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/* Old (-Jd /em 

Robert E. Peabody 



From the painting by Come in the Peabody Museum, Salem 


A History of 

The Commercial Voyages of a New 
England Family to the Indies and 
Elsewhere in the XVIII Century 






Ofte tttoerjti&e $re& Cambribge 



Published October IQIZ 


This book describes how commerce was carried on 
by American merchants in the early years of our his- 
tory and illustrates how contemporary political events 
in America and Europe, affected American trade. 
By tracing the career of a typical family of New Eng- 
land merchants a picture is obtained of that romantic 
period when diminutive ships, manned often by mere 
boys and laden with homely cargoes of rum, fish, cheese, 
or lumber, sailed away for the distant markets of the 
East, to return years later, their holds filled with teas, 
spices, or rich silks. 

Many thanks are due to Prof. Edward Channing, 
of Harvard University, for his assistance in obtaining 
much of the information in these pages, and also to 
Dr. Richard Derby and Mr. Roger Derby, of New 
York, Hon. George P. Wetmore, of Newport, Rhode 
Island, and Mr. George F. Dow, of the Essex Insti- 
tute, Salem, Massachusetts, for the use of manuscripts 
and records in their possession. The blocks of all the 
illustrations have been kindly loaned by the Essex 

September, 1012. 




TION 28 






WARS 125 



TEER OFF GIBRALTAR. (See page 138) . . Frontispiece 










FLEET 136 






IN these days when the modern steamship and 
the cable bind the whole world closely together, 
it is hard for us to realize the dangers and dif- 
ficulties that beset commerce two hundred years 
ago. The ships of that time were mostly small and 
unseaworthy, charts were few and imperfect, and 
the science of navigation little known. Those 
craft which survived the perils of the deep still ran 
the added risk of capture, for not only did the seas 
swarm with pirates, but the constant wars of that 
period made the ships of almost any nation the 
rightful prey of an enemy's men-of-war. More- 
over, the entire system of commerce was so bound 
round by Navigation Acts and other restrictive 
legislation that it was practically impossible for a 
vessel to make a foreign voyage without breaking 
the laws of some country. It was during these 
troubled times, however, that the foundations of 
American commerce were laid. 

2 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 


From earliest colonial days our people were 
deeply concerned in shipowning, shipbuilding, and K 
other marine pursuits. The only communication 
of the first settlers with the rest of the civilized 
world was by sea, and for many years, on account 
of lack of roads, almost all traffic between the 
colonies was by water. Thus we became at an 
early date a seafaring people. This was especially 
the case in New England, where the shores 
abounded with fish, and where the forests which 
grew down to the water's edge formed a boundary 
to inland progress and at the same time offered 
material for building ships. Many a sturdy little 
craft, fashioned from the convenient timber and 
manned by a few hardy and energetic colonists, \ 
sailed for Europe or the West Indies freighted with V 
fish or lumber. From Europe such vessels brought / 
home the many necessities of life, and from the V 
West Indies great quantities of sugar and molasses, 
which were quickly converted into that eighteenth 
century staple of commerce, New England rum. 

As early as 1660 England's Navigation Acts 
restricted to English and colonial vessels the trade 
between the colonies as well as the trade to the 
mother country, and this exclusion of foreign 
vessels was a great boon to colonial shipping. So 

A Chapter of Colonial Commerce 3 

industriously did the American merchants extend 
their trade and so rapidly did their ships increase 
in number, that in 1775 Burke declared, "The 
commerce of your colonies is out of all proportion 
beyond the numbers of the people." Of the fisher- 
ies he added, "Neither the perseverance of Hol- 
land nor the activity of France nor the dexterous 
and firm sagacity of English enterprise ever car- 
ried this most perilous mode of hardy industry to 
the extent to which it has been pushed by this 
recent people, a people who are still, as it were, 
but in the gristle, and not yet hardened into the 
bone of manhood." Although the middle colonies 
were actively engaged in shipping, it was in New 
England that the largest number of the colonial 
ships were owned. In fact, so absolutely did New 
England depend upon her commerce that when in 
1764-68 the duties and regulations of the Gren- 
ville and Townsend Acts imposed heavy burdens 
upon her hitherto practically untaxed trade, her 
merchants were among the very first to rise up 
against the policy of the British Government, 
making New England the scene of the first strug- 
gles of the war for independence. The Revolution, 
however, hindered but slightly the rapid growth 
of American commerce, for within ten years after 

4 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

the war American merchants were sending their 
vessels to India, China, Africa, Russia, in fact to 
every part of the known world, and were reap- 
ing handsome profits from this lucrative trade. 

In no American port was this commercial enter- 
prise developed to a greater extent than in Salem, 
Massachusetts. Although to-day not a single 
ocean-going vessel hails from this place, between 
one hundred and one hundred and fifty years ago 
it was one of the leading American ports, and be- 
tween the Revolution and the War of 1812, the 
period of its greatest prosperity, Salem was well 
known in many parts of the East Indies and the 
South Seas where no one had ever heard of New 
York or Boston. 

Of all the Salem merchants who helped give 
their town this early commercial supremacy none 
were more active than those of the Derby family. 
Roger Derby, the founder of the family in America, 
came to this country in 1671, and settled at Salem, 
where he engaged in maritime trade. This occupa- 
tion was continued by his descendants until the 
early part of the nineteenth century. Richard 
Derby, the grandson of Roger, was an example of 
the many New England merchants of the colonial 
period. By tracing his career one obtains an inter- 

A Chapter of Colonial Commerce 5 

esting view of the manner in which these early 
merchants carried on their business, and of the 
effect on American commerce caused by the Eng- 
lish Acts of Trade and Navigation and by the 
Revolution. Moreover, Elias Hasket Derby, the 
son of Richard, was one of the pioneer American 
merchants in the trade to the Far East, and a study 
of his life and operations shows us how American 
commerce was extended to the distant markets 
of the Orient during the early years of our national 

Richard Derby was born in Salem in 1712. His 
father had been a sea captain and merchant, but 
died while Richard was an infant, and the boy was 
reared by an energetic mother. Practically nothing 
is known of his childhood, but early in 1736, at 
the age of twenty-four, he appears as master of the 
"slope Ranger on a voige to Cadiz," Malaga, etc., 
taking a cargo composed principally of fish. With a 
mate and a crew of four men, young Derby made 
a successful voyage, and having exchanged his 
fish for oil, fruit, and handkerchiefs, returned to 
Salem in the latter part of May. In September 
he sailed again to Spain in the Ranger on a similar 
trip, and in the winter of 1739 he went as master 
of the " skoner Ranger" to the island of St. Martins 

6 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

in the French West Indies, where in April he sold 
his cargo for 2178. 4. o. 

This voyage of the Ranger to a French West 
India island was contrary to the laws of France, 
for the governments of Spain, Holland, Denmark, 
and France prohibited foreign vessels from trading 
with their colonies. Nevertheless, the laws of these 
countries were easily evaded. Customs officials 
were readily induced to sell registries that would 
make a New England vessel French, Spanish, 
Dutch, or Danish to suit the case, and by means 
of "a little greasing" of the proper authorities at 
these islands a colonial captain could obtain a right 
to trade wherever he wished. A duty of four and 
one half per cent was levied on all goods exported 
from the English islands, while the export duty 
from the French islands was but one per cent. This 
alone was reason enough for the extensive trade to 
the French West Indies. 

On December 6, 1741, Captain Richard Derby 
sailed for St. Martins as master and part owner of 
the schooner Volant, and the following extract from 
his sailing orders shows how the New England 
merchants evaded the regulations of foreign coun- 
tries : 

"If you should go among the French Endeavour 

A Chapter of Colonial Commerce 7 

to gett Sale at St. Martins but if you should fall 
so low as Statia; & any Frenchman Shou'd make 
you a good Offer with good Security, or by making 
your Vessel a Dutch Bottom or any other means 
practicable in order to your getting among ye 
French embrace it among whom if you Should ever 
Arrive be sure to give strict orders amongst your 
men not to sell the least Trifle unto them on any 
Terms least they shou'd make your vessel liable 
to a Seizure, also Secure a permit so as for you 
to Trade there the next Voyage w ch you may Un- 
doubtedly do by your Factor & a little greasing 
some others ; also make a proper Protest at any 
Port you Stop at." 

Written on the margin of the sailing orders is 
the following note: 

"Capt Derby if you Trade at Barbadoes buy 
me a Negroe boy about Siventeen years old which 
if you do advise Mr. Clarke of y* he may not send 
one also 


Captain Derby must have made a successful 
trip, for on July 5 following he sailed again in the 
Volant, "for Barbadoes and elsewhere." The 
manifest of the Volant's outward cargo on this 

8 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

voyage is still preserved, and may be taken as a 
typical cargo for the West Indies, except that cod, 
mackerel, and other fish are usually more in evi- 
dence. Its main items were 54,000 feet of boards, 
34,500 shingles, 3500 staves, 10 barrels of shad, 
1 6 horses, 78 bags of corn and 20 of rye, and 32 
empty hogsheads for water. 

It is needless to follow each and every voyage 
of Captain Derby, and it is sufficient to say that 
he continued in the capacity of master till 1757, 
when, having laid up a comfortable fortune and 
become owner or part owner of a number of ves- 
sels, he gave up a sea life and established himself 
as a merchant in Salem. In 1755 he had been 
granted the upland, beach, and flats at Ober's or 
Palmer's Head on Winter Island in Salem Harbor, 
for a wharf and warehouse for one thousand years 
at one shilling per year. But he does not appear to 
have used this site, for soon after he began the 
construction of the present Derby Wharf, whence 
he and his descendants during the next fifty years 
sent vessels to all parts of the world. 

Mr. Derby now began to build up a thriving 
trade with the Spanish Peninsula, especially with 
Bilboa on the Bay of Biscay, and was constantly 
sending his smaller vessels on trading voyages 


From a copy by Weir, after the portrait by Col. Henry Sargent 

A Chapter of Colonial Commerce 9 

through the West Indies, as well as on occasional 
trips to Virginia and the Carolinas. Between 1757 
and 1764 he had the brig Neptune, the ship Ante- 
lope, and brig Ranger trading regularly to Spain 
and the Madeiras, and a number of his smaller 
vessels made occasional voyages to the Peninsula. 
His Bilboa agents, or "factors," as they were 
called, were Gardoqui & Company. On the arrival 
of one of his ships they would see to the disposal 
of the cargo to the best advantage and arrange 
with the merchants in the interior of Spain for 
whatever commodities the captain wished to pur- 
chase for the return cargo. Often the captain 
would take bills of exchange on London in return 
for part of the outward cargo, as these bills sold 
at a premium in America and helped to pay 
for importations from England to the colonies. 
Gardoqui & Company always kept an account 
with Mr. Derby, so if ever one of the Derby cap- 
tains wished any cash, this house would supply 
him and draw against the account for the amount. 
Although Mr. Derby appears to have had no 
trade with England, he very early established an 
account with Messrs. Lane & Fraser, of London, 
always leaving with them a considerable balance 
which his captains, wherever they might be, could 

io Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

draw upon by means of letters of credit. Thus, 
when the outward cargo of the ship Antelope did 
not realize a sufficient amount for the captain to 
procure a full return cargo, R. Anderson & Com- 
pany at Gibraltar wrote to Salem: "We shall 
supply him with whatever sum he may be deficient, 
against his Bills on London where he tells us he 
has a Credit lodged for that Purpose." 

In the trade to the West Indies Mr. Derby con- 
stantly had a number of small vessels employed. 
This fleet included the schooners Pembroke, Three 
Brothers, Three Sisters, Mary, and Charming 
Kate, and the sloops Betsy and Sally. These little 
craft would load with fish, lumber, or grain, and 
take besides a few horses, cows, or sheep, and then 
sail down through the West Indies, disposing of 
their cargoes little by little wherever they found a 
market. In the same way they would pick up a 
return cargo wherever they could with advantage, 
generally bringing back sugar, molasses, cotton, 
indigo, or fruits. Sometimes Mr. Derby would 
send a vessel on a triangular voyage, of which we 
have an example in the case of the ship Antelope. 
She took a cargo of fish, lumber, and rum from 
Salem to Cadiz, disposed of it there, crossed to 
Tangier and loaded a cargo of mules, carried them 

A Chapter of Colonial Commerce 1 1 

to the West Indies, and thence returned to Salem 
with sugar and molasses. 

The management of all these voyages was left 
largely in the captain's hands. Mr. Derby always 
gave his captains, when they sailed, directions 
how to dispose of the cargo and in what commodi- 
ties to invest the proceeds for the return voyage, 
but they were allowed to use their judgment in 
changing their orders to benefit the voyage. In 
order to ensure the hearty interest of his captains, 
Mr. Derby usually employed them "on primage," 
that is, he gave them a certain percentage of the 
profits of the voyage over and above their monthly 
wage. Among the Derby papers there have been 
preserved a great many wages accounts, or port- 
ledge bills, and from these we can observe the rate 
of pay of officers and seamen in those days. From 
1760 to 1783 masters received monthly wages 
varying from 2.8.0 to 3.7.0; mates, from 2.5.0 
to 3.0.0; able seamen, 2.8.0 to 2.14.0; and 
common seamen, 1.17.0 to 2.8.0. Cooks re- 
ceived from 1.7.0 to 2.6.0, and cabin-boys were 
usually paid 1.4.0. Both officers and crew were 
shipped for the round voyage and received one 
month's wages before sailing and the balance on 
their return home. 

12 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

In 1756 the Seven Years' War broke out, and 
thus, with France the enemy of England, it became 
unlawful for the American colonists, as subjects 
of the English Crown, to trade with the French 
West Indies. The profits of this trade, however, 
were very great at that time, because the French 
islands were so absolutely dependent on the prod- 
ucts of the American colonies that had this source 
of supply been cut off, they would hardly have 
been able to subsist. Quite regardless, therefore, 
of the rules of war, all the colonial merchants 
continued to carry on an active commerce with 
these islands. At first thought, it seems strange 
that the leading merchants and most respected 
men in the community should have been actively 
engaged in feeding and supporting the enemy's 
colonies. Mr. Derby was an honored member of 
the Massachusetts Council, and yet the largest 
part of his business during the wars was with 
the French West Indies. Apparently this trade 
with the enemy was not looked upon as treason 
by the American colonists, but the merchants 
who engaged in it seem to have been regarded 
simply as daring business men who ran great 
risks in hope of large profits. The seas swarmed 
with English privateers, mostly owned in the Brit- 

A Chapter of Colonial Commerce 13 

ish West Indies, which, if they could find colo- 
nial vessels evading the rules of war by trading 
with the French, looked on them as legitimate 
plunder. French men-of-war at the same time 
lay in wait to capture American vessels as na- 
tural enemies. The merchant who evaded these 
varied perils was merely successful in a hazardous 

The dangers were too great for Mr. Derby to 
continue this lucrative commerce long without a 
loss. In July, 1759, his schooner Three Brothers, 
fifty-six tons, Captain Michael Driver, sailed from 
Salem for the French West India island of St. 
Martins, with a cargo of fish, wine, oil, raisins, 
and lumber. When but one day out of Salem she 
was chased by a British privateer. Captain Driver 
hoisted his English colors, but the privateer never- 
theless fired nine shots at him, made him heave 
to, and her captain ordered Driver to come aboard 
with two of his crew. In the mean time the Eng- 
lishman sent his lieutenant with several men on 
board the Three Brothers, and they took away "a 
quantity of fish and 797 pieces of eight" out of 
Driver's chest. Captain Driver was then returned 
to his vessel, a prize crew was put on board, and 

14 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

the course was laid for Spanishtown. 1 Here the 
privateersmen discharged and sold as much of the 
cargo as they pleased, and then the lieutenant of 
the privateer took the schooner to Antigua, which 
was his home port. For three days Driver was 
confined on board his vessel. When he finally 
was allowed to land he was soon convinced that 
he could obtain no redress from the owners of the 
privateer. He accordingly left the schooner and 
what remained of her cargo at Antigua and took 
the first vessel for Salem. Mr. Derby then regis- 
tered a protest and claim for 1334.13.4 for ship 
and cargo. But as the Three Brothers had been 
bound on a voyage to a French colony for the pur- 
pose of trading with the enemy, it is extremely 
doubtful whether his claim was allowed by the 
admiralty courts. No record remains to show that 
he ever received any compensation, and unless the 
vessel was insured, the whole must have been 

A few years later, in 1762, Captain Driver was 
again captured, this time by a Frenchman. Re- 
turning home to Salem from the West Indies in 
the sloop Sally, his vessel was seized by the French 

1 Probably Virgin Gorda, one of the Virgin Islands. Span- 
ishtown, the only settlement on the island, was a favorite ren- 
dezvous of the buccaneers. 

A Chapter of Colonial Commerce 15 

privateer, La Tigre. His captor was lenient, and 
after taking the first mate as security for the de- 
sired amount of ransom, he allowed the Sally to 
proceed to Salem. Mr. Derby thereupon fitted out 
his schooner Mary, as a cartel to sail under a flag 
of truce to Cape St. Francois 1 and pay the ransom. 
He was joined in this venture by Messrs. Furlong 
and Titcomb, of Newburyport, who also had a 
man held by the French as hostage for a captured 
vessel. The Mary sailed on June 2, 1762, with 
Captain Driver in command, and all the necessary 
specie and papers for the ransom. When passing 
down by the Bahamas, the Mary fell in with the 
English privateer Revenge, which captured her, 
took all her specie and two of the crew, and sent 
her into Nassau, on the ground that she was 
bound to Cape St. Francois, which was a French 
colonial port. Captain Driver entered a protest 
stating that from the nature of the voyage, being 
bound as a cartel and in ballast, he was not violat- 
ing the rules of war; and after about two months 
of delay, on August 12, by an order of the Court of 

1 Cape St. Francois was the capital of Hayti, the western por- 
tion of Hispaniola, and at that time French territory. The city 
was sacked and destroyed in 1793 during the revolutionary war 
in Hayti. 

1 6 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

Admiralty at Nassau, his rights were recognized 
and the ship and specie returned to him. 1 Two 
days later he sailed for Cape St. Francois, where he 
arrived on August 27. The ransom was paid, the 
two hostages taken on board, and Captain Driver 
started back to Salem. However, his troubles were 
not yet over. As he was about to leave the harbor, 
the commanding officer of the port came aboard 
the Mary, took off the unfortunate hostages, and 
placed them on board of a French frigate just sail- 
ing for Santiago de Cuba, and putting a prize crew 
on the Mary, compelled Captain Driver to sail to 
Santiago with the frigate. Here the Mary was 
detained for over three months, and when on 
December 3 the hostages were at last set free and 
the Mary was allowed to depart, her provisions 
were nearly gone. Moreover, during her long stay 
in port the teredos, or shipworms, had so eaten 
into her bottom that she was very leaky. Captain 
Driver accordingly crossed over to Port Royal, 

1 In the mean time Mr. Derby had been active at home in 
trying to gain the Mary's release, and on September 21, 1762, 
the Massachusetts General Court instructed its "agent to use 
his Endeavours that said Vessel and the Monies sent in her be 
restored to the owners, and to take effectual care that all 
Proceedings of this kind be prevented for the future." But by 
that time the Mary had been set free. Mass. Archives, vol. 66, 
p. 226. 

A Chapter of Colonial Commerce 17 

Jamaica, where he careened his vessel and repaired 
her bottom, then, having taken on board provi- 
sions, he sailed for Salem, where he at last ar- 
rived in safety. The losses incurred by Mr. Derby 
and Messrs. Furlong and Titcomb by this ill- 
fated voyage amounted to about 300 more than 
they had sent out as ransom, or 800 between 

Perhaps the most exasperating seizure that 
Mr. Derby suffered during the war of 1756-63 was 
that of his ship Ranger. With the proceeds of 
several successful cargoes to Spain he purchased 
at Gibraltar a French prize ship of three hundred 
tons, which had been condemned to be sold by the 
British Admiralty Court. He gave her the name of 
Ranger and sent Captain George Crowninshield 
out to take command of her, with instructions to 
load with wine for the West Indies. Crowninshield 
fulfilled these orders and on arrival in the West 
Indies exchanged his wine for sugar and sailed for 
Leghorn in Italy. But hardly had the Ranger 
cleared the islands when she was captured by four 
English privateers and carried into Nassau. She 
was condemned by the Court of Admiralty, in the 
first place because she had no register, which, 
having been a foreign prize, she could not obtain 

1 8 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

until her arrival in an American port; and secondly, 
because she was bound from a French island. The 
capture greatly aroused Mr. Derby, as, had the 
vessel reached Leghorn, she could have been sold 
with her cargo for fully $70,000. On the advice of 
the leading Massachusetts lawyers, he sent his son 
John to Nassau, in a small vessel, with specie and 
a letter of credit, but he found he could do nothing. 
Mr. Derby accordingly wrote to his counsel in 
London, to try to obtain redress from the home 
government. In this letter he stated that in three 
years fully two hundred colonial vessels had been 
taken into Nassau, that all had been condemned 
except those that were able to pay the court more 
than the captors, and that Admiralty Judge Brad- 
ford and Governor Shirley, who had gone to the 
Bahamas in poverty, left for home with fortunes 
of 30,000. He added that these captures had 
"set the country on fire," and would soon be taken 
up by the Province, and concluded by advising 
that no pains be spared to reverse the decree of the 
court. For a number of years Mr. Derby continued 
his appeal. He sent another vessel to Nassau to 
serve an inhibition on the courts, but he never 
got any satisfaction, and it is safe to say that, 
except for a moderate insurance, this voyage, 

A Chapter of Colonial Commerce 19 

which might have doubled his fortune, was a 
total loss. 1 

These cases clearly show the risks under which 
the colonial merchants carried on their trade, for 
Mr. Derby's losses were not exceptional cases and 
many others suffered far more than he. In fact, 
during the sixteen months between July I, 1760, 
and November I, 1761, no less than twenty-three 
Salem vessels trading to the West Indies were 
captured by the French. But New England ves- 
sels ran as much risk of seizure by English ships 
as by French. Within three years, as has been 
stated above, fully two hundred colonial vessels 
had fallen into the hands of English privateers. 

In view of all these dangers to American ship- 
ping, it is interesting to observe what the rates of 
marine insurance were in those days. It happens 
that there have been preserved a few old insurance 
bills of Mr. Derby's in account with John Higgin- 

1 It is difficult to understand why Mr. Derby should have 
expected to obtain redress in this case. His vessel was clearly 
guilty of trading with the enemy. She may have had a Dutch 
or Spanish registry and on this technicality should have been 
considered a neutral. It is probable, however, that in those 
days almost any unarmed American vessel sailing through the 
West Indies, regardless of where she was bound, ran a risk of 
being captured and carried into Nassau and condemned, un- 
less she could pay the court a satisfactory sum to be released. 

20 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

son, agent, for the period of the Seven Years' War. 
Insurance on the ship Lydia to Madeira in 1760 
was quoted at eleven per cent. The following year, 
on the same vessel from Salem to Jamaica, it was 
fourteen per cent, and ten per cent for the return 
voyage. The higher rate on the Jamaica voyage 
was probably due to the greater likelihood that 
the ship might fall in with a French armed vessel 
while sailing through the West Indies than while 
on the broad Atlantic. It is noticeable also that 
the homeward rate from Jamaica was lower than 
the outward, a condition due probably to the fact 
that on the return voyage, when once a vessel could 
get away from the islands unnoticed, she was 
practically safe, while on the outward voyage as 
she approached the West Indies there was no telling 
when she might be captured. The highest rate of 
insurance recorded during this period was twenty- 
three per cent on the schooner Three Sisters, 
bound from Salem to Monte Cristo, 1 Santo Do- 

1 Monte Cristo is a small town, with an open roadstead on 
the north coast of Santo Domingo, and only a few miles from the 
boundary of Hayti. During the French wars it was illegal for 
American vessels to trade with the French in Hayti, but the 
Yankee merchants eluded this by loading and unloading their 
vessels at Monte Cristo, which was Spanish territory, and 
carrying the goods across into Hayti in lighters. The place 
was known as "the Mont," and in 1760 Admiral Holmes re- 

A Chapter of Colonial Commerce 21 

mingo, while fifteen per cent is quoted for the 
return voyage. 

With such excessively high rates of insurance, 
the profits of these voyages must have been pro- 
portionally large. But it is difficult to learn how 
great they were; for though we have plenty of 
accounts of the sales of cargoes in foreign ports, 
we have no evidence to tell us how much the good 
originally cost. Mr. Derby would buy a certain 
amount of lumber here and a certain amount of 
rum there, some horses in one place, grain in an- 
other, and fish elsewhere, and then store them on 
his wharf. When one of his vessels was ready to sail 
on a voyage he would select from his stock on hand 
various commodities in such amounts and propor- 
tions as he thought might suit the market to which 
she was bound. Thus, we have no basis on w 
to form an estimate of the exact profits of any one 
of his voyages, but we can safely assume that he 
carried on a very successful business in spite of 
his numerous losses. 

By 1763 Mr. Derby appears to have been recog- 
nized as one of the leading citizens of Salem. Not 
far from his wharf he had built a substantial brick 

ports seeing ninety-one Yankee vessels lying in the roads at 
one time. 

22 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

house surrounded by pleasant gardens, where he 
lived with his wife and family of three daughters 
and three sons. His eldest son, Richard, and his 
youngest, John, in early age had been trained 
to the sailor's life. At twenty-four, Richard was 
master of his father's brig Neptune, while John 
was master of a vessel bound to the West Indies, 
when only twenty-three. 1 His second son, Elias 

1 Letter from John Derby to his father after starting on his 
first voyage as master: 

28 March 1763 

HOND. SIR. I am about to wright a Letter that is not agre- 
able to me. Nither will it be to you I beleave. I met with the 
misfortune of loosing all my anker on the Banck & was ablidged 
to put back to Providence to refit & sailed from there 2 days ago 
& this day met Capt. Boudetch from the Havana who tells me of 
the bad marckets there is there. & now Sir I am undertaking a 
thing grait consequence but Sir I hope it will turne out for the 
best but Sir if it does not I hope it will be overloocket by you. 
That is I am about to put away for Charlestown in South Caro- 
lina. I whould have proseaded as far as Havana as it was but 
being afraid of lenthening time & of our wines growing bad 
thought it best to mack the best of our way for Charlestown which 
is all the marckets we have to trust too now. I shall endever to 
macking payable on my arivall at Charlestown. If I should 
think of any whare else that was lickly for a better market I 
whould prosead let it be whare it whould. Excues haist as night 
is coming on. Capt. Boudetch can enform you of aney particulars 
relaiting to my affairs. My duty to you and my mother. 

Your dutiful son 


A Chapter of Colonial Commerce 23 

Hasket, however, never went to sea, but when a 
young man entered his father's counting-room and 
began to master the ways of his father's business. 
Mr. Derby not only engaged extensively in foreign 
trade, but also kept a large wholesale and retail 
store and did a considerable banking business. In 
those days banking was a rather crude operation, 
and in the lack of better facilities was largely car- 
ried on by the merchants. Mr. Derby kept accounts 
with a large number of people in Salem, and if one 
man owed another a certain sum he would give 
his creditor a note on Mr. Derby and the creditor 
could then demand the amount either in cash or 
dry goods or rum or any article he wished, since 
Mr. Derby acted as retail merchant as well as 
banker. Accordingly there may be found among 
the Derby papers many such notes which served 
the purpose of modern bank checks and of which 
the following are some early examples : 

SALEM, February 13. 1760. 

"Friend Derby Pleas to let Barer have the sum 
of six shillings and eight pence in goods and charge 
the same to account of 


24 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

"SALEM, November i6th 1738. 

"Capt darby. Be plesd to let Mr. Robert Smith 
heve one gallon of Rum and Charge the Same to 
the account of yours to Sarve 


Up to 1764 Mr. Derby's prosperous commerce 
seems to have been but slightly affected by the 
trade regulations enacted in England for the colo- 
nies. In 1733, to be sure, Parliament had passed 
the so-called "Molasses Act," which placed practi- 
cally prohibitory duties on all foreign molasses, 
sugar, and rum imported into the colonies, the 
object being to check the trade of the colonies with 
the French West Indies and divert it to the Eng- 
lish West India islands. This act, however, had 
never been enforced with any thoroughness and 
was easily evaded; for, as a recent writer on this 
period very truly says, "Smuggling in the eight- 
eenth century was a respectable and profitable 
occupation." 1 The customs system of the colonies 
had from the very beginning been lax and ineffi- 
cient. The collectors had no power to enforce 
the payment of duties, and many of the officials 
were very unscrupulous. Some even held their 

1 Henry Belcher's First American Civil War. 

A Chapter of Colonial Commerce 25 

offices and drew their pay, although they stayed 
at home in England. Besides all this, the colonists 
were not unwilling to evade taxes that they thought 
unjust. In 1764, however, the first Grenville Act 
was passed, the purpose of which was to raise a 
revenue for "defraying the necessary expences of 
defending, protecting, and securing the British 
colonies and plantations in America." The act 
contained many provisions for raising revenue by 
impost duties, but the taxes which most seriously 
affected Mr. Derby and other colonial merchants 
were those on foreign molasses. Under the Act of 
1733 the duty on foreign molasses imported into 
the colonies had been sixpence a gallon, and was 
so high that, had it been enforced, the trade with 
the French islands would probably have been dis- 
continued. In order to make the new act create a 
revenue, this duty was reduced from six to three- 
pence a gallon and was actually collected, for the 
most important part of the new policy was the 
means for its enforcement. The customs system 
of the colonies was thoroughly reorganized and 
placed on a stable footing. Capable officers were 
appointed and given the authority and power to 
enforce the payment of duties and to bring smug- 
glers to punishment. Mr. Derby gives us an inter- 

26 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

esting insight into the operation of this legislation 
on his trade. "The late Act of Parliament," he 
writes in 1765, "has put it out of the people's power 
to pay money for the necessaries of life, because 
the duties, arising by the late act, have almost 
deprived us of our gold currency already; for all 
the money that is paid for duties is sent home and 
will finally put a stop, if not entirely ruin the trade 
of the country and the people in it." 

The Grenville Act also provided for a great 
increase in the duty upon foreign wine, in order 
that the colonies might be obliged to obtain their 
wine in England rather than directly from the 
Azores or Madeiras. As a result of this legislation, 
we find Mr. Derby ordering the captain of his 
schooner Patty at Madeira not to load wine for 
the return voyage but to obtain good bills of 
exchange on London or Lisbon, and if wine was 
the only return cargo procurable, to buy it at one 
fourth less than the previous year or it would not 
pay the cost of the duties. The Grenville Acts 
laid many other duties, and in 1767-68 the Town- 
send Acts further inconvenienced colonial trade 
by a large number of burdensome customs regu- 
lations. The restrictions of this new policy greatly 
reduced the profits of the colonial merchants, and 

A Chapter of Colonial Commerce 27 

the Grenville and Townsend Acts were among the 
causes for the demand of "No taxation with- 
out representation," which helped to bring on the 



BY 1774 affairs with the mother country had 
begun to assume a serious aspect. The attempts 
to enforce such legislation as the Grenville, Town- 
send, and Stamp Acts had roused the colonies to 
the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea-Party, 
and in 1774 th e S rst Continental Congress had 
assembled and resolved upon retaliatory measures 
to meet those of England. On October 20 of that 
year, the American Association was established, 
which resolved not to import any goods from 
Great Britain into the Continental Colonies after 
December I. Its rules prohibited the importation 
from the British West Indies of molasses, syrups, 
paneles, coffee, pimento, and indigo, and commit- 
tees were chosen in every county, city, and town 
to oversee the carrying-out of this policy against 
England and her West India colonies. The per- 
sons most severely affected were of course the 
merchants, for this was another restriction on 
their trade in addition to the Grenville and Town- 
send Acts. As time went on, many of the leading 

A Merchant's Part in the Revolution 29 

merchants and wealthy people in the Provinces, 
especially those who expressed any partiality for 
the royalist cause, began to find the difficulties of 
trade in America too great and most of them, 
preferring to remain loyal to the home government, 
began to leave for England. At the same time many 
of the wealthy American merchants were ardent 
supporters of the Provincial cause, and by lend- 
ing and giving freely of their resources to the Con- 
tinental Congress were largely instrumental in 
bringing about the successful outcome of the Revo- 
lution. Of this latter class, none were more promi- 
nent than the Derbys, who lent both guns and ships 
to the Continental Government, fitted out priva- 
teers, and in many ways took an active part in the 
defence of their country. In 1774 and 1775, young 
Richard was a member of the Provincial Congress, 
and old Mr. Richard Derby, his father, one of the 
Massachusetts Council. 

It is not unnatural, therefore, to find the Derby 
name connected with one of the first actions that 
led to the Revolution. In February, 1775, General 
Gage sent to Salem a regiment of British soldiers 
under Colonel Leslie, to capture some cannon. 
The soldiers were met at the North River Bridge 
in Salem by a large body of citizens, and tradition 

30 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

says that when the demand was made to deliver 
up the cannon, old Mr. Derby came forward 
and boldly replied, " Find them if you can ! Take 
them if you can ! They will never be surrendered ! " 
This answer appeared to voice the attitude of the 
constantly increasing crowd and the troops prud- 
ently withdrew. 

Less than two months later the battle of Lex- 
ington plunged the Provinces into what Joseph 
Warren termed "the horrours of a most unnatural 
war." At the time few people in America had any 
idea of seceding from England and setting up a 
new nation, but it was felt that this affair at Lex- 
ington was the result of the constant and oppress- 
ive measures of the British ministry. The Amer- 
icans claimed that the engagement had been 
started by the English, and that, far from being 
the aggressors, the Provincials simply had defended 
themselves and their property and were entirely 
within the law. On April 24, five days after the 
battle, General Gage had sent his despatches and 
account of the fight at Lexington and Concord to 
England by the ship Sukey, Captain Brown. The 
members of the Provincial Congress became aware 
of this fact, and in order to prevent the Sukey's 
despatches from operating "a publick injury" for 

A Merchant's Part in the Revolution 31 

the colonies, and in order to keep the English 
people from getting only "a fallacious account of 
the tragedy which they have begun," it was 
resolved to send a fast vessel to England with the 
colonial version of the affair. Every colonist who 
was in the fight was then required to write a per- 
sonal description of the battle, showing that the 
English had begun the engagement, and these depo- 
sitions, together with a public letter to the English 
people, were all to be sent to Franklin and Lee, the 
colonial agents in London. They were to spread them 
broadcast in all the papers and thus bring the Eng- 
lish people to sympathize with the colonial cause. 

Captain Richard Derby, Jr., who was at that 
time a member of the Provincial Congress, com- 
municated this plan to his father, and old Mr. 
Derby immediately offered Congress one of his 
vessels for this service. Accordingly, on April 26, 
the Congress ordered that "Ye Hona bl Richd 
Derby, Esq r be & he hereby is impowered to fit out 
his vessel as a packet to Great Britain in ye Serv- 
ice of this Colony & to Charge ye Colony with ye 
Hire of ye Vessel & all other expenses which he shall 
be at for port charges Victuelling, necessaries &c." * 

The vessel selected by Mr. Derby for this voy- 
1 Massachusetts Archives, vol. 66, p. 546. 

32 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

age was the little schooner Quero 1 of sixty-two 
tons, a fast sailer, and one that could be quickly 
fitted out without causing any suspicion. For her 
master he selected his son John. On April 27 Con- 
gress gave him his orders as follows : 

"In Committee of Safety, April 27, 1775. Re- 
solved, That Captain Derby be directed, and he 
hereby is directed, to make for Dublin, or any 
other good port in Ireland, and from thence cross 
to Scotland or England, and hasten to London. 
This direction is given, that so he may escape all 
cruisers that may be in the chops of the channel, 
to stop the communication of the provincial intel- 
ligence to the agent. He will forthwith deliver his 
papers to the agent on reaching London. 

"J. WARREN, Chairman. 

"P.S. You are to keep this order a profound 
secret from every person on earth." 

The following day Captain John Derby took the 
depositions and letters, and during the night of 
the 28th of April he sailed on his voyage, bearing 

1 We do not find the Quero mentioned in any of Mr. Derby's 
papers except in connection with this voyage. Possibly this was 
a vessel hired by him, or it may have been one of his many West 
India traders with her name changed just for this voyage. 

A Merchant's Part in the Revolution 33 

news which was destined to throw a country into 
consternation. The expedition had been organized 
with the utmost secrecy so that the British cruisers 
patrolling the coast would not get wind of it, and 
it is even stated that the crew did not know where 
they were bound until they were off the Banks of 
Newfoundland. As the Quero carried no cargo 
and had favorable winds, she arrived off the Isle 
of Wight after a passage of twenty-nine days. On 
May 28, Captain Derby appeared in London and 
deposited his written affidavits 1 of the battle in 
the hands of the Lord Mayor. General Gage's 
despatches had not yet arrived, and thus Captain 
Derby brought to England the first news of the 
commencement of hostilities. The effect it pro- 
duced may be best observed by quoting from 
contemporaries. Ex-Governor Hutchinson of 
Massachusetts, who was then in London, wrote 
in his "Diary": "Capn. Darby came to town last 
evening. He is sent by the Provincial Congress in 
a vessel in ballast, to publish here their account of 
an action between the troops and the inhabitants 
on the iQth of April. A vessel which sailed four 
days before with dispatches from Gage is not 

1 The originals of these affidavits are now among the Arthur 
Lee manuscripts in the Harvard Library. 

34 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

arrived. The opposition here rejoice that the 
Americans fight, after it had been generally said 
they would not. I carried the news to Lord Dart- 
mouth, 1 who was much struck with it. The first 
accounts were very unfavorable, it not being 
known that they all came from one side. The 
alarm abated before night, and we wait with a 
greater degree of calmness for the accounts from 
the other side." 2 A private letter from London 
dated a few days later said, "The intelligence of 
Captain Darby of the defeat of General Gage's 
men under Lord Percy by the Americans on the 
iQth of April last has given very general pleasure 
here, as the newspapers will testify. 'T is not with 
certainty that one can speak of the disposition of 
people in England with respect to the contest with 
America, though we are clear that the friends of 
America increase every day, particularly since the 
above intelligence. It is believed the ministers 
have not as yet formed any plan in consequence 
of the action of April 19. They are in total confu- 
sion and consternation and wait for General Gage's 
despatches by Captain Brown." 3 
These two extracts illustrate the excitement 

1 Secretary of State. 2 Hutchinson's Diary , p. 456. 

8 Essex Institute Historical Collections, vol. 36, p. 10. 

A Merchant's Part in the Revolution 35 

into which England had been thrown by Captain 
Derby's arrival. Stocks fell and general uneasiness 
prevailed. Many people, however, especially in 
official circles, were inclined to discredit the report, 
or at any rate to consider it a gross exaggeration. 
In order to dispel any doubt on the matter, Arthur 
Lee, the Massachusetts agent, published a state- 
ment in the London papers to the effect that any 
one calling at the Lord Mayor's could see the 
affidavits and the copies of the Salem "Gazette" 
giving an account of the engagement. 

Two days later Lord Dartmouth, the Secretary 
of State, summoned Derby to come before him 
and give a verbal account of the affair, for a gen- 
eral desire had been expressed that the bearer of 
such alarming news should be "taken up and 
examined." But Captain Derby was nowhere to 
be found. He had disappeared as suddenly and 
as quietly as he had come. The interest in his 
actions is shown by the following extract from 
Hutchinson's "Diary": "It is said that Darby 
left his lodgings the first instant and is supposed 
to have sailed and that he had a letter of credit 
from Lane on some house in Spain. Mr. Pownall 1 
sent to Southampton to inquire, and the collector 
1 Assistant Secretary of State. 

36 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

knew of no such vessel there. It is supposed he 
left her in some small harbor or inlet and came in 
his boat to Southampton. Pownall was of opinion 
Darby was gone to Spain to purchase ammuni- 
tion, arms, &c. Darby has said to some that he 
had a vessel gone or going to Spain with a cargo of 
fish: to others that he was going for a load of 
mules." 1 It was not till June 9, or two weeks after 
Derby had delivered his news, that the Sukey 
arrived with General Gage's despatches, which 
confirmed the previous accounts of the battle. In 
the meantime, Captain Derby was well on his way 
home again. Leaving London on June I, he had 
gone by post-chaise to Falmouth, where he joined 
the Quero and set sail before England had got over 
the first excitement caused by his information. On 
July 1 8 he arrived in Salem, and proceeding imme- 
diately to Headquarters at Cambridge, gave Wash- 
ington the first account of the effect produced 
in London by the news of the battle. Captain 
Derby's statements of expenditures on this interest- 
ing voyage are still preserved in the State House 
at Boston and include his bill for personal time 
and service, which he modestly puts down as "o." 
Though the colonies now found themselves 

1 Hutchinson's Diary, p. 464. 


Merchant of Salem ^From the portrait painted in 1809 by Gilbert Stuart 

A Merchant's Part in the Revolution 37 

engaged in a war with the mother country, the 
conditions of trade were not yet particularly 
affected. The following letter from Mr. Richard 
Derby, Senior, to one of his captains in the West 
Indies gives an interesting idea of affairs at that 


SALEM, May ye 9, 1775. 

"Capt. Danl. Hathorn of Schooner Patty, West 

" I suppose you will be glad to hear from home, 
but things are in such a confused state I know not 
what to write you. Boston is now blocked up by at 
least 30,000 men. We have had no action since 
ye 19 of April which was very bloody. They, ye 
Regulars, came out in ye night, silently up Cam- 
bridge river, and got almost to Concord before 
day, so that ye country had a very short time to 
get out. Had we had one hour longer not a soul 
of those bloodthirsty creatures would ever have 
reached Boston. However, they got a dire drub- 
bing so that they have not played ye Yankee tune 
since. We have lost a number of brave men but we 
have killed, taken and rendered justice, I believe, 
at least 8 to I, and I believe such a spirit never was, 
everybody striving to excel. We have no Tories, 
saving what is now shut up in Boston or gone off. 

38 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

There hath not been as yet any stopping of ye 
trade, so I would have you get a load of molasses 
as good and cheap and as quick as you can and 
proceed home. If you have not sold and ye markets 
are bad where you are, you have liberty to proceed 
any other ways, either to ye Mole, Jamaica, or to 
make a fresh bottom, or anything else that you 
may think likely to help ye voyage, but always to 
keep your money in your own hands." 

The Derbys, however, were not destined to con- 
tinue their prosperous commerce during such 
turbulent days without interruption, and in the 
winter of 1775-76 they began to suffer a number 
of serious losses. The first of these was the capture 
of their schooner Jamaica Packet, Captain Inger- 
soll. While on a passage to Salem from the north 
side of Jamaica she was taken by a British cruiser 
and carried into Boston. Mr. Derby thus describes 
the affair: "The captain who took him [i. e., Cap- 
tain Ingersoll] deprived him of all his papers, and 
kept them until the trial came on, when the bill 
of stores was missing from the papers. The court 
condemned one cask of rum and one cask of sugar 
for want of the bill of stores, but acquitted the 
vessel and cargo. Captain Ingersoll could not get 

A Merchant's Part in the Revolution 39 

leave to sell the cargo. He applied, from time to 
time, to have the interest delivered, and could not 
succeed; but after a time, and when the enemy 
were near leaving Boston, he obtained leave to 
sell so much of his cargo as would be sufficient to 
repair his vessel, with a view to leave Boston with 
the fleet, which he was desirous of doing, hoping 
thus to save the interest. When the fleet and army 
were leaving Boston, they came and took most of 
the rum on board the transports; the soldiers and 
sailors, and others, came in the time of confusion 
and cut his sails from the yards, and made them 
into bags ; they cut the hoops from the hogsheads 
of sugar, and took most of it away. Not being 
satisfied with that, the day they quitted the town 
they came and cut the fasts from the wharf, when 
the schooner drove down river and went ashore 
on one of the islands, and was there burned by 
the British, by which I lost better than 3000 

By this time practically the entire business of 
the house was managed by Mr. Derby's second son, 
Elias Hasket, and the old gentleman had largely 
retired from active affairs. The capture of this 
vessel made young Mr. Derby very nervous lest 
he should lose more of his property, for he had 

40 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

three vessels in the West Indies ready to sail for 
home. They were at Hispaniola, in charge of Cap- 
tain Nathaniel Silsbee, one of his most trusted 
shipmasters. During February, 1776, the Derbys 
sent Captain Allen Hallet to St. Nicholas Mole, 
Hayti, in the schooner Nancy, with a credit for 
500 to 1000 to be laid out to the best advantage. 
A long letter was also sent to Captain Silsbee in 
regard to the management of the vessels in his 
charge. This letter fortunately has been preserved, 
and not only shows the anxiety felt by the Derbys 
for the safety of their property, but gives an 
insight into the methods of carrying on com- 
merce during the Revolution. Elias Hasket Derby 
writes : 

"If this letter should meet you at the Mole, you 
may ship me, by any vessels bound to Cape Ann, 
Newbury, Ipswich, or near to it, some cotton, 
cocoa, sugar, molasses, duck, cordage, powder, 
or any other article you think may answer, as I 
make no doubt that any goods will make 100 per 
cent. But do not send any indigo, as that is con- 
trary to the association, but any foreign goods you 
have a right to bring. 

"Worsted stockings & Middleing Linen for 
shirting is at Present much wanted, as is Pins, 

A Merchant's Part in the Revolution 41 

Silk & Cotton Handkfs. & writing Paper, all which 
articles is worth at least 150 per cent, more than 
common, and 150 Sterling well layd out in such 
articles will leave more Proffitt than any Westindia 
goods, but they must not come (in a vessel) with 
an English Clearance, & neither must any of them 
be taken from Jamaica, as it would be in direct 
Violation of the Association, which I do not mean 
to break." 1 

Of Captain Hallet he writes : 

"I shall depend on your advising him in all mat- 
ters. He has no Clearance & therefore suppose it 
not safe to go to Jamaica for a Clearance, but you 
will judge of that. He has two Registers & if you 
think it safe & Best he may go down to Jamaica 
as from the Mole in Ballast belonging to Dominica, 
but I suppose he may be as safe with a Cargo of 
Molasses, Sugar, Cocoa, & Cotton from the Mole 
without any Clearance at all, Provided it is con- 
signed to some Merchant in Nova Scotia & the 
French Clearance to agree with that. The reaison 
of my wanting his Papers so, is I think if he is 
taken there, he must be safe if he is leased to that 
government. I have ordered Hallett to throw all 
the Papers over in case he gets taken, but I do not 

1 The American Association. See page 28. 

42 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

think of loosing her as the Schooner sails very fast. 
If not taken & if he meets an Easterly Wind, as it 
will be the right season of the year for it, he will 
stand a good chance to get into some of our Har- 
bours on the North Shore, & I am well assured if 
he does well & has a good Cargo of Goods, he will 
make not less than 100 per cent after Paying the 
Insurance and charge which at present is high. 
I have insured the Schooner out & while she lay 
at the Mole against all Risques at ten per ct. but 
if she goes to Jamaica it is to be 5 per ct. more, so 
that the Insurance down will be not less than 100 
Dollars. At present I have not made Insurance 
home as suppose I cannot at this time get it 
done under 25 per ct. & shall not make any at 
present for by the last acct. from England it seems 
they are tired of this unnatural War, but of that 
you can form a much better judgement than we 
can here, as it is seldom we have accounts that are 
to be depended on. 

"There are many difficulties in carrying on busi- 
ness at this time, and I should be sorry to hear of 
your going to Halifax, or of doing anything, how- 
ever small, contrary to the Association of the Con- 
tinent; and you may depend upon it, that if the 
present dispute should continue the next summer, 

A Merchant's Part in the Revolution 43 

that there will be no less than 100 sail of privateers 
out from the continent, and I suppose the interest 
of mine, as Jamaica or Halifax property, must 
share the fate of other things, if taken. But may 
the Almighty Disposer of all things order the coun- 
cils of the wicked administration to come to 
Mr. Derby concludes by saying: 

"The times at present are such I cannot deter- 
mine what will be for the best, and must therefore 
leave it wholly to you, not doubting the business 
will be conducted with care. Should so large a 
fleet come on this coast in the spring as is talked of, 
I should think it not best to ship so much to the 
Northward or otherwise: but it is now said that 
commissioners are appointed to come over to ac- 
commodate affairs, but I doubt it. I commit you 
to the Almighty's protection, not doubting that 
we shall once more carry on business at Salem in 
peace and safety. 

"From your friend 


Captain Silsbee disposed of Captain Hallet's 
cargo, quickly procured a return one for him, and 

44 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

about March 20, the Nancy started for home. In 
the latter part of April she arrived safely at Fal- 
mouth (now Portland), Maine, where the cargo 
was sold to great advantage. Captain Silsbee sent 
word to Mr. Derby by Captain Hallet that he 
would "visit Jamaica to learn the latest news," 
and govern himself accordingly, and that he would 
not ship the principal part of the property until he 
could do so with safety. But it was impossible to 
carry on commerce at that time in safety, and 
though Silsbee used his best judgment, the vigil- 
ance of the British cruisers was too great. During 
the spring, when he sent the three Derby vessels 
North, two of them fell into the hands of the 
enemy. This disaster brought Elias Hasket Derby 
to a decision. Up to that time he had indulged in 
peaceful commerce alone; henceforth, if he wished 
to retain his position on the seas, he must meet 
the enemy with force. 

In June, 1776, he fitted out his schooner Sturdy 
Beggar, of ninety tons, as an armed vessel, with six 
carriage guns and a crew of twenty-five men. On 
June 13, the Massachusetts Council gave Peter 
Lander his commission to command the vessel and 
"to make Reprisals on the Enemys of the united 
Colonys of North America agreeable to the Laws 

A Merchant's Part in the Revolution 45 

and Regulations of this Country." 1 A few days 
later the Sturdy Beggar sailed from Salem, being 
one of the first privateers commissioned in Massa- 
chusetts during the Revolution. Of this voyage 
no record now remains, but in September Mr. 
Derby fitted out, in company with Miles Green- 
wood, of Salem, his West India trader Revenge, 
armed with twelve guns, which made a very suc- 
cessful cruise, taking "four Jamaicamen, laden 
with 733 hogsheads of sugar, besides other 

One might suppose that this success would have 
encouraged Mr. Derby to engage more extensively 
in privateering, but he does not appear to have sent 
out another armed vessel till the following year. 
By the autumn of 1777 all hopes of a peaceful 
settlement between England and the Provinces 
had disappeared, and Mr. Derby became one of 
the most active men in New England in fitting out 
privateers. Of the one hundred and fifty-eight 
armed vessels equipped at the port of Salem dur- 
ing the Revolution, he appears as owner or part 
owner of twenty-five, and without doubt he had 
shares in twice as many more. 2 At the same time 

1 Massachusetts Archives, vol. 164, p. 391. 

2 Armed vessels fitted out by Elias Hasket Derby during the 

46 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

he continued to send some of his vessels on trading 
voyages, for every sort of commodity was in great 
demand and high prices awaited the merchant 
who was courageous enough to engage in foreign 
commerce. These vessels were always well armed 
and equipped with a "letter of marque" which 
allowed them to capture any of the enemy's ves- 

Revolution, with dates when commissioned (Massachusetts 
Archives) : 


June 13 

Sch. Sturdy Beggar,* 



Sept. 4 

Sloop Revenge, 



Oct. 8 

Sloop Rover, 



Dec. 19 

Schooner Congress, 

letter of marque 


Dec. 22 

Sch. Centipede, 



Jan. 21 
Feb. 25 

Sloop Patty, 
Sch. Scorpion, 


Apr. 10 

Sch. Lexington, 


Apr. 18 
May 22 

Brigt. Franklin, 
Sch. Centipede, 


July 20 

Sch. Congress, 


July 23 

Sch. Scorpion, 


Oct. 16 

Brigt. Franklin 


Mar. 29 
Mar. 30 

Ship Oliver Cromwell,* 
Brigt. Franklin, 


Apr. 15 

Ship Hunter, 


Apr. 15 

Brigt. Fame, 


Aug. 3 

Brigt. Roebuck, 


Aug. 3 

Sch. Centipede, 


Oct. 28 

Ship Three Sisters, 

letter o 



Nov. 25 

Ship Salem Packet, 


Nov. 25 

Sloop Nancy, 


Mar. 22 
Apr. 18 

Brigt. Basket & John, 
Brigt. Lexington, 


Apr. 18 

Brigt. Fame, 


Aug. $ 
Sept. 25 

Brigt. Hasket & John,* 
Sloop Morning Star, 



June 13 

Ship Grand Turk, 



Sept. 4 
Sept. 29 
Sept. 29 

Brigt. Young Richard, 
Ship Grand Turk, 
Ship Patty, 

letter of marque 
letter of marque 


Nov. 29 

Ship Salem Packet, 



Nov. 29 

Brigt. Lexington, 



Feb. 12 

Ship Exchange,* 



Feb. 2 
May 9 

Sch. Fly, 
Brigt. Lexington, 



June 29 

Ship Patty, 

letter of marque 


June 29 

Ship Salem Packet,* 



Dec. 16 

Ship Astrea, 


part owner 




* Captured by the enemy. 

A Merchant's Part in the Revolution 47 

sels they might fall in with while on the voyage. 
As a result of these many ventures, Mr. Derby 
found the Revolution a period of great profit. To 
be sure, five of his vessels were captured, but his 
privateers took many valuable prizes and his 
trading vessels, sailing as "letters of marque," 
made a number of profitable voyages. Samuel 
Curwen wrote of Salem in 1780: "Those who five 
years ago were the meaner people, are now, by a 
strange revolution become almost the only men 
of power, riches, and influence. The Cabots of 
Beverly, who, you know, had but five years ago a 
very moderate share of property, are now said to 
be by far the most wealthy in New England; 
Hasket Derby claims the second place in the list." 
He adds, "E. H. Derby's province tax is 11,000, 
and his neighbors complain he is not half taxed." 1 
As the war progressed, however, Mr. Derby 
began to engage less in privateering, and, convert- 
ing most of his ships into "letters of marque," he 
sent them trading with fully as much chance of 
material profit as though he had continued in 
privateering. A glance at the prices of standard 
commodities during the war shows how much was 
to be gained by a successful commercial voyage. 
1 S. Curwen's Journal and Letters, p. 234. 

48 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

In 1780 Curwen wrote: "In New England a dollar 
bill is worthy only 2 2-3 of an English half penny. 
Pins at is. apiece, needles at 2s., beef 2s. 6d., veal 
25., mutton and lamb, is. 6d., butter 6s. per lb., 
rum eight dollars per gallon, molasses two dollars, 
brown sugar IDS. per lb., loaf sugar 155., Bohea 
tea seven dollars per lb., coifee five dollars, Irish 
pork sixty dollars per barrel, lemons 35. apiece, 
wood twenty dollars a cord, ordinary French cloth 
twenty-two dollars a yard, hose nine dollars a pair. 
A suit of clothes which cost five guineas here (Eng- 
land), would cost five hundred dollars in Boston." 
Although, as the war went on, Mr. Derby grad- 
ually withdrew his vessels from privateering, in 
1781 he had a large ship of three hundred tons 
built at Salem expressly for a privateer. This 
vessel was the Grand Turk and was destined to be 
one of the most famous ships ever owned in Salem. 
She was designed for speed and yet had good carry- 
ing capacity, and her armament of twenty-four 
guns made her a regular man-of-war. On June 
13, 1 78 1, Thomas Simmons received his commission 
to command her, and such was the general desire 
to be a member of her crew that, within three days 
after the notices were posted, more than one hun- 
dred of the one hundred and twenty men required 

A Merchant's Part in the Revolution 49 

had signed the articles. No record has been pre- 
served of her first cruise, but in September she 
sailed again under the command of Captain Joseph 
Pratt, and making her way towards the English 
Channel, she fell in with the sugar-laden ship 
Mary, off the Irish coast. The vessel was home- 
ward bound from Jamaica and was an easy prey 
for the Grand Turk. A prize crew was placed on 
board, and the two vessels started for Bilboa, but 
before they reached that port they fell in with the 
brig John Grace, which the Grand Turk captured. 
On arrival at Bilboa the two prizes were sold and 
netted $65,802. On her return to Salem, the 
Grand Turk refitted and sailed on another cruise 
under Captain Pratt, this time to the West Indies. 
Again she captured several prizes, one being the 
twenty-gun ship Pompey, from London. These 
vessels were all carried into the French West India 
islands and sold, and the proceeds were remitted 
to Salem. 

In the mean time Mr. Derby had another ship 
constructed which was even larger than the Grand 
Turk. He named her the Astrea and fitted her out 
as a "letter of marque" under the command of his 
brother, John Derby. During the latter part of 
December, 1782, she sailed for France, and made 

So Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

the passage across the Atlantic in the fast time of 
eighteen days, although she stopped to capture an 
English brigantine on the way. Shortly after her 
arrival at Nantes, the preliminaries of peace be- 
tween England and the United States were signed 
at Paris. Captain Derby, therefore, made all haste 
to discharge and reload. On March 12, after some 
delays, the Astrea finally got to sea, and twenty- 
two days later arrived in Salem. Until then no 
knowledge of the peace had reached the United 
States, and thus Captain John Derby, who had 
the distinction of being the first to carry the news 
of the outbreak of hostilities to England, was also 
the first to bring to America the news of the declar- 
ation of peace. A fortnight after Captain Derby's 
arrival, hostilities ceased and the war came to a 



THE successful voyages of the Derby vessels, 
cruising as privateers or trading as "letters-of- 
marque" during the Revolution, had materially 
increased the wealth and importance of the house 
and placed it in a position to carry on a far more 
extensive commerce than in colonial days. At the 
close of the war the Derby fleet consisted of the 
ships Grand Turk and Astrea, and the brigs Henry, 
Three Sisters, and Cato, in place of the seven small 
sloops and schooners of which it consisted in 1775. 
Previous to the Revolution the principal part of 
the Derby trade had been to the West Indies, the 
Spanish Peninsula, and the Western Islands, and 
with his little sloops and schooners Mr. Richard 
Derby, Senior, had built up a comfortable fortune 
in commerce to those places. A few months after 
the end of the war the old merchant died, honored 
by his townspeople and all who knew him. It was 
fortunate that he lived to witness the independence 
of his country, for he was always a sound Whig 

52 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

and an ardent patriot, and during the Revolution 
both lent and gave freely his vessels, guns, money, 
and other property to the Continental Govern- 
ment. At his death, his son, Elias Hasket Derby, 
who since 1772 had largely managed the affairs 
of the house, took entire charge of the business. 
Hostilities had ended, and that short period of 
peace which lasted in western Europe from 1783 
to 1793 was beginning. With a fleet of five staunch 
ships Elias Hasket embarked at once upon new and 
broader fields of commerce, and under his skilful 
and energetic management, his vessels within a few 
years were carrying the Derby flag to the distant 
markets of the Far East, and the Derby house had 
become one of the leading mercantile establish- 
ments of America. 

Elias Hasket took charge of the business of the 
house in the summer of 1783, and one of his first 
ventures was to send the Astrea to London. She 
was the first Derby vessel to go to England on a 
commercial voyage. The ship left Salem in August, 
1783, first proceeding to Alexandria, Virginia, 
where she loaded with tobacco. Mr. Derby con- 
signed the cargo to Messrs. Lane & Fraser, of 
London, with whom his father in colonial days 
always had lodged funds which could be drawn 



Merchant of Salem. From the portrait by James Frothingham in the 
Peabody Museum, Salem 

American Commerce in the Far East 53 

upon by his captains wherever they might be. 
On arrival in London the tobacco was sold at a 
good profit. A return cargo of English goods was 
then shipped, and the vessel returned to Salem. 

Encouraged by the success of the Astrea's voy- 
age, Mr. Derby now decided to enter more ex- 
tensively upon the trade to Europe. The following 
season he seems to have sent two of his brigs to 
England with tobacco. At the same time he de- 
cided on a voyage to a part of the world hitherto 
unvisited by a vessel bearing the American flag. 
In the spring of 1784 he bought a fine English- 
built ship of two hundred and sixty-six tons named 
the Light Horse, which had been captured during 
the war. Having loaded her, he despatched her 
from Salem on June 15, for St. Petersburg, Russia. 
"This vessel and her cargo of sugars," wrote Mr. 
Derby to Lane & Fraser, "cost me 8000 sterling, 
. and as the voyage is new to us in this quarter of 
the world, I wish you to make me 3000 sterling 
insurance." In August the Light Horse reached 
Cronstadt, the port of St. Petersburg, and was the 
first ship to display the Stars and Stripes in the 
Baltic Sea. Unfortunately, however, her sugar did 
not meet with a ready sale, and Jiad to be disposed 
of at a loss. The funds received were laid out in a 

54 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

return cargo of canvas, duck, hemp, and iron. 
Towards the end of September the Light Horse 
sailed for Salem, where she arrived November 28, 
1784. Although this pioneer voyage had not been 
a success financially, it was certainly valuable as a 
means of teaching Mr. Derby the character of the 
Baltic market. Messrs. Gale, Hill & Carzalet, of 
St. Petersburg, who managed the business of the 
Light Horse while at Cronstadt, wrote to Mr. 
Derby a letter of advice for his guidance if he 
should send another vessel to those parts. They 
told him that it was better to have letters of credit 
on London than to bring goods with which to buy 
a cargo, for practically the only saleable articles 
at St. Petersburg were coffee, sugar, and rice, and 
even for these commodities only a very limited 
market was offered. The principal goods for export 
were hemp, sailcloth, duck, cordage, and iron. 

There are several reasons to account for this 
sudden expansion of Mr. Derby's trade. One cause 
was that the declaration of peace made it possible 
to carry on commerce with England and North 
Europe without much fear of capture. Before 
the Revolution the trade between the colonies and 
England was to a considerable extent carried on in 
English bottoms, whereas in the decade after the 

American Commerce in the Far East 55 

Revolution, at Salem at least, practically no Eng- 
lish vessels arrived or cleared. This was probably 
due to the fact that the American merchants pre- 
ferred to use their own vessels and did their best 
to exclude English ships from American trade. 
This feeling towards England expressed itself in 
Massachusetts in an act of June 23, 17,85, which 
prohibited the exportation of any goods from that 
state in British vessels. Furthermore a duty of 
seven shillings a ton in addition to the regular 
tariff was levied on all goods which were imported 
into Massachusetts in a foreign vessel. Although 
this act was repealed a year later, being "rendered 
inefficacious for want of cooperation of our Sister 
States," it shows the attitude of the people of 
Massachusetts at that time. Another reason why 
Mr. Derby had extended his business to new 
fields was the exclusion of American vessels from 
trade to the British West Indies. Under the Eng- 
lish Navigation Acts, the colonial ships had shared 
with English vessels a monopoly of the commerce 
to those islands. But when the United States 
achieved her independence, her ships, like those of 
any other foreign nation, were not permitted to 
trade with these British colonies. Thus a valuable 
market for American commerce was lost, and a 

56 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

new field for the employment of vessels hitherto 
in that trade had to be sought. 

Taking these facts into account, it is not sur- 
prising to find that in November, 1784, five months 
after the Light Horse had sailed for the Baltic, 
Mr. Derby cleared his ship Grand Turk for the 
Cape of Good Hope, under the command of Cap- 
tain Jonathan Ingersoll. This was the first voyage 
from Salem to that part of the world, although 
not the first from the United States. In the latter 
part of the seventeenth and the early years of the 
eighteenth century, a number of New York mer- 
chants carried on a fairly extensive trade with the 
pirates who infested the seas about Madagascar. 
American products were taken out in New York 
vessels and exchanged for Eastern goods which 
the pirates had captured from vessels in the Indian 
seas. 1 Philadelphia also seems to have had some 
trade beyond the Cape of Good Hope before the 
v\ f Revolution. In 1783 the ship Empress of China 
I had sailed from JNew York tor Canton, being the 
first American vessel to go to China. When, in 
March, 1785, she stopped at the Cape of Good 
Hope on her way home, she found the Grand Turk 
lying there. Major Samuel Shaw, the pioneer 

1 Channing's History of the United States, vol. u, pp. 263-71. 

American Commerce in the Far East 57 

American merchant in the China trade and after- 
wards United States Consul to China, was super- 
cargo of the Empress of China, and in his journal 
tells of the Derby ship. "Captain IngersolPs 
object," writes Major Shaw, "was to sell rum, 
cheese, salt provisions, chocolate, loaf sugar, but- 
ter, &c., the proceeds of which, in money, with 
a quantity of ginseng, and some cash brought with 
him, he intended to invest in Bohea tea; but as the 
ships bound to Europe are not allowed to break 
bulk on the way, he was disappointed in his expec- 
tations of procuring that article, and sold his 
ginseng for two thirds of a Spanish dollar a pound, 
which is twenty per cent better than the silver 
money of the Cape. He intended remaining a 
short time to purchase fine teas in the private 
trade, allowed the officers on board India ships, 
and then to sail to the coast of Guinea, to dispose 
of his rum, &c., for ivory and gold-dust, thence, 
without taking a single slave, to proceed to the 
West Indies, and purchase sugar and cotton, with 
which he would return to Salem. Notwithstanding 
the disappointment in the principal object of the 
voyage and the consequent determination to go 
to the coast of Guinea, his resolution not to 
endeavor to retrieve it by purchasing slaves did 

5 8 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

the captain great honor, and reflected equal credit 
upon his owner, who, he assured me, would rather 
sink the whole capital employed than directly or 
indirectly be concerned in so infamous a trade." * 

Captain Ingersoll, having disposed of all his 
cargo except his rum, was about to sail for the 
Guinea Coast when the British East Indiaman 
Calcutta came into port. Her captain had on 
board two hundred chests of Hyson tea on his own 
account, which Captain Ingersoll persuaded him 
to exchange for the Grand Turk's New England 
rum and a small amount of specie. Ingersoll on 
his part agreed to deliver the rum for the English- 
man at St. Helena. Accordingly as soon as he had 
loaded the tea, Ingersoll set sail and on May 4 
arrived at the island of St. Helena where he landed 
the rum. From there the Grand Turk proceeded to 
the West Indies to complete her cargo by loading 
sugar, and on July 26 she arrived at Salem. 

Although, like the voyage of the Light Horse 
to the Baltic, this first venture of Mr. Derby's to 
the southern hemisphere did not result in great 
profits, it gave him an idea of the state of the mar- 
kets in distant parts of the world. While at the 

1 Journals of Major Samuel Shaw (edited by Josiah Quincy), 
p. 208. 

American Commerce in the Far East 59 

Cape, Captain Ingersoll had learned of the possi- 
bilities of trade at the Isle of France, or Mauritius. 
This small island and its neighbor, the Isle of Bour- 
bon, lie in the Indian Ocean about five hundred 
miles east of Madagascar, directly in the sailing 
route around the Cape of Good Hope to the 
East Indies. In/j^i, at the advice of Colbert at 
the French Court, France took possession of the 
islands, and a settlement was made first on the 
Isle of Bourbon. In 1722 Port Louis, on the Isle of 
France, was founded, which soon became import- 
ant as a way station for ships of the French East 
India Company bound from France to the French 
possessions in India. The culture of sugar, coffee, 
and other products was established; and before 
long considerable trade grew up. The French 
Company, however, held a monopoly of the trade 
of all the French possessions in the East Indies, 
so that theirs were practically the only commercial 
vessels that ever called at the islands. However, 
in 1783 France had extended to American vessels 
the privilege of touching at the Isle of France for 
provisions, and in a decree of November 30, 1784, 
this privilege was further extended by permitting 
American vessels to land American produce at the 
Isles of France and Bourbon and to load the pro- 

60 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

duce of those islands or the East Indies in return. 1 
Mr. Derby was not slow to appreciate the advan- 
tages of this decree and the possibility of a lucra- 
tive trade. Accordingly, soon after the return of 
the Grand Turk from the Cape of Good Hope in 
July, he decided to despatch her in the fall to the 
Isle of France. In the mean tinljp he began gather- 
ing together a miscellaneous cargo of brandy, rum, 
butter, cheese, flour, beef, pork, candles, and vari- 
ous groceries. During the summer he wrote to 
Messrs. Lane & Fraser in London asking them to 
insure the vessel, and their reply of May 4, 1786, 
shows how such a voyage was regarded by the 
underwriters : 

"We could not effect the Insurance you ordered 
on the Ship Grand Turk & Cargo, Eben r West 
Master, from Salem to the Isle of France & back; 
our Underwriters are not fond of the risque, it 
being a new trade to the Americans most of the 
Ships in this kind of business are very particularily 
describ'd, & the Masters & Seamen well acquainted 
with Navigation, besides there was another material 
objection which was the uncertainty how long 
Capt. West was likely to be out as it might not be 
in his power to procure a loading at the Isle of 

1 Auber's Constitution of the East India Company, p. 1 1. 

American Commerce in the Far East 61 

France; in short we do not think that under the 
most favourable circumstance of Ship & Crew we 
should have been able to have cover'd your prop- 
erty under 10 gs. per ct. we give you the earliest 
notice of this that you may get part of your 
property insured at Boston or Salem." 

The command of the vessel was given to Captain 
Ebenezer West, and Mr. William Vans was ap- 
pointed supercargo. On December 3, 1785, the 
Grand Turk sailed, being, so far as any records 
show, the first vessel to clear from Salem for ports 
beyond the Cape of Good Hope. The following is 
the manifest of her cargo: 


. s. d. 

10 Bbls. of Pitch 12 o o 

10 " Tar 8 10 o 

75 " Superfine Flour 180 o o 

6 Tierces of Rice 38 i 4 

35 Hogsheads Tobacco 686 10 9 

49 Furkins New York Butter 140 4 2 

20 Casks Claret Wine 90 o o 

483 Bars Iron 300 o o 

62 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 




12 Hogsheads Loaf Sugar 




50 Cases of Oil 



20 Boxes Chocolate 


22 " Prunes 




20 Crates Earthenware 



26 Casks Brandy 




163 1-2 bbls. of Beef 




9 Casks Ginsang 



30 Puncheons Granada Rum 




42 Casks Coniac Brandy 




7 " Bacon & Hams 



7 Boxes English Mold Candles 




50 " Spermacety Candles 




100 " Mould Candles 




27 " Tallow Candles 




32 " Soap 




478 Furkins Butter 




579 Boxes Cheese 




123 1-2 Bbls. Pork 




38 Kegs of Beef 



25 Baskets Aniseed 


14 Hogshds New Eng. Rum high 

proof 152 



20 1-2 " " " " " 

" 132 



6 Casks Cheese 




20 Hogshds Fish 



42 Bbls. of Beer 



4 Tierces of Bottled Beer 




4 " " Porter 



9 Kegs of Pork 



Amount of Cargo 




American Commerce in the Far East 63 

"~Z 7. I 
Ship Turk with Stores Wages & 

outfits for Voyage 2000 o o 

Light Cash 16 14 5 

9200 o o 

After a rather stormy passage, the Grand Turk 
arrived at the Cape of Good Hope on February 23. 
Here a small part of the cargo was sold and a 
consignment of hides taken in exchange, to be 
called for on the return voyage. On March 17 
she continued on her way, and about a month 
later arrived at the Isle of France. Unfortu- 
nately the demand for the cargo was not so 
great as Captain West and Mr. Vans had anti- 
cipated, so they decided to wait for better pro- 
spects. They wrote Mr. Derby that if the market 
continued bad they might go on to Batavia, in the 
Dutch East Indies. The cargo, however, was grad- 
ually disposed of at the Isle of France, but the 
price of coffee and sugar, which were the two im- 
portant exports of the island, remaining high, Mr. 
Vans was at a loss to obtain a return cargo. While 
thus situated, he was approached by a French 
merchant of the island, Sebier de la Chataignerais 
by name, who offered to charter two thirds space 
in the Grand Turk to carry freight from the Isle of 

64 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

France to Canton, and thence back to Boston, and 
agreed to pay all the port charges in China. Mr. 
Vans, seeing in this a chance to make a profitable 
voyage out of a poor one, accepted the merchant's 
offer, and having taken on board the freight, the 
Grand Turk sailed in July for China, with the 
French merchant as passenger. Early in Septem- 
ber the ship arrived at Whampoa, the port of Can- 
ton, where she was the second vessel to display the 
American flag. 

In order to understand the dealings of the Grand 
Turk at Canton one must know the peculiar meth- 
ods of carrying on foreign trade with China in 
those days. Until 1842, Canton was the only port 
in China where foreigners were permitted to trade, 
and the whole system of complicated customs and 
duties, with the observance of endless formalities 
from the moment a foreign vessel arrived until she 
left, would have been enough to discourage all 
foreign commerce but for the great profits of 
the China trade. On the arrival of a foreign ship 
at Whampoa, a Chinese security merchant had 
to be engaged before any cargo could be un- 
loaded or the least business transacted. Practi- 
cally the entire business of the ship was carried 
on through him. He received her cargo into his 

American Commerce in the Far East 65 

warehouse on the Canton river front, sold it for 
the ship's account, and then furnished the out- 
ward freight. He paid the import and export 
duties on the goods himself; for in all buying 
and selling with foreigners the Chinese merchants 
made their prices with that understanding. In 
1786 there were about twelve of these merchants. 
in Canton. They were called " Hongs," and were 
known collectively as the "Co-Hong." In return 
for the annual payment of a large sum to the 
Government, they were given the exclusive privi- 
lege of trade with foreigners, but at the same time 
were responsible for the good conduct of the for- 
eigners with whom they transacted business and 
for the full payment of all duties and taxes in con- 
nection with the foreign trade. The "Hongs" had 
large establishments, including docks and ware- 
houses on the river front at Canton, and were men 
of great wealth and influence. In their business 
dealings they seem to have maintained a very 
honest and respectable character. 

Having engaged a "Hong" merchant to act as 
security or fiador for the ship and to manage her 
affairs, the next thing for the ship's supercargo to 
do was to engage a "linguist." This individual 
was not necessarily, as his name might imply, a 

66 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

master of languages. His duties were to report on 
all goods loaded or unloaded from the ship, to pro- 
vide the "sampans" in which the cargo was car- 
ried to the "Hong's" wharf in Canton, and to act 
as a sort of messenger in transacting the ship's 
business with the custom-house or the "Hong" 
merchant. In this last capacity he was indispens- 
able, as no foreigners were admitted to any part of 
the city of Canton, except to a very small section 
on the river front, where the foreign merchants 
were allowed to live while their vessels were lying 
at Whampoa. 

Soon after arriving, every foreign ship had to 
be measured by the "Hoppo," or collector of cus- 
toms. This official was commissioned by the Em- 
peror to act as the Government's superintendent 
of foreign trade. He received a nominal salary, but 
made his fortune by exactions and fees. To quote 
from the journal of Major Samuel Shaw: "When 
the Hoppo goes to measure the shipping he is 
attended by the Co-Hong. On these occasions the 
captains produce their clock work and other curi- 
osities, of which the Hoppo lays by such as he 
likes, and the fiador (Hong security merchant) of 
the ship is obliged to send them to him. Sometime 
after, the Hoppo demands the price, for he will 

American Commerce in the Far East 67 

not receive them as a present. The merchant, who 
understands the matter perfectly, tells him about 
one twentieth part, or less, of their value, and takes 
the money. As soon as the ship is measured, the 
fiador takes out a permit for unloading, and the 
linguist provides two sampans to receive the goods, 
which are hoisted out of the ships in presence of 
two mandarins, who live in their sampan along- 
side. When the goods arrive at Canton, one of the 
principal mandarins, with his assistants, attends 
to weigh, measure, and take account of everything, 
after which liberty is granted to sell. Such articles 
as the fiador or the Co-Hong do not want may be 
disposed of to any other person, from whom the 
linguist receives the duty, and settles with the 
fiador. When the return cargo is to be sent on 
board, the mandarins attend, as before, and each 
package must have the seller's 'chop' (mark) upon 
it, in order that the linguist may know where to 
apply for the duty; otherwise, the purchaser is 
himself obliged to pay it. The expense of unloading 
is paid by the Europeans, and the Chinese deliver 
the return cargo alongside the ship free of all duties 
and charges whatever. All merchandise must be 
unloaded and loaded by Chinese sampans." 1 

1 Shaw's Journals, p. 176. 4 


68 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

The principal article of export from Canton in 
those days was tea. The teas for the foreign mar- 
ket were purchased by agents of the "Hong" mer- 
chants from the growers in the Bohea or Sunglo 
regions, about three hundred and fifty miles north 
of Canton. The first consignments arrived in Can- 
ton in July and the last in November, after a 
long and costly trip of about eight hundred miles 
across hills on porters' backs and down rivers on 
rafts. On arrival in Canton the teas were re-sorted 
and re-packed in decorated chests marked with 
"chops" indicating the place of growth and the 
seller's name. These chests were then sold to for- 
eigners by the "Hongs" in lots of one hundred to 
one thousand. 

/ After this general description of the methods of 
/ carrying on trade in Canton it will be easier to 
understand the operations of the Grand Turk 
\ while there. The Derby ship arrived at Whampoa 
^ early in September and found that the ship Em- 
press of China of New York had just arrived on her 
second voyage to Canton. Soon the two American 
vessels were joined by three more: the ship Canton 
from Philadelphia, and the ship Hope and the sloop 
Experiment from New York. When it is realized 
.that only one American vessel 

American Commerce in the Far East 69 

in China before this season, it is interesting 
to note five American vessels thus gathered at^ 
'this new market for American commerce. All 
,except the Grand Turk had come as a result of 
the^enthusiastic reports brought by the Empress 
of China on her return from the first voyagejo 
;^-Bma~Ewo years before.) Soon after their arrival 
at Whampoa, Captain West, Mr. Vans, and M. 
Sebier, the merchant from the Isle of France, pro- 
ceeded up to Canton, where with the captains and 
supercargoes of the other American ships they 
rented a "factory" or place of business for the 


season.Thus for the first time there was an Ameri- 

can iactory^_pn. 

company with the establishments of the English, 

Dutgh, French, Danish, and other nations. "" 

One of the first things done by Mr. Vans and 
Captain West was to engage a "Hong" merchant 
to act as fiador and security for the Grand Turk, 
and to manage her affairs while in China. An 
arrangement was made accordingly with the 
"Hong" merchant Pinqua for this purpose. Soon 
after arriving in China, M. Sebier, for some reason, 
appears to have given up his charter of the Grand 
Turk from Canton to Boston and to have settled 
his affairs with Mr. Vans by giving the latter 

yo Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

an order for $10,039, but he, nevertheless, held 
himself to his original contract to pay all the 
Grand Turk's port charges at Canton. As these 
amounted to nearly $10,000, it was certainly a great 
saving. As soon as the Frenchman had paid the 
$10,039, Mr. Vans made a contract with Pinqua to 
lay out this sum in Bohea tea " at the price paid by 
the Danish and Dutch companies this season," to 
be delivered free of duties on board the Grand Turk 
within sixty days. This contract was made on Sep- 
tember 26. On November 28, one of the American 
vessels being about to sail for home, Captain West 
and Mr. Vans wrote to Mr. Derby as follows : 

"In our last Letter from the Island of France 
we acquainted you that we had taken a freight for 
China & that the Cargo was answerable for that 
Freight. Since when we have the pleasure to Inform 
you" of our arrival at Canton. Although the Cargo 
was made over to us for the freight the situation 
of the Gentleman & Customs of Canton obliged 
us to give up the Cargo and take 3800 dollars in 
full for the Contact & freight from Island of France 
to this place he paying all charges except Manning, 
Victualing, & Rigging the Ship. The particulars 
of this affair will be two long for a letter we shall 

American Commerce in the Far East 7 1 

therefore wait our arrival in America. We are 
now taking a Cargo for America on your Account 
Consisting of the following Articles. China Ware 
Table sets Tea & Coffee ditto & Cups & Saucers 
the whole amounting to about 2000 dollars (suffi- 
cient to floor the ship) 30 or 40 pukle of Cassia 
Cinnamon at 24 dollars per pukle 300 large 
chests Bohea Tea ami 1 "* to ab* 15000 dollars 
Hyson Single & Congo Teas to Compleat the Cargo 
the whole of which will amount to abt 21000 dol- 
lars at Canton which place we hope to leave by 
20th December. We shall stop at the Cape G. 
Hope & take as many Hides as will fill the ship & 
compleat our Cargo & from there make our best 
way home. The Duties Charges & Presents which 
every Ship has to pay make it very expensive being 
here a Vessel of 30 tons pays the same as a ship of 
looo tons. The person who freighted the ship 
Turk will pay neer 10,000 dollars for charges duties 
& presents to hoppo. We hope to be in America in 
all May & conclude with wishing ourselves a safe 
arrival & good Reception. 

" Yr. very humble servants 

"WM. VAN'S & 
"E. WEST. 
"per Sloop Enterprise Capt. Dean." 

Cxf. AlAXxivCA* 1 

72 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

In the mean time, while the Grand Turk -was 
sailing the distant seas and visiting the new mar- 
kets of the East, what had Mr. Derby been doing 
at home? The Grand Turk had left Salem in 
December, 1785, her destination being the Isle 
of France. In July he heard that she had ar- 
rived at the Isle of France in April, and therefore 
as the autumn advanced he began to expect her 
back. He appears to have heard nothing more 
of the ship till February, 1787, when he received a 
letter from Captain West, dated at the Isle of 
France in the previous June, which told of the 
Grand Turk's charter to M. Sebier for a voyage 
to Canton and thence back to Boston. Mr. Derby 
immediately communicated with his insurance 
agents and had the ship's policy changed so as to 
cover this extension of the voyage, but it is appar- 
ent that he had much difficulty in getting under- 
writers to take the risk even at so high a rate as 
nine per cent. 

Early in May the sloop Experiment arrived at 
New York from Canton, bringing the letter from 
Captain West and Mr. Vans which stated that 
the Grand Turk was about to sail for home with 
a full cargo of teas and Chinese goods. What 
must have been Mr. Derby's feelings on the 

6 g 

American Commerce in the Far East 73 

morning of May 22, 1787, when on looking from 
the window of his counting-house he beheld the 
Grand Turk under a full press of canvas standing 
into Salem Bay and up the Beverly shore? As 
the ship came to off Naugus Head and dropped 
anchor a salute was fired, and before the smoke 
had cleared away it is safe to say that half 
the population of Salem, including friends, re- 
latives, and those actuated simply by curiosity, 
had put off to the ship in every available row- 
boat or skiff. The Grand Turk was the first Salem 
vessel to arrive from ports beyond the Cape of 
Good Hope and one of the first American ves- 
sels to come back from China. Crowds of people 
thronged her decks listening to the crew's accounts 
of the strange Chinese manners and customs or 
examining the curios brought from the distant and 
almost mythical East by these eighteenth-century 
Marco Polos. 

Although the curios and stories probably en- 
tertained Mr. Derby, it was the cargo tightly 
stowed beneath the hatches that most seriously 
demanded his attention. The ship could not have 
been at anchor long before he had retired to the 
cabin with Captain West and Mr. Vans, and over 
a good bottle of Madeira looked through the ship's 

74 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

manifest. This document has fortunately been 
preserved and is given below: 


22ND MAY, 1787 

(Showing costs at Canton) 

240 Chest Bohea Tea ) 

175 i Chests" f 

2 Chests Hyson " 95 

52 " Souchong 521 

32 " Bohea Congo 459 

130 " Cassia 779 

10 " Cassia Bud 85 

75 Boxes China 1923 

945 Ox Hides 1050 

100 Shammy Skins \ 

50 Buck Skins I 184 

130 Ordinary Hides J 

10 Casks Wine 568 

I Box paper 44 


Adventures : 

13 Chests Bohea tea $650 
6 " Canzo 300 

6 Boxes China 135 

24 pkgs. Bandanna Hdkfs. 72 

24 Chests of muslins 

American Commerce in the Far East 75 

It would be interesting for us to know how great 
were Mr. Derby's profits on the Grand Turk's 
trip. Felt, in his "Annals" of Salem, says, "Her 
voyage was very profitable, yielding twice more 
capital than she carried out." 1 However true this 
may be, it is certain that the voyage was a very 
successful one, but it is practically impossible to 
estimate the profits with any exactness. At that 
time foreign exchange was an extremely variable 
figure, both on account of the unstable condition of 
American currency and of the constant deprecia- 
tion of the Spanish dollar, which was then the one 
great worldwide medium of exchange. The cargo 
of the Grand Turk had been purchased at Canton 
with Spanish dollars, and was sold to people in 
Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania, in 
each of which states the currency was in pounds, 
shillings, and pence of a different value. A rough 
estimate of the value of the New York pound and 
the Spanish dollar of the time would place the rate 
of exchange at about i = $2.60. Applying this to 
the cost of the Bohea tea, which was bought at Can- 
ton at about $53 .40 per chest and sold in New York 
for about 48 per chest, we see that the gross profit 
per chest was about $70, or nearly fifty per cent. 
1 Felt's Annals, vol. n, p. 292. 

76 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

Of course, all the expenses of manning, victualling, 
and maintaining the ship during the voyage, and 
the insurance, would have to be deducted from 
this gross profit, but, even allowing for these 
expenses, the return must have been considerable. 
The arrival of the Grand Turk in May, 1787, 
found Mr. Derby already well started in the trade 
to the Cape of Good Hope and beyond. In August, 
1786, he had despatched the brig Three Sisters to 
the Cape of Good Hope and the Isle of France with 
a cargo of miscellaneous provisions, and in Janu- 
ary, 1787, he had sent the Light Horse on the same 
voyage with a similar cargo. The opening of the 
trade to the Isle of France to American vessels in 
1784 has already been mentioned, but it has been 
seen that the Grand Turk did not find business at 
the island very profitable. In 1785, however, a 
new French East India Company was chartered, 
with a monopoly of French trade to all the French 
East Indies except the Isle of France. The small 
port of L'Orient, about sixty miles north of the 
mouth of the Loire, thereupon was designated as 
the only French port through which private 
French merchants could carry on this trade with 
the Isle of France. The result was that two hitherto 
unimportant places suddenly became the centres 

American Commerce in the Far East 77 

of a very extensive commerce. L'Orient changed 
from an insignificant seaside town to a thriving 
port of entry, and the Isle of France from a thinly 
settled agricultural colony to a populous com- 
mercial centre where the goods of the East Indies 
were exchanged for those of Europe. French mer- 
chants established commercial houses in the 
island, and crowds of discontented Frenchmen of 
broken fortune and doubtful character hastened 
to the island in hope of making great wealth in 
trade and at the same time to escape from the 
mother country, which already was beginning to 
show signs of the great Revolution. This tremend- 
ous rush of population to the island soon became 
too much for its natural resources. Practically 
the only commodity produced in any great amount 
was coffee, and it soon became necessary to import 
many of the staples of life. 1 New England at that 
time exported few manufactured goods, but her 
products were principally fish, meat, butter, lard, 
rum, flour, and other provisions, and all these com- 
modities were greatly wanted at the Isle of France. 
Accordingly a very brisk trade sprang up between 
New England and that island. When the Grand 
Turk was at the Isle of France in the spring of 

1 McPherson's Annals of Commerce, vol. iv, p. 81. 

78 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

1786 this rush of population had hardly started 
and the great demand for provisions had not be- 
gun. In the winter and spring of 1787, however, 
when the Three Sisters and the Light Horse were 
at the island, the "boom," to use a modern 
phrase, was just beginning. The two vessels sold 
their cargoes of provisions at high prices, and after 
loading coffee and some Eastern goods returned to 
Salem, where they both arrived in January, 1788. 
About two months before they returned, Mr. 
Derby had despatched the Grand Turk once more 
for the Isle of France with a cargo of provisions 
valued at 6424. The command of the vessel he 
gave to his eldest son, Elias Hasket Derby, Jr., a 
young man of about twenty-one years. John 
Williamson, who had been first mate of the Grand 
Turk on the Canton voyage, went with him as 
sailing master, but to Elias Hasket, Jr., all the 
management of the voyage was given. The young 
man had left Harvard in 1786 and sailed as pas- 
senger in the Light Horse on a voyage to the 
Baltic, and after an extended tour through Europe 
had returned to Salem to enter on a mercantile 
career. It was Mr. Derby's intention to have his 
son remain at the Isle of France after selling the 
ship's cargo, to act as his agent. Mr. Derby was 

American Commerce in the Far East 79 

fully aware of the chances of profitable business 
at this island, and the great Derby fortune was 
practically founded on Mr. Derby's trade to the 
Isle of France during the early years of its 

When the Grand Turk sailed, Mr. Derby gave 
his son permission to sell the ship if a profitable 
opportunity offered, promising to send two more 
vessels out to him during the year. The Grand 
Turk left in November, 1787, and in January, 
1788, Mr. Derby despatched the ship Juno to the 
Isle of France with a cargo of provisions con- 
signed to his son. This ship had been purchased 
by Mr. Derby expressly for this voyage. When 
only forty hours out, the vessel sprang a leak and 
began to sink so rapidly that the crew had only 
time to take to the boats before the vessel went 
down. They were soon picked up by a sloop bound 
to Demerara and eventually arrived safely in 
Salem. Although the vessel was a total loss, the 
cargo was largely covered by insurance. It is a 
remarkable fact that of all the vessels owned by 
Mr. Derby during his long mercantile career, this 
is the only one, so far as the records show, that 
he ever lost at sea. Undaunted by this misfor- 
tune, Mr. Derby bought another ship to take 

8o Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

the place of the Juno. This vessel he named the 
Atlantic, and in September he cleared her for the 
Isle of France with a cargo of provisions con- 
signed to his son. About the same time he de- 
spatched the Light Horse for the same place, fol- 
lowing up these two vessels in November with 
the brig Henry. 

Thus within the space of a single year Mr. 
Derby had sent four vessels to the Isle of France 
with cargoes of lumber, beef, pork, butter, cheese, 
wine, rum, beer, and miscellaneous groceries, to 
meet the overwhelming demand for all these com- 
modities caused by the rapidly increasing popula- 
tion of that island. The Grand Turk arrived at the 
Isle of France in January, 1788, and young Mr. 
Derby disposed of her cargo for about .$27,000, 
which gave a very considerable profit, and enabled 
him to purchase a brigantine named the Sultana, 
together with her cargo of cotton with which she 
had just arrived from Bombay. He then began to 
procure a home cargo for the Grand Turk, but 
while he was thus engaged a French merchant of 
the island offered him $13,000 for the ship just as 
she was. As this was nearly twice the amount at 
which his father valued the Grand Turk, young 
Mr. Derby was not slow to take advantage of this 

American Commerce in the Far East 81 

flattering offer, and the deal was soon closed. 1 
With the proceeds of this profitable transaction 
Elias Hasket, Jr., purchased an American ship 
named the Peggy which was then in port and 
loaded both her and the brigantine Sultana, 
which he had previously bought, with general 
cargo for Bombay. About the middle of August, 
1788, the two vessels left the Isle of France, Elias 
Hasket, Jr., going in the Peggy, and on September 
8 they arrived at Bombay, being among the very 
first American vessels to be seen at that port. 
There was then no treaty between Great Britain 
and the United States permitting American ves- 
sels to trade at British ports in India, nor was 
this privilege granted until Jay's Treaty in 1794. 
The Americans, however, had been given permis- 
sion to trade at the French, Dutch, Portuguese, 
and Danish settlements by the local governments 

1 Nathaniel Bowditch writes at the Isle of France in 1789: 
" Ships of almost every kind will sell well here, but those of about 
300 tons and that have a great height between decks are generally 
preferred. Such a ship well furnished with good accommodations, 
a head quarter gallery & sound house would sell for II or 12 
thousand dollars. The ship Grand Turk tho' not so well arranged 
sold for 13000 but it was to a man who wanted very much such 
a ship. But such a one would always fetch 10000 doll. A great 
deal depends upon the beauty of a ship & upon her sailing. A 
copper bottom always adds 1500 or 2000 dollars to her value." 

82 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

of these settlements. Therefore, fearing that these 
foreigners would get all the trade of the Amer- 
icans, the British Indian Government extended 
a similar privilege to American vessels as early as 
1785. This was only a gratuitous license and revo- 
cable at pleasure, but, nevertheless, in 1788, during 
the regime of Lord Cornwallis, American vessels 
were treated as the most favored foreigners. 1 

On arrival at Bombay the cargoes of the Peggy 
and Sultana were unloaded and sold and two full 
cargoes of Indian cotton and blackwood bought. 
While engaged in loading, young Derby learned 
that a pirate vessel, well known on the Malabar 
Coast, had heard when his two ships expected to 
sail and was preparing to capture them as they 
left the harbor. Derby, therefore, decided that 
the safest thing to do was to sail immediately, 
before the pirate expected. Accordingly, with the 
two vessels about half loaded with cotton and leav- 
ing behind about $5000 worth of his blackwood, 
Derby sailed from Bombay. Without even sight- 
ing the pirate, the two vessels arrived safely at 
the Isle of France on December 5. The Sultana's 
cotton was now transferred to the Peggy, and 
thus with a full cargo of nothing but cotton the 

1 Milburn's Oriental Commerce ', vol. n, p. 137. 

American Commerce in the Far East 83 

Peggy sailed for Salem. She arrived June 21, 1789, 
bringing the first cargo of Indian cotton that ever 
arrived in America. This proved to be a rather 
unfortunate importation. The elder Mr. Derby 
writes: "My ship Peggy has arrived here from 
India with a cargo of cotton which I find to be 
very unsaleable owing to our people being unac- 
quainted with the kind. If sold at publick sale it 
would not bring more than one shilling as cotton is 
more plenty in this State than it has been these 
10 years past." He greatly laments the fact that 
the Peggy brought no coffee, which was then com- 
manding a high price. 

Soon after young Derby's return from Bombay 
to the Isle of France, the Atlantic and the Light 
Horse arrived from Salem. He sold their cargoes 
of provisions at a good price and then despatched 
them to Bombay to load the blackwood he had 
left behind him there, and also some cotton with 
which they were to proceed to Canton, where he 
figured that at prevailing prices they should net 
nearly one hundred per cent profit. He then 
loaded the Sultana for Madras. In the mean 
time Mr. Derby's brig Henry had arrived from 
Salem under Captain Benjamin Crowninshield, 
young Derby's first cousin. Her cargo was also 

84 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

sold at a good profit, and joining Captain Crownin- 
shield on the Henry,Derby sailed for Madras. Here 
they found the Sultana, and together the two vessels 
proceeded to Calcutta, where the Sultana was sold. 
The Henry was then loaded with a full cargo 
of India goods, sailing thence direct for home. 
After a very long passage she arrived at Salem on 
December 31, 1790. Elias Hasket, Jr., had been 
absent from home three years, and the result of his 
transactions in the Isle of France and India was a 
profit of nearly $100,000, a very large sum for those 
days. Moreover, his long stay at the Isle of France 
had established the Derby house as the most promi- 
nent of all American houses trading with that island. 
In his visits to Bombay, Madras, and Calcutta 
he formed a large acquaintance with the leading 
merchants, which was a great aid in the extensive 
Indian trade subsequently developed by the 

In the mean time, while building up this large 
business at the Isle of France, Mr. Derby, Sr., was 
turning his attention to still more distant markets. 
The profits of the Grand Turk's China voyage had 
convinced him that a direct voyage to that part 
of the world ought to be a successful venture. 
Accordingly, in 1788 he decided to despatch two 

American Commerce in the Far East 85 

more of his vessels, one on a direct voyage to 
Batavia, and the other to Batavia and Canton. 
The ship Astrea and the brig Three Sisters were 
selected for the purpose. Thus the brig Cato was 
the only vessel of his fleet that had not already 
sailed or was not about to sail for ports beyond 
the Cape of Good Hope. A China voyage in those 
days was quite an undertaking, for it required 
nearly six months to collect a cargo suitable for 
the Canton market. The Astrea was sent to Got- 
tenburg, Stockholm, and Copenhagen after iron, 
and the Cato to Madeira for wines, and Mr. Derby 
endeavored to buy in New England, New York, 
and Pennsylvania all the ginseng that he could, 
since this was one of the leading exports from 
America to China. 1 

The Three Sisters was the first of the two vessels 
to start on the long voyage. On December 4, 1788, 
she sailed for Batavia under the command of Cap- 
tain Benjamin Webb, with Mr. Samuel Blanchard 
as supercargo and young Nathaniel Silsbee, who 
later became United States Senator, as clerk. The 

1 Ginseng is a root or herb easily grown in New England, 
which was used by the Chinese in compounding nearly all their 
medicines. In the early days of the Canton trade it was in con- 
stant demand and almost always brought a high price. 

86 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

Astrea on her voyage back from the Baltic encoun- 
tered very bad weather. Owing to the weight of 
her cargo of iron she was somewhat strained 
and had to put in to St. John's, Newfoundland. 
After landing part of her cargo she returned to 
Salem, where she was given a thorough overhaul- 
ing and was passed through a survey of three 
eminent merchants who pronounced her fit for 
her long voyage. In the mean time Mr. Derby 
attempted to insure the Astrea for the trip but the 
lowest rate he could obtain was ten per cent. In 
writing to Messrs. Ludlow & Gould, of New York, 
in regard to this matter, he said: "Another remark 
I must make to you as a friend is that I have five 
Vessels out to that part of the World & this Ship 
is the sixth which rather rubs hard to get her 
away with so large a stock as I am putting into her. 
Therefore if the insurance is made I shall not 
expect to take up the Premium Notes till the risque 
is off." Having been put in first-class condition, 
the Astrea loaded her cargo of provisions, ginseng, 
specie, and miscellaneous articles, and on Febru- 
ary 1 6, 1789, she sailed for Batavia and Canton 
under the command of Captain James Magee, with 
Mr. Thomas Handasyd Perkins, of Boston, as 

American Commerce in the Far East 87 

One hundred and forty days out from Salem the 
Astrea passed in by Java Head, and on July 13 
she cast anchor in the harbor of Batavia. Here 
she found the Three Sisters, which had arrived 
about a fortnight before, but owing to the govern- 
ment regulations had not been permitted to land 
any cargo. The Dutch East India Company, 
which held the monopoly of trade of the island, 
would allow no foreign vessel to land any cargo 
without a permit from the governing council of 
Java at Batavia. Such a permit had been very 
difficult to obtain, especially by Americans, who 
were just beginning to visit the island, but at that 
time the power of the Dutch East India Company 
was fast falling and there was much corruption in 
the government. Mr. Blanchard, the supercargo 
of the Three Sisters, and Mr. Perkins dined several 
times with the governor and members of the coun- 
cil and were so tactfully insistent in their demands 
that they finally obtained permission to sell their 
respective cargoes. While at Batavia Mr. Perkins 
kept a journal. A few extracts from it describing 
the place, its people, and commerce during the 
last years of the Company's rule will not be out of 
place here. 

"Batavia," writes Mr. Perkins, "which is the 

88 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

warehouse of the Dutch East India Company, and 
the most important by far of all their possessions 
round the Cape of Good Hope, is about fifty 
leagues from the entrance of the Straits of Sunda 
and about twelve leagues from Bantam. It has a 
fine harbor, which is well defended from the winds 
by the many small islands which surround it. The 
latitude of Batavia is 6 south, and about 106 east 
longitude. It is at this time well guarded by a stone 
wall, which is well built, and about twelve feet 
high. These walls are well stored with guns and 
the necessary appendages, which are always kept 
in order in case of necessity. The bastions are so 
laid out, that they would be serviceable as well 
against an insurrection as an invasion. The one 
or the other they would have great reason to fear, 
had either the Chinese, who were inhumanely cut 
off here, or the original inhabitants, who have 
always been under the lash of the present possess- 
ors, courage enough to retaliate; but fortunately 
for the Dutch, they have a people to deal with, in 
the Chinese, who do not appear to have the pas- 
sions which govern men in general. They appear 
to have no resentment in their composition. 

"There are said to be forty thousand Chinese 
in Batavia and its vicinity. They are governed 

American Commerce in the Far East 89 

by their own officers, but are all restricted to the 
general outlines of the Dutch policy. Many of them 
are immensely rich, and enter very largely into 
trade; have stores in town, and elegant country 
seats without the gates. They parade about in 
their carriages with a great degree of state, and 
seem to feel their consequence. They are the prin- 
cipal mechanics, and the best husbandmen. Their 
merchants deal for the largest and the most 
trifling article; for the same man who will sell you 
to the amount of fifty thousand dollars will bring 
you a pot of sweetmeats which cost a couple of 
ducatoons. Great care, however, is to be used in 
purchasing from them; for they are in some in- 
stances employed as spies upon the conduct of 
strangers by the Dutch Company; and in others 
they will deceive you in whatever they sell, if they 
find you are a green hand; so that it is necessary 
to have one's eye well about one to deal with these 
people, the character of whom is to me unfathom- 

"The Chinese have a free trade to Batavia, 
where they bring tea, china, japanned wares, 
nankins, silks, &c., and take, in return, Spanish 
dollars and ducatoons, though the former are pre- 
ferred. Spices, bird's-nests, pepper, tin, sugars, 

90 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

coffee, candy, beeswax, oil, hides, burning-canes, 
ratans, sandal-wood, and, when there is probability 
of scarcity in China, rice, which will always pay a 
good freight, are exported. 

"There is at Batavia a great medley of inhab- 
itants. The principal persons in business, after 
the Hollanders, are the Moormen. Many of them 
are very rich. They have an ease of address and 
an air of good breeding which one would not expect 
to find in their countrymen. They are the best 
shaped of any of the Eastern nations whom I 
observed while there; their complexion nearly the 
same as that of the aboriginals of America ; their 
features regular and well-set, with the most pierc- 
ing eye of any people I ever saw. Their religion is 
Mohametanism. They carry on a great trade to 
the different islands in the Indian seas, and by 
their traffic make great fortunes." 1 

The Astrea's stay at Batavia lasted about a 
month. On August 15, after unloading part of 
her cargo, she sailed for Canton. The Three Sis- 
ters, on the other hand, disposed of her entire 
cargo at Batavia and accepted a charter to carry 
to Canton for a Batavian merchant a cargo of 
sandalwood, beeswax, rattans, betel nuts, and 

1 T. G. Gary's Thomas H. Perkins, pp. 23-41. 

American Commerce in the Far East 91 

spices. On September 18, the Astrea arrived at 
Whampoa and Mr. Perkins proceeded to Canton, 
engaged a "Hong" merchant to secure the cargo, 
and attended to the many formalities already 
described in the account of trade conditions in 
China. The unloading of the cargo was well under 
way, when, on October 5, to the surprise of the 
Astrea's crew, two American ships were observed 
coming into the anchorage at Whampoa. They 
both were flying the Derby house flag, and proved 
to be the Atlantic and the Light Horse. These 
two ships, it may be remembered, had left Salem 
in August and September, 1788, for the Isle of 
France with cargoes of provisions consigned to 
Elias Hasket Derby, Jr., who was then resident at 
that island. Having disposed of their cargoes at 
the Isle of France, young Derby had sent them to 
Bombay to load cotton and blackwood for Canton. 
The two ships reached Canton on October 5, and 
two days later the Three Sisters arrived from 
Batavia. Thus there were four Derby vessels lying 
at Whampoa, although only the Astrea had been 
despatched for China by Mr. Derby. 

Unfortunately it happened that this season there 
were more American ships at Canton than ever 
before, or for some years after. No less than 

92 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

fifteen sail of American vessels were lying in 
the anchorage at Whampoa in November, 1789, 
among them being the ship Columbia, from the 
Northwest Coast, on her famous voyage around 
theworld. 1 The price of ginseng and other American 
products fell considerably on account of the large 
amount thus put on the market, and the price of 
teas rose somewhat under the increased demand. 
The result was that the hopes of the Derby cap- 
tains and supercargoes for a successful voyage were 
much dampened. After conferring together, it was 
decided best for Mr. Derby's interests to sell two 
of the vessels and bring home the property in teas 
in the two remaining ships. Accordingly the At- 
lantic was sold to a Parsee merchant for $6600 
and the Three Sisters to an Armenian for $4000, 
and the proceeds invested in teas and Chinese 
goods. No less than 728,871 pounds of tea were 

1 The ship Columbia sailed from Boston in October, 1787, 
for the Northwest Coast of America via Cape Horn. She ar- 
rived on the coast in August and remained there a year barter- 
ing her cargo to the Indians for furs. She then sailed for 
Canton, where she exchanged her furs for teas, and returned 
via the Cape of Good Hope to Boston, where she arrived in 
August, 1790, being the first American vessel to circumnavigate 
the world. In September she sailed again for the Northwest 
Coast, and on this voyage discovered the river which bears her 
name. Mr. Derby's son John was a part owner of the Colum- 

American Commerce in the Far East 93 

loaded on board the Astrea and the Light Horse, 
together with a large assortment of Chinese goods. 
The crew of the Atlantic took passage on the Light 
Horse and that of the Three Sisters on the 
Astrea, and on January 22, 1790, the two vessels 
left Whampoa for home with their valuable car- 

In December, Mr. Derby had heard that the 
Astrea and Three Sisters were at Batavia in the 
previous July, but of the Atlantic and the Light 
Horse he had heard nothing except that in the 
spring of 1789 his son had despatched them from 
the Isle of France to Bombay. His anxiety must 
have increased as the spring of 1790 wore on, for 
nearly all his property was in these four vessels. 
Not a single word did he hear from them till June 
I, 1790, when the Astrea was sighted in the bay, 
and was soon anchored in Salem Harbor. The Light 
Horse, having left China with the Astrea, was now 
momentarily expected, and on the afternoon of 
June 15 she too appeared in the offing. The wind, 
however, died away as the ship neared the land, 
and there being no tugboats in those days, she 
was forced to come to anchor oil Marblehead. 
During the night while in this exposed position 
a very sudden and heavy storm sprang up from the 

94 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

east. The ship was too near the land to beat 
offshore and so it was necessary for her to ride out 
the gale at anchor. Early in the morning she began 
to drag, and before long had drifted within a few 
feet of the rocks. Nearly the whole population of 
Marblehead gathered on the shore waiting to see 
the vessel go to her destruction. Mr. Derby hur- 
riedly drove over from Salem in his postchaise, ex- 
pecting to see his valuable argosy, which had come 
safely half around the globe, lost at his very 
doorstep. But his good fortune, which had kept 
him so free hitherto from marine disasters, once 
more stood by him. When the ship was within 
only a few yards of the rocks the anchors held and 
continued to hold until the storm subsided. The 
Light Horse was then brought around into Salem 
Harbor and safely moored beside the Astrea. 

One of the most valued treasures of the old 
Salem Custom-House is the manifest of the Astrea 
for her inward cargo on this voyage, a document 
no less then eight feet long. Together the Astrea 
and Light Horse were assessed $25,000 in duties 
on their cargoes. In their absence in China the 
present form of government in the United States 
had been established, and the original tariff of 
1789 had gone into operation. The import duties 

American Commerce in the Far East 95 

of the national tariff were considerably in excess 
of those of the Massachusetts state tariff which 
had previously been in force, and the duty on teas, 
which were the principal items of the Astrea and 
Light Horse cargoes, had increased from five per 
cent ad valorem in the Massachusetts tariff of 
1786 to from six to twelve cents a pound in the 
national tariff. Moreover, this duty had taken 
immediate effect, no allowance being made for 
cargoes on the way. The result was that Mr. 
Derby found himself in a difficult position. The 
importation of tea into the United States in 
1790 was unprecedented, amounting to 2,601,852 
pounds, and of this total 728,871 pounds had come 
in the Astrea and Light Horse to Mr. Derby's 
account. As the annual demand for tea in the 
United States had rarely if ever exceeded a million 
pounds, this tremendous importation sent down 
the price to a very low figure, and Mr. Derby saw 
the only way to save himself from a great loss was 
to keep his teas in his storehouse until the quantity 
on the market had decreased and the price had been 
restored to a remunerative level. At that time, 
however, there was no bonded warehouse system 
whereby a merchant could keep his goods stored 
and pay the duty on them as he sold them. Mr. 

g6 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

Derby accordingly addressed a memorial to Con- 
gress asking to be permitted to pay the duties on 
his tea as he from time to time succeeded in selling 
it. Congress immediately granted his request, and 
by keeping his teas until prices rose, it is probable 
that Mr. Derby eventually realized considerable 
profit from his great importation. 

These early voyages beyond the Cape of Good 
Hope encouraged Mr. Derby to embark more ex- 
tensively in commerce to that part of the world, 
and he soon became recognized as one of the lead- 
ing American merchants in the trade to the East. 



FROM 1790 to his death in 1799, Mr. Derby 
devoted his main energies to commerce with the 
Far East. His principal business was with the Isle 
of France, and he soon became the leading Amer- 
ican merchant trading to that island. To-day 
people in this country know little of the Isle 
of France, or Mauritius, as it is now called, but in 
the days of sailing-ships it was a very important 
port, as nearly all the vessels bound out to the 
East Indies used to stop there on the way. Saint- 
Pierre, the French writer, visited the Isle of France 
in the late eighteenth century, and a very good ) 
description of this beautiful tropical island is found^ 
in his "Voyage a PIsle de France" and also in his 
well-known story, "Paul et Virginie," the scene 
of which is laid there. The principal products 
of the place were sugar and coffee, but there 
was also a large exchange of European and Indian 
goods. It has been shown before how an extens- 
ive trade in provisions had sprung up between 
New England and the Isle of France to supply the 

98 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

growing population. This trade was checkered with 
unexpected profits and losses. One of Mr. Derby's 
vessels, with a shipment in her cargo of twelve 
thousand plain glass tumblers, costing one thousand 
dollars in Salem, arrived at the Isle of France when 
there was no glassware on the island and sold her 
shipment for twelve thousand dollars. Another 
Derby vessel, with a cargo largely composed of 
common wine from Madeira, arrived at a time 
when this commodity was in great demand and 
sold her cargo at a price sufficient to load two 
vessels with coffee which was then worth twenty- 
five cents a pound in America. Nevertheless, 
occasional voyages entailed considerable loss. The 
disturbed state of affairs in France leading up to 
the Revolution was reflected in the Isle of France. 
An active Jacobin Club was formed, and for a 
time gained control of the government. The mem- 
bers erected a guillotine in the public square, mur- 
dered Admiral McNamara of the French fleet 
at the island, and in many other ways copied the 
actions of their brethren at home. Such proceed- 
ings naturally inconvenienced trade. Vessels and 
property were often seized, and the frequent 
embargoes were of great expense to those ships 
that were unfortunate enough to be detained. A 

A Chapter of East India Voyages 99 

number of losing voyages resulted from these 
causes, but on the average Mr. Derby's ventures 
to the Isle of France were very profitable. 

Although Mr. Derby carried on most of his busi- 
ness with the Isle of France, he occasionally sent 
a vessel on a direct voyage to Batavia, Manila, or 
Calcutta, and many of his ships that carried 
goods out to the Isle of France proceeded to India 
for a return cargo. After 1794 American vessels 
trading to India enjoyed many advantages, for in 
that year the privileges accorded to them by the 
Indian Government in 1787 were confirmed by the 
British authorities in Jay's Treaty. Moreover, 
after 1793, when war broke out between France 
and England, American vessels enjoyed a great 
advantage from their neutrality. In the decade 
from 1794 to 1804 the number of American ships 
trading to India increased several times over. 
Many of these ships flew the Derby flag, and in 
the last ten years of his life Mr. Derby carried on a 
very extensive commerce with Calcutta. 

In 1793 his ship Astrea, while on a voyage in 
the Indian seas, took a cargo of rice from Madras 
to Rangoon. At the last-named port she was 
impressed by the Sultan of Pegu to carry troops 
to Siam, with which country he was then at war. 

ioo Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

Captain Gibaut, her commander, was kept as a 
hostage at Rangoon while the first mate navigated 
the ship to Siam, where the American flag was 
displayed for the first time. After performing 
transport service to the satisfaction of the Sultan, 
though at a financial loss of about $10,000 to the 
ship's owner, the Astrea was returned to Captain 
Gibaut and permitted to resume her original voy- 
age. Another Derby ship, the Recovery, visited 
Mocha, in Arabia, in 1799, and was the first 
American craft to visit that part of the world. 
A Salem historian tells us that "the arrival of 
the strange ship was viewed with great interest 
by the authorities who could not divine from 
whence she came, and made frequent inquiries to 
know how many moons she had been coming." * 
Besides the ships engaged in this Eastern com- 
merce, Mr. Derby employed a number of vessels 
in trade to the Baltic, Hamburg, France, England, 
the Spanish Peninsula, the Western Islands, and 
the West Indies, and in the space of nine years 
from 1790 to 1799 ne appears to have increased 
his property at least fivefold. 

It would be interesting, indeed, to relate the 
story of many of Mr. Derby's voyages, but the 

1 Felt's Annals of Salem. 

-- F 


- 1 

~ IT ~ 


! / 



, / 



4 SH 



From'the painting by William Ward in the Essex Institute, Salem' 

A Chapter of East India Voyages 101 

records of very few remain. One of the most 
remarkable incidents in the history of the American 
merchant marine was the voyage of the Derby ship 
Benjamin to the Isle of France in 1792-94. Al- 
though all the officers of the vessel were under 
twenty years of age, the venture proved to be one 
of the most successful and profitable ever under- 
taken by Mr. Derby. Captain Nathaniel Silsbee, 
who later became United States Senator from 
Massachusetts, was but nineteen when he sailed 
in command of the Benjamin, and his first mate, 
Charles Derby, was the same age. Moreover, the 
captain's clerk, Richard Cleveland, the grand- 
father of President Cleveland of later days, had 
not reached his nineteenth birthday when the ship 
left Salem. Two very interesting accounts of this 
voyage have been left us in the journals of Silsbee 
and Cleveland, 1 and the story is best told in their 
own words : 

"On the nth of December, 1792," writes Cap- 
tain Silsbee, "I sailed from hence in the new ship 
Benjamin of one hundred and sixty tons burden, 
and with a cargo consisting principally of merchan- 

1 Richard J. Cleveland's In the Forecastle, or Twenty Five 
Years a Sailor. 1842. 

Personal Recollections of Nathaniel Silsbee. Essex Institute 
Historical Collections, vol. xxxv, 1889. 

102 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

disc which cost about eighteen thousand dollars 
(then considered a large stock for such a ship) for 
the Cape of Good Hope and India, and with such 
instructions as left the management of the voyage 
very much to my own discretion. On leaving home 
every dollar I possessed was much less than I 
wished to leave with my mother for the comfort 
of herself and family during so long a voyage as I 
had then undertaken; therefore in addition to all 
my own small means, I left with her also some 
money which I hired for that purpose; conse- 
quently (as heretofore) I had no property with me 
beyond what I had hired upon a respondentia- 
bond, to enable me to pay my five per cent of the 
cost of the outward cargo, my perquisites, as con- 
signee of the cargo, being to put in five per cent of 
the outward cargo, and to receive, at the close of 
the voyage, ten per cent of the return cargo. Nei- 
ther myself nor the chief mate of the ship for that 
voyage (Mr. Charles Derby) had attained the age 
of twenty-one years when we left home on that 
voyage (I was not then twenty years of age) and it 
was remarked to me by the naval officer (the late 
Mr.Wm.Pickman) on taking the ship's papers from 
the Custom House that it was the first instance in 
which papers had been issued from that office to 

A Chapter of East India Voyages 103 

a vessel to the East Indies the captain and chief 
mate of which were both minors. 

"In an intensely cold and severe storm on the 
first night after leaving home, our cook (a colored 
man somewhat advanced in age) having preferred 
his cooking house on deck to his berth below, for a 
sleeping place, had his feet so badly frozen as to 
cause gangrene to such an extent as to render 
amputation of all his toes on both feet absolutely 
necessary for the preservation of his life. Having 
neither surgical skill nor surgical instruments on 
board the ship, the operation, which had become 
necessary, was a very unpleasant and a very 
hazardous one, so much so that no one on board 
was willing to undertake the direction of it, and I 
was most reluctantly compelled to assume, with 
the aid of the second mate, the responsibility of 
performing the surgical operation, with no other 
instruments than a razor and a pair of scissors, 
and which, in consequence of the feeble state of 
the cook's health, required two days to accom- 
plish. The cook was very desirous to be landed 
and left at one of the Cape de Verde Islands, and 
for that purpose I proceeded to the Island of St. 
Jago where I found, at anchor, an English frigate, 
the surgeon of which, at my request, came on 

104 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

board our ship and examined the cook's feet and 
(to my great satisfaction) pronounced the operation 
upon them well performed, assured me that there 
remained no doubt of his recovery, furnished and 
prescribed some future dressings and advised me, 
by all means, to keep him on board ship under 
my own care, in preference to putting him ashore. 
With the cook's approbation I followed the sur- 
geon's advice, and in the course of a few weeks 
thereafter the cook was able to resume his duties, 
recovered his usual health and made several sub- 
sequent voyages. 

"After the transaction of some business at the 
Cape of Good Hope, and while on the passage from 
thence to the Isle of France, we fell in with a 
French frigate bound to that island from France, 
from the officers of which vessel I obtained inform- 
ation of the war which had then recently taken 
place (and which was of long duration and of great 
vicissitudes) between France and England. That 
frigate reached her port of destination a few days 
in advance of me and the news of which she was 
the bearer caused such a change in the commercial 
market of the place as was beneficial to my voyage 
by enabling me to dispose of the merchandise of 
which my cargo was composed at much higher 

A Chapter of East India Voyages 105 

prices than could have been obtained before. On 
my arrival at the Isle of France, it was my intention 
to proceed from thence to Bengal for the purpose 
of procuring a return cargo, and, with this view, 
as fast as my goods were sold, the proceeds were 
converted, from the paper currency of the place, 
into Spanish dollars. On the arrival of the afore- 
said frigate, an embargo was laid on all foreign 
vessels in port and was continued for more than 
six months, in the course of which time the Span- 
ish dollars which I had purchased had become 
worth more than three times as much of the 
currency of the colony as they had cost me, whilst 
the price of the products of the island, in the same 
currency, had advanced comparatively but little. 
Finding myself enabled, by that circumstance, to 
purchase considerably more than double the quan- 
tity of those products than I could have done at 
an earlier period, I relinquished the plan of pro- 
ceeding to Calcutta, and concluded to sell my 
Spanish dollars and invest the proceeds of them in 
coffee and spices and return from the Isle of France 
direct to the United States." 

The account of the remainder of the voyage we 
will quote from the narrative of Richard Cleve- 

106 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

"In the mean time," writes Mr. Cleveland, "all 
the ships being sheathed with wood, the worms 
were making such havoc, that a long detention 
would be scarcely less worse than confiscation. 
There is probably no place in the world surpassing 
Port North-West, now so called, for the destruc- 
tive power of the worm. On going into the hold 
of a ship when empty, I was astonished at the noise 
they made; not unlike a multitude of borers with 
augers; but fortunately when they had pierced 
the sheathing their further progress was arrested 
by the hair which is placed between the sheathing 
and the bottom of the ship. 

"On the 6th of July, several American ships 
being ready for sea, their masters went together 
on board of the Admiral's ship, and had an inter- 
view with him on the subject of obtaining leave 
to sail; but this he refused them, on the ground 
of its endangering somewhat the safety of some 
merchant ships then on the point of sailing for 
France. A second application was made on the 
3 1st of July with like result; nor was it till the 
arrival of the American ship Pigou, with French 
passengers, direct from Bordeaux, on the 2Oth 
of November, that the authorities were satisfied 
that America would maintain a neutral position, 

A Chapter of East India Voyages 107 

and, as a consequence, were willing to raise the 

"Being thus relieved from a painful state of 
anxiety, and from an embargo of nearly six months' 
duration, we sailed from the Isle of France on the 
25th of November, being only partly laden; and 
proceeded to the Isle of Bourbon to take on board 
a quantity of coifee already prepared for us. 
Having anchored at St. Dennis, and taken on 
board a part, we proceeded to St. Benoit, and took 
in the remainder. The anchorage at this latter 
place is so bad that it is rare that any other than 
small coasting vessels attempt to land there. We 
came to in fifty fathoms, the cable being nearly 
up and down. The Benjamin was the first foreign 
vessel that had ever anchored in that port; and 
having fine weather and a very smooth sea, and 
receiving every facility from the agent on shore, 
we succeeded in the accomplishment of our object, 
after remaining four days at this dangerous 
anchorage. We then sailed on the yth of December 
for the Cape of Good Hope, touching again at St. 
Dennis for the settlement of accounts, which caused 
a detention of a few hours only. 

"Our passage from St. Dennis to the Cape of 
Good Hope was attended with no circumstances 

io8 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

worthy of note. It was performed in about thirty 
days and we arrived there on the 4th of January, 
1794. A few days afterward the ship Henry arrived 
from the Isle of Bourbon, only partly laden; and 
on the same day the brig Hope arrived from Salem. 
Such a coincidence was not lost on the enterprising 
mind of Captain Silsbee, who seizing the advantage 
presented by it, determined on returning to the 
Isle of France with a cargo of Cape produce, which 
was greatly wanted there; and on freighting home, 
in the above vessels, the cargo then on board. 
Having made arrangements for carrying this plan 
into execution, he caused to be shipped in these 
vessels, to the owner in Salem, such portion of the 
cargo from the Isle of France as would consider- 
ably more than pay for the cost of our ship and of 
her whole outward freight; and the proceeds of the 
remainder, beyond what was put on board the 
Henry and the Hope, were invested in wine and 
other articles suited to the market of the Isle of 

"A few days before the completion of our busi- 
ness at the Cape the British frigate Diomede an- 
chored in the bay; which was rather an alarming 
incident, as at that period the thirst for plunder 
among the officers of the British navy, and their 


Salem ship-master and merchant and United States Senator. From the portrait by Chester Harding 

A Chapter of East India Voyages 109 

consequent annoyance of neutrals, were very great. 
It was soon afterwards rumored that they had 
information of our intention of going to the Isle 
of France, and meant to prevent it: although we 
had not violated any known law or regulation of 
the place, or compromised any of the rights of neu- 
trals, nor was the island blockaded. Our exertions, 
therefore, were unrelenting to be off with the least 
possible delay. Accordingly, being ready for sea, 
we went on board in the afternoon of the 4th 
of February, in a strong southeaster, and with a 
prospect of its increase. We had been on board 
but a short time before we saw a boat put off from 
the Diomede and row towards us. If it had been 
their intention to board us, as we supposed to be 
the case, they were unable to do so, from the vio- 
lence of the wind, and they landed about a mile to 
leeward. As, in going out of the bay, we should be 
obliged to pass the Diomede, we waited till after 
dark for this purpose. In the mean time the gale 
had increased to such a degree, that, when we 
attempted to heave ahead, we found it to be 
entirely impossible, and as the only alternative, 
we slipped our cables, hoisted the fore-topmast 
staysail and were soon at sea, out of the reach of 

no Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

"Arriving safely at the Isle of France on the I3th 
of March, our cargo was disposed of immediately 
to great advantage. The ship was again loaded 
with a cargo of the produce of the island, and we 
sailed for home on the 8th of April; having been 
only twenty-six days in selling and delivering one 
cargo, purchasing and lading another, and getting 
off. Here again we had to leave rather abruptly 
and a day or two sooner than had been contem- 
plated, in consequence of information which was 
received on a Sunday morning that at a meeting, 
the preceding evening, of the Jacobin club (which 
then governed the place), it had been decreed that 
an embargo should be laid on Monday morning on 
all the foreign vessels then in port. Having pre- 
viously, as has been seen, suffered here from a six 
months' embargo, it was determined, if possible, 
to escape another such detention, even at some 

"In pursuance of this determination, a number 
of sailors were hired, and brought on board; one 
of the pilots of the port, who was an influential 
member of the Jacobin club, was, by means of an 
exorbitant price for his services, and by a little 
stratagem which was acquiesced in by him, pre- 
vailed upon to be on board the ship and to conduct 

A Chapter of East India Voyages 1 1 1 

her out of port; the ship's papers were procured 
from the government bureau by an officer of the 
port, for which he was rewarded by a free passage 
to Salem; and all other preparations being made, 
as soon as the port bells rang to call the popu- 
lace to dinner, the three topsails with the jib and 
spanker, were hastily bent, the cables slipped and 
the ship put to sea before their return, the long- 
boat being given to the hired sailors, to convey 
themselves and the pilot on shore. Not having a 
sufficiency of provisions on board for a passage to 
America, no other alternative was left us but to 
stop at the Isle of Bourbon; accordingly with only 
one anchor and one cable left, we anchored the 
next day in the roads of St. Dennis. The account 
of the transactions here I copy from Captain Sils- 
bee's notes : 

"'On landing at St. Dennis, I called on the 
Governor of the island (whose residence was imme- 
diately contiguous to the wharf, and who was one 
of the old Royalists), as was usual, though not 
obligatory; and, immediately after leaving him, 
devoted myself exclusively to the procurement of 
such provisions as I could find, and the addition 
of a few bags of coffee to the cargo; which business 
was not accomplished until towards night, when 

ii2 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

just as I was stepping from the wharf into my boat, 
with a determination to be at sea before morning, 
the Governor ordered me to his presence; which 
order I obeyed from necessity, and with strong 
apprehension that some restraint was to be placed 
upon me. On meeting the Governor, he asked, 
"How long do you contemplate staying at Bour- 
bon?" My answer was, "No longer than is neces- 
sary to complete my business." He added, "Can't 
you leave here to-night?" I replied, "I can do so 
if you wish it." He then said to me, "As you had 
the politeness to call on me this morning, and as I 
should be sorry to see you injured, hearken to my 
advice and leave here to-night, if practicable." I 
thanked the Governor for his advice and was on 
my way towards my boat, when he called me back 
and said, "Let no one know what I have said to 
you." I was in my boat and on board the ship as 
soon as possible after leaving the Governor. There 
was a brig-of-war at anchor in the roads, a little to 
windward of our ship. Towards midnight I caused 
the anchor to be hove up without noise, and let the 
ship drift to leeward (the wind and current being 
favorable) without making sail, until from the 
darkness of the night we had lost sight of the brig; 
when we made all sail directly from the land. At 

A Chapter of East India Voyages 113 

daylight in the morning the brig was out and in 
pursuit of us; but in the course of the day gave up 
the chase. 

"'I never knew the cause of the Governor's 
advice, but attributed it to an apprehension on his 
part, that my stopping at Bourbon might be sup- 
posed by the populace to be for the purpose of 
taking off the French admiral, St. Felix (another 
of the old royalists), who had rendered himself 
obnoxious to them, and who was known to be then 
secreted somewhere on the island; and that this 
suspicion might compel him, the Governor, to 
cause the detention and perhaps the seizure of my 
ship, if I remained there until the next day.' 

"Whatever might have been the Governor's 
motive, we could perceive in his advice only a disin- 
terested and friendly act to us; by means of which 
mischief was probably averted. Pursuing our 
course to the westward, we struck soundings in 
fifty-five fathoms on L'Agulhas Bank, the 4th of 
May; passed the Cape of Good Hope the next day, 
and on the 3Oth came to anchor at the Island of 
Ascension. The time we passed here in fishing, 
catching turtle, shooting wild goats and rambling 
about the island, formed a pleasing and healthy 
interlude to the monotony of our voyage. Having 

ii4 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

obtained a good supply of all such refreshments as 
the island afforded, we left it on the first of June, 
and after a very pleasant passage, anchored in 
Salem harbor on the tenth of July; having been 
absent nineteen months; and having the satisfac- 
tion of returning all our men, in health, to their 
families and friends. 

"This voyage, thus happily accomplished, will 
be viewed, when taken in all its bearings, as a very 
remarkable one, first from the extreme youth 
of him on whom the whole duty and responsibility 
of conducting the enterprise rested; aided by a 
chief mate younger than himself and by a second 
mate but a few years older. Captain Silsbee was 
not twenty years old when entrusted with this 
enterprise; the chief mate, Charles Derby, had not 
entered on his twentieth year; and the second mate, 
who was discharged at the Isle of France, and whose 
place I afterwards filled, was about twenty-four 
years old. Secondly, from the foresight, ingenu- 
ity, and adroitness manifested in averting dangers, 
in perceiving advantages, and in seizing them op- 
portunely and turning them to the best account; 
and thirdly, from the great success attending this 
judicious management, as demonstrated by the 
fact of his returning to the owner four or five times 

A Chapter of East India Voyages 115 

the amount of the original capital. Mr. Derby 
used to call us his boys and boast of our achieve- 
ments; and well might he do so; for it is not prob- 
able that the annals of the world can furnish an- 
other example of an enterprise of such magnitude, 
requiring the exercise of so much judgement and 
skill, being conducted by so young a man, aided 
by only those who were yet much younger, and 
accomplished with the most entire success." 

Another interesting voyage of a Derby vessel 
was that of the ship Astrea II to Manila in 1796-97. 
She had as her supercargo Dr. Nathaniel Bow- 
ditch, the great mathematician, who for a number 
of years sailed in Mr. Derby's employ. The log 
of this voyage was kept by Dr. Bowditch himself 
and is at present preserved in the Boston Public 
Library. It is not much larger than a standard 
octavo volume, but every page contains enough 
calculations to cover several pages of print. Each 
day Dr. Bowditch ascertained the vessel's position 
by a number of different observations which are all 
worked out in great detail and in almost micro- 
scopic figures, and the data which he obtained on 
this voyage formed the basis for his noted works 
on navigation which to the present time remain 
standard authorities. 

n6 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

The Astrea sailed from Salem in March, 1796, 
about half loaded with provisions and miscella- 
neous cargo. She proceeded first to Lisbon, where 
she took on a quantity of wine and a large sum in 
Spanish dollars. Thence she went to Funchal, 
Madeira, where she completed her cargo by loading 
wines. On May 17 she sailed from Madeira, and 
on September 7 passed Java Head and entered 
the Straits of Sunda. The voyage through- the 
Java Sea, the Straits of Banca, the South China 
Sea, and the Palawan Passage to Manila required 
the most careful navigation. As the way was filled 
with countless coral reefs and the chart was very 
inaccurate, progress was difficult. The lead was 
kept going steadily and Dr. Bowditch made con- 
stant observations on every point of land to correct 
the errors in his chart. It was necessary to anchor 
at night for fear of running upon a reef, and calms 
and head currents caused much delay. Malay 
pirate proas often came near the ship, but a dis- 
charge of cannon usually kept them off. On Octo- 
ber 3 the Astrea arrived at Cavite and the next day 
anchored off Manila. 

Dr. Bowditch and Captain Prince then took up 
their residence ashore in Manila at the house of a 
Mr. Kerr, an American and a native of Philadel- 

A Chapter of East India Voyages 117 

phia, who had been living in the Philippines for 
some time. Kerr acted as broker for American 
vessels that came to Manila, as it was almost im- 
possible for foreign captains to do business without 
such a middleman. An arrangement, therefore, was 
made with him to take charge of the Astrea's 
affairs, and for the use of his storehouse on the 
river front. Dr. Bowditch was greatly disap- 
pointed in the demand for his wine and brandy, 
"there not being above 3000 Europeans in the 
city and suburbs who make use of liquors." The 
market was already overstocked and his fine 
Madeira wine brought no better price than the 
very poorest wine on the market. He was obliged 
to sell some of it at a very low figure and barter 
off the rest at a great sacrifice. The remainder of 
his cargo was disposed of at fairly good prices, 
including some compasses which cost only two 
dollars in Salem and which he sold for eight. The 
large consignment of Spanish dollars, however, 
which had been taken on at Lisbon was easily con- 
verted into goods. Dr. Bowditch writes, "In gen- 
eral vessels ought never to bring anything to 
Manilla but Dollars." He was very fortunate 
in his purchases. The largest part of his cargo he 
laid out in sugar, which he bought in small lots 

n8 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

from various merchants. He also secured a con- 
siderable amount of indigo and a consignment 
of hides. Molasses of a very fine quality was pro- 
curable at so low a cost that he obtained a few 
hogsheads. "It is worth so little," he wrote, "that 
a woman offered eight hogsheads of it as a present 
if we would only take it away." 

While he was purchasing his cargo, a Malay 
trading proa arrived at Manila from Borneo with a 
very valuable consignment of pepper. Dr. Bow- 
ditch made a visit on board the vessel and thus 
described her: "The Proa mounted 16 guns, 2 & 4 
pounders. Great numbers of people belong to her 
all of them having each his adventure. They are 
nearly of the same color as the natives here & not 
much different in their dress, wearing a turban & 
trousers. The captain of the Proa was fond of 
showing the scars he had received in War. On 
being asked whether he ever made prizes of Euro- 
pean vessels he replied that the only prizes he ever 
made was from the earth by cultivating pepper 
& bringing it to Manilla to sell, but it is said that 
the moment the Proa is out of port she would 
attack a vessel if she met with a good opportunity." 
With view to a good bargain, Dr. Bowditch offered 
to purchase a large part of the proa's cargo of 


Mathematician and navigator 

A Chapter of East India Voyages 1 19 

pepper, and the Malay captain agreeing, Bowditch 
procured seven hundred peculs of this valuable 
commodity at a price which netted a very high 
return in Salem. 

In his journal Dr. Bowditch gives a very inter- 
esting account of Manila. He describes in de- 
tail the city, its fortifications, and the harbor, 
and touches on the mode of government, the great 
power of the church, and the methods of trade. 
His stay at Manila lasted about two months, and 
on December 10, 1796, after loading her cargo of 
sugar, indigo, pepper, and hides, the Astrea weighed 
anchor and sailed for home. She arrived in Salem 
in May, 1797, and sold her cargo at a great profit. 

At present, when one can rush across the Atlantic 
in four and a half days, it is interesting to look 
through some of the old log-books in which the 
incidents of these long East India voyages are 
quaintly recorded by the captains. For weeks at a 
time when the vessel bowled along before the fair 
trade wind and the sails needed no tending, the 
monotony and the absence from friends must have 
been hardship. At other times when caught in 
heavy gales, the courage and clever seamanship of 
the captain was necessary to bring the ship through 
safely. An old log-book kept by Captain Hodges, 

1 20 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

of Mr. Derby's ship Grand Turk II on a trip to 
India and back, is still preserved, and a few 
extracts give us an idea of one of these voyages : 

"Sunday nth March 1792. At 3 P.M. weighed 
Anchor and came to sail. The wind West & 
a strong Gale which occasioned the Gentlemen 
that accompany'* 1 me onbo d to leave the Ship 
immediately. Great numbers of our Friends 
assembled at the old Fort, & expressed their 
good Wishes in the old English custom of three 
Huzzas which was cheerfully returned by all on 

"May 3 ist. Passed Tristan d'Acogna. 

"June 22. Passed Cape of Good Hope. 

"June 3Oth. A ship passed us that hath been in 
sight 6 days an imperious Englishman and 
would not speak us. 

" May 4th. Our rigging keeps us constantly em- 
ployed being made of bad Hemp. It streaches 
down to nothing it is impossible to keep it 

"July 5th. In letting reef out M. T. Sail split in 
three places, bent a new one at 4 A.M. & in four 
hours the canvas was so much Broake at the 
foot of the sail was obliged to replace it with 

A Chapter of East India Voyages 121 

a spair Fore topsail. Our Salem Sail cloth has 
proved very rotten in all our Sails. 
"Wed. July i8th. These 24 hours blowing rainy 
weather, for three days we have not seen Sun 
or Stars. The clouds Low & very Gloomy. 

" The darkened sky how thick it lowers 
Troubled with stormes & big with showers 
No cheerful gleam of light appears 
But nature pours forth all her tears 

" Long passage dark Gloomy weather, very 
unpropitious the Blue Devils hover round. 
Neptune seems determined to be unfavorable. 
" Saturday August i8th, in the afternoon the Grand 
Turk anchored off the mouth of the Hoogly 
River and took on a pilot. The wind began to 
blow a strong gale from the northeast and the 
next day greatly increased. At 9 A.M. started 
our anchor and dropt the Best Bower. 
Brought up in 5 fathoms Water which made 
our Situation very unfavorable & brought us 
in the Horse of our Pilot Schooner which 
obliged him to cut his cable, our ship rides 
hard & pitches Bowsprit under. Oblige to 
expend the Pump Leather that is in Cargo for 
the Service of our Cables. The wind wears 
easterly the Gale continues extreme hard & a 

122 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

most terrible sea which breaks over the ship. 
Towards sun setting the wind moderated & 
veered southerly & soon increased & blowed 
harder than it had from the N. E. which 
made our situation very dangerous. All hands 
kept constantly employed attending our ca- 
bles. In the morning found our Nable Woods 
of the Horse Holes split. The wind moderated 
some & the tide favourable began at daylight to 
heave in our cables which were badly situated 
from the shift of wind & tide which took an 
elbow in them. We soon found it necessary 
to cut one for the preservation of the other & 
the ship then pitching Forecastle under ren- 
dered it impossible to pass a Hawser round the 
other cable by which had it been practicable 
we might have saved the anchor. The wind 
S W and appearance of blowing hard. At 3 P.M. 
we got our anchor after much difficulty, the 
cable much strained, the more as it is much 
under size. The ship then came to anchor in 
the river mouth, and the next morning started 
up for Calcutta which was reached August 

"December 3Oth the Grand Turk left Calcutta 
and dropped down river to Culpee where she 

A Chapter of East India Voyages 123 

was detained three days by calms. Our 
boats went on shore & procured considerable 
wood & saw many Dear, Wild Hens & Cocks 
the same as our domestick Fowles & many 
Tyger Tracks. The Tyger here is very danger- 
ous & it is necessary to be cautious & not 
adventure in the Woods. Our people killed 
one Dear which is a proof they are not very 

"Jan. yth. Cleared the Hoogly for Madras. 

"Jan. xyth. Arrived at Madras. 

"Feb. 2nd. Left Madras for Salem. 

"March Qth. Everything favourable yet feal two 
great wants, namely Society & Exercise. 

"March I3th. Fine wind & weather. The ship we 
saw yesterday came up & spoke us. She 
proved to be the Cornetta from Bengali & 
spoke the Ponsborn E. I. Co. ship three days 
ago. The Ponsborne left Madras 8 days after 
us & must now be ahead of us as she outsailed 
the Cornetta which outsails us a knot in 6. 
This is most certainly discourageing. 

"April 2nd. Passed Cape of Good Hope. 

"April I9th. Passed St. Helena. 

"April 24th. Passed Ascension. 

"June 12, 1793, the Grand Turk arrived safely 

124 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

home in Salem, after a voyage of one year 
and three months." 

One might relate the history of many more 
interesting voyages of Derby ships, but from the 
three which have been described we have obtained 
a good idea at first-hand of the manner in which the 
trade of the East Indies was carried on in those 



IN a previous chapter it was shown how in 
colonial days the New England merchants carried 
on their commerce, and how their trade was 
affected by the regulations of France and England, 
by the French and English wars, and by the Ameri- 
can Revolution. Under the provisions of the Eng- 
lish Navigation Acts, colonial vessels had shared 
with English ships a monopoly of the commerce of 
the British West Indies, but when the United States 
became an independent nation, her vessels, like 
those of any other foreign country, were excluded 
from this trade. On the other hand, in 1778 France 
had thrown open the commerce of her West India 
islands to American ships, although colonial vessels 
had traded there for a century or more contrary to 
the laws of France. Thus the legal status of Amer- 
ican shipping in the West Indies was completely 
reversed from the situation in colonial days. 

From 1783 to 1793 there was a short period of 
peace in western Europe, but in 1793 England and 

126 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

France once more took up arms in the great strug- 
gle which soon involved all the nations of Europe 
and that did not terminate till Waterloo. With 
these two nations at war, American vessels soon 
became among the most important neutral car- 
riers on the Atlantic, and as such transported a 
large amount of the commerce of both France and 
England. In May, 1793, the French Convention 
issued a decree authorizing French men-of-war to 
capture vessels of any nation bound to an English 
port, but, in deference to the treaties and amicable 
relations between France and the United States, 
American vessels were excepted. In June, England 
retaliated by authorizing English men-of-war to 
seize all vessels loaded with provisions and bound 
for France, and in November ordered further that 
any vessel loaded with the produce of a French 
colony should be captured. The effect that these 
decrees of England had on American shipping can 
be observed by some extracts from Mr. Derby's 

On February 22, 1794, he wrote to Captain 
Moseley of his ship Grand Turk, about to sail from 
Virginia to Hamburg: "Capt. Thos. Webb arrived 
here last Evening from St. Eustatia in 25 days, he 
brings advice that the Frigates & British Cruisers 

Voyages during Napoleonic W^ars 127 

in the West Indies is taking every American vessel 
that is going to or coming from the French West 
India Islands. this is done in consequence of a 
Proclimation from England of the sixth of No- 
vember. There was 20 Sail in at St. Kitts, 15 at 
Mont Serat the most of these if not all will be 
condemned. of course it will bring on a War. 
I therefore order you to come with the Ship to 
Salem as soon as you can even if the Ship is not 
quite loaded. I do not think there is immediate 
danger on this coast, but it is best to keep from 
any Vessels you see on the passage home." 

In the following month he wrote to his insurance 
agent in New York as follows : 

"SALEM 22nd March 1794 

"Mr. Edward Goold, 

"I do not yet get the arrival of either of my 
Ships from India I much fear those pirats the 
British have them in possession You say in your 
last there is but very little danger of a War 
when great Britain will give instruction to their 
ships to take our Vessels & not publish those 
instructions till two Months after they are given 
out & some time after they have been put in Exe- 
cution I do not see that we have anything to 

128 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

expect but War from such a piraticall Nation 
I have two valuable Vessels I believe among the 
number Captured Should my Ship arrive I 
think the risk even from here to N York would be 
too great to Venture I have offer'd 6 C on 
Capt. Mosely from Virginia to Salem & cannot get 
any Insurance on him at that premium 
"FromYrhumb le Serv t - 


About the same time Mr. Derby wrote Hon. 
Benjamin Goodhue, the Congressman of the Dis- 
trict, in regard to the capture of American vessels 
by the English. "I trust my Government," he 
says, "will never submit to such treatment, while 
we have it in our power to make them due us Jus- 
tice. We have spirit & ability to stand in our own 
defence. I am sure there is a disposition to do every 
thing Congress may think for the best & I hope 
you will not suffer us to be further insulted by 
those Pirats." 

In Parliament it was stated that nearly six hun- 
dred American vessels were detained, and many 
of them seized between November 6, 1793, and 
March 28, I794. 1 Mr. Derby did not escape un- 

1 McPherson's Annals of Commerce^ vol. iv, p. 285. 

Voyages during Napoleonic W^ars 129 

harmed, for no less than three of his vessels were 
captured. His old brigantine Rose, in which so 
many of his captains made their first voyages, was 
seized in the West Indies, as was his schooner 
Hope; and his famous ship Light Horse, which had 
made the first voyage to Russia and one of the first 
to the East, was captured on a voyage to France. 
The mission of Jay to England in the summer of 
1794 was the means of somewhat improving condi- 
tions between the United States and England, for 
in the treaty drawn up in November of that year 
England allowed the United States $10,000,000 
for her capture of neutral American vessels. Mr. 
Derby appears to have benefited by this, for he 
eventually received damages for the loss of the 
Light Horse, and probably for the loss of the Rose 
and the Hope as well. Another provision of Jay's 
Treaty was the opening of the trade between the 
United States and the British West Indies to ves- 
sels of under seventy tons. Although it had been 
hoped in America that Jay would obtain free 
trade to these islands for all American vessels, the 
opening of this commerce, which had been closed 
since 1783, was a boon to American merchants, 
even if it was restricted to such small craft. The 
result of the treaty was somewhat to lessen the 

130 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

ravages of British men-of-war and privateers on 
American commerce. England, nevertheless, re- 
tained her order authorizing the capture of vessels 
trading to France, although her payment of $10,- 
000,000 to the United States was virtually an 
acknowledgment that this policy was in violation 
of neutrality. 

During all this time American vessels had been 
carrying on a brisk trade with England, and this 
was looked upon by the French as a breach of their 
treaty of 1778 with the United States. Moreover, 
the "Genet affair" had somewhat strained rela- 
tions between the two countries, and in the mean 
time England had been freely seizing American 
vessels bound to France. In July, 1795, therefore, 
France decreed that American ships if found trad- 
ing to England would be captured like those of any 
other nation. In March, 1797, she went further 
and decreed that any American vessel, wherever 
bound, might be seized unless she carried a "Role 
d'Equipage" made out in a form prescribed by the 
French Government. To require that neutral ves- 
sels carry a French document to save them from 
capture was certainly a bold demand for France to 
make, but she nevertheless proceeded to carry it 

Voyages during Napoleonic W^ars 131 

In August, 1797, while on voyage from the Isle of 
France to Salem, Mr. Derby's ketch John was cap- 
tured by the French sloop-of-war Jean Barb, as 
she had no "Role d'Equipage." A prize crew was 
put on board and the John started for the French 
West India island of Guadeloupe. While on her 
way there she fell in with the British frigate 
L'Aimable, which captured her on the ground that 
she was French property and thus a lawful prize. 
The John was carried into the English West India 
island of Tortola and condemned by the British 
vice-admiralty court at that place. On October 3 1, 
Mr. Derby wrote from Salem, "I have a report 
that the Ketch is taken by a French privateer and 
ordered for Porto Rico it is said for not having 
the role d'equipage. Ever since I have known such 
a paper to be requisite I have not let a ship of mine 
go without it. At the time the Ketch sailed from 
Salem I never heard of such paper, and when the 
Captain Derby sailed from Bordeaux there was no 
such paper required, and when the Ketch left the 
Isle of France such paper was not heard of there." 
Mr. Derby immediately sent an agent to Tortola, 
but he was unable to obtain the release of the ves- 
sel until he had paid the captors a sum of money 
equal to over one fourth the value of the vessel and 

132 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

her cargo. In 1800, however, as a part of a treaty 
with France, the United States assumed the finan- 
cial responsibility for the, so-called, "French Spoli- 
ation Claims." These were the claims of American 
merchants for damages for the depredations of 
France on American property during the Napole- 
onic wars. Taking advantage of this circumstance, 
Mr. Derby's descendants made four different 
efforts to obtain from the United States Govern- 
ment compensation for the expenses incurred by 
the seizure of the John, and finally, in November, 
1904, one hundred and seven years after the cap- 
ture, the Court of Claims allowed the heirs of Elias 
Hasket Derby $12,962. 92. 1 

By 1798 affairs between France and the United 
States had reached such a stage that war seemed 
almost inevitable, and the United States Govern- 
ment had authorized the construction of several 
frigates. Much difficulty was experienced in ob- 
taining the money to pay for these ships, as the 
Government was unable to borrow except at a very 
high rate of interest. In June, 1798, therefore, 
Congress passed an act authorizing the President 

1 Up to the present time this sum of money has not been 
received by the heirs, because Congress has never passed the 
bill authorizing the payment of this just claim of one hundred 
and fifteen years* standing. 

9 ' 


From the painting by Corne in the Essex Institute, Salem. The John was originally rigged as a ketch 

Voyages during Napoleonic W^ars 133 

to accept such vessels as citizens might build for 
the national service, and to give in return six per 
cent notes. During the summer the patriotic peo- 
ple of Salem decided to build a frigate for the navy, 
and in October subscriptions were opened. Mr. 
Derby and his fellow townsman and merchant, 
William Gray, headed the list with $10,000 each. 
Within a very short time $75,000 had been col- 
lected, which amply covered the cost of the vessel. 
Enos Briggs, who had built most of Mr. Derby's 
fleet, was given the contract for the construction 
of the frigate, and on September 30, 1799, the fine 
new ship was launched. She was named the 
Essex, and Mr. Derby's nephew, Richard Derby, 
was selected as her captain, but, as he was then 
absent on a foreign voyage, the command was given 
to the famous Captain Preble. The Essex proved 
to be one of the best as well as one of the cheapest 
vessels in the navy. In her eventful career she won 
many creditable victories and captured nearly 
$2,000,000 worth of property from the enemy. 

The difficulties with France having grown by 
this time into an informal war, Mr. Derby was 
seized with some of his old Revolutionary spirit, 
and in 1798 had built in Salem a fine ship of three 
hundred and fifty-five tons which he named the 

134 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

Mount Vernon. She was a veritable little frigate, 
being equipped with twenty guns and carrying 
a crew of fifty men. Her first voyage was to Havana 
and back in the winter of 1799, an< ^ on July 14 of 
that year she sailed for the Mediterranean under 
the command of Mr. Derby's son, Elias Hasket, Jr. 
Europe was at that time disrupted by the Napole- 
onic wars, and a favorable opportunity was offered 
for a profitable voyage to the Mediterranean, as 
the devastations of the war and the requirements 
of the great armies in the field had created a heavy 
demand for commodities of every sort. The Mount 
Vernon carried a cargo of sugar and other provi- 
sions valued at $43,275, and under the able man- 
agement of young Mr. Derby made a remarkably 
profitable voyage. As her log- and letter-book are 
still preserved, we have thus an excellent record 
of a most interesting voyage. The Mount Vernon's 
first port of call was Gibraltar. On arrival there, 
Captain Derby wrote to his father the following 
letter giving an account of the Mount Vernon's 
narrow escape from capture by a French fleet: 

"GIBRALTAR, 1st August, 1799. 

"E. H. Derby, Esq., Salem: 

"HONORED SIR: I think you must be sur- 
prised to find me here so early. I arrived at this 

Voyages during Napoleonic W^ars 135 

port in seventeen and one-half days from the time 
my brother left the ship. In eight days and seven 
hours we were up with Carvo, and made Cape St. 
Vincent in sixteen days. The first of our passage 
was quite agreeable; the latter, light winds, calm, 
and Frenchmen constantly in sight, for the last 
four days. The first Frenchman we saw was oil 
Tercira a lugger to the southward. Being un- 
certain of his force, we stood by him to leeward on 
our course, and soon left him. July 28th, in the 
afternoon, we found ourselves approaching a fleet 
of upwards of fifty sail, steering nearly N. E. We 
run directly for their center; at 4 o'clock found 
ourselves in their halfmoon; concluding it impos- 
sible that it could be any other than the English 
fleet, continued our course for their center, to 
avoid any apprehension of a want of confidence in 
them. They soon dispatched an i8-gun ship from 
their center, and two frigates, one from their van 
and another from the rear, to beat toward us, we 
being to windward. On approaching, under easy 
sail, the center ship, I fortunately bethought my- 
self that it would be but common prudence to steer 
so far to windward of him, as to be a grapeshots 
distance from him, to observe his force and man- 
euvering. When we were abreast of him, he fired 

136 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

a gun to leeward, and hoisted English colors. We 
immediately bore away, and meant to pass under 
his quarter, between him and the fleet, showing 
our American colors. This movement disconcerted 
him, and it appeared to me he conceived we were 
either an American sloop-of-war or an English one 
in disguise, attempting to cut him off from the 
fleet; for while we were in the act of wearing on his 
beam, he hoisted French colors, and gave us his 
broadside. We immediately brought our ship to 
the wind, and stood on about a mile wore 
toward the center of the fleet hove about, and 
crossed him on the other tack about half grape- 
shot distance, and received his broadside. Several 
of his shot fell on board of us, and cut our sails 
two round-shot striking us, without much damage. 
All hands were active in clearing ship for action, 
for our surprise had been complete. In about ten 
minutes we commenced firing our stern-chasers, 
and in a quarter of an hour gave him our broadside, 
in such a style as evidently sickened him; for he 
immediately luffed in the wind, gave us his broad- 
side, went in stays in great confusion, wore ship 
afterward in a large circle, and renewed the chase 
at a mile and a half distant a maneuver calcu- 
lated to keep up appearances with the fleet, and to 


From the painting by Come owned by Charles S. Rea, Esq., of Salem, showing the encounter with the 
French fleet on July 29, 1799 

Voyages during Napoleonic W^ars 137 

escape our shot. We received seven or eight broad- 
sides from him, and I was mortified at not having 
it in my power to return him an equal number, 
without exposing myself to the rest of the fleet; 
for I am persuaded I should have had the pleasure 
of sending him home, had he been separate from 
them. 1 

"At midnight we had distanced them, the chas- 
ing rocket signals being almost out of sight, and 
soon left them. We then kept ourselves in constant 
preparation till my arrival here; and, indeed, it has 
been requisite, for we have been in constant 
brushes ever since. The day after we left the fleet, 
we were chased till night by two frigates, whom we 
lost sight of when it was dark. The next morning, 
off Cape St. Vincent, in the latitude of Cadiz, were 
chased by a French lateen-rigged vessel, apparently 
of 10 or 12 guns one of them an i8-pounden 
We brought to for him; his metal was too heavy 
for ours, and his position to windward, where he 
lay just in a situation to cast his shot over us, and 
it was not in my power to cut him off: we, of 
course, bore away, and saluted him with our long 

1 Without doubt this was the French fleet under Admiral Bruix 
returning from its fruitless dash into the Mediterranean while 
Napoleon was in Egypt. The fleet arrived at Brest on August 
13 and must have been in this neighborhood about this time. 

138 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

nines. He continued in chase till dark, and when 
we were nearly by Cadiz, at sunset, he made a sig- 
nal to his consort, a large lugger whom we had 
just discovered ahead. Having a strong breeze, 
I was determined to pass my stern over him, if he 
did not make way for me. He thought prudent so 
to do. At midnight we made the lights in Cadiz 
city, but found no English fleet. After laying to 
till daylight, concluded that the French must have 
gained the ascendency in Cadiz, and thought pru- 
dent to proceed to this place, where we arrived at 
12 o'clock, popping at Frenchmen all the forenoon. 
At 10 A.M., oif Algesiras Point, were seriously 
attacked by a large latineer, who had on board 
more than 100 men. He came so near our broad- 
side as to allow our six-pound grape to do execu- 
tion handsomely. We then bore away, and gave 
him our stern guns in a cool and deliberate manner, 
doing apparently great execution. Our bars having 
cut his sails considerably, he was thrown into con- 
fusion, struck both his ensign and his pennant. I 
was then puzzled to know what to do with so many 
men: our ship was running large, with all her 
steering-sails out, so that we could not immedi- 
ately bring her to the wind, and we were directly 
off Algesiras Point, from whence I had reason to 

Voyages during Napoleonic Wars 139 

fear she might receive assistance, and my port 
(Gibraltar) in full view. These were circumstances 
that induced me to give up the gratification of 
bringing him in. It was, however, a satisfaction to 
flog the rascal in full view of the English fleet, who 
were to leeward. The risk of sending here is great, 
indeed, for any ship short of our force in men and 
guns but particularly heavy guns. Two nines 
are better than six or eight sixes; and two long 
twelves, or thirteen pounders, do better than 
twenty sixes, and could be managed with few men. 

" It is absolutely necessary that two government 
ships should occasionally range the straits and lati- 
tude of Cadiz, from the longitude of Cape St. Vin- 
cent. I have now, while writing to you, two of our 
countrymen in full view, who are prizes to these 
villains. Lord St. Vincent, in a 5O-gun ship bound 
for England, is just at this moment in the act of 
retaking one of them. The other goes into Algesiras 
without molestation. 

"I find that nothing is to be done here to ad- 
vantage, except to obtain information from above. 
I have been offered $30 to deliver my sugar at 
Naples, where I think I shall go; but I rather ex- 
pect to sell at Venice, Constantinople, or Genoa, 
in case the French are driven from there. I have 

140 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

concluded to touch at Malaga, with Capt. Young, 
of Boston, and obtain what information I can; 
and think I may direct Mr. White how to lay out 
the property in his hands, against my return, as I 
think it for your interest to have it out of Spain. 
You need have but little apprehension for my 
safety, as my crew are remarkably well trained, 
and are perfectly well disposed to defend them- 
selves ; and I think, after having cleared ourselves 
from the French in such a handsome manner, you 
may well conclude that we can effect almost any 
thing. If I should go to Constantinople, it will be 
from a passport from Admiral Nelson, for whom I 
carry a letter to Naples. 

"Your affectionate son, 


Captain Derby was about to sail for Naples to 
dispose of his cargo there, when he met in Gibraltar 
a certain Mr. John Williams, of Baltimore, who 
had just sold a cargo of brandy and was anxious 
to invest the proceeds in a new venture. Williams 
persuaded Derby to join him in chartering and 
loading for Naples the American brig Three 
Friends, which was then in port. The brig was 
loaded with sugar, coffee, cocoa, and tobacco, and 

Voyages during Napoleonic Wars 141 

Derby paid for his share by means of notes on 
London. On August 10, the two vessels sailed for 
Naples in company with the ships Governor Sum- 
ner, of Boston, and Elizabeth, of Baltimore. The 
four kept together for mutual protection, the 
Mount Vernon being the flagship, but no hostile 
craft troubled them, and on August 23 the little 
squadron arrived at Palermo. Finding the markets 
here to be poor, they once more got under way, and 
on September 2 anchored off Naples. On the pass- 
age from Gibraltar the chartered brig Three 
Friends proved to be such a slow sailer that most 
of the way she was towed by the Mount Vernon, 
but the log tells us that even with "the brig in tow 
the Mt. Vernon sails \ faster than the other 

The markets for all commodities at Naples 
proved to be very high, and the sale of the cargo 
of the Mount Vernon and Derby's share in that of 
the Three Sisters amounted to no less than $120,- 
ooo. Under date of October 29, 1799, Derby wrote 
from Naples to his father as follows: 

"NAPLES, 29th October, 1799. 

"HONORED SIR: That this may find you in 
better health than when I left you, is my sincere 

142 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

wish. It has been an unhappy circumstance in my 
voyage, that I cannot bring it to a close, agreeable 
with your wishes, this fall, without too great sacri- 
fices. My manufactured silks cannot be ready, and 
the red wine of Port lolo is not yet in season to ship. 
My sales have been handsome, though not so great 
as I could have wished. I have been obliged to use 
a great deal of address, and exercise all my patience 
to effect them. 

"They are now complete, all to 200 quintals of 
roll tobacco, brought by Capt. Allen from Gibral- 
tar, who is discharged, and is now on his passage 
from Palermo to Charleston. They will amount, 
with the tobacco, to $120,000. I have bought 16 
brass guns, at one shilling sterling per pound, 
expecting them to be as good a return as almost 
any thing. Also 65 boxes of manna, containing 
about 8,332 pounds, together with $50,000 con- 
tracted for principally in ormazine silks, satins, 
and about 700 casks of wine, in 58 gallons (French- 
fashioned casks), at about $12, which I expect will 
compose the Mount Vernon's cargo for America. 
In the mean time, whilst the silks are in the loom, 
I have thought it for your interest to purchase two 
polacca-rigged ships, of 290 and 310 tons both 
of them very fine ships, almost new, and great 

Voyages during Napoleonic W^ars 143 

sailers. They are now ready to proceed with the 
Mount Vernon for Manfredonia, to take, on your 
account, cargoes of wheat to Leghorn, which, from 
the rising state of the market, I thinkwill more than 
clear the ships. They cost, with all expenses, about 
$16,000. By means of the brass guns, and others 
bought with them, they mount 12 and 14 sixes. 
Wages, $9 per month. I think, if I have the good 
fortune to bring them home, you will allow either 
of them to equal the Mount Vernon. My present 
intention is, to make all the dispatch in my power, 
to return with the three vessels to this port, and 
load them with wine for Salem which will be 
in some preparation for them. I hope the arrange- 
ment will meet your approbation, for I assure you 
I did not know how I should otherwise invest my 

"Exchange on London, besides the uncertainty 
of it, is very disadvantageous. To invest $100,000 
in silks, would not certainly do; and to leave pro- 
perty in a distracted country like this, where they 
guillotine six a day, three or four times in a week, 
would be madness. Mr. Bruce takes the Lucy, and 
Mr. Dana the Nancy, named for my sister Pick- 
man. They are both well off for officers; and I 
trust, with Mr. Collins and others, I shall do per- 

144 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

fectly well. If we are fortunate, I shall be here in 
two months, or, at farthest, I hope, in ten weeks, 
to take my manufactures and wines for home, as I 
think, with good voyage. We are all in fine health 
and spirits. 

" I am, with many wishes for you and the family's 
welfare, your affectionate son, 


"P.S. The English minister, Lord Nelson, and 
Commodore Trowb ridge, have been very polite 
to me." 

While making these profitable transactions at 
Naples, Captain Derby several times enjoyed the 
hospitality of Lord Nelson and the beautiful Lady 
Hamilton. The English fleet was then idly lying 
in the bay, although at the very moment Napoleon 
was safely making his way from Egypt to France. 
One of Captain Derby's descendants thus describes 
an amusing incident that took place at one of these 
functions : "Mr. Derby was invited by Lord Nelson 
to dine with him and the officers of the fleet at 
Naples, and was called upon to relate his encounter 
with the French fleet, for which he was much com- 
mended. In the course of the evening, one of the 
English officers, becoming a little excited, began 

Voyages during Napoleonic fFars 145 

to inveigh against the ingratitude of the United 
States, in throwing off her allegiance to the mother 
country. Mr. Derby disarmed his opponent and 
restored the good-humor of the company by stating 
that they did not understand the true causes of 
the Revolution; that the. colonists, like themselves, 
had a great fancy for punch and Madeira and were 
disturbed by a set of custom-house harpies, who 
were constantly seizing their wine and spoiling 
their lemons by running their rapiers through the 
boxes, and they fought, as any true Briton would, 
for their punch and their Madeira." Nelson aided 
Captain Derby to quite an extent in the success of 
his business while at Naples and gave him a signed 
passport which is still one of the cherished heir- 
looms of the Derby family. 

On November 8 the Mount Vernon sailed from 
Naples for Manfredonia, accompanied by the two 
newly bought polacca ships. All three vessels were 
in ballast, and for most of the voyage around the 
south of Italy and up the Adriatic they were forced 
to beat against strong head winds. When off Cape 
Otranto the little fleet was attacked by two Turkish 
ships, which attempted to capture thepolaccas,but 
afewbroadsides fromtheMount Vernon drove them 
off. Manfredonia was reached on November 28, 

146 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

and arrangements were made to load three full 
cargoes of wheat. On December 27 the little fleet 
sailed for Leghorn, and, after a tediously long pass- 
age around the south of Italy and up the west 
coast, arrived at their destination early in Febru- 
ary and sold the wheat at great profit. The two 
polacca ships by this voyage netted in two and a 
half months a gain of $30,000 over and above the 
cost of the vessels and their cargoes. After un- 
loading their wheat, the fleet sailed for Naples on 
March 8, and forty hours later passed in by Capri. 
One of the polacca ships was now sold, and the 
other loaded with miscellaneous goods for Gibral- 
tar. In the mean time Mr. Derby's brig Cruger had 
arrived from Salem and had sold her cargo at a 
good price; and as the wines, silks, and satins for 
which Captain Derby had contracted had now been 
delivered, they were loaded on board the Mount 
Vernon and the Cruger. When nearly ready to 
sail, Captain Derby was approached by a young 
Italian artist, Michael Felice Corne, who weary of 
his service in the Italian army against Napoleon, 
asked to be allowed to take passage for America 
in the Mount Vernon. Derby consented, and thus 
there came to this country a man who soon estab- 
lished a reputation as the leading marine artist of 


From the painting by Corne, owned by Charles S. Rea, Esq., of Salem 

Voyages during Napoleonic ff^ars 147 

the day. Corne made paintings of many Salem 
ships, but the Mount Vernon was his favorite sub- 
ject. He depicted the ship during her engagement 
with the latineers off Gibraltar, 1 with the French 
fleet, and in many other situations. 

Towards the end of April the Mount Vernon and 
Cruger sailed from Naples, accompanied by the 
remaining polacca, and after a two weeks' passage 
arrived at Gibraltar. Here the polacca and her 
cargo were sold, and on May 28 the Mount Vernon 
and Cruger sailed for home. The former arrived 
at Salem on July 7, 1800, and the latter on August 
I . The result of the Mount Vernon's voyage was a 
net profit of over $100,000 on an investment of 

The owner of the Mount Vernon, however, was 
destined never to enjoy the fruits of this prosperous 
venture. On September 8, 1799, at the age of 
sixty, Mr. Elias Hasket Derby had ended his 
eventful career. 

1 See Frontispiece. 



ELIAS HASKET DERBY was a man of rare ability, 
and the large and successful business which he 
created was due to his remarkable energy, wisdom, 
and skill. At his death his house was one of the 
largest mercantile establishments in the United 
States, and his extensive trade to the East Indies 
had done much to stimulate American commerce 
with that part of the world. In these days, when 
the telegraph and the cable so greatly facilitate the 
transaction of business, it is difficult to imagine 
how foreign commerce was carried on without these 
modern necessities. A general survey, therefore, 
of the manner in which Mr. Derby built up his 
large trade and of the causes of his success may 
not be out of place. 

While employing his larger vessels in the trade 
to the East or to Europe, Mr. Derby always had 
a number of small schooners plying to New York, 
Philadelphia, Virginia, South Carolina, or the West 
Indies, gathering or distributing the cargoes of his 
large ships. On the arrival of a ship from the East, 

A Great Merchant 149 

only a small part of her cargo would be disposed of 
in Salem. Much of it would be sent to Boston, 
New York, or Philadelphia to be sold, and often, 
when certain imported goods came to a bad market 
in America, Mr. Derby would send them to Europe 
in one of his vessels in hope of obtaining a better 
price abroad. Thus we find coffee from the Isle of 
France, which arrived at Salem when the price was 
low, being exported to the Baltic, and cotton from 
India, which could not find a purchaser in America, 
being sent to London. 

In many of his voyages Mr. Derby employed a 
simple system of barter. The outward cargo was 
exchanged for the return cargo. Often, however, it 
was impossible to obtain a return shipment at the 
same port or from the same merchant who had 
received the inward cargo. In such cases Mr. 
Derby's captains and supercargoes paid their bal- 
ances by letters of credit on London, where Mr. 
Derby always had a considerable sum deposited for 
the purpose. In many places in the East, however, 
Spanish dollars were the only medium of exchange 
for foreign merchants. Specie of all kinds was very 
scarce in the United States in the decade following 
the Revolution, and therefore, when Mr. Derby 
despatched vessels to the East Indies, he often sent 

150 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

them first to Lisbon, where they obtained a supply 
of Spanish dollars in exchange for drafts on London. 

Mr. Derby usually insured his vessels and car- 
goes only in part, and by dividing his risks over his 
extensive property he could afford occasionally to 
lose a ship. As a matter of fact, he enjoyed great 
immunity from loss at sea, for although during 
the American Revolution and the early period of 
the Napoleonic wars several of his vessels were 
captured, we have but one record of his losing a 
ship by marine perils. This good fortune may well 
be considered as one of the causes of Mr. Derby's 
success, but there were many other reasons for the 
rapid growth of his business. 

In the first place, the United States Government 
had from the very beginning adopted a policy of 
fostering and protecting American shipping. The 
First Congress had provided in the original tariff 
act that all goods imported in American vessels 
should be admitted at a ten per cent ad valorem 
reduction in the duty. The effect of this measure 
was greatly to encourage the importation of goods 
in American rather than in foreign bottoms, and 
Mr. Derby and other American shipowners accord- 
ingly benefited greatly. In fact, in the ten years 
from 1789 to 1799 the proportion of our combined 

A Great Merchant 

imports and exports carried in American vessels 
increased from twenty-three and one half per cent 
to eighty-eight and one half per cent. Moreover, 
in the period which we are now describing, Ameri- 
can vessels could be built and operated at about one 
half the cost of similar English ships. 1 These advan- 

TONS, IN 1805. 

On a voyage between England and America and return 
Cost of American vessel of 250 tons, 2000. 
Cost of English vessel of 250 tons, 4000 

A ship of 250 tons would carry 3000 bbls. of flour at 95. 1,350 
The average freight from England back 600 


American Charges s. d. 
Insurance out and home 

on 2500 @ 4! % 95 

8 men, 5 months @ 5 200 

Captain and mate 

@ 10 each 100 
2400 Ibs. bread 

@i6s. 19 4 

Beef 10 bbls. @ 323. 16 

Pork 10 bbls. @ 503. 25 

150 gallons rum 1 6 17 
Interest of 2000, 

5 months 41 13 4 

513 14 4 

English Charges s. d. 
Insurance out & home 

on 4000 @ 6% 360 
12 men, 5 months 

5 300 

Captain and mate 

10 each 100 

360 Ibs. bread 
for 14 people for 
5 months @ 325. 57 1 2 
15 bbls. of beef 

4 60 

15 bbls. pork @ 905. 67 IO 
220 gallons rum @ 55. 55 
Interest on 4000 

5 months 83 6 8 

1083 8 8 

(Report of the Committee of Correspondence on Trade with 
the East Indies and China, British Parliamentary Papers, 1815.) 

1 52 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

tages naturally were of great aid to American mer- 
chants in meeting foreign competition. Mr. Derby, 
however, owed his success primarily to the thorough 
and able manner in which he managed his business. 
The vessels of Mr. Derby's fleet were all of good, 
seaworthy model, and he always exercised great 
care and forethought in their maintenance and 
equipment. This is well shown by the following 
extract from his papers : 

"Orders for B. Hodges mastr sf Jos Moseley mate of 
Ship Grand Turk 7 Mar. 1792. 


"In such a Voyage as you are now going upon 
there are many things that you must ever bare in 
mind a few that respects the safety of the Ship 
I will mention. Never suffer any spirit to be drawn 
after night nor at any time under Deck but 
at the Store Room nor allow of any Powder to 
be kept in any place except in the Magazine on 
Deck Make it a constant practice every Satur- 
day to have the Chimney of the Galley swept down 
least by this neglect it might set the Ship on Fire 
and I believe it will be safer for the Ship with- 
out the Funnel Keep a constant watch on Deck 
while in Port & the more so on acct. of the danger 

A Great Merchant 1 5 3 

of fire in the Galley You must make the Ship 
leak so much as to give two good spells a Day at 
least Keep the Hatches open so as to keep the 
ship cool & have a wind sail if there is occasion, as 
heat in the hold will damage the Ship Have the 
hold & Decks examined every Day, as perhaps 
after some Gale you may find some defect & may 
prevent the damage of considerable of the Cargo 
Be very careful in the Dunnage of the Ship to take 
in her cargo there need be no ballast left in 
provided there is very particular care taken in 
making Stowage of the Sugar in Bags & Hogsh 6 *, 
the ship will I suppose load without much on the 
Gun Deck let the Ginger, pepper & every light 
article be on that Deck When the ship is un- 
loaded in Calcutta I wish you tor make 2 or 3 
Hogshds of very strong pickle & let some of your 
hands take a cloth & wash the Ship in the hold & 
in the lower Deck in every part, the same as you 
would scower of a Floor & if you have any Salt left 
put it on the Knees." 

Captain Richard Cleveland, who was long in 
the Derby employ, writes of the great merchant 
as follows, "Without possessing a scientific 
knowledge of the construction and sparring of 

iS4 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

ships, Mr. Derby seemed to have an intuitive fac- 
ulty in judging of models and proportions ; and his 
experiments, in several instances, for the attain- 
ment of swiftness of sailing were crowned with a 
success unsurpassed in our own or any other coun- 
try." 1 Perhaps the best vessel ever owned by 
Mr. Derby was theAstrea. She was a ship of three 
hundred and sixty tons, built in Salem in 1783, 
and was distinguished for her great speed. On her 
maiden voyage she went from Salem to France in 
eighteen days and returned in twenty-two, and 
later on a voyage to the Baltic, it is said, she ran 
from Salem to the Irish coast in eleven days. If 
this is true it is one of the fastest trans-Atlantic 
passages ever made under sail. 2 TheAstrea was in 
Mr. Derby's service for many years and was sold in 
Calcutta in 1793. Many advancements in ship- 
building were made by Mr. Derby. His ship Grand 
Turk II of five hundred and sixty-four tons, built 
in Salem in 1791, was said to have been the largest 

1 Richard J. Cleveland's Narrative of Voyages and Commer- 
cial Enterprises, 1842. 

2 Capt. Clark in his book, The Clipper Ship Era, states that 
in 1854 the American-built clipper ship Lightning ran from Bos- 
ton Light to Eagle Island, on the Irish coast, in just ten days. 
This is probably the fastest land-to-land trans- Atlantic voyage 
under sail. Unfortunately the Astrea's eleven-day passage is 
founded only on tradition. 

A Great Merchant 155 

merchant vessel constructed in America up to that 
time. He also was the first shipowner in America 
to copper-bottom his vessels, which was soon done 
on all ships frequenting tropical waters. 

Mr. Derby's success in trade was due, more than 
anything else, to the officers and men he employed 
on his ships. His captains and supercargoes were 
nearly always young and energetic men, and be- 
sides paying them well he made it a practice to 
give them a large interest in the voyage. The crew 
also were often entitled to "privilege and adven- 
ture," that is, they were allowed a certain space 
in the vessel's hold in which they might carry out 
and bring back goods on their own account. On 
the vessePsportledge bill, or pay-roll, it would then 
be stated that a certain seaman was entitled to so 
many tons or hundredweight of "adventure" or 
"privilege" in addition to his wages. At the same 
time other persons in all walks of life would often 
send out "adventures" by entrusting the super- 
cargo with a certain sum of money or a small con- 
signment of goods to be exchanged in the distant 
markets for valuable articles. Even the merchant's 
minister turned over his hard-earned savings to 
the supercargo and eagerly awaited the return of 
the ship, while the young Hepsibahs and Mary 

156 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

Janes of the old Puritan town shrewdly invested 
their "pin-money" in adventures to be brought 
home in the form of India shawls and trinkets. 

The sailors who made up the crews of Mr. 
Derby's vessels nearly all lived within a few miles 
of Salem. As many of them had large families 
dependent upon them, we find a considerable 
number of agreements among the Derby papers 
like the following: 

"Whereas Henry Neill is gone in the Ship Grand 
Turk as Mariner, & has left a family in Marble- 
head I agree to pay said Family eight dollars every 
three months, the first payment to be on the first 
day of June next, the second payment the first 
day of September next, and so on until the Ship 
shall arrive at Salem, excepting we hear of any 
accident happening to said Ship then the quarterly 
payment to cease. 


"SALEM 2 March 1792." 

Among the officers who sailed for Mr. Derby 
were Dr. Nathaniel Bowditch, Captain Benjamin 
Bullock, Mr. Samuel Blanchard, Captain Richard 
Cleveland, Captains Benjamin and Jacob Crown- 

A Great Merchant 157 

inshield, Captains Richard, Jr., Elias Hasket, Jr., 
and Samuel Derby, Captain James Gibaut, Cap- 
tain Benjamin Hodges, Captain Jonathan Inger- 
soll, Captain James Magee, Captains Ichabod and 
Jacob Nichols, Mr. Thomas Handasyd Perkins, 
Captain Stephen Phillips, Captain Joseph Pratt, 
Captain John Prince, Captain Joseph Ropes, Hon. 
Nathaniel Silsbee, Captain Benjamin Webb, and 
Captains Benjamin and Ebenezer West. Many of 
these gentlemen, who began as boys in Mr. Derby's 
employ, rose to be wealthy and influential mer- 
chants. They usually left school when about fifteen 
and then served several years in Mr. Derby's 
counting-house. Here they received free instruc- 
tion in the art of navigation from an old retired 
mariner, Captain Jonathan Archer, whom Mr. 
Derby employed for the purpose. Each was then 
sent on several voyages as captain's clerk, and later 
would be promoted to a position as supercargo 
of some small vessel. For many years Mr. Derby 
owned an old brig named the Rose which traded 
regularly to the West Indies. On this ship he 
always sent his young men making their first 
voyage as supercargo. After they had made a trip 
or two in the Rose, Mr. Derby would then put 
the young men in charge of vessels bound to the 

158 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

East Indies, giving them such a large interest in 
the voyage that it was possible for them very soon 
to amass a sufficient sum of money to set up for 
themselves as merchants. 

Among those who sailed as officers for Mr. 
Derby and later became successful merchants were 
Benjamin and Jacob Crowninshield. While in com- 
mand of one of Mr. Derby's vessels, Jacob Crown- 
inshield, with the proceeds of the sale of his cargo 
at the Isle of France, bought a ship of about one 
hundred and seventy-five tons named the Henry. 
On the return of the new vessel to Salem, Mr. Derby 
sold her to Benjamin and Jacob for $10,500, the 
payment to be made after the Crowninshields had 
made a round trip to India with the ship. Of this 
generous transaction, Jacob writes as follows : 

"Ben no doubt informed you that we had bot 
the Henry, the ship I came home in. Mr. Derby 
gives Ben and myself a credit for her till she re- 
turns, with our notes upon interest and the policy 
of insurance lodged in his hands. The price was 
10,500 dollars, the 500 dollars to be paid in two 
months. Thus we have a good ship without paying 
for her this 18 months and in that time I calculate 
she will more than clear herself in India. Do not 
you think it extraordinary that Mr. Derby should 

A Great Merchant 159 

trust us so long for 3000 pounds, however 't is good 
money at interest. We only bought her yesterday 
and five minutes after might have sold her for 
3500 pounds, but Mr. Derby made it an express 
condition to the contrary when we bot her." x 

This generosity of Mr. Derby's was the means 
of establishing the Crowninshields in business for 
themselves, and their house soon became one of 
the largest and most influential in Salem. 

Another gentleman who grew up in Mr. Derby's 
service was Hon. Nathaniel Silsbee, for many 
years United States Senator from Massachusetts. 
Mr. Silsbee's father had sailed as captain for the 
Derbys, and at his death his young son entered 
Mr. Derby's counting-house as clerk. So rapidly 
did the boy learn the methods of trade that in 
1788, when only fourteen years old, he went as 
supercargo's clerk on the Three Sisters to Batavia 
and Canton. On his return Mr. Derby sent him on 
a couple of trips to Madeira, and then, although 
but nineteen years of age, gave him command of 
the ship Benjamin bound to the Isle of France. 
The story of this remarkable voyage has already 
been told in a previous chapter and clearly shows 
to what a great extent Mr. Derby's success was 
1 Letter in possession of W. C. Endicott, Esq., of Boston. 

160 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

due to the very able men he placed in charge of his 

The most noted person ever in Mr. Derby's 
employ was Dr. Nathaniel Bowditch. Mr. Derby 
was always his great friend and patron, and the 
famous mathematician made four long voyages in 
Derby ships. Although Dr. Bowditch knew little 
about actual seamanship, he was one of the world's 
greatest authorities on navigation. While at sea he 
used to employ his time by instructing the crew in 
navigation, until all hands, even down to the cook, 
were proficient in the art. In this connection, Rev. 
Alexander Young, in his memorial of Bowditch, 
tells an amusing incident in the voyage of the 
Astrea II to the Philippines: "On their arrival at 
Manilla, a Scotchman, by the name of Murray, 
asked Captain Prince how he contrived to find the 
way there, through such a long, perplexing, and 
dangerous navigation, and in the face of the north- 
east monsoon, by mere dead reckoning, without the 
use of lunars, it being a common notion at that 
time, that the Americans knew nothing about 
working lunar observations. Captain Prince told 
him that he had a crew of twelve men, every one 
of whom could take and work a lunar observation 
as well, for all practical purposes, as Sir Isaac New- 

A Great Merchant 161 

ton himself, were he alive. Murray was perfectly 
astounded at this, and actually went down to the 
landing-place one Sunday morning to see this 
knowing crew come ashore. Mr. Bowditch was 
present at this conversation, and as Captain 
Prince says, sat 'as modest as a maid,' said not a 
word, but held his slate-pencil in his mouth." 

To quote again from Mr. Young: "Captain 
Prince says that one day the supercargo said to 
him, 'Come, Captain, let us go forward and see 
what the sailors are talking about, under the lee 
of the long-boat.' They went forward accordingly, 
and the captain was surprised to find the sailors, 
instead of spinning their long yarns, earnestly 
engaged with book, slate, and pencil, and discuss- 
ing the high matters of tangents and secants, alti- 
tude, dip, and refraction. Two of them in partic- 
ular were very zealously disputing, one of them 
calling out to the other, 'Well, Jack, what have 
you got ? ' ' I Ve got the sine,' was the answer. * But 
that ain't right,' said the other, 'I say it is the 
cosine.' At Salem it was considered the highest 
recommendation of a seaman, that he had sailed 
in the same ship with Mr. Bowditch, and this fact 
alone was often sufficient to procure for him an 
officer's berth. In illustration of this statement, on 

1 62 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

his second voyage the first and second mates had 
been sailors in the same ship on the previous 

By administering his business with great ability, 
by keeping his fleet up to the highest standard, by 
giving his crews large interests in their voyages, 
and by employing such capable officers as Silsbee 
or Bowditch, Mr. Derby created one of the great- 
est mercantile establishments in the United States. 
In 1799 his fleet consisted of six ships, one bark, 
four brigs, one ketch, and one schooner, aggre- 
gating 2280 tons. 1 He died, leaving an estate of 
over $1,000,000, one of the largest fortunes amassed 
in America up to that time. 

The last few years of his life Mr. Derby was 
an invalid, often for several weeks at a time be- 
ing unable to go to his counting-house. In April, 
1799, Mrs. Derby had died, and her loss was 
a blow from which he did not recover. Mr. 
Derby's family life appears to have been a most 
happy one, and his affection for his wife and 

1 Although Mr. Derby was one of the principal American 
shipowners of his time, the tonnage of his entire fleet was not 
as large as that of one modern five-masted schooner. The big- 
gest ship he ever owned was only 500 tons and he sold her 
because she was too large. Many of his craft which voyaged 
to the Far East were no larger than fishing smacks. 

A Great Merchant 163 

his seven children was unbounded. Although 
blessed with great riches he disliked ostentatious 
display. It is said, however, that nothing gave 
him more pleasure than on Sunday afternoons to 
drive out to his estate at Danvers with Mrs. Derby 
in his coach, followed by his children and grand- 
children on horseback. Here, a few miles out of 
Salem, he had an extensive farm where he carried 
on agriculture on scientific principles. The place 
was under the supervision of a famous German 
horticulturist named Heussler, who was brought 
from Europe for the purpose. During most of his 
life Mr. Derby had lived in a house of fairly modest 
proportions, but towards the end of his days he 
had erected a magnificent mansion, the finest in 
Salem. The plans of the house were drawn by Mac- 
Intyre, to whom we are indebted for much of our 
best colonial architecture. The spacious grounds 
extending from Essex Street to the river were 
laid out with walks, terraces, and gardens; an ex- 
tensive conservatory, where rare plants were cul- 
tivated, surrounded the main house. The plan- 
ning of this elaborate establishment was due 
principally to Mrs. Derby, as she was more ambi- 
tious for show and elegance than her husband. In 
1798 Mr. Derby wrote his agents in London: "Mrs. 

164 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

Derby wants something to complete her house; 
she will write you. It is business I know nothing 
of. I have given her an order for 120; you will do 
as she may direct with it." The great mansion 
was magnificently furnished, and a choicely bound 
collection of books was imported from England for 
the library. Mr. and Mrs. Derby, however, en- 
joyed their new home for but a short time, as it 
was not finished till a short time before their deaths. 
No better memorial of Mr. Derby exists than 
that which was written by his son-in-law, Hon. 
BenjaminPickman, and which gives a fitting sketch 
of the great merchant: 

[The Salem Gazette of September 10, 1799.] 

"Died, in this town, on Sunday last, at the age 
of 60, Elias Hasket Derby, Esq., having survived 
his amiable consort but a few months. Though 
Mr. Derby's natural disposition led him rather to 
retire from public observation, yet his character 
had been of too much importance in the commun- 
ity of which he was a member, for his departure 
out of life not to be sensibly felt and regretted. By 
a regular application to commercial pursuits, by a 
careful attention to all parts of his business, and 
by a remarkable course of good fortune, he arrived 


IZ u 

o -s 

I ! 

Q ^ 
w JJ 

A Great Merchant 165 

to a high degree of opulence. He possessed an 
uncommon spirit of enterprise, and in exploring 
new channels of commerce has frequently led his 
countrymen to sources of wealth. He was among 
the first who embarked in the trade beyond the 
Cape of Good Hope, which has since become so 
extensive and lucrative; he made various improve- 
ments in navigation, and the many excellent ves- 
sels, built according to his own plans and under 
his immediate direction, are proofs of his skill in 
naval architecture. 

"If that man is deserving of the gratitude of his 
country 'who makes two blades of grass grow where 
one only grew before,' the memory of Mr. Derby 
has a claim to the affectionate regards of his fellow- 
citizens, for he possessed a good taste in gardening 
and agriculture, and most judiciously both for 
his own enjoyment and the benefit of his country 
applied a part of his wealth to improvements 
in that department. By his successful experiments 
in his excellent garden and farm, in Danvers, he 
taught the neighboring farmers that their lands 
are capable of productions which they had before 
thought could be prepared only in more genial 
soils. It was in these improvements that Mr. 
Derby found some of his most tranquil enjoyments, 

1 66 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

and they imparted delight to all who had the curi- 
osity to visit them. 

"In his dealings, Mr. Derby uniformly regarded 
the principle of justice, and his engagements were 
sacredly fulfilled. In the possession of riches, he 
did not forget the duties of charity. Providence 
had blessed him with abundance, and others par- 
took of the gift; his hand often cheered the heart 
of poverty and affliction, and his charities were 
always applied with judgment often in secret, 
never with ostentation. His deportment was 
modest and grave. In the hours of relaxation he 
was affable, mild, and cheerful. 

"In the interesting domestic character of hus- 
band and father, he was particularly amiable, and 
possessed the unbounded affections of his family. 
He was a sincere believer in the Christian relig- 
ion, which he evinced by an habitual regard to its 
precepts, by a uniform attendance upon public 
worship, and by a firm expectation expressed 
through his last sickness of inheriting its pro- 
mises. In short, he has well discharged the duties 
of life, and we trust he is removed to a better 

Mr. Derby's children did not maintain the great 

A Great Merchant 167 

business which he had established. It had al- 
ways been carried on personally in his name, and 
at his death the vessels and other property were 
sold at auction and converted into cash. His 
sons undertook several mercantile ventures. Elias 
Hasket, Jr., made a number of voyages, and the 
second son, John, was one of the owners of the 
ship Margaret, which was the second vessel to go 
from America to Japan. The great fortune, how- 
ever, was scattered, and Mr. Derby's sons be- 
ing discouraged by several losing ventures, turned 
their attention to industries ashore. After the 
embargo of 1807 the Derby flag disappeared en- 
tirely from the high seas and the Crowninshields, 
Peabodys, and others succeeded the Derbys as the 
leading mercantile establishments of Salem. But 
to-day even the names of these great houses are 
but memories. Derby Wharf stretches out into 
Salem Harbor without a vessel moored at its side. 
The old warehouses which once held the riches of 
the East are fast decaying and rotting away. To- 
day not a single ocean-going vessel hails from 
Salem. Her harbor, where once ships with rich 
cargoes arrived almost daily from all parts of the 
world, is now never visited except by unromantic 
coal schooners and barges from Philadelphia or 

1 68 Merchant Venturers of Old Salem 

Norfolk. With the growth in the size of ships 
Salem's harbor was too shallow, and the better 
railroad connections of her neighbor, Boston, soon 
lost for her the great commerce she had once 

The student of our national history is familiar 
with the names of our great statesmen and military 
and naval heroes. To them alone he is apt to 
attribute the growth and prosperity of our coun- 
try in its early years. He forgets that, while 
Washington or Jefferson was holding the reins of 
government and Green or John Paul Jones was 
winning victories ashore and afloat, the foaming 
wakes of our merchant vessels were showing the 
way for American commerce to all parts of the 
world. The country owes great credit to those 
venturesome merchants and bold navigators who 
in the early years of our national existence carried 
the Stars and Stripes to the markets of Europe, 
Africa, and the East, extended American influence 
to the most distant parts of the globe, and created 
a world-wide respect for the new nation. 


U . S A 


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