Thomas Jefferson Papers

Enclosure: Samuel Shaw to George Washington, 7 December 1790

Samuel Shaw to George Washington

Canton in China December 7th. 1790.


The commerce of a nation being one of the principal objects of the attentions of it’s rulers, I hope it will not be deemed inconsistent with the duties of the office with which you have been pleased to honor me, that I submit to your consideration some particulars relative to the trade of the Citizens of the United States with those of the United Netherlands at Batavia, the capital of their establishments in India.

Having sailed from Boston the latter end of March last, in an entire new Ship, built, navigated, and owned by Citizens of America, I arrived at Batavia, the first Port of my destination, on the 30th. of August following; when to my no small astonishment I was informed by the head officer of the customs, that all commerce with the Americans was prohibited by orders from Holland, and that we should be allowed to take only the necessary refreshments for our passage to Canton, my second port of destination. Notwithstanding this information from the Shabander, I thought it my duty to exercise the right of petitioning to the Governor General and the Council for permission to trade, as had been heretofore the custom; and accordingly I was the next morning presented to his Excellency at his Levee, and in two hours after delivered to him my petition, at the Council board, where I received for answer, that the prayer of it could not be granted.

After informing myself, from the Shabander, of the reasons on which the prohibition of the Americans to trade at Batavia was grounded, I thought it incumbent on me as Consul for the United States, to make a representation to the Governor and Council on a matter which I conceived so nearly to concern the welfare of our Country. On communicating to the Shabander this my determination, he assented to the propriety of it, and observed that though the prohibition was in the highest degree injurious both to the Americans and to the inhabitants of Batavia, yet if the former did not complain to the supreme authority, when they had an opportunity, it would ill become that respectable body to take any notice of the matter to the Administration in Holland. Accordingly on Saturday the 4th. of September, I drew up a memorial to the Governor and Council and enclosed it in a letter to the Shabander, requesting him to take the earliest opportunity of having it presented. On seeing that Gentleman afterwards, he assured me that the memorial should be presented on the ensuing Tuesday, and that it would be favorably received, it being the wish not only of the inhabitants, but of the Government also, that the commerce at Batavia should be as free for the Americans as it was for any other nation. To the aforegoing particulars I take the liberty of adding copies of the letter and declaration above mentioned, and of begging that you will believe me to be, with the most respectful attachment, Sir Your most obedient humble Servant,

Samuel Shaw

PrC (DLC); in hand of William Blackwell; at head of text: “To the President of the United States of America.” FC (DNA: RG 59, PCC No. 120, iv). Enclosures: (1) “Letter from Samuel Shaw, Consul for the United States of America, to the honble. Nicholas Englehard, Shabander of Batavia, 4th Septemr. 1790,” stating that on his arrival there on 30 Aug. in the American ship Massachusetts of Boston, bound for Canton, he had requested privileges hitherto accorded American citizens trading there; that he was grateful for the Shabander’s politeness in presenting him to the governor general and the council in order to request such permission to dispose of articles for this market as had been given him on his voyage in 1786; but that to his surprise he had been told that all commerce with Americans was absolutely prohibited. Shaw then concluded: “My acquaintance with and respect for the Law of Nations teach me that, in such circumstances, implicit obedience is a virtue and I shall accordingly, on the morrow, proceed in my voyage, declaring as owner of…ship and cargo, that no article of the same has been or will be sold during our stay; and that nothing has been purchased here, except water, vegetables, and other refreshments for our passage to Canton.—At the same time that I make this declaration, permit me, sir, to observe to you, that I have reason to believe this prohibition is laid upon my Countrymen on account of evil reports, which have been propagated to their prejudice by persons unfriendly to both Countries; and I have therefore, as Consul for my Nation, taken the liberty of making a Representation to the Government here upon the subject, which I herewith enclose, and request you will [take] the earliest opportunity of having it presented. As a public officer and a good citizen, I feel for the honor of my Country. As a merchant, the prohibition is extremely detrimental to my interest. These motives I hope will plead my excuse for troubling you on the present occasion” (PrC in Blackwell’s hand in DLC; word in brackets missing from text and supplied from FC in DNA: RG 59, PCC No. 120, iv). (2) Declaration of Samuel Shaw to the Governor General and Council of Batavia, 4 Sep. 1790, stating that, as supercargo and part owner of the ship Hope from New York, he stopped at Batavia in July 1786 for twenty days, during which time neither he nor anyone acting for him violated trade laws by clandestine exportation of pepper, coffee, or spices; that he then left for Canton and remained there as U.S. consul until January 1789 when he took passage for America; that he believed other American shipowners and captains stopping at Batavia since 1786 had likewise observed its laws and customs; that “Coffee from the Isles of France and Bourbon, pepper from the coast of Malabar and other places in India, and spices from Batavia” could be purchased by Americans from English ships at Canton as well as from the Chinese on terms affording them a reasonable profit; that, in consequence of reports to the prejudice of his countrymen, “they have not only been prohibited all commerce here, but have been…classed with smugglers”; that, because of this prohibition, the large amount of non-contraband articles he had brought from America expressly for the market of Batavia would have to be carried to Canton, where they were not wanted, thereby greatly injuring him as owner; that in a particular manner it thus became his duty as consul for his nation “to use every means in his power to vindicate it from the unjust aspersions under which it suffers”; and that, believing this could be done in a little time, he “confides in the justice of the administration in Holland, and in that of Batavia, that his Countrymen will then be admitted to the full enjoyment of all privileges allowed to any other nation, more especially as the connection at present happily subsisting between their Republic and the United States of America has…the equitable principle of reciprocal good for its immediate object” (PrC in Blackwell’s hand in DLC; FC in DNA: RG 59, PCC No. 120, iv).

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