THE FRANÇOIS BARON DE TOTT ARCHIVE OF FRANCO-OTTOMAN TRADE, DIPLOMACY AND ESPIONAGE HISTORY (1760s-1780s).
OTTOMAN EMPIRE / FRANCE / ESPIONAGE / ECONOMIC & DIPLOMATIC HISTORY / LEBANON:
Presented here is a highly important archive of over 50 manuscript documents from the papers of François Baron de Tott (1733-93), the famous French-Hungarian diplomat, military engineer and bestselling author of ‘Mémoires du baron de Tott, sur les Turcs et les Tartares’ (Amsterdam, 1784). The majority of the archive relates to De Tott’s consequential role as the Inspector General of the ‘Échelles du Levant’ (French treaty ports in the Ottoman Empire), whereupon in 1777-8 he conducted an intelligence-gathering mission to the Near and Middle East at the behest of King Louis XVI and his ministers. It is important to note that Franco-Ottoman trade was then one of the cornerstones of the French economy and the lifeblood of Marseille, the country’ greatest commercial port. Featured here are many of De Tott’s manuscript drafts of the reports and memoranda he submitted to the King, including his grand “Compte-rendu détaillé de l’inspection du Baron de Tott des Echelles du Levant et de Barberie”, a masterpiece of commercial espionage and social and political commentary, as well as an engaging work of travel literature. The recommendations De Tott advances in these treatises directly led to the complete overhaul of French diplomatic and trade policy towards the Ottoman Empire in the critical period leading up to the French Revolution; a new direction codified by the King’s ‘Ordonnance’ of March 3, 1781, an edict that de Tott had a major role in composing.
The archive is divided into 4 parts. Part I features a series of ‘discovery’ documents, being research material gathered by De Tott in preparation for his epic inspection tour. Part II is comprised of a fascinating dossier of documents regarding Tripoli, Lebanon’s premier trading port. Part III contains De Tott’s aforementioned drafts of reports for the King and his minsters. Part IV includes documents from De Tott’s earlier career as a diplomat and military engineer in Constantinople and Crimea.
The archive is a precious historical resource that merits in-depth academic study. It features much unrecorded and unpublished information of obvious gravity, with many of the works featuring De Tott’s meticulous corrections and amendments, providing an unparalleled insight into the mind and methods of one the 18th Century’s most perceptive and original commentators on Near and Middle Eastern affairs.
Historical Background: The Franco-Ottoman Special Relationship and the ‘Échelles du Levant’
For roughly 250 years France and the Ottoman Empire forged a special relationship that was, in many respects, the most consequential foreign alliance for both nations. In the 1530s, King François I and Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent shared a mutual desire to bolster their countries’ Mediterranean trade and well as an animosity towards the Habsburg Empire. In 1536, they formally launched the Franco-Ottoman Alliance, whereby France agreed to support the Sublime Porte militarily, while in exchange the Ottomans agreed to grant certain ‘Capitulations’, including the right of France to establish a permanent embassy in Constantinople, as well as small numbers of consulates in key ports; limited trading rights with the Ottoman Empire; the right for French ships to revictual at Ottoman ports; as well as granting France the official role as the protector of Christian communities in the empire. This accord succeeded in ensuring that France and the Sublime Porte realized a significant and mutually beneficial military and economic relationship.
In 1569, Charles IX and Selim II dramatically intensified the Franco-Ottoman alliance. Critically, new capitations allowed France to establish a series of treaty ports along the Ottoman Mediterranean coasts, whereby France would be given special commercial privileges, in addition to extraterritorial judicial rights for their citizens. These designated ports were hereby known as the ‘Échelles du Levant et de Barberie’, so named after the échelles, or ladders, used to unload goods from ships. The Échelles were grouped into three zones. In Anatolia and the Levant, they included Constantinople, Smyrna (Izmir), Aleppo (an inland city accessed by its port of Alexandretta, today Iskenderun), Sidon, Tripoli de Syrie (Lebanon), as well as the islands of Chios, Tinos, Paros and Naxos. In Egypt, France the ports Cairo, Alexandria and Rosetta. Along the Barbary Coast, the Échelles comprised Tripoli de Barbarie (present-day Libya), Tunis, and Algiers. Subsequently, other ports would be added to the list, including Salonika (Thessaloniki), Beirut and Jaffa (with its access to Jerusalem). French affairs in each treaty ports were to be overseen by a French consul general, or a vice-consul, individuals who came to hold immense power (and wealth).
The establishment of the Échelles du Levant and some of the events that immediately followed marked a turning point in the economic history of the Mediterranean world. The brutal Cyprus War (1570-3), fought between the Ottomans and Venice, largely eliminated the Serene Republic, hitherto France’s main competitor, from the Ottoman market, leaving the coast clear for Gallic merchants. The commercial exchange between the Ottoman Empire and France was mutually compatible. The Ottoman Empire (especially considering its links to the Silk Road and Arab trading routes extending deep into Africa) could provide France with exotic tropical agricultural products (spices, raw silk, medical herbs, and later, coffee); precious gems; as well as fine handcrafts (leatherwork, carpets, and even Chinese porcelain), all of which could be sold by French merchants at immense mark-ups in Europe. On the other side, France could provide the Ottoman Empire with much-in-demand items such as paper, textiles, firearms, as well as variety of manufactured luxury goods (ex. clocks, jewellery, etc.).
The establishment of the Échelles saw a boom in trade between France and the Ottoman Empire. Traders from Marseille came to utterly dominate the business with the treaty ports, muscling out operatives from other French cities, although the investors who backed the Marseillaise ventures, in places such as Avignon and Lyon, likewise enjoyed the proceeds. While Marseille had a trading relationship with the rest of the Mediterranean world that dated back over two millennia, the new system led the city to enjoy an unprecedented period of wealth and influence. However, Marseille’s pre-eminence was much resented by many French stakeholders, ensuring that this city’s merchants acquired powerful enemies.
For the Ottomans, the establishment of the Échelles reinvigorated local economies across the empire, as well as providing the local elite with access to their favourate Western luxuries. Moreover, the new system saw extensive and valuable social and intellectual interactions between Christians, Moslems, Jews and others.
In the latter part of the 16th Century France’s external trade, including its commerce with the Ottoman Empire, suffered greatly due to the country’s religious civil wars.
However, the ascension of Henri IV (reigned 1589 - 1610) hailed the beginning of a golden era for Franco-Ottoman trade. The reforming monarch ended the country’s internal conflicts and moved with alacrity to jump-start France’s economy, of which resurrecting the country’s maritime trade was a priority.
Henri IV dispatched Ambassador François Savary de Brèves to Constantinople to reconfirm and expand French trading rights in the Échelles, with new Capitulations signed in 1597.
Marseille and its merchant class had previously been Henri IV’s most ardent opponents in the late civil conflicts. However, true to Henri IV’s sprit of clever pragmatism, he not only forgave the city for its transgressions, but acted to dramatically bolster its role in Ottoman trade.
In 1599, the king consented to the formation of the Chambre du Commerce de Marseille, which became the first chamber of commerce to be formed in the entire world. The new organization was to have control (albeit not a monopoly) over French trade with the Ottoman Empire and was to officially represent merchants’ interests at the Bureau de Commerce, the supreme government committee overseeing trade in Paris. The Marseille Chambre had power not only with respect to France’ economic relationship with the Sublime Porte, but also regarding its diplomatic and social interactions. It also had significant responsibilities, in that it was responsible for shouldering the costs of protecting trade convoys from Mediterranean pirates, an increasingly serious threat.
The Marseille Chambre injected a new level of verve and efficiency to the France’s Levant trade. Marseille became one of the wealthiest cities in the world, and the proceeds from the Ottoman trade buttressed the entire economy of Provence, otherwise an economically challenged region. The Chambre became a forceful, yet controversial, lobbying group that robustly defended the interests of Marseille’s traders in Paris, while for decades maintaining largely autonomous control over Franco-Ottoman trade.
During the reign of Louis XIV, his chief minister, Colbert, sought to reform the Franco-Ottoman trading system as part of his greater designs for the French Empire. While Ottoman trade had proven immensely lucrative to Marseille, and France overall, Colbert believed the Crown was not benefitting sufficiently from the proceeds. Indeed, it was true that the French government was compelled to pay vast sums for the naval and diplomatic establishment in the Mediterranean, while receiving paltry tax revenues compared to the profits gained by the mercantile class.
In 1669, Colbert gave the Marseille Chambre du Commerce a monopoly on all Franco-Ottoman trade (acknowledging what had long been a de facto reality). Moreover, the Chambre was to be given the right to charge a 20% levy on goods carried by all ships entering Marseille and the Échelle ports. In return, however, the Chambre lost is hitherto near autonomy, as it henceforth had to operate under the close supervision of the French Naval Ministry. Moreover, the Chambre was responsible for paying the full costs of both the naval escorts for trade convoys as well as the costs of all the consulates in the Échelles. It also had to ensure that various taxes would be remitted to the French treasury. The Marseille merchants still considered this to be good deal, even if it meant that Paris received a bigger cut of the take; Franco-Ottoman trade continued to flourish.
Colbert’s successor, the Comte de Ponchartrain, enacted a further reform. Hitherto, the Consul Generals in the Échelles did not reive regular salaries and were expected to earn their living by participating in mercantile activities. This created troublesome conflicts of interest and bred corruption, undermining France’s diplomatic interests in favour of quick private profits. Ponchartrain banned Consuls from engaging in private enterprise, while ensuring that they received a generous fixed salary paid for by the Marseille Chambre.
Franco-Ottoman trade continued to flourish into the 18th Century, especially as French traders muscled out much of their Dutch, English and Venetian competition. However, some serious problems developed. First, the Ottoman Empire was in inexorable decline. It lost wars and territories in Europe to Austria and Russia, while many of its Arab territories came to exercise a high level of autonomy; in some places the authority of the Sublime Porte was virtually non-existent. This ensured that the Capitulation agreements were unevenly observed across the Échelles. In places where Constantinople exercised a high degree of control and where the French consul was especially effective (ex. Smyrna), French trade flowed swimmingly. However, in ports controlled by locally independent pashas (such as Egypt, Tunis or Acre, Palestine), the situation was unpredictable; local rulers often required heavy bribes to permit the flow of trade. Moreover, the Ottomans’ nearly continuous involvement in military conflicts disrupted caravans and supply chains, driving up prices. To make ends meet, Marseille traders, customs officials, the French consuls and their various Ottoman interlocutors came to engage in widespread corruption that caused a drag on the system.
Secondly, cleavages developed on the French side. A succession of powerful French Ambassadors to the Sublime Porte attempted to interfere with the commercial affairs in the Échelles, resulting in many disputes. Moreover, merchant from various Mediterranean ports, such as Sète and La Ciotat, came to resent the Marseille Chambre’s monopoly on Ottoman trade. It became clear that the Marseillaise monopoly was blocking the convenient trade of products such as Languedoc’s cotton and linen, revealing the efficiency of the system. These problems also ensured that the French Crown saw declining tax revenues from Levant trade, causing distress in Versailles. Overall, while the commerce with the Échelles was still profitable, the situation was becoming much more difficult.
France’s defeat in the Seven Years War (1756-63) created a national crisis unprecedented in modern times. France lost virtually all her North American domains and, temporarily, its lucrative trade with both India and the West Indies. France tipped into a recession, while the national treasury was virtually bankrupt. The ruination of the French Navy ensured that the restoration of France overseas commerce would be a long time coming.
France’s special relationship with the Ottoman Empire was viewed as its sole remaining ‘trump card’, the only route to gaining significant foreign revenue, at least in the foreseeable future. For a time, France benefited greatly from the efforts of Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes (1719-87), who served as its Ambassador to the Sublime Porte from 1755 to 1768; who was enormously effective in promoting the interests of French traders throughout the empire (François de Tott was Vergennes’ nephew and served as his secretary for 8 years!). However, his plan to have France gain special access the Ottoman ports along the Back Sea, so gaining access to wheat from the Ukraine and the Persian trade via Trabzon, were unsuccessful. Moreover, the flood of American cotton into the Mediterranean market ruined one of the Marseille traders’ most important sectors. Perhaps even more worrying, the Ottoman Empire’s stability was imperilled. It was throttled by Russia during the Russo-Turkish War of 1768-74, whereby the Sublime Porte lost control of Crimea and the Southern Ukraine. Additionally, Constantinople’s authority in many areas beyond Anatolia grew even weaker, resulting in unstable environments in many of the Échelles. The Marseille Chambre de Commerce seemed mired in corruption and inefficiency and was seen by many to be part of the problem, and not the solution. Franco-Ottoman trade was in a rut and far from realizing its envisaged potential.
In 1775, France’s economic and political situation slid into crisis. Anaemic global trade and depressed commodity prices ensured that the treasury’s deficit reached an unsustainable level. The King’s ministers knew that a bold ‘game changer’ had to be endeavoured to save France from a meltdown.
Two potential bold plays presented themselves. First, France watched the emerging American Revolution with interest; many royal courtiers considered that the country’s intervention on the side of the rebels could deal Britain a body blow and re-establish France as a major power in the New World.
Second, was a design to radically overhaul France’s relationship with the Ottoman Empire, although the trajectory of this direction was a matter of great controversy.
Louis XVI was a young and weak ruler, and the conduct of the state’s affairs was left entirely to his cabinet, which was beset by severe internal rivalries.
The Comte de Vergennes, who had been promoted to Foreign Minister upon his return from Constantinople, was famously the architect of France’s intervention in the American Revolution. On the Ottoman question, as an ardent Turcophile, his desire was for France to stabilize and strengthen the Ottoman Empire, and to work in cooperation with the Sublime Porte to reform and expand the existing trading system.
Antione de Sartine (1729 - 1801), the Minister of the Navy & the Colonies, and Vergennes’ arch-rival in cabinet, envisaged more radical designs with respect to the Ottoman Empire. The Sublime Porte was under extreme economic and military pressure and seemed incapable of counteracting any major rebellion or invasion of its distant provinces. Unlike Vergennes, Sartine believed that the Ottoman Empire was either doomed or not worth saving; France should step in to pick up the pieces.
Egypt was both the wealthiest part of the Ottoman Empire and the keystone to world trade, straddling the most direct route between Europe and India. If France could gain control over Egypt, it promised to be the ultimate ‘game changer’, restoring her geopolitical strength. Moreover, other regions, such a Lebanon, with its large Christian population and especially close commercial ties to France, were likewise natural candidates for French takeover.
Sartine also questioned the Chambre du Commerce de Marseille’s monopoly over the Levant trade, considering it to be a corrupt and lethargic organization.
However, Sartine, who never stepped foot in the Near or Middle East, needed reliable and fresh intelligence; he was not sure if he could trust any of his existing intelligence sources.
At Sartine’s urging, Louis XVI signed the Ordonnance du Roi of December 9, 1776, which called for the appointment of an ‘Inspecteur Général des Échelles du Levant et de Barberie’, opening to overhauling France’s diplomatic and trading system in the Ottoman Empire. The notion of appointing an Inspector General to conduct a tour of the Échelles was not new; as shown in the present archive, Louis XIV’s ministers had appointed inspectors with consequential results, although no full-scale inspection tour had been undertaken since then. The Inspector General was to be imbued with immense authority and autonomy above all diplomatic figures the Ottoman Empire; he was to report directly to the King and his ministers. All French subjects, whether civil servants, merchants or soldiers were expected to obey his commands and to render him any assistance he may request. His mere presence in an Échelle would strike fear in anyone involved in corrupt or irregular schemes.
Enter François Baron de Tott
On December 16, 1776, François Baron de Tott (Hungarian: Báró Tóth Ferenc) was appointed as the Inspector General. De Tott was already one of the most respected and influential French authorities in the Ottoman Empire, having just completed 20 years’ service in the field. De Tott was born in Chamigny, France, the son of André Baron de Tott (1698 - 1757), a Hungarian nobleman who was exiled to France, and who subsequently served in the French army and diplomatic corps (including for time in Constantinople). François also benefited by the fact that his mother hailed from French noble stock.
As a teenager De Tott joined his father’s regiment in the French Army and served with distinction during the final days of the War of Austrian Succession (1740-8). He gained advanced training in military engineering and was promoted to Lieutenant in 1754. In 1755, he was travelled to Constantinople with his uncle, the Comte de Vergennes, upon the latter’s appointment as French Ambassador to the Sublime Porte. De Tott served as Vergennes’ secretary for the next eight years. During that time, he learned to speak Turkish fluently and his excellent interpersonal skills allowed him to forge friendships with a vast array of key figures across the Ottoman Empire. While only in his 20s, he was universally viewed as one of the most effective and influential foreigners in Constantinople.
De Tott returned to France in 1763 and assumed a diplomatic posting in Switzerland. However, trouble was brewing between the Crimean Khanate, an Ottoman client state, and Russia, tensions that would lead to the outbreak of the Russo-Turkish War of 1768-74. France urgently needed the services of someone who could monitor the crisis along the front lines. France did not wish to antagonize Russia, yet she also wanted to protect the Sublime Porte from suffering a catastrophic military meltdown (something many thought likely). De Tott was appointed as the French Consul General to Crimea, and for the next three year he travelled widely around the region gathering valuable intelligence.
In 1770, at the behest of Sultan Mustafa III, De Tott left Crimea to serve as a top-level military adviser to the Sublime Porte. This was with Versailles’s blessing, as Vergennes (by then promoted to foreign minister) was delighted to have his nephew in such a key post. De Tott instituted sweeping reforms to the Ottoman military, establishing a foundry to build howitzers; forming new light mobile combat units; and establishing the basis for what later became the imperial naval college. Consequentially, he also constructed sophisticated fortifications around Constantinople to protect the capital from Russian attack.
While Catherine the Great’s forces decisively defeated the Crimean Tatars and the Ottoman Army during the war, De Tott was credited for ensuring that the situation was not much worse. His fortification systems are thought to have discouraged the Russians from executing an attack upon Constantinople, and his intelligence from Crimea allowed France to place the appropriate diplomatic pressure upon Russia to not press its advances beyond the Danube. De Tott continued in Ottoman service until the end of 1775, whereupon he returned to Paris as something of minor celebrity.
Vergennes was very proud of his nephew and here is no evidence that he and François ever had a falling out. However, while the details remain sketchy, it seems that De Tott had developed a ‘chip on his shoulder’. He believed that the Sublime Porte had not shown him enough gratitude for his extraordinary service and seemed to no longer share his uncle’s Turcophile attitude. Curiously, while remaining on good terms with his uncle, De Tott soon found a meeting of minds with the Comte de Sartine, Vergennes’ Turcophobe rival. It was under these circumstances that Sartine ensured that De Tott was appointed to become the Inspector General of the Échelles on December 16, 1776.
Sartine gave De Tott a double mission. The first, and more conventional, mandate was to conduit an ‘Inspection’, a thorough tour and analysis of the French commercial and diplomatic establishment in the Ottoman Empire, providing recommendations for making the system more efficient, profitable and less corrupt. Second, and far more controversially, De Tott was to secretly assess the viability and potential advantages of a French invasion and conquest of Egypt, suggesting specific military stratagems and long-term objectives.
On May 2, 1777, De Tott, leading an expert team, sailed from Toulon to visit virtually every French treaty port in the Ottoman Empire. This was a gruelling and dangerous mission during which his party would be vulnerable to pirate attacks, caught in the middle of armed insurrections, while pulling into disease infested harbours. However, De Tott forged on with his mission with irrepressible drive, and over the next thirteen months he visited dozens of ports and inland trading ports in Greece, Egypt, the Levant, Turkey and Tunisia. He interviewed hundreds of merchants, Ottoman officials, and French diplomats, and as proven by the present archive, wrote highly insightful and detailed reports based on his first-hand observations.
De Tott formed a very strong point of view towards Franco-Ottoman trade and relations. Regarding trade, he advocated a curious mixture of heavy state supervision of merchants and diplomats combined with surprisingly liberal economic policies (ex. breaking up monopolies and allowing foreign competition). He also seemed to have immense contempt, bordering on personal animosity, for the corrupt Ottoman officials that governed many of the treaty ports and who regularly demanded bribes from the French traders. However, despite his biases, his writing shows him to be conscientious and intellectually rigorous in that he always backed up his arguments with reliable statistics and first-hand observations.
Upon De Tott’s return from his inspection tour in 1778, he submitted the “Compte-rendu détaillé de l’inspection du Baron de Tott des Echelles du Levant et de Barberie” to the King’s ministers, being a thorough account of his tour and bearing his insightful first-hand observations. Importantly, the report concentrated upon economic and diplomatic affairs, and avoided making incendiary statements about the Ottoman Empire. Nevertheless, it was a brilliant work of commercial espionage, the thrust of which was to discern how to make French commerce and diplomacy more effective while working within the existing Ottoman system, as opposed to questioning its overall legitimacy. Importantly, the present archive contains De Tott’s original manuscript draft for this seminal document. Additionally, De Tott submitted a series of other memorandums on various commercial, diplomatic and personnel issues in the Échelles, of which many of the original drafts are present here.
While not represented in the present archive, De Tott also submitted another report to Sartine, entitled “Compte rendu dela Mission secrète du baron de Tott” (1779), in which he assessed the economic and political advantages of France conquering Egypt; the weakness of the present Ottoman regime; as well as specific plans for invading the country. These were serious well-thought out proposals devised by a military engineer with almost of generation of experience in the Ottoman Empire, latterly at the highest levels. De Tott’s designs for invading Egypt were to prove extremely uninfluential, albeit not for another two decades.
De Tott’s recommendations for the reformation of French trade and the consular system in the Échelles, as detailed by the manuscripts in the present archive, was widely praised by Louis XVI’s cabinet and became the basis for official policy.
At Sartine’s instigation, the King mandated a complete overhaul of Franco-Ottoman policy predicated almost exactly upon De Tott’s recommendations, which were duly published as the Ordonnance du Roi concernant les consulats, la résidence, le commerce et la navigation des sujets du roi dans les Échelles du Levant et de Barbarie. 3 Mars 1781 (Paris, 1781). De Tott is thought to have had a direct hand in drafting this document (as suggested by the present archive). The Ordonnance was a revolutionary, even shocking, edict that definitively broke with 250 years of precedent. It contained over 300 clauses, far too many to analyse here, but its main points were as follows. First, it ordered the abolition of the Chambre du Commerce de Marseille’s monopoly on the Levant trade, as De Tott convinced the crown that it was a lethargic and corrupt cartel. While Marseille would retain its dominance, the news rules favoured the participation of Languedoc merchants who had much to offer the market. Second, it permitted foreign traders to conduct limited operations with French traders in the Échelles, to spur competition and to open new markets. Third, the diplomatic corps in the Échelles was to come under much closer direct crown supervision; freelancing and jobbery was to be put to an end; the government was to receive its allotted tax revenues. Fourth, a code of conduct for French merchants was to be established, with a view to eliminating corruption and vice; merchants were henceforth even expected to attend Church every Sunday. Fifth, severe diplomatic pressure was to be brought to bear upon both the Sublime Porte and the renegade local potentates in the Échelles to rigorously honour their Capitulation treaty obligations; irregular administrative behaviour and corruption was to be encounter serious push-back.
The Ordonnance was greeted with delight in some circles (i.e. by Languedoc merchants who were no longer frozen out by the Marseillaise monopoly, crown officials who wanted to receive their tax revenue, and even some Marseille merchants and French diplomats who were tired of being subject to corrupt shakedowns) but furore in other quarters (ex, the Marseille Chambre du Commerce and many of its members, most diplomats and certainly many Ottoman officials who resented further French interference in their country).
Efforts were made to enforce the Ordonnance regulations, although fierce resistance was encountered. It also did not help that France’s treasury was decimated by the expense of the country’s participation in American Revolution, while her naval power was greatly reduced upon the destruction of one of its main fleets by the British in the West Indies in 1782. Moreover, Marseille feverishly martialled its centuries-old lobbying network in Paris to ensure that the Chambre’s old monopoly was largely restored in 1785 (but with some concessions to Languedoc).
Through the 1780s France fell further into an economic crisis. The national treasury was totally empty, as the country was saddled with unsustainable war debts, while crop failures caused mass hunger. One of the bright spots, to the extent that there were any, was the Levant trade, which continued to flow into Marseille, bucking the national downward trend. It is estimated that between 1783 and 1792 Ottoman trade accounted for over 45% of Marseille’s gross commercial revenue, amounting to 317 million gold Francs over that ten-year šeripd - an enormous sum.
Meanwhile, Baron de Tott, in semi-retirement, published an account of his 25 years of service in the Ottoman lands, Mémoires du baron de Tott, sur les Turcs et les Tartares, 4 vols. (Amsterdam, 1784), which was soon reprinted in a variety of languages across Europe, becoming a continent-wide bestseller. In fact, it was, and remains, one of the seminal works on the Near and Middle East of the 18th Century. The papers in the present archive were used by De Tott as source material for the book (especially for vol. 4, which covered his inspection tour), although the baron was careful to omit many of the commercial and politically sensitive (i.e. espionage) details in the published work. Nevertheless, the book is a highly entertaining and informative narrative, written in manner that is appealing even to today’s readers.
The French Revolution and the nearly generation-long succession of wars that followed utterly decimated France’s maritime trade, including its commerce with Ottoman Empire. Napoleon Bonaparte declared war on the Sublime Porte, invading Egypt in 1798. Importantly, Napoleon relied heavily upon the invasion plan for Egypt that De Tott drafted for Sartine in 1779. While the French took Cairo, they were unable to hold the country, and eventually had to beat a disorderly retreat. The rift with Constantinople invalidated France ‘s trading rights in the Levant, with devastating consequences for Marseille’s (and France’s) economy.
As for Baron de Tott, during the Revolution, he and his family went into self-exile in Hungary where he died in 1793, at the age of sixty, after the experiences of many lifetimes.
After the end of the Napoleonic Wars, France was able to rebuild its special relationship with the Ottoman Empire, but this took many years and occurred within the context of the developing modern global-industrial economy. Direct French financial investment took the place of the former mercantilist trade privileges, in a sense vindicating De Tott’s liberal economic views. By the period of the Crimean War (1853-6), when France and Britain joined forces to protect the Sublime Porte from Russian invasion, France (along with Britain) had re-established its special relationship with the Ottoman Empire. Indeed, France would remain the dominant foreign influence upon the Sublime Porte until the period immediately before the outbreak of World War I.
THE ARCHIVE IN FOCUS
We have divided Baron de Tott’s present archive into four parts to best place the over fifty manuscript documents in their proper context and within a coherent narrative. Part I, consisting of 9 documents, features some of De Tott’s discovery, or research, material that he acquired between December 1776 and April 1777 in anticipation of his departure on his inspection tour of the Échelles. An intellectually curious man, the baron clearly combed the royal archives to gain any intelligence that would inform his mission. Present here are manuscript copies of the royal instructions given to two of his predecessors who made inspection tours, being Sieur Dortières (on tour, 1685-7) and Louis Le Bigot Gastines (on tour, 1706-7); expense reports for the Échelles from 1757-8; a copy of the recommendation letter for De Tott from the Grand Vizier of the Sublime Porte addressed to the Comte de Vergennes; recent observations on the Levant trade by Guillaume de Rostagny, a leader of the Marseille Chambre; reports of the port of Marseille’s gross revenues from the Levant trade for 1767-76; as well a trio of reports recording all of the major French diplomatic posts in the Échelles, giving annual compensation and pensions for each as of 1776. Considered altogether, these documents would have been exceedingly valuable to Baron de Tott as he planned his epic mission.
Part II, featuring 12 documents, provides a valuable insider’s view into the major issues facing French traders and diplomats resident in a key Échelle. Specifically, this dossier concerns Tripoli, Lebanon, then the preeminent French treaty port on the Levant coast. The documents were evidently acquired by De Tott during or in the wake, of his visit to the port on September 20-23, 1777.
Tripoli was an especially critical Échelle in that in was not only the centre for silk and tobacco production (commodities greatly prized by the Marseille traders) but was also the terminus of caravan routes that brought precious goods from across Asia, even from as far away as China. Tripoli would retain it preeminent role in commerce in Lebanon until it was overtaken by Beirut in the 19th Century. The French diplomatic mission in Tripoli was led by the veteran Claude-Vincent Chaillan (c. 1707 – after 1789), who served as Consul General from 1772 to 1779. While the trade from Tripoli was still lucrative, as the present documents indicate, it was suffering from having to deal with an especially corrupt local Ottoman pasha, an issue which caused De Tott profound concern.
The present dozen documents include a detailed list and description of all the current French residents in Tripoli; four recent expense reports by the Marseille Chambre and diplomatic establishment, in part for entertaining the corrupt local pasha (who seemed to be addicted to alcoholic cough medicine!); documents concerning the tobacco and silk trades; a trio of expense and pension claims from notable local operatives; as well as an intriguing letter from a French merchant detailing the experience of being ‘shaken down’ by corrupt Ottoman local potentates.
Part III, featuring 28 documents, is the most important section of the archive, in that is contains Baron de Tott’s original manuscript drafts of man of his reports and memoranda which his submitted to the King and his ministers upon his return from his inspection tour. Critically, these documents formed the basis for the Ordonnance of Marsh 3, 1781, the length royal edict which completed overhauled French diplomatic and trade policies in the Ottoman Empire. As many of these documents are De Tott’s rough drafts, featuring corrections and amendments, they proved an unprecedented nsights into his intellectual and creative processes as the very fount of policy making at the highest levels of French officialdom in the critical era leading up to the French Revolution.
The highlight of the section is the composite of De Tott’s drafts of general report to the King of his inspection tour, “Compte-rendu détaillé de l’inspection du Baron de Tott des Echelles du Levant et de Barberie.”, which is a masterpiece of political analysis and commercial espionage, as well as an entertaining, original work of travel literature. Additionally present are De Tott’s reports on the current state of French commerce in the Levant, controversially questioning the monopoly rights of the Marseille Chambre du Commerce; suggestions for regulating the professional and social activities of merchants; recommendations for supressing corruption (both by Ottoman officials and French stakeholders); pieces on regulating the French diplomatic corps in the Échelles; advice on improving the security of traders and the merchant marine; ideas for improving crown revenue streams; recommending the reestablishment of a French consulate in Adrianople (Edirne); plus, a fascinating ‘philosophical’ treatise on how Turks viewed the notion of “history” differently than do Europeans. These papers merit further study, for they allow the reader to experience the vision of Baron de Tott, one of the most perceptive and bold thinkers on Western relations in the Near and Middle East of his era.
Part IV, featuring 15 documents, primarily concerns De Tott’s earlier career serving as secretary to his uncle, the Comte de Vergennes, the French Ambassador to the Sublime Porte (from 1775 to 1763); as the French Consul General in Crimea (1767-70); and as senior military advisor to the Sublime Porte (1770-75). The diverse assortment of manuscripts is fascinating, including secret high-level diplomatic correspondence and espionage, even involving cryptography in a frontline war zone. The documents include copied correspondence for the French Ambassadorial letter book in Constantinople from 1738, during the Russo-Turkish War of 1736-9; De Tott’s research notes on publications including on Jonas Hanway’s legendary account of his overland voyage from St. Petersburg to the Caspian Sea; as well as a trio of original letters written by Pierre Jean Ruffin, the prominent French diplomat, spy and orientalist from the frontlines in Bessarabia during the early day of the Russo-Turkish war of 1768-74; letters from dragomans arranging for De Tott to have meetings with the Ottoman Foreign Minister; as well as a set of correspondence between De Tott and his old diplomat college Pierre-Michel Hennin, regarding the handing of an Ottoman intelligence asset.
PART I: DISCOVERY & RESEARCH DOCUMENTS
“Instructions données au Sr. Dortières Concernant la visitte des Echelles du Levant le 21 Septembre 1685”.
Later (circa 1776-7) Mss. copy of a 1685 Mss. document.
Manuscript, 18 pp. pen on large quarto (legal letter size) paper watermarked ‘D & C Blauw’, tied with original green silk thread.
The regime of Louis XIV was determined to make Franco-Ottoman trade more efficient and profitable, as well as bring the operations of the Marseille Chambre du Commerce under closer crown supervision. The king’s ministers were deeply concerned by reports of “abuses” and corruption on the part of the Marseille traders, as well as irregular relations with some of the pashas who controlled some of the treaty ports.
Sieur Dortières was a senior naval administrator who was responsible for tabling a series of well-regarded reforms to the Marine Royale in 1680. Subsequently, he served as head of the Marseille naval yard, where he gained special expertise in the Levant trade.
In 1685, the King appointed Dortières to conduct an ‘Inspection’ tour of the Échelles and, upon his return, to present a report containing recommendations for clearing up the abuses, improving profitability and strengthening Crown oversight of the Levant trade. Dortières ended up completing two separate tours, in 1685-6 and 1687. His final recommendations called for the Marseilles Chambre’s monopoly on Franco-Ottoman trade to be preserved but provided for a mechanism of rigid diplomatic oversight to clear up the abuses and to protect government revues streams. Dortières’s advice formed the cornerstone for official policy on the Levant trade for the next generation, and while not so popular amongst the Marseille traders, the new system was at least one that they could live with.
Baron de Tott, in preparation for his own inspection tour, was naturally curious about the missions of his predecessors. The present document is a manuscript copy of the King’s original instructions given to Dortières on the eve of his departure for his first inspection tour in 1685. The copy was clearly made in late 1776 or early 1777 at De Tott’s behest, based on the original document in the royal archives.
Many of Dortières’s original manuscripts are today preserved in various official French archives. A contemporary copy of his tour diary, “Journal du voyage de Levant du Sieur Dortieres contenant les négociations et les reglernens qu'il a faits dans les Eschelles, du 21 Septembre 1685 au 13 Novembre 1687” is today held by the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich.
“Mémoire pour server à M. Gattine, Conseiller du Roy en ses Conseils, Intendent de la Marine, Commissaire de party pour les affaires du commerce sur les Echelles du Levant, Janvier 1706”.
Later (circa 1776-7) Mss. copy of a 1706 Mss. document.
Manuscript, 13 pp. pen on large quarto (legal letter size) paper watermarked ‘D & C Blauw’, tied with original green silk thread.
In 1705, the Comte de Ponchartrain, Louis XIV’s enterprising chief minister, was concerned that since Dortières’s time “abuses” had slipped back into the Franco-Ottoman trading system. He appointed Louis Le Bigot de Gastines [alternatively spelled ‘Gattines’ or ‘Gatine’], the Controller General of the French Navy, to go on an inspection tour to the Échelles. Gastines carried out his tour in 1706-7 and gave recommendations to the King that reinvigorated crown oversight of the Levant trade.
The present document is a copy of the January 1706 royal “Mémoire” given to Gastines shortly before his departure outlining the priorities of his mission. This copy was clearly made at De Tott’s behest in late 1776 or early 1777.
“Tableau pour server de régle aux dépenses ordinaires pendent le cours de l’année dressée sur les couples de 1757 et 1758 et moderé par course de 1744 et 1745 et l’etat de 1753…superflée et abusif”.
[Probably Marseille], 1759.
Manuscript, 19 pp. pen on large quarto (legal letter size) paper watermarked ‘Mazamet’.
This fascinating document proves exactly why Baron de Tott’s inspection tour was necessary. It is a 1759 accounting of the expense claims made to the French government on behalf of merchants in the Levant during the fiscal year that ran from 1757 to 1758. It documents funds spent on personnel, victualling and facilities but at rates that are assumed to be “superfluous and abusive”. While all the services and products listed are theoretically legitimate expenses, the inflated sums suggest the prevalence of ‘kick backs’ born out of systematic corruption. It was precisely these abuses that Baron de Tott sought to uncover and to suggest bureaucratic safeguards to prevent going forward.
Grand Vizier Moralı Dervish Mehmed Pasha to the Comte de Vergennes, [n.d., liley 1776].
Manuscript copy of a letter, 1 p. pen on small quarto paper.
This is a manuscript copy of a letter written by “Dervich Mehemmed”, being Moralı Dervish Mehmed Pasha, who served as the Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire from 1775 to 1777, addressed to the Comte de Vergennes, the French Foreign Minister, and former Ambassador to the Sublime Porte (in office 1755-68), as well as Baron de Tott’s uncle. While undated, the letter was likely written in 1775, before Baron de Tott travelled from Constantinople back to France to lobby for a new official appointment, which resulted in his commission as Inspector General of the Échelles. In this letter, the Grand Vizier speaks highly of Baron de Tott, who performed “diverse services for the Sublime Porte”. This infers De Tott’s excellent work, in 1770-75, retraining the Ottoman Army and building coastal fortifications to protect Constantinople, an act which discouraged a Russian naval attack upon the city. While Vergennes likely formed his own opinion of his nephew, a recommendation letter from the Grand Vizier would surely have been welcomed.
“Observations rédigées par M. Rostagny”.
[n.d., circa 1776-77].
Manuscript, 13 pp. pen on large quarto (legal letter size) paper watermarked ‘D & C Blauw’, tied with original blue silk thread.
The security of the French merchants while trading in the Ottoman Empire was always a great concern. French trading vessels were prime targets for pirates, while on land traders were vulnerable to being attacked by bandits. The French government was responsible for providing naval escorts and gendarmes to pretext the merchants, although much of the cost was ultimately to be assumed by the Marseille Chambre du Commerce.
Guillaume Rostagny (1733 – 1820) was a prominent Marseille lawyer who from 1772 to 1791 he served as the representative of that city’s chamber of commerce to the Bureau du Commerce, the nation’s supreme business council. The present manuscript features Rostagny’s detailed assessment of the security situation of French merchants in the Ottoman Empire, as well as recommending measures of improvement.
This document was likely prepared for Baron de Tott shortly before his departure on his inspection tour in the spring of 1777.
“Etat du Droit de Comutat… par la Chambre du Commerce de Marseille…sur les Marchandises venue…en la dite ville des Echelles du Levant et de Barberie depuis et y compris le 1 Janvier 1767 jusqu’au 31 Decembre 1776 inclusivement savoir.”
[France, Early January 1777].
Manuscript, 1 p. pen on large quarto (legal letter size) paper watermarked ‘Dannonay 1770’.
This interesting document records the gross annual revue from goods received at the port of Marseille from the Échelles du Levant as allotted to the Marseille Chambre du Commerce, listed for each year between 1767 and 1776 inclusive. Importantly, this concerns the Chambre’s take only (principally from their 20% tax on cargo) and does not include the revenues gained by private merchants. The figures ranged from 241,618 French Livres (in 1775) to 369,548 Livres (in 1771), with the total figure for the ten-year period being 3,122,308 Livres.
“Etat des dépenses qui ont été faites année commune en Levant et en Barbarie jusqu’au 1er Janvier 1777 tant par la Chambre du Commerce que par le Corps de la Nation dans les Echelles….Le dit Etat dressé sur un relevé de dix années”.
[France, Early January 1777].
Manuscript, 1 p. pen on large quarto (legal letter size) paper watermarked ‘Dannonay 1770’.
The Marseille Chambre du Commerce was responsible for paying all the salaries of the consular staff in the Échelle ports, including the consuls, vice-consuls and dragomans, etc. The present list tallies the average annual costs of salaries for the entire diplomatic establishment at each treaty port over the ten-year period from 1767 to 1776 inclusive. It notes an annual average total cost of all diplomatic establishments as being 254,900 French Livres. This was a huge sum; to place it in context it is almost equivalent to the annual revenue taken in by the Marseille Chambre du Commerce at the Marseille port each year (please see I-5 above). The document gives valuable insight into the financial importance of each Échelle as considered by the French government. For instance, the diplomatic establishment in the most economically important treaty port, Smyrna (Izmir) cost Livres 40,000, while that of Tripoli, Libya drew only Livres 2,400.
“Etat des Apointements actuels des officiers des consulates des Echelles du Levant et de Barberie”.
[France], January 1, 1777.
Manuscript, 4 pp. pen on large quarto (legal letter size) watermarked paper.
This important document lists all the main diplomatic posts per Échelle and records the salaries for each, as well as the date of when the position was created. It shows that the total annual cost for the main diplomatic officers for all the Échelles was 198,270 French Livres. The annual average for the above related listing (I-6) features higher annual figures, as it also includes salaries for minor officers not enumerated here.
“Etat des pensions assignees sur les fonds de la chambre du commerce”.
[Likely Marseille, Early January 1777].
Manuscript, 4 pp. pen on large quarto (legal letter size) watermarked paper.
The Marseille Chambre du Commerce was responsible for paying the pensions for the families of late French consular employees serving in the Ottoman Empire. The present document, written early in 1777, records the annual pensions owed for each of the Échelle ports, listing the names of the recipients, the year upon which the pension commenced, along with where the pension funds were the be released (usually Marseille). It shows that as of early 1777 the Chambre was responsible for paying out an annual total of 19,150 French Livres – a significant expenditure.
PART II: THE TRIPOLI DOSSIER – LEBANON’S GATEWAY TO THE WORLD
N.B.: This element of the collection is housed within a contemporary paper folder labelled “Tripoly” in manuscript to the front cover.
“Echelle de Tripoly 1777 / Etat de Français residents à Tripoly de Syrie et de ceaux qui y jouissent de la protection de France”.
[Tripoli, Lebanon], 1777.
Manuscript, 4 pp. pen on large quarto (legal letter size) watermarked paper.
This intriguing document provides a detailed listing of the “French residents of Tripoli who enjoy the protection of the French state”, referring to French subjects who permanently resided in the city. The listing gives names, notes whether they have dependents, and often includes their city of origin and how long they have been resident tin Tripoli. The list is divided into categories of profession. It commences with the two dragomans, François Fornetty and François Fontin, who hailed from two inserted families that for generations controlled many of the dragoman positions at French missions across the Ottoman Empire. Next, the document lists the “Merchants”, providing considerable biographical detail. Next comes a short listing of other individuals including bakers. Following, is list of the Roman Catholic priests resident at Tripoli who were under the protection of France. The list concludes with the ‘auxiliary dragomen’, some of whom have Lebanese names.
Pierre Amable POURRIERÈS.
“Compte de la nation sous la députation de Pierre Amable Pourrierès…premier quartier 1775; second quartier 1775; troisième quartier 1775; et dernier quartier 1775”.
Manuscript, in 4 parts: 1: ,10 pp.; 2: , 5 pp., 3 pp.; 3: , 7 pp.; 4: , 6 pp., 2 pp., pen on large quarto (legal letter size) watermarked paper.
While the Chambre du Commerce de Maresille was responsible for paying for the salaries of the diplomatic establishment in the Échelles, certain costs associated with the consuls were borne by the “nation”, term used to describe the local syndicate of French merchants resident in each Échelle.
In 1775, the prominent merchant Pierre Amable Pourrierès was sent on an inspection residency to the Tripoli treaty port on behalf of the Marseille Chambre. He recorded these expense claims to the ‘nation’ for each quarter of 1775.
The accounts carefully itemize and describe each expense with the date and amount, with each quarterly report being countersigned by the French Consul General in Tripoli, Claude-Vincent Chaillon. The list includes gifts and certain victuals, as well as the cost of services such as “janissaries” for security, guides, and the services of dragomen, etc. The most curious reoccurring expenditure is for “24 bottles of cough syrup”, requested almost every month from Chaillon by the local pasha, who was, supposedly “malade”. Either the pasha had real trouble shaking his cold, or rather had a great affection for the heavily alcoholic remedy!
Pierre Amable POURRIERÈS.
“Compte de la chambre sous la députation de Pierre Amable Pourrierès…premier quartier 1775; second quartier 1775; troisième quartier 1775; et dernier quartier 1775”.
Manuscript, in 4 parts: 1: ,3 pp.; 2: , 3 pp.; 3: , 3 pp.; 4: , 3 pp., pen on large quarto (legal letter size) watermarked paper.
Like the above set of documents, this series itemizes the expenses incurred by the French Consulate in Tripoli, for each quarter of the year 1775, but in this case, the bills are to be paid by the Marseille Chambre du Commerce. The reports are countersigned by Consul Claude-Vincent Chaillon.
“Tableau pour les presents d’usage de l’éschelle de Tripoly en Syrie”.
[Tripoli, circa 1777].
Manuscript, 1 p. pen on large quarto (legal letter size) watermarked paper.
This document is a detailed itemized report concerning the French Consul’s expenses for entertaining the local pasha in Tripoli; the various items add up to 622 Ottoman Piastres.
“Tableau des dépenses à la charge de la nation française étalble à Triploy de Syrie, envoyé par le minsitre de la marine à M. Cousinéry, ci-devant consul”.
Manuscript, 3 pp. pen on large quarto (legal letter size) watermarked paper.
This financial document itemizes expenses accrued by the French Consulate in Tripoli that are to be paid by the French crown, the total runs to 1839.30 Ottoman Piastres.
[Untitled Document signed by the La Ciotat Traders Bezud, Holouby, Guillaumin, F. Etienne, J. Solleillet addressed to Claude-Vincent Chaillan, dated March 12, 1777; concerning the transport of Tobacco from Tripoli to Damietta, Egypt].
Manuscript letter, signed, 6 pp. pen on large quarto (legal letter size) watermarked paper.
This document is a lengthy agreement between Claude-Vincent Chaillan, the French Consul General in Tripoli, and a group of merchants from La Ciotat, Provence (who operated with the grace of the Marseille Chambre du Commerce), including Messiers Bezud, Holouby, Guillaumin, F. Etienne, J. Solleillet, for permission to ship smoking tobacco from Tripoli to Damietta, Egypt and to return with rice and other commodities. It is stellar example of the kind of ‘import-export’ licence that was regularly authorized by Fenech diplomats to merchants operating between the Échelles.
[Untitled letter signed by the Silk Merchants Fourrière, J.-J. Delavigne, Rigat, and J.-B. Guyon concerning Letters of Exchange drawn on the Accounts of Local Authorities]. (
[Tripoli, circa 1777].
Manuscript, 1 p. pen on octavo watermarked paper.
This short note, signed by several silk merchants operating out of Tripoli, requests that the F