Thomas Jefferson Papers

II. Jefferson’s Memoranda Concerning the American, British, and French Fisheries, [ca. October 1788]

II. Jefferson’s Memoranda Concerning the American, British, and French Fisheries

[ca. Oct. 1788]

American Whale fishery.

Vessels emploied in 1775 in the Whale fishery

from Boston  48. Rhode island  45
   Falmouth   8  Connecticut   3
   Martha’s Vineyd.   6. New York  12
   Dartmouth 55 
   Nantucket 132  60

309 vessels @ 13 hands each = 4017 sailors.

The vessels from 80. to 150. tons each.

Mr. Swan sais these vessels carried 24. men each. 309 × 24 = 7416

Probably the true average is 18. 309 × 18 = 5562

The American whale oil better than the Dutch or English because made on the spot. These bring home the whale.

Before the revolution we furnished as follows.

   30,000.* barrels @ 45£ the ton = 168,750£ sterl.
New Hampshire
    1 500. tons @ 15£ …… =  22,500£ sterl.
Of this we sent to Europe  181,688
       to W. Indies    9,562
191,250. £ sterl.
Massachusets furnished also 28 ton of bones   8,400
199,650 £ sterl.

The U.S. unimpeded would furnish France 40. to 50,000 Quintals.

Examination of Seth Jenkins before H. of Commons. 1775.

He is of Nantucket. Between 5. and 6000 men and boys employed in Whale fishery who have no other emploiment. About 20. families can be maintained by the produce of the island which is 15. miles long and 3. broad. Only 1. harbour. 140 vessels. 132 of which emploied in whale fishery. Their burthen from 50. to 150. tons. Sail at all seasons of the year for whale fishery, the coast of Africa, Brazils, and even as far as the Falkld. islds. Longest time 12. months. Some who catch their fish on coast of America, make 2. or 3. voiages a year. The people receive all their manufactures from Gr. Br. chiefly London, and pay for them in oil. The whole number of Whale fishery ships from N. America is 309. viz. Boston 48 + Falmouth 8 + Martha’s vineyard 6 + Dartmouth 55 + R.I. and Providce. 45 + N.Y. 12. + Connecticut 3 + Nantucket 132 = 309. He has known 2. or 3. vessels go from Engld. to the coast of Africa to fish for whale, but they caught none, because they did not know how. It requires long experience particularly for the Spermaceti whale.

Capt. Peleg Coffin’s sentiments on the Whale fishery of Nantucket. Sep. 1786. The quantity of oil probably to be obtained this season (having usual success) from Nantucket say 5000. barrels Spermaceti including head matter. This is about ¼ so leaves 3750 barrels also about 1500 barrels Whale oil and 5000 ℔. bone, or fins. Whale oil is best for Southern market. Seldom shipped to Eur. before war. Spermaceti oil white, yellow and amber, and the fins were mostly shipped to London. Price there for white £40. to £42. Yellow £38 Brown 35 to 36£ the ton in 1775. about ⅚ was white. Difference of price made the adventurers more particular in their manufacture. They now seldom make any brown. Freight, duty and charges near £5. pr. ton at London. Quantity obtained annually from Nantucket before the war about 30,000 barrels. The strained oil from the head matter and the Spermaceti candles mostly shipped to Southern states and W.I. which afforded large returns in specie to that province. The whole remittances went to Europe, aided commerce, and a great nursery for seamen. Price of Whale fins £300. pr. ton.

Examination of John Lane merchant of Lond. before H. Com. 1775.

Value of oil imported from New Eng. into Lond. from May 1772 to May. 1773. was Oil 100,000 £ st. fins 5,000 £ = 105,000 £. From May 1773. to May 1774. Oil 114,640 £ + fins 3,500 £ = 118,140 £. Present price of oil at Nantucket 1st. quality 100 Doll. pr. ton. 2d. 90. 3d. 80. fins ⅙th 560. Freight and charges about £5. st. pr. ton besides commission. I gallon oil = 7 ℔ French weight. 1 ton about 18. Quintals or 8. barrels. Present price of oil in London 1st. quality £45. st. pr. ton the others in proportion. The duties £18-5 pr. ton. Price before the war nearly same, without any duty.

British Whale fishery.
They emploied in the Greenland before the revolution 100
  in 1786. 151
  in 1787 (cargoes worth 250,000 £ sterl.) 248
  in 1788. 250
In the Southern fishery in
    1785. (cargoes worth £30,000 sterl) 18
    1787. (cargoes £100,000) 38
    1788 (cargoes £200,000) 64
    These 64. ships took 79. fish.
Of the 250. ships emploied in 1788. 35. took 82. fish.
These 250. ships carrying about 60. hands each, make
15,000 seamen.
They receive in bounty from £800. to £1000 a vessel £225,000
The proprietors sunk notwithstanding upwards of £800. on each  200,000
The sailors then have cost to the government 15
to individuals 12
27 a man.
London uses 7. ton of oil a day = 2555 tons,
       or 40,880 quintals a year.
Rotch sais Gr. Br. employs 300. ships and 12,000 seamen.

That the amount of her premiums are 150,000 £ sterl.

That she consumes but half the produce of her fisheries. Sends the rest almost wholly to France.

A midling whale is reckoned worth 1000 £ sterl.

If a vessel takes 2. it is a good voiage. If only one it will scarcely quit cost. The bounty is calculated to save the expence of the voiage.

1788. The Eng. ships in the Greenld. fishery have not taken this year more than 20 tons of oil on an average, making 5000. tons in the whole.

Those in the Southern or Brazil fishery have taken 60 tons on an average.

The Greenld. voiages from 3. to 4. mo. the Brazil do. from 9. to 12. months.

The ships in both fisheries average 300 tons, and completely fitted for sea cost each 3000£ st. at least in both fisheries.

Sailor’s wages 40/ st. a month in Greenld. fishery. They go on shares in the Southern.

The bounties on the Greenld. ships have amounted this year to £15. st. a ton on the oil. On the Brazil ships to £5. a ton on the oil.

In the Greenld. fishery 30 tons of oil to the ship is the most ever averaged since the war 25 tons, or 1/12 of the burthen is a fair general average.

Consumption as follows.
℔ pesant Quint tons
Sangrain for 27. cities 800,000 8 000  500
Paris, according to registers
of 1786 2,800,000 28,000 1750
Rouen 500,000 5,000  312.5
Bordeaux 600,000 6,000  375
Lyon 300,000 3,000  187.5
other cities for Coreillerie and
lumiere 3,000,000 30,000 1875
8,000,000 80,000 5000

and an equal quantity of vegetable oil.

Marseilles is one of Sangrain’s 27. cities.

It’s lighting takes 1400 quintals or 87½ tons a year.

They use Olive oil except when very windy. Then, as olive oil goes out easily, they mix fish oil.

Olive oil is more expensive than fish oil in the proportion of 5:4.

Sangrain sais vegetable oil is as good as whale oil and cheaper but the crop is precarious, and does not resist cold so well. He receives 13. sous the ℔. for the oil he furnishes the city. Boylston received here 55.livre tournois the Fr. quintal for his.

Barrett sais 50.livre tournois the quintal leaves profit 16. pr. ct. to American merchant.

Whale oil from the Hanse towns pays 2 duties in France.

1. Droit de traite 7livre tournois-10s the barrique of 520 ℔
brut 1-14- 7
10s. pr. livre
on that 3-15  17- 3
11- 5 which on the nett 100 ℔
Fr. is  2-11-10
2. Droit des huiles & savons 6d. the ℔ nett
10s. pr. livre on that 3.
9 which on the nett
100 ℔ Fr. is  3-15
So that there is paid on the nett 100℔ Fr.  6- 6-10
The English ton of 1764 ℔ = 1618 ℔ Fr. then pays
1. Droit de traite  42livre tournois
2. Dr. des huiles & savons  60-13-6
See Hanseatic treaty 1716. Sep. 28. Art. V.

France gives her fishermen a bounty of 50.livre tournois the ton burthen of the vessel. The vessels must have cleared out from a port of France (Dunkirk) and bring back a fish.

The Convention is dated 1785. Dec. 5.

Rotch sais he has 12. ships in this business. (1788) to wit

 5. of his own South seas 1585
 2. of his brothers South seas  500
 2. of the same just sailed for Greenland  700
 3. others South seas  660 3445
12 out of port
 2. others in port getting ready  255
14 Under the Convention in all 3700
 3. of Calonne’s company’s ships South seas  800
17 Total 4500
The government has lost 1,000,000.livre tournois by this company.
The individuals of the company have also lost considerably.
A ship can bring from the fishery only ⅓ of her measurement in oil.
17. ships of 4500 tons then, if they returned all full, could bring 1500 tons
But this never happens. Cannot count on more than ⅔ viz. 1000 tons

9. families of 33. persons have emigrated from the U.S. to Dunkirk and about 150. American seamen employed in the 17. ships i.e. 9. to each.

Rotch in fact sends out large ships, and they receive their oil at sea from our fishermen, giving them empty casks in return.

The Refinery at Rouen is half French and half American property Properly assisted, can refine for the whole kingdom.

It will cost half a million livres.

Pugh. Spermaceti oil can be converted chemically into head matter. 1. ton of 252. galls. and 1600 ℔. weight English yeilds 500 ℔. head matter. The residue 1100 ℔. or 186 galls. pure oil, allowing 5. pr. ct. for impurities, which in Amer, are made into soft soap and reduce loss to 2½ pr. c. and cost of process from £5. to 6£ st. pr. ton. 500 ℔. head matter @ ⅙ price of Spermaceti in Boston = £37-10 st. + 186 galls. oil @ ⅛ pr. Galln. or £22-10 per ton is £15-10. which makes £53. for what cost £28-10. There is then £24-10 clear profit on the ton, or say one half after allowing for leakage, waste &c.

Greenland whale oil (which is probably the same taken by the Americans in Davis’s and Bellisle streights) refined so as almost to deceive the best judges and in a warm and moderate climate may be so good a substitute for Spermaceti as to answer all it’s purposes for illumination of cities or elsewhere. The expence of refining 40/ st. pr. ton. Allow it to cost £15. st. pr. ton when fit for use + £6. freight, insurance, commission for purchase in market makes it cost, landed in France £21. st. pr. ton. The process is very expeditious. It’s time determined by extent of works and no. of hands.1

Experiments on different oils made in the same vessel, of a convenient form.

Specific gravity
oz. } No. 2. 3. 4. may be considered as of same weight as they differ only 1. or 2. grains. But they differ about 26 gr. in weight with No. 1.
No. 1. Olive oil 20s. pr.℔ 1-1-13
2. Whale oil refined 1-0-60
3. Spermaceti oil from Barret 1-0-59
4. Spermaceti oil from Boylston 1-0-58

Fluidity. No. 1. the least fluid. 2. 3. 4. nearly equal. Fluidity an essential quality in combustion.

Colour. No. 1. Citron, a little dark. 2. White lightly cast. 3. Orange. 4. Whiter than 2.

Combustion. The 4. kinds in exactly the same quantity, were put into 4. vessels of exactly the same size and form, with 4. wicks of the same size and length.

No. 2. lasted 4 hrs.—24 min. } The duration of No. 4 : No. 1 :: 29 : 30
   3. 4 hrs.—57 No. 3 : No. 1 ::  9 : 10
   4. 5 hrs. —16 No. 2 : No. 1 ::  4 : 5
   1. 5 hrs.—31

Colour of flame. Same. If not absolutely white, they were but slightly coloured.

Extent of light was in proportion to their Combustion in following order. No. 2. 3. 4. 1. That of No. 2. was lively, extended and brilliant. No. 1. had constantly half less of vivacity and extent.

Result. Estimating the value of the oils according to the light they give whale oil refined, with a wick of half the size of that in the Olive oil @ 20s. pr. ℔. gave an equal light and burnt longer. The Olive oil to give the same light must have double the wick and would consume in ½ the time.

The whale oil No. 2. then given to the public @ 50.livre tournois the quintal will be a great service rendered.2

Whale oil. 3. kinds of whale.

    1. Spermaceti. This whale is taken on the coast of Brazil, in the warmer latitudes, principally during our winter.

  • The ships go in autumn, return in Summer, 9. months absent. One voiage then makes good sailor. This whale active and fierce.
  • We the only nation who exercise this fishery to great extent.
  • We furnish Engld. 19/20 of what she consumes.
  • Price in London £50. a ton or 9d. the ℔.—18£ duty = 32£ clear.
  • Price in America £22–10 the ton sterling.
  • Portuguese take a little.
  • Spermaceti worth 18d. the ℔. in London.
  • Each whale furnishes 3. or 4. barrels of head matter.
  • All his oil can be brought to the same consistence by Pugh
  • This oil curdles at 41.° of Farenheit’s thermometer

    2. Greenland whale.

  • A clumsy whale easily taken. He dives as soon as struck and comes up by the first cake of ice to breathe so that he is easily found and taken.
  • Ships go out in March and return in July or August.
  • A sailor gains little experience in a voiage.
  • This is the fishery principally exercised by Europeans.
  • It is the only whale which furnishes bone in any quantity.
  • This oil chills at 36.° of Farenheit.
  • It is worth in London £17–10s. a ton.

    3. Brazil whale, or Black whale.

  • Smallest of all. Found in same latitude with Spermaceti.
  • The Spermaceti fishermen kill this whale when he comes in the way.
  • Too worthless to be sought express.
  • This oil worth in London 13.£ per ton. In America 15. or 16£. sterl.
  • Chills at 50.° of Farenheit.
  • In warm weather it burns better than Greenland.
  • Pugh converts the whole of it into good tallow, like beef.

An English ton of oil is 1764 ℔. = 1618 livre tournois. French.

  • The Barrique of 520 ℔. gross yeilds about 433 ⅓ ℔. nett i.e. ⅚
  • The usual reckoning is 16 Fr. quintals to an English ton. but allowing for waste &c. the Eng. ton is but 15½ Fr.

* The barrel is 30 gallons. 240. gallns. are a ton.

MS (DLC: TJ Papers, 232: 41657); entirely in TJ’s hand, in parallel columns; undated, but compiled probably in 1788 and based upon memoranda, correspondence, conversations, &c. of the period 1785–1788 and employed in the composition of Observations on the Whale-Fishery.

The entrepreneur P. Tourtille Sangrain furnished TJ, perhaps late in 1785, with a memorandum of duties on whale oil paid by the Hanseatic towns; for a description and quotation of TJ’s notes set down on the verso of this memorandum, perhaps in conversation with Sangrain, see notes to Observations on the Whale-Fishery. The above text is dependent in part on these and other data supplied by Sangrain in 1785 (see Sangrain to TJ, 6 Dec. 1785). Thomas Boylston arrived in France with a cargo of oil in Nov. 1785 and Nathaniel Barrett soon after (see Bowdoin to TJ, 23 Oct. 1785; TJ to Lafayette, 13 Nov. 1785; TJ to Jay, 2 Jan. 1786; TJ to Bowdoin, 8 Feb. 1786). It was during the period covered by these letters, evidently, that the experiments by Pugh comparing the qualities of olive oil, whale oil, and spermaceti oil were carried on. The information about oil used in marseilles was procured when TJ was on his tour of Southern France. Coreillerie: TJ meant to employ corroierie, the trade of dressing and coloring leather.

1At bottom of verso of fol. 41657, where this line occurs, TJ wrote: “See preceding page for continuation”; and, upside down on recto of fol. 41657, he wrote: “Pugh’s statement continued from next page.”

2The continuation of Pugh’s statement described in the foregoing note ends at this point; the remainder of this memorandum was probably drawn from various sources but included additional information from Pugh.

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