it were readily available from Tiffany & Company in New York, both as finished souvenirs and in lengths of raw cable. It is possible that Walter Pearce purchased a piece of cable and mounted it himself, but as the Yniestra cane handle is so similar to the Tiffany one above, it seems more likely that Pearce purchased the cane from New York as a finished item. Records show that in 1861 Pearce had been dealing with at least one New York trade supplier, Platt & Brother.

Like Mr Heiskell of Louisville, mentioned in the newspaper story at the top of this page, perhaps Pearce bought the cane while in New York on business; alternatively, like the dealer in Baltimore who placed the October advertisement above, he may have taken delivery of one or more canes for resale or as gifts. No doubt he engraved the inscription himself.

In 1861 the Yniestra brothers enlisted in the Mobile Cadets of the 3rd Alabama Infantry Regiment, and fought on the Confederate side in the Civil War. A “Pay Roll” for 21 March 1861 bears the signature of M.G. Yniestra, and shows that he was paid $8.43 for the period.

The 24 April 1861 roster of the Mobile Cadets lists “Yniestra, Brunaugh F. 4SGT, 26, Jeweller: Pearce & Co.” and “Yniestra, Moses Gonzalez, 24, Jeweller.”

After the war, Brunaugh Yniestra returned to Mobile and resumed his association with Walter Pearce & Co (Apr-Dec 1866 newspaper advertisements). By 1867 Pearce was no long involved with the business, as local directories from that year until 1875 list Brunaugh as “B.F. Yniestra, Successor to Walter Pearce & Co.” Silverware with the mark, “B.F. Yniestra,” has also been recorded. Brunaugh died on 12 July 1879 at age 44 and is buried in his Pensacola birthplace.

Moses Yniestra was discharged from the Confederate Army in 1865 as a 1st Lieutenant and returned to Alabama. The 1866 Alabama State census lists him as living in Butler County, about 120 miles northeast of Mobile. While the census does not give names, it shows that the household also included one female aged 20-30 and three females under 10, presumably his wife and their first three daughters.

He subsequently moved the family to his birthplace of Pensacola, Florida, about sixty miles east of Mobile, where he took up farming. US census records show that he had many relatives in the area, and there is a section of Pensacola still called Yniestra today. On the 1870 census the Yniestras had five children listed, and by the 1880 census they had three more. All eight children were daughters.

Sadly, on 14 February 1884, at the age of 47, Moses Yniestra was struck and killed by a switching engine on the main street of Pensacola while he was walking along the tracks around daybreak.

The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, 15 Feb 1884

A Prominent Citizen Run Over and Killed

PENSACOLA, Feb. 14.—This morning, between the hours of 5 and 6 o’clock, a terrible accident occurred near the gas works, in the rear of this city, resulting fatally to Moses G. Yniestra, than whom no one in Western Florida was more widely known and respected. Upon inquiry as to the particulars, your correspondent learned that Mr. Yniestra, who has recently been employed as assistant to Col. Scott, superintendent of the Pensacola Gas Works, was on his way to the gas house at the time of the accident, and had taken the track of the railroad as the most direct route from his residence. A switch engine coming up the road caused Mr. Yniestra to step aside to an opposite track, and the engine, after running a few rods beyond, was switched on to the track upon which the unfortunate man had stepped to avoid an accident, and came down upon him without a moment’s warning. His death was undoubtedly instantaneous, his body being horribly mutilated. Mr. Yniestra leaves a widow and ten children to mourn his loss, and a legion of friends who will ever cherish his memory.

A lawsuit by his widow for damages against the Louisville & Nashville Railway Company was dismissed, and the ruling became part of case law reference in Florida:

“When a person voluntarily walks on and along the track of a railroad laid in a public thoroughfare, which he knew was used as a switch yard on which locomotives were passing to and fro night and day, where the walking on either side of said track was as good as on the track, and in doing so is run over by a passing train and killed, he has, by the failure to exercise ordinary care and prudence, directly contributed to his own misfortune, and his representative cannot recover from the company using said track damages therefor.”

This rather unfair doctrine was finally overturned in 1974 by the Florida Supreme Court.

As with many Southern states, Florida offered pensions to resident widows of Confederate soldiers, and details of many of these are available on line. In 1909, Anna Elizabeth Yniestra applied for a pension on the basis of the service of her husband Moses, and Lousia Yniestra for that of her husband Brunaugh. The documentation supporting these applications provided some of the information for this section.

There are no known photographs of Moses G. Yniestra, but family historian Cynthia Dean has very kindly provided these images of Brunaugh (Bruno) and Louisa Yniestra, date unknown:

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Last revised: 2 August, 2017

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