Thieves, Strumpets, Tobacco, and the French: A Glimpse into the British Atlantic World, ca1760

On this date, October 10, in 1760, William Fauntleroy appears to have been a bit cranky.  A planter and merchant in Tidewater Virginia, he took a few minutes to pen an epistolary snapshot of life in the 18th-century British world in a fascinating letter to his sister, Elizabeth, then in London.  It covers the British criminal justice system, gender, property, transatlantic commerce, and the Seven Years’ War, then raging in Canada, all through the perspective of one person, with his own bundle of informed and uninformed presumptions about that world.  Although William avoids the one ubiquitous subject that practically no one in colonial Virginia ever wanted to discuss–slavery–this letter otherwise gives us a very human moment and reveals the many ways in which we lose more than we gain when we see the Atlantic as a barrier, and a not a bridge, before the American Revolution.

It does make one want to find out how “cousin Henry” and Mary turned out, doesn’t it?

Sorry cousin Henry did not conduct his matters better in Virginia.  It’s really the fault of that convict wench that served part of her time with me.  If I were you I’d have her hanged for going back to Britain before her convicted time was out.  Her name was Mary Acres and you may easy know where she was convicted from.  I hope Henry is released by now and will reflect on himself and alter his course in life.  Things sent that came by Capt Brough were sent immediately to cousin Sally and Judah Fauntleroy according to your desire.  Sally is married to Doctr Mortimer, a fine man.  Judy is married to one of Col Carter’s sons, a good family and fortune.  I can’t tell what cousin Harry did with the money he got from Mr Hodge but believe when young men gitte so in love with common theaves & strumpettss they can’t have too much money.  I got with the extrs [executors] of your cousin Moore Fauntleroy’s and at last have your just clame inclosed.  Tobo [tobacco] now with so high, thought it most for your Interest considering there being no convoy & war times to send you a good Bill.  I think to send you & Mr Ribright a Little Tobo this year.  As for the war with us, the French lattly has given up Montreale without striking a Blow, so we have all North America from the French.

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“A Very Smal Trifle!”: A North Briton’s View of the American Revolution

Photograph of Daldowie
Daldowie, the home of the Bogle family outside of Glasgow. It was heavily renovated in the 19th century, before this photo was taken.

The Bogles of Glasgow were one of those families who illustrate rather nicely the intricate and often unexpected interconnectedness of the revolutionary world, or at least certain parts of it, and the rich personal stories that breathe life into it. The Bogles started in the tobacco trade when it took off in the years following the Peace of Utrecht. Following what became a common pattern for that part of the trade, the Bogle family established stores near Tappahannock, Virginia, and were assiduous in developing relationships with planters on the south side of the Rappahannock River. Their association with eastern Virginia lasted from the 1720s to the 1770s and their correspondence is filled with the ways in which the political economy in oronoco tobacco tied northern Europe (especially Rotterdam), Scotland, and the Chesapeake together in a fascinating web, one that differed markedly from the established sweet-scented trade that dominated Tidewater Virginia and London, in everything from business practices to political persuasions.

One particular letter, written on 4 November 1775, connects the greater British Empire, from the Chesapeake to Scotland and India, as George Bogle, outside of Glasgow, informed his son in Calcutta (then working with Warren Hastings) of the death of their relation in Virginia in 1775. It also provides a fascinating window into a lowland Scots (or, rather, North Briton) view of the Boston Tea Party and the American insurgency.

[Y]our Cousin German, Mr William Bogle dyed very Lately in Virginia of a fever to the Inexpressible Grief of His Mother, his Sister Nancy, and of His numerous Connections and Relations.We have been for some time, and are at present Engadged in War with our Colonys in America, who broke out in a most unnatural, unprovoked Rebellion against us their Mother Country Occasioned as they aledge on Account of a Small duty of 3d pr lb of Tea which the Parliament Burdened them with, a very smal triffle! The first Quantity sent to them they had the Daring Efronterie to throw into the Sea in Spite of the Act of Parliament.We have Come to Blows and Bloodshed some months ago upon the 10th last September they shut up their Ports against Exportation from the Colonys, and it is Imagined with good reason that the Parliament will shut up the Ports from Britain and Ireland from Exporting any thing to them whatsoever, only our men of Warr Will make good the Landing of Warlike Stores and provisions for the use of our Fleets and Armys in the Colonys, by which it is believed They will then be in a very miserable situation and of which I doubt not.

[Bogle family Papers, Mitchell Library (Glasgow), 19/22]