Mr. Chance to Mr. Seward.
Nassau, N. P., October 23, 1877.
Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your dispatch, marked “Separate,” dated August 16th ultimo.
The matters to which you specially refer have engaged my attention, and I avail myself of the opportunity which your inquiry affords to submit my views as to the methods by which the trade of the United States with the Bahamas might be improved.
Any statement which I make on this subject hereafter will refer particularly to this colony, and not to the West Indies generally.
For a number of years these islands have suffered great commercial depression. The causes for this are to some extent local, but may chiefly be assigned to the heavy losses which have been sustained for the last three or four years on the shipments of pineapples to the United States and the almost total extinction of the former prosperous salt-trade.
The local causes referred to are the gradual exhaustion of the sponging-grounds, and a consequent decline in the value of the sponge-trade; the closing of the Cuban coasts to the fishermen of these islands, which, [Page 103]previous to the insurrection, they had a right to visit and utilize; the great decrease in the number of wrecks and distressed vessels calling here for repairs; the withdrawal of a large amount of capital by wealthy inhabitants who have settled in the United States and England since the rebellion; and, last, the heavy taxes imposed for the support of the local government. The failure of some of these old industries has induced enterprising citizens to introduce new ones; and last year sugar and molasses were manufactured, for the first time since the abolition of slavery, by machinery imported from the United States; and several pine-apple-preserving factories were also established in different parts of the colony. The farmers, too, encouraged and stimulated by the governor, are turning their attention to the cultivation of vegetables in large quantities for shipment to the United States. It is to be hoped that these enterprises will prove successful.
Even now the Bahamas purchase largely from the United States, and are entirely dependent upon the latter for nearly all of the necessaries of life. The American imports are as follows, viz: all breadstuff’s, salt provisions, tobacco, sugar, rope, paints, oils of all kind, liquors, cured fish, canvas, a large quantity of boots and shoes, and, within the last year, a small quantity of cotton goods and hardware.
Great Britain formerly supplied the Bahamas with manufactured goods and hardware entirely, but the American articles, such as those lately introduced, are growing in favor, and in the future will be largely imported. It is acknowledged that in their patterns and finish they are superior, for the price, to the English goods.
The exports of the Bahamas are fruits, sponges, salt, cotton, dye and furniture woods, barks, shells, tortoise-shell, and wrecked merchandise; the most valuable being fruits, and of these the United States receive the largest share.
During the pine-apple shipping season, which has just closed, at least one hundred and thirty cargoes were exported to the United States; these being invoiced at about $150,000. This amount does not, however, represent the net proceeds. For many reasons this is a most important trade, and should, in the interest of American ship-owners, producers, and manufacturers, be encouraged and fostered. During the past season ninety voyages were made by American vessels in the conveyance of this fruit to the ports of New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. The freight-earnings of these vessels may be correctly estimated at $100,000. In addition to this every dollar which these cargoes realized was spent in the United States in the purchase of provisions and other merchandise.
The season as a whole, however, resulted unprofitably to the producers and exporters. Owing to decay on the voyage and low markets abroad the fruit did not net in the United States what it cost here; consequently about one-fifth of the crop was left to decay on the plants. This unsatisfactory result has obtained for the past three or four years, and the season just closed is considered no worse than its predecessors.
A considerable quantity of pine-apples were preserved at the factories referred to, and exported to the United States. The machinery used— the cans, cases, sugar, and other material—were imported from Baltimore, and admitted here duty free. More than one-half of the expense incurred in preserving was in the purchase of the articles mentioned.
The pine-apple industry is now the main-stay of this colony; it employs the principal portion of the thrifty population, and a large amount of capital, and, indeed, the future prosperity of these islands almost entirely depends upon its success. A few more disastrous seasons will probably ruin those engaged in it and necessitate its abandonment.[Page 104]
Taking into consideration the American interests which are involved in its continuance, it is a question in my mind, which I submit, whether it would not be judicious on the part of the government to reduce, if not altogether repeal, the duty upon this perishable article. If this burden be removed, I am of opinion that American producers and manufacturers would be benefited to a greater extent than the revenue would suffer by the change.
On the subject of salt I would state that, since the imposition of the high duty on this article in the United States, the trade has almost died out, and the salt-producing islands, with few exceptions, have fallen into complete decay. At one time, salt promised to prove the most valuable export of the Bahamas j in fact, so important was it, that, for the convenience of shippers and for the protection of American commerce, consular agents were appointed at nearly every salt-producing island in this district.
There is still some trade, however, at Inagua, but even at this place the salt-ponds are only partially worked. Formerly, the salt-islands promised to do, and indeed did, a large direct import trade; now, that trade is so insignificant that it is scarcely worth mentioning. Any improvement which could be effected, however, in their salt-trade would assuredly bring about an improvement in their import trade, and this the United States would almost entirely monopolize. The only way by which this improvement can be effected is by a repeal of the duty on salt in the United States.
The remarks respecting the salt-trade of this colony will apply with equal force to the Turk’s Islands, which are included in this consular district. These islands are naturally a part of the Bahamas, and have identical interests, but some years since were made a separate government. Their only industry is salt, of which, formerly, large quantities were exported to the United States. There is still some trade carried on, but nothing in comparison with that of former years. No improvement can be expected in their condition and import trade unless some impetus is given to their particular industry.
Of the remaining exports referred to, England receives the most valuable portion. The trade with the two countries, both import and export, is nearly equally divided; if there be any difference it is in favor of the United States. Although this is the case now, yet I am of opinion that if the like facilities were offered for the sale of Bahama produce in the United States as in England, and the same profitable market could be found, a large portion of that which is now shipped to the latter would be diverted to the former. This would bring about a large increase in the import trade with the United States, as the proceeds of this produce would be eventually spent there in the purchase of merchandise instead of in England as at present. Unless this is done, no important revival of trade with the United States can be expected; the reverse must be really the case, and the present business continue steadily to decline.
The winter climate of the Bahamas is one of the finest in the world. In consequence, various efforts have been made to establish the reputation of Nassau as a sanitarium, with some success. With this idea in view and to induce foreigners to invest their means in the erection of hotels, and in the purchase of permanent abodes, an act has been lately passed which allows aliens to hold real estate in their own names. I know of no better way in which capital can be invested here, as the prospects of Nassau as a resort are promising. With more frequent steam communication and increased accommodations for visitors, a very great number [Page 105]of Americans would be induced to spend their winters here. If this were the case the trade with the United States would largely improve.
These islands are intimately connected with the United States in various ways, such as their natural position, their present extensive import and export trade, the fact that their mail and steam service is performed by American vessels for which a heavy subsidy is paid by the Bahamas Government, that large numbers of Americans visit Nassau every winter in pursuit of health and pleasure, most of whom reside at a hotel kept by Americans and in which American capital is invested.
In consequence of this intimate connection, there exists among the inhabitants a strong feeling of sympathy toward, the United States, which perhaps only needs the action of the government to make closer still. Believing in the principle that the ties of common interest are the strongest which can bind people together, I think that if by any possible means the commercial relations of the Bahamas can be more intimately allied to the United States, then the first steps toward accomplishing the objects desired in your dispatch will be taken and secured.
In conclusion, I have carefully noted your instructions, and will transmit to the Department, from time to time, all information upon these matters which come within the scope of your inquiries that is possible for me to obtain.
I have, &c.