Thomas Jefferson Papers

No. 17: Abstract of the Tonnage of foreign Vessels entered in the Ports of the United States from October 1st. 1789 to September 30th. 1790

No. 17.

Abstract of the Tonnage of foreign Vessels entered in the Ports of the United States from October 1st. 1789 to September 30th. 1790.

France 13,435
Holland 8,815
Sweden 311
Prussia 394
Spain 8,551
Portugal 2,924
Denmark 1,619
Germany 1,368
British Dominions 225,495

PrC (DLC: TJ Papers, 60: 10462); in Remsen’s hand except for “No. 17.” inserted by TJ at head of text. Tr (DNA: RG 59, Record of Reports of Thomas Jefferson).

The above figures represent TJ’s highly simplified summary of the data contained in Hamilton’s abstract of duties paid on tonnage of vessels entering American ports between the dates given (Secretary of the Treasury to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, 6 Jan. 1791, with tables; ASP, description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Washington, Gales & Seaton, 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends Commerce, I, 6–8). TJ’s figures omit data for the tonnage of American vessels engaged in the fisheries and in foreign and coastal trade. Concerning the statistics furnished by Hamilton, Tench Coxe submitted the following document to James Madison who in turn transmitted it to Jefferson:

“The Tonnage duty, as appears by the abstract, was paid in the year between 1st. Oct. 1789 and 1st. Oct. 1790 on about 766,000 Tons of foreign and American vessels. The proportions belonging to the several nations are as follows, on a scale of 766.

United States,
 including coasters
 of 20 Tons and
 and fishing
 vessels 502 8/10
Great Britain,
 exclusive of
 Ireland 222 5/10
Ireland   3 2/10
225 7/10
France 13 4/10
Spain 8 7/10
Portugal 2 9/10
Germany 1 4/10
Denmark 1 6/10
Sweden 0 3/10
Prussia 0 4/10
Holland   8 8/10
 37 5/10

The American Tonnage including coasters and fishermen is near ⅔ of the whole, excluding both of them it is 18/31 parts; the British, including the Irish, something less than ⅓; the other foreign tonnage a little more than one twentieth. The British Tonnage about six times as great and all the rest of the foreign. In forming the above scale of the Tonnage, of all descriptions, employed in the commerce of the United States, an abstract from the books of the Treasury, for the year preceding the 30th. September 1790, was used as a guide. In order to do justice to the American proportion it is necessary to add to it twice 26,250 Tons for the fishermen and twice 113,000 Tons for the coasting vessels above 20 Tons. All vessels employed in the foreign trade pay Tonnage at each entry from abroad, which on a medium is about three times per annum, but the fishermen and coasters pay tonnage only once per annum, and therefore appear but once in the return, tho’ constantly employed. Let however only 139,200 Tons or once the Sum of the Coasters and fishermens be added to the scale, and it will stand thus. The extent of the Scale will be 905 2/10, and the American Tonnage will be 642, the British will remain at 225 7/10, the French at 13 4/10 &c.

If it is found proper to encourage our fishermen, of which there can be no doubt, it must certainly be proper to encourage the coasters. The former are not 27,000 Tons, and the latter 113,000 Tons, to which something may be added for vessels under 20 Tons.

Until a return of vessels actually owned in the United States shall be made out, it may be safe to estimate the American Tonnage (including coasters of 20 Tons and upwards) at one Third of the American Tonnage stated to be entered through the year with the above addition—i.e. we may safely state our coasting, fishing, and merchant ships at 214,000 Tons.

The Seamen in the coasters are perhaps 6 for every 100 Tons, or for 113,000 Tons  6780 Men
For the fishing vessels 10 or 11 men per 100 Tons, or for 26,252 Tons say 10  2625
For merchantships 4 men per 100 Tons, or for 121,000 Tons, being ⅓ of the entries,  4840
Exclusive of officers.

The British seamen are stated, by Mr. Pitt, to have been 63,000 in 1774, and 83,000 in 1778, that is on a medium about five times the above number. Their subjects are not probably more than three or three and a half times the number of our citizens. Since 1774 and 1778 the above American Tonnage has been nearly all created, and a very large proportion of the seamen has been drawn from Britain. Should one third of our seamen appear to be drawn from Great Britain, these added to a proportion of landsmen would make the difference to them or us of ten or twelve sail of the line. It is therefore probable that more strict rules may be adopted by them on this subject.

A further nursery for seamen, than what appears in the above statement, exists in our coasters under 20 Tons which are very numerous, but paying nothing they are not noticed in the returns of the Collectors of the Revenue. This part of our coasters would be made the subject of a statement framed out of the documents in the Register’s office, but they do not furnish the materials.

P.S. It appears certain, on consideration, that the coasters are much swelled by a practice which prevailed some time of Vessels, bound coastwise to load for foreign countries, taking out licences of which they availed themselves to avoid the 2d Duty on entry” (DLC: Madison Papers; in Coxe’s hand, undated). TJ evidently intended to include this document in his report, for he caused one of his clerks to transcribe it from the text furnished Madison (DLC: TJ Papers, 59: 10200–01).

Since Hamilton’s report of duties on tonnage did not indicate the ports or countries to which vessels had cleared, Coxe also supplied TJ with the following general estimate of the subdivisions of the carrying trade of the United States:

“The return of Tonnage does not shew to what ports or kingdoms the vessels are dispatched. But the documents from the custom houses shew those facts so that, with time, the statement might be effected. The proportion of each foreign and of our own flag cleared in each state is however shewn by the abstract laid before the house of representatives.

The following facts are to be relied on, and may be of some present Use.

  • 1st. All vessels to the British insular and continental colonies are British.
  • 2dly. All vessels to the ports beyond the Cape of Good Hope are American.
  • 3dly. All the fishermen 26250 Tons are American, but the produce of the British fisheries is imported to the amount of 25 or 30,000 dollars per annum.
  • 4thly. Of the vessels to the French Islands seven in eight are American, the rest chiefly French and English.
  • 5thly. A large proportion of the vessels to the other West India islands (not British) are American.
  • 6thly. The vessels to and from all the Spanish dominions except Spain and the wine Islands are Spanish.
  • 7thly. A Great proportion of the vessels to and from Spain and her wine Islands are British owing to the share that nation holds of the Spanish Trade. Of the rest, which are numerous, the Americans are the greater part. There are a few Spaniards, and sometimes ships of other nations.
  • 8thly. The English and Americans principally divide the trade of Portugal and their wine islands. But there are some Portuguese and a few ships of other nations.
  • 9thly. The Traders with Britain and Ireland, especially those which import large cargoes of dry goods, are the greater part Americans, owing to the powerful operation of the 10 per cent duty. The remainder are British and Irish, as they do not permit foreigners to import goods, not of their country, into those Kingdoms.
  • 10thly. The French Trade is principally in our bottoms. Of the remainder the British have the most—the French the next proportion—the rest is much divided.
  • 11thly. Of the few ships from Holland, Denmark and Russia the greater part are American, the British the next, the rest are inconsiderable.
  • 12thly. The British have the greater part of the Mediterranean trade, our vessels being unprotected by passes. The rest is divided in small portions among the French, Spaniards and ourselves. Occasionally a few Italians partake.
  • 13th. Foreigners partake but little in the coasting trade” (MS in DLC: TJ Papers, 69: 12007–8; undated, in Coxe’s hand).

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