Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Brailsford & Morris, 31 October 1787

From Brailsford & Morris

Charleston So. Carolina 31st October 1787.


Our friend Mr. E. Rutledge, having been so obliging as to indulge us with the perusal of your Letter addressed to him on the subject of our Produce, and at the same time enclosing the Proposals of Messrs. Berard & Co. declaring the terms on which they are enclined to encourage a preference of our Consignments: we cannot but feel ourselves sensibly indebted to your Excellency for your persevering exertions in our favour, and for your decided endeavors to enlarge our Trade, now circumscribed by British Policy, and Restrictions. Our being totally destitute of Manufactures, and the Staples of this State being very valuable, and considerable, both as to quantity, and quality, it is extraordinary that Great Britain alone, has made the necessary exertions to reap the benefits of our Commerce, and by a spirited exertion, endeavor to annihilate all opposition to her ambitous Views. A concurrence of Circumstances, tended to give a temporary success to her Plans. Old Prejudices in favor of English Goods, their marked superiority in many instances, the Wealth of her Merchants, and the multitude of their Agents that settled here on the peace, all united in strengthening her Interests. On the other Hand, the Calamities of the War, with the baneful effects of the Paper Depreciation, have been hard on those Commercial Houses who enjoyed the first reputations prior to the Revolution. Unable to cancel their Old Obligations, the European Trader cautiously avoided, the increasing the magnitude of their Debts, and refused those Credits which were essential to their wants so that our number is now nearly dwindled to a Cypher. To see the whole Wealth of our Country centering in the Hands of our decided Enemies; to see nine tenths of our Produce carried out of our Ports by British Vessels, and in walking our Streets, whether convinced by the Dialect, or the Names of those who supply our wants, that we should rather conceive ourselves in the Highlands of Scotland, than in an American State, is the source of painful Reflection to every Citizen, who values the Happiness, or wishes to extend the Consequence, and Prosperity of his Country. It is unnecessary to inform your Excellency, that thro these States, the Shop:keeper is blended with the Merchant, and we are sorry to add, that these Scotch Agents, having a well established Credit in Britain, and their supplies being punctual, seasonable, and of the first quality, they successfully destroy every opposition, and confine to themselves the immense retail Business of the State.

It is wonderful, that since the Peace, we have never had a single French House, that commanded Respect, or that has been intitled to it. At this moment, there is none at all, and it would have been a happy Circumstance for France if there never had been one, as we have been only troubled with a set of needy Adventurers, without Fortune or Character, who by importing the refuse of the French Manufactures, have effectually strengthened our prejudices in favor of the British. There are a few Dutch, and Germans, who are honest, industrious, and enjoy a pretty good Credit, but they are limited in their resources, and are too phlegmatic for adventure. Thus Imports are from their own Country, and their Exports are invariably directed to the same quarter. Great Britain thus peculiarly situated, will no doubt leave no means unessayed to Continue, and confirm our Bondage, and it is certainly our Duty and Interest, to destroy it. We are rejoiced in saying, that we think your Excellency has opend the Door for accomplishing so desirable an event, for the British Merchant, being ready to make larger advances on Consignments than we have hitherto been able to obtain from those of any other Country, necessity has compelld us to accept their offers, and against our wishes, establish a preference in their favor. The Conditions tendered by Messrs. Berard & Co. are as liberal, as we would have them, and such is our respect for that House, in consequence of your Excellencys Recommendation of them, that we shall give them early, and decided Marks of our Confidence. The priviledge of drawing for 12£ to 15 Livres the Quintal, for such Parcels of Merchantable Rice, as we may ship from hence to their address, is rather more than sufficient, and more than we shall ever avail ourselves of, as Rice will generally be obtained at, or under 10/6 and provided our Paper Medium supports its Currency, we are of Opinion it will be the case the insuing Year. When Rice is not to be obtained under 12/ to 13/ per Ct., we must either have short Crops, have an unusual demand for the West Indies, or purchase with a depreciated Currency, as otherwise no prudent Man would willingly speculate on it, Experience having shewn it an unprofitable adventure at these prices. During the present Year it has ruled from 13/6 to 16/ per Ct. When at the first, we sold our Bills on London at 60 Days sight at a Premium of 20 per Ct., but it no sooner rose to the latter price, than our Drafts were eagerly bought up at a Premium of 25 per Ct.; hard Money then selling at a Premium of 22½ per Ct., and with difficulty produced. Had Specie been the circulating Medium of the State, Rice would not have been higher than 10/6 to 11/ per Ct., at which, with good Conduct, it might have been rendered a saving Remittance. Such Cargoes of Rice as are sent to Cowes and there sold for a Market are landed, sifted, and reshipped, and marked, at the expence of 1/ each Barrel which very moderate expence, is one very great inducement for sending our Vessels there. The charge for Light, &c. however in some measure make up for that reasonable compensation for so much trouble, but at the same time gives a necessary hint to the Merchants at L’Orient &c. &c. to be [as] limited in their Charges as possible; as otherwise, Cowes will maintain her superiority against all their exertions to rival her. Messrs. Berard & Co. notwithstanding their resources, are still very unequal to the supporting that proportion of our Trade, as may be directed to the French Coast, as we esteem it the best Market for our Tobacco, and nearly equal to any European Market for our Rice. It is generally supposed, that we have this Year made 100,000 Tunes of Rice of 550℔ Net, near 1,000,000 of Pounds of Indico, and several thousand Hogsheads of Tobacco, a very small part of which, would be more than sufficient to employ the funds of any House in Europe. Mr. Barrett, under the protection of Messrs. Le Couteulx & Co. of Paris, has made us a tender of his Services, and offered to accept Drafts for the half amount of Invoice, the remaining half to be paid on the arrival of the Vessel. These Conditions are inadmissible, as we will never draw without being certain of our Bills being honord, provided we confine ourselves within the limits agreed on, the distance between us rendering Communications too tedious for such a plan. We take the Liberty of enclosing your Excellency a Copy of our Letter to Mr. Barrett and an Extract of that We wrote to Messrs. Berard & Co. and that you may entertain a just Idea of the wretched situation of our Commerce, we transmit you a correct List of all Vessels that cleared out at our Custom House for the European Markets, from 20 November 1786 to the 12 June 1787, being the period in which the principal part of our Crop is shipped. This List declares in a few words the melancholy State of our Trade, and the happy effects of good Policy, and wholsome navigation Laws.

Very numerous are the Produce and Manufactures of France, that are suited to our Climate, and Wants, and we have no doubt, that with proper exertions on the part of the French Ministry, supported by a few of their Merchants of Opulence and Influence, that the Intercourse between the two Countries will soon become extensive, and mutually beneficial. Her Brandies, Wines, Fruits, Silks, Linens, Oil, Soap, and a multitude of other Articles, are lucrative returns for our Produce, and we are well convinced, that once the Communication is rendered frequent, that a multitude of objects would present themselves, of which, we have now no Idea, that would relieve our wants, and add to our Comfort. To any way, and in the smallest degree contribute to the effecting so happy a revolution, would be the height of our Pride and Ambition, and if there are any informations your Excellency may wish, and in our power to give, we beg that you will freely dispose of us. Our situation here is perfectly independent, free from the Clog of any Home, or Foreign Debt, and commanding resources that enable us to give every facility to our Commercial Operations. Relying on the Strength of our present Introductions and on your Excellencys anxiety to advance the Interest of our State, and of the Union in general, we take the Liberty of requesting your favorable mention of our firm where it can be useful in advancing the Interests of both Countries. We can only assure you, that we shall endeavor to support, and not disgrace your Recommendation. We have every reason to hope, that the Foederal System recommended by the Convention, will be acknowledged here, and adopted by our Sister States. Our Commerce will then experience the fruits of Order, and Energy, and those Nations, who now view us with Contempt, who ridicule our Folly and Disunion, and who are enriching themselves on our Spoils, will gladly court our rising Consequence and be happy in granting us liberal terms for the benefits we allow them from the participation of our Trade. We are with sincere Respect, Your Excellencys Most Obdt. Servants,

Brailsford & Morris

RC (DLC); endorsed. Enclosures (DLC); (1) Tr of a letter from Brailsford & Morris to Nathaniel Barrett, Oct. 1787, acknowledging receipt through Rutledge of Barrett’s proposals and the information that he had established himself at Honfleur, now a free port, and stating that its “situation is no doubt unexceptionable, and with proper encouragement may be rendered a successful Rival to Cowes”; that “Our Pride is every Day hurt at seeing our trade so fettered by British Policy, but till France shews equal wisdom, and her Merchants a generous and well regulated confidence, it will be difficult to divert our Commerce out of its present Channels”; that France is “indisputably a much better Market for our Rice, and Tobacco, than England, notwithstanding which, where France receives a 100 Barrels, England receives a 1000”; that “Two causes produce these strange effects, the first of which is, the heavy Debt due by this Country to Great Britain, and the greater part of our Shopkeepers being her Natives and Citizens, and the second, the more liberal advances, the British Merchant allows over the French in Consignements”; that Barrett’s proposals “are every way inadmissible, for we should evince a strange infatuation, to consign our Property to any House, who only allows us to draw for 50 per Cent of the first cost, when our Friends in England, and several Ports of France permit us to value on them at 60 Days sight for the full amount of Invoice, or such proportion as we may think proper”; that they are fully satisfied with the responsibility of the house of Le Couteulx, since they had been for some time in correspondence with their firm at Cadiz and had also lately written them “concerning a Vessel we intend to address them at Rouen”; that they do not know whether on this occasion they will draw on Le Couteulx “for a shilling” or direct them to remit, “but as Circumstances are not always the same,” they cannot always adopt the same conduct; that “Thro’ the medium of Mr. Jefferson, who has transmitted here, some liberal offers from a respectable House. at L’Orient, and which tended to confirm our Confidence in it, we shall direct some of our Vessels there the ensuing Winter, but without availing ourselves of the extension of limits”; that they would never consider subjecting themselves to one clause of his proposals—that permitting them to draw for half of the original cost “upon inclosing Invoice Bills of Lading, and Orders for Insurance”—since the correspondent ought to have the privilege of drawing on transmittal of orders for insurance, for if it were necessary for invoice and bills of lading to be first in possession of the consignee, “by a concatination of circumstances, our Bill might appear first, and our signature be disgraced, an injury we would not submit to on any consideration whatever”; that they believe the “Trade of this Country, is well worth the attention of every European Power, as we are entirely destitute of Manufactures, and our produce will be this year full 100,000 Tierces Rice, near 1,000,000 ℔. of Indigo, and some Thousand Hogsheads of Tobacco, independent of skins, Wax, &c.”; that Rutledge “can give … every necessary intelligence” concerning themselves which they believe “Mr. Jefferson and the Marquis de la Fayette will be pleased to confirm”; that “We are anxious to emancipate our Country from those restraints imposed on her by the Policy of England, to expand her Commerce, and destroy every prejudice which now fetters and restrains her Operations”; and that they are engaged “entirely in the Whole-Sale on Commission, importing no Goods on our own Account, but confineing our attention solely to the Interest of our Friends.” (2) Tr of an extract of a letter from Brailsford & Morris to J. J. Bérard & Cie., Oct. 1787, stating that they had previously had from “Mr. Fitzsimons of Philadelphia” information of the “punctuality and solidity” of their house, which “prepossessions have since been confirmed, and increased by the recommendation of his Excellency Mr. Jefferson; that they had found the proposals of Messrs. Bérard, transmitted through TJ, liberal; that they were prepared, “without any farther and preparatory agreement between us, relying implicitly on your faithful adherance to the conditions you transmitted to our Ambassador,” to ship “during the course of the shipping Season … one or more cargoes” of rice and tobacco; that they are “entirely in the Commission Line, importing no European Goods on our own Account but disposing of such Consignments as our European Friends are pleased to make us, we remitting for the Nett proceeds either by Bills, or Produce, as we think most for their advantage”; that this “plan of Business occasions our being large Exporters, and enables us to throw considerable Shipments into the Hands of our Correspondents”; that “the resources of France, her Manufactures, and Productions are but very partially known in this Country, and time can alone make us better acquainted with them”; that “Those prejudices respecting British Goods, which we imbibed with our Milk, are not easily eradicated, and will require continued and increasing attention, on your part, to destroy them on ours”; that hitherto it had been “your Misfortune, that none but the refuse of your Manufactures, the sweeping of your Shops, have been imported here, which has confirmed those mistaken opinions, that are generally entertained of your Fabricks”; that the British “pursue an opposite line of Conduct, sending out fresh Goods and of the first quality”; that “As we have successfully broken those fetters they [the British] had prepared for our Persons, we are very desirous of giving equal liberty to our Minds; to destroy every prejudice towards them, and instead of having our Commerce shackled by their Policy, to have it free of every restraint, and see it extend itself to every friendly power”; and that “Respecting our situation here, we refer you to Mr. Jefferson, the Marquis de la Fayette, and Mr. Fitzsimons, to whom we have done ourselves the honor of writing by the present conveyance.” (3) “A List of Exports from Charleston So. Carolina to Europe from the 20th. November 1786 to the 12th June 1787,” giving the date of shipment, name of vessel, master’s name, destination by country, and kind and quantity of articles shipped on each vessel—total shipments for the period amounting to 35,090 barrels and 4,395 half-barrels of rice; 2,609 hogsheads of tobacco; 2,232 casks of indigo; 136 hogsheads and 180 bales of skins; 1,814 barrels of turpentine; 710 barrels of tar; 1,028 barrels of pitch; 2,000 feet of lumber; 474,300 staves; and small quantities of miscellaneous items, including rosin, beeswax, horns, logwood, reeds, cedar, snakeroot, &c. (cf. with list of exports for 1782–1783, Vol. 8: 202–4). (4) Edward Rutledge to TJ, 23 Oct. 1787. (5) John Rutledge to TJ, 24 Oct. 1787. (The two last are mentioned as enclosures in Brailsford & Morris to TJ, 10 Jan. 1788; a third, Ralph Izard to TJ, 20 Oct. 1787, is also mentioned as having been enclosed, but evidently it was not, since the others arrived with Bérard’s letter of 17 Feb. 1788 and Rutledge’s arrived on 24 Apr. 1788.)

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