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It may perhaps be thought that some of the great
foreign powers, particularly Ejn^land or France,
would take umbrage at the acquisition by us of the
sovereignty of Cuba; that the probabUity of this
ought to prevent us firom taking any measure to
obtain it, and that it would, at any rate, hinder Spain
from ceding it to us directly or indirectly.

The weight of this objection, you are, of course,
better able to appreciate than I am. It does not
strike me that the foreign powers ought to feel, or
would, in fact, feel, the same repugnance to our
occupying Cuba as we should to their doing it ; and
if we consider the acquisition of the island by a
peaceable transaction as the only means of avoi(ung
the necessity of taking possession of it sooner or
later by force, — which is the view I have taken of
the subject, — ^it is evident that the repugnance of the
foreign powers, whatever it may be, is no real objec-
tion, beoiuse it must in the end be met. They would
probably be much more dissatisfied to see us occupy
the island by force than to see us acquire it by pur-

These considerations appear to me to recommend
very powerfully the policy of endeavoring to acquire
the island of Cuba in a peaceable way, a^ the man-
ner I have indicated seems the one which would be
the most likely to succeed. I should not, of course,
think of making any formal proposition on the sub-
ject without receiving your instructions ; and should
the suggestions I have now made appear to be of a
nature to be acted on seriously, you wiU hare the
TOodness to favor me with your orders, either
Uirough the Department of State, or in a private letter,
as you may think most expedient. I have thought,
however, that there would be no impropriety in soimd-
ing the intentions of the Government beforehand m

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an informal way, and I accordingly took an oopor-
tunity of doing it in one of the conversations I nad
Mrith Mr. Zea. After some remarks on both sides
on the finandai difficulties of the country, and the
necessity of obtaining a loan if possible nrom some
quarter, I told him that although I had -not the
slightest authority to offer any proposition of the
kind, I thourfit it not improbable that the Govern-
ment of the United States would make a considera-
ble loan to that of Spain, and on favorable terms, on
condition that Spain would consent to a temporary
cession in deposit of the island of Cuba, accompanied
with a delivery of possession, and I then stated to
him some of the advantages of such a transaction to
the two parties as recapitulated above. He did not,
of course, give his assent to the proposal ; but, on
the contrary, expressed the opinion that the King
would not alienate the island for a moment on any
consideration whatever. I did not, however, con-
sider this answer as at all decisive. A transaction
of this sort would naturally require great considera-
tion in all its stages, and the only safe and proper
mode of treating the subject in the first instance
would be that of a refusal. I saw that my remarks
had made a pretty strong impression on Mr. Zea.
He said that if I faiad authority to make a proposition
of this kind, he should be glad to receive it in writ-
ing. I told him in answer to this that the sugges-
tion was entirely private and personal, that I had no
instructions from you to make it ; that the transac-
tion appeared to me so advantageous to both Gov-
ernments, that I had ventured to advise it without
knowing whether it would be agreeable to either ;
but that if the King approved ofthe proposition, I
would immediately wnte home and recommend die
adoption of it, for the reasons which I had already
summarily stated.
I have since been informed in a private way that

Mr. Zea took a written note of what I said. This
conversation passed during the last interview I had
with him. I learn that the Duke del Infantado
found these notes among Mr. Zea's papers, and
concluded from them that a serious negotiation was
actually going on for the cession of Cuba. I have
not yet said anythins; to the Duke upon the subject,
but shall perhaps take an opportunity of mentioning
it, and 01 ascertaining whether the proposition is
regarded by this Government as at all plausible. I
shall carefuUv keep you informed of anv such com-
munications tnat I may have with the Minister, and
will thank you to instruct me whether you wish the
matter to be pressed seriously or dropped altogether.
It struck me that it would be agreeable to you to
learn without anv commitment whatever of the
Government in woat way a proposal of this kind
would be received and treated, upon its first sug-

I have given you in my despatches a full account
of the progress of the negotiations with which I am
charged. They are still in an incipient state ; but
the present appearance of them is not unfavorable.
Should this Government, however, attempt to pro-
ceed upon its usual plan of delay, after ail that has
already passed, I cannot but hope that Congress will
resort to vigorous measures. The mere demonstra-
tion would in this case be effectual, and would be
imattended with any danger or inconvenience what-
ever. Nevertheless, violence is always unpleasant,
even when necessary, politic and safe, so that I
should prefer an early termination of these vexatious
disputes in an amicable way. It shall not be for
want of attention on my part if this result does not

I nave the honor to be, dear sir, with much respeict,
your very sincere friend and obedient servant,

Alexander H. Everett.


As long ago as 1854 the late Baron James
de Rothschild said at his table in Paris, that
he believed the Astor fortune to be the largest
accumulation of private wealth then known
in the world. At the time of John Jacob
Astor's death in 1848, there were several
fortunes in Europe which outranked his;
he was counted the fifth on the list of rich
men : Baron de Rothschild, Louis Philippe,
the Duke of Devonshire, and Sir Robert
Peel only exceeding him. Since then, in
England, the head of the family of Gros-
venor has sprung to the firont. Leases of
land in the most aristocratic quarters of
London, originally leased on long terms at
nominal rents, fell in and were renewed
by the late Marquis of Westminster at
fabulous prices. Since then, we have like-
wise witnessed a great rise in real estate in
this city, and, if the Astor fortune was not
in 1854 as large as estimated by Baron

James de Rothschild, we may safely assume
that, with the enhanced value of real estate,
and the natural accumtdations during a
period of over twenty years under the
able administration of the late William B.
Astor, that fortime was, at the time of his
death, in November, 1875, certainly the
largest in America, if not in the world. For,
be It remembered, the untold wealth of the
Rothschilds belonged to different members
of a house or firm, while William B. Astor
was sole owner of the great properties and
vast estates bequeathed him by his father.

It is somewhat curious, that the founders
of these two families, which stand at the
head of the wealth of Europe and America,
were both Germans, bom within eighty miles
of each other, — ^theone, Rothschild, at Frank-
fort-on-the-Main ; the other, Astor, at Wall-
dorf, a small village near Heiddbcrg, in the
Duchy of Baden.

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John Jacob Astor, born at Walldorf,
July 17, 1763, was the youngest of four
sons. His father, Jacob Astor, was a small
farmer, who likewise followed the trade of a
butcher. The eldest, George Peter Astor,
left the parental roof at an early age, and
found employment in London with an uncle
engaged in the manufacture of musical in-
struments, under the style and firm of Astor
& Broadwood, of which firm, George Peter
ultimately became a partner. The firm was
eminendy successful and the business is still
carried on, and Broadwood, Broadwood &
Co. are to-day among the foremost of English
piano manufacturers. Henry Astor, the sec-
ond son, bom in 1754, was the first of the
family who came to America. It is said he
came to this country during the Revolutionary
War as assistant to the purser of a British
fiigate, the " Belle Poule" (taken firom the
French), which frequented this port during
the war, and generally lay off Dover street
wharf. He left the ship, found employment
with a butcher, and soon embarked m the
business on his own account. In 1783,
April I ith, he advertises his horse as " stolen
firom the subscriber on the night of the loth
instant, from the door of Israel Seamen's,
Roosevelt street, a dark brown horse, about
fifteen hands high, a small star on his fore-
head, the hair worn off his breast by a collar,
trots and carries well; saddle and double-
curb bridle on the horse when stolen.
Three guineas reward for the horse, saddle,
and bridle. For the thief, horse, saddle,
and bridle, ten guineas will be paid by Henry
AshdoorJ^ We find by old records of the
Common Council, that down to 1801, he
was styled indifferently: Henry Ashdoor,
Henry Ashdore, Henrich Astor, and Henry
Astor. He does not appear as a buyer of
real estate on the Records at the Register's
office till 1803, and then always as Henry

Shordy after the peace in 1783 he be-
came a citizen, and married Dorothea, the
stepdaughter of John Pessinger, a brother
butcher, who occupied stall No. i, at the
Fly Market, which was situated at the foot of
Maiden Lane, and ran fi-om Pearl street to the
water. Maiden Lane in those days was quite
a street of markets ; the Old Oswego Market
stood at the north-east comer of Broadway
and Maiden Lane, mnning down Maiden
Lane as far as Little Greene street. In this
market, it is said, Henry Astor first sold
meat. In 1790, however, we find him at
the Fly Market ; in the month of May in
that year the inhabitants around the Market

petitioned " that the stall of Henry Astor,
butcher, be removed to the lower market,**
which was granted. This stall of Astor's stood
across the head of the upper market, and
no doubt tended to block up the entrance
gangway, which caused its removal. The
lower market was nearest the water and was
known as the fish market. With the estab-
lishment of Henry in New York, the name
of Astor took root in America.

John Jacob Astor was the last of the
brothers to leave his village home. About
1779, when Meyer Anselm Rothschild, then
thirty-six years old, had fairly started on the
road to fortune at Frankfort, young Astor, a
boy of sixteen, left his village with no bag-
gage but what he could carry, made his way
as best he could to the coast of Holland, and
embarked in a small vessel for London,
where he found a home and employment
with his brother George Peter. Here he
remained four years working in the flute
and piano manufactory of Astor & Broad-
wood. During this period, he mastered the
English language fwhich, however, to the
latest day of his life, he always spoke with
a German accent), familiarized himself with
the ways and customs of the English, and,
above all, developed habits of thrift, econ-
omy, and industry — the foundations on which
he was to erect the greatest fortune of the
New World. John Jacob Astor often said,
later in life, that he never intended to make
England his permanent home, and when he
wandered out firom his native village, under
the promptings of that resdess spirit which,
since the earliest times, has carried the
Teuton to the South and the West, his finn
intention was not to rest till he had reached
that far-off Land of Promise, whither his
brother Henry had already preceded him.
The sojourn in London was made necessary
by his extreme youth, his ignorance of the
EngUsh language, and the progress of the
Revolutionary War, which kept the revolted
colonies in a very unsettled state. On the
final siting of the treaty of peace, he made
immediate preparations for departure. His
scanty savings furnished but a slender capital
wherewith to push his fortunes in the New
World. Astor & Broadwood gave him a
small consignment of German flutes. Cap-
tain John Whetten, who died in 1845 at the
age of 82, was long a prominent shipmaster
out of this port. He used to relate that
one day in London he was accosted on
board of the ship of which he was mate,
by a young German of his own age, who
wished to emigrate to America. He had a

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pack of musical instruments, and desired
a steerage passage. The appearance and
manners of the young German interested
him. Their intercourse soon became con-
fidential, and Whetten frankly advised him
to prefer another vessel lying close at hand,
in which he would make the passage more
comfortably than in his. The advice was
adopted. Among the cabin passengers of
this vessel were some officers of the Hudson
Bay Company. These gentlemen, in their
walks on the quarter-deck, natiurally con-
versed together about the trade in furs with
the North American Indians, and of these
conversations enough dropped in the neigh-
borhood of the main-hatch to give to the
astute yoimg German steerage passenger a
glimpse of the wide avenue to wealth upon
which he subsequently entered.

The ship, commanded by Captain Jacob
Stout, set sail from London in November,
1783, and was bound for Baltimore. The
vessel did not reach the Chesapeake till
January; inside the Capes, she was beset
with ice and threatened with shipwreck. It
is related that on this occasion, when all the
passengers were in fear and trembling, young
Astor went below and soon re-appeared on
deck in his best suit of clothes; being
questioned as to why he made tiiis sin-
gular change at so trying a moment, he
repUed : ** If the ship is wrecked and I suc-
ceed in reaching shore, I shall have saved
my good clothes ; if I am lost, I shall have
no use for them." The ship was frozen
in the bay for nearly a month, and it was
not till March, 1784, that John Jacob first
set foot on the shore of the New World,
in Baltimore Harbor. He immediately
made his way to New York, where he
found his brother Henry, selling meat in
the Fly Market. Henry took him to the
house of George Diederick, a German baker
in Queen street, in which he passed his
first night in New York, and which for some
time was his home. The site of the old
house is now known as 351 Pearl street,
on the south-west comer of Frankfort street,
which at that time was not cut through to
Pearl, or Queen, street The property be-
longed to the Lawrences, of Flushmg, L. I.,
and was subsequently bought by Diederick,
as we find by the following deed on record
at the Register's office,

Elizabeth Lawrence

George Diederick.

Deed dated

Oct. 12, 1791,

Rec'd May 6, 1813,

Liber 102 of Cony's,

page 344-

conveying a house and two lots on Queen
street Part of the land was subsequendy
taken by the city, and now forms a
portion of Frankfort street. George Dieder-
ick, the elder, was in business as late as

John Jacob Astor arrived in New York
at a period of great depression. Some fif-
teen thousand refiigees, men, women, and
children, left New York, Long Island, and
Staten Island for Nova Scotia, St John^s,
and Abasco, during the latter part of 1783,
among them many persons of fortune and
landed estates. These estates Astor began
to buy, whenever he could spare the
money, as soon as he got a Uttle ahead in
the world. The evacuation of New York
by the British troops took away some of
Henry Astor*s best customers, and his
butcher business was not in a very flourish-
ing condition in the spring of 1784, when
John Jacob arrived. However, he found
employment for Jacob, whom we find beat-
ing skms in Gold street soon after his arrival,
and subsequendy pursuing the same occupa-
tion in the employ of Mr. Wilson, at Old
Slip. While thus engaged, he made it his
particular study to gather information re-
specting the nature of the fur trade; made
himself acquainted with the difierent kinds
of skins, and learned to estimate their
value and their quality. From Mr. Wil-
son he passed into the employ of Robert
Bowne, a Quaker, long established in the
business of buying, curing, and exporting
peltries. His brother Henry assisted him
with his first stock in trade, which he sold
and traded with those who brought furs and
skins to market, on board of sloops and
other vessels lying around at the different

Meanwhile, his consignment of flutes fi'om
Astor & Broadwood sold slowly. There
were at that time two persons in New York
who pretty much monopolized the musical
instrument business. Dodd, at 66 Queen
street, made a specialty of musical instru-
ments, while Joseph Wilks, at his store No.
23s Queen street, sold, with other goods,
harpsicords, forte-pianos, and barrel organs.
Young Astor, with no place of business, and
no acquaintance among those most likely to
buy musical instruments, finally left his
flutes at the printing-office of Samuel Lou-
don's " New York Packet" for sale. The
sale of goods on commission by printers was
an old custom in New York, dating back to
the establishment of the firet papers. Ac-
cordingly, we find as early as September

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20, 1784, the following advertisement in the
"New York Packet:"

«« German Flutes of a superior Quality to be sold
at this Printing-ofHce.''

This advertisement is very steadily in-
serted from that date " off and on" down to
March lo, 1785, when it disappears. The
flutes had by this time been disposed of,
and the proceeds gradually invested in furs,
with which Astor returned to England, prob-
ably during that year, to make permanent
arrangements for the future shipping of fiirs,
and to get the agency of the house of Astor
& Broadwood in New York.

On his return to New York he hired from
the widow Sarah Todd, two rooms in her
house, 81 Queen street, and for the first
time started business on his own account.
This house was situated not far from George
Diederick, the baker, where he found his
first home, a little fiirther down and on the
opposite side of the way. He announces his
new enterprise to the public on Monday,
May 22, 1786, in the following advertise-
ment, which we find in the "New York
Packet" of that date:

"Jacob Astor, No. 81 Queen street. Two doors
from the Friend's Meeting-House, Has just im-
ported from London An elegant assortment of Musi-
cal instruments, such as piano-Fortes, spinnets,
piano-forte Guittars, guittars; the best of violins,
German Flutes, clarinets, hautboys, fifes \ the best
Roman violin strings and all other kind of strings ;
music-books and papery and eveij other article in
the musical line, which he will dispose of on very
low terms for cash."

We very much doubt if Mr. Dodd, at (i(i
Queen street, or Mr. Joseph Wilks, at 235
Queen street, read that advertisement with
pleasure. They could no longer have things
entirely their own way in the musical
line. Astor had probably begun opera-
tions at 81 Queen street on the ist of May,

This advertisement, in which he styles
himself simply Jacob Astor — the John is
assumed later — appears fix>ra time to time
in the paper till toward the end of 1787;
He was married (probably in 1786) to Sarah
Todd, the daughter of his landlady, Mrs.
Todd. His first child, Magdalen Astor,
was bom in 1788, probably at 81 Queen

The house known as 362 Pearl street now
stands on the site of the house where John
Jacob Astor first started in business, and
where he passed the first years of his married
life. The old house and the lot, 171 feet
deep, were purchased by Adam Todd, mar-

iner, m 1763, and the deed is recorded in
Lib. 510, pages 208-11, Register's office,
New York city. When Pearl street was
widened on this side, a portion of the froot
of this lot was taken away.

John Jacob Astor's first purchase of real
estate in the city of New Yoik was made
five years after his arrival. The following
is an extract fi-om the deed on recrcnd at
the Register's office :

James Bolmer,



Jacob Astor,

Furr Merchant

Deed dated An^. 14,


Recorded Aug. 17,


Lib. 502 of Coot's, page 45.

Consideration, two hundred and fifty pounds
current money of the State of New Yoit;
conveys two lots of ground on the Bowery
Lane or road near Elizabeth street. On die
occasion of this his first real estate purchase,
Jacob Astor (John does not appear tOl the
next deed) was accompanied by his brother
Henry, in whose presence the deed was
signed, sealed, and delivered.

As an extra precaution, we find at the
end of, and accompanying, the deel, a
receipt for the whole purdiase-money, signed
by Bolmer and witnessed by Heniy Astor.
It was a cash purchase.

The second real estate purchase of John
Jacob Astor was as follows :

James Wells '
and others.


John Jacob


Deed dated May 18^ 1790;
Recorded Norr. «o^ i79Ck
Liber 46 oT Colai^i,
page 318.

Consideration, eight hundred and fifty pomds
lawful money of New Yoiic; conveys tiie >
messuage or dwelling-house and lot, ^0x85^
fix)nting on Litde Dock street This was
the house 40 Litde Dock stre e t (now
part of Water street), where we feoA Mr.
Astor established as a "Furr Thider* in
1789. The fur trade had already over-
shadowed the musical instrument part of his
business. For this trade he had qualified
himself by severe and constant labor.
When Utica first began its career, John
Jacob Astor and Peter Smith (the &tfaer of
Gerritt Smith) traveled firom Schenectady
to Utica with their packs on their backs,
purchasing fiirs at the Indian setdemcnts 00
the route, the Indians assisting them in car-
rying the peltries to Utica. At the dose of
the Revolutionary War, Oswe^, Detroit,
and other posts being in possession of a for-
eign power, a serious embarrassment was
thrown in the way of the fiir trade. P^ttr

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Smith retired, purchased land, and died at
Schenectady very rich. Astor persevered,
widening and extending his operations.
In 1794-5 these posts were surrendered by
a treaty, and Astor, after the lapse of six
years, had amassed something like $250,000.
He was now a richer man than his brother
Henry, who, in the beginning, used to indorse
for him at bank. But Henry, too, had pros-
pered and flourished. He had become a
great buyer of cattle, and, through his skillful
combinations and bold operations, for a time
and to a certain degree controlled the New
York market. He was probably among the
first to get up in this city what we would
now call a " comer in cattle." Less enter-
prising butchers felt themselves injured and
sought relief at the hands of the Common
Council. In 1801 a petition was presented
to the Board signed by many of the princi-
pal butchers in several of the markets, against
a butcher who neglected his business in the
market to forestall cattle. It says "that
*Henry Astor and certain others, who are
licensed butchers, leaving the care of their
stalls and the selHng of their meats to jour-
neymen who are not licensed butchers, are
in thepconstant practice of forestalling the
mark^, by riding into the country to meet
the droves of cattle coming to the New
York markets, and purchasing cattle for
other stalls besides his own," etc., etc., etc.,
etc. What action the Board took to protect
these butchers who could not protect them-
selves, we are unable to say. Henry Astor
then d^upied stall No. 57 at the Fly Market
A stall^ this market was at that time of
considerable value. Henry Astor's name
first appears on the records as a buyer of
, ,' real estate in 1803, to wit :

Godfrey Coon

& wife.


Henry Astor,


Deed dated May 16^ 1803 ;

Recorded May 19, 1819.

Liber 137 of Conveyances,

page 52, N. Y. Register's


Conveys a dwelling-house and two lots of
land fiinting on the Bowery Lane and Eliza-
beth street, near the lots bought by John
Jacob in 1789. Henry subsequendy bought
considerable property on the east side of the
town, which increased gready in value, and
at the time of his death, about 1831, was
estimated to be worth half a million of dol-
lars. He died without issue, leaving his
estate to his nephew, the late William B.

In the year 1809, John Jacob* Astor
founded the American Fur Company, the

Online LibraryFrancis HallThe Century, Volume 11 → online text (page 156 of 163)