The Red D Line was the main transportation link between the United States and Venezuela from 1820 to 1936. The line took its trade name from the red D on its white flag, which stood for the line’s founder, John Dallett, a Philadelphia merchant. Dallett travelled to Venezuela in 1823, where he went into business with the influential Venezuelan merchant, John Boulton. Dallett returned to Philadelphia and set up a business shipping cargoes to Boulton, and in 1838 began chartering sailing vessels to carry his merchandise. The Red D Line records house a sampling of business and financial records of the shipping line from 1861 to 1936. There are twelve volumes.
The Red D Line was the main transportation link between the United States and Venezuela from 1820 to 1936. The line took its trade name from the red D on its white flag, which stood for the line’s founder, John Dallett, a Philadelphia merchant. Dallett travelled to Venezuela in 1823, where he went into business with the influential Venezuelan merchant, John Boulton. Dallett returned to Philadelphia and set up a business shipping cargoes to Boulton, and in 1838 began chartering sailing vessels to carry his merchandise.
John Dallett was involved in the merchant shipping business early in life. He began his career hiring boats to ship coffee from Venezuela beginning in either 1802 or 1810. In 1820, along with his brother Thomas, he created the Red D Line to transport trade from Philadelphia and Venezuela. Over the years, the Red D Line was managed by a variety of companies. From 1820 to 1861, the Red D Line was managed by Dallett Brothers, of Philadelphia. The company changed to John Dallett and Co. in 1861 and remained as such until 1866. From 1866 to 1881, the Red D Line was managed by Dallett, Boulton and Bliss and Company along with John Dallett and Company. Finally in 1881, the Atlantic and Caribbean Steam Navigation Company was incorporated and it owned and managed the Red D Line from 1881 to its dissolution in 1936.
Dallett, via the “Red D Line, originally trade[d] soap and flour in return for coffee and hides, [and] became exporters of American technology as well, carrying to Caracas machinery for its factories, and to La Guaira parts of its first railroad and all of the materials used for the building of its breakwater from 1843 to 1846,” (Weigley, page 324). As trade increased, the Dalletts also increased their fleet until their shipping line became one of the most important trading companies between Venezuela and the United States. The Red D Line used sailing vessels until 1881, when, along with a change in company name and organization, they changed to steamships. Because these steamships were significantly faster than those of the Dutch, Spanish and German lines, they maintained a great deal of control over the trade from Venezuela.
According to de la Pedraja, the Red D Line “received mail subsidies from the United States government, starting with the Ocean Mail Act of 1890,” (page 303). In 1906, the Red D Line was the “only American Steamship Company running directly to South America beyond the Isthmus of Panama,” (Department of Commerce and Labor, page 222). Passenger services, operated on combination cargo-passenger vessels, began in the 1920s and ran between New York, San Juan, Curacao, La Guaira and Puerto Cabello and returned to New York via Curacao and San Juan. Another service operated to Mayaguez, La Guaira, Curacao and Maracaibo.
The company built an excellent relationship with the Venezuelan government and business community, but eventually decided to get out of the shipping business when the 1936 Merchant Marine Act terminated the system of mail contracts under which shipping companies had been subsidized. The company was sold to the Grace Line in 1937, which then merged the Venezuelan operations into Grace’s overall service to South America.
Throughout the history of this company, three families were entwined through business, friendship and marriage. John Dallett’s family established a soap and candle factory in Caracas, and while in Venezuela, John Dallett developed the business relationship with John Boulton. Dallett returned to Philadelphia and Boulton remained in Venezuela, resulting in “an excellent pooling of resources,” (Berglund, page 385). John Dallett, Sr. died in 1862.
John Boulton, an Englishman, began his career in Venezuela in 1826 and began trading with the United States. After forming his business with the Dalletts, Boulton remained in LaGuaira “to develop the Venezuelan end of the trade,” (Berglund, page 385). In 1829, Boulton married Anna Gertrude Schimmel. His son, William George Boulton was born in La Guayra, Venezuela on January 24, 1832. William Boulton served in his father’s business Boulton, Sons and Company, first as a clerk and eventually, in 1857, as a partner. He married Mary E. Bowen and their son, William Bowen Boulton, became a member of Boulton, Bliss and Dallett. William George Boulton served as a vice president of the Maritime Exchange of Philadelphia.
The first Bliss to be involved in the Red D Line was William Bliss who was born in Chipping Norton, England on July 4, 1833. He owned Boulton, Bliss and Company with his friend William G. Boulton and was employed by the Dalletts in various positions until 1867 when he became a member of the newly formed Dallett, Bliss and Co. In 1861, he married Athenade Dallet, daughter of John Dallett, and after her death in 1872, he married her sister, Anna Dallett. He died on January 2, 1890. According to the New York Times, Dallett Bliss, senior member of the firm of Dallett Bliss and Company, committed suicide in 1876 because “trade had become depressed,” (New York Times, April 22, 1876).
Many generations of Bliss, Boulton and Dallett family members were involved in the Red D Line and the long-standing history and their ties were of great importance in the strength and longevity of the company. The Red D Line is considered to be the oldest and longest running merchant shipping line in American maritime history.
Bibliography: Berglund, Susan. “Mercantile Credit and Financing in Venezuela, 1830-1870,” Journal of Latin American Studies, Vol 17, No. 2 (Nov., 1985), pp. 371-396.
De la Pedraja, Rene. A Historical Dictionary of the United States Merchant Marine and Shipping Industry since the Introduction of Steam. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994.
Department of Commerce and Labor. Annual Report of the Commissioner of Navigation to the Secretary of Commerce and Labor, November 20, 1906. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1906.
Hall, Henry, ed. America’s Successful Men of Affairs. New York: New York Tribune, 1895.
New York Times. “Another Singular Suicide.” Published April 22, 1876.
Weigley, Russell F., ed. Philadelphia: A 300-Year History. New York: W.W. Norton Company, 1982.
Weiss, George. America’s Maritime Progress. New York: New York Marine News Company, 1920.
This collection houses a sampling of business and financial records of the Red D Line from 1861 to 1936. There are twelve volumes.
A majority of the information is financial in nature. Specifically, researchers will find account ledgers from 1861 to 1932 and a trial balance book of the Atlantic and Caribbean Steam Navigation Company from 1881 to 1932. There is also a letter book dating 1872 to 1874 and three volumes of freight lists for various vessels dating 1866 to 1875 and 1927 to 1936. Of particular note are two volumes documenting two Red D Line ships. The first is an expense book for the barque John Boulton, dating 1869 to 1873. The second, which documents a single voyage of the barque Hornet from New York to Laguaryra and Puerto Cabello in 1878, is especially interesting. Inside, there is a brief description, or log, of the voyage and two ship survey reports that describe the condition of the ship and cargo. Additionally, this volume holds information related to the ship’s cargo and its destination, wages and expenses paid, and other information.
Finally, there is a volume, dating 1862 to 1874, which provides information on money received by members of the Dallett family.
The collection houses some useful information about the Red D Line; however, the information is incomplete.
- Atlantic Caribbean Steam Navigation Company
- Dallett, Boulton and Bliss and Company
- John Dallett and Company
- Red D Line
- Bliss, William, 1833-1890
- Boulton, William George, 1832-1891
- Boutlon, John
- Dallett, John, d. 1862
- Freight and freightage
- Financial records
- Independence Seaport Museum: Ephemera Collection
- Red D Line; at University of Pennsylvania: Copy letter books of John Dallett, 1840-1861 (four volumes of microfilm)
- and there are also materials at Archivio de las Casa Boulton at The Fundacion John Boulton, Torre El Chorro, Avenida Universidad, Caracas, Venezuela.
- Red D Line