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Abiel Abbot Low


PEACE, said Mr. Sumner, in one of his most classic and eloquent orations, "hath its victories no less than war." The merchant prince, whose enterprise has included within its grasp the traffic of the far distant lands of the orient, whose ships are on every sea, and who brings to his bursting warehouses, the products of all climes, has really achieved as 
great a triumph, and one far more beneficial and bloodless, than the warrior who has led his conquering legions over desolated homes, and amid the ruins of sacked cities. And if this peaceful hero uses his wealth as wisely as he has acquired it, and by his large beneficence makes thousands and tens of thousands happy, then is his victory greater than that of any leader of a marshalled host, whose garments are stained with blood, for his triumphs are over the forces of nature, and the selfish and unhallowed passions of men, and "greater is he that ruleth his own spirit, than he that taketh a city."

Among these heroes in the bloodless strife, Mr. Low is entitled to a high place of honor. During a long commercial life of wonderful success, and filled with great enterprises, he has ever maintained an enviable reputation for the highest honor and principle, and no unworthy deed or word has ever linked itself with his name. More than this, in all great measures of benevolence, whether for aiding the poor of New York or Brooklyn, sustaining the government in putting down the rebellion, providing bounties for the soldiers, and supplies for the regiments, or succoring the families of our brave defenders, sending aid to the famishing sufferers of Lancashire, sustaining the Sanitary Commission in its noble work, manifesting the grateful emotions of the commercial class toward the leaders of our army and navy, establishing and endowing libraries and scientific institutions, or in the more direct promotion of the interests of religion. Mr. Low's contributions have always been among the most liberal. Other citizens of New York possess larger wealth than he, but none have made a more admirable and beneficial use of it.

ABIEL ABBOT LOW was born in Salem, Massachusetts, we believe, in 1796. His father, the late Seth Low, was himself an eminent merchant, and soon after Abiel had reached his majority, removed to New York, and made Brooklyn his place of residence. The house of Seth Low and Company, (afterwards Seth Low and Sons,) had, both in Salem and New York, been largely engaged in the China and East India trade, and it was not, therefore, surprising that Mr. Low should have desired to visit China, and acquire a knowledge of the business there, in which so many fortunes had been made. His excellent early business training, and the remarkable capacity for great enterprises, which he had early manifested, rendered him peculiarly adapted to attain success in this position. Soon after his arrival in China, he received the offer of a partnership in the well-known house of Russell and Company, of Canton, and accepted it in 1833. His connection with this house continued till 1841, and sometime before that date, he had come to be its head. He returned to the United States in 1841, and established with his two brothers the great China house of A. A. Low and Brothers, retaining their correspondents in China. Under his wise and able management, this has been for several years past the leading American house in the China trade. Its traffic in all descriptions of Chinese goods is enormous. Ships freighted with the teas, silks, crapes, nankeens, lacquered wares, ginger, porcelain, rice, and mattings of the flowery kingdom, are constantly arriving in New York, and others departing laden with such goods as the Chinese require in their trade. Of late years this trade is not, to the extent it was formerly, the payment of silver on our part, and the delivery of their goods in exchange for that alone. Cotton goods, clocks, ginseng, and a yearly increasing list of our manufactured goods are taken by the Celestials in exchange for their products.

Within a few years past, the Messrs. Low have turned their attention also to the Japan trade, and in the beginning of 1867, Mr. Low having visited San Francisco, sailed thence to Hong Kong and Yokohama, in the first steamship of the China mail line, and after establishing a branch house at the latter point, returned by the overland route to Europe, and thence home.

During the war, few men in this country were as liberal, as patriotic, as judicious in their benefactions, and as wise in their counsels as Mr. Low. Ile lost heavily through the piratical conduct of the Confederate cruisers, several of his richly laden ships being seized, plundered and burned by those ocean marauders, Semmes and Maffit; but amid all these losses, he was ever ready to aid the Government in every emergency, and to respond promptly to all its demands for counsel and encouragement. In that noble offering of aid by our merchants to the famine stricken operatives of Lancashire, Mr. Low not only contributed largely, but acted as treasurer of the committee, and at no small personal inconvenience, kept its accounts, made its purchases, and transmitted its statements to the committee in England.

The New York Chamber of Commerce, the most eminent body of American merchants on this continent, have twice called Mr. Low, the last time by acclamation, to preside over their deliberations for the year, and would have continued him in that high position for a succession of years, but for his absence from the country in 1867. This honor, so freely accorded, shows the estimation in which he is held by those who know him best for sound judgment, remarkable foresight, incorruptible principle, and the highest executive ability. His action, and his words of cheer in the dark hours of our national history, and the critical condition of commercial affairs, and his skill in the management of the grave and often delicate and difficult topics which came up for discussion before the chamber during this eventful period of its history, fully justified the confidence which was reposed in him.

In all matters appertaining to the encouragement of art, literature, and higher education, as well as in all the charitable institutions of the city, State, and nation, Mr. Low's aid is constantly sought, and never in vain in a worthy cause. The institutions of religion find in him a zealous and consistent supporter. In private life, that true manliness of deportment, that scorn of every thing base and mean, and that genial and kindly nature, which have always characterized him in public, find still more adequate and complete expression, and in the bosom of his family, he ever finds his highest happiness.

Source: Source: Men of Our Day; or Biographical Sketches of Patriots, Orators, Statesmen, Generals, Reformers, Financiers and Merchants, Now on the state of Action: Including Those Who in Military, Political, Business and Social Life, are the Prominent Leaders of the Time in This Country, by L. P. Brockett, M. D., Published by Ziegler and McCurdy, Philadelphia Penna; Springfield, Mass; Cincinnati, Ohio; St. Louis, Mo., 1872  

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