TO A FRIEND BOUND FOR LONDON from Virginia in August 1765, John Hook, a Scottish merchant in Virginia, wished a swift arrival “safe in the Land of Cakes … quite free from the noise and Impertinance of the Dd planters.” London was the greatest metropolis in Europe. Visitors from the Continent marveled at it almost as much as did provincials from the colonies. Struck by the city’s “immense Scale,” a Massachusetts man wrote: “whatever I have seen in my own Country, is all Miniature, yankee, puppet-shew.” Spreading out from both banks of a broad bend in the River Thames, London embraced new arrivals, making all but the most confident feel small. Shipping rode in the river, moored so thickly by the quays near the Tower and elsewhere that a forest of masts seemed to surround the sprawling old fortress. Near the west base of the Tower, customs officers waited in the long hall of their colonnaded customhouse. Farther upriver, beyond London Bridge, recently repaired, a new bridge was under construction.
For decades London had stunned newcomers, even longtime residents, with its damp, smoky darkness. The city knew windy, clear days and snowy winter days. But every place had some of those. London had stagnant fog and constant smoke rising from countless chimneys, wrapping buildings and streets in dense clouds and black grime. The city was busy and noisy. In broad thoroughfares lined with old churches and new public buildings in the Italian style, as in crooked streets and narrow lanes, coaches and wagons and carts moved quickly, threatening to run down the unwary. A Royal Navy officer walking along Thames Street behind the quays “narrowly escaped being killed by a Dray-horse.” Newly laid sidewalks were crowded with busy pedestrians who jostled anyone in their hurry. The people not in a rush were maimed beggars, vagrants, peddlers, hawkers crying strange wares—old clothes, old books, old iron—“ragged and saucy Jacks and Jills.” Mountebanks played hurdy-gurdies and sold quack cures. Shop windows offered a profusion of gleaming goods to buy, or tempting food to eat. A pickpocket darted away from his victim. A prostitute standing not far from St. Paul’s Cathedral said to a passing gentleman from the colonies: “my Dear do you want any?” Much of London looked new. The Lord Mayor’s Mansion House was only twenty years old. The rotunda of the Bank of England had just been finished. Vacant lots vanished under rows of symmetrical, connected, brick houses. Old houses were pulled down to make way for grand additions to already grand buildings. A German visitor wrote: “Everything in the streets through which we passed seemed dark even to blackness, but nevertheless magnificent.”
Several years before Samuel Gist reached London, his partner in the Dismal Swamp Company, Anthony Bacon, had established an office and a residence at Number 12, Copthall Court, on the west side of a narrow lane opening into Throgmorton Street, a short walk from the Bank of England and the Royal Exchange. Bacon and his wife, Elizabeth, worshipped at the Church of St. Bartholomew, which looked across Threadneedle Street at the back of the Exchange. To the church’s side, across Bartholomew Lane, stood the Bank. The Bacons’ only child, Anthony Richard Bacon, turned seven in 1765. His parents felt “the tenderest affection” for him, and the boy seemed to be on the path to a rich inheritance.
Bacon had secured the interest of Sir Samuel Fludyer, member of Parliament and former lord mayor, a man said to be worth almost £1,000,000. The Duke of Newcastle thought Sir Samuel “the most considerable trader in the City of London.” Bacon apparently owed his contract for shipping money for soldiers’ wages in the West Indies to Sir Samuel’s influence. Sir Samuel and his associate, Adam Drummond, brought Bacon into their petition to lease coal mines on Cape Breton Island. In 1764, Bacon also won other contracts: to ship provisions to the troops in the islands ceded by France; to lease ships to the government for use there; to lease to the government slaves to work for British surveying parties. Bacon often traveled along Fleet Street and the Strand, passing back and forth between Copthall Court and the offices of the Treasury in Whitehall.
Coming out of Copthall Court and turning left into Throgmorton Street, rather than toward the Bank, Bacon saw Drapers’ Hall, the ornate expression of the power and prosperity of one of the worshipful companies whose leaders dominated the City. Elegant, wainscotted rooms behind columns joined by arches opened inward onto gravel walks and gardens.
Bacon, of course, more often turned right, toward the Bank and the Exchange. The Bank, built of stone ornamented funereally, enclosed a courtyard, the great hall, and offices. The building was safe and dark but not quiet. At midday the rotunda behind the vestibule filled with bulls and bears—noisy, rude brokers trading government securities. In the afternoon, men of business spent a few hours in the Exchange or, as they said, walked on ’Change. Behind the clock-tower and an imposing facade, a large quadrangle of upper rooms looked down on a courtyard lined with columns and oak benches. In the arcades, surrounded by advertising bills posted everywhere, men clustered with others trading to the same part of the world. Merchants concerned with Virginia walked in from Cornhill, turned left, and congregated in the southwest corner of ’Change. There they heard the latest news of sailings, prices, disasters, and opportunities. The regulars knew one another, estimated one another’s credit, and closed agreements quickly. A Virginian setting out as a London merchant said: “it is inconceivable what great strokes may be made here.” By walking on ’Change, retired ship captains still shared the excitement of voyages about to get under way to distant ports and of laden vessels just returned to moorings along the quays. News was the blood of the Exchange. Before entering, many men stopped at an always crowded shop. For a penny or a halfpenny one could quickly scan current newspapers. The Exchange, impressive in its proportions, presented outer walls black with grime, showing signs of decay. It needed cleaning and repair. Parliament in 1767 agreed to pay for the work.
A View of London and Westminster. Courtesy of the Henry E. Huntington Library
Anthony Bacon’s neighbors in Copthall Court, in Throgmorton Street, and in other courts nearby were merchants, insurance brokers and underwriters, directors of the Bank of England, and owners of stock in the East India Company. A visitor in search of a merchant in Copthall Court, not finding him in his office, of course waited for him on ’Change. The visitor might accompany the merchant, a proprietor, into the grand courtroom of East India House, not far east of the Exchange. There, surrounded by Corinthian columns, looking up at an allegorical bas-relief of Britannia seated on a globe receiving tribute from attendant female figures representing India, Asia, and Africa, the visitor observed the gathering of the proprietors—“the most riotous assembly I ever saw.”
South of the Exchange, across Cornhill, stood a group of low buildings, facing one another across irregular lanes. These structures had almost as much fame as the great edifices with fronts of Portland stone. They were the coffeehouses of ’Change Alley, especially Jonathan’s and Garroway’s. Their crowded, dark, paneled rooms with long tables and rows of booths were the London stock exchange, as well as places to eat, drink, smoke, read the papers, and trade news. Though the food might be overpriced and bad, as it was in the Exchange Coffeehouse, no man of business could ignore these establishments, lest he go bankrupt and “waddle out of the Ally, a lame duck.” Since the days of the South Sea Bubble the words “ ’Change Alley” had stood for high risk, sharp practice, and quick wealth or sudden ruin. A political economist wrote: “The trade of the Alley consists too much in conspiring to pick the pockets of every body not in the temporary secret.” The secret might even be fiction, “a mere ’Change Alley job.” But the volatile world of stockjobbers, usurers, and bill-kiters in the coffeehouses could not be divorced from the business under way in the long halls and colonnades nearby.
The London Docks. Courtesy of the Henry E. Huntington Library
In the same year Bacon signed new contracts with the government he began to spend part of his time away from London’s smoke, noise, and rush. He bought a manor, Higham Hill, about seven miles from the City. He built a country house from which he could look southwestward to London’s spires or northward or eastward over broad stretches of forest or southeastward to a broad bend in the Thames. For an architect Bacon turned to William Newton, a hard-working young man who had studied in Italy and had received commissions from several gentlemen. He knew how to create a “Room for State and Entertainment in Country House for a Gent. Gay Pleasing Rich Elegant Rural.”
The year after he bought Higham Hill, Bacon also built a house in Wales, across the River Taff from the village of Merthyr Tydfil, 26 miles north of Cardiff. The upper valley of the Taff lay among steep, rocky hills. But the broad vale in which Merthyr Tydfil stood was less rugged than the parish to the west, Ystradyfodwg. Across their northern horizon stretched a range of mountains. Before starting to build, Bacon had visited the valley, not for romantic landscapes but for coal and iron.
Iron had been smelted the modern way in the valley for more than ten years. The parish of Merthyr Tydfil, however, held ninety-three farms and only two or three blast furnaces. Residents of the village were mostly hedgers, ditchers, and farm laborers. Sheep wandered on the hillsides. In the summer, people met on market days at Twyn-y-waun, high above the valley. Anthony Bacon saw an opportunity to offer employment to those he called “our industrious poor.”
In his enterprises Bacon almost always acted with one or more partners. For his mineral leases by the Taff he joined with a man from Whitehaven, the city of his youth, Dr. William Brownrigg, a physician and scientist who studied poisonous gases in coal mines. Brownrigg’s brother, George, was the celebrated advocate of North Carolina peanut oil. His brother-in-law, Charles Wood, builder of furnaces and forges, moved to Merthyr Tydfil to serve as agent.
From Earl Talbot of Hensol and from Michael Richards, resident of Cardiff, Bacon and Brownrigg took leases of mineral rights in a tract about eight miles long and five miles wide in the parish of Merthyr Tydfil for ninety-nine years at an annual rent of £100, free of royalties. This gave them the right to extract coal and ironstone from the land occupied by the earl’s tenants. The partners also leased lots at Cyfarthfa, just outside Merthyr Tydfil on the west bank of the Taff. There Wood built a blast furnace 60 feet high, and Bacon built his house nearby. He wished to see regular bursts of flame from the furnace and watch red-hot pigs of iron brought forth.
Bacon began to buy farmers’ leases. Men paying the earl £3 or £4 per year for their farms received £100 from Bacon if they surrendered their land. The Cyfarthfa works quickly swallowed twenty leaseholds. Bacon offered employment at the furnace or in extracting coal carried to the furnace on horses and mules. Ironstone and coal lay near the surface and was dug by hand or scoured out by water. Where Charles Wood met resistance, he tore down a farmer’s fence and pressed on with horses and carts. The arrival of Wood, as well as his master builder, his brickmaker, and others, led a Welshman to say of Merthyr Tydfil: “that place is swarm by Englishmen since the Iron work came there.” Encountering rivalry from the recently established furnaces of the Plymouth Iron Works, Bacon bought out the owners and added those to his holdings. They acquired the name “Bacon’s Mineral Kingdom.”
He still spent most of his time in London. After George Grenville fell from power in July 1765, Bacon smoothly adapted to the new administration. During the summer he joined merchants meeting with Lord Dartmouth, new president of the Board of Trade. A long paper by Joseph Manesty, explaining the disturbances in America and analyzing colonial trade, was written for Dartmouth in Copthall Court. When Grenville heard that merchants had begun organizing to get Parliament to repeal the stamp tax, he expected Bacon to resist such “Reflections upon the late ministry” and remain loyal to his original patron. But Bacon already had abandoned him.
Bacon retained his contracts to supply cash for the army payroll and to lease slaves to the government. He still had friends on the Board of Trade. Charles O’Hara, governor of Senegambia, learned this when he stopped Bacon’s agent from delivering 250 slaves to a French vessel. Le Negrillon was anchored in Senegal Roads to take slaves on board in violation of British law. After Le Negrillon sailed without these slaves, Bacon protested to the Board of Trade, declaring that British traders long had done as his agent was doing until O’Hara interfered. He said that he was losing money on his contract for the army. The board called on the governor to explain his conduct. O’Hara cited the law and estimated the loss to Britain by this trade at £200,000 per year. The board ignored his answer.
As Bacon’s interests in the West Indies expanded, he thought that Anthony Bacon & Company should be represented there by one of the partners. At the beginning of August 1766 he sent Gilbert Francklyn to Antigua. From that island Francklyn could visit other islands, “superintend” the leased slaves, and represent Bacon in dealings with army officers. Francklyn stayed in the West Indies for many years. He always defended slavery. He contended that slaves were treated comparatively well in the West Indies. “No severities, there exercised,” he wrote, “are equal to the cruelty of enticing poor people, by a small addition of wages, to work in lead, quick-silver, or other metals, or deleterious manufactories.”
Preparing to leave Virginia, Samuel Gist made sure that his interest in the Dismal Swamp Company received attention in his absence. He gave one-fourth of his share to David Jameson, a merchant in York Town. Acting with Gist’s power of attorney, Jameson would share the profits. While Gist sailed for London, Jameson paid George Washington £25, the latest assessment on each share. The following spring he paid £50 to purchase a slave for the company.
Gist provided for his stepsons by making Joseph Smith guardian of his younger brother, John. By Gist’s account, Joseph owed him almost £300. Nevertheless, Gist left him with inherited property, a mill Gist had sold him, a crop of tobacco already housed, and about £363 on John Smith’s account. Gist was not abandoning his interests in Virginia. He still ordered purchases of land and transfer of slaves among his plantations, and he did not mean to leave his new store in Hanover idle.
Sarah Gist stayed in Hanover for a few months after her husband’s departure. In the summer of 1766 she died. Mary and Elizabeth, teen-aged “young Ladies,” sailed for London to live with their father.
Gist established his home and office on the east side, Number 25, in Savage Gardens, a short street opening at its southern end onto public grounds at the base of the Tower. A few doors south of him stood the offices of the diamond merchants Joseph, Samuel, and Solomon Gompertz, of Gompertz & Heyman. A short walk took Gist to the Customhouse or the quays. He lived less than a mile from the Exchange.
On Tower Hill, he was surrounded by people who made their livings from the coming and going of vessels and goods. Lightermen, watermen, coopers, tacklehouse porters, ticket porters—these men lived near their work. Carmen hauled three hogsheads of tobacco, a ton and a half of freight, in horse carts from the wharf up to a warehouse. Many brokers and merchants also found it convenient to live on Tower Hill. John Norton had returned to London in 1764 after twenty-one years in York Town representing Flowerdewe & Norton. He ran the firm, renaming it John Norton & Son, in Gould Square, which opened into Crutched Friars near Savage Gardens. Closer to the Thames, in Black Raven Court, off Seething Lane on the other side of the Navy Office from Savage Gardens, lived John Stewart, the great Virginia and West Indies merchant. He was best known for his contract with the government to transport felons to the colonies as indentured servants. A walk along Tower Street toward the Tower, a turn left and a walk in Mark Lane, or in Seething Lane, and a turn right to walk along Crutched Friars took one past dozens of merchants’ offices and warehouses.
Arriving in Savage Gardens, Gist’s daughters found their father living on the edge of “a very mean neighbourhood.” Immediately behind Number 25 stood fourteen almshouses in which the Drapers’ Company supported aged poor men and their wives. A few yards farther east, along the course of the old city wall fronting on the Minories, were shacks, carpenters’ yards, vacant lots, and dunghills. Among them moved “whores and thieves,” making the almost impassable area “a terror to the neighbouring inhabitants.” Anyone walking on Tower Hill met many beggars. One seaman called them “the lame, lazy and maimed.” Across the Minories, in Church Street, stood a charity home for “decayed masters or pilots of ships, their wives or widows.” A little farther east, in Prescot Street, a plain building devoted for the past seven years to charity had taken the name Magdalen House for the seclusion and reformation of underage “penitent prostitutes.” The garrets of the Minories, like those of Grub Street, held writers trying to live by their wits.
Samuel Gist and his daughters watched their neighborhood change. The open spaces on Tower Hill still held beggars, coaches and chaises of the rich, a street preacher, and a “foreign quack doctor” offering to heal “the blind and the lame.” Nearby streets and buildings were soon remade. The Corporation of London gave orders to raze hovels, tear down more of the old wall, and widen the Minories. It commissioned its architect to design symmetrical four-story brick rows in imitation of the latest triumph at Bath. Gist approved. Even the penitent prostitutes were going to move to a “very elegant edifice” on the south bank of the Thames.
Within a year of arriving in London, Gist bought his first ship, a new vessel of 120 tons, with a crew of fourteen. He named her the Mary and Elizabeth. She sailed for the Chesapeake, bearing the kind of merchandise Gist long had sold in Hanover. Eight months later she sailed from York Town, laden with tobacco, iron, barrel staves, and hemp. Dr. Walker consigned to Gist casks of ginseng—the rare, sovereign specific for health and vigor. Gist thought it “of indifferent Quality,” bringing a lower price. He admonished Walker, who roamed where the wild root grew: “pick out the Large Spungy Roots.” Gist grew angry when told that some Virginians—“vile ingratefull people,” he called them—were accusing him of shipping inferior goods while also getting low prices for their tobacco. He saw malice at work: “such Stories are propogated by my enemies.” He was willing to be magnanimous. He wrote, before buying another, bigger ship: “that shall not make me less ready to serve them whenever I can, as I will be so much of a Christian on this Occasion as to do them good for evil.”
Sitting in his counting room next to the almshouse, Gist thought about debtors, people in Virginia who had not paid him. His attorney in Hanover, Peter Lyons, pursued in court debts as small as £1 12s. 1d. But hardly any remittances on old accounts came in, and too many current correspondents wanted too much credit. Gist grew more irritated: “a man might as well have an Estate in the moon as money in Peoples hands who will not pay it.” He was already thinking about better ways to make profits. Of Virginians he said: “I can do without them.”
Maintaining his consignment trade to Virginia, Gist added other interests. His trim little figure appeared not only in the Virginia Walk on ’Change but also on the other side of Exchange Alley in Lombard Street, in the crowded, smoky rooms of Lloyd’s Coffee House. Another Tower Hill merchant trading to America, William Stead, was an underwriter of marine insurance there. As in all such establishments, stooped waiters served food and drink. More than others, Lloyd’s filled in the afternoon with men calculating the fate of vessels at sea. The latest news of ships all over the world was posted there. Open bags awaited letters for every port. Auctions of vessels were frequent, hectic, and brief, lasting only as long as the burning of an inch of candle. Anthony Bacon had bought the Two Sisters for a run to Africa and Maryland in that way, paying too much, some thought. And scores of men took their usual seats in Lloyd’s, offering to sign their names to policies of insurance on vessels about to sail or already at sea. Samuel Gist joined them.
Becoming an underwriter was easy. One signed the book at Lloyd’s and paid a fee of two guineas per year. A man of modest means might prosper as an underwriter. When Gist reached London, John Julius Angerstein, at the age of thirty-one, had worked as a broker and underwriter for ten years and had begun a fortune. He later explained: “I am as careful as I possibly can be.” Care was necessary because a man’s promise to pay the portion of a policy he had subscribed, usually £100 or £200, in case of loss or damage was only as good as his own credit. To make much money, he had to sign dozens or scores of policies. A run of disasters at sea could bankrupt him. Premiums of 2 percent or 2½ percent of the insured value of vessel and cargo for a single voyage tempted some men to write their names on too many policies, hoping against the odds for calm seas and prosperous voyages in every quarter. Angerstein spoke of them as “men that I should not like to take.”
Owners of vessels and cargoes could insure most securely with one of the two chartered companies, London Assurance and Royal Exchange Assurance, which had a corporate liability to pay their losses. But they charged higher premiums; they demanded security for a policyholder’s or a broker’s ability to pay his premium; and they asked many more questions about vessels and voyages than did private underwriters. Most of the work of circulating among underwriters at Lloyd’s, quickly negotiating premiums, and securing signatures on policies fell to brokers. They knew and were known by the men in the room. Extending credit to owners of vessels and cargoes, brokers enabled them to take out more and larger policies, increasing the volume of insurance transactions.
Many underwriters were also merchants, at once insurers and insured. Samuel Gist had come to agree with one of these merchant underwriters, James Bourdieu, who later wrote: “a Man in business here, can make greater advantage of his Money than lending it at Interest in America.” That was what Gist’s Virginia trade seemed to have become, he said. He began to appear at Lloyd’s regularly. There the first rule of success was: “an Underwriter ought always to attend and be in the way”—that is, in the way of getting policies and news. The more a man knew about vessels in the trade, captains commanding them, merchants and their business affairs, distant ports, and foreseeable risks, the better he could gauge where to insure, what to avoid, and how much to charge. He needed more information than he found in the annual Lloyd’s Register and the semiweekly Lloyd’s List. A cautious underwriter might stick to “regular risks”—voyages from Britain to America and back or from Britain to a Continental port and back. The more venturous subscribed to “cross risks,” insuring voyages among foreign ports and voyages to several ports. Even regular risks called on an underwriter for a command of myriad discrete details, a fast calculation when offered a policy, and an ability to spot “Sea Gulls,” the men who came in only when they found themselves in “stormy weather,” hoping to get unusually high risks insured. Success, a veteran said, came from “long continued attention as an Underwriter.” Those who made fortunes in Lloyd’s Coffee House did so by collecting more and more premiums, subscribing more and more policies. It was a good place for the self-made man: “I should think that an Individual, who has nothing but his own head and his own ability and talent to forward his interest, would adhere as much to it as possible, his whole mind and time is given up to it.”
Among the crowd in the Coffee House each afternoon, George Hayley was known as “a merchant of eminence, and one of the veteran ‘dreadnought’ Underwriters, always ready to engage in any risk at a very small premium.” Like Gist, he had started as a clerk and had made a fortunate marriage—in Hayley’s case to John Wilkes’s sister, Mary. The widow of a City merchant, she brought Hayley a fortune of £15,000. He rose to the head of the firm trading to America in which he had begun as a clerk. By the time Gist crossed his path, Hayley was rumored to have a capital of £100,000.
Among Gist’s neighbors in Savage Gardens was Henry Chapman, son-in-law of George Hayley’s “intimate & close” friend, William Neate. Another regular at Lloyd’s, Neate was best known in the linen and cloth trade. He exported chiefly to Pennsylvania, New York, and Canada. “No one man in this City,” he wrote, “understands the Trade better than myself or excells in so many articles.” From Neate, Gist could learn that even the most able merchant might suffer for lack of remittances from customers in the colonies.
After becoming an underwriter, Gist followed the examples of Hayley, Angerstein, and James Bourdieu. Bourdieu succeeded as an underwriter, and he kept an eye out for other investments, such as East India Company stock, sugar prices in Amsterdam, and arms for the French slave trade. He bought a country estate at the age of forty-six. Gist was just starting his career at Lloyd’s in his early forties.
As Gist grew acquainted with his fellow underwriters, he could survey the room and review any number of stories telling how diverse men had come to Lloyd’s: Samuel Chollet, once Bourdieu’s clerk, now his partner; Robert Bogle, Sr., in the Virginia trade; Joshua Mendes da Costa, who subscribed policies in the Portuguese trade and others; William Devaynes, newly returned from the Gold Coast and soon to be a director of the East India Company; John Nutt, heavily involved in the Georgia and South Carolina trade; John Shoolbred, not yet thirty, like Angerstein a rapidly rising young man, cutting an ever bigger figure in the Canada trade and the African slave trade; a merchant in Mark Lane with Shoolbred, the policy broker Thomas Bell, not to be mistaken for Captain Thomas Bell, a merchant and insurance broker in Aldermanbury near St. Paul’s, who “had the Good Luck to be call’d Honest Thom Bell, in Distinction to another who frequented Loyds Coffee House.” Gist had brought himself within reach of the summit. He was a player in the most important marine insurance market in Europe, a market in which a man stood as high as his reputation for skill and for capital. The Coffee House invited the shrewd and the daring, not the fastidious. Decades later, a genteel young man arrived in London with thoughts of becoming an underwriter. He met James Bourdieu, whom some people found “rather positive and peremptory,” as well as many of the men at Lloyd’s who had come into prominence in Bourdieu’s day. To the young man they seemed rough: “the old ones here are high in mercantile Reputation, but neither their Persons or manners would strike you with much Respect.”
As Gist arrived in London, many merchant underwriters at Lloyd’s, with merchants elsewhere in London and in other British ports, were talking about the stamp tax and colonists’ reaction to it. George Grenville’s experiment, they said, had come out a disaster. It had made the depression worse. Orders from the colonies had dropped steeply and remittances had dried up. Manufacturers had discharged workers. The transatlantic trade faced “utter Ruin.” George Hayley, William Neate, Robert Bogle, John Nutt—in fact, almost everyone in the American trade—wished Parliament to repeal the tax. The ministry which had replaced Grenville’s also disliked it and deplored its effects. The ministry sent “Agents” to confer with merchants, who then concluded that they ought to press Parliament with petitions for repeal. The partners of the House of Hanbury “spared no endeavrs” to make themselves “instrumental” in this cause. Merchants were summoned to the bar of the House of Commons to testify about the law’s consequences. Capel Hanbury and others darkly warned that Virginians might grow less tobacco and more hemp, turning their labor to manufacture of cordage in competition with Britain. Grenville and his supporters called the colonists “insolent Rebells.” Nevertheless, repeal passed by a large majority on February 21, 1766. Anthony Bacon not only voted for repeal but also spoke in its favor during debate.
In the afternoon of Wednesday, April 23, Throgmorton Street was crowded with the carriages of merchants headed for Drapers’ Hall. At its entrance the men stepped down, entered the courtyard, turned right, and climbed the grand staircase to enter the long, wainscotted common hall. It was set for dinner. Under full-length portraits of William III, George I, and George II, they celebrated repeal of the Stamp Act, applauding their leader, Barlow Trecothick. In Virginia, George Washington wrote to the Hanburys, thanking them for their part in winning repeal of an “Act of Oppression.” William Nelson spent much of Friday, July 25, writing to various merchants in the City, congratulating them on their success in Parliament. Though Virginians and colonists throughout North America spoke of “that unconstitutional oppressive Stamp act,” the men dining in Drapers’ Hall had not contended that the tax was unconstitutional, only that it was inexpedient, the wrong policy. Parliament, in a Declaratory Act, stated its authority over the colonies. But after repeal of the stamp tax, George Grenville believed Parliament’s authority “is now manifestly destroy’d” and “must be asserted & establish’d.” Told that colonists would demonstrate universal joy and gratitude, he replied that if the merchants and the colonists’ other friends would “do the same by Buckinghamshire, and double tax themselves to take off our taxes, I will engage for my countrymen here that they shall express as universal joy and more gratitude for the future.”
• • •
George Washington and Fielding Lewis visited the Dismal Swamp in April before attending a meeting of their company in Williamsburg. They saw more of the perimeter than they had seen for several years by riding toward Edenton and crossing into North Carolina to call on Marmaduke Norfleet, a planter in Perquimans County. Washington and Lewis bought some of his land lying along the road seven or eight miles south of the dividing line. The tract held a good house, kitchen, and barn surrounded by a little more than 1,000 acres. Part was well timbered. Part was “exceeding rich and open meadow.” All, Washington believed, was “capable of great improvement.” He and Lewis offered more than £1 per acre, which Norfleet accepted.
Returning to Virginia, Washington stopped in Norfolk, where shipwrights were building a schooner for him. He spent time with Robert Tucker. If the busy merchant looked more fretful than usual, he had good reason. His many debtors would not respond to his repeated requests for payments. In vain he traveled to court days to meet them. The more cargoes he shipped in vessels of London firms, the more he risked, and he had many creditors. For the past ten weeks Tucker had drawn bills of exchange on a London house, Hasenclever, Seton & Crofts, totaling more than £1,560 sterling. He apparently did not know that this firm was not an ordinary mercantile enterprise. Founded in 1763, it provided money and credit for Peter Hasenclever’s wildly ambitious projects in New Jersey and New York. Spending far more than his partners’ capital, Hasenclever promised to make a fortune for them with pig iron, potash, and hemp.
Washington reached Williamsburg on Friday, May 2. The Dismal Swamp Company met on Saturday. John Washington had come up from Dismal Plantation. The members voted a further assessment of £300, or £25 per share, for the company’s operations. Robert Burwell did not wish to remain a member. The company agreed to buy his one-half share. While in Williamsburg, John Washington placed an advertisement in the Gazette, announcing that the Dismal Swamp Company would always have shingles “ready for delivery” at the wharf in Suffolk.
The summer of 1766 did not help the draining of a swamp or growing of tobacco and wheat. Heavy rain fell in June and the first three weeks of July. Then drought hung over the region, with heat so intense that some laborers, slave and free, died in the fields. John Washington kept the company’s slaves at work felling trees and cutting shingles, for which George Washington found a buyer. He traveled to Suffolk and the Dismal Swamp again in November. He and Dr. Walker and Fielding Lewis concluded that the company ought to buy Dismal Plantation from the estate of Mills Riddick. Washington negotiated the purchase of the 402 acres from Riddick’s son.
The £12 10s. Mann Page paid the company to meet its latest levy was infinitesimal compared to his debts. His effort to auction lots in his new Hanover-Town had failed: he still held 146 unsold lots. He offered them through a lottery. A £30 ticket was good for one lot, to be assigned by a drawing once all tickets were sold. Month after month Page’s advertisements in the Gazette invited people to buy. Few did. Samuel Gist suggested that a bridge be built across the Pamunkey to attract business from King William County to Hanover. He advised his correspondent: “perswade Mr. Page it will add to the value & Sale of his Lots wch. perhaps he may not otherways find out.” A bridge might have helped Gist’s new store. Nothing could help Page’s town. Rosewell’s grandeur still rested on unpaid debt.
Page’s son, John, was married to Robert Burwell’s daughter, Frances, early in 1765. Mann Page had promised to hand Rosewell to John and move to an estate near Fredericksburg, where a younger son lived. But Anne Tayloe Page kept putting off the day of yielding the big house to her stepson and his wife. John and Frances lived with Frances’s parents for more than a year. Their first child was born in the Burwell home. One of Anne Tayloe Page’s neighbors, who detested her, feared that she would hold on at Rosewell until her death. “God grant that she may reform before she dies,” he wrote. Mann Page apparently did pull her away not long after his grandson, named Mann, was born.
Mann Page told his son and Robert Burwell before John and Frances were married that he would give John a plantation on the right bank of the Rappahannock River, entailed property which John would otherwise eventually inherit, with the slaves who worked there, as John’s portion of his father’s estate. But Mann afterward concluded that he needed to dock the entail and sell that plantation in hope of paying some debts. As a substitute legacy he conveyed to John, besides Rosewell, property in Gloucester County, Mann’s portion of land on which his father and uncles and King Carter once had planned to mine copper with the Frying Pan Company, and one-half share in the Dismal Swamp Company. This was John’s patrimony.
John Page loved the brick-and-glass mansion his grandfather had built, but, by the time he and Frances moved in, it was falling into disrepair. Red paint was chipping or peeling; some of the dozens of windows needed work, as did the roof. Page had happy memories of his youth there: his grandmother teaching him to read, his tutor opening his mind, and, after he had gone to the College of William and Mary, visits by his best friend, Dr. Walker’s ward, Thomas Jefferson. The college had turned Page’s interest toward science. He took up astronomy and acquired a large telescope. What better place for celestial observations than the roof of the tallest building in Virginia? Jefferson enjoyed the “philosophical evenings” at Rosewell with Page and said that if he lived nearby, they might “pull down the moon.” Of course, the big event to which all astronomers looked forward was the transit of Venus across the Sun, coming in 1769.
Page was best suited to pursue astronomy with Jefferson or to talk about rare and curious plants with his aged neighbor, John Clayton, friend of Carl Linnaeus, as they stood in Clayton’s profuse, exotic garden. Page could not make Rosewell pay. He spent more than he had expected as he and his wife set up housekeeping. Yet he could never get more than 15 hogsheads of tobacco from the plantation. And he was ill prepared to deal with his new partners in the Dismal Swamp Company. The kindly expression and customary smile on his round face suggested a trusting nature. “I have known Mr. Page from the time we were boys and classmates together and love him as a brother,” Jefferson wrote, “but I have always known him the worst judge of man existing.”
The months of May and June 1766 brought a stark change of fortune to Susanna Robinson, the speaker’s young wife. For the rest of her life, another forty years, she could reasonably assume that her walking into a room would remind people in it of those months. Her troubles were of the kind that youngsters and strangers hear whispered warnings not to mention.
On Saturday, May 10, Speaker Robinson died at their home in King and Queen County, after much suffering from a kidney stone in his bladder. Robinson’s will named his intimate friend and ally Peyton Randolph as an executor. Randolph, however, long had expected to seek the offices of speaker and treasurer as soon as Robinson retired or died. He declined to execute and sent his brother, Peter, to look into the estate. Before the speaker’s death, burgesses and councillors had heard rumors of a “very considerable deficiency” in the treasury. These suspicions had come out in public comment and in “Conversation and private complaint.” Once Robinson died, the deficiency ceased to be a rumor and “immediately” turned into common knowledge. Several burgesses recalled that, although they had routinely re-elected Robinson speaker without dissent, they had “often” objected to his excessive power and “arbitrary conduct.” Within days Peter Randolph found that much money—certainly more than £70,000—was missing from the treasury. He told Susanna Robinson. She said she wished administration of the will to begin at once, and she called the speaker’s friend and attorney, Edmund Pendleton, to meet her in Williamsburg during June court days.
Peyton Randolph, John Wollaston. Courtesy of the Virginia Historical Society. John Robinson’s ally and successor as speaker of the House of Burgesses, Randolph was the first president of the Continental Congress.
Edmund Pendleton and Peter Lyons were to be the active administrators of the speaker’s estate. Pendleton had proven himself skilled at the bar, and with the proceeds of his practice he had bought an estate, Edmundsbury, in Caroline County. His sixteen-year-old nephew lived with him. Beginning soon after the speaker’s death, the boy saw “a considerable concourse of company” coming and going at Edmundsbury.
Robert Carter Nicholas volunteered to become interim treasurer, and Governor Fauquier appointed him. Though Nicholas had not seen the books, he did not trust Robinson’s clerk, whom Fauquier had thought of appointing. Upon taking office and learning of a deficiency in the treasury, he said four weeks later, he found “that many people were apprized of things which I was a stranger to until very lately.” He first estimated that £80,000 or £90,000 was missing. He foresaw “dismal consequences to the country.” Yet, despite an almost empty treasury, the colony’s credit did not suffer; nor did people lose confidence in its currency. Business went on as if the missing money surprised no one.
Three weeks after her husband’s death, Susanna Robinson learned that her father had murdered a man in a tavern in Cumberland County. John Chiswell and Robert Routledge had exchanged angry words. Routledge had been drunk, but Chiswell had been sober as he thrust his sword through Routledge’s heart, then told his servant boy to clean the blade lest it rust. Eight witnesses had been present.
John Chiswell was so testy that he could be “affronted” even by silence. He had more reason to feel edgy in June 1766. Though he lived in Williamsburg, he had been spending much time at his and Robinson’s and Byrd’s lead mine, which was not yet producing lead. Payments from Robinson to the Lead Mine Company and from the company to Chiswell had become his main support. After Robinson died, Pendleton and Lyons told Chiswell and Byrd that “we could advance no money for carrying on the Lead Mine.” Chiswell was insolvent when he reacted so angrily to Robert Routledge’s loud claim to be “as good a fellow as John Chiswell.”
After the coroner and an examining court took testimony from witnesses in Cumberland, an under-sheriff escorted Chiswell to Williamsburg to be jailed, awaiting trial. They met in the street three members of the Council: John Blair, William Byrd, and Presley Thornton. Acting as judges of the General Court, with the advice of three attorneys—George Wythe, John Randolph, and Edmund Pendleton—the councillors admitted Chiswell to bail on the spot and released him. Since Byrd and Thornton were his friends and all three attorneys had been close to his son-in-law, the speaker, this peremptory release of a man accused of capital murder struck many people as too blatant an act of “partial magistrates,” doing for Chiswell that which they would not have done for anyone lacking his “connections.” Chiswell left for the lead mine.
Edmund Pendleton was in Williamsburg to begin sorting Robinson’s papers and putting the estate in order. The administrators published an advertisement on June 13, calling Robinson’s debtors to pay immediately. In saying that the speaker had “advanced large sums of money to assist and relieve his friends, and others,” they left unsaid what everybody knew: by far the largest part of these sums had come from the treasury of Virginia. Pendleton and Lyons did not yet have a list of debtors and amounts. One man who had borrowed more than £2,700 heard that Robinson had kept no correct books. Pendleton found the papers “in great confusion.” Robinson had not taken security for loans, seldom had written a statement of a loan, and often had not even recorded it in the borrower’s account. Pendleton reconstructed some debts from letters and “endorsements on scraps of paper.” Nor had the speaker kept a record of the money he had taken from the treasury. He also had been lenient to debtors who had owed him for a long time and to sheriffs who had not remitted taxes to the treasury punctually. To sheriffs who brought tax revenues he gave receipts, but he did not enter all the payments on the treasury’s books.
Was the loan office the burgesses had passed the previous year a ruse to borrow money in England and lend it to Robinson’s debtors so that they could repay him, enabling him to return the money to the treasury, thereby neatly shifting the huge debt from Robinson’s account to the colony’s? Or had Robinson’s loans gone out during the year since the Council rejected the loan office, serving as a short-term substitute?
Richard Bland decided a week after Robinson’s death to seek election as speaker. Richard Henry Lee already had begun to campaign for himself, but Bland persuaded Lee to join his camp. Bland adopted Lee’s view, advocating separation of the offices of speaker and treasurer, promising “to prevent any unnatural Influence in the House.” Peyton Randolph hoped to succeed to both of Robinson’s offices. In May, Bland wrote to Lee: “I have no suspicion that the public Funds have been converted to uses for which they were not designed.” Such conversion, however, soon became the chief weapon of his candidacy as he censured Robinson for daring “to break through acts of the whole Legislature, and to controul their power by his own authority.” The late speaker had used his influence “to protect him for so flagrant a breach of his publick trust.” At the same time, Bland knew that many indebted Virginians remained “very importunate for a Loan office.” He said that he had in mind “a Scheme of great Extent” for a loan office or a public bank.
Robert Carter Nicholas hoped to become permanent treasurer. He, too, proposed separating the offices of speaker and treasurer. He promised he would have “no Influence.” He called on sheriffs to pay their arrears of taxes, warning that he would force them to comply. He said that Robinson’s conduct “can admit of no excuse.”
During the months between Robinson’s death and the convening of the House of Burgesses in November, Williamsburg had two newspapers. Their printers, rivals for the colony’s printing contract, were newly willing to publish scandal, satire, and political controversy. Supporters of Peyton Randolph accused and rebutted supporters of Richard Bland in the weekly Gazettes. William Nelson thought it all “scurrilous,” but he and Secretary Nelson read the papers. He had opposed paper money and had helped defeat the loan office, but he blamed Robinson’s “Error, or rather let me say the Weakness” on the “set of men he was connected with,” who had taken advantage of Robinson’s kindness to extract loans.
The published extenuations of Robinson’s conduct made a similar case. He had lent money out of charity and had done a public good by keeping more currency in circulation. With an undercurrent of passion and perhaps of private information, Edmund Pendleton and William Nelson wrote of Robinson’s debtors’ “application,” “importunities,” and “earnest Solicitation,” all of which the speaker “never could resist.” Critics scorned this defense. Professing to write about a hypothetical speaker-treasurer, one author called Robinson “a Man destitute of any real Goodness of Heart, and Benevolence of Disposition.” He had been “shamefully bepraised.” His chief offense was his “very great influence” in the House of Burgesses, enabling him to override opposition and, all could now see, to abuse his office.
The Gazettes also published letters debating John Chiswell’s conduct and the propriety of releasing him on bail. The chief critic of Chiswell, of the councillors, and of the three attorneys was Robert Bolling, stepson of Richard Bland. With arch sarcasm, he accused the councillors of acting as if they and Chiswell were above the law. High officials should be viewed with “Distrust, the parent of security.” To confirm this view he pointed to the deeds of the late speaker. Justifying Robinson, like releasing Chiswell, amounted to “subverting all ideas of virtue and morality.” William Byrd could not tolerate publication of such insults. He tried to get a grand jury to indict Bolling and the printers for libel, but the jurors, headed by Mann Page, refused. Byrd’s wrath only made him look more willing to violate “indifferent & impartial Justice.”
In their public statements both Robinson’s critics and his apologists professed surprise at the speaker’s backstairs activities. The writers said that they were pained to learn that “influence” had been at work in the governing of Virginia. They had heard rumors to that effect, but only rumors. So they had not confronted the speaker with public opposition or with private friendly warnings. Indeed, they had re-elected him by acclamation. Only after his death could they see and say that he had betrayed the public’s confidence in Virginia’s virtue.
As he compiled a list, Edmund Pendleton did not reveal the names of Robinson’s debtors. His own was among them, as were those of Benjamin Grymes and John Randolph. The largest single debt, almost £15,000, was owed by William Byrd; members of the House of Burgesses had borrowed more than £37,000. Pendleton was discreet. A graceful man, with polished manners, he “always looked to consequences.” The biggest debtors asked him to allow three years to pay. He persuaded the burgesses not to take debtors to court at once, warning against “rigorous Measures,” which would ruin many families. Bankrupting debtors would not secure payment. According to Benjamin Waller, who knew most of Williamsburg’s political secrets, Pendleton was so smooth that, after having “exerted his every power to ward off” the burgesses’ seizure and scrutiny of Robinson’s estate, he nevertheless “so conducted himself throughout the enquiry, that he was finally represented as one of its authors.”
Pendleton told the burgesses that the estate owed the treasury £100,761 7s. 5d. He assured them that the assets, with debts owed to Robinson, would exceed this sum. Not until years later did he reveal in private that he had felt “hopeless,” foreseeing “a great deficiency of assets for satisfying the Public debt.” Susanna Robinson and her three children must leave the comfortable house and beautiful gardens overlooking the Mattaponi. Everything must be sold, including Robinson’s share in the Dismal Swamp Company. In the meantime, Pendleton continued to pay the company’s assessments. Robinson’s merchants in London, John Lidderdale and the Hanburys, quickly brought suit against the estate.
John Chiswell returned to Williamsburg on Thursday, September 11, more than two months before he was due to stand trial. If he read Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette on Friday, he found Robert Bolling saying that in publishing letters of censure critics of Chiswell and of the councillors were not just interested in getting “the blood of Mr. Chiswell” by ensuring that he would be convicted and hanged. “We are desirous of knowing whether some Virginians may massacre other Virginians (or sojourners among them) with impunity.” The following Friday, Chiswell could read John Blair, president of the Council, almost apologizing for having released him on bail. Robert Hartswell had known Chiswell and Speaker Robinson for almost thirty years. He wrote to the Gazette to say that he never would have suspected either man of committing such crimes. More letters appeared in October, leading up to election of a new speaker shortly before the trial. But the case of the murderer of Robert Routledge never came to trial. On Wednesday, October 15, John Chiswell was found dead in his home, amid furniture he had borrowed from Speaker Robinson.
Three weeks later the burgesses convened. By a large majority Peyton Randolph defeated Richard Bland to become speaker. By another large majority the burgesses separated the offices of speaker and treasurer. Robert Carter Nicholas remained treasurer. For several more years, Susanna Robinson and her children lived at Pleasant Hill, until Pendleton and Lyons sold the plantation at auction to a Scottish merchant. The speaker’s body lay buried about 100 yards from the house. His grave never got a stone.
At the end of May 1766, a few days before John Chiswell entered the tavern at Cumberland Court House, Robert Tucker’s daughter, Sarah, was married to John Taylor in Norfolk. Tucker kept busy as usual, importing hundreds of hogsheads of rum and barrels of sugar, exporting wheat. His four vessels sailed the Chesapeake and made quick runs to the West Indies. A new brigantine, to be named for his youngest daughter, was rising on the stocks. His credit was good. His bills of exchange passed in Baltimore without an endorser. His bakery under the big windmills on the point turned out a ton and a half of bread each day. Yet he spent much time writing to his debtors and confronting them, asking them to pay. He met repeated disappointments.
During the summer, Tucker heard from his London merchants, Edward and Thomas Hunt, that his bills of exchange drawn on Hasenclever, Seton & Crofts were refused by that firm. The Hunts took the bills to sustain Tucker’s credit. He did not expect this news. He had loaded that firm’s ships with cargo; his account with Hasenclever, Seton & Crofts showed a large balance in his favor, about £4,700. He could not relax. His interests and risks were widely extended; he did not let a shilling long lie still.
While the Gazette writers warred over the past and future speaker and the bailment of John Chiswell, disaster struck Robert Tucker. Interrupting the long summer drought, a thunderstorm broke over Norfolk after dark on Thursday, September 4. Lightning hit the city. A bolt fell among Tucker’s six warehouses along his wharf extending into the Elizabeth River. These held dry goods, many commodities, and 6,600 gallons of rum. The buildings caught fire; nothing could prevent the flames from consuming them until the burning wharf gave way and collapsed into the river.
For two days Tucker weighed his losses. He estimated them at £2,500 of his own property and a much larger amount in that of others consigned to him. He wrote to William Nelson and to a friend in Baltimore, William Lux, saying that he would continue in business. He announced in the Virginia Gazette that he could fill orders for West Indies goods, bread, and flour. In adversity, Tucker showed himself to be, in Nelson’s eyes, “a Man of sense & Reflection.” But, reading Lux’s words of consolation—“your fortune enables you to bear it without feeling it much”—Tucker knew better.
He tried without success in the autumn to get remittances or a satisfactory accounting from Robert Seton, Baltimore representative of Hasenclever, Seton & Crofts. In London, Andrew Seton went bankrupt. Edward and Thomas Hunt demanded in December that Tucker repay them for picking up his protested bills. He refused, and the Hunts went to court. In the third week of January 1767, an express messenger arrived in Norfolk, bringing word from William Lux that Hasenclever, Seton & Crofts had stopped payment in London. Robert Seton did so immediately afterward. Tucker could expect to lose almost £5,000. Trying to encourage him, Lux wrote that Tucker’s “real Capital & great Integrity” would sustain his credit. At the same time, Lux promised to preserve “the greatest Secrecy” about these losses.
That winter Robert Tucker no longer worried about his credit or kept up his indefatigable work. He no longer understood what was happening around him. He had lost his reason “totally.” From London word reached Norfolk of the bankruptcy of James Crisp and Francis Warren, of the firm Crisp & Warren. In their ships Tucker had loaded cargoes for the Barcelona trade. He stood to lose £1,700. No one told him. The mind once embracing many promising enterprises and directing cargoes to and from points north, east, and south of the Chesapeake capes was now dark.
William Nelson and Richard Corbin, Joanna Tucker’s brother, visited her in Norfolk in May. To them Robert Tucker seemed “at the point of Death.” His brother, John, promised to come from Barbados to manage the estate. With great surprise, William Nelson learned that Robert Tucker was insolvent. His accounts showed that his debts in Virginia and other colonies almost equaled his assets, other than land and buildings. Nelson roughly estimated the value of the real estate, including Tucker’s share in the Dismal Swamp Company, at £5,000. Yet Tucker owed one London firm, the Hunts, almost £6,500 sterling. For more than twenty years Nelson had admired Tucker’s hard work and expanding business, taking for granted “that he was very rich.” He could only explain to Edward Hunt: “We are often deceived by Appearances.”
As Robert Tucker lingered vacantly among his pictures and maps, his partner in the Dismal Swamp Company, William Waters, lay near death in his house in Williamsburg. Just before Christmas he had written his will, leaving almost everything to his daughter, Sarah, though his wife was to have the house and an income for the remainder of her life. Knowing that his health was declining during the early months of 1767, he made clear his affection for David Meade, the warm-hearted young dreamer he had brought into the Dismal Swamp Company.
In the evening of Saturday, May 31, William Waters died. Two weeks later his will went to probate. He owned two plantations on the Eastern Shore and one in Halifax County along the Roanoke River. His slaves tended livestock and grew corn; most were very old or very young. His creditors went to court and won judgments against his estate, only to reveal that “there will not be near enough” to pay them. William Waters’s estate was insolvent. This outcome “astonish’d every one” in Williamsburg, Robert Carter Nicholas wrote. “I always thought him so safe a Hand, that I should not have scrupled trusting him with any Part of my Property.” In the months after Waters’s death David Meade applied himself to business, patenting hundreds of acres in the Dismal Swamp and elsewhere in Nansemond County.
Robert Tucker died on July 1. His obituary in the Virginia Gazette recalled the “many years” he had “carried on a very extensive trade” in Norfolk, “with the greatest credit and honour.” His executors, knowing what awaited them, held his will for ten weeks before going to probate. Dozens of creditors stood “prepared with their Bills Bonds & proved Accots.,” which they took to court. William Nelson, looking back on the ways Robert Tucker had “quite mistook his own Interest,” wrote his private obituary for his old friend: “a Life of so much honest Industry was hardly ever spent to so little good Purpose.”
Under such heavy blows, Joanna Tucker had grown “extreamly weak.” Nelson thought that liquidation of the estate, selling the contents of her house at auction, would kill her. Her brother-in-law had not yet arrived from Barbados. She and her children gained a friend in October when her daughter, Martha, was married to Thomas Newton, Jr., son of one of Norfolk’s leading merchants.
A few months later David Meade, after acquiring still more land near the Dismal Swamp, declared his love for Sarah Waters in the Virginia Gazette. Publishing an acrostic poem encoded with the beloved’s name was a favorite exercise. Meade did not use an intricate scheme of the kind John Hatley Norton devised to declare his passion for Robert Carter Nicholas’s daughter. The first letter of each line of Meade’s verse, read down the page, spelled “MISS WATERS.” A lover of gardens, Meade used images of flowers to praise her, concluding:
Th’exulting florist views the various dyes
E’en thus fares beauty in each lover’s eyes
Read o’er these lines you will see the nymph with ease
She, like the rose, was made all lips to please.
In the spring they began sixty-two years of married life together.
Executors of the Waters and Tucker estates held auctions of slaves and household goods. Sarah Meade’s mother stayed in her house in Williamsburg. The Tucker auction took place fourteen months after Robert Tucker’s death. The executors, Thomas Newton, Sr., and John Taylor, waited until his brother arrived from Barbados so that John Tucker could “buy the House & some other Conveniences for the Family.” At the sale the executors wanted only watching, not bidding, on many items. A bystander saw Robert Tucker’s skilled slaves—millers, bakers, coopers, sawyers, and watermen—bought for Joanna Tucker at one-fourth the market price. In the same manner she retained silver plate and furniture. The hammer fell on bidding for “a new, genteel, fashionable coach,” with two horses, at £10. With the assent of Robert Tucker, Jr., the slave, Jenny, was sold to her husband, Talbot Thompson, a free black man, who won the Council’s permission to free her. An auction of Tucker’s land set aside for payment of his debts and an auction of his share in the Dismal Swamp Company apparently did not take place. Benjamin Waller, attorney for Edward and Thomas Hunt of London, objected, since the estate’s land was the Hunts’ only hope for payment of Tucker’s debt. But the estate of the late Robert Tucker remained a partner in the Dismal Swamp Company, as did David Meade, whose marriage reunited the halves of William Waters’s share.
Just before the stamp tax troubles, Dr. Thomas Walker built a new house at Castle Hill, on an elevation overlooking the gently rising and falling terrain of the piedmont. Compared to the houses of some of his partners, it was modest, a two-story clapboard building with six dormer windows projecting from its slanted roof. For eighteen months, beginning in the summer of 1767, Dr. Walker spent much time far from his new home, working for the Loyal Company, for other western land projects, and for the colony of Virginia. He treated their interests as one. He was fifty-two years old, still wiry and resilient. His energy and his appetite for travel seemed as great as in his climb through Cumberland Gap seventeen years earlier.
The Loyal Company’s surveyors extended their chains in the steep valleys along the upper reaches of the Greenbrier and New rivers. Walker visited the region in the summer. He missed the wedding of his daughter, Lucy, in August, as did the rest of the family. At the age of sixteen she ran away with her lover, George Gilmer, who was twenty-four. George’s mother was Dr. Walker’s sister. The parents disapproved of a marriage between first cousins, but Lucy and George were “obstinate”: they eloped. Early in the fall, Dr. Walker went down to the tidewater, taking casks of ginseng, which he shipped from York Town, prudently consigning only part to Samuel Gist. He did not accompany George Washington and Fielding Lewis on their excursion to Dismal Plantation in October, but he attended a meeting of several partners of the Dismal Swamp Company in Williamsburg on November 3.
At this gathering Dr. Walker saw Washington, Lewis, the Nelson brothers, Mann Page, and Edmund Pendleton, representing the late speaker’s estate. And he met Francis Farley, newly arrived from Antigua, taking part in his first meeting of the company. Farley had come to Virginia, he said, “to restore my constitution by a Winter.” His son, James, already lived in Williamsburg as a student at the College of William and Mary. His daughter, Eleanor, was pregnant again, and Captain Laforey had extended his shore leave for another year at Maycox. The members of the company paid Washington their portions of the last installment of the purchase price for Dismal Plantation.
Dr. Walker’s trips grew longer and more urgent in the summer of 1768. Governor Fauquier died in March. In June the Council appointed Walker and his old ally, Andrew Lewis, as Virginia’s commissioners to negotiations for new boundaries between whites’ settlement and Indian lands. They headed northward for the upper valley of the Susquehanna River in July, accompanied by two of Walker’s sons, Thomas and John. They were gone until November. In Albemarle County, during their absence, John Walker’s wife, Elizabeth Moore Walker, was approached by his friend, Thomas Jefferson, who, as Jefferson later put it, “offered love to a handsome lady.” After waiting at Shamokin, Pennsylvania, Dr. Walker and Andrew Lewis learned that Sir William Johnson had changed the time and place of the conference with the Six Nations of the Iroquois. The Virginians continued northward, past the Catskill Mountains, across the Mohawk River, to Johnson Hall, a mansion in the forest, where Indian guests came far more frequently than whites.
Two weeks later, Walker’s party accompanied Sir William up the Mohawk to Fort Stanwix. There they watched the Indian delegations arrive in October. Hundreds from each of the Six Nations, dozens from other tribes, who had good reason to believe that the treaty would affect their interests—more than 3,000 Indians from 16 tribes gathered around Fort Stanwix. After days of speeches, bargaining, and private meetings, the treaty was signed on November 5 in a ceremony on the fort’s parade ground. Twenty boatloads of stacked goods, the king’s gifts formed three sides of a rectangle, within which Sir William Johnson, representatives of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and Dr. Walker received leading men of the Six Nations, their formalities watched from the ramparts of the fort and elsewhere by hundreds of Indian men. Walker then traveled down the Mohawk and Hudson rivers, arriving in New York City in mid-November.
Returning, by way of Philadelphia, to Williamsburg, Walker prepared to head southward. John Stuart, the Crown’s representative to southern Indians, had reached an agreement with the Cherokees in mid-October. As Walker had feared when he called his presence at those negotiations “an absolute necessity,” Stuart had assented, in Walker’s absence, to a line separating colonists from Cherokees which excluded the Loyal Company from much of its grant. Though Stuart had obeyed orders from London, Walker must go to South Carolina to show him that the Cherokees wished to cede still more land, that they even “disclaimed” land assigned to them. With Andrew Lewis, Walker left Williamsburg late in December, crossing the dividing line into North Carolina. They reached Brunswick, near Cape Fear, on January 5, 1769. Governor William Tryon promised his assistance. He had invited two Cherokee leaders to visit him, and these men accepted Walker’s invitation to sail to South Carolina. In Charleston, on January 11, Walker and Lewis made their case to Stuart, adding, in a meeting two days later, testimony from the two Cherokees. Stuart was unmoved. Walker and Lewis returned to Williamsburg to make their report on February 2. On this urgent trip, Walker missed the wedding of his daughter, Mildred, and Joseph Hornsby of Williamsburg. Walker approved of young Hornsby, a rising storekeeper with solid habits.
Each of Dr. Walker’s long journeys had ties to the others. The new arrangements with Indians were going to surprise and displease many people: officials in London, Indians of the Ohio Valley, Cherokees, and some colonists in Virginia and the middle colonies. Walker intended to be among those who gave surprises, not received them.
Virginians had grown more openly restive under royal prohibition of surveys and settlement beyond the crest of the Alleghenies. The House of Burgesses addressed the Board of Trade, seeking resumption of lawful settlement. George Mercer still represented the Ohio Company in London. The Mississippi Company concluded that it needed an agent, too. On December 16, 1767, the Mississippi Company made Dr. Walker a member. At the same time, some Pennsylvanians connected with Samuel Wharton, helped by friends in London, hoped to get a large grant west of the mountains, one extending into Virginia’s western territory and overlapping claims of the Ohio Company. Westward migration must continue, these rivals agreed. The only question was who would get the land. Dr. Walker and Patrick Henry picked William Fleming to go to the confluence of the Ohio and the Mississippi, making note of the best soil. George Washington sent William Crawford to the Ohio Valley to choose tracts Washington could obtain from the Virginia Council as soon as the ban on surveys and settlements was lifted. People were getting ready for a land rush to begin soon after a new agreement with the Indians.
By Sir William Johnson’s treaty with the Six Nations, they ceded land south of the Ohio, from the mountains to the mouth of the Tennessee. With their marks on the treaty at Fort Stanwix, leaders of the Six Nations signed away land on which they did not live, while Sir William and his colleagues treated the Shawnees, the Delawares, and the Ohio River Iroquois who lived in the valley as dependents of the Six Nations. Both parties ignored the Cherokees’ long-standing claim to much of the land ceded by the Iroquois. Sir William, with his signature, accepted on behalf of the Crown a cession of land stretching farther west than his instructions from London allowed—land Wharton and his friends coveted. Dr. Walker, with his signature, gave Virginia’s consent to an agreement designed to serve the interests of Wharton’s associates at the expense of Virginia’s claims, especially those of the Ohio Company. At the same time, the treaty gave Dr. Walker and his colleagues in the Loyal Company a boundary far to the west of the line John Stuart had drawn with the Cherokees, the Kanawha River. By next spreading gifts among Cherokees and reaching a new treaty with them, Walker and his friends might complete the Loyal Company’s success, having quieted the Iroquois and the Cherokees, sold out the Ohio Valley Indians, and circumvented the British government’s policy for the west. It looked worth eighteen months of strenuous travel.
Afterward, no one could prove what end Walker had sought or what he had said in private. Had he reached an understanding with Sir William Johnson during his two weeks as a guest at Johnson Hall? Had he closed an agreement with Samuel Wharton before lines were drawn on the map at Fort Stanwix? Sir William had said that Walker’s presence was “Necessary,” lest the absence of Virginia “appear odd to the Indians.” Did his presence have a price? Dr. Walker said he had known nothing and done nothing about the substance of negotiations at Fort Stanwix. He convinced even George Mason, a leader of the Ohio Company, that Sir William had frozen him out of all conferences. He implied that he was among the last to learn what the treaty contained. John Stuart, however, had no doubt that Walker served the same purpose in visiting Charleston and in attending at Fort Stanwix. To the Earl of Hillsborough, secretary of state for the American Department, Stuart explained that Walker and Andrew Lewis had a great financial interest in the land they sought to transfer from Indians to whites: “the Rapacity of the Land Jobbers in Virginia is insatiable.” During the two months between the treaty of Fort Stanwix and Walker’s return from Charleston, the Virginia Council received eighteen petitions for grants of western land totaling 845,000 acres. Looking at the aftermath of the treaty, the Earl of Hillsborough said: “I … can only lament that a Measure of the Utility of which such great expectation was held out, and which has been adopted at so great an Expense, should have so entirely failed in it’s Object, as to have produced the Very Evils to which it was proposed as a Remedy.”
Three months after learning of the death of Francis Fauquier, the Earl of Hillsborough chose Norborne Berkeley, Baron de Botetourt, to be governor of Virginia. Of course, Virginia already had a governor, Sir Jeffery Amherst. But he had stayed in England, accepting £1,500 per year from Fauquier, who kept an equal share of the office’s salary and fees. Hillsborough and the cabinet ended this arrangement and ordered the new governor to live in Virginia. On July 30, 1768, Lord Botetourt received the appointment from the hands of the king.
Botetourt already was a gentleman of the bedchamber, well known to King George. He was a handsome bachelor, fifty years old, who had been in Parliament for twenty-five years. He charmed people and ingratiated himself through good humor and polished affability. If he sometimes overacted, appearing a little peculiar, one had to recall that Lord Botetourt “writes and speaks and thinks very much in the style of chivalry, not in the style of business.” A few years earlier, while still a commoner, he had had close ties with George Grenville, who had helped him gain his peerage. John de Botetourt, the first baron, had been a fighter, following the Earl of Lancaster into rebellion against Edward II in 1322. Edward beheaded Lancaster and pardoned Botetourt. In the following century the barony fell into abeyance; there had been no Baron de Botetourt for more than 350 years when Norborne Berkeley’s claim won approval in 1764. The new Lord Botetourt was a courtier. His admirers saw the “politest, the most engaging manners.” His detractors saw “cringing, bowing, fawning.”
Of Botetourt’s mission to Virginia, Horace Walpole wrote: “If his graces do not captivate them, he will enrage them to fury; for I take all his douceur to be enamelled on iron.” The ministry wanted a governor who would tell Virginians what Parliament demanded, not tell the Board of Trade what Virginians demanded, as Fauquier too often had done. Parliament again had levied taxes on colonists, this time on their purchases of glass, lead, paper, paint, and tea. And six weeks after Fauquier’s death, Virginians again had pronounced such taxes unconstitutional, an attack on their liberties. Councillors and burgesses were united, and they encouraged other colonies to oppose taxes. The Earl of Hillsborough, the Duke of Grafton, head of the ministry, and the king sent a governor to represent the authority of Parliament and the Crown. Botetourt, since the first disputes between colonists and the government, had supported that authority in a tone of “violence & passion.” His critics called him a “tool.” As he sailed from Portsmouth, bound for the Chesapeake, on board a sixty-gun ship of the line, HMS Rippon, he knew that he was supposed to “answer the purposes of our Gracious Master.” Accepting his appointment, he had told the king that he was ready to leave that night. In the following weeks he said that he would go to his post with a desire never to return.
The governorship came to Lord Botetourt opportunely. In recent months he had become insolvent, or nearly so. Long a man of comfortable wealth, he ably promoted the interests of Bristol’s merchants while in Parliament. He owned coal mines, and he was a member of the Warmley Company, a large manufacturer of copper and brass. He invested heavily in expansion, apparently including new copper mines, and he borrowed to invest still more. Late in 1767 the company sought a charter from the Crown, which would permit it to raise more capital by selling stock and would free the original members and their private fortunes from liability for the company’s obligations. Competitors petitioned against such a charter. Botetourt’s critics charged that the costly expansion already had failed. Botetourt and his partners were trying to shield their own assets from the Warmley Company’s creditors, shifting their losses to investors by selling stock in a firm they knew to be doomed. Whether from these motives or from a belief that stockholders’ money might yet save the Warmley Company, Lord Botetourt showed great impatience in December 1767 and January 1768 as the Commissioners of the Privy Seal and the Earl of Chatham, Lord Privy Seal, put off final authorization of the charter after it had passed all other steps. The delay never ended; no charter came. Sailing for Virginia, Botetourt was “totally ruined.” The government furnished him with the silver plate, equipage, and expense account of an ambassador, leading the wit-crackers to say that he was going as plenipotentiary to the Cherokees.
HMS Rippon dropped anchor in Hampton Roads on Tuesday, October 25, 1768. The next morning Lord Botetourt went ashore to an artillery salute. He arrived in Williamsburg at sunset. The houses had candles lit in all their windows. At the gate of the capitol, the councillors, Speaker Peyton Randolph, Attorney General John Randolph, Treasurer Robert Carter Nicholas, and others welcomed him and conducted him to the Council chamber. After a reading of his commission, Botetourt took the oath of office and administered an oath to the councillors. They repaired to the Raleigh Tavern for supper. At ten, the new governor retired to the palace. Botetourt was ready for a quiet life. He soon saw that Williamsburg would offer few temptations. Writing to the orgiastic Francis Dashwood, he used a slang term for copulation, “basket-making”: “The trade of Basket making in a certain Stile is at a very low Ebb in Williamsburg, but agree with you that it will continue to flourish in the City of London.” Botetourt said he had “completely lost every Idea of that sort.”
Ten or twelve years earlier, George Washington would not have missed an event such as the governor’s first day in Williamsburg. As Botetourt arrived, however, Washington and Fielding Lewis traveled to the Dismal Swamp. They spent a night at Dismal Plantation, then visited their property in North Carolina. They also ventured into the swamp, which was drier at that time of year. They reached Lake Drummond, a destination less important to Washington for his ear’s detection of the stillness among the ancient trees than for his surveyor’s eye on the prospects for drainage. Washington met the new governor in Williamsburg the following Monday. With the death of Francis Fauquier, the Dismal Swamp Company had lost a friend who believed in a project to meet the Royal Navy’s demand for hemp. Lord Botetourt showed less interest.
From the day of his arrival, Botetourt “practised all his arts” on Virginians. They, in turn, covered him with compliments, finding in him “every Quality, that can recommend him to the good Opinion & Respect of the People.” Yet neither William Nelson nor Francis Lightfoot Lee expected the burgesses and the Council to change their opposition to Parliament’s new taxes. The governor was “soothing”; he knew how to make people feel happy. They still did not intend to surrender their liberty to the ministry which had sent him. On lesser matters, they accepted the generous condescension of a nobleman eager to gain influence among them. Not long after Lord Botetourt moved into the governor’s palace, Dr. Thomas Walker spent time with him, explaining complex matters, especially Virginia’s claims in the west and the proper boundaries between whites and Indians. Members of the Council also helped Botetourt understand. The governor became a supporter of new negotiations with the Cherokees and a new treaty to replace the one negotiated by John Stuart. As emissaries to arrange a further cession of land by the Cherokees, Lord Botetourt chose Dr. Walker and Andrew Lewis.
Francis Farley had opportunities to meet Lord Botetourt. Samuel Martin, Farley’s friend in Antigua, wrote a letter of congratulations to Botetourt, to be handed to the governor by James Parke Farley. Martin commended the young man to the governor’s notice. Though James looked “well made” and “stout,” Antigua’s steady heat made him ill. His father agreed that he should live in Virginia. A young man of “uncommon merit” ought to have an introduction to the governor.
Francis Farley’s stay in Virginia lasted longer than he had intended. He at first said that he would return to Antigua in the spring of 1768, but he did not sail until the end of the year. His daughter gave him his first grandson on the last day of 1767. She and Captain Laforey named the boy Francis. Before another year passed, the Laforeys were getting ready to return to England. At auction, James Parke Farley and William Byrd bought some of their household goods. James’s purchases included a woman’s saddle and bridle, though he was a bachelor. Spending time with the Byrds at Westover or at Maycox or in Williamsburg, his eye fell upon William Byrd’s daughter, Elizabeth, and hers upon him. She was only fourteen when he bought the saddle, but before she turned seventeen they were married.
Francis Farley enjoyed good health in Virginia, but he saw that Captain Laforey had sometimes neglected his properties. He had “to stay to put things in order.” He traveled to the banks of the Dan River in North Carolina to see the Land of Eden for the first time. Before leaving Virginia, he chose an agent to look after his holdings: Robert Munford, a young planter and burgess of Mecklenburg County. Munford’s grandfather had known the elder William Byrd well, and his uncle had accompanied Byrd on the trip to the Land of Eden. Munford had served under the younger William Byrd during the war with the French. He agreed to act with Byrd and with James Parke Farley as Francis Farley’s representatives in Virginia and North Carolina. At last, Francis Farley sailed for Antigua.
William Anderson grew up in Louisa County in the 1750s. The family knew Samuel Gist as a storekeeper and tobacco merchant. Anderson went to sea. By the time Gist moved to London, Captain Anderson was master of the Rachel and Mary, a 300-ton ship with a crew of eighteen, sailing between London and the York River. Chartered by the firms John Norton & Son and James Buchanan & Company, she dropped anchor in the York early in May 1766. After taking on a cargo of tobacco, she sailed for London in August.
Captain Anderson, who was twenty-four, spent the autumn and early winter in London before making a return voyage. He approached Samuel Gist and asked for permission to court Gist’s older daughter, Mary, not yet eighteen. Gist rejected him. As one would expect of a young man already master of a ship, Anderson had “a great deale of Pride.” But Gist was a merchant and underwriter of “Considerable Fortune.” His daughters, he boasted, had “never yet known want.” His vision of their future did not include marriage to the likes of the Andersons of Louisa County. He wrote that the captain’s “behaviour makes me sick of the Family.” He mentioned to Mary that the captain wished to court her and that he had refused this request.
Early in April 1767, Captain Anderson and the Rachel and Mary sailed for Virginia, arriving in the York in the second week of June. It was a difficult year for tobacco merchants in the consignment trade. Many planters sold their tobacco in Virginia. No merchant could load a ship without buying. Gist did not like to be forced to pay cash for a cargo. Virginians complained that a conspiracy in London to restrict purchases drove down prices. People in Hanover County believed that Gist directed the plot. This notion was “ridiculous,” he wrote; “threaten anybody wth. a Suit who mentions such a thing.”
The Rachel and Mary was loaded by October. Anchored near her in the York, Gist’s ship Mary and Elizabeth took on board tobacco, barrel staves, iron, and other commodities. That month both ships sailed for London.
Samuel Gist waxed prosperous as a tobacco merchant and an underwriter at Lloyd’s. He was a discriminating judge of ginseng, indigo, and hemp. One who watched him at work wrote: “The sale of Tobacco requires great attention; and besides is one of those things in which persons may be said to be lucky & unlucky. I esteem Mr Gist the best & most thorough Tobacco Merchant of my acquaintance.” After the Rachel and Mary and the Mary and Elizabeth arrived in the Thames, he had another 443 hogsheads to manage, in addition to his daily appearance at Lloyd’s and on ’Change. He did not know that on several occasions, while he walked on ’Change, hearing news and closing deals, his daughter, Mary, admitted Captain William Anderson to Number 25, Savage Gardens. When her father came home, her face and voice revealed nothing to him. She had given money to the servants, and they kept her secret.
Mary’s younger sister, Elizabeth, attended a boarding school. After Christmas holidays, Gist left Savage Gardens to take Betsey back to school. On Thursday, January 21, while Gist was away, Captain Anderson came to Number 25. As he and Mary had arranged, she was ready to go. Leaving word that they were fleeing to France, they headed for Scotland.
Gist returned and found only the servants. From them he learned what had happened. For months his daughter had duped him. He felt sick. She had, he thought, “treated me with black ingratitude.” He resolved to strike her out of his life: “she sh[a]ll be to me a stranger for ever nor shall she ev[er] inherit the least part of my Fortune.”
Mary Gist and William Anderson were married in Scotland. They returned to London in mid-February, preparing to go to Virginia. “I have not seen her,” her father wrote, “& sincerely hope I never shall.” John Norton had employed Anderson in the Virginia trade; he wished the young couple well. He could, however, do nothing with Gist. He could only hope to give Anderson some employment: “poor Man! I heartily wish he had to do with a less obdurate Father in Law, and one who wou’d have been more sensible of his Merit.”
Gist took some satisfaction from the likelihood that the couple would soon be poor: “they have a dismal Prospect before them.” Nevertheless, Mary was his daughter. After she began to “live miserably,” he said, he would “supply her wth. such common necessarys as are befitting the Condtn. she has so shamefully chosen.” For months his mind dwelt on the subject. He concluded that Captain Anderson was “a Villain,” who could “seduce a Girl from her Duty & ruin her.” And yet he could not forget his daughter’s skill with “every deceitful Art in Practice upon me.” Where could she have learned such duplicity?
Gist did not neglect business in the midst of his distress. He acquired another ship, of 150 tons. Registering her on March 8, he gave her the name Elizabeth, after his remaining daughter. She sailed for the York River, bearing a cargo of merchandise with instructions to his representative in Virginia. He gave his debtors a choice: consign their tobacco to him in the Elizabeth, or pay their balances at once or face a suit for debt.
Early in April, William and Mary Anderson took passage on board the Brilliant, bound for Virginia. She dropped anchor in the York on June 23. William found Mary “most amiable,” as did everyone else, except her father. In Louisa County he began to build a store. John Norton, from his offices on Tower Hill, kept working on Gist for a reconciliation, without success.
During the summer the Andersons fell out of Gist’s correspondence. He had other concerns. Many underwriters at Lloyd’s wished to open a new coffeehouse with a more specialized emphasis on marine insurance and with more careful scrutiny of men offering to subscribe policies. He agreed. Gist offered to help young John Tabb, of the Virginia firm, Thomas Tabb & Son, who was in London with almost 1,000 hogsheads of tobacco consigned to DeBerdt, Burkitt & Sayre, a firm near bankruptcy, unable to accept the large bills of exchange the Tabbs had drawn. Unlike Dennys DeBerdt and Stephen Sayre, Gist kept his attention on business, not allowing himself to be distracted by colonial objections to Parliament’s taxes or by troops stationed in Boston. Gist said that out of “friendship and compassion” he would handle the sale of Tabb’s tobacco for a commission of ten shillings per hogshead. Indeed, he would buy much of it. But for one cargo Tabb found another buyer, who offered £400 more than Gist did, and Tabb sold that part of the tobacco himself. Gist protested at being deprived of his profit and silently raised his commission on the tobacco he sold for Tabb.
On August 10, 1768, London merchants trading to Virginia gave “an elegant entertainment” to honor Lord Botetourt at the George and Vulture Tavern in Cornhill. The new governor left for Portsmouth and Virginia with their good will fresh in his mind. Gist had recovered from the shock of his daughter’s betrayal, which, he said, “allmost kill’d me.” On December 3 one of the hardest workers among the Virginia merchants, Capel Hanbury, suffered a stroke which severely impaired his speech. Gist saw an opportunity. Everyone knew that Capel Hanbury had managed the firm’s business. Gist also had heard that friends of the late Speaker Robinson resented the House of Hanbury’s unseemly haste in suing the speaker’s estate for payment. Gist might reasonably expect to draw away some of the firm’s business. He waited until Capel Hanbury died, then offered his “best Services” to Virginia correspondents of the House of Hanbury, promising: “you Shall be dealt with by the Strictest Rules of Justice & Honor.”
From his first days in London, Samuel Gist awoke Virginians’ suspicions in his dealings as a merchant. He soon fell under political suspicion, too. Colonists followed with concern the fortunes of John Wilkes as he flamboyantly defied the government. Though “grave ones” in Virginia thought him “a wicked abandoned Bankrupt,” the cry of “Wilkes and Liberty” held broad appeal among opponents of Parliament’s new taxes, though Wilkes earlier had ridiculed Americans’ position. In colonial leaders’ stylized, theatrical way of talking, he was a hero. Burgesses who passed resolutions against taxation and in favor of a boycott of British goods would have accepted the label put on them with contempt by a visiting member of the Fairfax family: “a set of Wilkes’s.”
In the summer of 1767, Wilkes plotted his return to the House of Commons, this time relying on electors in London. Though he must pay for “some eating & drinking,” the cost would be far less than in Aylesbury. After his victory in Middlesex on March 28, 1768, some of his followers celebrated by breaking windows. His reimprisonment under a writ of outlawry brought crowds into the streets for weeks. Riots broke out in several parts of London as Parliament came into session in May. Soldiers killed a number of people in St. George’s Fields, outside King’s Bench Prison.
Wilkes again brought himself before the eyes of the political world by publishing his accusation that the ministry had planned the killings in St. George’s Fields. The government expelled him from the House of Commons. During February and March 1769—Wilkes in prison all the while—he was expelled, re-elected, disqualified, re-elected, annulled, and re-elected. Bets on his fate kept brokers in Exchange Alley as busy as if he were “another regular stock.” Wilkes always appeared to enjoy the ferment he stimulated. “He was an incomparable comedian in all he said or did,” Sir Nathaniel William Wraxall later wrote, “and he seemed to consider human life itself as a mere comedy.”
Many merchants and other men of business in London signed an address to the king to show that much of the City, substantial men, opposed Wilkes. This address appeared, ready for signatures, at the King’s Arms Tavern in Cornhill, leading critics to suspect that its authors were not merchants but members of the government. It expressed the signers’ “abhorrence of every attempt to spread sedition, to inflame the minds, and alienate the affection of a free and loyal people from the best of kings, and his government.” After a raucous meeting at the King’s Arms, promoters of the address moved it to the Merchant Seamen’s Office on the upper story of the Royal Exchange, where it awaited signatures. More than six hundred men signed, Samuel Gist among them. Others were merchants in overseas trade, marine insurance underwriters, brokers, bankers, and directors of the South Sea Company, the East India Company, and the Bank of England—men who wielded great influence in the City’s commerce and finance but little in its political life. Other Chesapeake merchants signed: John Norton, William Molleson, Lionel Lyde, John Buchanan.
A procession of merchants’ carriages set out for St. James’s Palace on March 22 to deliver the address to the king. Along the way, crowds shouting “Wilkes and liberty,” “Wilkes, and no king” pelted them with dirt and stones, breaking the carriages’ windows and blinds, dirtying coachmen, footmen, and merchants. The Horse Guards rode out of the palace grounds with sabers drawn, cleared the streets nearby, and patrolled through the afternoon and evening. Retreating into Nando’s Coffee House, the merchants’ chairman, Edmund Boehm, lost the address and its signatures for a while but eventually recovered it, and with a few other men, presented it to the king several hours late. After this episode, David Hume, who thought Wilkes a cunning quack, concluded that the drama had moved into its ridiculous phase. Thinking about a historian later writing on these times, he said: “I am delighted to see the daily and hourly Progress of Madness and Folly and Wickedness in England. The Consummation of these Qualities are the true Ingredients for making a fine Narrative in History.”
Among merchants not signing the address, some tried to organize a demand for repeal of the new taxes on colonists. They found this difficult. The taxes might be “absurd,” as Anthony Bacon called them—what sensible manufacturing nation taxed its own exports?—but they lacked the pervasive effect of the Stamp Act, and they did not arouse so strong or united a resistance. Opponents in the colonies had shown that they would dispute all claims of Parliament’s right to tax, a view merchants in London did not share. Many colonists nevertheless conflated their cause and Wilkes’s, drawing a sharp distinction between merchants who supported the government against Wilkes and merchants who did not, though neither group agreed with the colonists’ constitutional position.
A letter from London, apparently written by Arthur Lee, was published in the Virginia Gazette. It said that by signing the address to the king, Gist and his fellow Virginia merchants had applauded “Ministerial conduct against America,” the massacre of Wilkes’s supporters, and abrogation of constitutional liberties. The letter suggested a boycott of the signers. One of Gist’s correspondents told him: “They are in a ferment.” He and other signers were deemed “inimical to America.” Gist replied that he had opposed disturbers of government, without reference to American affairs. He thought Arthur Lee “meant to make himself appear a Patriot in the Eyes of the Ra[bb]le.” No one could suppose that Gist wished to hurt America, since he was “so largely concern’d” there in his trade and investments. Three weeks after the merchants’ loyal address, Middlesex electors gave a large majority of their votes to John Wilkes for the fifth time. The House of Commons declared his opponent, who was supported by the ministry, to be elected.
The day merchants took their address to the king was the second day of business for New Lloyd’s Coffee House. Gist and other signers of the address well known at Lloyd’s moved their insuring to this establishment. More and more underwriters, merchants, and brokers thought that the original Lloyd’s in Lombard Street attracted too many newcomers who were not serious businessmen. Established insurers saw strangers of unknown credit offering to write a line of £100 or £200 on policies circulating in the room. These intruders had heard the usual stories about Lloyd’s, underwriters making huge, instant profits: “A Jew last War made 40,000£ by Underwriting at one Time from a Letter, Wrote by his Correspondent in Jamaica, containing only these words, ‘We are all well.’ ” Veterans knew that the presence of more men competing to subscribe policies drove premiums down in peacetime. And anyone could see that “every Man at the Coffee House writes policies now a days.” People seeking insurance on a large scale could not always avoid unknown, unsafe insurers.
Gist and his colleagues also had tired of interference with marine insurance by hectic promoters of short-term policies which were, in effect, bets on public contingencies. Would Parliament be dissolved and a new election called in the coming year? Would East India Company stock fall to £175 per share in the next three months? Would the Bank of England’s notes be discounted during the coming month? Would John Wilkes be elected member for Middlesex? Would Britain go to war with France or Spain within the next year? Was King George’s mother dead or not dead? Would the Stuart pretender to the English throne soon be made king of Poland? One paid a premium, ranging from £5 to £50, and received £100 if the contingency in question occurred. During the twenty-four hours after the king’s mother died, “many thousand pounds” of such policies were done on the question of her death.
Early in 1769, with encouragement from the principal brokers and underwriters of marine insurance, Thomas Fielding, a waiter at Lloyd’s, leased Number 5, Pope’s Head Alley, a house in a short street running between the Post Office in Lombard Street and the Royal Exchange. He had the building “genteelly fitted up” with tables and booths for underwriters. On March 21, New Lloyd’s Coffee House opened. A brief period of “Confusion” about the true headquarters of marine insurance ensued, but New Lloyd’s soon prevailed. Underwriters found themselves in more cramped rooms, with new neighbors in the alley: attorneys, stockbrokers, notaries, the Annuity Office, the famous Pope’s Head Tavern, and John Barnes and William Golightly’s State Lottery Office, crowded with people buying tickets under a lantern sign which read: “Tickets insured.”
New-Lloyd’s List came out on Tuesdays and Fridays with shipping news and stock quotations. Any owner of an outbound vessel seeking a cargo could “put her up for freight at New Lloyd’s Coffee House.” Vessels for sale were “put up” there, as were reports of vessels’ arrivals, departures, and mishaps. People promoting causes, such as breaking the butchers’ monopoly on meat or paying a bounty to turbot fishermen, left subscription books open. The arrangement was convenient: “at Lloyd’s Coffee-house the Broker can go from one Underwriter to another, who are conversant with different trades, and know how things are … he knows where to find each of those men, and he can form a pretty good judgment by the time he has been round, what he can do his risk for.” Every summer, at the start of hurricane and storm season, premiums rose. The same underwriters wrangled with the same brokers in “a constant scene of disputes” to see who would first pay higher premiums and lead the way for all policyholders. Everyone understood the game. Samuel Gist was one of the men in New Lloyd’s who “know how things are.” He mastered underwriting as he had mastered tobacco-selling. To make money, he had to class his risks and spread his resources. To get safer, surer policies, he had to write some for enterprises that looked shaky. “At Lloyd’s Coffee House,” a broker said, “we give and we take, the good and the bad together; and … by having one good and another bad we are able to get on.”
Gist was quick to charge policyholders with fraud. Anyone presenting a claim in which Gist found a flaw could expect many meetings with the underwriters and little chance of recovery without going to court. Gist stiffened the resolve of his fellow underwriters. His confident accusations and his refusal to pay a claim left one merchant at a loss for words to express his anger: “what more can I say of the determination of those ——.” Underwriters encountered many ruses: a ship insured after she had sunk, a cargo of trash insured as if it were valuable merchandise, then mysteriously lost at sea, a vessel scuttled by her captain. One underwriter amused himself throughout his career by compiling a list of frauds attempted by policyholders. Gist saw no humor in the dishonesty he detected all around him.
The sponsors of New Lloyd’s Coffee House regarded the rooms in Pope’s Head Alley as a temporary home. The space was small and inconvenient; too many men too close together made the smoky air “extremely inauspicious to health.” After more than two and a half years in these rooms, Gist and seventy-eight other merchants, underwriters, and brokers met on December 13, 1771, to begin a fund and a committee for “Building A New Lloyd’s Coffee House.” Each subscriber paid £100. They could not lawfully offer policies jointly, as a corporation, but they could jointly control the place where policies were written.
A few weeks later, the subscribers met again to choose a committee to carry out their intent. Martin Kuyck van Mierop served as chairman. Gist had seen all the committee members at Lloyd’s for years: the successful James Bourdieu; John Whitmore, an underwriter and merchant trading to Portugal; Joshua Readshaw, an underwriter since 1757; John Wilkinson, a broker who had joined Gist in signing the loyal address to the king; John Townson, a merchant and underwriter with an interest in the slave trade; John Ewer, an underwriter since 1757, who uttered the talismanic words: “If I know a ship to be leaky, I should not underwrite”; and Brook Watson, who as a youth had lost a leg to a shark in Havana Harbor and now, with a peg leg, walked on ’Change, prospering as a merchant in the Canada trade. An acquaintance later described him as “a contractor, and creature of Government.” Watson’s sloop Pitt plied the Québec route, and his firm, Watson & Rashleigh, almost monopolized exports from London to Halifax. Today Watson might offer Gist a line when insuring the Pitt to Québec; tomorrow Gist might offer Watson a line when insuring the Elizabeth to York Town. Not all men succeeded at Lloyd’s as these two did. Gist watched as one of the seventy-nine founding subscribers to New Lloyd’s, Timothy Bevan, Jr., brother of a well-known banker, “broke all to pieces,” defaulted on his policies, and died leaving no effects. After six years in the City, Gist had mastered his part of it. Henceforth, he would be one of the regulars at Lloyd’s, where newcomers from America learned the hard way that “there are so many wheels within wheels in the Trade of this Country.”
Governor Botetourt opened the spring session of the General Assembly on Monday afternoon, May 8, 1769. He had brought with him in HMS Rippon a gilt chariot upholstered in crimson flowered velvet and decorated with the arms of Virginia. Drawn by six white horses, he rode in it the short distance from his residence to the capitol. Richly dressed in a light red coat shot with gold thread, he gave the councillors and burgesses a long, slow, solemn speech. If, however, this display of the magnificence of Britain and the British government was supposed to stun Virginians into happily paying new taxes, it failed. They marveled at Lord Botetourt’s politesse; he dazzled them as a peer of the realm—but not as an official. John Page had noticed in the previous few weeks that “some People suspend their Judgement of him till after the Meeting of the Assembly.” They knew that the governor would not approve of what the burgesses were going to do. The test of Botetourt would be how he reacted.
Much had changed since the days when Governor Fauquier told the public printer what not to publish. With no subtlety, the burgesses’ printer, William Rind, brought out a volume of John Dickinson’s “Farmer” letters and Arthur Lee’s “Monitor” letters summarizing colonists’ rejection of taxation by Parliament. In “Monitor” Number VII, Lee wrote that the Townshend duties, as the new taxes were called, had only one purpose: “we are no longer to be free.” William Nelson, George Washington, and others had been writing privately in the same vein. Eight days after Botetourt’s address, the burgesses unanimously passed four resolutions claiming the sole right to tax Virginians and objecting to removal of any person for trial outside the colony, as Parliament’s legislation authorized. Rind printed these resolutions in a convenient broadside. Botetourt summoned the burgesses to the Council chamber and dissolved the General Assembly.
Thus ended the political career of David Meade, at the age of twenty-four. It had lasted nine days. He had won election as a burgess from Nansemond County, looking forward to “the most splendid general assembly … that ever convened in the British Colonies.” But on the first day, as Lord Botetourt made his appearance endimanché, Meade suffered from a fever, and he felt stage fright at the prospect of rising to speak in the House of Burgesses. The governor’s dissolution of the General Assembly came as a relief. Meade went home “completely cured of his ambition.”
Before leaving Williamsburg, he took part in one more political exercise. After Botetourt left the capitol, Meade accompanied the other burgesses down the street to the Raleigh Tavern. There they formed “a regular Association” under which Virginians promised to restrict their purchases of British manufactured goods. They met again the next day. George Washington presented a text prepared by George Mason, which he had brought to Williamsburg before the burgesses convened. In it the associators pledged not to purchase any of a long list of goods. In this manner they would defy the ministry’s effort to reduce them “from a free and happy People to a wretched and miserable State of Slavery.” Meade signed; Dr. Walker signed; George Washington signed; William Nelson’s son, Thomas, signed; and ninety others signed. Then they drank toasts to the king, to the governor, to friends of constitutional liberty. They drank the last toast to “The Farmer and Monitor.” The following day, Richard Henry Lee assured his brother, author of the “Monitor” letters, that the Association “will undoubtedly be assented to by the whole Colony.” Lord Botetourt wrote privately that his ability to accomplish the king’s purposes “seems at present to be at an end.”
The Association emphasized the “very great” debt many Virginians owed for imported goods. It deplored “Luxury and Extravagance,” encouraging “Industry and Frugality.” These sentiments were familiar, even trite. A satirist in the Virginia Gazette in 1766 pretended to complain about those who appealed to truth and reason “in every trifling debate, about the depravity of our morals, our extravagances, and our debts.” Such people did not understand Virginia. “It was the boast of Sparta, Mr. Printer, that all its inhabitants were warriors. But pray what was their glory to ours? We are, I do assure you, a whole colony of Gentlemen.… As Gentlemen, then, what have we to do with truth and reason? Is it not evident that our gentility ought to be the only rule of our actions? Or rather, does it not entitle us to act in any manner we please?” Neither ridicule nor reason could arrest Virginians’ desire for imported goods.
Merchants in Virginia, especially factors, ignored the Association. While other colonies imported less, the Chesapeake colonies imported more in 1769 than in 1768—still more in 1770. A cynic said Virginians led in opposing taxes only “when they meet in assembly.” A few weeks after learning of the Association, people also heard that the ministry intended to repeal the taxes at the next session of Parliament. As that day approached, everyone knew that Virginians had not been, as William Lee delicately put it, “universally steady.”
Lord Botetourt had no bitter exchanges with the colony’s leaders. He and they vied with one another in expressions of esteem. During the burgesses’ fall session he announced the ministry’s intent to repeal taxes on glass, paper, and paint; he endorsed Dr. Walker’s effort to get more land from the Cherokees. He believed he had regained his ability “to do some good in this distracted age.”
London merchants trading to America wished to remove all impediments to selling more goods. Total American imports declined in 1769, but Londoners eager to reverse this trend by repealing taxes still did not defend colonists’ rejection of the power of Parliament. At the London merchants’ general meeting on February 1, 1770, William Neate, Samuel Gist’s colleague at Lloyd’s, opposed raising “the principle of the issue.” They should seek results: removal of the taxes. He clung to this position even after hearing that the government retained a tax on tea. The others agreed, saying that “as merchts. they had nothing to do but to ship goods agreeable to their orders.” Ten days before the House of Commons acted on repeal, the late Thomas Tabb’s 150-ton ship Nancy, loaded with merchandise by Samuel Gist, stood out of the Downs into the Strait of Dover, bound for Virginia.
William Nelson assured Francis Farley that Virginia would soon regain her happiness after the coming repeal. If manufactured goods could restore happiness, he was right. He heard from John Norton in London that orders were larger than in the past. As William Neate had foreseen, “large quantities of Goods have been daily shipped, and are now daily shipping for Virginia, Maryland, Rhode Island, Boston, and Montreal.” Such “merchants on the ministerial side” as Anthony Bacon and his partner John Durand sent cargoes. Writing for the newspapers under a pseudonym, Arthur Lee told the British that continuing the tax on tea left Americans still groaning under oppression. The colonists, he predicted, would persevere in refusing to buy goods “till their grievances are really redressed.” But vessels in the Thames, bound for America, took on freight and dropped down with the tide to Gravesend, sailing out to the Downs.
Some merchandise wound up at Westover after passing through Thomas Hornsby’s store in Williamsburg. The bills of exchange William Byrd gave in payment came back from England, protested. Thomas Hornsby’s nephew, Joseph, lived in Williamsburg after he and Mildred Walker were married. Joseph acted more often on his uncle’s behalf in business matters, as they pursued debts owed to the store by Byrd, by Speaker Robinson’s estate, and by others.
After coming to Williamsburg from Lincolnshire in his younger years, Thomas Hornsby succeeded as a merchant. He dealt in fine cloth, among other goods, and a competitor wishing to belittle him called him “Hornsby, the Taylor.” By the time his nephew began a family, Thomas Hornsby had “acquired a large Fortune in Trade.” He owned a plantation in James City County, outside Williamsburg. At the age of sixty-seven, he was ready to give Joseph more responsibility. In the last week of February 1770, Thomas’s wife, Margaret, died.
Joseph Hornsby came to live with his uncle and aunt at the age of seventeen. He attended the College of William and Mary the following year. He showed himself to be a steady young man, a devout communicant of the Church of England. After he made more money, he indulged one extravagance: thoroughbred horses; one stallion was descended from the Godolphin Arabian. In the years just before his marriage he gained, through living with his uncle, a close view of the consequences of extravagance: his uncle’s friend, William Waters, dwelling in comfort in Williamsburg, was found after his death to owe more than he was worth. Thomas Hornsby also lost by his dealings with the late Speaker Robinson, who had promised to pay not only his own debt to the store but also that of one of his relatives by marriage. His estate lay in disarray, and the only hope for collecting the latter debt was a suit in Chancery. Thomas Hornsby took from the speaker’s assets two tickets in the lottery for land held by William Byrd in 1768. Byrd tried to raise £40,000 or £50,000 by offering chances to win tracts at the falls of the James River. But even with a ticket known to have won a prize, Thomas and Joseph only received from Byrd one of his bonds. The worth of his paper was not a secret. At the start of his career, Joseph emulated his uncle, not Robinson or Waters or Byrd.
After Governor Fauquier died, members of the Dismal Swamp Company no longer spoke of hemp as their future cash crop. The latest book about North America, published in 1767, scoffed at the hemp craze. The Council acknowledged to the Earl of Hillsborough that the bounty “produced but little.” William Nelson said he had learned by experience that the soil of the low country would not yield much hemp. The burgesses and the Council did not give up on it, offering a bounty in 1769. The company, however, did not try to fulfill the elder William Byrd’s vision of tens of thousands of acres of hemp stalks. George Washington nevertheless had “sanguine hopes” for the Dismal Swamp Company. He received encouragement from an old acquaintance, who wrote that the company’s success “would produce the most desirable end of encreasing that Fortune which you so highly deserve & at the same time shew the Colonists what enterprise & perseverance can effect.”
Under John Washington’s eye the company’s slaves dug a ditch to Lake Drummond, grew food crops, and cut shingles. His only revenue came from sales of shingles. Members of the company relied on their “inexhaustible” supply of lumber. Cutting a road through the northern part of the swamp to the south branch of the Elizabeth River would make transportation easier. Indeed, why not dig a canal through the heart of the swamp, connecting Lake Drummond with the Elizabeth River?
At Dismal Plantation, such designs looked remote. In the years after work began, though more slaves were brought to the swamp, their numbers were “considerably lessened by deaths.” Some survivors left the plantation. After Robert Burwell withdrew from the company, his slaves, Venus and Jack, now known as Jack Dismal, were moved to his plantation of orchards in Isle of Wight County, where his son lived. They continued their “very cunning and artful” career, regularly escaping from various members of the Burwell family while wearing and carrying “several different kinds of Apparel.” They did not return to the swamp. A slave furnished to the company by Samuel Gist—a man called Tom, newly brought from Africa—soon showed why George Washington had set a lower value on him as a worker. He left Dismal Plantation in April 1767 and spent years “lying out,” always within a few miles of the company’s work, receiving help from one of Nansemond County’s troublesome Quakers. Samuel Gist, listening to invitations to invest in the African slave trade, realized that the Dismal Swamp Company’s efforts had been inadequate. The enterprise needed an infusion of new slaves.
Trouble befell not only the company but also its founders and their heirs. Francis Farley returned to Antigua early in 1769 to confront a short sugar harvest and a dearth of cash on the island. These compounded the difficulties of his service as representative of many absent owners. On Thursday, August 17, fire swept through the capital, St. Johns. It began when a slave threw staves from a pitch barrel into a heating oven. Flames burst through the roof and set fire to shingles. Roofs throughout the city, as well as some exterior walls, were made of shingles from Virginia. Despite the efforts of many people, steady trade winds scattered burning debris, spreading fire down to the harbor, destroying every warehouse on the wharf and almost three hundred other buildings. In autumn and winter, sickness struck the island, killing Farley’s younger son.
Tobacco planters in Virginia grew a smaller crop than they had hoped. John Page was losing ground in his account with John Norton & Son. He and his wife received a bequest from Robert Tucker’s mother, Frances Nelson, who died on June 9, 1766. He spent most of it buying food and drink for the voters of Gloucester County in what he called “the ridiculous Extravagance of Burgess making,” helping Lewis Burwell get elected. One extravagance more or less hardly made a difference. With many other planters, Page felt sure he had hired “one of the worst Overseers in the World.” Unlike others, Page lived in a huge mansion in need of costly repairs. Even “the most strict Oconomy at Rosewell” consumed far more than the value of the tobacco he produced. To distract himself, Page took advantage of two astronomical events in 1769: the transit of Venus across the Sun on June 3 and the transit of Mercury on November 9. His observations were not precise enough for scientific purposes, but he enjoyed making them, and he wrote long articles for the Virginia Gazette.
John Norton remained patient with Page, but other merchants stopped waiting for their debtors. Farell & Jones brought suit against John Syme. Edward and Thomas Hunt joined the crowd of creditors suing the estate of Robert Tucker. The executors admitted every claim to be just, then pleaded that, after their auctions, the estate held no liquid assets. Fielding Lewis feared the same fate for his son, Fielding Junior. A spendthrift as a boy, he was still one after he got married at the age of eighteen. Ignoring his father’s advice, he ran through his wife’s dowry so rapidly that her father asked Fielding Senior to take what was left away from Fielding Junior and spend it wisely on the young couple’s behalf. Adding to his embarrassment, Fielding Senior ended the year owing almost £1,900 to Anthony Bacon, as well as a separate sum of more than £2,500 on what they called the “slave account.” Dr. Walker spent his summer trying to make money from a grant on the Holston River, a tributary of the Tennessee. He apparently crossed the mountains to visit William Inglis on the New River, a tributary of the Kanawha. He made Inglis’s home the “Office” for his project: selling land in the Wolfhills at £11 per 100 acres. Not many people then lived along the Holston. Within a few years “great Numbers” did. They sent a petition to Williamsburg, asking that “the Grant so well known by the name of Walkers Grant may be buried in Oblivion.”
Who was trustworthy? At the time Lord Botetourt arrived swathed in rich colors, Williamsburg employed a visiting portrait painter. He specialized in miniatures, and planters kept him busy for months. A rich Englishman, Howell Briggs, once an intimate of the Prince of Wales, commissioned a portrait of his wife. The painter’s connections enabled him to persuade a planter from Middlesex County to sign with him as security for his bond. Soon afterward the painter left Williamsburg, sending back no message to his patron and leaving behind his oeuvres—mediocre portraits—and his worthless bond, all signed “Cosmo Medici.” Who could be surprised when he later turned up in North Carolina? In the minds of Virginians since Byrd’s dividing line days, that was where dishonest people fled to escape their debts.
The Scottish merchants calling themselves the Campania Company pursued their scheme to compete with the Dismal Swamp Company or force their way into a share of its immense future profits. They moved in the summer of 1769. James Parker ventured through the swamp before the worst of the heat. He returned in August with Thomas Macknight and fourteen slaves. Starting from an upper branch of the Pasquotank River, they cut their way northward through the swamp almost seven miles to Lake Drummond. In some stretches, bamboo stood so thick among the crowded cypress and cedar trees that the sweating slaves advanced only 1,300 yards by a day’s labor. Parker took surveying equipment. His celestial fix at Lake Drummond showed that the southern rim lay half a mile north of the North Carolina line. Clearly, the Dismal Swamp Company, with its drainage, lumber roads, and canal, would not be able to ignore the presence, just across the line, of its insistent Scottish neighbors.
Members of the Campania Company, Parker said, need invest little, waiting as Virginians paid for the expensive work. The Scots’ only concern was their title to 32,000 or 34,000 acres—or “perhaps dbl. the quantity”—in the swamp. The inconvenient death of the proprietor, Earl Granville, and the erratic conduct of his agents had clouded the transactions of 1763. But the seventh anniversary of the Scots’ first claims would come in 1770. They were assured by those learned in North Carolina law, especially their partner, Samuel Johnston, that they could then “pass deeds to each Other,” defining the scope of their holdings and fixing their title, based upon seven years of possession.
The Dismal Swamp Company’s grant rested upon the partners’ undertaking in November 1763 to return surveys to Secretary Thomas Nelson’s office within seven years. In November 1769, a year before that deadline, William Nelson petitioned his colleagues on the Council for an extension. He said of the company: “they have prosecuted that great and useful work, with the utmost vigor and attention, in which they have already expended several thousand pounds, and have at present a large number of hands employ’d therein.” The councillors said they were impressed by this “arduous and expensive” project to drain a swamp that was “a nuisance,” making it “productive of general utility.” They allowed the company another seven years “to perfect their work.” The following August the partners of the Dismal Swamp Company entered claims with the surveyor of Norfolk County for all ungranted swamp east of their holdings on the Norfolk County side.
The burgesses’ disagreement with Lord Botetourt over Parliament’s power to tax, in which George Washington took the lead, did not prevent Washington from mentioning to the governor in May that veterans of 1754 still hoped to get 200,000 acres along the Ohio River, as Robert Dinwiddie had promised. In December 1769, Washington reminded Botetourt of their conversation in the spring. And he submitted a petition for the grant, specifying alternate sites and requesting permission to use a special surveyor, not the county surveyor, to save time and money. The Council approved his petition. This was the first step of what he called “a scheme I have in view.” He wished to buy, at the cheapest possible rate, the claims of other veterans under the grant. But he did not wish them to know who was making the purchase or why. He imagined that he could accomplish his design, using his brother, Charles, to ask “in a joking way” what officers thought their share of the land was worth and then, “in earnest,” buy as much as he could for £5 or £6 or £7 per 1,000 acres.
Harmony glowed in candlelight through the windows of the capitol building on Monday, June 4, 1770. The councillors honored the governor with “a grand ball and entertainment” on the king’s birthday. Speaker Peyton Randolph, the burgesses, the magistrates, and the principal inhabitants of Williamsburg attended. Before leaving town three weeks later, Washington saw performances of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera and published in the Virginia Gazette an invitation to officers claiming land under Dinwiddie’s proclamation to meet in Fredericksburg on August 1. “A meeting at this time,” he wrote, “may be essential to their interests.”
Amid the festivities of spring court days, Councillor Robert Burwell remained unhappy. His wife, after suffering a stroke, had died on March 6. Sarah Burwell, half sister of the Nelson brothers and of Robert Tucker, had been widely admired, but her death fell especially hard upon her husband. People noticed that “he seems to have nothing to be able to pass away his lonely hours with.” He decided to sell his orchards in Isle of Wight County, his house in York Town, and his land along the Roanoke River. He owed about £2,800 to three British firms. He tried to borrow £4,000 from a fourth in order to consolidate his debts and pay for moving to the Shenandoah Valley to live near one of his sons and some of his grandchildren. But his demeanor made clear that he was not “able to think of anything but a wife.” At forty-nine, Burwell was, Landon Carter thought, “too young to continue single; and too old for any Lady but the aged to associate with.” He faced the prospect of looking “odd and foolish.” During the summer of 1770, in York Town, he courted a rich widow, Mildred Lightfoot, who was forty-seven. He asked for her hand in marriage. She refused him. This had “a bad effect upon his Spirits,” and he was confined to his home with a nervous fever.
The English partners in the Dismal Swamp Company, expanding their business, could not look upon their homes with satisfaction. Samuel Gist intermittently brooded about the “robbery” that Captain William Anderson had committed by taking his daughter. Gist meant to ensure that his property and his trade furnished no assistance to Anderson in Virginia.
In 1768, Anthony Bacon’s architect, William Newton, created in brick and stone on Higham Hill above the River Lea a smaller, two-story version of a grand country house in the Palladian manner. The main rooms, decorated with fashionable stucco work, had tall windows overlooking Middlesex and Hertfordshire, with vistas of forest, park, or river. There Bacon could escape the rush of Throgmorton Street and Cornhill, as well as the blast furnace at Cyfarthfa. But he could not keep his only child alive. Anthony Richard Bacon was very dear to Anthony and Elizabeth Bacon. They almost had lost him to scarlet fever when he was three. After he suffered six weeks of “great trouble,” God had spared him, “a comfort to us.” But when young Anthony fell ill in Copthall Court in the spring of 1770, at the age of twelve, he could not be saved by prayers, by “every effort of the tenderest affection,” or by “all the powers of well-adapted medicine.” He died on Saturday, May 26, and his body was buried in the Church of St. Bartholomew, next to the Bank of England and the Royal Exchange. Bacon put a memorial tablet on one pillar in the church, with an inscription and a bas-relief of Time mowing down a flower.
Bacon’s private life soon changed. Within a year of his son’s death, a woman named Mary Bushby was pregnant with Bacon’s child. At the age of fifty-three he had begun a new family. He and Elizabeth Bacon remained married, and he provided for her. He and Mary Bushby later had other children. The first child was a boy, named Anthony.
Samuel Gist moved quickly to break out and discharge the cargo of the Nancy after she was moored in the Thames in mid-January 1770. As usual, he thought the tobacco inferior, but he was in a hurry. He wished her to sail for the James early in February, while other merchants held their cargoes until Parliament repealed colonial taxes. Tradesmen delivering merchandise for his cargo delayed him more than a week, but he beat the rush. Gist did not give every vessel he loaded so brief a ride in the Thames. Even so, he spent much time in the years before and after this voyage of the Nancy sending goods to Virginia. He often said that he had better uses for his money than shipping merchandise to Virginians on credit. Yet he invested large sums in that trade.
Gist set up his younger stepson, John Smith, in the brick store in Hanover. Smith lived in the house his father had built, which now belonged to Gist, and worked for Gist as a retailer on commission. Gist preferred quick returns in commodities and cash, not higher profits based upon extending long credit. Within a year he had shipped £3,000 in goods to Smith. Six months later he put the sum at £5,000. He urged in July 1767: “be as expeditious as Possible to push all you can home.” Smith tried to reach a similar arrangement with John Norton, who declined but later shipped merchandise on credit. Smith lacked his stepfather’s aptitude for business. He bought tobacco at high prices and, much to Gist’s annoyance, paid in cash. Gist concluded that the young man needed help. David Anderson, Captain William Anderson’s father, would have done well, Gist thought, but he was out of the question after the elopement. Smith did not get enough help in good time.
Gist’s older stepson, Joseph Smith, believed that Gist had cheated him out of his patrimony. He tried to keep as many as possible of the slaves formerly his father’s, slaves whom Gist claimed to own. Gist sent a warning: “he will find it difficult to get shut of the scrape he will bring himself into.” Joseph Smith was married to the widow of Thomas Read Rootes. The Rootes family also thought that Gist had engrossed his stepsons’ property. Gist said: “I am determined to defend my Title.” Yet he offered Smith credit in an amount equal to half the value of the disputed slaves, in return for Smith’s conceding that they belonged to Gist. Smith’s lawyer, Patrick Henry, thought this proposed compromise “a little singular” and warned his client not to accept.
Gist’s ship Elizabeth, with a cargo of “Sundry European Goods,” dropped anchor in the York on May 16, 1768. She returned to London late that summer. In February 1769, Gist sent her on a winter voyage to Virginia, under the command of Captain Howard Esten. She still rode in the York early in September, as a hurricane swept up from Cape Hatteras over Albemarle Sound and across the Dismal Swamp, then hit Chesapeake Bay in the middle of the night. Violent winds blew for fourteen hours. Heavy rain came down for half that time. Uprooted trees fell over one another. Corn crops were flattened. Gristmills washed away in flash floods. Drying sheds for tobacco collapsed and flew apart. Many old houses were blown down. Every standing house sprang leaks.
The hurricane’s winds damaged almost every vessel in the rivers and the bay. In the Elizabeth River at Norfolk, in Hampton Roads, and in the York, all small craft stranded. All the larger vessels at Norfolk ran aground; many were dismasted. The Fitzhugh, out of Baltimore, stranded near the capes, her hold full of barrel staves, tobacco hogsheads, and salt water. In the York only the ship Experiment rode out the storm, after Captain William Hamlin ordered her foremast and mizzenmast cut away. The ship Betsystranded and soon had 11 feet of water in her hold. A light sloop ran on Gloucester Point, stove to pieces. Gist’s Elizabeth stranded with the others. It was the worst hurricane in living memory. Reading the first brief report in Lloyd’s List in November, Gist could learn nothing about the Elizabeth. He also took an interest in the fate of the Fitzhugh, on which he was an underwriter.
The Elizabeth was soon afloat, having suffered little damage. With her help a stranded brigantine was returned to the water. Less fortunate vessels were declared a total loss. Many were sold for small sums. The owners of the Fitzhugh, Samuel Galloway and Stephen Steward, seeing her stranded on the sand, waves breaking over her hull, thought she looked as bad as any of the condemned vessels. Yet they did not wish to lose her, stained though she was with the dregs of sodden tobacco. To get her afloat at high tide, they threw hogsheads overboard. She righted herself. Her leaky seams stuffed with tobacco and her two pumps working constantly, she sailed back up Chesapeake Bay to her home port.
To his stepson in the Hanover store, Samuel Gist wrote as if he were sacrificing his own interests by shipping merchandise. Nevertheless, in 1770 his Virginia trade expanded. After the Elizabeth returned to London, he sent her back with a cargo arriving before news of Parliament’s action on taxes. The Elizabeth sailed up the York, the Nancy sailed up the James and the Appomattox, bearing Gist’s goods. The late Thomas Tabb, owner of the Nancy, had joined with Theophilus Feild and other merchants in Petersburg to start companies retailing merchandise furnished by Gist. In the spring, Feild & Company sent their ship Two Sisters to London. Gist also supplied the new Norfolk firm, Phripp, Taylor & Company.
Samuel Galloway and Stephen Steward submitted to their underwriters at Lloyd’s a claim for insurance on 84 hogsheads of tobacco jettisoned from the Fitzhugh. They thought their claim modest, since they had salvaged the vessel and part of her cargo. They made no claim for damages to the ship. There could hardly have been a clearer case of what underwriters called jettison and loss overboard. To the owners’ surprise, the insurers refused to pay them £692 for lost tobacco, saying that this cargo could have been landed rather than thrown into the bay. The owners protested that the tobacco, after twelve days under salt water in the Fitzhugh’s hold, was worthless. But Samuel Gist, they were told, “has the Assurance to preposess the rest of the Underwriters with a notion that all your proceedings are base & Dishonest.” Gist and his colleagues prevailed when the claim went to arbitration. Samuel Galloway blustered about suing in Chancery, but he could only conclude: “I have learnt a Lesson not to expect even Justice from underwriters.”
Fighting policyholders and extending credit to storekeepers, Gist saw his younger colleague at Lloyd’s, John Shoolbred, making money in the slave trade and taking his business to Gist’s region, the Chesapeake. On June 22, 1770, the captain of a vessel out of Dominica, bound for Bristol, spoke the Providence, one of Shoolbred’s vessels, below the Tropic of Cancer. The Providence brought slaves from Gambia. After a stay in the Windward Islands, she was bound for Chesapeake Bay. Captain Thomas Davis said that he had “162 negroes on board, all well.” Early in July she dropped anchor at Port Tobacco, Maryland. Shoolbred’s representatives held a series of convenient auctions to sell men, women, and children “for Sterling Cash, or good Bills of Exchange, payable in London.”
Despite low remittances, Gist in 1771 loaded the Elizabeth, the Nancy, and the Two Sisters again. After Phripp, Taylor & Company received three cargoes from him, the partners grew unhappy. Their competitors sold narrow thread lace for the same amount in Virginia currency that the partners were paying Gist in sterling as their wholesale price. On one batch they noticed that markings of the regular price in England, 1s. 3d. per yard, had not been fully erased before the price charged them, 2s. 6d., was written in. They blamed the cloth dealers. Somehow, they could never make enough money to clear themselves of debts owed to Gist.
On August 17, 1771, Gist’s ship Elizabeth sailed from the York, bound for London, laden with lumber, iron, and 482,000 pounds of tobacco. Two months later, as she entered the Channel, she stranded near Cherbourg, a total loss. La Mademoiselle out of Cherbourg saved the crew. Gist took the first opportunity, by a vessel bound for New York, to send word to planters with tobacco in the Elizabeth: all of it was safely insured at £10 per hogshead.
After New Year’s Day 1772, Gist reviewed his books, kept by his clerk, Aiskew Birkett. They showed that he was “in Advance” for his Virginia trade by £40,000, the gap between invoices he had sent and remittances he had received. That was far too much, he said. He decided to restrict his shipments of goods, serving only those who paid punctually. His stepson owed him £1,787. Gist cut him off. John Smith had formed his own firm, Smith & Clarke. His autumn order for goods in 1772 went unfilled. Without comment, Gist sent it around the corner to John Norton, charging Norton transatlantic postage. In July 1772, Smith closed the Hanover Store and deeded away some of the land in Goochland County he had inherited from his father. In October he made his last entry in his ledger.
The partners expanded the Dismal Swamp Company’s land claims. Their entry in August 1770 for all the ungranted sector of the Dismal Swamp in Norfolk County cooperated with Anthony Bacon’s arrangements in London. In February 1770 he had spoken of his intent to get the North Carolina portion of the swamp for them. He did not seem to care whether James Parker and men of the Campania Company in Norfolk learned of his moves. If Bacon hoped to scare the Scots, he succeeded. Within weeks they heard of “advances” made by the Dismal Swamp Company to the estate of the late Earl Granville. The proposed purchase was huge: all ungranted acreage in the four counties of North Carolina covering the Dismal Swamp south of the dividing line. Bacon might reasonably suppose that the Granville proprietary existed to yield cash, as in the days when he had dealt with the old earl. Parker and William Aitchison wrote to their friend in London, Charles Steuart, urging him to talk, “as it were accidentally,” to people who knew what the Dismal Swamp Company was doing about North Carolina. Surely, after so many legal precautions and so much effort cutting their way into the swamp, they could not be “tossed out” now.
Steuart’s inquiries revealed that Bacon was dealing not with the new earl, whom the old Lord Granville “never would see,” but with those who hoped to succeed to the proprietary. The earl was childless and likely to remain so. His wife had worked as “superintendent of a bagnio” but had retired upon becoming Countess Granville. The earl long had been eccentric. “He drinks hard, and has a swelld leg, and looks heated”—signs that the Dismal Swamp Company might not have to wait long. Steuart had “no doubt” that Bacon would try to obtain the North Carolina sector of the swamp; Bacon could be “a very friendly man.” The Campania partners ought to empower someone in London to counteract him. Two months later, in August, George Mercer said that the Dismal Swamp Company had secured a grant of all the swamp south of the dividing line. Steuart talked to the company’s London partners. Samuel Gist said that Mercer was wrong, “but Mr. Bacon said he had got a promise of it.”
Parker and Macknight had done nothing in the swamp since their expedition in 1769. A local man called the “road” to Lake Drummond cut by the slaves “a species of Road such as Squirrels use.” The partners had made no other marks of possession, though they hoped to profit from cutting shingles while waiting to merge with the Dismal Swamp Company. Bacon’s backstairs arrangement in London threatened to leave them with nothing to show for their ingenious plan to force the Virginians to make them rich.
Some of the Virginia partners feared threats in London to their claims in the west. In October and November 1770, George Washington traveled with some companions through the upper Ohio Valley. They went down the Ohio more than 200 miles, to the mouth of the Kanawha, then up the lower reaches of that river. Washington took notes on the land and chose some tracts for himself. He already had taken an interest in improving the Potomac River. If waterborne commerce could pass the falls by a canal or other means, the Potomac and the Ohio could become parts of a single system. He imagined a “Channel of conveyance of the extensive & valuable Trade of a rising Empire.” Visitors bathing at the Hot Springs in Augusta County during the summer of 1770 saw families daily passing westward to live along the Ohio and its tributaries. No orders from London could stop them. Such migration foretold a rising empire and gave Washington another reason to act quickly.
Virginians knew in the early months of 1770 that Samuel Wharton of Pennsylvania, his London ally, Thomas Walpole, and a group of Pennsylvanians, with help from English partners, sought a vast tract: 20,000,000 acres of western Virginia. They envisioned a new colony, with its own government “a necessity.” They contrasted their own “public Spirit” with Virginians’ attempt “to monopolise on narrow and sinister Principles the Country to the Westward of the Allegheny Mountains.” Wharton, Walpole, and their partners offered to pay the Crown for its grant by assuming the expense incurred in the treaty of Fort Stanwix.
George Washington said that such a grant would “give a fatal blow” to Virginia’s interest. The prospect was “alarming” to Dr. Walker and to the Loyal Company. After a brief attempt to fight Wharton and Walpole, George Mercer joined them. He united the claims of the Ohio Company with the petition of Wharton and Walpole in return for a 1/36 share of the new scheme, to be divided among the twenty members of the Ohio Company. He took a 1/72 share for himself, hoping to win appointment as governor of the new colony. Though the Lee brothers were members of the Ohio Company, Arthur Lee, representing the Mississippi Company in London, opposed Wharton and Walpole. He wrote: “there are not a sett of greater knaves under the sun.” Wharton, in moving to London, left behind large debts in Pennsylvania. His sometime partner, George Morgan, called him “faithless & dishonourable.” Wharton feared arrest in London for unpaid tradesmen’s bills. Only success with his new company might save him. He could not afford scruples. He thought of naming his colony Pittsylvania but changed his mind: “in Compliment to the Queen, it will be called Vandalia; as her majesty is descended from the Vandals.” One of his former partners wrote in November: “The worst wish I pray may happen to this Generous gratefull, Polite Partner of ours is Abundant Success in all his honest undertakings.”
Wharton mocked the Virginians. He sarcastically asked whether Washington thought the Mississippi Company’s “very extraordinary petition” for 2,500,000 acres gave a fatal blow to Virginia’s interests. Washington’s “patriotic sentiment” in that instance went no further than desire for free land. Though Wharton could alarm and disparage rival speculators, he could not easily get around them. The Earl of Hillsborough, secretary of state for America, did not trust land speculators and did not approve of promoters eager to buy from Indians and sell to new settlers. Hillsborough used Virginians’ claims as grounds for prolonging consideration of Wharton’s proposal. Uncontrolled migration westward, though Hillsborough deplored it, went on, but neither Wharton’s associates nor their rivals profited from it.
Virginia’s opponents of Parliament’s taxes tried to revive “the Spirit of Association” in the summer of 1770. They drew up another list of goods and promised not to import these items of “luxury and extravagance.” Lord Botetourt and the Earl of Hillsborough agreed that promptings from England began this effort. The colonists may have hoped that their signatures would help their allies in London win repeal of the tax on tea. In June and July the Association attracted many signers. Scottish merchants and Samuel Gist’s stepson, John Smith, signed. David Meade served on the committee of enforcement in Nansemond County. Yet the effort did not last out the year. Neither merchants in other colonies nor signers in Virginia sustained the cause. A meeting called for December 14 brought so few associators to Williamsburg that those present immediately adjourned.
Lord Botetourt did not live to see the final collapse of the spirit of Association. He contracted a fever on September 23. His condition turned sharply worse on Friday, October 12—he suffered three severe convulsions. After the third he expected to die. He faced this prospect with composure and resignation, but before dawn he said: “ ’tis a little unluckie, had I Stayd a little longer the people in America would have been Convinced, that I had their good at heart.” These were almost his last words. Less than forty-eight hours later he died.
Members of the Council praised Botetourt, calling his administration “Golden days.” They covered his casket with superfine black cloth fastened by double rows of large gilt tacks; they held services for him in Bruton Parish Church and buried his remains in the chapel of the College of William and Mary. In the sale of the estate’s effects, William Nelson bought the six white horses and the post coach. The ornate state coach was retained for future governors. John Blair, president of the Council, was eighty-three years old. He slept through Botetourt’s administration, waking only to eat. The Council announced after the governor’s death that Blair made “a free & voluntary Resignation.” William Nelson became president of the Council and acting governor. Although Lord Botetourt died “universally lamented,” no one surpassed Nelson in commending him for bringing to Virginians “the compleatest Happiness We ever experienced.”
Robert Munford, burgess for Mecklenburg County, a friend of Francis Farley’s and William Byrd’s, had stood with Patrick Henry in opposing the stamp tax and had signed the Association of 1770. Political life in Virginia disillusioned him as much as it disappointed David Meade. Unlike Meade, Munford stayed in office. In private, however, he wrote satirical verse and plays. He began The Candidates, his portrait of ambitious politicians and loutish freeholders, with his version of Virginians’ reaction to their governor’s death. A burgess named “Wou’dbe” enters with a newspaper in his hand and begins a soliloquy: “I am very sorry our good old governor Botetourt has left us. He well deserved our friendship, when alive, and that we should for years to come, with gratitude, remember his mild and affable deportment. Well, our little world will soon be up, and very busy towards our next election.”