Thomas Jefferson Papers

[William Coxe, Jr. to John Brown Cutting], June–August 1787

[William Coxe, Jr. to John Brown Cutting]

Our Ship Canton is just arriv’d from China with a cargo of 100000 dollars, 19/35 of her belong’d to us. Mr. D——and myself had the entire direction and management of the property. From these circumstances I have had the best opportunities of getting to the bottom of that business. I have made every use of them in my power. I will venture to pronounce that it contains an increasing and profitable branch of our commerce. We have realized a neat profit of 126 per cent. A larger capital is subscribed and the ship returns immediately. I mention this to you as a national object. You probably have intercourse with the American Ministers at the Courts of Versailles and St. James’s. The nature of our government requires the employment of every channel through which a public character can receive information or have useful truths reiterated and confirm’d. I do not flatter you when I say, were the case otherwise our Ambassadours abroad wou’d lend you their ear with complacency. I wish to make an observation to them through you. The british nation possess an immoderate share of the trade of India and China. The Dutch also have a great deal of the former and some of the latter. It appears to me that it wou’d be sound policy in those nations who have very little of that trade to permit the Americans to enjoy the privilege of their ports. France for instance by permitting us to use Pondicherry wou’d give us an opportunity of acting with them in gaining ground upon the British. The Chinese shewed a weakness if I may so call it, in favour of our people from their resemblance to the british. The Nations on the coast of whose feelings that nation have got hold wou’d be more or less partial to us in the same way. The french united with us, or rather acting in concert wou’d gain upon the british in that quarter of the world, and it wou’d have a good effect in regard to the french by contributing to wean those people from their prejudice and exclusive predilection in favour of Britain. The commerce with the East shou’d if it were possible be made common by all the powers of inconsiderable influence in that country. To our ministers you may also mention confidentially that the principal american sales of fine teas are made for smuggling to Ireland and the british Islands—of Nankeens to the same—and likewise to the french and spanish colonies but more largely to the latter. Foreigners have bought in this port double the quantity brought in the Canton.

Tr of Extract (DLC: TJ Papers, 42:7231); in Cutting’s hand, but erroneously catalogued as a postscript to Cutting to TJ, 30 Aug. 1788; unsigned, undated, and endorsed by TJ: “Cutting.” The Editors are indebted to Eugene S. Ferguson, Ames, Iowa, for the almost certain attribution of authorship to William Coxe, Jr. (1762–1831), brother of Tench Coxe; for the conjectural date of composition as the summer of 1787; and for the information given in the notes below. There is less certainty about the time and manner of transmittal from Cutting to TJ. During his conversations with TJ in Paris in the autumn of 1787 Cutting had advanced the idea of challenging British supremacy in the Oriental trade (Cutting to TJ, 4 Nov. 1787) and he may have handed the present extract to TJ at that time; he may possibly have enclosed it in a (missing) letter to TJ during the winter of 1787–1788; or he may have sent it in an undated (and missing) letter recorded in SJL Index as having been written between Cutting’s letters of 11 July and 3 Aug. 1788.

There can be no doubt, however, that this letter was as much intended for TJ (and for John Adams) as if the author had addressed it to them formally instead of phrasing it as an observation to them through you. Nor can there be any doubt that its main argument—that of forming commercial links with France—was one calculated to enlist TJ’s sympathy. The Canton, Thomas Truxtun, cleared Philadelphia on her outward voyage on 30 Dec. 1785, and her owners were then listed as “John Donnaldson, Wm. Coxe, Tench Coxe, Nalbro Frazier, John Pringle, Thos. Truxtun, all of Phila.” She had been built in 1785 by Joshua Humphreys for Donnaldson & Coxe, and on her first voyage that year had brought back Benjamin Franklin from Cowes. She arriv’d from China on 20 May 1787 and departed on her second voyage in Dec. 1787. MR. D—was clearly John Donnaldson, and the firm of Donnaldson & Coxe was probably owner of the share that belong’d to us; the goods were advertised for sale by Coxe & Frazier and Donnaldson & Coxe as agents (communication from Eugene S. Ferguson to the Editors, 14 June 1956, citing Customs House Records, PHi, and Penna. Packet, 31 Dec. 1785, 21 May 1787). this port was Philadelphia.

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