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Charles Carroll of Carrollton. Lithograph on paper, 1832, by Albert Newsam. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Carroll of Carrollton, Charles (19 September 1737–14 November 1832), planter, businessman, investor, and the only Roman Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, as well as the last of the signers to die, was born in Annapolis, Maryland, the son of Charles Carroll of Annapolis, a planter, and his common-law wife, Elizabeth Brooke. An only child, Carroll was sent at the age of ten to the Jesuit college of St. Omers, in French Flanders, where Maryland’s Catholic gentry sent their sons because the colony’s laws, which denied “papists” the right to vote, hold office, practice law, and worship publicly, also forbade them to maintain religious schools. Young Carroll studied abroad for sixteen years, ending with a thesis in philosophy at the college of Louis le Grand in Paris in 1757. After reading civil law in Bourges and Paris, he moved to London in September 1759 to pursue the common law at the Inns of Court. However, his antipathy for the discipline, which he regarded as “founded upon and still subsisting by villainy,” became so intense that he ultimately defied his father’s intention that he formally enter the Inner Temple, one of the four Inns of Court. Finding the paternal insistence on his acquiring the social graces more to his liking, he became adept at dancing, drawing, and fencing and mastered Italian, bookkeeping, and surveying, practical skills the elder Carroll deemed essential for success as a landowner and man of business....

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Carter, Robert (1663–04 August 1732), merchant-planter and public official, was born in Lancaster County, Virginia, the son of John Carter, a wealthy merchant-planter and attorney, and Sarah Ludlow. John Carter died in 1669 leaving Robert 1,000 acres and one-third of his personal estate. He also provided that an indentured servant be “bought for him … to teach him his books either in English or Latine according to his capacity.” Later, probably around 1672, he was sent to London by his elder brother John where he spent six years receiving a grammar school education. In London Robert lived with Arthur Bailey, a prosperous merchant, from whom he must have learned about the intricacies of the tobacco trade. Little else is known about his early years, but in 1688 he married Judith Armistead, with whom he had five children. In 1701 he married Elizabeth Landon Willis; this union produced an additional ten children. Five sons and five daughters lived to maturity, and all the sons received an English education. The death of his brother John in 1690, followed shortly by the death of his daughter and half brother, resulted in Carter inheriting the bulk of a large estate that included more than 9,000 acres of land and 115 slaves. Carter, already a man of substance, quickly added to his wealth through planting and mercantile activity, including a significant involvement in the slave trade. He also began to acquire large amounts of land, a process that was aided by the two terms he served as agent (1702–1712, 1719–1732) for the Fairfax family, the proprietors of the Northern Neck. The Northern Neck was that vast area of land between the Rappahannock and the Potomac rivers, stretching to the headwaters of the latter. At Carter’s death it was reported that he left 300,000 acres of land, 1,000 slaves, and £10,000 in cash, and it appears that this estimate was not far off the mark....

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Habersham, James ( June 1715?–28 August 1775), planter-merchant in colonial Georgia, royal councilor, and acting governor, was born in Beverly, Yorkshire, England, the son of James Habersham, a dyer and innkeeper, and Elizabeth Sission. His mother died when he was seven; subsequently his father apprenticed him to his uncle, Joseph Habersham, a London merchant. From him he mastered the import trade in hides, indigo, and sugar. By the age of twenty-one he had assumed charge of two sugar-refining houses connected with his uncle’s interests. In 1736 Habersham came under the religious influence of ...

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Jenifer, Daniel of St. Thomas (1723–16 November 1790), planter, merchant, and political leader of the American revolutionary era, was born in Charles County, Maryland, the son of Daniel Jenifer, a chirurgeon, and Elizabeth Mason. A fourth-generation native known to his contemporaries as “the Major,” Jenifer inherited 504 acres of land in Charles County on his father’s death circa 1729, and by 1766 he had purchased at least 2,000 acres more. He resided at “Retreat,” his Charles County home near Port Tobacco, for many years, but by 1766 he was living in Maryland’s capital, Annapolis. During the next two decades he purchased more than 3,000 acres in Anne Arundel County, including “Stepney,” an 800-acre plantation near South River, just outside Annapolis, where he lived from about 1784 until his death. In addition to his activities as a planter, Jenifer was a partner in the mercantile firm of Jenifer and Hooe and owner of the ship ...

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Henry Laurens. Reproduction of a painting by John Singleton Copley, 1781. Courtesy of the National Archives (NWDNS-148-CP-213).

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Laurens, Henry (24 February 1724–08 December 1792), planter-merchant and revolutionary war statesman, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of John Laurens, a saddler, and Esther Grasset. The Laurens family had fled La Rochelle, France, as Huguenot refugees in 1682. After stops in London, Ireland, and New York, they settled in Charleston about 1715. Laurens received in his own words “the best education” that the provincial community could offer. In 1744 he sailed for London to serve a three-year clerkship in James Crokatt’s counting house. Laurens married Eleanor Ball in 1750. They had twelve children, but only four survived childhood. ...

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Nelson, Thomas (26 December 1738–04 January 1789), merchant-planter and public official, was born in Yorktown, Virginia, the son of William Nelson (1711–1772), a prosperous merchant-planter, and Elizabeth Burwell. Educated first at home and then at a private school in Gloucester County, Nelson was sent to England in 1753. There, under the care of London merchant Edward Hunt, he attended grammar school at Hackney, near London, followed by three years at Christ College, Cambridge. Returning home in 1761, he married Lucy Grymes the following year. The union produced thirteen children, eleven of whom lived to maturity....

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Pollock, Oliver (1737?–17 December 1823), merchant, planter, and American revolutionary patriot, was born near Donagheady, Northern Ireland, the son of Jared (also spelled Jaret) Pollock and his wife, about whom little else is known. Raised in a farming and linen-producing region near Londonderry, Pollock learned the merchant trade. He emigrated to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in 1760 after the death of his mother, accompanied to America by a younger brother and his father. For two years thereafter, he worked as a merchant associated with commercial houses operated by Daniel Clark and William Plumstead. Pollock went to Havana in 1762 when that port fell to the British navy during the Seven Years’ War. He specialized in trade between Cuba and British ports in North America. Taking advantage of his Roman Catholic Irish background, Pollock remained in Havana after the city was returned to the Spanish by the Peace of Paris, 1763....