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THE OLD MERCHANTS OF NEW YORK CITY
By Walter Barrett, Clerk
The race of magnificent old East India merchants of the early part of
this century, and a later period, are passing away___in fact, have nearly
all gone. There is something grand in the title of an East India merchant.
It conveys the idea of large ships, long voyages occupying a year and more
to the distant Oriental climes, whose commerce is still a mystery. East
India merchant!____we at once think of "India's coral strand," "the golden
Ind," "palmy plains," "the breezes of the Spice Islands," and a thousand
other things that Columbus started to discover when he blundered upon this
We are all accustomed to accord the highest mark of mercantile
the merchant who owns his own ship, loads her with silver, ginseng, lead,
and sterling bills, and starts her off on a voyage of a year, with or
without a gentlemanly supercargo, and to come back a wooden island of spicy
perfumes, equal to any from Araby the blessed, as she lies at anchor in the
North or East river, loaded with teas of all classes, with silks, nankeens,
cassia, and a thousand other things that come from China. To us, the real
East India merchant is the one who sends his ships to China. We do not have
as much trade with British India, and the Calcutta merchant of the olden
time ranks second to those houses who have in former years, before other
ports were opened to the world, done a large trade with Canton. Among those
eminent houses in this city, well known to us of this generation, were the
Franklins, Minturns, and Champlins. Archibald Gracie & Sons, Thomas H. Smith
& Son, John Jacob Astor, Hoyt & Tom, N.L. & G. Griswold, Talbot, Olyphant &
Co., Alsop & Co., Russell & Co., Edward Carrington & Co., Goodhue & Co.,
Howland & Aspinwall, and Wetmore & Co.
WILLIAM S. WETMORE
The founder of the latter house was William S. Wetmore, who was of a
more recent generation of East India Merchants. When the East India houses I
have named were in their glory, about the commencement of this century, he
was born in a little Vermont town in the early part of the year 1801. He
received the ordinary district school education of a New England boy, and
when about fourteen started out into the great world, as so many of the sons
of New England do. At the age of twenty-three, he was shipwrecked near
Valparaiso, to which port he had gone as supercargo of one of the ships of
Edward Carrington & Co., of Providence. Samuel Wetmore, an uncle of young
William, was the partner of Mr. Carrington. The latter was the largest ship
owner and East India merchant in the United States. The chief clerk in the
house for many years was Thomas P. Bucklin, now of the firm of Bucklin &
Crane of this city, in the East India trade. The agent in Canton of Mr.
Carrington was Isaac M. Bull, now of the firm of Bull, Purdon & Co., in
China. At present, Mr. Bull resides in this country.
W. S. Wetmore also married Miss Esther Wetmore in 1837, a daughter of
Samuel Wetmore, his cousin, for his first wife. W.S. left the house of Alsop
& Co. in 1831, retiring from it with a large fortune. He came back to the
United States. Not long after he went to Canton, China, and in connection
with Joseph Archer of Philadelphia, established the house of Wetmore & Co.,
and succeeded to the large and profitable business of Nathan Dunn & Co.
There has always been a great number of Philadelphia merchants engaged in
the China trade. Such men as Dunn, W.R. Thompson, Israel, Samuel Comly,
Henry Tolland, Richard Alsop, Bevan & Humphreys, John McCrea, Eyne, Massey
Mr. Wetmore in 1841 married Miss Rogers, of Salem, for his second
wife. She was a daughter of the celebrated merchant Rogers of that place. He
was largely engaged in the East India trade, and also to the domains of the
Sultan of Muscat. He had an agent who constantly resided at Zanzibar.
W. S. Wetmore remained in Canton, personally superintending his large
business, until his return in 1839. He arrived in New York in February,
1840, and established himself in this city.
Before W. S. Wetmore established himself in New York city, in 1840,
Richard Alsop had been the principal agent in America of Wetmore & Co. of
Canton. This connection continued until an unfortunate quarrel broke off all
intimacy between the two old friends and partners. After that quarrel, Mr.
Wetmore acted as the agent of his Canton house, and established in the city
the house of Wetmore & Cryder.
Afterward Mr. Wetmore retired from the firm of Wetmore & Cryder, and
from all active business, in June 20, 1847, and removed his residence to
Newport, where he had purchased a magnificent property, and erected an
elegant stone villa known as the Chateau Sur Mer, at which he resided until
his death, that has occurred there June, 1862.
He commenced his career with no capital, save his education, honesty,
and a determined will to succeed. He did succeed in becoming one of the most
eminent and extensive merchants in the world. He left the South American
house with a large fortune. When he retired from the China house, he had
acquired an additional fortune. He was a man of splendid personal
appearance. He was large, stood six feet high, was well proportioned. He was
a perfect philosopher. When he married his second wife in 1837, he settled a
large income upon her. The whole country was shocked at her indiscretion a
few years after with the coachman of Mr. Wetmore. It was a terrible calamity
for a high-spirited man like Mr. Wetmore. He bore the trial like a hero.
Instead of making a town talk, he quietly flung over it the veil of charity
and silence. No one ever hear what become of his wife or his coachman.
Mr. Wetmore was a fortunate man in all his financial operations. In
the China war of 1841 and 1842, when the Chinese refused to do business with
English houses, the American houses did all the trade, and Wetmore & Co. got
the lion's share.
His property is very large. He has in this vicinity property valued at
over a million of dollars. At Massillon, Ohio, he has 10,000 acres of the
finest farm lands. In Tennessee he named a town after himself (Wetmore,) and
there he owns 70,000 acres.
His firm in Canton and Shanghai, is still kept up as Wetmore, Cryder &
Co. The partners are W.S. Wetmore (same name as his own, but a nephew,) and
Mr. Wetmore Cryder, also a nephew and son of John Cryder, who is yet living,
though retired from business, and managing the estate of his late
brother-in-law. The house of Wetmore, Cryder & Co. is still in existence in
this city, at No. 77 William street.
Mr. Carrington who first sent Mr. Wetmore to sea in one of his ships,
died some years ago. He has a son yet living in Providence, R.I.
The sending of young W.S. Wetmore to South America, as supercargo of
one of his ships, by Mr. Carrington, was the stepping stone to his getting
into the house of Alsop & Co., and this accident led to the formation in
1824, of the great house of Alsop, Wetmore & Cryder in that city. That Alsop
was named Richard. He was great grandson of Jno. Alsop, a freeman in this
city, who died in 1761. He left two sons, John and Richard. They were
brought up as merchants in the city, and did a heavy business in the cloth
and dry good line. John also engaged in politics, and represented New York
city in the Colonial Legislature, and was a delegate to the first
Continental Congress, in 1774. He was a vestryman of Trinity church. He died
in 1794. He left one child, Mary, who married Rufus King, father of Gov.
John A. King, and president Charles King. The Ex-governor was named John
Alsop. The other brother and partner of John, the cloth merchant and
legislator, was named Richard. He served his time with the extensive
merchant, Philip Livingston. After he retired from business he removed to
Middletown, Conn. He had a son Richard who was born in 1761, and was bred up
a merchant, but devoted himself chiefly to literature, for which he had an
unusual fondness. He became very familiar not only with out literature but
with that of Europe. He loved poetry, and was himself a poet. He wrote a
book, the "National and Civil History of Chili," in two volumes 8vo. In 1800
he wrote a monody, in heroic verse, on the death of Washington. He died in
1815, leaving one son, who was the celebrated Richard Alsop, who founded the
house of Alsop & Co., in Valparaiso, Chili, and Lima, Peru. He was partner
of W.S. Wetmore. I may as well mention that this, the most celebrated of the
commercial Alsops, died in 1842, without issue. He had a relative named
Joseph W. Alsop, who died in 1844, and whose daughter Lucy married Henry
Chauncey, of the firm of Alsop & Chauncey, of this city, and a son named
Joseph W., of the same firm, at 42 South street.
Richard Alsop, when he died, left by will his one-third interest in
the house of Alsop & Co., to his relative, Joseph W. Alsop. This was a
fortune of itself, for it was notorious for many years, that Alsop & Co.,
every five years, made a profit of over a million of dollars.
The widow of Richard is still alive. These Alsops are a roving race.
They are scattered all over the world. Their arms are on a field sable,
three doves agate, wings expanded, and beak gules. Crest, a dove argent,
wings expanded, holding in his beak an ear of wheat.
There are Alsops in every grade of society. They trace back to Richard
Alsop, who was Lord Mayor of London in 1597. His descendant, Richard, was a
major in Cromwell's army, but having had a flare up with the Protector, was
obliged to fly for safety to New York.
I now return to Alsop, Wetmore & Cryder, of Valparaiso. The house did
all the English and American business of the old Chilian city. Their common
fame was world wide. Mr. John Cryder was born in the United States. He had
married a daughter of Mr. Samuel Wetmore, uncle of W.S. Wetmore, and of the
house of Wetmore, Hoppin & Co., in this city, for many years.
W. S. Wetmore principal clerk and business manager from the time of
his arrival was Fletcher Westray, who had been previously with the house of
Wetmore, Hoppin & Co., for some years.
The father of Mr. Westray was in business in New York for a long time.
He died in 1832. His widow is still living in this city. After W.S. Wetmore
retired from active business, Mr. Westray continued the East India trade on
his own account. He is now at the head of the house of Westray, Gibbes &
Hardcastle, largely engaged in the East India trade. His partners are
English, and were brought up to business in old-fashioned English
counting-rooms. Mr. Westray has a brother John J. in his establishment.
I ought here to mention that previous to this time John Cryder had
resided several years in London, where he had formed a partnership with the
celebrated John Morrison, under the firm of Morrison, Cryder & Co., bankers.
About 1836 or '37, in those bad times, the house lost immensely. This
absorbed all of the capital of Mr. Cryder, but was nothing to Morrison.
James Morrison had made an immense sum in the dry goods business, under the
firm of Morrison, Dillon & Co. It still exists now, although Mr. Morrison,
senior, is dead. After the retirement of Mr. Cryder, the banking firm became
Morrison, Sons, & Co. This house afterwards purchased all the assets of the
Bank of the United States, and it turned out a splendid purchase for them.
Mr. Cryder came to this country after leaving Mr. Morrison, and joined
Mr. W.S. Wetmore under the firm of Wetmore & Cryder.
The history of the elder Morrison is singular. He started poor. When
he died, a few years ago, his affairs were alluded to as follows in the
"The will of James Morrison, of Upper Harley street, London, and
of Basilton Park, Berks, dated 3d July, 1852, with three codicils attached,
has been administered to in Doctors Commons. It is the longest document upon
record. Upon its production were engaged conveyancers and barristers of
eminence, and during its progress to completion the testator evinced much
anxiety. The estate exceeds four millions of pounds sterling (twenty
millions of dollars.) The last codicil was dated in 1856. He left to the
widow an annuity of �,000___a legacy of �000, the residences in Upper
Harley street and Basilton Park. The last cost �6,000 and the furniture
there alone has been valued at �,000. To his eldest son, Charles,
�000,000 including the estate of Basilton, the Islay estate in Scotland,
and estates in Middlesex, London, and at Goring. To his son Alfred,
�0,000, including estates in Wiltshire, Hampshire, and the Glamorganshire,
and all other articles of vertu and art, and other effects at Fonthill. To
his son Frank �0,000, including estates in Kent, Surrey and Sussex. To his
son Walter �0,000 including estates in the West Riding, Yorkshire. To his
son George �0,000, including estates in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.
To his son Allan �0,000 including estates in suffolk and Essex. To his
three daughters, �,000 each. His business he transferred to his son
Charles Morrison for �0,000. Mr. Morrison owned �,000 in the Victoria
Docks, and vast acquisitions in America."
When George Peabody, of London, came out to this country, in 1857, Mr.
Wetmore gave at Newport a fete champetre upon the most magnificent scale.
Nothing approaching it was ever before seen in this country. Peabody was a
life-long friend of Mr. Wetmore. He named one of his sons after him. A son
died a few years ago. There are other children by the second wife. The first
wife died in child-bed, and the child died also.
JAMES WEBER LENT
James Webber Lent was a large merchant in this city. His father,
John, was a master builder, and died in North Carolina in 1768. He married
Ann, a daughter of Adrian Hoogland, of this city. He was a captain in
Braddock's expedition during the old French war. He was also present when
General Wolf fell at Quebec. He was a fierce old fellow, full of fight and
full of fun. He left several children, and two of them went into business in
New York, ---James Webber and John. John was a gold and silver smith at No.
18 Nassau street, after peace was proclaimed. James W. fought all through
the Revolutionary war. After that, in 1790, he opened a grocery, corner of
Little Water and Broad streets. In 1784 he married Miss Macomb, a daughter
of Nathan Macomb. In 1798, he had moved into South street, where he kept a
flour store in addition to groceries. In 1802 he was appointed inspector of
pot and pearl ashes. His office was at No. 92 Broad, and house at No. 97
Stone streets. He held that office for several years. James W.; Lent was
elected register about thirty-two years ago, and held the office several
years. His son George W. Lent went into business on his own account at No.
82 1/2 Pearl street in 1828, but lived with his father down in the First
Ward, at No. 31 water street. James W. died in 1739. The son is yet living.
There was another James Lent, who was a merchant in this city for some
years. He married a Miss Bull, of Connecticut. He went to reside on Long
Island, and was elected to Congress from King's County in 1813, and died at
Washington in 1833. He had a sister who married Anthony Barclay. He died in
1805. He was the son of Henry Barclay, who became rector of Trinity church
in 1746. He was called Dr. Barclay. He married Mary, the daughter of Anthony
Rutgers. His eldest son, Thomas, the brother of Henry, was British Consul
General for the United States many years. He left several
children;--Anthony, who married Miss Lent; one daughter married Colonel
Beverly Robinson; another married Colonel Stephen De Lancy, the father of
Miss De Lancy, who married Daniel I. Coster.
Source: The Old Merchants of New York City
Author: Walter Barrett, Clerk Second series
Publisher: Carleton, Publisher, 413 Broadway
Entered according to the Act of Congress 1863
Researched, Prepared and Contributed by Miriam Medina
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