Tripoli: 14 July 1799.
pp. of manuscript text on a folded folio sheet. With a brief note on the address page that appears to be in Arabic. 4to. Old folds. Tear from wax seal, not affecting any text. Very good DAB III, pp.572-73. Item #247456
This letter unites two American consuls to the Barbary states in a proposed business venture involving various goods. Both James Leander Cathcart and William Eaton had been appointed as consuls by President John Adams. In this letter Cathcart proposes a joint business venture to Eaton (likely one of many between the two men), involving cloth, sugar, spices, wine, brandy, and other goods. The letter discusses the role of Jewish merchants in the trade of the region and the rigid control exercised by local potentates, and demonstrates the actions of American consuls in Barbary to engage in business in order to supplement their incomes.
James Cathcart and William Eaton were two of the central figures in American diplomacy toward the Barbary States. Cathcart (1767-1843) led a fascinating life. He was born in Ireland, came to the United States as a child, served on an American privateer at age twelve, and was imprisoned by the British. After the Revolution he was captured by Barbary pirates while working on a merchant ship, and was held as a slave in Algiers for eleven years. Cathcart eventually learned Arabic, became a clerk to the Dey of Algiers, and was freed from his slavery by the United States treaty with Algiers of 1796. In 1798 John Adams appointed him U.S. Consul to Tripoli. William Eaton (1764-1811) had the most notorious career of any American involved with the Barbary states. He gained some military fame in the 1790s as an aid to General Anthony Wayne in the Old Northwest, and was appointed American consul to Tunis in 1798. While in office, Eaton espoused the cause of Hamet Karamanli, the exiled Pasha of Tripoli, who had been removed by his brother, Yusuf. This led to Eaton's famous adventure, culminating in the Battle of Derne (1804), in which Eaton led a force of Arabs and European mercenaries. However at the same time American diplomat, Tobias Lear, was negotiating a treaty with Yusuf Karamanli, thereby undermining Eaton's efforts. Later in his life Eaton was involved in the treason trial of Aaron Burr.
In the present letter, Cathcart proposes a large commercial venture with Eaton. He writes:
"If you have a mind for a spec purchase gold twist (fil d'oro) either French Italian or Tunisian it is worth about six piastres an ounce at Tunis. All sorts of white linens either German or Irish, a thin sort of cloth called in Italian Londrina, some white sugar such as Famin sold me & some black pepper & some coarse ticking such as is used in Barbary for covering mattresses. The cloths to be scarlet , red or different shades blue do. and some yellow? If you employ two thousand dollars in the above speculation I will be bound to run an equal risque with you & will send you an order upon Azulai for one thousand dollars on receiving advise from you. If you find it convenient to expend a larger sum I will take an equal share with you. You will please to send me the prices current at your place, here we have nothing that will answer Tunis, & be very cautious lest the Jews should over reach you. I hear there has arrived a Ragusian vessel from Leghorn at Tunis some days ago. It is probable you will be able to get great part of the goods upon two three or four months credit. Whatever you purchase give them to Halifa Caigon who will return here in the Brig he is sent to Tunis to purchase goods for Farfara."
On the second page Cathcart informs Eaton that he is sending him wine and brandy to sell:
"I am about sending two pipes of Brandy & two of very good wine - you will please to dispose of them to the best advantage in case you receive them but I have not determined whether I will or not, yet if I do Caigon will have charge of them. If they turn out well & you can get permission from the Bey to land a quantity I will send you a cargo of wine & brandy on both our accounts. We must either trade or build houses as Ingraham has done. My pay will not maintain me tho I am by no means extravagant."
The fourth page of the sheet, otherwise used to address the letter to Eaton (in Italian), contains a further note from Cathcart: "By order of the Bashaw all the Jews were ordered to disembark. I open this letter to tell you that if I ship the wine & brandy you will receive the cap'tns. receipt enclosed in this if the Jews gets leave to go on board Mr. Caigon will give you this if not the cap'tn will. Send any goods by the cap'tn and send me some potatoes by the return of the brig. Forward me an invoice & bill of lading by land."
An interesting letter proposing a complicated commercial venture, and linking together two of the most prominent Americans in the Barbary states.
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