James Madison Papers

To James Madison from William Jones, 23 February 1805

From William Jones

Philada. 23d. feby 1805


The enclosed letter1 I received in Augt. last and intending to visit the seat of government before my departure again for Canton I reserved its contents for the subject of a personal communication, and during my short stay at Washington called twice at the office of the department for the purpose, but your momentary absence and my private engagements deprived me of the pleasure of an interview.

Permit me Sir to observe that the gentlemen who have addressed me in the enclosed letter are respectable Citizens of the US and that the subject is very interesting to our commerce in that quarter. When I was last in Canton at the close of the year 1803 intelligence had just been received of the commencement of the present European War which rendered the possession of official documents deeply interesting to the agents and proprietors of at least $4,000000 of American property then about to be shipped from that place, and particularly so as (except the Comme<r>cial agent of the US) there is no person in Canton (either under the authority of that or any othe<r> government) qualified to take a declaration upon oath or give official validity to any document.

The Commercial agent of the US had returned to this country and the exercise of the duties of his office was suspended by his absence.

The jealous and monopolizing spirit of the European agents with which we have to contend and the vast and encreasing importance of our trade to Canton seems to require the permanent residence of a public agent of respectability or at least that the duties of the office should be delegated to a competent and respectable person during the temporary absence of the agent.

Indeed I conceive the public interest and national character equally interested in the appointment of an agent of intelligence and observation whose communications from that interesting quarter of the world might be productive of great public advantage. With the present agent Mr. Snow2 I am not acquainted—he may possess all the requisite qualifications and I can have no possible motive to wish a change—my only desire is to have the duties of the Office discharged without interruption and with fidelity and intelligence. My knowledge of Mr Carrington3 (mentioned in the enclosed letter) is not of long standing, but my impressions relative to his character are very favorable and he appeared to enjoy the esteem and confidence of all our fellow Citizens at Canton.

I shall sail for Canton about the 10th. or 15th of next month and shall feel myself obliged by any information on this subject which you may deem proper and find perfectly convenient to communicate. I am Sir with the highest regard Yours very respectfully

Wm Jones4

RC and enclosure (DLC: Jefferson Papers). RC docketed by Jefferson. For enclosure, see n. 1.

1The enclosure (2 pp.) is a 2 Feb. 1804 letter from Charles Higbee and William Shaler to Jones stressing the need for a U.S. consul at Canton who would stay for several years. Higbee and Shaler stated that consul Samuel Snow, who “has just arrived and intends returning in the Ship he came in,” planned to leave his son to fulfill the consular duties, and suggested that “Edward Carrington of Providence” would be a suitable candidate for the post. William Shaler (1773–1833) was a Connecticut native who had gone to sea after being orphaned at age thirteen. He sailed frequently to European and South American ports. On 8 Feb. 1805 he left Canton for the western coast of North America. Between February 1804 and November 1805 he was engaged in trading throughout the Pacific, returning at the latter date to China. The extensive knowledge of Spanish colonial governments that he derived from these and other voyages to Spanish territories led JM to commission him as U.S. agent to Cuba and Mexico in 1810. He was U.S. consul general at Algiers from 1815 to 1829 and U.S. consul at Havana from 1829 until his death (PJM-PS, description begins Robert A. Rutland et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series (6 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1984–). description ends 6:123 n. 4; Roy F. Nichols, “William Shaler: New England Apostle of Rational Liberty,” New England Quarterly 9 [1936]: 72; [William Shaler], “Journal of a Voyage between China and the North-Western Coast of America, Made in 1804,” American Register; or, General Repository of History, Politics and Science 3 [1808]: 137, 175).

2Samuel Snow (1758–1838) was a Providence, Rhode Island, Revolutionary War veteran and founding member of the state Society of the Cincinnati who engaged in several business ventures before his appointment in 1798 as consul to Canton, where he built the American compound. After his return to Providence in 1801, his firm of Munro, Snow, and Munro experienced financial difficulties and eventually failed. Although Snow held several minor government positions in Rhode Island and attempted to establish himself in the commission business in Charleston, South Carolina, he never regained his former financial status and died in poverty in Providence (Jacques M. Downs, “A Study in Failure—Hon. Samuel Snow,” Rhode Island History 25 [1966]: 1, 2 and n. 2, 3–8).

3Rhode Island merchant and cotton manufacturer Edward Carrington (1775–1843) had worked in Samuel Snow’s counting house in Providence for two years when Snow sent him in 1802 to Canton where he remained until 1811. In 1815 he founded Edward Carrington and Company, a merchant house that prospered in trade with China and Latin America. He also owned two cotton mills, promoted the Blackstone Canal, and served several terms in the Rhode Island legislature. On 20 Dec. 1805 Jefferson named Carrington vice-consul at Canton; on 22 Dec. 1806 the Senate confirmed his appointment as consul there (Antoinette F. Downing, “The Fate of Carrington House,” Rhode Island History 21 [1962]: 2–5, 7; Senate Exec. Proceedings, description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America (3 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1828). description ends 2:7, 10, 13, 44, 45).

4Philadelphia native and Revolutionary War veteran William Jones (1760–1831) fought in the battles of Trenton and Princeton and also served on a privateer and in the Continental navy. From 1790 to 1793 he was in business at Charleston, South Carolina, after which he returned to Philadelphia, where he continued in trade. He served a term in Congress from 1801 to 1803 and in 1805 was elected to the American Philosophical Society. He was JM’s secretary of the navy from January 1813 to December 1814, for nine months of which time he was also acting secretary of the treasury. From July 1816 until January 1819 he was president of the Second Bank of the United States but resigned the position in the face of charges of fraud and mismanagement. His performances as both navy secretary and bank president were harshly criticized. From 1827 to 1829 he was collector of customs at Philadelphia (PJM-PS, description begins Robert A. Rutland et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series (6 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1984–). description ends 5:583 n. 2; David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler, eds., Encyclopedia of the War of 1812 [Santa Barbara, Calif., 1997], 271–72).

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