15-INTERNATIONAL TRADE

Mayer didn’t want to scare Gretel by telling her about the huge tract of land he had recently bought on the outskirts of Frankfurt. It was a parcel of around two hundred acres of forest and marshland to the west of the city, well beyond its walls. Now that Haym was more or less confirming what he already knew regarding America, it was obvious he would need more office space. As soon as the landscaping allowed it, he would go ahead with the building of a grandiose manor that would serve as his headquarters. The marshland would be transformed into a vast botanical garden, and he already had a name for the palatial structure to be built at the north end facing south. It would be called Green Castle. Officially, it would be Peter Heinrich von Bethmann’s residence, but unofficially, it’s where Peter would run Mayer’s banking operations, and where Mayer would keep his vaults and accommodate out-of-town business associates and friends. From the terrace of Green Castle there would be a panoramic view of huge stretches of lawn, trees, ponds and many exotic plants and animals, things that were completely foreign to the Judengasse ghetto. It would be a peaceful place where Gretel could go and enjoy the fresh air and the luscious green beauty with the children. He knew Gretel would find this private green paradise hard to resist once she was introduced to it. Above all, this property was subject to the authority of Prince Wilhelm, not that of the Frankfurt Council.

Mayer sat down and wrote Haym that he was to go ahead with the tobacco shipment. He told him he would confirm it with David who would then get the necessary warehouses built in Rotterdam. Haym was to get the best tobacco available, for high quality products attracted higher prices and could be sold more easily.

As for the wine and denim, he told him he was acquainted with two Frenchmen in Frankfurt who were in a position to help. Jean-Baptiste Willermoz had a silk factory in Lyon, France, but spent a lot of time in Frankfurt where another Frenchman, François Johannot, operated a silk factory as well. The high-end silk business wasn’t doing so well and they would certainly welcome a chance to get involved in a more lucrative business. He was certain that Jean-Baptiste, François, and their wives would welcome a chance to have a first class, fully financed voyage to the south of France while inquiring about the availability of bottled wine and denim cloth. The offer to leave winter behind them, visit family and friends in Lyon, and bask in the Mediterranean sun was a powerful enticement.

With the help of Jean-Baptiste and François he was certain he would soon be financing wine and denim shipments to Rotterdam, London and NYC. This would work out extremely well, for wine and denim shipments would go down the Rhine by barge to Rotterdam, and the same barges would come back up the Rhine with arms and military supplies for Prince William along with pre-ordered manufactured goods to cities all along the way. In anticipation, he was arranging to have more of the Roman-type barges constructed in Hanau. So far, his barges on the Rhine were proving to be quite a success, and because they all flew the Prince’s colours, they hadn’t been harassed by the bandit lords and forced to pay tolls. He intended to continue the same modus operandi with the wine and denim shipments.

He finished his letter to Haym, and took it to the Thurn and Taxis office for delivery to America. He came back in time to have supper with Gretel and his precious little Yochana. He told Gretel he was planning to go to Rotterdam to acquaint David with the latest developments, and that he would be gone at most three weeks. When prompted by Gretel, he proceeded to tell her what was on his mind.

He had already told her how the Sephardi Jews had joined up with the Huguenots and created the Bank of England in 1694. He explained that he saw an opportunity to do the same in America. The Americans needed credit, and since the Bank of England bankers wasn’t providing it, he would. Everybody trusted his bills of exchange, and they would soon be widely accepted on both sides of the Atlantic. If he helped the Americans win their independence from England, his bank would then be automatically recognized as the official bank of America when the time came.

For now, he was planning to finance shipments of high quality products in both directions across the Atlantic. When merchants became convinced that his bills could be redeemed for specie and on demand on both sides of the Atlantic, and that his exchange rates for Thalers and Pounds were fixed and fair, he was sure that instead of going through the trouble and cost of redeeming them they would just sign them over to third, fourth, and fifth parties. On the other hand, David and Haym would be instructed to only accept specie for all sales. Specie would accumulate with each shipment, and both counting houses could then issue more bills of exchange. As he waited for the sale of the first shipment of tobacco that would soon be concluded in Rotterdam, he was making plans to send Jean-Baptiste and François to France to look into the wine and denim possibilities.

As Gretel grasped the huge sums of money her husband would be making, she worried about her family and told him this wasn’t what she had expected when she married him. Mayer reassured her. He had no intention of showing his wealth and letting everybody know how rich he was. He told her that his name would never be officially connected to anything he did because he didn’t want to stir up feelings of envy and hatred. He told her he was not interested in flaunting his wealth, and the only thing that mattered was for her to be proud of him.

He explained how he planned to finance the Americans in their fight for independence, and once achieved, how he would create a bank for them without their ever knowing who he was. His financial operations would be international in nature, and that would ensure his success and his anonymity. His counting houses on both sides of the Atlantic would be run by people who don’t officially answer to him, like Haym and David. Because each counting house had to interact with the others, they would be independent, yet firmly part of the whole. Notwithstanding the fact he trusted his agents with his life, the counting houses would be accountable to each other and to Mayer without his ever having to be present.

Mayer intended to surround himself with Ashkenazim who would become an extended family network, and he would use goys only when he had to. Haym may have been a Sephardi, but he was like a brother. He respected and trusted David and Haym, and by giving them everything they could possibly want, he was sure of their respect and loyalty, and this allowed Mayer to work in total anonymity. Maintaining anonymity, making astounding amounts of money and being magnanimous and honest in all transactions at all times was the key for lasting success.

Gretel loved this man, and as he picked up Yochana and started singing from the Torah, she was the happiest woman in the world. She didn’t want to lose that. But she also knew that if Mayer didn’t follow his dream, he would cease to be the man he was, and she could not bear that.

The next morning, before leaving to meet with Jean-Baptiste and François, Mayer told her how important that meeting was. French wine was the best in the world, and there was talk that the Burgundy wine could be bottled in uniform-sized bottles. The other product had to do with cloth. The Huguenots, in wanting to have a country of their own, had emigrated to the Prince-Bishopric of Basel where they were weaving cotton cloth which was in great demand, but which was forbidden in France proper. They grew cotton in the Caribbean islands and were shipping it up the Rhone-Saone-Doubs river system to Montbéliard and then by land to Mulhouse, the industrial center near Basel.

Mayer wanted Jean-Baptiste and François to look into those two products. If it turned out as he expected, he would consult with Haym, authorize the shipments, and then help the Americans gain their independence. He would start by financing a meeting of the thirteen colonies with the aim of creating some kind of government. He would find and finance leaders who were opposed to English rule, and since Virginia was the most sophisticated politically, that’s where he planned to concentrate his efforts. But for now, he had to accumulate as much bullion and specie as he could, and the only way to do that was to be a businessman.

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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.