268
268
Astor, John Jacob
Estimate
18,00025,000
LOT SOLD. 36,250 USD
JUMP TO LOT
268
Astor, John Jacob
Estimate
18,00025,000
LOT SOLD. 36,250 USD
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

THE JAMES S. COPLEY LIBRARY: ARTS & SCIENCES, INCLUDING THE MARK TWAIN COLLECTION

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Astor, John Jacob

An important collection of 48 letters, notes and documents, nearly all related to the early American fur trade between 1790 and 1813, including 19 autograph letters variously signed by the ambitious entrepreneur John Jacob Astor, as well as 2 autograph notes signed, one note signed, and one document signed, all but one addressed to Judge Pliny Moore, founder of Champlain, New York —  A draft autograph letter by Pliny Moore, Champlain, 26 March 1813 to John Jacob Astor, reporting  that the troops have departed for Sacket's Harbour and that "our safety consists in our insignificance." — 6 autograph letters and one receipt signed by Henry Hardie, an early settler and merchant in Champlain, New York; his correspondence, written from montreal and St. John's between 1790 and 1794, includes a letter of introduction for Astor to Moore (6 August 1794) — 3 autograph letters signed by Alexander Henry, traveler and author of Travels & Adventures in Canada and the Indian Territories 1760–1776, and described by one writer as Astor's "friend, patron and occasional partner" — 2 autograph letters by Caughnawaga Indian trader Thomas Araguente dated 1794 to Pliny Moore sending muskrat and beaver pelts for storage and asking when the Chiefs of Moore's state will treat with Araguente's. — An autograph letter signed by fur trader Z. Bedient, Montreal, 12 October 1793 to Moore, intended to accompany a shipment of pelts. — An  autograph letter signed by William Howard, agent for Astor, White Hall, 30 November 1813, to Moore, being a length letter about $200,000 worth of fur under his care and concerning an abortive attempt by the British to seize the furs. — and 12 other letters, documents, and receipts from Auguste N. L'Herbette, Peter Sailly,  and others. An inventory of the archive accompanies the lot. Varying conditions, a few seal tears, but generally good, Hardie's letter of 13 June 1790 and Astor's letter of 17 October 1812 stained. Housed in a coral moire folding case, green morocco spine lettered gilt.


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Catalogue Note

A fascinating insight into the early American fur trade and the young German immigrant John Jacob Astor whose pioneer efforts would transform him into the wealthiest man in the United States. According to British law prior to the ratification of Jay's Treaty (1794), direct exportation of furs from Canada to the United States was prohibited; the furs had to be shipped first to England and then back to the United States. The letters and receipts dated between 1790 and 1792 regard the transportation of furs from Canada.  While Astor is not specified in the documents, evidence indicates that he was the owner of the furs. Thus, furs were being imported into the United States in violation of British law; however, it must be borne in mind that their importation did not infringe upon the laws of the United States.

The Tariff Act of 1789 exempts 'raw hides, beaver, and all other furs and deerskins' from duty, and the revised Act of 1790 continued the exemption on 'raw hides and skins, undressed furrs of every kind'" (quoted by Hugh McClellan in the Moorsfield Antiquarian, Vol. 1 (1938), p. 10). Two military outposts  commanding the Canadian entrance to Lake Champlain were held by the British until 1796, although technically these posts were within the territorial limits of the United States. It was therefore necessary to transport furs from Canada into the United States overland; the most convenient place to receive the furs was at Champlain, a settlement about four miles west of the lake which was founded by Pliny Moore.  The correspondence dates between 1793 and 1794 again regards the transportation of furs from Canada, but specifically refers to Astor as the owner. The first letter from Astor to Moore was written at Montreal and dated 25 July 1794: "Sir, I have taking [sic] the Liberty to Send to your care 14 Packs which Pleas to Reci9ve from the Berrer & keep the Same in your Charge thill I Send for them at which time I shall Send an order for them ... Pleas to Sign the Inclosed Recipt ..."  Astor closes the letter with a postscript: "[F]or your troubel I will pay you with Plasier ... have bin Recommended to you by Severrel Gentelmen frinds of yours."

The third group of letters dates from 1812 to 1814. Many are from Astor and focus on his efforts to retrieve his furs which remained in Canada at the outbreak of the War of 1812. On 17 October 1812, Astor writes Moore from New York: "I was Sorry to See you are not easey but I hope the Danger is not real. none can wish more for Peace than me, & I hope we shall we will Soon have it my opinion is that if Mr. Madison is Ellected we may esspect a suspension of Hostiltys in Decr or January nest—and Peace nest Spring or Summer."

On 3 February 1813, Astor confides to Moore that "I Send you a news paper in which you will find Interesting matter if the bill therein dos not produce Peace than I feare of a long war—which god forbid.

I Send once more to Canada to Send some Papers Relative to Settlement of my accounts & to get the Remainder of my furs which are not many but which I wish to Safe ..."

In September 1813 Astor learned from his Montreal agents that another large shipment of furs had arrived there from Indian country. He swiftly dispatched William Howard to montreal to retrieve them and provided Howard with a letter to Pliny Moore: "I am Informd that Some furrs have ben Send there for me from the Indian Country as they are much wanted here and as they Can not be sold In Montreal but at a Great Loss I have tought betst to get them here if Posible Mr Wilm Howard who will Deliver this to you has ben So good as to Say that he will endevour to get them for me I will therefor be much obligd to you if you will have the goodness to aid him in obtaining permission to go in to Canada & to Render him Such other Servises as he may Stand in need of by which you will confer an additional obligation to the many which I am allready under to you."

Howard's letter to Moore, dated 30 November 1813 indicates some of the difficulties he experienced in bringing the furs into the United States, as some British officers planned to seize them as war booty. "About 1 O'clock the first Sloop came up, about which time I received information that Maj. Perault had sent an express to Montreal to consult some Counsilelr and that he had calculated the fur under my care to be worth $200,000, to seize it immediately after it was across the Lines."  Fortunately, Howard's sloop, with Astor aboard, was able to outmaneuver the British and brought the cargo and owner safely back to the United States. Major Perrault was in command of the British post at Odelltown. On 10 October 1813 he issued a proclamation to the citizens of Champlain, declaring that "should any of the militia of Champlain be found hovering this side of the line, I will let loose upon your village and inhabitants, the Canadian and Indian force under my command." The furs were safely brought to New York City by Caleb Luther, a resident of Chazy, New York.  While Astor's fur trading ventures were disrupted when the British captured his trading posts during the war, his business rebounded in 1817: Congress had passed a protectionist law that barred foreign traders from U.S. territories. Astor's American Fur Company came to dominate trading in the area around the Great Lakes. When Astor died in 1848, his estate was estimated to be worth $20 million; in today's money, his fortune would be the equivalent of $110 billion.

THE JAMES S. COPLEY LIBRARY: ARTS & SCIENCES, INCLUDING THE MARK TWAIN COLLECTION

|
New York