Letters from London and Liverpool merchants to Mrs Catherine Stapleton, Ellis Young etc.

Scope and Content

These London and Liverpool merchants transacted the West India business of Catherine Stapleton and others. They are :

Truman, Douglas & Co.

Truman & Co.

Truman, Neave & Co.

Neave & Willett

Richard Neave

Richard and Thomas Neave

Shipley, Williams & Co.

Fleetwood Williams

Williams and Wilson

Manning and Anderdon.

Mainly, all these deal with the arrival of the sugar ships from the Indies, their sale, distribution, prices and their fluctuations. They refer to the impact of wars upon the fortunes of the plantations, especially the American War of Independence and the wars of the French Revolution. Neave's letters of 1779 refer to the French fleet being off Plymouth (20 August); two fleets within sight of each other in the West (1 September); of a report that D'estaing had come back to European waters (25 September).

Later, come references to the mysterious movements of the French fleet (20 June 1780), to Admiral Rodney and to the loss of a ship carrying horses out to the West; to more danger from the French (5 February 1782) and to the calamitous circumstances of the sugar trade in such a difficult time. Convoys are continualy mentioned in the letters. The French Wars of the revolution brought greater tribulations e.g. British reinforcements were sent to Nevis (5 October 1795).

Other embarrassing factors enter theese letters such as the fire and hurricane at St. Kitts in 1776; in October 1778 it was difficult to say whether the storms or the French caused the greater uneasiness.The borer insect has always to be watched (26 July 1787).

Almost needless to add, the prosperity of the West India merchants depended upon peaceful times and the efficiency of the attorneys, managers and overseers on the spot. One is to be reminded of his decreased output (30 August 1776), another is accused of lack of management (5 November 1784), a third is to be discharged (31 October 1794). There are several complaints of these officials drawing big bills withour permission. On the other hand, Neave often says a good word for the harassed officials.

Occassionally, we hear of disturbances amongst the negroes and of too great severity being used to curb them (23 October 1777). In the letters of 1788 Neave is rather uncomfortable over the discussion in Parliament about the abolition of the Slave Trade (6 March); "humanity has already advanced the price of Negroes very much" (he reports on 22 July).