• American Legation, NY Port Collector, Ambassador And Cronyism In The Early Republic -- Smith, Gelston, Rush, Delafield

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    Offering a letter and shipping document from the American Legation in London to the New York Port Collector regarding the delivery of a trunk of books for the Secretary of the Treasury.  This two-piece grouping involves several early Americans, some with detailed and complicated backgrounds.


    The one-page, 8 x 10 1/2, letter, signed by J. ADAMS SMITH to DAVID GELSTON, dated London, 24 Sept. 1819, offers a trunk of books carried on the Ship Criterion, as noted in the letter and on the accompanying ship’s document. The letter reads in part, “By the Criterion, Capt. Avery for New York has been sent from the American Legation a Trunk of Books For the Treasury department which it is very desirable should be received at Washington at the earliest moment practicable.  Mr. Rush our minister requests me to recommend this trunk for your particular care and to beg the favor of you upon its arrival to have it forwarded with the least delay to Washington...J. Adams Smith”


    The document, 4 3/4 x 10, also notes in the lower left corner of the verso that the shipment was assessed a six-cent port-of-arrival fee.  The document has two docketed notes.  One, likely by Gelston reads, “J Adams Smith/24 1819/trunk books” and a second in a different hand, “Secretary/28 Feb 1820 forwarded by Your Obedt Sevt/John Delafied.”  The shipping document dated “24 Sept 1820” is addressed to “The Secretary of the Treasury.” 


    The ship’s document notes that “Shipped in good order and well-conditioned by John Delafield...now laying in the London docks and bound for New York.”  Also noted on the left, “The Secretary of Treasury United States of America Washington”


    J. ADAMS SMITH, the son of New York Representative WILLIAM S. SMITH, son-in-law of former President John Adams. J. ADAMS SMITH was appointed Secretary of the American Legation in London by President Madison at the request of and as a favor to his father.  William S. Smith once helped a Venezuelan friend start a revolution against Spain, threatening peace between America and Spain.


    DAVID GELSTON, a New York politician and merchant, was appointed Collector of the Port of New York by President Jefferson in 1801. He served for twenty years. The collector position has been described as the “prize plum of Federal Patronage” in the June 14, 1922 edition of the New York Times. Kickbacks from this position were regularly paid to the political party of the appointer. 


    AMBASSADOR RICHARD RUSH was the son of founding father Benjamin Rush and a friend of future President John Quincy Adams, John Adams’ son. Richard Rush was appointed by his friend President James Madison to be Attorney General in 1814 and later to the London position when its former occupant, John Quincy Adams, returned to become Madison’s Secretary of State. In 1825, Rush returned to the United States where then President John Quincy Adams appointed him to be Secretary of the Treasury.


    JOHN DELAFIELD was a somewhat shady New York import merchant and even more questionable banker and financial speculator who once petitioned friends in Congress to provide payment for some questionable Revolutionary War loan certificates he purported to own. Although two proposed payment bills were introduced in the House, both were defeated.


    The letter has a couple of fold tears reinforced with archival tape – as well as a seal tear.  The ship’s document has folds but is generally in excellent condition. A fine grouping of early Americana involving some controversial figures in history.


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