1850: Dudley Selden to Samuel Selden

Dudley Selden's Gravestone

Dudley Selden’s Gravestone

This letter was written by Dudley Selden (1794-1855), the son of Joseph Dudley Selden (1764-1837) and Ethlinda Colt (1771-1864). Dudley graduated from Union College, Schenectady, N.Y., in 1819; studied law; was admitted to the bar and commenced the practice of his profession in New York City in 1831. He was a member of the State assembly in 1831; elected as a Jacksonian to the Twenty-third U.S. Congress and served from March 4, 1833, to July 1, 1834, when he resigned that seat over differences with the administration regarding a National Bank. In 1836, Selden loaned money to his cousin Samuel Colt and became the treasurer of Samuel’s firearms manufacturing company but later resigned and began his own import business. Selden became a strong supporter of the Whig Party in the 1840s, publicly denounced (1842) President John Tyler as an “unprincipled traitor” for vetoing the National Bank Bill following President Harrison’s death in office, and was the unsuccessful Whig Candidate for Mayor of New York City in 1845, losing to the powerful Tammany Hall political machine. He supported the Cass & Butler ticket in 1848 over the more popular favorite, General Zachary Taylor, and in 1842, he unsuccessfully defended his cousin, John Caldwell Colt (1810-1842), who was tried and convicted of the murder of a printer named Samuel Adams.

Dudley married the daughter of a wealthy Cuban planter and came into possession of a large estate there. He later removed to Paris, France, where he suffered a stroke in March 1852 and subsequently died on 7 November 1855.

Egz6egmXBcbF5ZCHeo9D!jV!1ZwHJi6dKx3dbR2EjvGBLkzVtH9Bj9ROPSUd6ws5The dateline on this letter says it was written in Bath. I suspect this was Bath, England, rather than Bath, New York, as Dudley was known to have been in London on the 4th of July 1850.

Dudley wrote the letter to his cousin’s son, Samuel Selden (1821-1881), — a manufacturer in Erie, Pennsylvania, the son of George and Elizabeth (Card) Selden. Samuel was married to Mary Caroline Perkins, daughter of Dr. Chauncey Fitch and Lydia (Lord) Perkins.

Aside from business matters, Selden devotes a considerable portion of his letter to the failed Lopez Expedition aimed at liberating Cuba from Spanish rule. A significant number of Americans, chiefly from the pro-slavery Southern States, participated in the expedition with the hope that Cuba could be made a slave-holding American colony. Some 600 filibusters successfully reached Cuba in May 1850 and briefly occupied the town of Cardenas but the local populace failed to support Narcisco Lopez and he vacated the island.

Stampless Letter

Stampless Letter

Addressed to Samuel Selden, Esq., Care of Messers. George Selden & Son, Erie, Pennsylvania

Bath [England]
18th July 1850

Dearest Samuel,

I have a short letter from under date of April the 19th from Cardenas — none of April 22d. Also a letter of May 13th and this day yours of May 31st enclosed by Moses Taylor and Co. in a letter of 2nd of July. Therein they inform me that you had  arrived in the B. H. Knight. I shall therefore wait with anxiety for another letter from you to learn the state of the health of the people on the St. Augustina. I am quite sure if there had been any serious epidemic between the 31st of May and the period of your departure, you would have written me on your arrival in New York.

Moses Taylor & Co. ¹ refer to the following drafts drawn by William F. Safford & Co. ² upon them by your instructions for account of the estate, viz: $2.500.3000 $2.500.1250 = $9.250. When we add to the above sum the proceeds of the molasses, the expenses of the estate for the current year must be carried up pretty high. I shall be glad, therefore, to receive the accounts of the estate at as early a day as they can be furnished. The enlargement of the crop must necessarily create a very considerable enlargement of expenses but with the proceeds of the molasses, the amount to be placed to my credit with Safford & Co. ought to be more than $14,000. As a general rule, and I think unless under very peculiar circumstances such as your inability to make the draft, you should yourself draw in their favor in all cases or should at least instruct Moses Taylor & Co. either by letter, or on account stated, to pay that sums as are requested by you. The reason that I am thus particular is that Taylor & Co, may not know with certainty what drafts ought to be accepted and altho’ I have entire confidence in Mr Safford, yet the operations of merchants are oftentimes very extensive and they may under circumstances draw without having reference to the exact state of the accounts.

I had written you since my letter of the 1st of April two if not three letters. They relate principally to the purchase of a new engine and therein I gave you authority to make arrangements for one if you thought it absolutely necessary, instructing you as to the terms of credit upon which I desired the arrangement to be made. My hesitation as to giving you authority upon this subject did not arise from any less confidence in your skill than my own on the matter of choosing an engine, but I have a strong desire to get from Cuba, rather than increase on the estate, my investments. This is peculiarly the case under the existing political circumstances. We do not yet know what is to be the course of the Spanish government in relation to American proprietors. The late expedition of Lopez is calculated to create much irritation and altho’ I am quite sure that the difficulties have not arisen from the acts of the Americans or other foreigners in the island, but from the struggles of Spanish subjects — natives of the island to secure to themselves political power, or at least a full participation in carrying on the government of the island. As the expedition was fitted out from the United States, the citizens thereof are much exposed to unjust suspicion and the curse of a portion of the American press, and some few reckless adventurers may give the proprietors who are desirous of securing a safe government under the management of the Court of Madrid much difficulty. I am entirely satisfied with Mr. Honachuk and, unless you see strong reasons to the contrary, wish to secure his services for another year at least in addition to the current one.

In relation to an engineer for the next year, you will take such course as you think best. In case you determine to purchase a new engine, I wish you to have particular regard to the letters which I have heretofore written you on the subject — if received. I believe that an engine could be procured in England, sent out with an engineer to put it up, and to work it, and at much less rate than you could contract for in the United States. Still you must exercise your own judgement and I shall be satisfied. I am glad to hear the coming [sugar] crop looks promising.

I hope this will reach you in the city of New York. We are quite well and desire our best regards. Send your letters to me to Moses Taylor & Co. to forward. Yours truly, — Dudley Selden

¹ Moses Taylor (1806-1882) was a merchant and banker and one of the wealthiest men of the 19th century. His estate was estimated to be worth $70 million at the time of his death. He controlled the National City Bank of New York, the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad, and the Moses Taylor & Co. import business.

² William F. Safford and Company was one of several U. S. Merchant Houses operating in Cuba between 1850 and 1895. They did business out of the port at Cardenas as did Dudley Selden & Co. Supplying credit and vital imports to the island, these businesses purchased sugar from Cuba for the American market.


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