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    Letters concerning commerce during the Revolutionary War

    Revolutionary War: Elkanah Watson Letters (2) to Aaron Lopez. Both letters are on the same integral sheet, 7.5" x 9", with an attached sheet. Page one bears the first letter, an Elkanah Watson Printed Letter Signed "Elka. Watson" and addressed to "Aaron Lopez Esqr." (Nantes [France], December 1779). Page three bears the second letter, an Elkanah Watson Autograph Letter Signed "EW." In the first letter, Watson solicits the business of Lopez, a Jewish merchant. In part:

    "The appearance of an Increasing Commerce between the United States of America, and this kingdom, and the connections I have establish'd with Mr. Jonathan Williams . . . by united myself with his house, under the firm of Williams & Watson, to transact American business. The advantageous situation of this Port for importation, and the great extent of the River Loire that passes this city, and has a communication with several manufacturing towns . . . affords a very cheap transportation of goods; these circumstances are the principal inducements for preferring this to any other port in France. These, in addition to this Coast being well and sufficiently protected, incourages us to hope you will be induc'd to direct your consignments for Europe to this Port; and we flatter ourselves we shall be able to give satisfaction to all who will honour us with their commands. We therefore beg leave to solicit your correspondence. . . . If you think proper to address any Congress Bills of exchange upon Paris, please to indorse them to me separately, as I took a precaution, when at Paris, with Doct. Franklin that will effectually detect and prevent their being paid to an enemy, if taken and presented."

    Watson writes in his second letter, in part:

    "I hope the increasing high price of rice will Induce you to consign to Our address this winter Several vessells. Either from Virginia or Carolina. Tobacco is also rising. From our Establishe'd connection with the manufacturers I am persuaded we can supply you with good goods, as cheap in general as in England or Holland Excepting hard wares woolens, tea & Cordage this Coast is well protected & theirs vis Holland left naked to the mercy of the Enemy for Americans; therefore I am sure the risque is at least 10 pt more."

    The appended partly-printed sheet is headed "Prices Current / Of Merchandices at Nantes, for and from / America." Items are listed with handwritten prices. Goods headed "For" American include cloths, linens, wines, silk, Bohea Tea, saltpeter, needles, and more. Goods headed "From" America include tobacco (from both Virginia and Maryland), rice, indigo, turpentine, pig iron, mink skins, mahogany, and more. The pages are toned with folds. A tear in the lower margin of the address panel was cause by the original breaking of the seal. No text has been affected. The "Prices Current" sheet has no tears or weaknesses.

    Elkanah Watson (1758-1842) was a servant indentured to John Brown, a merchant of Rhode Island, when, at the age of nineteen, he was sent as a business envoy to southern American port cities. While on his journey he kept a journal account of his business dealings. That journal gives an important account of the principal towns and villages of the colonies at the time of the American revolution. In 1779 he entered into a partnership with Jonathan Williams, grandnephew of Benjamin Franklin; together they opened a commercial house at Nantes under the name of Williams & Watson. In 1781 when Thomas Paine visited Nantes at William's invitation, Watson acted as his interpreter. Antonio Lopez (1731-1782) of Rhode Island is thought to have owned thirty transoceanic ships and more than 100 coastal vessels that became an important delivery arm for supplying sorely needed supplies to the American army during the revolution. Lopez continued his commerce during the war, becoming a key supplier of food and clothing to the American forces.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    September, 2011
    13th-14th Tuesday-Wednesday
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