George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Merttins Bird, 23 January 1790

From Henry Merttins Bird

Charleston [S.C.] 23 Jany 1790

Sir,

The public debt of the United States of America being to be taken into consideration during the present Session of Congress, it is probable that for the purpose of raising a sum of money in Europe, an Agent or Agents may be wanted to negociate a loan, or to undertake the payment of interest to the European creditors of the united States.

Conceiving that to answer this purpose it may be thought necessary that the Appointment shou’d be given to some person or persons resident in London, I presume to offer the services of the house of Henry Merttins Bird, Benjamin Savage & Robert Bird, known under the firm of Bird, Savage, & Bird, American merchants of London, in which I am a partner.

Should it be thought that one house is not competent to an appointment of so much trust, the house of William Manning senr, William Manning junr, & Benjamin Vaughan, known under the firm of Mannings & Vaughan, merchants of London might be added.1

I trust that on enquiry of the most honble Ralph Izard Esqr. or the honble William Smith Esqr the competency of one or both these houses will be found equal to the undertaking, & shou’d they be thought worthy of the trust I will immediately have the honor to attend at New York to take your Excellency’s commands.2 I have the honor to be with sentiments of the most profound respect, Sir, Your Excellency’s most obedient & most devoted humble Servant3

H. M. Bird

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

Henry Merttins (Martins) Bird (1755–1818), the leading partner in the London merchant banking house of Bird, Savage & Bird, was a grandson of Sir George Merttins, lord mayor of London, and received in 1776 an extensive inheritance from his mother’s cousin, John Henry Merttins. In April 1778 he married Elizabeth Ryan Manning (1756–1817), daughter of prominent West India merchant William Manning (1729–1791). Four years later Bird joined with his younger brother Robert (b. 1760) and Benjamin Savage (b. 1750), son of John Savage, a South Carolina Loyalist who had moved to London in 1776. In 1778 Benjamin’s widowed father married William Manning’s sister, Rebecca Sarah Manning Hamm. Since Bird, Savage & Bird was the principal London house in the Carolina rice trade, its partners were oil familiar terms with the South Carolina gentry. Bird may have been in Charleston in early 1790 to speculate in the South Carolina debt (Cope, “Bird, Savage & Bird of London,” description begins S. R. Cope. “Bird, Savage & Bird of London, Merchants and Bankers, 1782 to 1803.” Guildhall Studies in London History 4 (1979-81): 202–17. description ends 202–3; Gentleman’s Magazine, 87 [Dec. 1817], 563, 88 [Dec. 1818], 571; Rogers and Chesnutt, Laurens Papers, description begins Philip M. Hamer et al., eds. The Papers of Henry Laurens. 16 vols. Columbia, S.C., 1968–2003. description ends 13:104; NEHGR, description begins New England Historical and Genealogical Register. Boston, 1847—. description ends 67 [1913], 319–20; Rogers, Evolution of a Federalist, description begins George C. Rogers, Jr. Evolution of a Federalist: William Loughton Smith of Charleston (1758–1812). Columbia, S.C., 1962. description ends 202–3, 273–74).

1Bird was related by marriage to each of the three partners of Mannings & Vaughan: William Manning was his father-in-law, and William Manning, Jr. (1763–1835), and Benjamin Vaughan were both brothers-in-law (Vaughan had married Bird’s wife’s sister Sarah [1754–1834] in 1781). Another Manning daughter, Martha (1757–1781), had earlier married John Laurens, an aide of GW’s during the Revolution (Rogers and Chesnutt, Laurens Papers description begins Philip M. Hamer et al., eds. The Papers of Henry Laurens. 16 vols. Columbia, S.C., 1968–2003. description ends , 10:20, n.4; Cope, “Bird, Savage & Bird of London description begins S. R. Cope. “Bird, Savage & Bird of London, Merchants and Bankers, 1782 to 1803.” Guildhall Studies in London History 4 (1979-81): 202–17. description ends ,” 203).

2Charles Cotesworth Pinckney wrote to GW on 17 April 1790: “My friend Mr Bird an English Gentleman who has some business to settle in our State, takes the opportunity of his being on this Continent to visit with his Lady the Northern & Eastern parts of federal America; and as he anxiously desires to have the pleasure of seeing you before he returns to Europe, I have taken the Liberty to give him this Letter of introduction, assuring you that you will find him not undeserving of your Notice” (DLC:GW). Bird was in Connecticut in the summer of 1791 where he met Jeremiah Wadsworth, a future director of the Bank of the United States (Cope, “Bird, Savage & Bird of London,” description begins S. R. Cope. “Bird, Savage & Bird of London, Merchants and Bankers, 1782 to 1803.” Guildhall Studies in London History 4 (1979-81): 202–17. description ends 210).

3Lear’s reply to Bird of 16 Feb. 1790 reads: “The President of the United States has received your letter of the 23d of January; offering the services of the Houses of Bird, Savage & Bird—and of Mannings and Vaughn, to act as agents, if such should be wanted in Europe, for the purpose of negociating a loan—or paying of interest to the European Creditors of the United States. And in obedience to his command I have now to inform you, that your letter has been laid before the Secretary of the Treasury for his information, as belonging to his department; but the subject to which it relates has not yet come under the discussion of Congress” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). Lear forwarded Bird’s letter the same day to Alexander Hamilton, referring to its author as “M. H. Bird” (DLC:GW).

Bird, Savage & Bird became the main London house dealing in American securities, placing in Britain several million dollars of the domestic debt of the United States in 1791, but failed in its bid to become paying agent for the Bank of the United States in 1793. Bird’s Charleston connections, however, were probably at work when Thomas Pinckney, who became American minister to Britain in 1792, recommended the firm as general agent for the federal government in London in 1795. The weakened state of its chief Carolina collaborator, Smiths, DeSassure & Darrell, in the 1780s, and ship seizures and trade dislocations during the Anglo-French war in the 1790s, as well as costly Far Eastern ventures, contributed to the house’s failure in early 1803 (Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 6:267; Wilkins, History of Foreign Investment in the U.S., description begins Mira Wilkins. The History of Foreign Investment in the United States to 1914. Cambridge, Mass., 1989. description ends 35; Cope, “Bird, Savage & Bird of London,” description begins S. R. Cope. “Bird, Savage & Bird of London, Merchants and Bankers, 1782 to 1803.” Guildhall Studies in London History 4 (1979-81): 202–17. description ends 204–14).

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