Volume Four Number Six
Wheat: Currency as Good as Gold
Pacific NW 1840s
Pioneer McCarver Charges Monopoly Against HBC
--Claims Company Makes Huge Profits at Expense of Farmers--
July 23, 1846 -- We have just had four ship arrivals, but I am not certain that this will much relieve our former condition; two of them belong to the Hudson's Bay (HBC) company, one only of which has goods on her, and the remaining two are under the control of Mr. Stark, supercargo, and agent of the house at this place, which is connected with that of Benson & Brothers, New York.
The vessels of the HBC are confined to the business of that company, and the other two are American vessels, and confine themselves to the trade of the house just mentioned, refusing freight unless at 50 percent on the former prices, and passage at 100 percent. Thus our monopoly works which seems to drive assistance from one of the papers at the Sandwich Islands. The avenues of trade are closed to all but those connected with these companies. They fix the price of the merchandise and that of our surplus produce, to suit an insatiable thirst for gain, whilst our indigent families and unoffending women and children must pay the penalty.
I will give an example: Last fall, after the large emigrating party had arrived, it was ascertained that salt would be scarce; it immediately raised from 62 1/2 cts. per bushel, (the price we had formerly paid for it at Vancouver) to that of $2 cash, and was sold through the winter, at the store of John McLaughlin, at this price, whilst this sum, in cash, was not sufficient to satisfy the cupidity of Mr. Stark and F.W. Pettygrove, who control the house at this place, connected with that of Benson & Brothers, having the monopoly of the salmon trade in view, they refused sale, at all prices, leaving many of our families, who had means to pay, without this necessary seasoning in their beverage, for months at a time, when they had hundreds of bushels in store, and had actually effected the object I supposed they had in view.
The credit system has ceased, and the goods are paid for either in cash, lumber, or wheat delivered at the granaries or mills of the merchants, and orders at the stores must be based upon the deposit of these articles - wheat, which is a staple production of this country, is purchased at prices regulated by the HBC and American merchants, which is from 60 cents to $1 per imperial measure, if sold to the HBC; or in other words, from 60 to 100 dollars for one hundred and eleven bushels - American measure. This is paid for, as well as all other surplus productions of this country, in dry goods and groceries alone. I understand that the price fixed for wheat by the HBC, the ensuing year is that of 60 cents per bushel, whilst the New York papers just received will tell us that $1.30 to $1.35 cts. cash per bushel, American measure, is paid for an article which is undoubtedly inferior to ours; while hundreds of barrels thus purchased, are shipped on a voyage of six months around Cape Horn, and sold at Honolulu - the same market at which most of ours is disposed of. Thus we have a data to calculate their profits, and must demand a solution of this phenomenon by those who understand it, if it is not the effects of the monopoly, and a speedy relief by those who have it in their power. --MM McCarver for The Oregon Spectator
A Friend to Fair TradeThe Oregon Spectator has received the following communication addressed to the Farmers and Mechanics of Oregon. We have not a word to say: the article speaks for itself. Dec. 10, 1846 -- You are all fully aware of our situation as it regards the state of our commerce. The most of us have left the interior or western part of the United States, in hope to find a better price for the reward of our labor. The soil yields a rich reward to the cultivator, and the merchantsís coffers groan with the profit thereof; whilst we are groaning under the consequences. Men of capital dare not venture to engage in merchandising whilst the monster Hudson's Bay Company reigns over the land. And now fellow citizens, while the petty merchants and lawyers and would be politicians, are trying to mend the matter by memorializing Congress, let us help ourselves.
We have the power in our own hands. Congress has given us the land, and promises protection. What more do we want? We do not ask the government to drive the Hudson's Bay Company from the country, for we can do this ourselves, by organizing a joint stock company and transacting our own commerce; then the monster will leave, or come to fair trading. But says one, where is your money? Permit me here to suggest a plan to do without money. First obtain a charter for an exporting company; let the capital stock be six or eight hundred thousand bushels of wheat, divided into shares of one hundred bushels each. After the stock is taken and the necessary officers elected, execute bonds on the company for as much money as will buy or build a schooner, and get the materials for a mill, or buy one. This can be done, for the money is already in the country, and can be had for such bond. This done, we will be ready to transact our own mercantile business.
Instead of giving a bushel of wheat for 12 1/2 cents worth of salt, we will get a bushel of salt for 12 1/2 cents worth of wheat; our warehouses crammed with wheat, our mill in complete operation, and our sails spread to the breeze. Who will then be in favor of praying to Congress to drive the Hudsonís Bay Company away.
Furthermore, such a company will be entitled to credit; so much so, that their bills payable in wheat, lumber and goods will furnish an excellent currency, such as will be good wheresoever their trade extends, if that should be to Canton; for flour and lumber is better than gold and silver.
The first story above is from Page One of this edition. The second story is from Page Two. They are both only excerpts. One old photograph, a portrait shot of MM McCarver, adorns the Front Page. Original line art of a granary published during the 1850s is also on Page One. Page Two carries the portrait of and a story from William Geiger who reports information to the Commissioner of Patents about White and Red Wheat. Throughout our series we have used original artwork by our friend Chigusa Ohtsuka, a Japanese artist, to illustrate our wheat stories. Some archival photos are used when available, often from the Oregon Historical Society's photo archive. Our series was sponsored by The Wheat Marketing Center.
More history of wheat awaits in Our Number Seven
Of the series: Pacific NW Wheat (1880-1890) Maritime Transportation of Wheat.
Bridget E. Smith, editor & publisher
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Published in Portland, Oregon