George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Rodolph Vall-travers, 21 July 1791

From Rodolph Vall-travers

Copy. No. 1 ⟨illegible

May it please Yr Excellcy!

Sir!Roterdam, July 21. 91.

Humbly flattering myself with your safe & kind Reception of my Letter & Packet dated from Hamburg, the 15th of March, & conveyed by Captn Bell of Philadelphia, with Maps, & several Memoirs (No. 2.) collected for the Use of yr assiduous Surveyor & Geometer, John Churchman of Philadelphia;1 and, under Yr Excce’s Approbation, with my humble Offers of further Services from this Continent, in communicating & promoting as much useful Knowledge, as may still lay within the narrow Circle of my literary Connections with most of the learned and patriotic Societies in Europe, in Behalf of your several similar encouraging Institutions: I now beg Leave to transmit to Yr Exccy a Work of mine, composed in English, from dutch & german Materials, collected these 20. years, on the Spot, by Mr Eshelscrown, dutch & danish Residt in the East Indies; disclosing a succinct Account of the actual State of European Setlements throughout the East-Indies, and many material Circumstances and Mysteries of their Trade, both with the Natives and with Europe.2 This Branch of the mercantile Industry of the american States, wisely laid open to reciprocal Emulation, must reap signal advantages from their situation, Frugality & Freedom in their Competition with all the monopolising, expensive, restrained and overwhelmed Companies with Debts, Militairies, & Taxes, established by the several maritime Powers in Europe. The dutch East India Company, tho’ the most oeconomical & industrious of all, groaning under an avowed Debt of near 100 Millions of Florins, is now sending Mr Nederborg, as their Plenipotentiary, to all their asiatic setlements; to investigate the Sources of their Decay, to correct abuses, and, on his Report, either to apply proper Remedies; or, if incurable, to suppress their Charter, and to lay that Trade as open, as they lately did that to the West Indies.3

Thus circumstanced, and wishing to contribute my litle Mite to the Prosperity of the worthy american Assertors of their undoubted natural Rights and legal Liberties: I thought, a speedy Publication of an autentic, impartial Display of all the particulars of that extensive and intricate Commerce, as it now exists in all Parts, & in all its Branches, exhibited in N. america, under Yr Exccy’s Approbation, Patronage & Encouragement, might not be unwelcome to your sagacious Fellow-Citizens? In this Persuasion, I this Day deliver my Manuscript to Captn F. Folger, related to my late venerable Friend, Dr Bn Franklin,4 ready to sail to Baltimore, his native Country; desiring him, to present this small Tribute of my Zeal & sincere attachment to Yr Excellence’s previous Inspection & subseqt Disposal.

Shou’d Yr Exccy kindly complying with my humble Offers of the 15th of March, by Captn Bell, be pleased to honor me with yr Commands, and Instructions, and appoint me, in any official Caracter, as Agent, Consul, or Resident, with the necessary usual Support: it wou’d be the Heigth of my Ambition, to answer the Trust to the Satisfaction of my Superiors, and to the utmost Emolument of your illustrious confederate States; that great Pattern of a well constituted, wisely combined, truly free and happy Commonwealth.5 I am, with unfeigned Admiration, most respectfully Sir! Your Excellency’s most sincerily devoted humble Servant

I. Rodolf Valltravers.

ALS (copy), DLC:GW.

For the correspondence of Rodolf Vall-travers with GW, see Vall-travers to GW, 20 Mar. 1791. Vall-travers sent this letter from Rotterdam the last week of July by Capt. Frederick Folger of Baltimore, a near relative of Benjamin Franklin, whom Vall-travers claimed as his “immortal Friend” (see n.4 below). Vall-travers later noted that Folger arrived at Baltimore in September (Vall-travers to GW, 1 Aug. and 30 Nov. 1791, both in DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

1No letter of 15 Mar. from Vall-travers to GW has been found; he may have been referring to his letter of 20 March.

2In his letter of 1 Aug. to GW (see nn.3 and 4 below) Vall-travers described his enclosure as “a Manuscript Work of mine, lately finished, & entitled: ‘A new and autentic Account of all the European, especially the Dutch, mercantile Setlements in the East-Indies; their present military, civil, political and mercantile State, and their respective Trade in Asia, and with Europe; collected from ample Materials, furnished me in the german Language, by Adolph Eshelscrown, Esqe, late Resident of the Dutch East-India-Company in Sumatra, and since in the Denish Asiatic Company’s Service; With a Plan for settling the Nicobar-Isles. In 3. 4ô Vols. MSt with an alphabetl copious Index: 1791.’” Thomas Jefferson returned this work to Vall-travers on 2 April 1792, noting that it contained much useful matter, but since the president did not concern himself with publishing such materials, he was returning them “with the hope that the world may have the benefit of their publication and yourself that of their sale” (Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 23:366–67). Vall-travers also sent GW on 21 July “the 12th last Vol[um]e 8ô of mÿ Friend, Arthur Young⟨’s⟩ select annals of Agriculture, for yr encouraging Society” (Vall-travers to GW, 1 Aug., DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). Captain Folger transmitted the letter of 21 July and volumes to GW from Baltimore on 6 Feb. 1792, noting that Eshelscrown, a Danish gentleman, had resided in the East Indies eighteen years and concluding: “Your Excellency will permit me to say: that, while I enjoy the Satisfaction of performing my Promise to an Individual, attended with the Honor of communicating with Yr Excy Yet at the same Time, I feel a Regret at being an Instrument to trespass on that precious Time, which is every Moment involved in Contemplation for the Good of Millions” (DLC:GW).

3Vall-travers on 1 Aug. again wrote to GW about the East Indies trade (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

4Ever since he visited Franklin at Passy, France, in 1777, Vall-travers had been an indefatigable correspondent of the American diplomat (Vall-travers to Franklin, 25 April, 2 July 1777, Franklin Papers, description begins William B. Willcox et al., eds. The Papers of Benjamin Franklin. 40 vols. to date. New Haven, 1959—. description ends 23:610–11, 24:254–55). The purpose of Vall-travers’s letter to GW of 1 Aug. 1791 was: “besides informing Your Excellcy of the Conveÿances used in forwarding the two first, to point out another Line, in which I have humbly endeavored to Serve the N. american States, as directed bÿ Dr Franklin, and still confirm with the same Zeal; by translating into german, the worthy Cosmopolite’s excellent Instructions to all those, who have some Thoughts of quitting Europe, to Settle in N. America; imparted to me in English, when at Paris; which I got printed in Germany, dispersed, inserted in Almanacks, and Several News-papers, at mÿ own Expence. The good Effect of this Measure has been visible, not only by an Increase of Emigrants of various Descriptions, but by deterring all those useless & burdensome Vagrants, whose restless, vicious, idle Lives, from a total Neglect of their Education, rendered them even dangerous to everÿ Society From this Branch of my Attention to the Wellfare & Prosperity of the Worthy American Confederates, I humbly flatter myself, no small Advantages will derive” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). A German translation of Franklin’s Information to Those Who Would Remove to America (Passy, 1784) was published in Hamburg in 1786 (Van Doren, Franklin, description begins Carl Van Doren. Benjamin Franklin. New York, 1938. description ends 706).

5Vall-travers’s letter of 1 Aug. also stated: “What other Measures, the Wisdom of Congress, and of the Several States, maÿ judge proper to adopt and to prescribe to me, when honored with their Commands and Support, shall be diligently pursued, to the utmost of mÿ poor ability.” He concluded: “My Stay at this Place being only temporary till I am made acquainted with Yr Excellys Pleasure, in disposing of my humble Services, Your Commands will reach me Safest, under Cover to Mr Dumas, the American Agent at the Hague; to whom I shall leave mÿ further Directions, whenever I depart from Rotterdam, to fix, perhaps, at Bruxelles” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). Never having received a reply from GW, Vall-travers wrote again from Rotterdam on 30 Nov., listing his previous letters, their conveyances, and their enclosures: 20 Nov. 1789, by Capt. John Bell of Philadelphia, sailing from Hamburg in June 1790 (letter not found); 20 Nov. 1789, by the ship, Liberty, Captain Paddock, for New York, from Hamburg (letter not found); 15 Mar. 1791, by Bell, from Hamburg, with two packets containing several memoirs and maps for John Churchman and the American Philosophical Society (letter not found); 3 July 1791, by Captain Trevett of Marblehead, Mass., from Rotterdam, with literary communications to the learned societies at Philadelphia, Boston, and elsewhere (letter not found); 21 July 1791, by Capt. Frederick Folger of Baltimore, for Baltimore, from Rotterdam, with manuscript works in English; 1 Aug. 1791, by Captain Stuart of Baltimore, for Baltimore, from Rotterdam, with six copies of his German publication of Franklin’s advice to American settlers; 17 Aug. 1791, by the Pringle, Capt. William Callahan, for Charleston, S.C., from Rotterdam, with a packet for Henry Laurens containing proposals for Congress and for several patriotic societies in the Carolinas (letter not found); copy of 30 Nov. 1791, by the ship Massachusetts, Capt. William Dolliver of Boston, to Savannah. Vall-travers also begged leave on 30 Nov. “to add a few further Thoughts, occasioned by Subsequent Occurrencies. Most of the above Dispatches having reached N. America in the Summer-Season, when the Assemblies of the Congress, and of your several encouraging Societies happen to be prorogued and dispersed till about Christmas, no Answer cou’d be reasonably expected before they meet. Supposing therefore their safe Arrival, punctual Delivery and favorable Reception, I need not repeat in this Letter all the particulars of their several Contents. Suffice it to say, that: 1º Besides my literary Services, offered to your respective philosophical Societies, for the Encouragemt and Progress of all useful Arts & Sciences, by Means of a regular Communication, from all Parts of this Continent, extracted & transmitted in English, of new, interesting Publications, Discoveries, Inventions, or Improvements; in occasional Aquisitions of Select Libraries, mathematical Instruments, Tools, & useful Machines, with their Explanation; Collections of instructive natural Productions, in the mineral, the vegetable & animal Kingdoms; of Patterns from the best Antiques, for erecting an Academy of Drawing, Engraving, Painting & Sculpture, to improve yr own Artists, Trades and Manufactures. And 2º Besides the Supplies offered of useful Handicraftmen; agricultors; of People well-skilled in the Art of Mining, Metallurgy, or other, either industrious or opulent Emigrants, in Quest of a secure peaceful Shelter from civil & religious Oppression and from the Horrors of anarchy & civil Wars: 3º It wou’d not less be in my Power, when duely authorised and supported, to negociate with several mercantile States in Europe, not yet fettered with exclusive Asiatic & Westindian Companies, Treaties of mutual Amity, Defense, & mercantile Advantages similar to that, which H. E. John Adams, Esqre your worthy Vice-President, has so happily concluded with the 7. united States of this Country, in Octr 1782. 4º With this View, I mean to repair from hence to Bruxelles, the Capital of the Emperor’s belgic Dominions; with an Intention of being minutely informed, concerning the present forlorn & expiring Condition of their Asiatic Company, trading from Ostend & Trieste to the East Indies, with the worst Success; to Sound their Disposition towards a mutually beneficial Treaty, and Admittance of North-American Ships, with Indian & other Goods, not restrained by the too Selfish British Navigation-Act, into the aforesaid two Harbors; and to procure an autentic Copy of their present Duties on all foreign Imports and Exports, to compare & to adapt them to those of your united States. . . . 5º An active public Resident, furnished with the usual Credentials & proper Instructions, might successively answer all the above Objects, not only at Bruxelles: but likewise in Switzerland, at Zürich; in Piedmont, at Turin; for Sicily, at Naples; for Toscany, at Florence; and in the Republics of Lucca, Genoa, Maltha, and Venice: All which wou’d gladly recieve Indian & other Commodities, at the cheapest Rates, introduced by well armed American Vessels, 2 or 3. in Company, to face all the piratical States, & their Encouragers. From all which Places he cou’d engage a Variety of colonising Artists, to accelerate the Accomplishment of the N. american Capital of Washington, in its great Founder’s Lifetime, as an everlasting Monument of his Fellowcitizen’s well carried Veneration and Gratitude! They wou’d also facilitate pecuniary Negociations, on the same liberal Terms, lately proposed by Congress, at Amsterdam. These wou’d, I make no Doubt, induce the opulent Capitalists of Geneve, Bern, Zürich, Basil, Genoa & Venice to trust their superfluous Wealth, rather to the frugal & laborious united States of America, than to arbitrary, profligate & deeply involved, less congenial Sovereigns; and promote thereby a more intimate Intercourse among the several republican States, for their common Interest, Respectability and Security. This was the Plan, I recommended to my great Friend, Dr Franklin, when at Passy, in 1777; who, at that Time, found it rather premature. But now, nothing cou’d be more seasonable, in the present fermenting State of all Europe, contending, after your Example, for the Rights of Social Men, and for the just Enjoyment of legal Liberty. How long I may still be able to co-operate in promoting such Philanthropic Labors at my advanced Age, born in 1723, when Seconded by Yr Exccy’s & Mr Jn Adam’s patriotic Directions and generous Protection? God knows!” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). The 30 Nov. reference of Valltravers to the “Capital of Washington” is the earliest such usage of GW’s name for the Federal City by a foreigner yet discovered.

Sometime in early 1792 GW referred Vall-travers’s letters of 15 Nov. 1789 and 20 Mar., 21 July, 1 Aug., and 30 Nov. 1791 to Jefferson, who replied to Vall-travers on 2 April 1792: “On the other subjects of your letters I am not authorised to say any thing in particular” (Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 23:366–67).

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