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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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Carroll, Daniel (22 July 1730–07 May 1796), planter and merchant, was born in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, the son of Daniel Carroll I, a large plantation owner and merchant, and Eleanor Darnall. Carroll lived at a time when Maryland law denied Catholics the right to vote, hold office, worship, erect churches, or provide a formal education for their children. Aristocratic families sent their sons to the Jesuit-owned Bohenia Manor Academy in Cecil County, Maryland, for elementary schooling and then to St. Omer’s College in French Flanders for a solid scholastic education. Daniel Carroll, his brother ...

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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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Ellison, William (1790–05 December 1861), cotton-gin maker and planter, was born a slave in Fairfield District, South Carolina. His father was probably the planter Robert Ellison or his son William, and his mother was a slave woman whose name is unknown. Originally named April, the mulatto child received exceptional treatment. His master apprenticed him to William McCreight, a white cotton-gin maker in Winnsboro. From 1802 to 1816 Ellison worked in McCreight’s gin shop, learning the skills of gin making from a master craftsman. During his training, he learned reading, writing, arithmetic, and basic bookkeeping skills. He also became well versed in interracial social skills as he met scores of planters who came to negotiate with McCreight for gins. These encounters provided him with a valuable network of strategic acquaintances and contacts. Ellison’s owner, William Ellison, allowed him to work extra hours and eventually to purchase his freedom on 8 June 1816....

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Forstall, Edmond Jean (07 November 1794–16 November 1873), merchant, banker, and sugar planter, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Edouard Pierre Forstall and Celeste de la Villebeauve. The father’s occupation is uncertain, but in Edmond’s youth several members of the Forstall family, Edouard perhaps one of them, were active in Louisiana commerce. Record of Edmond’s education is lacking, but at the age of twelve he went to work for a merchant. In his adulthood he was fluent in English as well as French and read and wrote widely in both languages. As early as 1818 he was named a director of the Louisiana State Bank. By 1819 he was associated with the New Orleans firm of Gordon, Grant & Company, and in 1823 when the firm reorganized as Gordon & Forstall, Forstall became managing partner. In July 1823 he married Clara Durel; the couple had eleven children, one of whom died in infancy....

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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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King, Roswell (03 May 1765–15 February 1844), builder, overseer, and manufacturer, was born in Windsor, Connecticut, the son of Timothy King and Sarah Anne Fitch, weavers. King’s parents were poor at his birth but prospered thereafter. The extent of his education is unknown, but some is presumed on account of his birth in New England, where schools were generally available, and to his writing ability. Like many New Englanders in the postrevolutionary period, he moved to the South. He settled in Darien, Georgia, in 1789 and married Catherine Barrington in 1792. The couple had nine children. In Darien, King became county surveyor, justice of the peace, justice of the county inferior court, and a member of the Georgia House of Representatives (1794–1795). Two brothers, Reuben and Thomas, also came to Darien after King. King and his brother Reuben entered into a partnership to tan leather and make shoes, with his brother doing the work and King apparently supplying the capital. Early in his stay at Darien, King was the builder of Thomas Spalding’s South End House on Sapelo Island, built of tabby....

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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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Manigault, Gabriel (21 April 1704–05 June 1781), merchant and planter, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of Pierre Manigault and Judith Giton. Manigault’s father, an immigrant Huguenot, had engaged in farming in the Georgetown area before moving to Charleston. There, after several years as a cooper and victualer, he turned to distilling brandy and rum and then to merchandising, laying the foundation before his death in 1729 of what was to become, under Gabriel Manigault, the largest fortune in South Carolina (and quite possibly in America) before the Revolution. Manigault (without formal college training) became a wealthy merchant, operating in a number of markets, especially the West Indies and the northern mainland colonies. He exported in his own fleet of ships regional items such as rice, naval stores, lumber, shingles, leather, deerskins, corn, beef, peas, and pork and imported such commodities as rum, sugar, wine, oil, textiles, and wheat flour. He was also a private banker, lending vast sums from his great personal resources....

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Montgomery, Isaiah Thornton (21 May 1847–06 March 1924), African-American planter and founder of Mound Bayou, Mississippi, was born on the “Hurricane” plantation of Joseph Davis at Davis Bend, Mississippi, the son of Benjamin Montgomery, the plantation business manager and later a planter and owner of a mercantile store, and Mary Lewis. As a result of his father’s prominent position among the slaves, Montgomery was chosen at the age of nine or ten to serve as Davis’s personal secretary and office attendant. Davis, the older brother of Confederate president ...

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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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Nelson, William (1711–19 November 1772), merchant, planter, and public official, was born in Yorktown, Virginia, the son of Thomas Nelson, a merchant, and Margaret Reade. His father sent him to England for his education in 1722. Part of his time in England was spent in Penrith, Cumberland, but the details of his education are not known. Clearly the stay was a long one; the first indication that he was back in Virginia was in 1732 when he was appointed to the York County Court as a justice of the peace. Nelson then entered the family mercantile firm, a flourishing business that included periodic involvement in the slave trade. By this time he was being described as “a young Gentleman of merit and fortune.” In 1738 he married Elizabeth Carter Burwell from an old and distinguished Virginia family; they had six sons. (The eldest son, ...

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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....

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Redwood, Abraham (15 April 1709–08 March 1788), Rhode Island merchant and Antigua planter, was born in Antigua, the son of Abraham Redwood, an Antigua plantation owner, and Mehitable Langford. Redwood’s family moved to Newport, Rhode Island, in 1712, probably for the more healthful living conditions it offered in comparison with Antigua. Although for a time they lived in Salem, Massachusetts, by 1717 they had returned to Newport. Abraham was the third son but inherited his father’s estate as his elder brothers died early in life. A likely prospective husband because of inherited wealth in Antigua and Newport, at the age of seventeen Abraham married Martha Coggeshall, who was like him a Quaker. They married outside the care of the Quaker meeting, that is, in a civil marriage contrary to the Quaker discipline. For this defiance of Quaker marriage rules, the young couple and her father, Abraham Coggeshall, were brought under dealing (faced a disciplinary hearing) by the Rhode Island Monthly Meeting and compelled to acknowledge their misdoings, the young couple for marrying out and Coggeshall for encouraging their “disorderly marriage.” They had nine children....

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Williams, David Rogerson (08 March 1776–17 November 1830), politician, planter, and textile manufacturer, was born on the family plantation, on the Pee Dee River near Society Hill, South Carolina, the son of David Williams, a well-to-do planter, and Anne Rogerson. The elder Williams died a few months before his son’s birth and left an estate that had grown to some 4,300 acres and 70 slaves by David’s sixteenth birthday. Growing up in Charleston, where his widowed mother settled, Williams experienced the powerful influence of ...