ELIAS HASKET DERBY Biography - Bussiness people and enterpreneurs


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Name: Elias Hasket Derby                                                             
Born: 16 August 1739                                                                 
Died: 8 September 1799                                                               
Elias Hasket Derby (August 16, 1739 - September 8, 1799) He was born and died in     
Salem, Massachusetts. Elias Hasket Derby, among the wealthiest and most             
celebrated of Salem's post-Revolutionary merchants, was the owner of the Grand       
Turk, the first New England vessel to trade directly with China.                     
Elias Hasket Derby, son of sea captain and merchant Richard Derby (1712-1783),       
never went to sea. At a young age he entered the counting house of his father       
and was in charge of bookkeeping there from 1760 until the start of the             
Revolution. By 1760, Richard Derby had a fleet of at least thirteen vessels         
engaged in coastal, West Indian and Southern Atlantic trade. The Derbys, like       
many in Salem at the start of the Revolution, both supported and profited from       
the Revolution. From all accounts, Elias Hasket Derby was heavily involved in       
equipping privateers or had shares in as many of half the privateers (one           
hundred and fifty-eight in all) which hailed from Salem. The Derbys' Grand Turk,     
launched in May 1781, became Salem's largest and most successful privateer,         
capturing seventeen prizes between 1781 and 1782. Even before the close of the       
Revolution (Richard Derby died in 1783) Elias was trading on his own and in         
partnership with his brothers. By the time peace was declared, Derby's               
contemporaries claimed that in all of New England his fortune was second only to     
the Cabots of Beverly.                                                               
Immediately following the war, coastal and international trade were depressed.       
The privateers built during the Revolution were substantially larger and faster     
than earlier Salem ships and represented a substantial resource which must now       
be converted to peacetime use. Derby was instrumental in initiating new trade       
with Russia, the Baltic, Europe and in 1784 with the East Indies. Salem's           
pioneering of, and specialization in, the East Indian markets was responsible in     
large part for its remarkable, if temporary, prosperity.                             
In November 1784 Derby sent the Grand Turk under Capt. Jonathan Ingersoll to the     
Cape of Good Hope. The voyage was successful, and in December 1785 the Grand         
Turk under Ebenezer West ,Master, and William Vans, Supercargo, once again           
cleared Salem bound for the Cape. West and Vans arrived at the Cape of Good Hope     
after a passage of 82 days. They found the markets there less favorable than         
they had anticipated. Vans and West continued on to Mauritius, at the time under     
French control and recently opened as a way station to United States vessels.       
The Grand Turk was apparently the first American vessel to call there.               
West and Vans wrote Derby that they were again "Miserable disappointed in the       
demand for our Cargo." Subsequently, Randall Ouery and Sebier de la                 
Chataignerais, French merchants who had purchased the Turk's cargo, offered a       
solution. They contracted with the Grand Turk to take a cargo to Canton and         
thence onto Boston. Vans and West wrote to Derby to inform him of the new plan       
but he would have known of it only retrospectively. The deal, however, did not       
go off as planned. Sebier and Ouery were under-capitalized, and once they paid       
the many "charges & duties & presents" at Canton, they could not afford to           
continue the voyage to Boston. Thus, Vans and West purchased a cargo on Derby's     
behalf. The Grand Turk was one of five American ships and the first from Salem       
that reached Canton during the 1786 season. She arrived back in Salem harbor on     
22 May 1787 the first New England ship to trade directly with China.                 
Initially, Derby, like most Americans, must have been optimistic about the trade     
with China. In 1789, there were at least sixteen American vessels at Canton.         
Derby owned four of these vessels —the Astrea, Atlantic, Light Horse and Three     
Sisters although only the Astrea and the Three Sisters, instructed to work in       
tandem, going first to Batavia, and soliciting a freight there for Canton           
initially planned to go to China. After the flurry of the 1789 season, no Salem     
ship called at Canton until 1797. A mere three years into the American China         
trade, the market was glutted with tea. In addition, the cost of doing business     
with the Chinese and the length of the voyage seriously undermined profits.         
After the return of the Astrea and the Light Horse in 1790, Derby never sent         
another ship to Canton. Meanwhile, he was conducting business at the Isle of         
France, Batavia, Sumatra and India, as well as maintaining an extensive commerce     
with Europe, the West Indies and Atlantic Islands. Between 1786 and 1800, as         
many as one tenth of all American vessels touching at Mauritius were owned by       
Elias Hasket Derby. Most of these vessels were enroute to or from other ports.       
In 1787, Elias Hasket Derby sent his son Hasket (Elias Jr.) to manage the firm's     
eastern trade from a base there. In 1788, Hasket traveled to Bombay with two         
ships and purchased a cargo of textiles. Hasket continued to trade in India         
throughout the late 1780s, eventually returning home in 1791. The Derby's then       
entered the India textile trade in earnest, sending no fewer that five ships         
over the next four years.                                                           
Derby is often referred to as "King Derby" or as America's first millionaire.       
However, it is improbable that Elias Hasket Derby was known as King Derby during     
his life time. Nathaniel Hawthorne bestowed the title on him in The Scarlet         
Letter (p. 4). As for being America's first millionaire, Derby was but one of a     
number of highly successful Massachusetts merchants of the period.