Papers of John Adams, volume 17

From Joseph Palmer

To Charles van Notten

618 From Nathaniel Barrett, November 1785 Barrett, Nathaniel Adams, John
From Nathaniel Barrett
sir At sea, [ante 29]1 Nov 1785

The generous Exertions of the Marquis de la fayette, having obtained prosals for introducing a Quantity of Oil into the Kingdom of France, free from Duty, have been undoubtedly comunicated to your Excellency.—2

The Terms on which the Offers have been made, have not been aceeded to, for reasons given by the Merchants in Boston, thro’ the Medium of Mr Breck

The present unsettled state of our Commerce, The backwardness of Gentlemen on our side of the water to engage in Companies—The uncertainty of the Value to be obtain’d for the Oil—and especially the disadvantage of receiving Goods for pay, chosen by persons, who cannot be Judges of the Quallities suitable for our Market,—all operate against engageing in the Contract, as proposed

A number of Gentlemen, however, who wish to engage on their seperate Accounts with spirit into this Business, and who, if the same privellidges can be procur’d to Individuals as are proposed to a Company, are fully equal to it, have induced me to engage in a Negotiation for the purpose

The same Advantages will hereby accrue to the Kingdom, & its Manufactures, as in the Way proposed by Monsr Suffrain, and the probable Chance of very considerable Loss to the Adventurers saved, by having Goods sent out suitable to the American Market—

The long Experience I have had in the dry Goods Business, induces the Gentlemen in Trade to put full Confidence in me, And the Tryal I made in that Kingdom three years since, convinces me, that very many Articles to be purchased there would suit our Trade, & that very considerable savings might be made if purchases there were conducted with Judgement—

His Excellency Govr. Bowdoin, the Lt. Govr. & others have done me the honour to recommend this Business to the renewed Attention of the Marquis, and to his Excellency Mr. Jefferson, as involving in it Consequences of the most beneficial Nature to the Commerce of our Commonwealth, and the united states at large—3

One Circumstance I would beg Leave to mention to your Excellency, as a fact, which I had from the honble Mr. Coffin of the Senate—


Mr Folger & Mr Starbuck of Nantucket had agreed with certain Gentlemen at Halifax, under the patronage of the Governor there, for a Grant of 400 Acres of Land at Dartmouth opposite to Halifax for a Settlement of One hundred & fifty families which they engaged to bring from Nantucket, to establish the whale fishery in that Government, and gave great Encouragement, that most of the Inhabitants would emigrate to them, and thus intirely draw this valuable Branch of Business from us—4

Ev’ry Art and Finess was made Use of for this purpose, and from the great Discouragement the Trade of the Island labour’d under, they had the prospect of a partial Success, when luckily these proposals came in the way, and put an entire stop to their Negotiations, and they were able, only to carry five or six Families with them—

Your Excellency is sensible of the very great Importance of this Branch of Business, almost to our very commercial Existence—and that the more sources which could be found for its Exports the more advantages would accrue—

After having thus taken the Freedom to state to you the Business I have engaged in, shall I ask the favour of your Excellency’s Advice and Assistance in the prosecution of it— your Influence is great, and one Line from you, would have more happy Effects than all I could urge—

I am now on my Passage by the Ceres, shall only touch at Dover, and embark directly for Calais, If you would please to honour me with a Line to Paris, as soon as you can find Leisure from more important Avocations, and give me such Instructions, as you judge might fecilicate the Business, & Letters of Introduction to the Marquis de la Fayette, Mr Jefferson, or any others whose Influence you think would promote it, or serve me in my Establishment, they would give great additional weight to those I already have, and lay me under the highest Obligations—5

Your Excellency’s personal Knowledge of me, & my Connections, is such that I dare refer thereto, for your Attestations to my honour & Integrity

I purpose to reside during the winter in paris or its Neighbourhood and if I suceed in this Concern, to send for my family in the spring, as I have great Encouragement from Providence New york &c of Business—6

Be pleased to make my most respectful Compliments to Mrs. Adams


I should be happy in rendering to her, or you any services in Paris—

I have the honour to be with sentiments of the most perfect Esteem and respect / your Excellency’s most obedt. & mo hble: servt

Nathl Barrett

The principal Objects of the proposed Alterations are

That on Certificates being lodg’d at the Customs, that the produce of Oil imported by Individuals, after deducting the Charges of the Ship in Port, have been exported in the produce & manufactures of the Kingdom the Duties shall be remitted, as offerd to the Company Imports—

If possible to be obtaind—That some part, say one third, may be paid for in Cash—as the fishermen in this Trade draw one half. & must be paid nearly all their shares in money

If this cannot be done, to endeavour that the Exports of India and other Goods the produce of the Trade of the Kingdom may be intitled to the same Advantage as the produce and Manufactures thereof—in certain Proportions—

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “his Excelly / John Adams Esqr.”; endorsed: “Mr Nat. Barrett. / at Sea Nov. 1785.” Filmed at Nov. 1785.


The date is derived from Barrett’s 29 Nov. letter with which this letter was enclosed. JA replied to both letters on 2 Dec. (LbC, APM Reel 111).


For the Marquis de Lafayette’s efforts to obtain the original contract for Boston merchants to supply Paris street lamps with oil, see Lafayette’s 8 May letter, and note 2, and Thomas Boylston’s letter of 9 Nov., and notes 2 and 4, both above.


The letters recommending Barrett to Lafayette have not been found, but for those from James Bowdoin and Thomas Cushing to Thomas Jefferson of 23 and 25 Oct., respectively, see Jefferson, Papers , 8:662–663, 670–671.


The numerous members of the Starbuck family native to Nantucket make it impossible to identify the “Mr Starbuck” referred to by Barrett here. “Mr Folger,” however, was almost certainly Timothy Folger, Abishai Folger’s son, a merchant and magistrate who emigrated from Nantucket to Nova Scotia around this time. He and other prominent whaling families of Nantucket agreed with Gov. John Parr of Nova Scotia to settle on land granted them at Dartmouth in Halifax harbor, in order to pursue the whale fishery without paying the British alien duty on whale oil (from William Gordon, 8 April; to John Jay, 25 Aug., both above; vol. 16:14–16). Several Nantucket whalemen queried the British home secretary in 1785, asking whether their vessels sailing from Nova Scotia would be regarded as British, but were denied the following spring (Gerald S. Graham, “The Migrations of the Nantucket Whale Fishery; An Episode in British Colonial Policy,” NEQ , 8:188, 191–194 [1935]).


JA wrote letters of introduction on 2 Dec. to Lafayette, the Abbés Chalut and Arnoux (LbC’s, APM Reel 111), and Jefferson (Jefferson, Papers , 9:73–75), which he enclosed with his letter to Barrett of that date (LbC, APM Reel 111).


Barrett was delayed when the Ceres was shipwrecked, but by 10 Dec. he reached Paris (to Barrett, 2 Dec., LbC, APM Reel 111; from Barrett, 10 Dec., Adams Papers).