21 Pages

Sheffeild v. Starke: Institutional Experimentation in the London- Maryland Trade c. 1696-1706 JACOB M. PRICE

Relatively few records survive of firms engaged in British-American trade in the century and a half preceding the American Revolution. For the Chesapeake tobacco trade - the largest component of British trade with North America, both in value and in shipping tonnage employed - papers survive of some larger planters and some small American merchants, but hardly anything on the British side. The three major collections of British firm records that do survive were preserved because they were presented as evidence in lawsuits and not reclaimed by the litigants.1 These three, however, all date from the years immediately preceding the revolution. It may therefore be considered particularly noteworthy that there has recently come to light in th t fo n d s of the Court of the Exchequer in the Public Record Office in London some papers of a London firm trading to Maryland in the 1690s. These records (accounts and correspondence) were brought into court in connection with a suit - Sheffeild v. Starke - between the executors of a London merchant, Thomas Starke, and his former apprentice, John Sheffeild. No other Chesapeake trade records of this character and antiquity are known to survive. In the first half of the article, the nature and progress of the lawsuit will be sketched; in the second part, the documentary sediment left behind by the lawsuit and other evidence will be sifted and analysed for a fuller picture of the firm’s activities and of commercial practice in this significant branch of Anglo-American trade in the war years after 1689.