22-CONGRESS OF WILHELMSBAD

It’s a nice spring day in 1782. Gretel is sitting on the grass in front of the newly-built Green Castle watching a gentle brook trickling down into a pond. The grazing deer, and the swans paddling around the water lilies, completes the idyllic landscape. Mayer is by her side, her boisterous children are running around chasing the strange creatures that populate the marvelous gardens, and she is as happy as can be. However, even though Mayer owns the property, it is part of the goy world, a world that threatens her family with its artificial values.

Peter Heinrich von Bethmann, who fronts Mayer’s financial operations in Frankfurt, is the official resident and lives in the east wing with his family. The west wing is reserved for Mayer’s private use. The many offices needed for the considerable office staff along with the reception areas are located in the central area. With young Carl Friedrich Buderus, his assistant, in the counting house in Hanau, and a very able Moses Kuhn running his Fahrgasse office in Frankfurt, Mayer is able to spend ever more time at Green Castle, the headquarters of his fast developing international banking network.

Mayer is forever trying to reassure his worried wife. He tells her that though their children will know a different kind of world, the family’s roots are so deep, its values so time-honoured and its commitment to honesty so true, that the children will never forget their upbringing. The boys will become powerful men and live with goys, but they will always remember who they are and where they come from.

Gretel knows Mayer is right. Judengasse may be a narrow sunless street but it is the artery that has brought life, love, and joy of living to them all. Nobody who has lived there can ever forget the bonds that holds the community together. But now that Mayer’s bank, the Bank of North America, had been accepted as the official bank of the United States of America, Gretel has reason to worry.

Mayer is more concerned with what is about to take place in Hanau. Prince William is hosting a meeting in Wilhelmsbad, and the participants are coming from all over Europe. The Illuminati, or Enlightened Ones as they like to call themselves, are preparing to free Europe from the yoke of the Holy Roman Empire. The Huguenots and the Sephardim in the City are apparently planning the destruction of the Ancien Regime of France, the cornerstone of that Empire.

After the Huguenots and Sephardim created the East India Company in 1600, they had immediately started undermining their enemy’s stronghold. In early 17th century, they decided to isolate the French King from Paris, the center of French political power, by financing the construction of the Chateau de Versailles. Now, a century later, they were getting ready to topple Louis XVI, and they needed a communications network on French soil. Since 1773, many Masonic Lodges had opened throughout France, and the City bankers had even recruited the king’s cousin, Louis Philippe d’Orléans, as Grand Master of the Grand Orient of France. At the Congress of Wilhelmsbad, the Illuminati’s intention was to have the French lodges break away from the Scottish rite in order to make them available to all faiths. Members had always been required to swear on the Roman Catholic bible in order to become a freemason, and they wanted to do away with that requirement. Prince William, a Calvinist, had embraced the idea, and had allowed them to hold a meeting in Wilhelmsbad, a spa near Hanau.

Jean-Baptiste Willermoz, a very prominent and well-respected French Freemason, organized the meeting, but violent men like Adam Weishaupt also participated. Weishaupt was heard to say that his only hope was to one day see the last priest strangled with the guts of the last king left standing. This did not augur well for France who was the main target.

With the Scottish rite gone, the Illuminati would then start undermining the French political structures, and force the absentee King in Versailles to agree to a Constitutional Monarchy like they had done in England a hundred years earlier. In order to separate Church and State, they would confiscate all Church property and sell it at auction instead of doing what Henry VIII had done in England. They had already recruited a very powerful individual by the name of Mirabeau, who just happened to be a physiocrat. Mirabeau believed like many French economists of the times that the wealth of nations was derived from the value of land. Benjamin Franklin had held similar ideas when Mayer had first met him, but his thinking had since changed.

Notes backed by Church property would be a huge success at the outset, but the bankers in the City as well as Mayer knew that human nature being what it is, the people’s representatives would be inclined to print ever more notes based on that success. The Bank of England would then surely take advantage of the situation by dumping a gigantic amount of counterfeit notes into the French economy in order to have the currency depreciate. The bankers would then facilitate the creation of a Constitutional Monarchy with Louis Philippe d’Orléans as king, and Mirabeau as Prime Minister.

Mayer had good reason to believe what he was hearing, and he came up with a plan of his own. He would ask François, the silk manufacturer, who had been a very successful printer in Lyon before coming to Frankfurt, to meet with him. A few years back, his silk mill had not been doing all that well in Frankfurt, and Mayer had asked him to run the goldsmith house in Hanau. He had since taught gold engraving while working on stereotype printing in his spare time. Printing was his first love, and since he missed France, Mayer would ask him if he would like to return to Lyon. Mayer would be willing to kick-start his printing business.

If the Bank of England could print counterfeit French notes, so could Mayer. If François returned to France and started his printing business, he would be ready to print the counterfeit notes in tandem with the government. Having perfected a wet mat method for creating matrixes for stereotype printing, and having access to the same paper as the one used by the French Government through Julien Ouvrard, he would be able to produce quality notes many times faster at a fraction of the cost.

Gretel was shocked to hear she was about to become a counterfeiter’s wife, and Mayer was quick to explain that his action wouldn’t hurt anybody. He wouldn’t be taking property from anyone, for the properties would already be confiscated. All Mayer would be doing is buying the confiscated properties at auction with counterfeit notes and selling them back to anxiously waiting Frenchmen for gold. The English bankers wanted to destroy the Ancien Regime of France and create a market economy tied to England, but what Mayer wanted was to take control of the Bank of England and have America, France, England and the rest of Europe trade fairly and freely with each other. Mayer told his wife that the only way to accomplish such a feat was by accumulating all the French gold he could while maintaining total anonymity.

Mayer calmed Gretel’s fears by telling her that he was an Ashkenazi first and a banker second, and though he was very rich, he hadn’t changed as a person. He was still Mayer, the happiest man alive, and it was not due to his business activities, but rather to his family. He admitted his ego did influence his business persona, for it was only natural to be proud. After all, he had found a way to take over the Bank of England. One thing was certain, the Bank of England would be printing counterfeit notes in order to bring down the Ancien Regime of France, and Mayer would join in, but it would be to amass huge quantities of French gold in order to overtake the Bank of England itself.

Mayer started explaining how he planned to do it. Huguenot agents recruited in England, the Netherlands and Germany would use the Masonic Lodges as drop-off points, where the counterfeit bills produced by Johannot would be delivered by Thurn and Taxis. Speaking French and having an unlimited supply of notes, the agents would easily outbid everybody as the properties came up on the auction block. The properties would be immediately flipped to waiting buyers for gold, and the law firm of Jean-Jacques Cambacérès would do the necessary title transfers. Ouvrard, a young financial wizard working in tandem with Cambacérès, would have the Thurn and Taxis immediately transport the gold bullion down the Seine to a waiting ship in Le Havre headed for London. With the properties being the choicest in the world, and the French currency depreciating at a rapid rate, the wealthy Frenchmen would want to invest in real estate directly and bypass the worthless yet very expensive government bills. Mayer expected to have accumulated several thousand tons of gold by the time it was all over. The agents, Cambacérès and Ouvrard would all be compensated beyond their wildest dreams, and the gold bullion transported by Thurn and Taxis would be sure to reach the vaults of the Goldsmid Bros. in the City in London.

Mayer would not be involved directly, and the French authorities wouldn’t know which way to turn, especially with the English bankers flooding the market with their own counterfeit notes. Within two or three years, Mayer expected to have accumulated more gold than any other individual in the world. In a few years’ time, Nathan would replace the Goldsmid Bros. and personally take charge of things in the City.

Gretel wondered what the City was, and Mayer was more than willing to explain. He told her that, in 1694, the Jewish and Huguenot bankers, in wanting to be completely independent of the English Government, had created their own state within the state. The City was a financial district on the banks of the Thames and had the status of a territory. It had its own administration and was off limits to English authority. It was unassailable financial ground from which Nathan would soon launch international banking.

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19-MAYER RECRUITS BENJAMIN FRANKLIN

After Haym wrote Mayer telling him that the meeting had gone well, that the Fairfax Resolves had been accepted by all the Colonies except Georgia, that war was inevitable and that Boston was ready to explode, Mayer left for America by way of St.Eustatius in early 1776 aboard a Robert Morris ship carrying arms and powder. He was quite impressed with all the commercial activity such a small island generated, but he was especially pleased to meet Heyliger. Since all merchandise was moving so well, thanks in part to Heyliger’s efficient running of Mayer’s counting house, there wasn’t much to talk about. After the necessary formalities and the well-deserved congratulations, the two men enjoyed a great seafood dinner, and the next morning, Mayer was off to Boston.

When Morris’ ship arrived at the drop-off site in a cove south of Boston in late March, Mayer learned that the English had evacuated Boston earlier in the month and asked the captain to carry on directly to Boston. The whole cargo was unloaded while Mayer went to meet with Moses Hayes. He learned that George Washington had marched his army to Cambridge after the Battle of Bunker Hill, and had sent young Henry Knox to fetch the canons captured by Benedict Arnold at Fort Ticonderoga. The young librarian had accomplished a miracle by transporting the canons overland by oxen to Boston in the dead of winter without losing a single one. Washington had then positioned them on Dorchester Heights overlooking Boston harbor. Moses went on to say that, thanks to the arms and powder shipments received from St. Eustatius, not only had the canons been readied for action, but that thousands of New England militiamen had been recruited.

With the heavy canons bearing down on his fleet, General Howe had thought it best to evacuate Boston and take the loyalists with him. When Moses added that the merchants, the patriots and the politicians were more determined than ever to gain their economic freedom from England, Mayer was pleased that so much had been accomplished with so little blood being spilled. When the British left Boston, Washington thought the British had gone to NYC, and that’s where he headed for with his newly recruited army. This meant Mayer would not meet with Washington in Boston, and that suited him just fine, for he would have a chance to speak with Haym before talking to the General at his NYC headquarters.

Mayer told Moses that the British had sent some twenty thousand Hessians to fight in America and that the first contingent would be arriving soon. Mayer had learned that the Hanau contingent was to be dropped off in Quebec City which meant the British were planning to send troops down the Richelieu River in order to take control of the Lake Champlain-Hudson River waterway in the spring. There was no longer any doubt the British were planning to split the Colonies in two just like General von Estorff had predicted.

The next day he went to see John Adams, and although the man wasn’t a die-hard patriot, he congratulated him on the successful siege of Boston. But what Mayer really wanted was to acquaint Adams with the fact the Hessians were coming and to ask him to send couriers to spread the news to the other Colonies. If independence was to be achieved, the wavering loyalists and the moderate patriots had to know that the Mother Country was sending mercenaries to fight them, news that would surely influence them and consolidate the patriot movement. Adams agreed and couriers were dispatched on the hour.

When Mayer got to NYC, he immediately went to see Haym. The first thing Haym told him was that the 2nd Continental Congress had voted in favor of the Declaration of Independence. Copies had been sent to the different Colonies and Congress was expecting them to ratify the document. According to Haym, because everybody now knew the German mercenaries were coming, the more moderate members of the New York Provincial Congress, and even some of the die-hard loyalists, were likely to come on board.

NYC had always been a loyalist stronghold, but with recent developments in Boston the less moderate elements of the population were being swayed. After the Boston evacuation, the British had, the month before, sent a warship in NYC harbor in order to protect the loyalists, and that encouraged the rebels to foment fear, and that led to the more moderate Provincial Assembly being replaced by the Provincial Congress. A Committee of Safety whose main task was to raise and equip troops for the defense of NYC and spy on the loyalists suspected of assisting the British was created. The situation had reached a point of no return.

Mayer lost no time in arranging a meeting with Washington who had set up his headquarters in upper Manhattan. Upon reaching Washington’s headquarters Mayer and Haym were not surprised to see that he had requisitioned an elaborate mansion for his staff. The luxurious surroundings and his many young aides-de-camp prancing around in sharp uniforms contrasted sharply with the rag tag troops encamped in helter-skelter fashion in the fields adjacent to the command post. However, what mattered was having a Commander-in-Chief who held the Continental Army together and showed the colors as much as possible. How he conducted his private life, or how good a military commander he was, was of no concern to Mayer. All that was expected of him was to harass the enemy with his company of Virginia riflemen and whatever canons he had, and retreat inland as the British retaliated.

With Haym as translator, Mayer greeted the General and made a point of congratulating him on the successful siege of Boston. He then asked him how Mrs. Washington was and if the renovation and expansion of Mount Vernon was completed to his satisfaction. Washington answered that Martha was very well, and that thanks to Mayer and his collaborators, nodding in Haym’s direction, Mount Vernon was finished and was indeed a sight to behold. Mayer said that he was delighted for him and added that if he needed anything, all he had to do was ask Haym.

Washington then told Mayer he was planning to have the Declaration of Independence document read to the troops assembled on the common the next day, and that it would be an honor to have him attend. If the Provincial Congress signed the document as expected, George would then give young Alexander Hamilton, a very promising King’s College student who had formed a group of patriots called Hearts of Oak, the go-ahead to raid the battery in Manhattan. Then, he would point the seized canons in the direction of the English fleet, and wait for the English to land their troops. Once that happened, George would put up a barrage of canon fire and get the Virginia rifle company to hold them off as long as possible. When the inevitable came, the Continental Army would simply retreat towards the interior, leaving Manhattan to the English. He was sure Cornwallis, not wanting to put too much distance between his army and the English fleet in NYC, wouldn’t pursue them too far inland.

Knowing the Hanau Hessians had been dropped off in Quebec, the General was convinced the English would be sending an army to Ft. Ticonderoga from Quebec and another up the Hudson to meet up with it. The two armies would no doubt get moving in early spring, and it was imperative that he send whatever militias he could muster to cut them off. As for the Continental Army, he needed more French muskets, more Pennsylvania rifles, more powder, more boots and clothing, more horses and saddlery, in short, more of everything.

Mayer answered that muskets, powder and boots were being sent in ever greater number. European military uniforms were also being sent to Pennsylvania along with hundreds of bolts of fine woolen red and blue cloth. An army of seamstresses would tailor the uniforms to the General’s liking. Furthermore, the Pennsylvania gunsmiths were being financially encouraged to produce as many rifles as possible and as quickly as possible. The General would soon be able to form more rifle companies. Mayer told the General all he had to do was ask Haym if he needed anything. For now, the important thing was to prevent the two British armies from joining up at Fort Ticonderoga.

Moreover, since over the winter months there wouldn’t be much action, Mayer told George that he had asked Haym to work on getting the Hessians to defect when they landed in New York. Mayer thought that if they were promised parcels of land and money in order to settle down in Pennsylvania where there already was a big population of Germans, the Hessians would readily accept the offer. If Haym succeeded in getting some Hessians to defect, Mayer wondered if the General wouldn’t mind picking them up and conveying them to Pennsylvania.

The General, happy to be getting his horses and saddlery, the promised Burgundy wine along with his guns and powder, said he would be more than willing to assist Haym in the defection of the Hessians. When Haym was ready, all he had to do was tell the General when and where to pick them up. He could also count on the General for transporting his family and capital to Pennsylvania if and when it became necessary.

The next day, Mayer witnessed a very moving ceremony on the common as the Declaration of Independence was solemnly read to the troops. A group of citizens listening on the fringes were so moved that they proceeded to tear down the newly-erected statue of the King. When it was confirmed that the Provincial Congress had signed the Declaration of Independence document earlier that day, Mayer left for Philadelphia in a good frame of mind. With New York in the American camp, the British didn’t have much of a chance.

Mayer was a judicious man who never let himself be unduly impressed by people upon meeting them, he preferred to treat everyone politely and with respect, and not prejudge them. He knew what pushed people to do the things they did, and was never disappointed one way or the other. Culturally, he was an Ashkenazi, a people that had survived thanks to the solidarity of the group, a group of people he could trust with his life. He trusted Sephardim like Haym, and a few goys like Prince William in Hanau and Robert Morris in Philadelphia, but it was a case by case affair.

When Mayer met Bernard Gratz and Robert Morris in the Philadelphia counting house, they exchanged heartfelt greetings, and Mayer asked if Benjamin Franklin had been invited. He had, and when Franklin arrived, Morris explained who Mayer was, and Franklin bluntly told him he was most anxious to meet the mystery man who had made the meeting of the 1st Continental Congress possible. When Mayer met Americans he had to use an interpreter, but this time, he was quite relieved to learn that Franklin spoke some German.

Mayer knew of Franklin’s reputation, and as they made eye contact for the first time, he was convinced that it wasn’t overstated. This man exuded humility, strength of character, and sharpness of mind, a combination of qualities that he had not seen in any of the other goy leaders. Patrick Henry, George Washington, John Adams, John Jay, and other American leaders he had met, were all talented men in their own right, but they were politically motivated. They were indispensable in the nation building process, but they weren’t men of vision. In order to achieve a monetary union and a united America, he needed an American counterpart who shared his dream, a man who wanted to establish a monetary system and who wasn’t primarily motivated by self-interest. He needed a man like Franklin.

Mayer and Franklin engaged in small talk which had to do with ocean travel and Europe. Mayer being of the strong silent type variety, Franklin was the one who kept the exchange going by asking Mayer why he had come to America. Mayer had anticipated this moment, and told him he had come to meet with the directors of his counting houses, but also to find a way to help the patriot cause. He didn’t tell Franklin outright that he was the one who had financed the 1st Continental Congress and supplied arms and ammunition to the militias in the 13 Colonies, but Franklin had already put two and two together.

When Mayer asked him if they could meet privately, saying that it was a matter of great importance for America, Franklin accepted and suggested they meet the following day in his modest manor. And since he had just hired a great cook, he insisted that they have lunch. Mayer accepted on the condition he supply the wine.

The house was quite spacious and very comfortable, but Benjamin’s wife having died the year before in 1774 while he was in England, the drawing and engraving paraphernalia he was using to produce the Continental Dollar plates was slowly invading the whole house. Since his return, he had produced four fractional dollar bills for Congress and he was working on several others. Congress had reconvened in May following the Battle of Bunker Hill, and had declared war on England. The dollar bills were to be used to pay for the war. Franklin wanted the bills to convey strong messages, for he hoped that the Continental currency would help unify the 13 Colonies. He wanted plants and animals instead of people on the face of the bills, and he had made hundreds of sketches and drawings that were strewn about. They kept company to the many books from which he got his ideas for symbols and sayings that he intended to translate into Latin. As each bill was printed bearing a message of resilience, strength, frugality, industry and such, he would publish an article in the Philadelphia Gazette in order to explain the meanings of the symbols, the emblems and the Latin. Mayer thought the man was brilliant but had doubts about the long term success of his bills.

No matter, Mayer couldn’t help but scrutinize Benjamin’s work and marvel at his great talent and energy. Mayer knew a lot about printing bills thanks to all the knowledge he had gained from the printers at the goldsmith house in Hanau, and he knew that the man before him was indeed a genius.

Likewise Benjamin was quite impressed by Mayer. It was obvious that Mayer wasn’t a rich pompous merchant, but rather a quiet powerful man who wanted to make the world a better place. When Benjamin told him that he was aware of what he had done for the patriot cause, Mayer added that it was only natural for a man such as himself, a man who was making a fortune financing trade between the Colonies and Europe, to want to help. As a matter of fact, he added, that’s what he wanted to talk to Benjamin about.

It was obvious that Benjamin knew a lot about money, for he had published a lot of treatises concerning paper currency, and over the years he had done a superb job printing bills for the Colonies and now for Congress. Mayer and Franklin both wanted the Colonies to gain their economic independence and become united, and they both knew that a common strong currency was the way to do it, and that was the topic of discussion.

Mayer proceeded to say that the only lasting monetary system that the world had ever seen was the one England had, and that was the system he wanted to duplicate. The Bank of England was made up of a group of private bankers who were the sole lenders to Parliament, and after almost a century, that arrangement was still working superbly. Above all, the Bank of England had succeeded because it was a private bank. A monetary system based on a government printing bills and minting coins for its own use, though quite morally appealing, was doomed to failure. Politicians weren’t equipped to run a monetary system, for they would always tend to print too much and for the wrong reasons. The Chinese and many others had tried to print paper money in the past, but no currency except the Pound had ever passed the test of time. A strong central government and a strong private central bank were what was needed if America was to become the great nation that it was meant to be.

Benjamin had spent enough time in England to know that Mayer was right, but he had no idea how it could be done. How does one create a central bank like the one in England out of nothing?

Mayer went on to explain how he had established his bills of exchange on both sides of the Atlantic, how he had accumulated considerable wealth, and how he had been able to organize the 1st Continental Congress and supply the various Colonies with arms and powder. He was continuing to supply war materials on credit, for he was sure the Colonies would win their independence and pay him later. However, uniting the 13 Colonies was another matter. A strong federal power had to be created, and a strong private central bank was needed to accomplish that. Mayer had enough gold and silver to redeem all the bills he issued on demand, but he explained that more gold bullion would be needed in order to create a central bank like the one in England.

Benjamin trusted that Mayer would know what to do if he had more bullion, and so he asked him outright how it could be done. To Benjamin’s astonishment, Mayer answered it all depended on Benjamin. Benjamin had invented a lot of things, and he was curious about everything, but he wasn’t a magician, and he told Mayer so. However, he was relieved when he heard what Mayer had to say on the subject. Mayer reminded him he was the most influential diplomat America had, and that his many years of representing the 13 Colonies in London were invaluable. Since Benjamin spoke French, Mayer told him if he were to go to France and seek France’s help, given his personality, experience and fame as an inventor, he would have a great chance of succeeding. Success would mean getting aid from France and, more importantly, getting French gold. The French King would certainly welcome the opportunity to give England a bloody nose by chasing it out of America.

After a short pause, Benjamin said he had some contacts in France, but that he wouldn’t know where to start. Mayer replied that Congress would be only too happy to send him over as an official ambassador, especially if Robert Morris was to arrange to pay all his personal expenses and make sure he had all the credit needed to accomplish his mission with no questions asked. France was the country with the most gold bullion, and if it was to put an aid package together, it would necessarily involve gold. He and Mayer would then make sure Haym Salomon became France’s treasurer in America. Mayer had never defaulted on an exchange bill, and his bills were as good as gold. Haym would continue doing what he was already doing, and make sure that the bills backed by the French gold would be spread around generously to the politicians, the various militias, Washington’s Army, and needless to say, France’s armed forces. The continental dollar was bound to depreciate, but his bills of exchange backed by French gold would more than make up for that loss.

By the time they had put the guinea hens down their gullet and washed them down with the excellent Burgundy wine that Mayer had brought along, both men were in total agreement. They both knew they formed a great team, two men of vision who were in the process of designing the framework of a great nation. Franklin would go to France, and they would succeed.

Benjamin left for France on Oct. 26, 1776. A month earlier, the British accused Haym of aiding the Sons of Liberty, and they arrested him. Having foreseen this development, Haym had asked Washington to convoy his family and treasury to Philadelphia for safekeeping, which he did as he retreated to Pennsylvania. Haym was sentenced to house arrest after agreeing to interpret for the Hessians. That was precisely what he had hoped for. The great defection of Hessians that was about to take place at Trenton would be a simple matter of getting to the right Hessian officer, Johann Rall.

16-WINE AND DENIM

By the end of June, 1773, David in Rotterdam had received and sold several shipments of tobacco and realized a bigger return than anticipated, Jean-Baptiste Willermoz and François Johannot and their wives had come back from the south of France with interesting information along with several bottles of Burgundy wine and several meters of ‘de Nîmes’ cloth.

After debriefing Jean and François in his Farhgasse office, Mayer decided to give Gretel, his one and only confident, a full account of their trip. They sat down at the kitchen table, and Mayer started relating the great news Jean-Baptiste Willermoz and François Johannot were bringing back from France.

He first showed her a sample of the cloth. It had one weave of blue thread crossed with a weave of white thread, and the double-weave not only made for an interesting design, but gave it extra durability. Gretel thought the indigo colored cloth was beyond belief and wondered if poor people could afford it.

Mayer answered that it would sell for the same price as Indian or English cotton and last many times longer, so people would flock to buy it. And before Gretel had a chance to make a comment, Mayer reached for a bottle of burgundy wine, one of the many samples brought back by François. He picked up a funny curly piece of metal, drove it into the cork with a screwing motion and pulled the cork out of the bottle neck. He took two glasses, half-filled them, and they drank to their growing family.

Gretel thought the wine was too good to be true, but her mouth dropped upon learning how much money the wine and cloth was going to bring in. Mayer started by explaining that Bouchard in Beaune was to receive a letter of exchange in the amount of £2500, or 1 shilling per bottle of wine once delivered in Rotterdam where David would presell it for 1/6 per bottle. David would give the new willing owners a letter of exchange guaranteeing them 3 shillings per bottle if delivered in New York where Haym would presell it for 4 shillings per bottle. 250000 bottles, or half a shipload, would thus generate a profit of £6000 in Rotterdam and another £12500 in New York City.

With regards to cloth, Dollfus was to receive a letter of exchange in the amount of £12000, or £10 per bolt of denim once delivered in Rotterdam where David would presell it for £12 per bolt. David would then give the new willing owners a letter of exchange guaranteeing them £15 per bolt if delivered in America where Haym would presell it for £17 per bolt. 6000 bolts of cotton, or half a shipload, would generate a profit of £12000 in Rotterdam and another £12000 in New York.

He concludes by repeating that since a work outfit made with denim cloth in America will cost less than one made with English or Indian cotton but last ten times longer, everybody will be fighting to buy it. Likewise, since the best wine in the world will only keep getting better in a bottle, all the bourgeois in America and England will want to fill their cellars with it. He then adds that though the profits appear to be huge, the price for these superb new products is well below what people will be willing to pay.

To help Gretel get over her choc, he starts relating the adventures of François’ party to France. They had started off by taking a river coach to Mainz. After spending a delightful night in a well-appointed inn, they set off the next day for Basel. River coaches were much more comfortable and a faster means of transportation, but only when going downriver, the rest of the time it was best to travel by stage coach. It took them five days by stage coach to reach Basel where friends were waiting for them.

After a day’s rest, they travelled by stage coach to Montbeliard , and from there they continued on by river coach to Chalon-sur-Saone, a town south of Beaune. Having made prior arrangements, a local winemaker whom they hadn’t seen in years welcomed them in his beautiful country estate. The next day, their host introduced Jean-Baptiste and François to Joseph Bouchard, a wine merchant from Beaune. They were told the Givors factory on the outskirts of Lyon was making glass using ovens fired by ground coal. And because glass made with coal as a fuel instead of charcoal was much stronger, and because the glassblowers had started using handheld molds, they now made less fragile and more uniformly shaped bottles more quickly. Because the bottle necks were thickened and had a standard diameter, it was now possible to use a one-size-fits-all cork stopper. Bouchard told them there was plenty of wine available, but getting fifty thousand glass bottles at a time might be a problem. He told them it was best to check with Michel Robichon who was the glassmaker in Givors. As for the corks, the cork slabs could be bought in quantity in Arles, transported to Beaune where they could be suitably shaped. All in all, he thought it was quite a feasible operation, and it would be no problem to fill the bottles with the best wine of the region and cork the bottles in a matter of days. Bouchard was already experimenting with the bottles, and he promised to give them wine samples on their return trip home. If Givors supplied bottles in sufficient quantity and at the expected price, he stated he could get the wine to Rotterdam via Basel for around nine pennies a bottle.

Jean-Baptiste and François were quite excited and were anxious to go to Givors to visit the glass factory and interview Michel Robichon, the owner. They left their wives with family in Lyon and continued on to Givors the following day when they reached the glass factory, they acquainted Robichon with Mayer’s idea of financing regular shipments of bottled wine using the services of Joseph Bouchard in Beaune. They told Michel they had talked to Joseph, and that his only concern was having enough bottles. Naturally, they wanted to see if his factory could supply lots of fifty thousand bottles on an ongoing basis.

Jean-Baptiste and François were happy to hear Michel say that he had just put in a second oven and that a third was on the way. Since one oven supplied enough glass to accommodate four glass masters, and since each master could turn out five hundred bottles a day, it meant that the production would soon be six thousand bottles a day, thirty-six thousand a week or some two million a year.

Michel added one cautionary note. The factory was presently getting its high quality ground coal from Rive-de-Gier, a mine situated fifteen kilometers from Givors. The canal that was meant to transport the coal by barge was not yet completed, and the mine owners had to use mules to bring the coal to Givors. They had some twelve hundred mules in all, with two trains of four hundred mules making a daily turnaround while the remainder rested. With each mule carrying eighty kilograms of coal, it averaged out to a daily supply of around sixty tons. But since most of the coal was destined for the south of France, if he was to add extra ovens, he might not be able to get enough coal. However, he would put a little pressure on the coal mine owners by reminding them that his factory was operating under the Royal Seal, and was to be supplied in priority. But that was down the road. For now, there was more than enough coal to fire up the second oven, and it would take less than two weeks to produce the fifty thousand bottles. He could have molds made with logo indentations in order to identify the wine, and before shipping the bottles to Joseph Bouchard in Chalon-sur-Saone, he would package them in fifty bottle capacity wicker baskets.

Jean-Baptiste and François were happy and wasted no time getting back to Lyon where their wives were waiting. They spent a few days visiting family and friends, but they couldn’t wait to carry on downriver to Arles by water coach. It took them only three days to reach Arles under very comfortable conditions, and from there, it was a very short day trip by land coach to Nîmes where they had written ahead to Jean André, the owner of the cloth factory in Genoa, Italy.

When they finally met with Jean, Jean-Baptiste and François were pleasantly surprised to hear that he had every intention of going ahead with the production of the double-weave indigo cloth. They couldn’t believe it when Jean added that he was planning to move the production of this very promising cloth from Genoa to Mulhouse which was not far from Basel on the Rhine. It was a Huguenot city-state bordering France and the thousands of jobs being created were needed to help the growing economy. It didn’t cost much more to bring the raw cotton and indigo from the Americas up the Rhone instead of to Genoa, and because one of the two rivers that ran through Mulhouse had soft water and was perfect for dyeing cloth, the savings would more than offset the added transportation cost.

There were already fifteen cotton factories and more than two thousand cotton workers in Mulhouse, and with the advent of the flying shuttle, the spinning carding frame powered by a water wheel, two recent inventions developed in England, the cost of producing cotton cloth had dropped while the quality and production had increased dramatically. With the added planned production, Mulhouse would become the biggest cotton manufacturing center in continental Europe, and because the city was independent of France, they weren’t affected by the embargo imposed by France on the production of cotton fabrics. Understandably, since the demand for cotton cloth was exploding, the fabric would no doubt attract high prices for years to come.

Jean told them that his cotton mills would be operational within a few months. He had already bought an existing factory on the Mulhouse riverfront, and the equipment being fabricated by local artisans was likely finished by now. Jean told them his director in Mulhouse would soon be able to deliver twelve hundred bolts of the finished indigo double-weave product to Basel on a regular basis for around £10 per bolt. They confirmed that with Jean-Henri Dollfus, the man running the Mulhouse factory, on their way back to Frankfurt. Dollfus had already received several barges of raw cotton from the French West Indies along with indigo.

Before Gretel had a chance to give vent to her unbelief, Mayer sat down at his desk to write to Joseph Bouchard in Beaune and Jean André in Nîmes telling them he was willing to buy as much product as possible at the agreed price. There was no time to lose for the letters had to be translated by François before being sent on. He was telling Joseph Bouchard to deliver all the grand cru Burgundy wine he could bottle. Mayer would give him a letter of exchange redeemable upon delivery in Rotterdam. He then addressed a letter to Jean André asking him if he would agree to the same financial conditions. Just like with the wine, Mayer would buy all the cloth that could be delivered to David in Rotterdam where the letter of exchange would be redeemed.

Soon, it would be possible to redeem Mayer’s bills of exchange, and even use them as currency, in Frankfurt, Rotterdam and the 13 Colonies, not including the counting houses that would soon open in London and Basel. He had contacted Moses Haim Montefiore in Rotterdam, the friend who had helped David Schiff get settled, asking him if he was interested in running a counting house in London. Moses had replied by return mail that he had been thinking of settling permanently in London, and running a counting house for Mayer in that city was more than he could have hoped for.

By the end of 1773, David was receiving tobacco on a regular basis and he had dispatched the first shipments of Burgundy wine and denim cloth. In both Rotterdam and New York, everything always presold at a price better than anticipated, and Mayer’s counting houses were becoming financial institutions of note. He was now ready for his next venture.

He wrote to Haym asking him to come to Frankfurt as soon as possible. Haym was to first go to Williamsburg in Virginia and introduce himself to as many members of the House of Burgesses as possible in order to see what the political climate was in that very important southern colony. Virginia was the most democratic colony, and its leaders had always been stalwart supporters of the Crown. Nonetheless, die-hard loyalists had started being upset with the English Parliament just like in the colonies up north, and Mayer wanted to confirm that. Haym was to identify any leader who stood out in his opposition to the Crown, preferably someone who was imposing, ambitious and vain.

The very powerful Bank of England, by way of the English Parliament, was treating the 13 Colonies as a parent would a child. Although the pound was the official currency, the Bank of England supplied very little sterling in order to facilitate trade. The colonials were reduced to using tobacco, wampum and the like when they couldn’t get their hands on Spanish dollars. The lack of credit, the unjust rate of exchange between the Spanish dollar and the Pound, the lack of representation in decision making, and the unjust taxes forced upon the colonials by the Mother Country was making for an explosive situation.

Mayer was honest and had enough specie to redeem all the paper he was issuing, and because his counting houses on both sides of the Atlantic used the same conversion rates, his paper was in high demand. In all his counting houses one pound was worth 1 oz. of silver or 1 Piece of Eight, and 1oz of gold was worth 15 oz. of silver. And since the British insisted on a colonial conversion rate of 4 Pieces of Eight to the Pound, it gave Mayer’s counting houses a serious edge over the English. Necessarily, all bills originating from the colonies were expressed in Spanish Dollars, whereas all merchandise coming from Rotterdam was valued in Pounds, as this greatly advantaged the American colonials. Since Mayer’s counting houses only accepted gold and silver as payment, and since Haym was instructed to never exchange Dollars for Pounds, the great disparity in the English exchange rate didn’t affect his counting house.

Mayer’s counting houses were gaining in international status, and he had more than he needed to finance a meeting of the 13 Colonies. The colonies’ representatives would not question the help of Haym Salomon, for it was only natural for a rich friend who profited so much from colonial trade to help out. The Americans would surely gain their independence, and they would look upon Mayer’s counting house as an honest, dependable source of credit, and Mayer would take control of the 13 Colonies’ monetary system just like the Bank of England bankers had done with that of England a century before, but he would do it anonymously through Haym Salomon and Robert Morris.

14-LETTER FROM NYC 1772

Dear Mayer,

I’m writing from New York City. If I didn’t write sooner, it’s because the sea voyage really weakened me, and because I wanted to have a better understanding of the city before putting pen to paper.

Let me start by saying that I arrived in Rotterdam as planned after an uneventful five-day coach ride. Since you had sent the five chests of pennies ahead with Thurn and Taxis, I didn’t have anything to worry about, and it allowed me to better enjoy the company of the people I met in the relay inns. Upon reaching Rotterdam, I went directly to David and Hannah’s place, and it was a moment of great conviviality. I’d missed them, they’d missed me, and I wanted to know everything about them, and they wanted to know everything about me. I can only say that I’m very impressed with what they’ve done. They have a beautiful home, the counting house is well-appointed, and they seem to have contacted everyone worth knowing with Montefiore’s help, a truly great gentleman. There’s no doubt in my mind that your decision to send David to Rotterdam was the right one, and I can only hope to do as well for you in New York

I left Rotterdam, and I crossed the channel to London where I waited for a ship that took on passengers for New York. I soon found what I was looking for, and I booked passage on a good looking ship about to lift anchor. The ocean crossing took more than three months and was very unpleasant. The captain told us it was the worst weather he’d seen in years. I spent a lot of time turning green and wondering if life was worth living, and when it got too bad, I stayed in my hammock, and that, I’m sure, was what saved my life.

I did, however, have a few days of relief during which time I managed to get my hands on some moldy dry bread and barely drinkable water laced with rum, and having digested this doubtful ration, I was able to observe the world around me with some degree of lucidity. Most of the crew members were of the unrefined variety, but they were competent and helpful. There were several gentlemen who were going to the colonies to strike it rich, but my most interesting encounter was with a fellow named Ephraim Hart. He was especially interesting because he was returning to New York to resume his business activities, and he provided me with much information concerning the ins and outs of life in the colonies. When we arrived, I was in a pitiful state, and Ephraim was kind enough to introduce me to that fine landlady with the big house who has a fireplace in each bedroom, the same one I had fantasized about, remember? Well, it isn’t quite so, but it is a fine house. And Gretel, you’ll be happy to know she’s Ashkenazi and feeds me schmaltzy food, American style, and my ribs are no longer showing.

It’s been two weeks since I’ve arrived, and it’s the first day I feel disposed to write. On the day of my arrival, I managed to get my personal affairs transported to the boarding house, and you’ll be happy to know the five chests containing the thousand pounds of pennies are safe and sound. New York is a garrison town like Hanau, and there are hundreds of English soldiers and sailors roaming the wide avenues. Therefore, you need not worry about me or the money.

There are around fifteen thousand people living here. The city is located on the tip of an island that’s hidden behind a much bigger one that protects it completely from the onslaught of the ocean. The military installations are on the southern tip of the island, and the port facilities are built along the Hudson River on the west side and the East River on the other. One couldn’t dream of a more accessible and well-protected deep-sea water port.

The city is traversed north and south by a main artery called Broadway that runs from the Battery, the British military fortifications at the southern tip, to a fresh water reservoir called Collect Pond, and is approximately one mile long in English units. The city covers an area approximately one mile by one half mile. There are three main streets, Broad, William and Queen, running in a north-south direction. All streets run north-south and east-west, and are therefore perpendicular to each other. Most streets are pebbled and have paved walkways on either side, so one can easily access all parts of the city on foot or on horseback. Community life revolves around houses of worship, and there are many, including an imposing synagogue on Mill Street not far from Broad Street.

On my first outing, I walked to Collect Pond and I was encouraged to follow Boston Road north because of the beautiful colors of autumn. There’s a native tree called the maple that turns all colors this time of year, and it makes for a most spectacular sight. However, as I walked the streets, I couldn’t help but notice that people leave much of their waste on the roadways. They even leave dead horses to rot, and although pigs and wild animals act as scavengers, they only clean up so much. There are pigs, cows and many other animals roaming about because as the city expanded northward from Wall Street, many people used their large plots of land to grow food and raise animals.

Another downside is that one can smell human waste just about everywhere one goes. It would seem that the more responsible home owners dig a hole in the back of their house and build what is called an outhouse, and when the hole is filled, they cover it with earth, dig another hole and move the outhouse accordingly. Others use a simple pail toilet and empty it in out of the way places when people aren’t looking. There are many stories concerning chamber pots and how carelessly they’re emptied. For instance, I’m told it’s wise to hug the walls of buildings when walking in the city at night, for one never knows what can fall from the heavens.

Since there is so much waste being added to the soil, much of the water from the privately dug surface wells tastes bad and smells. A proud Philadelphian once wrote that here in New York ‘people drink a proportion of their own evacuations, as well as that of their horses, cows, pigs, dogs, cats, and other putrid liquids so plentifully dispensed.’ In all fairness, in comparing the two cities, that gentleman didn’t take in consideration the fact that Philadelphia has two rivers bringing it plenty of fresh drinking water, giving it a decided advantage. As for waste disposal in Philadelphia, I’m told it’s not much better than it is here. Its narrow unpaved streets crammed with poorly built houses are strewn with dejections, and the large deep wells dug in strategic parts of the city to accommodate waste produce a pervasive foul odor.

As a way of combating the scarcity of good drinking water, just about everybody, young and old, drinks beer. From the very first days of the colony, the Dutch drank beer and the English followed suite by bringing their brewers and beer making equipment with them. Everybody lives by an old European adage that says one doesn’t get sick if one drinks ale. However, many of the more fortunate English families tend to drink tea and buy their water from water peddlers who go door-to-door with horse drawn wagons laden with huge wooden casks. Obviously, these solutions are out of reach for the working poor. When all is said and done, as a community, New York doesn’t seem to consider having good drinking water to be a priority. When one compares the conditions here with the Judengasse ghetto and its superb sewers and abundant pristine drinking water, one can only wonder.

New York has a great middle class, composed chiefly of tradesmen and merchants. They are all housed in splendid residences, and most, including lawyers and doctors, have built their mansions on William, Broad and Queen Streets. On the other hand, the more humble folk who work for these prosperous citizens are parked along the East River in an area called the flats. It consists of an agglomeration of shacks and lean-to’s built on either side of a street appropriately called Water Street, and even though they can throw their waste directly into the East River, these poor people don’t have access to clean drinking water and don’t always have the pennies needed to buy beer. Their lot isn’t at all enviable.

The mansions and office buildings are built of stone or brick, and the Governor’s House, Trinity Church, St. Paul’s Church, Columbia College and the hospital are all within one block of Broadway. There’s a lot of wealth generated here irrespective of the sanitary conditions that I’ve described, and, not surprisingly, the population is said to double every ten years or so. For the time being, my boarding house located on Broad Street just south of Wall Street will serve me well, for I have access to all manner of businesses in the financial and port districts. It’ll be very easy to rent or buy office space, and you’ll be glad to know, that everything costs a fraction of what it does in Frankfurt. For instance, you can build a large two-story stone building on Broad Street for slightly more than five hundred pounds. According to Ephraim, you could have a five hundred ton capacity ocean-going vessel, all rigged and made of oak that can withstand thirty years of rot, built right here in New York for about the same price. This got me thinking as a banker, and I’m sure you’ll be interested in the suggestions I make further on in this letter.

First, let me tell you more about Philadelphia. It’s bigger than New York and it lies far up the Delaware River. A religious group from England called Quakers, a people known for their peaceful ways and tolerance, settled there. Since they were not tolerated in England, they’re not as loyal to the English crown as their counterparts in New York, and this could be worth remembering as the political storm builds over what is considered unfair taxation by the Mother Country. A large population of Swedes and many Germans from Frankfurt have settled there as well. However, because the tolerant Quakers are intolerant when it comes to language and want everybody to learn English, the three groups tend to stand apart.

The Delaware River being a more modest river than the Hudson, and Philadelphia being far upstream, the English have naturally built the bulk of their military facilities in New York City where they have ocean access to the whole coast. Another noteworthy fact is that Philadelphia though a long distance from New York City by sea is quite close by land. After crossing the Hudson River from New York City by ferry, it’s a mere two-day stagecoach ride to Philadelphia, and the service has been in operation for years. This situation is unique in the colonies, for all the other capitals remain quite isolated from each other.

Both the Delaware and Hudson River basins are very fertile and have been developed along the same pattern. Following the early Dutch East India Company guidelines, both valleys developed using the patroon system. The idea probably came from the Huguenot refugees who first settled in Rotterdam and later in New Rotterdam. In wanting to encourage settlements, the Dutch granted patroonships that spanned 16 miles in length on one side of the river, or 8 miles if spanning both sides. Later the plot sizes were cut in half in order to accommodate more Dutch Americans in good standing. The title of patroon derived from the word patron and meaning boss in French, grants powers and privileges just like they do to our princes in Europe. The patroon creates civil and criminal courts, appoints local officials, and holds land in perpetuity. In return, he is commissioned by the Governor to establish a settlement of at least fifty families within four years. As tenants working for the patroon, the settlers don’t pay public taxes for the first ten years, but they do compensate the patroon in money, goods, or services as agreed to by all parties. The patroon lives in a luxurious, well-built house of brick or stone, has a retinue of servants, large barns, orchards and gardens, and broad pasture lands. A patroonship has its own village infrastructure that includes a church which records births, baptisms, and marriages. On the one hand, the English encourage this system because the large tracts of land are very productive. On the other hand, they forbid the patroons from manufacturing goods for resale. As can be expected, the patroons disregard the interdiction, and continue to operate their foundries and other small industries that produce iron goods, furniture, and cloth. They then float all their excess production, along with all the furs they can get from the natives, downriver to New York where they sell the lot to the citizens and merchants totally disregarding the English interdictions.

The patroons and the merchants have developed a bartering system. They exchange local goods for manufactured goods coming from England, and keep track of how much one owes the other. No matter, there’s a real money problem here, and it lies in the fact there isn’t much silver specie to buy and sell the little things that ordinary people need in everyday life. When Ephraim told me that the Bank of England completely ignored the needs of colonials by refusing to inject silver specie in the colonies, I didn’t quite believe him, but it’s even worse than that. Not only do colonials have little sterling, but the English refuse to accept the plentiful Spanish dollars at par with the Pound, in spite of the fact they both contain the same amount of silver. By establishing an exchange rate of 4 to 1 in favor of the Pound, they are strangling the local economy. That combined with the fact that they ban the importation of non-English goods and discourage the locals from manufacturing their own very much foments ill feelings towards the Mother Country. This doesn’t make for a healthy political situation, and there’s even a growing dissident movement called Sons of Liberty that’s present throughout the colonies, especially in Boston where the English have massacred a number of their sympathizers last year. The Boston Massacre, as it’s decried on the street, has even enflamed the very loyalist Southern Colonies.

I’m sure I’ll have a lot more to say about these tensions at a future date, but for now, here are some of my views regarding facilitating trade with Europe. I’ve talked to Ephraim about this, and he thinks that our services are highly needed here in the colonies because although trade is increasing at a rapid rate, credit is hard to get, there’s very little specie and England is maintaining very unjust exchange rates in favor of the pound. But if we were disposed to finance a shipment of tobacco to Rotterdam, here’s how it could be done. I would ask a fellow I met, Robert Morris, or someone of his stature, to buy and deliver a load of tobacco consisting of a thousand hogsheads to Rotterdam. A hogshead contains a thousand pounds of tobacco worth a penny per pound and costs around £4. Morris would receive a bill of exchange reflecting a guaranteed price of, let’s say, five pennies per pound payable to him when David took possession of the tobacco in Rotterdam. Morris would then issue his own bill of exchange to the producer in Williamsburg payable when the tobacco is delivered in Rotterdam, and he would also give him written proof that taxes are paid and that the cargo is fully insured. In this scenario the seller in Williamsburg is guaranteed a full penny per pound for his tobacco payable in six months’ time with interest if required, and the merchant Robert Morris is guaranteed five pennies per pound when the shipment arrives in Rotterdam. David in Rotterdam will have by then sold the tobacco well below its market price if need be, let’s say, ten pennies per pound. In a worst case scenario, the producer gets £4000, the shipper makes £16000 (£20000 less £4000), minus expenses, and our counting house make £20000 (£40000 less £20000), minus expenses. All parties make a handsome profit, and since we have such a huge profit margin to play with, since tobacco is in such high demand, and since it would be sold ahead of time, it could be said there’s no risk at all.

If you wanted to finance shipments going from Rotterdam to New York or London, I have two suggestions, and they have to do with two French products. As you know, before I met you I had been travelling in France, and that’s when I became aware of them. I’m talking about two products the English in England, and especially in the colonies, aren’t familiar with. It has to do with a cloth from Nimes in the south, and an extraordinary wine from the Burgundy area further north.

If Burgundy wines became known, the demand for them would explode, I’m sure. The English are already very fond of Bordeaux clarets, and once they taste these delightful wines from Bourgogne, they’ll surely be overwhelmed. I personally tasted them and know how good they are. But here’s why I think they’re worth investigating further. I’ve heard that wines can now be shipped in bottles instead of casks, an innovation that not only guarantees the original quality of the wines, but allows them to age to their sublime potential before they reach the palates of connoisseurs. In a word, if we found a way to have Burgundy wine bottled, corked and packaged before sending a shipment of it to Rotterdam and London, it would surely become an overnight sensation, and its price would increase exponentially.

As for the cloth, it’s an ingeniously woven cotton fabric manufactured in Genoa, Italy. The cloth got its French name when a Huguenot silk manufacturer from Nîmes bought the Genoa business during the religious persecutions. The cloth had been used for making sails, but in wanting to expand the business, the Frenchman thought of selling the fabric for the making of work clothes. There was much talk about this white-blue ‘de Nîmes’ cloth when I was in Lyon. In spite of cotton being outlawed by the King, people kept asking for it, claiming it could outlast Indian cotton ten to one. Judging from that experience, I can say with assurance that if you financed a shipment of that fabric to America you would make a mindboggling profit. The cost of working clothes is so high and disproportionate to income in the Colonies that the demand for a cheap, attractive and tough cloth would surely be overwhelming.

Unfortunately, I have no way of looking into those products at this end. It would be necessary for someone to go to France and see about their availability. As far as I know, there are three key cities involved: Nîmes for the cloth and information regarding the bottle corks, Lyon for the bottles, and Beaune for the wine. The three cities are in a north-south axis along the Rhone-Saone River corridor. The corks, the bottles and the wine would come together in Beaune, and from there, the ‘de Nîmes’ cloth and the now-bottled wine would be transported over an excellent old Roman road that goes from Beaune to Basel on the Rhine, and from there the merchandise could be shipped down the Rhine River to Rotterdam or anywhere in between.

I hope you don’t think I’m being bold in making these suggestions. I’m just trying to give you useful information. There are many other possibilities, and I’m sure you’ll advise me. But I’m convinced that indigo, rum and tobacco from the Americas, Burgundy wine and ‘de Nîmes’ cloth from France, and colorful cotton fabrics from England are the sort of exotic merchandises that would generate extremely high profits.

There’s something else I have to tell you, and it has to do with a discovery that I’ll refer to as the Atlantic ‘stream’. Don’t fret if you’ve never heard of it, hardly anyone has. It’s an ocean phenomenon that’s been confirmed by a very ingenious fellow called Benjamin Franklin, a Philadelphian who has become the Colonies’ emissary to England. For some time now, merchants have been wondering why it takes longer to sail to New York than it does to the southern colonies even though they’re much farther, and this fellow Benjamin figured it out by paying attention to the New England whalers. The whalers kept saying that in order to catch more whales they followed what seemed to be a big river of warm water that flowed right through the Atlantic Ocean. This river was full of plankton, whale food for the uninitiated, and it flowed in an easterly direction. If they followed this river, they were sure to bring back all the whale oil their ships could hold.

Benjamin was paying attention, and on one of his trips to Europe, he got the captain to agree to zigzag his way across the ocean, thus going in and out of the alleged river of warm water. As he did so, he recorded water temperatures and latitudes, and the result was very convincing. He was able to chart this ‘stream’ of warm water and show that it flowed at a speed of around four knots. He published his findings in England, but since mighty English captains have nothing to learn from lowly colonial whalers, this discovery is still not being exploited by the English. But the fact remains, if one were to sail north or south of it on the westward leg, one could shorten the journey by as much as two weeks, and if one were to sail in it on the eastward leg, there would be much time gained as well. I thought you might find this information useful because I remember you telling me in your tongue-in-cheek way that having a good communications network and knowing things ahead of everybody else could be very profitable.

In closing, let me say that I intend to proceed with the rental of office space on Broad Street. I also took the liberty of having a small quantity of bills of exchange printed. I’m enclosing a sample for your perusal.

As I await your answer which will probably arrive in four or five months from now, I’ll get acquainted with merchants and find out what merchandises are the most profitable to finance. I’ll also make a point of going to Philadelphia and meet with a fellow called Bernard Kratz who’s trying hard to have a synagogue built over there. I’m sure I’ll find out everything there is to know about Philadelphia through him. As I await your reply, regardless of the financial activity I pursue, it won’t involve big sums. When I get your letter, if you’ve decided to go with tobacco, I’ll be ready. Needless to say, a four or five month correspondence delay doesn’t simplify matters, but once I know exactly how you want to proceed, things will get sorted out. Rest assured that I don’t see any major impediments at this end, at this time.

 

Regards,

 

Haym

13-HAYM SALOMON

America kept popping up in Mayer’s mind because he saw the New World as a place offering a fantastic banking opportunity. Mayer knew the English were having trouble over there because he had learned through General von Estorff that they were seriously thinking about sending Hessian soldiers to the colonies. It seemed the colonials weren’t happy because the mother country wasn’t providing enough credit while gauging them with taxes. He just had to find a way to get firsthand information on what was really going on over there.

Mayer automatically thought of Haym Salomon who was presently working for him in Hanau. He invited him to Judengasse for a good schmaltzy dinner because he wanted to know what his wife Gretel thought of him before asking him to go to America. Haym was an extraordinary young man whom Mayer had befriended in Hanover. He was a Sephardi whose family had fled Portugal and settled in Poland. He had left what family he had in Poland, traveled through Europe, and had learned eight languages. While helping Mayer in Hanau, he had learned all there was to know about how to buy and sell bills of exchange, and was getting ready to move on.

As they approached the north gate of Judengasse, they dismounted and left their horses at the blacksmith’s barn where Mayer kept his mounts and carriage. The guard at the gate recognized Mayer readily and saluted the two men as they entered. When they entered the ghetto, Haym couldn’t help but notice a crude drawing depicting Jews doing unnatural things to a sow, which included eating her excrement. Haym, a Sephardi, was taken aback, and he couldn’t help thinking that Ashkenazim must be spineless to let goys treat them that way.

Mayer knew what he was thinking, and told him there was no use spending energy fighting such vulgarities. Since the Frankfurt Council turned a blind eye on such abuses, and thereby encouraged the lowlifes that perpetrated hate crimes, wiping the wall clean would only make things worse. He continued by saying that the age of enlightenment would soon reach the Hesse region, and the walls would come down. Mayer preferred becoming rich and powerful, and taking down the walls stone by stone with his bare hands when the time came. One engaged in battle only when one was sure of victory.

As they went down Judengasse, Haym wondered how people could live in such crammed conditions, with so much noise, so little light, and so many strange odors, while Mayer saluted everybody, addressing most of them by name, inquiring about their families, and wishing them well.

They reached the tall narrow house where Mayer lived, and where his wife was waiting for them. They sat down for dinner, and Mayer started the conversation by asking Haym what he thought of America. Haym answered that there seemed to be a lot of fertile land to be had, that the winters were harsh, and that there was a well-established Sephardi community in New York City. He had also heard that it was a good place for an ambitious young man who wanted to get rich. Mayer replied that he was getting a good feeling for the colonies from the newspapers he read, but that he’d really like to have first-hand knowledge. Then he asked directly if Haym would be interested in going to America. Mayer was willing to pay his passage and set him up as a shipping broker in New York City. Haym was to open a New York counting house that would work with the Rotterdam one run by David. The Sephardi community in New York would surely welcome him, and since Haym was a smart good-looking young man, he would have no problem finding a wife.

Mayer continued by saying Haym could count on his unqualified support, and that he would have all the money he needed. In the first instance, all he had to do was keep Mayer informed. If everything turned out to be like Mayer expected, Haym would then come back to Frankfurt to be debriefed, and they’d both decide what to do next. If Haym disliked New York City to the point of wanting to come back to Europe early, Mayer would not hold a grudge. All he asked was for Haym to give him fair warning if he so decided.

When Haym asked when Mayer expected him to leave, Mayer answered that winter crossings were very rough, and that it would be wise to leave as soon as possible. He hoped that Haym didn’t suffer from seasickness, for a westward crossing could take anywhere from three to four months.

Haym said he was more worried about New York’s cold winter, and that all he hoped for was to find a rich widow who had a well-built boarding house with a fireplace in each room.

12-DAVID TO ROTTERDAM

Mayer lived near the waterfront and often walked down to the river’s edge to listen to the hustle and bustle of ships being loaded and unloaded. This was a good place to think. Mayer was very interested in trade generally, and he was mesmerized by all the exotic merchandise coming from unheard-of parts of the world, but he saw it with the eyes of a banker, not those of a merchant.

The only bank in existence was the Bank of England, and it was a bank model Mayer wanted to duplicate. It was made up of a group of private bankers who had the exclusive right to lend money to the English Government. If the people’s representatives wanted to launch a government project before taxes were collected, as was always the case, they went to the bankers for a loan. It was a bankers’ heaven, for not only were they sure of being repaid, but they could choose what loans were to be made. And by having the sole right to issue bank notes, they controlled the monetary system of England.

Mayer was already a banker of sorts for Prince William, and he took his commitment to the Principality of Hanau very seriously. However, it didn’t stop him from planning to bankroll his own operations. His plan had to do with the Hessian troops being recruited for England. William was spending much too much money outfitting and arming those troops. Military supplies came mainly from France and England and were shipped through Bremerhaven up north. Because William didn’t buy directly from the suppliers, and because the route was long and crossed many German states, everything cost much more than it should. If Mayer had someone in Rotterdam buy everything directly from the suppliers, and if he then transported everything in his own barges up the Rhine River, he would make a handsome profit while lowering his benefactor’s costs. Even though this meant doing business, the risk was almost nonexistent, and it was a way of seriously increasing his capital.

For a hundred years now, since the Treaty of Westphalia, the Rhine River had been open to free trade. It was forbidden for local lords to collect tolls, and most of the castles along the Rhine River had been put out of commission prior to the treaty. Nonetheless, renegade lords still collected tolls, and that hampered inland commerce. But Mayer knew that if his barges flew the Hesse-Kassel colors, no one would dare stop them and make them pay, for everybody knew that the State of Hesse had a lot of troops at the ready.

Frankfurt was a port on the Main River, a river that flowed into the great Rhine River a few kilometers to the west. Mayer had talked with the shipbuilders in Hanau about getting large barges built, proposing a model like that once used by the Romans to bring in wheat from Gaul. It was a large barge about thirty-five meters long, six meters wide, with a draught of one meter, which could carry around twenty tons. It had a cabin in the back for cooking and sleeping, a square sail in the middle, and it allowed for ten oarsmen. The local mariners all agreed such a barge was ideal for travelling upstream on the Rhine. Upon leaving Rotterdam, it could run with the tide, and then the sail could be used to run with the prevailing west wind while the rowers pulled and steered as needed. Of course, sailing downstream from Frankfurt would be a lot easier.

Such a barge was affordable to build and a cost-effective way to transport goods, even with a ten-man crew. Mayer would start with one barge, and have more built as needed. He would establish a counting house in Rotterdam where his broker would fill orders and have the goods waiting for the next barge. When the barge arrived, the goods coming from Frankfurt would be unloaded and stored in a warehouse, and the military supplies waiting in another warehouse would be loaded unto the barge headed for Frankfurt. All special orders for exotic products purchased from the East India Company would be unloaded in Frankfurt, Hanau or some port on the Rhine, while the military supplies would go to Hanau.

The Huguenots who had settled in the Hesse region more than a hundred years before were great entrepreneurs, and among other things, they set up foundries that produced high quality iron. They also made stylish furniture, glassware, tin ware, leather products, fine silks, and clocks. They even manufactured artillery pieces, called serpentines, known for their precision and durability. In Hanau, the Goldsmiths’ House was actually an art center for the training of goldsmiths and silversmiths. Lithographers, engravers and artisans developed and used the latest techniques in the making of jewelry, in printing and in the minting of very attractive coins. Mayer knew that the manufactured products coming out of Hesse would be sure to sell easily in Rotterdam.

All goods at both ends would be bought at the lowest cost and sold at the highest price, making sure that the highest price was the price that everybody was willing and ready to pay. The considerable profits thus realized would remain in the counting houses at either end, and would be used to buy ever more merchandise going in both directions. There would be a considerable buildup of specie at both ends, and the counting houses could then start printing their own bills of exchange. Since both counting houses would always adhere to a strict code of ethics imposed by Mayer, where the bills are redeemed on demand at all times, they would gain the confidence of the local business community and become widely accepted. The increased credit would allow more businessmen to do more business, and profits would increase. Bills of exchange had a multiplier effect, and that was what banking was all about.

All he needed was to find a man who would want to go and settle in Rotterdam. As for the amount of money needed to build the barges and fill the initial orders at both ends, it was insignificant, considering his already considerable wealth. The first name that crossed his mind for the job in Rotterdam was that of young David Schiff. Since David and his wife Hannah lived upstairs in the same house, Mayer knew them well, and he had taken the young man under his wing. David had proven to be brilliant in the bills of exchange business.

Of late, David had been showing signs of unrest. He didn’t like the idea of his family growing up in the Judengasse ghetto, and Mayer could understand why. David didn’t come right out and say it, but Mayer knew. David had spoken of Rotterdam as being an attractive place to live, but what he didn’t know was that it had many drawbacks for an Ashkenazi Jew. The Sephardi Jews, who ran the East India Company and ruled the oceans of the world, were wealthy Jews from the Iberian Peninsula. They were rich, proud and even arrogant. Those Jews didn’t think very highly of Ashkenazim coming from Eastern Europe. However, if David accepted, Mayer would give him enough money to settle in properly, for image was very important. But there was another problem in that the Sephardim didn’t worship the way Ashkenazim did, and David wouldn’t be welcome in their synagogue. No matter, he would make David an offer while making it very clear what problems his family was going to face.

The ghetto was flourishing. The people were vibrant and united, and their faith made them strong. Judengasse had a fine stone synagogue, plenty of good clean water, good sewers, a fine hospital, its own kosher slaughterhouse, a yeshiva and a rabbi who was a prince of knowledge. Though the inhabitants were often harassed and humiliated when they left the ghetto and were not free to move about at night and on Sundays, in many ways they were better off than the goys living outside the ghetto.

David agreed that the community was one big family, but he was overcome by feelings of hate and revenge when a goy treated his wife Hannah like a whore. One day he would retaliate, and his life and that of Hannah would be compromised. When Mayer offered to set him up in the finest counting house with all the money needed to hire a professional staff, purchase warehouse space, build a house for his family, and have all the necessary expense money to look like a successful businessman, he couldn’t believe his good fortune.

David readily accepted the generous offer but wondered how he could ever repay Mayer. Mayer told him that he would be making his weight in thalers many times over, and repayment didn’t enter the picture. He told David that though Ashkenazim in Rotterdam were poor and were assisted by the community, and that the Sephardim wouldn’t be happy welcoming another Jewish rag dealer, another mouth to feed, things would be different for David. Mayer would introduce him to an Italian Jew named Moses Montefiore, a well-connected Sephardi who would help him get established.

11-MAYER AMSCHEL

Mayer Amschel, the greatest man who ever lived, though almost completely unknown to most of us, was born in 1744 in the Frankfurt Jewish ghetto of Judengasse. In August, 1770, when he married Gretel, he was already important enough to have the open street sewer replaced by state of the art sewers running behind the rows of high narrow houses on either side of the street, making sure plenty of fresh water from the Main River flowed through them.

When he was eleven, his parents, who lived in Judengasse, had sent him off to a yeshiva near Nuremberg to study the Torah in the hope of his becoming a rabbi. Unfortunately, they died during a smallpox epidemic, and he was orphaned at twelve. That’s when his future father-in-law, Wolf Salomon Schnapper, contacted Wolf Jacob Oppenheimer in Hanover and asked him if he would take in the young man as an apprentice in his bank.

At the Oppenheimer Bank, everybody thought very highly of him because he had developed, thanks to his father, a very quick mind when it came to handling money and buying and selling rare coins. Then, he got his first big break. Frederic II, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel, needed a favor. His court Jew was Jacob Oppenheimer, and he had sent for him because he was worried about his son William. Frederic had converted to Catholicism, and his Protestant wife had divorced him. When his father, the previous landgrave, died in 1760, he had sent Frederic to Kassel and given the principality of Hanau to his grandson William. William had been raised a Calvinist, and the thriving Calvinist community in Hanau wanted nothing to do with Catholics.

The Calvinists, also called Huguenots, came from France. They were the great businessmen of the day. The French kings, had always enforced the ‘one God, one king, one nation’ concept, and for centuries the Catholic Church had persecuted and massacred those who didn’t agree. After repeated atrocities committed against them, hundreds of thousands of Huguenots immigrated to more clement lands, places like the Netherlands, Hesse-Hanau, England, America and South Africa. Having endured unspeakable ills at the hands of the papist kings, Huguenots developed a deep hatred for Catholics, and by the same token, became more tolerant towards Jews.

Because of William’s young age, Frederic’s English ex-wife, Mary, was made regent. In wanting to protect William, in spite of his feelings for his ex-wife, Frederic decided to provide him with a financial advisor. He had hoped that Jacob Oppenheimer would personally take on the job. But because Hanau was five days by stagecoach from Hanover, Jacob told him it wasn’t practical for him to do so and recommended Mayer instead.

Frederic knew that Mayer lived in Frankfurt which was near Hanau. He also knew that Mayer had met his son William when they were boys. When Frederic had been Prince of Hanau, Mayer had accompanied his father Moses on one of his trips to the principality. His father had rare coins to offer Frederic who happened to be an avid coin collector. Young William had been curious about Mayer’s clothes and had wanted to have a yellow star like the one stitched to his coat. William never forgot the boy with the funny clothes.

Frederic remembered him as well, but because he was still only nineteen, he wondered how much wisdom and experience that young man could have. After being assured by Jacob that the Oppenheimer Bank would stand behind him and advise him, Frederic agreed to meet with him, and was satisfied with what he saw. Mayer then went to Hanau to meet with William and his mother who were quite pleased with him as well. So Mayer started putting the principality’s finances in order, and unavoidably, he met a General von Estorff who had been sent by Frederic to take charge of the principality’s troops. Hanau was a garrison city, but Mayer didn’t yet know what that implied.

He was becoming a sort of a one-man branch of the Oppenheimer Bank, and things were going smoothly when he found out why Frederic had sent the general to Hanau. For years, Hesse-Kassel had been receiving huge annual retainer fees from England in order to keep an army of Hessian soldiers at the ready. Up until then, the soldiers had been mainly recruited in Kassel. However, in wanting to improve Prince William’s finances, Frederic, who was now Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel, figured that more soldiers could be recruited in Hanau. Huge sums of money representing that portion of retainer fees due Hanau were sent to William, and Mayer suddenly had the responsibility of managing millions of thalers. He had taken it in stride and had made sound investments. With the help of the court Jews in the ghetto, he got the highest return on the investments, and he gave Prince William useful advice regarding expenditures. He was much appreciated, and was given the official title of court Jew which allowed him to get married.

Frederic was related to the English King who was thinking of using Hessian soldiers in America. In an armed conflict, the English Parliament could intervene more quickly without having to explain everything to taxpayers, thereby avoiding arousing passions. The English parliamentarians preferred having German troops fighting English settlers, and by paying a retainer fee to Hesse-Kassel, they could have troops on the ground at a very short notice and at a much lesser cost.

Prince William used the huge retainer fees to improve the infrastructure of the Principality of Hanau. He always paid Mayer well, and the recruits received their pay whether in training or on active duty. When they were required to go and fight, they did so for a specified amount of time, and Mayer made sure their families were properly compensated.

William’s father, Frederic, maintained around ten thousand troops in Kassel, and William, with the help of General von Estorff, maintained around two thousand in Hanau. The Oppenheimer Bank had always invested the retainer fees for Frederic, but in wanting to help his son, it was now Mayer who was investing the huge sums handed over to William in Hanau. Mayer made huge commissions, and after convincing the Prince that Hanau should have its own mint, it was set up in the Walloon House, also called the Goldsmiths’ House, a building adjacent to the castle.

The silver bullion coming in from Kassel represented millions of thalers, and most of it had to be minted and invested by Mayer, and his personal fortune increased dramatically. Court Jews invested money for the princes, but also lent them money, and very often commissions weren’t paid and loans not repaid. On a whim, the princes would even do away with the court agent altogether. The horrible execution of Joseph Suss Oppenheimer just a few years back in Stuttgart was still fresh in everybody’s mind. But although Prince William was an honorable man, Mayer decided to be secretive and keep his personal business to himself just in case. He was not at all interested in flaunting his talents or his wares, he just wanted to be the best he could be at what he was doing. Nobody knew how much money he had, they just knew he wasn’t poor. Humility was a better route in reaching ones goals anyway. As far as Mayer was concerned, the most important thing in the world was to have a family, and to live among a trusting caring people, for if one didn’t have that, he had nothing.

But he was ambitious, and since Frederic, William and Jacob had full confidence in him, he decided to make them a proposition. The German people weren’t united, and there were hundreds of principalities who did as they pleased with currency, so Mayer decided to standardize the thaler in the State of Hesse. In other words, he wanted to mint a thaler that would be accepted throughout the state and beyond. Because Frederic and William, thanks to the English, had more silver bullion than any other German prince, and because Frankfurt, one of the most important German trading center, was in Hesse, his initiative was bound to succeed.