George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Walter Healey, 10 January 1791

From Walter Healey

Calcutta, Jany 10th 1791. Proposes to convey his title to the village of Allenagur near Calcutta to the United States for the establishment of an American factory. Solicits the post of U.S. consul to India.

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

Walter Healey was apparently a British merchant living in India. His letter to GW of 10 Jan. 1791 runs to nearly five thousand words, filled with the writer’s phonetic spelling of Indian names written in a barely legible scrawl. Along with its several enclosures, it constitutes one of the most complicated documents GW received as president. The enclosures to Healey’s letter include a hand-drawn map showing the relation of the village to Calcutta, as well as an assortment of documents which Healey describes as copies of deeds and vouchers relating to the property, including documents written in Arabic and Hindi.

No reply from GW or anyone associated with the U.S. government to Healey’s proposal to establish an American factory has been found. It is unlikely that GW gave the proposal serious consideration and almost certain that the enclosures were not translated for him. Nor did Healey receive an appointment as U.S. consul to India. The documents nonetheless illustrate an important phase in the development of commercial relations between the United States and India. As governor general of India, Cornwallis had opened British ports to American vessels in order to ease the acute silver shortage affecting British India in the mid–1780s. American trade with India before 1790 was modest, but the enormous profits realized by the pioneering merchant Elias Hasket Derby of Salem, Mass., encouraged other entrepreneurs to invest in the Indian trade. At the end of 1790, this trade was beginning a period of extraordinary growth, in which Derby, Benjamin and Jacob Crowninshield, and the Providence merchant house of Brown & Francis were leaders. Healey’s letter highlighted the need for the appointment of a formal representative of the American government in India, an appointment urged by American merchants involved in the Indian trade (Bhagat, Americans in India, description begins G. Bhagat. Americans in India, 1784–1860. New York, 1970. description ends 8–86). On 19 Nov. 1792 GW nominated Benjamin Joy of Newburyport to be first U.S. consul to India; the appointment was confirmed by the Senate on 21 Nov. 1792 (see GW to the U.S. Senate, 19 Nov. 1792; Executive Journal, description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America: From the commencement of the First, to the termination of the Nineteenth Congress. Vol. 1. Washington, D.C., 1828. description ends 126).

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