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00 a barrel. Astor discussed the China trade with his brothers-in-law and other captains he met in South Street. Stewart Dean, a relative of Sarah’s, was one of the ﬁrst American captains to visit the Pearl River. When no captaincy was on offer, Dean worked for John Jacob as his representative in Albany. Astor saw his chance at trying his hand at the China trade in 1800 when Dean became the master of the Severn, bound for Canton. Together with three other New York merchants, John Jacob loaded the ship with 30,573 sealskins, 1,023 beaver skins, 321 fox pelts, 103 otter skins, textiles, and scarlet-dyed cochineals and North American ginseng 52 JOHN JACOB ASTOR roots (in demand in China as an aphrodisiac).
The child, a girl, died in infancy. A year later, Sarah gave birth to a boy they named John Jacob II. They prospered. Contemporary records show a dealer could sell a beaver pelt in London for 25 shillings, or $3. For that amount he could buy a musket for which, in trading with Indians, he could get ten ﬁrst-quality beaver skins. k John Jacob duplicated the Northwest Company on a modest scale. Instead of tramping the wilderness trails of upstate 32 JOHN JACOB ASTOR New York, he established his own depot at Schenectady on the Mohawk River.
What kept wives close to the hearth, besides household duties, were frequent pregnancies. Sarah bore John Jacob eight children, ﬁve of whom survived infancy. Only two would outlive their parents. 4 k Politics D uring Astor’s lifetime the fur trade was a contentious activity. Long before the creation of the new United States, the fur trade’s fabulous riches—and its reliance on unruly frontiersmen and unpredictable Native Americans—exasperated Britain and France and led to proxy wars between the two old enemy powers.