1780: Robert Buchanan to William Matthews

This letter was written in early November 1780 by Baltimore textile merchant Robert Buchanan. It was addressed to his business partner William Matthews in care of Mr. Broome of Elk, Maryland. The gist of this letter is a proposal designed to capitalize on the war-time restriction of the maritime trade caused by the British fleet patrolling the Chesapeake Bay. Though money was tight, Buchanan proposes to stretch the firm’s credit limits as far as they would go in order to buy up goods in other markets speculating that he could sell them at profit in Baltimore and vicinity.

The Battle of Kings Mountain in South Carolina


Baltimore [Maryland]
3 November 1780

Dear Billy,

Last night Billy Knox came to town from Richmond which he left on Sunday last and positively assures us that the Enemy were still in our [Chesapeake] Bay on the Saturday before and that [ ] there suspected them of any intention of quitting it. He confirms the rest of our great southern news 1 in which you went away so fully possessed of but in such a anner as in my opinion makes the whole doubtful even to the landing of the French troops which we were so certain of. 2 He says that there are stacks of letters from Gen. Gates to the Governor of Virginia which mention it and that it is generally believed and in short I by no means think it half so [ ] as I did yesterday morning. As I think this may materially affect our speculation, Carrol & I have thought it advisable to send the bearer Express to you–especially as he is very desirous of an answer to the following proposal.

When you went from here, he and I believe you considered the Adventure [?] the following light (viz) That you should procure as much goods in Philadelphia as you possibly could by disposing of the property which you take with you only stretching our Joint credits as far as they would go. The goods to be sent down to me immediately and disposed of on the joint concern each 1/3 profit and risk. The business at [ ] be done without commission. As neither of us had an opportunity of fully explaining ourselves to you before you set out, we can only suppose this [ ] been your idea of the business. If it is, we beg you to lose no time in pushing it with the utmost vigor as from the enemy’s still being likely to continue in the Bay, from the prices quotes at [ ], from the prices we hear quoted from Philadelphia, from the quantities of goods arrived and receiving in [ ] City, from the Buckskin 3 being almost given up, I say from all these reasons put together we think you cannot push the speculation too far. If you find that you cannot do as much as you could wish and think advisable without other assistance, the following proposal is made, your answer for which is what this Express speedily goes foro Mr. Howard of Elk Ridge offered to put 50 hogsheads prime tobacco at the present Baltimore price into the speculation an to lend us 50 more on condition that we allow him one quarter of the profit. My advice on this is as above—that is, if you can do as much as you wish without him, reject it as one-third is much better than one quarter each. But if you want assistance and think you can advantageously increase the business by accepting, accept it and the tobacco shall be sent on to you immediately.

Another reason for dispatching this Express is to dissuade you from what you intended on leaving [ ]. You intended staying to forward all the tobacco. Now the last of it left this but yesterday and should you wait, you may lose an opportunity which I think a critical one. Others will be up from here. Could you not, therefore, trust your business at Elk with Broome and push on to the City yourself? But of the necessity or propriety of this, you will perhaps be the best judge, yet I cannot help thinking you ought to go up in order to try what you can do and thus [ ] to judge whether to accept Howard’s offer or not.

In your answer, do not omit to inform me what you have got or expect to get from T. Hall. I will also it as a favor if you will remind Broome of the lands he was to visit or have visited for me.

Lose no moment or opportunity in letting us hear from you and believe me sincerely yours, — Robert Buchanan

Coarse woolen clothing for Negroes L37.10
Half fine Broad cloth 150
Super fine Broad cloth fashionable 375
[other commodities and prices]

1 The “great southern news” must be a reference to the Battle of Kings Mountain, a pivotal event in the Southern campaign, in which the surprising victory of the American Patriot militia over the Loyalists came after a string of Patriot defeats at the hands of Lord Cornwallis, and greatly raised the Patriots’ morale. With Ferguson dead and his Loyalist militia destroyed, Cornwallis was forced to abandon his plan to invade North Carolina and retreated into South Carolina.

2 Until 1780, the French had only been sending supplies to the American colonies fighting the British Crown. But in 1780, the French government began sending troops to the colonies—the first troops arriving in mid-July 1780.

3 The Buckskin Hero was an American privateer (600 tons, 28 guns, 128 men) that was captured by the HMS Arbuthnot) while enroute from Bordeaux to Portsmouth, Virginia. She was laden with brandy, wine, tobacco, lead and other merchandise. She was taken on 9 November 1780 off Cape Henry, Virginia.

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