Chapter 8




Almost in sight of Boston, the supplanter near the point where Cape Ann breaks away from the mainland, is Salem, still nautical in tone and tradition, although scores of years have passed since she lost her hold on the commerce of the East. Her municipal seal bears the motto, "To the furthest port of the rich East"; old shipmasters who once carried her flag to the furthest seas congregate in the municipal offices to recount their conquests, and in the sunny nooks of Derby Street one comes on little knots of grizzled tars, their humble allies in adventure. In my first stroll through this thoroughfare I met an aged negro hobbling along, as briny and tarry as though steeped for years in those concomitants of a seafaring life. To my query as to the name of the street he replied promptly, "Darby Street, sah; run along heah, fore and aft," indicating the water-front with his forefinger. This Derby Street is a marvelously suggestive thoroughfare to the dreamer. Visions of it at its best still haunt it. Ghostly shadows of stately East Indiamen, Canton tea ships, and African treasure ships,


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fall athwart it. Faint odors of the cassia, aloes, gums, and sandalwood of other days linger about it, and shadowy heaps of precious merchandise burden the wharves. The silent warehouses are again open, and porters busy within under the eye of precise clerks and supercargoes with pens over their ears and ink blotches on their long linen coats. In the counting-rooms the portly merchants greet buyers from all countries; the sail-makers are busy in their lofts; in long low buildings spinners with strands of hemp tread the rope-walk; the ship chandlers’ shops are thronged; the street is filled with men of all nations.

But, dreaming aside, there is something phenomenal in the early growth of Salem’s commerce. Her achievements were largely due to the genius of her own citizens, and they worked, it is well to note, with inherited tendencies. Salem was founded for a trading-post by a company of English merchants, whose agents selected it because of its commercial advantages. They began a trade with it at once, several cargoes of "staves, sarsaparilla, sumach, fish, and beaver skins," being exported as early as 1630. By 1643, while Plymouth still remained a primitive hamlet, her merchants had a flourishing trade with the West Indies, Barbadoes, and the Leeward Islands.

Previous to the Revolution the trade of Salem was chiefly with the colonies, the West Indies, and the principal European ports. The vessels had an estab




lished routine, loading at Salem with fish, lumber, and provisions, clearing for some port in the West Indies, and thence running through the islands until they found a satisfactory market. In return they loaded with sugar, molasses, cotton, and rum, or ran across to the Carolinas for rice and naval stores. From this traffic assorted cargoes were made up for the European ports, and wine, salt, and manufactured products brought back in return. Colonial commerce was very hazardous, assaults of pirates, buccaneers, and French privateers being added to the risks of the sea. It was profitable, however. A writer of 1664 speaks of Salem’s "rich merchants" and of her solid, many-gabled mansions.

The Revolution, of course, stopped all commerce; but with the return of peace in 1783 dawned the golden age of the port. In twenty-four years she had a fleet of 252 vessels in commission, and her merchants were in commercial relations with India, China, Batavia, the Isle of France, Mozambique, Russia, and all the nearer commercial countries.

The credit of opening India, China, and, indeed, the entire East to American commerce, is due to Elias H. Derby, a Salem merchant, born in the port in 1739. This gentleman possessed a courage and enterprise that no obstacles could daunt, and determined to enter the rich field then monopolized by the English and Dutch East India Companies. Accordingly in 1784 be despatched the ship Grand Turk. under Capt.



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Jonathan Ingersoll, to the Cape of Good Hope on a mercantile reconnaissance, to discover the needs and capacity of the Eastern market. She returned in less than a year with the information sought, was quickly reloaded, and on the Q8th of November, 1785, cleared for the Isle of France, with instructions to proceed thence to Canton, via Batavia. The ship was laden with native products fish, flour, provisions, tobacco, spirits and made a successful voyage, returning in June, 1787, with a cargo of teas, silks, and nankeens, the first vessel from New England, if not from America, to enter into competition with the incorporated companies of the Old World. Her success seems to have electrified the merchants of Salem, Boston, and New York, and an eager rivalry for the trade of the Orient ensued, with the result that when Mr. Derby’s ship Astria entered Canton two years later she found fifteen American vessels there taking in cargo, four of them belonging to our merchant, however, who had not been slow in improving his advantages as pioneer. This was not the only pioneer work that he did. His bark Light Horse in 1784 first opened American trade with Russia. In 1788 his ship Atlantic first displayed the American flag at Surat, Calcutta, and Bombay. Another did the same in Siam; a third was the first to open trade with Mocha. In 1790, it is said, his vessels brought into Salem 728, 871 pounds of tea, these ventures being among the first in the tea trade.




From this period until near the outbreak of the civil war, Salem had vast interests on the seas. A brief interval between 1807 and 1815 is to be noted, caused by the Embargo Act and war of 1812 The Canton trade, as we have seen, came first, quickly followed by India and East India ventures. By 1800 records of the customs show her ships trading with Manila, Mauritius, Surinam, the Gold Coast, Mocha, India, China, East and West Indies, Russia, the Mediterranean ports, France, England, Holland, Norway, Madeira, the South American ports, and the British provinces. The chief commodities from the East were cotton, tea, coffee, sugar, hides, spices, redwood and other dyestuffs, gums, silks, and nankeens; from Russia and Germany, iron, duck, and hemp; from France, Spain, and Madeira, wine and lead; from the West Indies, sugar, spirits, and negroes. The exports comprised lumber, provisions, tobacco, silver dollars, and New England rum, the Gold Coast affording the best market for the latter.

Several of the old merchants and captains who directed this vast commerce linger in the port, and the tourist who is an intelligent listener finds them ready to entertain him by the hour with tales and reminiscences of those stirring days. Of famous ships, notable voyages, adventurous skippers, and mighty merchants these reminiscences are full. The little ketch Eliza, for instance, left Salem December 22, 1794, ran out to



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Calcutta, unloaded, took in cargo, and sailed proudly into the home port October 8, 1705, barely nine months absent. The Active, a sharp little brig, in 181f2 brought a cargo of tea and cassia from Canton in 118 days. Her rival, the Osprey, beat her, making the same voyage in 117 days. The ship China left Salem for Canton May 24, 1817, and arrived back, with a cargo of tea, silks, and nankeens, March 30, 1818, barely ten months out. A famous vessel was the clipper ship George, of the Calcutta trade, built in 1814 for a privateer by an association of Salem ship-carpenters. The war ending before she was launched, Joseph Peabody, a leading Salem merchant of those days, added her to his India fleet. For twenty-three years this vessel made voyages between Salem and Calcutta with the regularity of a steamer. She left Salem for her first voyage May 23, 1815, and made the home port again June 13, 1816, 109 days from Calcutta. She left Salem on her list voyage August 5, 1886, and returned May 17, 1837, 111 days from Calcutta, the eighteen voyages performed between the first and last dates varying little in duration from the standard. One item of her imports during this period was 755,000 pounds of indigo. The ship Margaret, in the Batavia trade, has an, equally interesting history. She cleared for Sumatra November 19, 1800, with twelve casks of Malaga wine, two hogsheads bacon, and $50,000 in specie, stood out to sea November 25, arrived in Table Bay, Cape of Good Hope, Feb




ruary 4, 1801, reached Sumatra April 10, and without stopping to trade proceeded to Batavia. Here her captain, Samuel Derby, found the Dutch East India Company desirous of chartering a vessel to take their annual freights to and from Japan, and engaged his vessel and crew for the service. He left on June p20, and arrived at Nagasaki July 19, being met in the open roadstead with a command to fire salutes and dress his vessel in bunting before entering the port. On once getting ashore, however, the captain and his supercargo were very hospitably entertained by the merchants of the place. They were feasted, the lady of the house was introduced and drank tea with them, and they were shown the temples and public places of the city. The Margaret got away in November, and reached Batavia after a month’s passage. Her voyage was noteworthy, because she was the second American vessel to enter a Japanese port, a Boston vessel, the Franklin, commanded by a Salem captain, being the first. The whole trade of the country at this time was in the hands of the Dutch, who, to retain it, submitted to the most vexatious restrictions and to many indignities. Fifty-three years later Commodore Perry’s expedition opened Japan to the world.

Among skippers Capt. Jonathan Carnes figures most largely in their reminiscences. In 1794 he was in Bencoolin, Sumatra, and chanced to learn that pepper grew wild in the northwestern part of the island. He



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hastened home, and shared his secret with a wealthy merchant, Mr. Jonathan Peele, who at once ordered a sharp, trim schooner of 10 tons on the stocks. She was finished early in 1795, fitted with four guns, and a cargo of brandy, gin, iron, tobacco, and salmon. Captain Carnes with his ten seamen then went on board and stood away for Sumatra, having given out that his destination was Calcutta, and clearing for that port. Eighteen months passed away, and still Merchant Peele heard no tidings. At length one June day in 1797 his schooner came gliding into port, the ship-masters and merchants crowding about her as she was moored to see what she had brought home, her long disappearance and her owner’s reticence having caused no little speculation in the port. By and by the hatches were opened, and there the cargo was found to be pepper in bulk, the first ever imported in that way. But as no known port delivered the article in that state, the rumor went round that the Rajah had discovered a pepper island where the condiment could be had for the asking, and in twenty-four hours half a score of shipping firms were fitting out swift cruisers to go in search of it. Ere they were out, Captain Carnes had sold his cargo at an advance of 700 per cent, and was away for another voyage, bringing off several ship-loads before his secret was discovered.

Elias H. Derby, the pioneer, was the chief of Salem merchants. Between 1785 and 1799 he fitted out 125




voyages in thirty-seven different vessels, most of them to unknown ports. His last voyage was in some respects his most brilliant one. Hostilities between France and the United States had just begun when he equipped a stanch vessel, the Mount Vernon, with twenty guns and fifty men, loaded her with sugar, and sent her to the Mediterranean. The cargo cost $43,275 The vessel was attacked by the French cruisers on her voyage, but beat them off, made her port, exchanged her sugar for a cargo of silks and wines, and returned to Salem in safety, realizing her owners a net profit of $100,000. Mr. Derby died in 1799, before his venture became a certainty, leaving an estate of more than a million dollars, said to have been the largest fortune that had been accumulated in this country up to that date.

William Gray, Joseph Peabody, John Bertram, William Orne, and George Crowninshield were worthy successors of Mr. Derby. Mr. Gray was a native of Lynn, and received his business training in the counting-room of Richard Derby. In 1807 he owned one fourth the tonnage of the port. Salem’s chief hotel, the Essex House, was his former mansion. Political difficulties led to his removal to Boston in 1809. The next year he was elected Lieutenant-Governor of the State, and again in 1811. He died at Boston in 1825, having been as prosperous in commercial affairs there as in Salem.

Joseph Peabody was one of several merchants of Salem who passed from the quarter deck to the count-



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ing-room. After serving on board a privateer he became a captain in the merchant marine of Salem, and as soon as he accumulated a little capital engaged actively in commerce. During his mercantile career he built eighty-three ships, which be employed in all cases in his own trade. These vessels made thirty-two voyages to Sumatra, thirty-eight to Calcutta, seventeen to Canton, forty-seven to St. Petersburg, and thirty to various other ports of Europe. He shipped seven thousand seamen at various times to man this fleet, and thirty-five of those who entered his service as cabin-boys he advanced to be masters. Some of his vessels in the China trade made remarkable voyages. The little brig Leander, for instance, of only 228 tons’ burden, brought in a cargo from Canton in 1826 which paid duties to the amount of $92,892.94. His ship Sumatra, of 287 tons, brought a cargo in 1829 that paid $128,363.18; in 1880, one that paid $188,480.34; and in 1831, a third requiring $140,761.96. Mr. Peabody outlived most of the pioneer merchants of Salem, dying in 1874.

In 1870 the foreign entries of Salem had dwindled to ten, and in 1878 had entirely ceased, Boston, with her greater facilities for handling and distributing, having absorbed the business of her whilom rival. Today the old port is almost deserted of shipping; even the fishing craft furl their sails at Gloucester. It is rarely that a dray rumbles over Derby Street.