Thomas Jefferson Papers

Charles Collins (of New York) to Thomas Jefferson, 25 March 1818

From Charles Collins (of New York)

New York the twenty fifth day of the third month 1818

Respected friend

I have for sometime past thought of writing to thee and now take the liberty to take up a little of thy attention to a subject that has interested me. The crouded situation of the Chinese and the plenty of room we have in this favoured land of America. Might not the Tea plant be cultivated to advantage in the Southern or Western States. I have understood that it now grows wild in the fields of Savanna, but whether of the same kind with that imported from Canton I know not; there can however be little doubt I think of our having a climate that will answer. I should like a little beginning made to relieve China even in a small degree of its overflowing population. Some of them after having been among us for a few years might return to their own country and be the mean of introducing more; the advantages to that Country might in time be great and we be no losers. We ought to consider that the “Earth is the Lord’s,”1 and cultivate a generous feeling towards all the inhabitants of this Globe.   Might not the different kinds of Spices be also introduced among us.   Please to give me thy ideas on this subject.   There is a Chinese Merchant in this country of the name of Punqua Wingchong, the same person who was allowed to go to China in the Ship Beaver during the Embargo, I mentioned the subject to him which he appeared to listen to with attention and did not suggest any difficulty on the part of the Chinese government.

I was glad to hear of thy becoming a Member of the Massachusetts Peace Society.

There is another matter I am willing to mention to thee, which is that there is a number of persons of the Society of Friends who decline making use of the product of the labour of Slaves being unwilling to contribute in any degree to the oppression of the Africans and their descendants, and in order to accommodate them and myself I have opened a Store for the sale of goods clear of Slavery, I confine myself pretty much to those in the Grocery line. My Sugar is from Calcutta and from some Spaniards of Porto Rico who are said to have no Slaves; thou knowest perhaps that there is but a small proportion of Slaves in that Island, many poor free Spaniards do the labour; from Port au Prince I get Coffee. I deal in flour from Pennsylvania &c. and have written to persons in England to know if we cannot be furnished with Velvets &c made of Calcutta or other Cotton clear of Slavery. Rice is an article difficult to be obtained in the Atlantic States clear of Slavery, but I have been credibly informed by a Merchant of New Orleans that considerable quantities are brought to that place raised by poor white Men on the upland. I think I would rather get my goods from the U States than other Countries because I wish to avoid the duty which goes in some degree to the building of Ships of War &c there are three great Evils in our land Slavery, Rum & War all which I wish to avoid as much as may be, yet I am careful not to buy goods that are run if I have any reason to think that to be the case.

from thy friend

Charles Collins

I do not pay the postage because I expect that letters to thee go free. Poor Tom Paine confessed to a friend of mine that he had spent many nights in endeavouring to pervert the right way, wished that his books had been destroyed, alluding I suppose to his Age of Reason so called. I think if thou wast to read some of the friends’ books (say Barclay’s Apology) thou wouldst be pleased. He was not Priest ridden.

RC (DLC); between dateline and salutation: “Charles Collins of No 4 Cherry Street to Thomas Jefferson of Monticello Virginia”; addressed: “For Thomas Jefferson Monticello Virginia” by “Mail”; franked; postmarked New York, 25 Mar.; endorsed by TJ as received 2 Apr. 1818 and so recorded in SJL.

Charles Collins (1774–1843), merchant, was a Quaker and an officer of the New-York Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves for several years during TJ’s presidency. He ran a free-labor store in New York City from 1811 until his death (John W. Jordan, ed., Colonial Families of Philadelphia [1911], 2:1415; American Convention for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, Minutes of the Proceedings [1805]: 8; [1806]: 9; [1809]: 12; Madison, Papers, Pres. Ser., 4:90–1; DNA: RG 29, CS, N.Y., New York, 1810, 1840; Longworth’s New York Directory description begins Longworth’s American Almanac, New-York Register, and City Directory, New York, 1796–1842 (title varies; cited by year of publication) description ends [1809]: 138; [1842]: 161; The New-York City and Co-Partnership Directory, for 1843 & 1844 [1843], 76; Ruth Ketring Nuermberger, The Free Produce Movement: A Quaker Protest Against Slavery [1942], 81, 119; New York Evening Post, 29 Dec. 1843).

The earth is the lord’s is from the Bible (1 Corinthians 10.26; Psalms 24.1).

Late in July 1808 TJ granted punqua wingchong, whom he believed to be a “Chinese mandarin,” an exemption from the Embargo and allowed him to arrange for his passage from New York to Canton, China. Wingchong soon decided to travel home in the Beaver, a vessel owned by John Jacob Astor. Amidst doubts of Wingchong’s noble status and suspicion that Astor was using the occasion to evade the Embargo, members of the trading community criticized and lampooned TJ’s decision (TJ to Albert Gallatin, 25 July 1808 [DLC]; New-York Evening Post, 4, 17 Aug. 1808; New-York Commercial Advertiser, 13 Aug. 1808; Wingchong to James Madison, 5 Feb. 1809 [NHi]; Axel Madsen, John Jacob Astor: America’s First Multimillionaire [2001], 70–1).

1Omitted closing quotation mark editorially supplied.

Index Entries

  • alcohol; rum search
  • An Apology for the True Christian Divinity (R. Barclay) search
  • Astor, John Jacob; and China trade search
  • Barclay, Robert; An Apology for the True Christian Divinity search
  • Beaver (ship) search
  • Bible; 1 Corinthians referenced search
  • Bible; Psalms referenced search
  • China; emigration from search
  • China; overpopulation in search
  • China; trade with search
  • coffee; West India search
  • Collins, Charles (of New York); and Chinese immigration search
  • Collins, Charles (of New York); and T. Paine search
  • Collins, Charles (of New York); free-labor store of search
  • Collins, Charles (of New York); identified search
  • Collins, Charles (of New York); letter from search
  • cotton; as textile search
  • crops; rice search
  • Embargo Act (1807); and merchants search
  • flour; from Pa. search
  • franking privilege; of TJ search
  • groceries; suppliers of search
  • immigration; from China search
  • India; trade with search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Correspondence; franking privilege search
  • Louisiana (state); rice grown in search
  • Massachusetts Peace Society; TJ as honorary member of search
  • Paine, Thomas; The Age of Reason search
  • peace advocacy; and Massachusetts Peace Society search
  • Pennsylvania; flour from search
  • Quakers; and antislavery search
  • Quakers; publications by search
  • religion; Quakers search
  • religion; works on search
  • rice; cultivated in La. search
  • rum search
  • slavery; and free-labor stores search
  • spices; imported search
  • sugar; imported search
  • taxes; on imports search
  • tea; cultivation of search
  • textiles; cotton search
  • textiles; velvet search
  • The Age of Reason (T. Paine) search
  • West Indies; U.S. trade with search
  • Wingchong, Punqua; Chinese merchant search