This letter was written by Henry Escher, a native of Zurich, Switzerland, who came to the United States in the 1790s and submitted naturalization papers ‡ in September 1803. He resided in Philadelphia and appears to have been a merchant but little else is known of him. When Escher wrote this letter in November 1812, he had just returned to the United States from England, arriving on board the merchant ship Mandarin. He found the passage vexing due to their vessel being stopped twice by the American navy and searched. The War of 1812 was officially declared only a few months earlier.
The only other notice I can find for Escher is a reference to him in an 1813 letter by Andre Daschkoff addressed to President James Monroe wherein a passport is requested for Eicher to carry dispatches to Russia where we know Eicher’s brother was residing. An offer is made to Monroe for Escher to carry official U.S. dispatches on the same voyage.
The letter was addressed to Sampson Vryling Stoddard Wilder (1780-1865) of Boston. The following biography for Wilder appears on the Amherst College website:
S.V.S. Wilder was born in Massachusetts and began working at the age of 14. His father, a man of renowned energy and honesty, died when Wilder was a boy, and the son was apprenticed to a family friend who helped him find his way. While working in Boston as a young man, Wilder was the first person in the United States to be vaccinated (he was the only one willing to undergo the procedure). A man with a reputation for incredible industry and strong religious beliefs, he spent his middle years in Paris as a silk merchant. He returned to America a success and built a large home in his hometown of Boston. Wilder then dedicated himself to charitable causes, including the building of churches and colleges, Amherst among them.
Mr. Wilder served as a trustee from 1824 until 1841, when he resigned because he could no longer support the College financially at the level he wanted. He was a man who believed in devoting himself to a cause to his fullest. In his service as a trustee, he managed the Charity Fund. When an auditor from the state arrived in Amherst in 1824 to assess the viability of the College, Wilder wrote check after check to guarantee that open pledges to the Charity Fund would be fulfilled. The auditor, furious and frustrated, said he had not come to raise money for Amherst. Wilder’s willingness to ensure that the College was solvent saved the day and Amherst’s existence.
In a letter to one of his sisters written in 1801, he said, “Remember that as nothing in this life is to be secured without labor, so the weight and invaluable treasures of erudition are only to be acquired by exertions vigorously made and unremittingly continued.” Toward the end of his life, Mr. Wilder wrote 67 maxims addressed to his grandsons about how to live an honorable life. His principles helped to shape the College’s earliest years.
Addressed to Mr. S. V. S. Wilder, Boston
3d November 1812
I have arrived here a day or two since after a voyage ¹ rather disagreeable having been captured twice.² The enclosed are letters and papers for you from Messrs. Hottinguer & Co.† I understand from Mrs. Higginson who is residing here that the affairs of Messrs. Henry & Stephen, Jr. will turn out better than was expected. Would to God that there was a handsome surplus for these excellent tho’ unfortunate people!
Mr. Hottinguer’s confidence in you, my dear Sir, is unbounded & unshaken as much so as ever, I assure you, & I feel quite confident that you are more anxious to make him remittances than he is to receive them. I trust, therefore, that you will not attribute my wish expressed herewith to know the state of this affair to any improper motive. Have the goodness to inform me what you have remitted & what has been generally done in this Business by you & what you intend doing is in fact what you wish me to write to him in this subject by the numerous vessels which are destined for France.
I have nothing new from Russia. My brother has been quite unfortunate there in his Business & I shall be a considerable loser by him without my being able to make him any just reproaches for the incredible rises & falls of the Russian Paper money which no human foresight can calculate are the causes of it.
Mr. Hottinguer inputed you out in Europe again to establish generally for the purchase of goods for the American market & would willingly have taken an interest as well as myself in anything of the kind headed by you. It is worth your while to think of it & if you do so seriously & will communicate to me your ideas, I will give you mine very candidly & freely. I repeat to you that Mr. Hottinguer has an unbounded friendship & confidence for you — I have been sometimes almost jealous of it, I assure you.
P.S. I hope that Mr. Codman, the Clergyman, ³ will now refund me the money I advanced the deaf & dumb young Proctor at his solicitation & others.
My direction is Henry Esher, No. 5 South Fourth Street, Philadelphia
¹ Escher sailed from London, England to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on board the merchant ship Mandarin commanded by Capt. Baker. She departed England on 3 September 1812 and arrived in Philadelphia on 29 October 1812. Upon arrival, Escher declared one trunk with “wearing apparel. Bed & Bedding, two bags, one basket wearing apparel & old books, three boxes, Servant & two boxes, & one portmanteau.”
² The Mandarin was captured on 11 October 1812 by the U.S. Naval ship United States commanded by Stephen Decatur. It was captured again on 25 October 1812.
³ This is probably Rev. John Codman (1782-1847), founder of the Massachusetts Bible Society.
† Probably a reference to Jean-Conrad Hottinger [Hottinguer]. He left Paris in 1794 to pursue business opportunities in the United States. When he came back to Paris in 1798, he founded “Hottinger & Co. and soon thereafter opened branches at Le Havre  and other French ports. He became a financial advisor of the French diplomat Talleyrand and is known as one of the first regents of the Banque de France.
‡ Henry Escher’s petition for Naturalization:
To the Honorable Richard Peters, Esqr., Judge of the District Court of the United States in and for the Third Circuit.
The petition of Henry Escher, a native of Zurich in Switzerland but now an inhabitant of Pennsylvania respectfully ____:
That your petitioner was residing within the limits and under the jurisdiction of the United States between the 29th day of January, 1795 and the 18th day of June 1798 and has resided within the United States upwards of seven years last past and within the state of Pennsylvania for one year last past. That he wishes to become a citizen of the United States and never has borne any hereditary title nor been of any of the orders of nobility in the kingdom from whence he came or elsewhere. He therefore humbly prays that on his making the proofs and taking the oaths prescribed he may be admitted to become a citizen of the United States of America.
And he will every pray, — Henry Escher