Page images

vessels. During the years 1795 to 1807, the annual shipments from the United States to the French Islands were valued at from $2,776,000 to $7,148,000, the bulk of which consisted of foreign (European) produce; and the products annually imported from the French West Indies were valued at from $2,022,000 to $15,751,000, most of which were reshipped to Europe. Similar amounts were annually imported from and exported to the Spanish West Indies, while the trade with the Dutch and Danish West Indies was smaller in volume.


Though the great bulk of the foreign trade of this quarter century was carried on in the long-established markets of European countries and the West Indies, there was at the same time a spectacular growth of American trade in the Orient, which was in many respects one of the most noteworthy features of the early commercial history of the United States. This trade had its beginning during the previous period.1 As early as 1789 there were as many as 47 American vessels trading at one time beyond the Cape of Good Hope. In that year Congress enacted a tariff law explicitly designed to promote the Oriental trade and to confine it to American ships. It levied duties2 of 6 to 20 cents per pound on tea brought direct from India and China in American vessels, while the duties on tea imported indirectly by way of Europe ranged from 8 to 26 cents, and those on tea imported in foreign vessels ranged from 15 to 45 cents per pound. The duties on other Oriental commodities, when imported in foreign vessels, were likewise almost twice the duties on goods imported in American ships.

It was from the Oriental trade that the famous "merchant princes" of the day secured their large fortunes. In this trade they employed their most shrewd and daring captains and their best ships, and on the rich cargoes which their vessels brought home from the East they realized their greatest profits. Furthermore, many of the Oriental products formed the basis of new domestic industries, such as silk finishing, morocco leather, and dyeing. Teas, silks, nankeens, and chinaware from Canton; coffee, pepper, and other spices and lowpriced cotton goods from British India were imported in large quantities. In addition to the ready home market found in the Atlantic Coast States, the European wars, as was explained above, opened an even greater foreign market. The total direct imports from the British East Indies grew from a value of $742,500 in 1795 to $3,391,000 in 1800, and had an annual average of $3,106,000 during the six years 1802 to 1807; those from the Dutch East Indies advanced from $26,700 in 1795 to $4,431,000 in 1801; and those from China grew from $1,023,000 in 1795 to $4,613,000 in 1800 and $5,745,000 in 1810.

'See vol. I, chap. xi, p. 185.

2G. G. Huebner, "Tariff Provisions," etc., in Annals of American Academy of Political and Social. Science, May 1907, p. 61; also infra, II, chap. xli.

See Soley, in Shaler, United States of America, I, 525; Chase, Report, 35.

The exports of merchandise to China and the East Indies increased somewhat, but were almost negligible in volume. During the years 1795 to 1807 they ranged from $261,700 to $2,129,000 per year, and consisted mainly of foreign products opium, woolen and cotton goods, and quicksilver. The chief domestic merchandise shipped to the East consisted of furs, ginseng, cotton goods, and raw cotton to China; and flour, whale oil, candles, timber, lumber, and tobacco to the East Indies. Most of the shipments to the Orient consisted of gold and silver specie, and much of this was obtained from abroad. The primary object of this early Oriental trade was to build up large fortunes by the sale of Oriental imports in the United States and Europe, rather than to find markets for American exports In China the trade was conducted through the famous "Chinese Hongs;" and in the East Indies it was likewise mostly a bartering trade with native merchants. Productive of great profits, but often of great losses, uncertain and surrounded by constant difficulties, the romantic trade with China and the East Indies immediately after the formation of the Union was by far the most interesting feature of early American


China and the East Indies (including British India) were foremost in the newly established commerce, but American trade was also extended to other distant countries. As early as 1790 a small trade was conducted as far north as Japan; and direct trade with the Philippine Islands began about 1796, when Elias Hasket Derby, of Salem, obtained a cargo of sugar, pepper, and indigo at Manila.' The sandalwood trade with the Hawaiian Islands, which began as a link in the Chinese trade via the northwest Oregon coast in 1789, increased after August 1790, when the Columbia returned to Boston after having completed a successful voyage via Cape Horn to the Oregon coast, Honolulu, and Canton.2 The trade at the Cape of Good Hope, in Turkey, the Levant, Egypt, Senegal, the northwest coast of North America, Bourbon, Mauritius, Honduras, Campeachy, Morocco, and the Barbary States was now regularly listed in the customs records. Though acts restricting the African slave trade were passed in 1794, 1798, 1800, 1803, and 1807, this trade also continued to flourish. To Charleston and other southern ports came dozens of shiploads of enslaved negroes who were purchased or kidnaped on the African coast and carried directly to the United States to be used on the cotton plantations. Many of the vessels engaged in the slave trade belonged to people of New England and New York, who reaped large profits from their nefarious traffic.

1Marvin, The American Merchant Marine, 204.

2Ibid., 68; Carpenter, America in Hawaii, 29–35; Jarvis, History of Hawaiian Islands, 68–79; Blackman, The Making of Hawaii, 187.

Seybert, Statistical Annals, 132-140.


No phase of the foreign trade during the prosperous years 1790 to 1807 was more noteworthy than the rapid growth of the carrying trade. The bases upon which the marine and ship-building industries of the country rested, were, as during colonial days, the abundant supply of timber and naval stores suitable for the building of cheap and excellent wooden vessels, the natural maritime instincts of a large portion of the inhabitants, and a coast line indented with scores of natural bays and harbors. The unusual growth of the carrying trade at this particular time, however, was due largely to the extraordinary opportunities arising from the circumstances referred to above. Quick to embrace these opportunities, the American ship-owners pushed their advantage to the utmost and enjoyed a degree of prosperity never before or since equaled.

The adoption of the new form of government in 1789 tended to restore the confidence and credit which are essential to the development of maritime industries, and the newly acquired navy, though small, afforded a certain amount of protection to American merchant ships. The provisions which from 1789 to 1815 were incorporated in the tariff laws, granting a discount of 10 per cent of the duties on all goods imported in American ships and especially favoring American vessels in the Oriental trade, practically restricted most of the ordinary deep-sea traffic of the United States to the American flag. Great Britain imposed countervailing duties which to some extent offset the effects of the policy of shipping protection, the Committee on Commerce and Manufactures of the House of Representatives admitting that "Great Britain by her countervailing acts has secured effectually the carrying (for her own wants and her foreign commerce) of our fish, oil, tobacco, pot and pearl ashes, rice, indigo, and cotton." The countervailing restrictions of England, however, were effective only during times of peace, which from 1790 to 1814 were infrequent and short-lived. On the whole, the policy of protection to shipping tended to increase the American carrying trade. As stated by Adam Seybert:

"Our discriminations operated powerfully in favor of our shipping. Those extra charges were sufficient to drive from our ports, the greatest proportion of the foreign tonnage. All foreign nations were affected by the system we had adopted; it seemed to operate like magic in favor of ship-owners in the United States."

The European wars, even more than the policy of shipping protection, gave a most powerful impetus to the American carrying trade at this particular time, for they effectively locked the merchant ships of the great commercial powers of Europe in their harbors. Professor J. B. McMaster picturesquely describes the situation:

1Statistical Annals, 294.

"Almost the whole carrying trade of Europe was in their (American) hands. . . . The merchant flag of every belligerent, save England, disappeared from the sea. France and Holland absolutely ceased to trade under their flags. Spain for a while continued to transport her specie and her bullion in her own ships protected by her men-of-war. But this too she soon gave up, and by 1806 the dollars of Mexico and the ingots of Peru were brought to her shores in American bottoms. It was under our flag that the gum trade was carried on with Senegal, that the sugar trade was carried on with Cuba, that coffee was exported from Caracas, and hides and indigo from South America. From Vera Cruz, from Carthagena, from La Plata, from the French colonies in the Antilles, from Cayenne, from Dutch Guiana, from the isles of France and Reunion, from Batavia and Manila, great fleets of American merchantmen sailed from the United States, there to neutralize the voyage and then go on to Europe. They filled the warehouses at Cadiz and Antwerp to overflowing. They glutted the markets of Embden and Lisbon, Hamburg and Copenhagen, with the produce of the West Indies and the fabrics of the East, and, bringing back the products of the looms and forges of Germany to the New World, drove out the manufactures of Yorkshire, Manchester and Birmingham.”1

Table 45 shows how rapid was the growth of the carrying trade.
TABLE 45.-Statistics of shipping engaged in the carrying trade of the United States,

[blocks in formation]

'Seybert, Statistical Annals, 318; Pitkin, A Statistical View, 363. Soley, "Maritime Industries of America," in Shaler, The United States of America, I, 522, 527, 534, 536.

For period from July 20 to end of calendar year 1789.

The increase in the gross tonnage of the American deep-sea fleet during the first four years following the adoption of shipping protection was not as great as the statistics of table 45 would indicate, because the returns during those years were incomplete. The accounts given for the year 1789 are particularly incomplete in that they do not include the tonnage employed throughout the entire year. There was, however, a very substantial increase in the American tonnage employed in the foreign trade, and the growth continued rapidly, though irregu

History of the People of the U. S., III, 225.

[ocr errors]

larly, after the European wars began. From 447,754 gross tons in 1793, when complete statistics were first recorded, it rapidly advanced to 1,089,876 tons in 1807. In 1789 only 23.6 per cent of the value of the foreign trade and 54.4 per cent of the volume of shipping were conducted in American ships; but by 1807 these proportions, indicating how practically all foreign vessels except those of England disappeared from American harbors, had risen to 92 and 92.7 per cent respectively. To the American of the present time, when 90 per cent of American foreign trade is conducted in foreign vessels, it seems incredible that the deep-sea tonnage of the American flag was greater in 1807 than it was in 1907, that the American marine engaged in the foreign trade in 1807 was three times as large as the coastwise marine; that over 90 per cent of the country's foreign trade was confined to American ships; and that America conducted a large share of the carrying trade of Europe. The maritime industry in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland in 1807 had no precedent in the history of any nation; and before the war with England broke out in 1812, fourteen other States and Territories were represented in the tonnage register. Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Charleston, Providence, and Portsmouth became famous for the large number of newly acquired sailing ships.


The growth of foreign trade and shipping from 1790 to 1807 did not proceed uninterruptedly. American merchantmen until 1805 were) exposed to attacks by the Barbary pirates. England had enacted countervailing duties and had closed her West India ports against American ships except at irregular intervals. France had begun to issue hostile decrees as early as May 1793, and England as early as June 1793, and under these decrees American vessels and merchandise were exposed to seizure. Indeed, had not Great Britain in 1795, under the Jay treaty, agreed to compensate American merchants to the extent of $10,000,000 for property illegally condemned, war with England might have occurred long before 1812. The depredations upon American ships by the French after 1796 culminated in several naval engagements, which resulted in the commercial treaty of 1800.

After the renewal of the European wars in 1803, and after the expiration of the commercial sections of Jay's treaty, Great Britain revived the old neutrality rule of 1756, according to which neutrals in time of war could not carry on any trade which they did not ordinarily carry on in times of peace. In 1805, the seizure of American ships and cargoes by British and French men-of-war became a source of great loss to American merchants and ship-owners. The Secretary of State estimated that from 1803 to 1807 as many as 528 American ships were seized by England and 389 by France. But in spite of these interruptions, the foreign trade and shipping of the United States continued to grow, the crest of the tide not being reached until 1807.

« PreviousContinue »