exiled loyalist Samuel Curwen tersely wrote the following about his
hometown at the end of the Revolution: 'Those who five years ago were
the meaner people, are now, by a strange revolution become almost the
only men of power, riches and influence. The Cabots of Beverly, who,
you know, had but five years ago a very moderate share of property,
are now said to be by far the most wealthy in New England; Haskett Derby
claims the second place in that list.'
two great merchants, John Cabot and Elias Haskett Derby, pulled Salem
out of its brief postwar depression and launched Salem's 'Golden Age.'
In 1783, Cabot was already testing new European markets. In that year,
his ship Buccannier touched at several Baltic ports and finally reached
the Russian port of St. Petersburg. His was the first American vessel
to trade there. Following almost immediately in his wake, Elias Haskett
Derby sent his ship Light Horse in 1784 and reached St. Petersburg in
August with a cargo of sugar. These voyages marked the beginning of
the lucrative Russian trade whereby American and West Indian produce
was exchanged for iron, furs, and hemp sailcloth known as 'Russian duck.'
1787 Derby had decided to establish a base for his Far Eastern operations
at Isle de France (modern-day Mauritius[island in the Indian Ocean off
Madagascar]). To that end he sent his son, Elias H. Derby, Jr., then
about twenty years of age, in command of the Grand Turk. Derby intended
to settle his son at Isle de France to serve as company agent. As was
his custom, E.H. Derby, Sr., gave his son instructions to sell the ship
if it was financially advantageous--an opportunity that arose when a
French merchant offered $13,000 for the Grand Turk. Since this was nearly
twice the amount of the vessel's assessed value, the famous Salem merchantman
was sold into French service.
in Salem, Derby's fleet continued to grow, and he continued to send
vessels to his new base of operations at Isle de France. Each voyage
earned the House of Derby amazing profits. In the meantime, E.H.Derby,
Jr., began to purchase vessels as well and initiated a brisk and profitable
freighting business with nearby India. He began in 1788 by trading for
cotton goods with the port of Bombay. His vessels, the Peggy and the
Sultana, were the first American ships to visit that port. Soon E.H.
Derby, Jr., controlled American trade with the ports of Bombay, Madras,
activity in the Far East at this time was tremendous. For example, in
February 1789, E.H. Derby, Sr., sent his ship Astrea to the Dutch colony
of Batavia in the East Indies. She arrived at Java Head on July 13,
1789, to discover the Derby ship Three Sisters already there. Batavia
was an excellent source at this time for tin, sugar, spices, bird's
nests (made into bird's nest soup--a delicacy in China), sandalwood,
beeswax, coffee, and, most valuable of all, pepper. Soon, the Astrea
and the Three Sisters reached the port of Canton and were still loading
cargo when two more Derby vessels, the Atlantic and the Light Horse,
also arrived. They had been sent from Isle de France by E. H. Derby,
Astrea arrived in Salem on June 1, 1790, and the Light Horse on June
15. The night of her arrival witnessed a fierce storm, causing her to
drag her anchor and come within yards of the rocks of Marblehead Harbor.
Fortunately for Derby, both vessels landed safely at Derby Wharf and
off-loaded the largest cargo of tea up to that time.
Maritime History of Salem" by K. David Goss, pp. 26-29 in Salem
Cornerstones of a Historic City)