Derby, Elias Hasket (1739-1799)
Elias Hasket Derby (1739-1799)
The House of Derby . Elias Hasket Derby’s father, Richard Derby, had been one of the most prosper-ous merchants in Salem, Massachusetts. In 1761 Elias Derby married Elizabeth Crownin-shield, daughter of another leading merchant family. After Derby took over managing his father’s firm in the early 1780s, he made it one of the most successful businesses in America. During the American Revolution the Derbys had made their commercial vessels into privateers, raiding British commerce under the authority of the U.S. Congress. After the Revolution, having made a significant fortune during the war, Derby began sending his ships on longer voyages to South Africa, the Indian Ocean, and ultimately China and the Dutch East Indies.
Grand Turk . Derby supervised every aspect of his business, from the building of ships to the direction of the voyages. But he recognized the limits of his own authority and so sought out trustworthy and resourceful men as captains and supercargo, or supervisor of the ship’s cargo. He differed from many of his fellow merchants, who insisted on strict adherence to schedules and plans: “Obey orders if you break owners” was a maxim in the merchant marine. But Derby trusted his agents, who would share in the profits of a successful voyage and thus grow wealthy along with him. For instance, in December 1785 Derby sent the Grand Turk, under Capt. Ebenezer West and William Vans, to the Cape of Good Hope. The Grand Turk carried a variety of goods: 35 hogsheads of tobacco, 20 casks of wine, 483 iron bars, 75 barrels of flour, 30 casks of rum, 42 casks of brandy, and 50 cases of oil, along with barrels of beef, rice, butter, cheese, fish, beer, candles, soap, prunes, and chocolate. Derby’s plan was for the ship to trade in South Africa and at the Île de France, now the island of Mauritius, a leading market for coffee and sugar. After two stormy months at sea the Grand Turk reached South Africa, where she sold some cargo and took on some more to sell further in the voyage. In March the ship reached the Île de France; however, Vans and West found the prices of coffee and sugar too high. The voyage would not be profitable. But a French merchant asked to charter part of the ship’s space to take a cargo to Canton, and in July the Grand Turk sailed for China. There the Americans traded their cargo for tea, hides, and porcelain, returning to Salem in May 1787 with a cargo valued at $23, 000. Vans had bought the tea for about $53 per chest and sold it in New York for $120 per chest (in today’s currency, about $1, 500 each). On the whole, the voyage made a substantial profit. Derby had sent Vans and West to the Île de France but expected that when the opportunity arose, they would seize it.
Indian Cotton . Though this initial voyage to the Île de France was not successful in buying coffee and sugar, within a year Derby sent three more ships to that island, and in time his ships had practically a monopoly on American trade with the Île de France. Derby was prepared to sell even his ships. His son, E. H. Derby Jr., acting as the ship’s supercargo on her second voyage to the Île de France in 1787–1788, was offered $13, 000 for the Grand Turk. This was twice the value of the ship in Salem, and the younger Derby quickly closed the deal and bought two more ships and a cargo of Indian cotton for the return voyage to Salem. While this was the first cargo of Indian cotton to arrive in the United States, Derby could not sell it, as Americans did not want to buy it. The elder Derby knew that Indian cotton had a market in China, so he sent the cotton to Canton and dispatched another vessel to Bombay for cotton to sell in China.
International Home and Garden . Though E. H. Derby Sr. had a large fleet—six ships, four brigs, two ketches, a schooner, and a barque—in his career he only lost one vessel, though the crew was saved and insurance covered the lost cargo. He opened the American trade to the Indian Ocean and China and helped to make Salem, Massachusetts, one of the young nation’s leading ports. On a farm outside of town he planted trees and other plants his ships brought from around the world, and he furnished his Salem mansion with items from Europe, India, and China. The elder Derby died in 1799, leaving his son the family business and an estate worth $1.5 million.
Samuel Eliot Morison, The Maritime History of Massachusetts, 1783–1860 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1961);
Robert E. Peabody, Merchant Venturers of Old Salem (Cambridge, Mass.: Riverside Press, 1912).
"Derby, Elias Hasket (1739-1799)." American Eras. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 22, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/derby-elias-hasket-1739-1799
"Derby, Elias Hasket (1739-1799)." American Eras. . Retrieved November 22, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/derby-elias-hasket-1739-1799
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Derby, Elias Hasket
Elias Hasket Derby (dûr´bē), 1739–99, American merchant, b. Salem, Mass. He inherited the considerable wealth and maritime business that his father, Richard Derby (1712–83), also of Salem, had acquired in trade with Spain and the West Indies previous to the American Revolution. In the Revolution, Elias increased his wealth by fitting out a number of successful privateersmen. After the war he was a pioneer in exploring new trade routes, his ships being among the first to carry the Stars and Stripes to the Baltic and Asia. His most lucrative trade was with the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. The success of his enterprises was partly due to his wise selection of captains and supercargoes. His mansion, built in 1797 by Samuel McIntire, was reputed the finest in Salem in its day. His son, Elias Hasket Derby, Jr. (1766–1826), b. Salem, made several remarkable voyages for his father's firm and took over the business after his father's death.
"Derby, Elias Hasket." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 22, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/derby-elias-hasket
"Derby, Elias Hasket." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved November 22, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/derby-elias-hasket