17-BIG DECISION

Upon receiving Mayer’s letter, Haym left Ephraim Hart, his business associate and friend, in charge of the counting house in New York and went to Williamsburg by way of Philadelphia. He planned to sail out of Williamsburg aboard a Robert Morris ship transporting tobacco intended for David in Rotterdam. Because going from New York City to Williamsburg by land would take about the same time as going by sea, he decided to first go to Philadelphia and visit with Robert Morris and Bernard Gratz. And since Philadelphia was a mere two day road trip to the mouth of the Elk River on the Chesapeake, he didn’t have to rush. He could still have a long visit with Michael Gratz in Williamsburg before sailing to Europe.

In Philadelphia, Bernard and Robert told him what he already knew regarding the political climate in Pennsylvania, and he was happy to hear there was ever more grumbling in Virginia. This showed the Sons of Liberty in Boston weren’t alone in wanting the British Government out of their lives. Haym had found that even though they were poorly financed and had few weapons, the Sons of Liberty were a determined lot and a thorn in the New York Governor’s backside. He was convinced they were a viable group, one determined enough to fight the English in a systematic way if given the chance. The anti-English feelings were definitely spreading throughout the colonies, and Mayer would be happy to hear that.

When he reached Williamsburg, Michael Gratz was waiting for him. Haym had written ahead asking him if he knew members of the House of Burgesses that would be of interest to Mayer. Michael couldn’t wait to tell him that the political climate in Virginia was deteriorating at a rapid rate, and that two men stood out in their opposition to the Mother Country. When, in 1770, the British shot into a mob of colonials, in what became known as the Boston Massacre, the southerners began to oppose the ongoing ‘intolerable acts’ of the English Parliament just like the people in the colonies up north did. Here in Virginia, Patrick Henry and George Washington were trying to make a name for themselves by pushing to have a resolution drawn up condemning England’s treatment of the colonials and demanding parliamentary representation.

Patrick Henry was a lawyer, a great orator and a member of the Burgesses, and he was down on his luck. His small plantation was no longer producing, and his wife was very ill. Because he was a frustrated man, a little too hot under the collar, Michael suggested George Washington might be a better man for what Haym and his sponsor had in mind. Haym answered he didn’t know precisely what Mayer in Frankfurt wanted, but agreed it was a good idea to at least meet this fellow.

Washington was a tall imposing dour figure who worked very hard at giving the impression of a strong silent type, and the fact he was an important landowner gave credence to the image he tried to project. After her husband’s death in 1752 followed by that of their only son in 1754, Anne Fairfax, his brother’s widow, had remarried, and George Washington had become custodian of Mt. Vernon. When George married Martha Custis in 1758, he received a dowry of 6000 acres of prime land that happened to be adjacent to Mt. Vernon. In 1761, when Anne Fairfax died George inherited Mt. Vernon. Although the buildings on the estate were in a rather poor state of repair and the farm revenue modest, the man did his best to lead the life of an English country squire.

There was a lot of talk about this gentleman, and it wasn’t all flattering. He had married rather late in life, had no children, and people wondered about his motives for marrying, and his exaggerated military career claims during the French Indian War. As Commander of the Virginia Militia, he had participated in two of what could be called skirmishes during that war. In the one, he was said to have killed a French officer needlessly, and in the other, his militia unit had been captured, and he had been taken prisoner. His inexperience and impetuosity were blamed for those lackluster military achievements when later, having tried to get a commission in the British Army, he was turned down. No doubt feeling slighted, he got married to a rich widow, settled down at Mt. Vernon, and went into politics.

When Haym and Michael arrived at Mt. Vernon, Haym took one look at the imposing figure welcoming them, and he just knew Mayer would be interested in this fellow. Once done with the usual formalities and seated in the living room, Washington, in wanting to impress this very rich merchant from New York, was quick to tell Haym he had personally seen to the decoration and the furnishings of the mansion, and Mary, his wife, agreed. She was a charming no-nonsense kind of lady, and Haym knew that the shades of pink used on the walls, the rococo draperies, the overflowing array of glitzy furniture and the paintings representing biblical scenes of nude men wasn’t her doing.

They talked about the House of Burgesses and the state of affairs in Virginia, and before leaving, Haym told Washington that his sponsor in Germany wanted to help the colonials gain their independence, and asked him if he would be interested in meeting with him in order to discuss the matter. Washington, sensing a great opportunity, agreed while making sure not to show too much eagerness.

Michael and Haym took their leave, and as their carriage headed back to Williamsburg, Michael couldn’t wait to tell Haym about the rumors that were circulating in town. Apparently, Mary and her husband slept in separate bedrooms on different floors while George and the estate’s handsome overseer who lived with them had adjoining bedrooms. They both agreed he was probably leading a secret life that could very well explain his choice of colors and furnishings, and they both roared with laughter.

Haym duly left for Rotterdam, and since American captains now made a point of taking advantage of the Gulf Stream, he arrived in under two months. He spent two days with David and his wife, and thoroughly enjoyed their warm hospitality. After promising to stop by on his way back to America, he took a stage coach to Frankfurt, and five days later, he was at Mayer’s house in the Judengasse ghetto.

Both Gretel and Mayer had sworn on their wedding day they would never leave Judengasse. They were a happy couple, madly in love, and they both knew what was important in life. It was hard for Haym to determine whether this tall gentle man was happy because he was the richest men in the world or because he lived in the ghetto with his wife Gretel who was about to give him a second child. Regardless, the house was in a festive mood, and exquisite Burgundy wine was flowing.

They spent the next few days exchanging information, and when the subject of Washington came up, they had a good laugh. However, it was a serious matter, and they both agreed that since Washington had the aura of a leader and military experience of sorts, and since he was apparently a gentle megalomaniac living a secret life, he would be perfect for the job. Given the right financial incentives, he would do whatever was asked of him. It was one thing to give a man power, but it was best to keep a Damocles’ sword dangling over his head.

After hearing what Haym had to say about the Sons of Liberty, Mayer knew he had the leader and the movement, and above all, he knew it wouldn’t cost very much to get them operational. The first thing he would do is make sure his New York counting house had all the necessary specie. With a fortune that he no longer could count multiplying at a rapid rate, Mayer could easily get the colonials talking with one voice by having Haym finance a meeting of the 13 Colonies. Haym was to pay for all travelling expenses incurred by the chosen representatives, and compensate them handsomely for their time. He was to finance their political undertakings, and provide a meeting hall and adequate housing for them while in Philadelphia. From what Mayer knew, Philadelphia was the perfect city for the meeting, and Haym agreed. If the meeting went as expected, the delegates would probably want to recruit a military leader from the south, and Washington’s candidacy would be encouraged. He estimated a man like Washington would cost around £2000 the first year and £1000 thereafter, and the politicians around £300 each per year, an amount equivalent to six times the salary of a skilled tradesman. £100,000 would be more than enough to pay for the politicians’ salaries and expenses, and to house them. Getting Washington looking like a genuine military leader and supplying his army as well as the local militias would not be a big financial drain either.

Philadelphia was the largest city in the colonies and stood midway between New England and the South. Since the idea was to bring the southern gentry and the northern merchants together, it was ideal middle ground. The fact that Philadelphia wasn’t easily accessible by sea, especially for the big English naval vessels, and had an important non-English and non-royalist population was also a consideration. And because Philadelphia was close to New York City, it would make it easier for Haym to control things.

Eager to supply more arms and powder to the American militias, Mayer told Haym he had looked for a way to circumvent the English authorities. David in Rotterdam had suggested that the best way to do that was through the Dutch duty free port of St. Eustatius in the Caribbean. The Commander of the island, Abraham Heyliger, happened to be an avowed American patriot sympathizer. After confirming that information with Isaac Moses in NYC, a merchant familiar with the Caribbean, Mayer had given David the go-ahead to buy arms.

Julien Ouvrard, the French arms merchant working for David, agreed that sending French muskets and powder to America via St. Eustatius was a good idea and had volunteered to do whatever he could. St. Eustatius was nothing more than a big rock in the Caribbean on which were built hundreds of warehouses full of American, West Indian and European goods. Each year, thousands of captains stopped at this duty free Caribbean port in order to exchange merchandise.

That Caribbean free port was extremely successful because merchants from Europe and the New World could buy and sell goods at established and just exchange rates. The Bank of England’s exchange rate between the Spanish dollar and the Pound was unwarranted and to be avoided at all cost. Based on their silver content, the two currencies should have been at par, and that’s what Mayer’s counting houses offered. Necessarily, merchants who already did everything in their power to circumvent Britain as a trading partner and buy manufactured goods from other European countries out of St. Eustatius would be quite motivated to use Mayer’s letters of exchange.

For Isaac Hayes and Robert Morris who already shipped rum, tobacco and indigo, and manufactured goods presold by David in Rotterdam and Haym in NYC, shipping arms through St. Eustatius would be a welcome proposition. As for Mayer the clandestine shipments of arms and military supplies delivered to the various colonial militias on credit would become part of the nation’s debt after the war and would be useful in the creation of a national bank.

The American captains were experts at delivering goods undetected by the British authorities because they knew the coast so well. This long, rugged coast had many inlets, and it was impossible for the British to stop the contraband and the arms shipments. Ships from St. Eustatius dropping off cargo in some cove in Chesapeake Bay, up the Delaware, in Long Island Sound, or some small bay along the New England shoreline were almost never intercepted.

Before Haym left for America, Mayer asked him to go by way of St. Eustatius and make arrangements with Heyliger. From there he was to stop in all the major American ports in order to recruit goy political leaders who would in turn select representatives to represent the individual colonies at a meeting in Philadelphia planned for September. He was to explain that he was very interested in their march to independence, and financing a meeting in Philadelphia was the least a rich merchant like himself could do. He was to be overly generous in all his endeavors. The specie in Haym’s vault in NYC was more than adequate to finance a meeting in Philadelphia and anything else that needed doing.

Although Haym was sad to leave Gretel and Mayer, he was anxious to return to America and get the meeting organized. It was time for new experiences and adventures. Travelling to Rotterdam aboard a barge transporting wine, and then sailing to the Caribbean were welcome opportunities.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s