Bethune, Divie (1771? – 1824)
Autograph Letter Signed, Princeton, New Jersey, September 23, 1823, to D. Bethune & Co., New York

Quarto, two pages of a bi-folium, formerly folded, postal markings on address leaf, in very good, clean and legible condition.

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Bethune returns a copy of a letter to Mr. Eubank, writing:

           “… I do not like disguise – and have stated freely what seems to be the cool decision of us all –a declining of the Rice business, not knowing all the parties in so extensive a concern. It is much easier and less likely to offend to decline at the opening, than after we had engaged in it. Our total ignorance of Mr. Lucas as to his disposition, business talents, or actual property will be to any reasonable mind a good reason for not embarking so deeply in what may justly be deemed his schemes, without involving in it any distrust in Mr. Eubank.

              You know that my confidence in Mr. Eubank in stocks … &c for the last two years was firmer than yours – but I knew his integrity & circumspection in his own business.

              His control over Mr. Lucas’ extended operations we cannot feel a confidence in as we know not the facts to judge from with any degree of certainty. What we do hear of it would rather lead us to think the undertaking chimerical.      

              I think we must be guarded with T. Salter & Co. with such varying views of remittances as they take. I suspect the advance was their chief temptation here. These large operators are mysterious financiers. …”

                 After coming to America from his native Scotland as an impoverished immigrant, Divie Bethune, a deeply religious man, quickly became a prosperous New York merchant, using his wealth to make generous philanthropic donations to the urban poor, single-handedly bankrolling the first Orphan Asylum in New York City, and, at the urging of his wife and mother-in-law, the first American Sunday Schools. When Bethune wrote this letter, a year before his death, he was one of the largest American importers of coffee. He also dealt extensively in Virginia tobacco and flour, as well as cotton bagging from New Orleans. Bethune lived in Princeton, far from his New York office, because he had seriously considered abandoning commerce for missionary training at the Princeton Theological Seminary.

This business letter shows his instinctively cautious approach to business dealings, although, in this case it was not particularly far-sighted. The “chimerical undertaking” Bethune declined to support likely refers to the 1823 proposal by Jonathan Lucas of South Carolina, whose father invented and patented the first machinery for hulling rice, to build British Government-subsidized rice mills in England and Egypt – a successful venture that would give Lucas a virtual monopoly on the world’s rice business.