This letter was written by Charles Mosely Wolcott (1816-1889) to his brother, Henry Griswold Wolcott (1820-1852) who were business partners. They were the sons of Frederick Wolcott (1767-1837) and Sarah Worthington Goodrich (1785-1842), and the grandsons of Connecticut Governor Oliver Wolcott (1726-1797).
A biography for Charles M. Wolcott states that “in early life he engaged in the commission business with offices in Philadelphia and New York. He married in 1849, Catharine Amanda Rankin (1817-1889), daughter of Henry Rankin, a prominent merchant of New York… Soon after the marriage, Mr. Wolcott settled at Fishkill-on-Hudson upon the estate known as “Roseneath” where his wife had previously resided. From that time his attention was chiefly occupied with the management of his extensive realty holdings and commercial interests in the town of Fishkill. He became stockholder and member of the board of directors of the First National Bank of Fishkill Landing, and was also a large stockholder and trustee in the firm of the New York Rubber Company.
Henry G. Wolcott died in May 1852, a little over six months after this letter was written. He was unmarried.
The content of the letters seems to center around the claims of inferior quality of a batch of green tea purchased by the Wolcott’s and their attempts to sell it in the United States. The term “hyson skins” is mentioned frequently. Like the black team the different classes of green tea are formed by selecting the better from the inferior leaves after they have been dried. Using a winnowing machine, the light leaves are separated from the heavier leaves forming “hyson skins.” Canton was a major supplier of green tea in the mid 19th century.
Addressed to Henry G. Wolcott, Esq., Mess. M. Hetherington & Co., Gt. Winchester Street, London, England
New York [City, New York]
October 21st 1851
Yours from Boon of September 22nd & from —- just as you were leaving Switzerland are both at hand. I sent the Shang Hai House £500 by steamer Baltic 11th inst., anticipating the collection of the Fanny freight hoping that it will reach Hetherington & Co. in time for them to send proceeds & forward in E.I. Co. paper by mail of 21st inst. from London. The Fanny is here — ______ — [The] Samuel Russell arrived yesterday. Also the Channing. Plenty of sales at auction prices of 7 Hysons a little lower — by Gt. Britain which ought to be here soon. We have for our joint account with brothers a large lot of 7 Hyson. I trust she will soon come to hand.
I today learn that a small clipper is to sail this week from Boston for Canton House (our account) for Shang Hai account 200 bales drill by her. I think there is no reasonable doubt of this going all as you wish, by the Carrington we received 500½ chest of Hyson skin on account as your house write of friends in China costing 10.5 also over 150 more same sort per Fanny account Eldridge & Wastray. G. B. Morewood & Co. received some 200 in same on joint account with W.B. & Co. Haggerty D & Jones received proceeds of £3000 credit in same. We all hoped a good profit but the tea proves not to be liked. Many call it trash. Morewood & self had a sale & we put in three teas. Morewood limited them at 15¢, I mine at 14. One line was sold at 11½. The rest were withdrawn. Haggerty knew nothing of all this but after getting his samples sent for me, showed me his order to your house which was of particular. He ordered sound Hyson Skin of inferior or ordinary quality at 11 ___ or under …. write that they send them. Trust all right &c. but Haggerty says the party who ordered them to import their teas reject them on the ground that they are not Hyson Skin Tea but a spurious article — a mixture of Canton Bohea & a leaf unknown [and] not a tea at all. They state their intention to call a committee to report on them (& no doubt will find those who will say they are what they or their employer calls them) & then they intend to sell them to meet the exchange drawn on them & do all on your account. They express great regret &c, &c. I tell them & you that the whole thing hinges on the question of whether the teas are Hyson Skins of Sound Inferior quality. If not, they have a claim.
I tell them that I think the question is whether these teas will be so considered in China, not here, for you a China House buy what in trade parlance is the article ordered f you have done so well. If not, the claim will be good. Now write Wilson to get the Consul’s Certificate to prove that what these parties say is true & that they are known & let this report show that these teas are Sound Inferior Hyron Skins. If this cannot be done, you are in for a heavy loss. K is a bad business between ourselves. The teas are trash. Some say they would not have them at 5 cts. per pound. I am amazed that Wilson could have sent them. ‘Tis a bad go. ___ reported at our sale that these teas had been offered their house but they did not think it wise & did not dare to send them.
Our money market is not so tight and a better feeling exists. Silks piling up cannot sell a rag, neither shawls, dress silks, or Pongus [?] expect to do a little next month. More the following. In the meantime my capital is being locked up in cash advances, duties taking up exchange, &c. We shall manage, however, & be right sight up when you arrive. If you left on or rather do_____ at the time you expected the 29th per Baltic, you will not get this & as I hope such will be ___ care. I shall write no more now. Only say that we are all well. I had a touch of my old trouble last night but am right today. I move to town next week.
Browers & Beckman are hard up. I don’t believe they can keep their agreement. If not, then I shall have £4000 in silks to pay dutiesor take up exchange & sell on their account. I don’t think they will fail yet & hope to get security from then for a margin. Perhaps they will keep their agreement.
Ever your brother, — C. M. Wolcott