Merchant's Recollections of Old New York Business Men Part II

Stephen Whitney

Stephen Whitney, who was also well known, died several years ago at the advanced age of about 84. He made a large fortune at the beginning of his business career in shipping cotton to England from Amelia Island (at that time belonging to Spain). He subsequently invested largely in real estate in New York which increased in value. He also was engaged in the China trade several years before he died.

Jacob Barker

Jacob Barker, doing business the latter part of the last century, was a shipping merchant owning several vessels, some engaged in the whaling business. At the close of the war with England he established two banks, one in Wall street and the other at Sandy Hill, in New York State. His banks were called the Exchanges, and the notes issued were paid in current ones, payable at the City of New York. Both of them failed. Persons who held the notes would call upon the officers frequently for money, and complaint would be made about their doing it so often, and, as the weather was warm, "they must be afraid they would spoil," would be the remark of the bank officers. Mr. Barker died in Philadelphia, over 90 years of age. He belonged to the Society of Friends.

Nathaniel L. and George Griswold

Nathaniel L. and George Griswold, who came to New York from Connecticut at the beginning of the present century, are believed to be the oldest firm in New York, having never changed. They were very precise in business matters, especially in small things, were engaged in the East India and China trade, and occupied a store in South street for nearly thirty years. Tjhey afterward built a stonestore, corner of South and DePeyster streets, which is now occupied by the firm. Both the original partners are dead. The junior partner had a peculiar signature, which was hard to decipher by stangers. In a letter to Washington, to the Secretary of the treasury, asking information, the signature was so difficult to be made out that a facimile had to be sent to New York; when it was once recognized, all the information was given that was required. The junior partner before his decease held prominent offices, and died at Staten island at over 80 years of age, respected by all who knew him.

Fish & Grinnell

Fish & Grinnell, was a firm established previous to the last war with England, Preserved Fish (as he was called) was said to have been picked up in an open boat at sea; hence the name. He was remarkable for his high position in business and very reliable. He was for many years president of the Tradesman's Bank, of New York. When taken ill, sending for a physician, who told him he could not recover, he then sent for another, who repeated the words of the first. Not contented he sent for the third, who told him the same as the other physicians. Then he said, "I will make my will." He died thirty years ago.

Holford, Bracken & Co.

Holford, Bracken & Co. came to New York from England about fifty years ago. They were bankers and commission merchants. When they first came here they opened an account with the Merchants' Bank, and deposited there half a million of dollars. They were in the habit of making large advances on merchandise consigned to their house in England, and in one instance advanced a large amount on cotton and took storage receipts for it. The borrower had borrowed the receipts to get a bill of lading signed and went to another firm to get an advance on it. He afterward left the city, returning to England, and there was arrested. Another advance was made by them to a man in Georgia on cotton which was never shipped. Mr. Holford went to Georgia and demanded the advance, which was refused, and Mr. Holford came near being arrested himself.

Benjamin De Forest & Co.

Benjamin De Forest & Co. established themselves in business about sixty-eight years ago at the corner of South street and Peck slip. They afterward built a large store on the same street, near James' slip. They were large importers of West India goods, for which they always asked more than they consented at last to take, finally accepting ten or twenty per cent, below what they had first asked. They owned a large property at St. Croix, valued at three quarters of a million dollars, beside owning several vessels plying between New York and that port. Both parties died upward of fifty years ago, the senior partner leaving a fortune of over a million dollars. He was succeeded by Philander Hanford who died only a year ago.

David Dunham

David Dunham was an auctioneer. He owned several vessels, among them the steamship Robert Fulton, of 700 tons, which started for New Orleans in 1822 or 1823. Off the Hole in the Wall she broke her shaft, and, instead of going to New Orleans under sail, returned to New York. The captain was told that he had better take his wardrobe ashore that night as he would be discharged the next morning. Mr. Dunham also owned the brig Sailor, in the English trade, which was ordered to sail from New York with a fair wind in the morning. The order not being obeyed, the captain was discharged and another captain put in his place. He tried to get redress but could not, and the saying was often repeated by business men: "We will be as quick as David Dunham." Mr. Dunham lost his life on a North River boat.

David Leavitt

David Leavitt, who died three years ago at 90 years of age, was long a resident of Brooklyn. He held several prominent offices in New York. He was remarkable for sharpness in business, although his word was equal to his bond. He was at one time treasurer of the State of Illinois, and indorsed their bonds at another president of the American Exchange Bank and the Union White Lead Company. At the bank he was once waited upon by a gentleman who wanted $25,000 worth of notes discounted. When told the bank had no money to spare the applicant said he must have it, as money was scarce. Mr. Leavitt said all the business he had at present was to sell a horse, which he would warrant in every respect, saying the lowest price was $500. The applicant said he would give him the price and pay him at once, "And now," said he. "discount these notes," which was done immediately. Mr. Leavitt bought from my father, in 1833, thirty-two lots on Columbia heights, for $30,000, selling them a year afterward for $105,000. Mr. Leavitt made other successful bargains in the same way with which no doubt many people of the present day are familiar.

Thomas H. Smith & Son

Thomas H. Smith & Son established themselves in business near Burling Slip, in a small store in an alley. Among their early purchases were five hogsheads of Jamaica rum. They were successful with it, and afterwards entered into the tea business largely, owning three ships at one time and their cargoes. The vessels were named Huntress, London Trader and Ontario. Mr. Smith was very liberal in all his business transactions, and a philanthropist for that day. Among his donations was a large bell for St. George's Church in Beekman street, New York. He was very kind to his relatives, establishing a nephew in business in Canton. Asking a tea merchant what was the best investment he could make, he was told: "Buy all the Hyson akin tea." He took his friend's advice and made a large advance on it, and calling on the friend who gave him the advice to invest in tea made him a present of several thousand dollars. He owned a large wharf property in Brooklyn, near the Catharine Ferry, being advised thereto, and paid liberally to the one who had told him to buy it. In New York he wished to get a wharf berth for his ships to land his teas. A number of vessels with wood refused to move until they had sold their cargoes. He bought them and thus had a berth for his ships to land the cargoes. He died fifty years ago.

Laurie Saller

Laurie Saller, who came here from France, in the early part of 1800, was an importing merchant. He was noted for his great appetite and boarded at one time at the Tontine Coffee House. The landlord told him he must charge him double price, which Mr. Saller consented to. Upon one occasion he visited an eating house, Old Fly Market, and upon a turkey being placed before him consumed it all. It was not noticed until after he had left, having only paid a quarter for his dinner. He was sent for and told that the turkey cost $1.25 and willingly paid for it. He was a slim man and weighed 150 pounds, and was 5 feet 10 inches high.

Minturn & Chapman

Minturn & Chapman were extensively engaged in teas before the war with England, in South street, near Dover. They were liberal in all their transactions in business, and having made a large fortune in the China trade retired from business in a few years.

Archibald Gracie

Archibald Gracie, whose business was that of shipping, was known for his promptness in dealing, especially in the payment of small bills. Just previous to his death he was president of the Atlantic Marine Insurance Company.

Hickson W. Field

Hickson W. Field carried on the commission business, in Burling slip. His rule was never to advance on property in hand. He was principally engaged in wholesale drugs. He died in Europe nearly ten years ago, leaving a large fortune, and lamented by those who knew him.


Website: The History
Article Name: Merchant's Recollections of Old New York Business Men Part II
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


Brooklyn Daily Eagle June 14, 1884
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