Richard K. MacMaster oral history interview, March 20, 1975

Part 1

Dr. Richard K. MacMaster
March 20, 1975
Introduction: --[East Carolina] Manuscript Collection, third annual Tobacco History Symposium held March 20, 1975, the topic, "The Tobacco Export Trade and its Impact on the North Carolina Area," sponsored by the Institute for Historical Research in Tobacco. [Break in recording]

Charles Price:

--noted from your program, the sessions are divided into two basic parts. This morning the general theme is tobacco trade in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. This afternoon the general theme will be the tobacco export trade in the twentieth century. We are indeed fortunate to have as our first speaker Dr. Richard K. MacMaster. Dr. MacMaster is a native of New York, born in Flushing, New York. He got his AB at Fordham University, has his master's from Georgetown and also his PhD from Georgetown University. He has a connection with North Carolina, having taught at Western Carolina University in the past. He's also taught at Georgetown. In 1966 he took over as archivist and director of research at Gunston Hall--that's George Mason's home--Virginia. More recently, he has also served with the committee that has been involved in our bicentennial celebration here, the beginnings of it in both of course the city and the beginning of the county celebration, as director of the Montgomery County, Maryland, bicentennial, and he has published a volume for that bicentennial. In publications he comes with very distinguished credentials. He has published in Mid-America, Maryland Historical Magazine, Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. His articles that would be of interest to us in particular would include "The United States and African Explorations," "The Tobacco Trade with France: 1787 to 1795," "Instructions to a Tobacco Factor: 1725," these and other articles. He's also published on the black born in slavery rather widely. He has a biography of George Mason being put out by the University of Virginia Press this coming summer. It is with a great deal of pleasure I give to you Dr. Richard K. MacMaster.

Dr. Richard K. MacMaster:

Thank you very much, Dr. Price. It's a great pleasure to be here and it's also very impressive to see the work that Dr. Ellen and ECU have been putting together in dealing with the history of tobacco. This is an area that needs to be encouraged and I think you're doing a very impressive job with it.

In getting into this topic on "Whitehaven and the Tobacco Trade," let me introduce a couple of general things first. I'm sure nobody knows where Whitehaven is. It's not the most prominent place in the world and as I was driving in yesterday I noticed some years back that evidently the chamber of commerce had had some signs painted on barns and tobacco houses and so on that said, "Greenville, the greatest tobacco market in the state." In the town of Whitehaven they might very well have painted, "The greatest tobacco market in the country." At one time it was the major tobacco market in Britain. It didn't last very long, and by 1775 that paint would have been peeling very badly and those signs would have been pretty well weathered because it was really all over for Whitehaven by the time of the American Revolution. Another little pre-note, I got interested in Whitehaven in connection with George Mason as George Mason married the daughter of a Whitehaven tobacco merchant, and that brought me into contact with a man who is one of those tireless local history researchers and a man who built up a library and archives over in Whitehaven named Daniel Hay. Daniel Hay and I used to exchange for a number of years information that we'd come across and the more I began to read the things he was showing me about merchants over there and putting together what I was finding over here we decided that really there was a topic here. This was something that really ought to be looked into and hadn't been looked into very much up to that time. So off and on since the 1960s, I've been working on a history of Whitehaven and the tobacco trade. I spent some time over there in 1968 going through the town records, the port books, which unfortunately break off in 1743, in the public record office in London going through the Virginia and Maryland customs records, which again are somewhat spotty, they're not complete, and a number of collections of merchants' papers that were saved either by my friend, Mr. Hay, there in Whitehaven, or that got into the county record office up in Carlisle. Some of the names that we'll mention off and on in here, the Lowthers, the Earls of Lonsdale, who were tobacco merchants, had a great deal of papers left over, the Senhouse family, the Lutwidges, and a number of others, and there are some collections over here of men who were agents of the Whitehaven merchants, so it's kind of an interesting source material and I hope to pull it all together sometime. This is consequently going to be a little bit of a sketch of the role of Whitehaven in the tobacco trade.

Whitehaven is a little town, a very small town, a very little town indeed, on the northwest coast of England. It looks across the see at the Isle of Man and of Ireland. It's a most unpromising site for a city. It has a very large breakwater and gives you a harbor that can take fairly large ships now and in its heyday it had a great many ships. John Paul Jones came in there and tried to burn them all and failed during the American Revolution. But it's ringed by hills; there's not much room for a town. The town sits right on the coast surrounded by these hills and the roads that existed in the eighteenth century brought you really only into Carlisle and hence to the Scottish border. Trade by water wouldn't be too bad with Liverpool and Lancaster and of course with Ireland. But as far as building up a great hinterland that these people could deal with, it just wasn't there, and this ultimately, as we'll see, is one of the reasons why Whitehaven did not become one of the great English cities. It remains, I think, probably about the same size it was in the eighteenth century. They would be offended if I said this but it's kind of a ghost town. It's like certain American tobacco ports that simply didn't grow, whereas others blossomed into very large cities.

Whitehaven is, as English towns go, surprisingly a very young town. There are towns in North Carolina and Virginia and Maryland that are much older. It was really being brought into existence about 1660. It sits on the land that belonged to the Lowther family who later on became the Earls of Lonsdale, and toward the1660s they discovered that they had coal sitting underneath some of this property and they began mining coal in a very primitive fashion in the 1660s. From that time on they opened up a coal trade primarily with Ireland. It was the easiest way to carry that across. Ultimately that coal trade would reach the United States. Even though we had an awful lot of coal in the Western Hemisphere when the people who were in the iron industry particularly, blacksmiths, wanted fuel they bought English coal well into the eighteenth century so there was a certain amount of trade even over this way in coal.

It became a tobacco port quite by accident in 1685 when a man named Richard Kelsick took a sloop called the Resolution and carried her into Virginia with the idea of seeing what he could do, whether he could stir up any kind of business. The tobacco trade in the Chesapeake at that point was in a very, very disorganized state. You may remember 1681, 1682 they'd had the first of a series of tobacco riots. The production was getting so enormous that the prices were tumbling and they attempted to get some kind of official regulation of the size of crops and this didn't work out so they had people going around destroying crops, destroying and burning warehouses, this sort of thing. Though prices went up a little bit because of this they started to tumble again, and it's just at this point that these Whitehaven interlopers came in and decided to see what they could do with the tobacco trade.

Whitehaven was a new town, and I think this other point is worth mentioning. It's a town in Cumberland and it attracted people who were not perhaps old aristocratic English families in general but people who saw opportunities in business. Cumberland is one of the counties in England that was most influenced by the Quakers and a fairly large number of the early Whitehaven businessmen were in fact Quakers. Some of the others were Presbyterians. In fact it was primarily business that attracted people who were by the several Acts of Toleration and so on, 1660 on, closed out of a great many professions. Dissenters had about twenty years of difficulties and a great many of these people went into trade. All these things combined to give us a kind of base for an expanded business in American tobacco by 1685, when Richard Kelsick made his first journey.

If I might digress just a little bit, as the director of the Montgomery County bicentennial project I often have to sit in lectures and talk about the county history and so on and they frequently team me up with a school presentation and we had one about a month ago that gave a history of the United States bit by bit and I think gives a pretty general idea of the way we all remember our American history, and this is that somewhere in the fairly recent past, be it in the time of Harry Truman or in the time of Woodrow Wilson or perhaps William McKinley, the United States began to be involved in the world. Well I think anybody who's been interested in the history of American agriculture or dealing with agricultural marketing even more recently than that is very much aware that no product goes to market in a vacuum. We don't talk about prices simply within a domestic market until really quite recent times. This is my excuse really for talking about Whitehaven today.

It came home to me very strongly when I was a graduate student and I was reading some letters of a Quaker merchant from Maryland who was talking about the price of wheat in Algiers, in Sicily, in Russia, in Poland, places that when you're doing colonial history you never think of. What on earth is the connection to these places with the American colonies? I'm afraid an awful lot of work in the American colonial history and colonial trade for a long, long time acted as though the world were really quite different, that a group of British merchants came in and bought American tobacco and presumably they all smoked it over there in England and that was the end of it. Since about 1954 when he published The Rise of Glasgow in the Chesapeake Tobacco Trade [sic], Jacob Price has been pushing in a somewhat different direction. We began to realize that the price of Virginia tobacco depended on precisely what was being paid for it in Russia, not on what was being paid for it in retail outlets in Edinburgh or London, but in Russia. His most recent book in 1973, France and the Chesapeake, brings out the tremendous importance of the French government monopoly in tobacco, the farmers-general, yet only a very few years ago the only thing you could find about the activities of the farmers-general in America dealt with the very brief period after the American Revolution when Robert Morris took a contract from them to supply tobacco from North Carolina, Maryland, and Virginia to the French government. Thanks to his work, we begin to see that this is not at all an enclosed package; that the growth, the development, indeed the whole civilization of those Chesapeake colonies in the broadest sense, including North Carolina, depended to a very large extent to what was being paid for tobacco in Rotterdam, in the Baltic, and in France. This is why I think there's some real connection here between an English port that transshipped tobacco and what was going on in our own American colonies.

The port of Whitehaven was primarily a re-export station for tobacco. Through the 1720s and 1730s they were re-shipping about ninety percent of their tobacco and it was going primarily at that point to Holland, secondarily to France, and third, in the '20s and '30s, to the Baltic. So this is again the general background I wanted to stress here. We have a little town that has great capacity for economic growth, just getting into the tobacco trade, a town that's oriented primarily toward Ireland when it starts and yet as time goes on will find itself totally oriented toward the continent of Europe and to the prices being paid there. I'd like to run through really what we might call the four periods of Whitehaven tobacco history and see how this had its impact on the American colonies.

From 1685 to about 1720, a period of roughly thirty-five years, Whitehaven was growing in the tobacco trade. About five families that were most prominently identified with the trade, the Gales, the Senhouses, the Lutwidges, the Addisons, and of course the Lowthers themselves, and the Kelsicks too, really, I should mention. They could make that six. From about 1685 to 1693, they had what we might call a resident agent in America. One of the first of these Whitehaven tobacco merchants was a man named Thomas Addison. Col. Thomas Addison went from Whitehaven, settled down in America in 1686 in Maryland, and was the progenitor of a very large and very distinguished family. He married a Dent from southern Maryland and this gave him some fairly good connections immediately. Until his death in 1693, most of the Whitehaven trade was going to the Potomac River, either in Maryland or Virginia, primarily in Maryland, and it was going largely to Thomas Addison & Co. This continued for a bit with his son and then by about 1700 had drifted off into a kind of hit or miss.

These early voyages, when you go through the port books--and I'm not going to read hundreds of statistics at you--when you go through the port books, you discover they were invariably in very, very small ships, forty to sixty tons, but these ships were owned invariably by twelve to fourteen different people. These voyages were spread out, a little bit here, a little bit there, because it was a very poor town. It was just getting its start up to about 1700, 1710, 1720. In the 1690s, when we begin to get Virginia custom records, we find Whitehaven coming into every single Virginia river. They had no particular area that was marked out as their own. They were coming into Maryland when the Maryland records begin, 1698, they were coming into every Maryland customs district, and frequently the same ship hit more than one place. It made four, five, six stops in America trying to pick up tobacco. Occasionally they carried servants; normally they carried a very, very mixed bag of goods. But Cumberland to Whitehaven, for example, in 1706, Capt. Mathias Gale carried forty-six bolts of English linen cloth--I won't give you all the numbers, just the different types of things--wrought leather, small saddles, bridles, thrown silk, wrought silk, haberdashery, wrought iron, lead, cheap leather gloves, pottery, bound books, grogram [21:11], nails, woolen manufactury, [21:15] hats, Carolina hats, English [21:21] calicos, muslins, and twenty pounds of paper. It was a very small ship with a very, very mixed bag of goods. What they normally did down to about 1720 was to act as floating peddlers. That was one of the reasons they went from river to river. They sold off from their ship or they dealt with a merchant on land, usually with a planter merchant on land, somebody who had some connection with Whitehaven, and they picked up tobacco in very odd lots. Very few of these ships brought back very much, a few hundred pounds, a few thousand pounds, and it was almost immediately re-shipped and sent off to the Irish market. This is their rather primitive beginning.

They were not able to compete very much at this stage with the London merchant. The London merchant had the big rivers and the big planters almost entirely to himself. The planter could order goods that he wanted, he could load a ship, and the London merchant or in some cases the Bristol merchant, although they were generally working for London, brought the ship directly to his wharf, it was laden, and went back home. These Whitehaven peddlers were not dealing with that kind of person. They were dealing with a very small planter and they were picking up a little bit of tobacco here and there.

By 1720 the bottom fell out of the London market. For various reasons that I think our time is too short to go into, the quality of Virginia tobacco and of Maryland tobacco fell tremendously. It was really no longer worth shipping to London. The European buyers who were buying on the London market no longer accepted this grade of tobacco. More and more planters, particularly on the Rappahannock and Potomac, were turning to renting their land rather than attempting to grow tobacco themselves, house and cure it, and what they were shipping consequently was commonly called in the market trash tobacco. There was no official inspection. Anything that could roughly be identified as a tobacco leaf was tobacco and consequently even though the price that it commanded was very, very nearly zero it was something that they could ship.

This disrupted the London trade by about 1720, but it was the open door for the Whitehaven businessman from about 1720 to 1742. Virginia in 1735 put in official inspection. That shifted trade pretty much over to Maryland as far as Whitehaven was concerned, and in 1745 Maryland put in official inspection. But in this golden age of trash tobacco the Whitehaven merchant came up with a totally new idea. He'd always dealt with the small grower. He'd never really had, with some very few exceptions, the big planter on his list. He was in a difficult position because of his own geographical situation. He was not a manufacturing town on a large scale, was not from a manufacturing town, nor did he have easy transportation to some of the manufacturing towns that the London merchant did. He had to put together a cargo and this had real disadvantages, but by 1720 he pooled his disadvantages and came up with a real advantage. If he were to be a country storekeeper, if he were to settle down and sell tobacco for goods over a long period, then he could make a profit, and from about 1720 to 1745 this is precisely what the Whitehaven man did. In this period, as the custom records bear out, Whitehaven became the major port on several of the Virginia rivers and in most of the Maryland tobacco customs districts, with the one sole exception of Patuxent.

They were beginning to be threatened by Glasgow through this period, but down to about 1740 Whitehaven was ahead of Glasgow, not by very much, but year by year there were say twenty-three Whitehaven ships to twenty Glasgow ships. They were still a little bit ahead of Glasgow through this period. The Glasgow merchants did the same thing that Whitehaven did, except that Whitehaven did it first. They were on the ground first. They set up stores and in 1725, to take the instruction sent out by the major Whitehaven house of that period, Jeremiah Aderton and Peter Howe, a name we'll recur to in a minute, they told their factor to find a location to rent a store and set up storekeeping. In the early '20s this was not a definite location. They sent a ship out, they were going to leave the man there for a year or two years, let him sell goods for tobacco, of course at a higher price, and that retail markup on the goods and the difference in the exchange value of selling tobacco for goods would give them a sufficient profit. So through this period Whitehaven was about a penny a pound ahead of any other market in England and this gave them a very decided advantage down through the early '40s.

They were still re-exporting. Their intake had now reached, by 1740, six million pounds, which is an awful lot of tobacco for that period. Nearly all of this was going to the continent, as I suggested earlier, the bulk of it to Holland and France secondarily, the Baltic, and then finally Ireland of course taking up a good deal. In this period of growth several houses emerged as major tobacco firms in Whitehaven: the Gales, the Lutwidges, and particularly this man, Peter Howe. What they began to do was to go now into manufacturing. Up until about 1740 all of their tobacco was simply taken into the custom house and then re-shipped. From the 1740s on they were becoming a manufacturing port and therein were the ultimate seeds of their destruction. In 1742 Peter Howe became the sole agent in Great Britain through a man named George Fitzgerald for the French farmers-general, and immediately the export of Whitehaven almost doubled. From 1742 to about 1762 Whitehaven was, if not the number one port, very close to it, with Glasgow rising all through this period. Unfortunately, the port books break off. From 1743 on we have a complete hiatus until we get up to 1771. We can only surmise that this tremendous increase--and we are now up to about ten million pounds a year--this tremendous increase in the import and export was going to continue.

During this period the Whitehaven tobacco men moved almost exclusively into manufacturing. Howe, Younger, and a rising star named Samuel Martin all became primarily manufacturers. They had some sidelines. They were importing wheat from the Potomac and from the Eastern Shore of Maryland and they'd entered into a number of contracts with other Maryland and Virginia planters to bake bread for them. These were ship's biscuits which were then re-sold to the Royal Navy and to private merchantmen. At the same time, they were dropping their stores. They had moved back to the kind of relationship that the London merchants had had at the beginning of the century. They had major individuals in the American tobacco ports with whom they dealt. They closed their stores and changed their factors into a kind of planter-merchant with whom they had contact. Some of the primary individuals they were dealing with here, men like Col. William Eilbeck, who was George Mason's father-in-law. He had come out as a factor in the 1720s. He married locally, prospered, became a major planter, and was given this kind of purchasing order. Another man is Col. John Baines, also in southern Maryland, who was a Whitehaven man, he actually was from Cockermouth, but he was living in Maryland as the agent of Martin and of the Hartleys and he was given these orders to purchase. He was their major purchasing man in Maryland down to about 1787, 1789.

Because Peter Howe was the agent of the French farmers-general, he had a great deal of cash at his command, and because Whitehaven was interested in manufacturing tobacco as well as re-selling it to the French market, it no longer made sense to deal in a retail way. They left that entirely to Glasgow and the lesser Scotch ports, and herein lies the reason for the decline of Whitehaven as a major tobacco port. I think I'd disagree--if I might do that without being struck by lightning--I think I'd disagree with Jacob Price that it was simply that it was simply the decline of the French farm in buying tobacco after about 1762 that brought Whitehaven down. I think the difficulty is that Whitehaven couldn't buy tobacco at a price that they could sell it to the farm, as we'll see, and they couldn't buy it because of the competition of Glasgow.

The first contract with the farmers-general came to an end in 1759 and with it really the first real twenty-year prosperity of Whitehaven. It had built up the town, brought a lot of money into the town, given it an opportunity to invest in other industry, particularly in heavy industry in England. In 1759 George Fitzgerald, who was the main agent for the French farmers-general, failed. He went into bankruptcy. Peter Howe hung on until 1763. He hung on primarily because James Lowther and other prominent people in the town did not want to see the tobacco industry collapse, not the trade but the industry, the manufacture. So Howe and his partners were shored up with a number of major loans that kept the tobacco firm going until 1763, when Howe, Younger & Co. collapsed. This was the trading end of the company and they simply couldn't hold out any longer.

In the interim, in 1762, a very curious anomaly; a man named Samuel Martin, who came to Whitehaven from Virginia. He was born in Caroline County, Virginia, on the Rappahannock. His father had been a merchant there, an English merchant, Anglo-Irish merchant, but sat in the House of Burgesses for a number of years from Caroline County and had set his sons up very well. He married a Burwell and inherited a great deal of land through his wife. He had set his sons up very well and in 1751 Samuel Martin had gone back home, as people used to call it then, and set himself up as a businessman, first in Dublin and then, in 1762, over in Whitehaven. He had married a daughter of Peter Gale, one of the other famous Whitehaven merchant families, and had very good connections there, though he was not a native of the place himself. He was a native of Virginia. He was, incidentally--we might have a genealogical chart [36:15 that would work off] somewhat--he was a first cousin of a man also named Samuel Martin, on whom he relied for his political wire-pulling needed to get the second French farm contract with the farmers-general that went to Whitehaven. Samuel Martin, to whom he applied, this cousin, was a member of Parliament, and he was the joint secretary to the British treasury. He was considered to be a man who was, in addition to his offices, a very powerful wire-puller behind the scenes. One of the wires he pulled was to get his son, Josiah, named governor of North Carolina, and he was the last royal governor of North Carolina, which gives us a little local tie with the Martin family. He was able to succeed in working out an agreement with the French farmers-general in 1762 for Samuel Martin to become their second purchasing agent in England, their second Whitehaven purchasing agent, and this farm ran all the way down to the American Revolution and a little beyond.

Curiously, Jacob Price, in his two volumes on France and the Chesapeake, gives all of--well I guess if you'd put them together, two half pages--one page to this particular tobacco farm with Whitehaven, and the reason he suggests is that the French simply weren't buying from Whitehaven. They had this agreement, but they weren't buying. As a fair example, we can see the decline in the value of the farm itself. In 1762, when he was trying to get his cousin to give him a job, or to get the job done and get the contract, Samuel Martin said that the farm was probably worth about six hundred pounds. When in 1781 he was trying to get the British treasury to compensate him for the loss of his American property, he estimated it was only worth a hundred pounds, which is not really an awful lot of money even in those days, so clearly it had dropped by five-sixths, just in those twenty years.

I think the real reason that it dropped we can find in some of the correspondence of Martin and his agents in America, John Baines that I mentioned before and a man named Harry Piper, who was agent in Alexandria, Virginia. What poor old Harry Piper keeps writing back home to Whitehaven is, "I can't do it. The commission you've given me I can't fill." Why? It was very simple. He was being asked to buy tobacco for manufacture and for re-sale with cash, and the best he could get for cash was about ten shillings a hundred pounds. At the same time, the Glasgow merchants, because they were discounting against goods, rarely went under fourteen. You read the letters of the Glasgow men at this period and they seem to be in just as bad a state. Everything is terrible, the market is falling apart, we can't survive, but they did. For all their complaints, they did, and by 1771, when we talk about the Chesapeake tobacco trade, we're talking about Glasgow. Glasgow was bringing in forty-three million pounds. Whitehaven, by contrast, was bringing in two million, which is quite a difference, and it was the fact that Whitehaven couldn't compete. They couldn't buy tobacco cheap enough to sell, so in the end the farm became rather a burden on them and by the American Revolution I suspect many of these Whitehaven men were quite glad to get out of the American tobacco trade.

One of the old myths that we still live with, I suppose, is that the end of the tobacco trade brought terrible ruin to the British merchant who'd been involved in it. Many of the British merchants were very, very anxious to spread just that idea when they were going around looking for compensation in the 1780s. What had happened, of course, was that you had a totally artificial stop to the tobacco trade, which made tobacco very, very scarce, and by 1775, early 1776, the Whitehaven newspapers show you that the tobacco that they had said we simply can't buy at tuppence pound, which would be twelve and six a hundred pounds, was selling now from eighteen pence to two shillings a pound, and in Whitehaven as in Glasgow, most of these men made up for losses that they had suffered during the war. When you go through their loyalist claims you find that they were claiming for property. Those who were unfortunate enough to have been Americans or owned American property, these people lost and really didn't get sufficient compensation for it.

Martin, for example, felt himself really completely ruined. But this was a mere fluke. It had nothing to do with the tobacco trade. It so happened he inherited an enormous amount of property in Virginia, which in 1779 the state confiscated. He tried very hard to get it back, but it just didn't work, and in 1967, a year before I spent some time in Whitehaven, a Catholic priest was walking along the street and saw in a rubbish pile, stuff people were throwing out, a little book, and it was called The Sufferings of the Family Named Martin. It was written by Samuel Martin shortly before he died in 1800, and he detailed all the difficulties he'd had in the trade, but when you read it you see that most of his real losses were American property and privateers that were taken during the war. He had some debts that he never recovered, but they weren't really so much that once the [42:53] of his tobacco profits probably cleared that part of his loss. He died insolvent, but he died insolvent because he had lost ships and because he had lost property that he had never really been compensated for.

In Whitehaven as in Glasgow, there was a steady shift toward two things as the American Revolution was coming on, well before the American Revolution, because the Glasgow tobacco--. I don't think Glasgow--. The Whitehaven tobacco trade was in fact in decline, although it still had a good deal of money invested in it. They were shifting over very largely to heavy industry. The Hunsonby family, who we haven't mentioned at all--they were another major mercantile family--developed the Seaton Iron Works. The Wilsons and the Skyrons rather, who were Quakers, were involved in heavy industry at Barrow-in-Furness. The most famous of all the Whitehaven people was a man who started out as a Maryland factor for his uncle, Anthony Richardson, a man named Anthony Bacon. Anthony Bacon developed the coal mines of South Wales with Maryland and Virginia tobacco money. This was true also in Glasgow. The underwriting of the Industrial Revolution in part came out of tobacco money. They were also, as in Glasgow, shifting to the West Indies. A number of ads in the newspaper through the early 1770s, through the war years, give you a fair idea that a great deal of their interest had shifted by now--and it turns up in many of the mercantile letters, too--into Antigua, particularly, and Jamaica: sugar, rum, mahogany, other products like this.

They did not suffer directly from the end of the tobacco trade either, as far as shipping went. One might think, well, there was a whole harbor full of boats that were just rotting there until peace was declared in 1783; quite the contrary. Practically every single vessel that had been in the tobacco trade, and we go name by name and master by master through the clearance lists and so on, was almost immediately chartered to the British government to transport one of two things: either men, particularly Highland regiments, or coal. I suspect it didn't make much difference to the man who was filling them whether he filled it with men or with coal. The amenities were probably about the same for each cargo. So they were involved in this trade all through the years of the American Revolution. They began to recover very quickly, shipping to New York, which was held by the British all through the war, and attempting to run some tobacco journeys, voyages, through that period without an awful lot of success. When the British held certain places, the merchants came rushing down there to see if they could pick up some tobacco and bring it back.

By 1783 when the--. [Break in recording; end of side one of the tape] --in five specified ports, one of them being Whitehaven, to import tobacco, and they immediately rushed back into the trade. They went back to their old haunts on the Potomac and on the Rappahannock, primarily, and they continued on quite happily selling British goods, occasionally buying tobacco, particularly on the Potomac, down to about 1793, when of course--. When the war broke out in Europe, it was to last intermittently until 1815, the final period of input to what we might call the colonial tobacco trade.

This is a kind of an overall sketch of what Whitehaven did, how it grew, how it prospered, and how as I suggest it began to siphon tobacco money after about 1770 into heavy industry and helped push along the Industrial Revolution in the north of England. If you go there today you'll see it's an industrial town with a good deal of heavy industry and coal still coming out of that little port town, but in its heyday it could boast of being the greatest tobacco market in the United Kingdom. So, I'll end at that point. Thank you very much. [Applause]

Charles Price:

We have a few moments before our coffee break, so if Dr. MacMaster will entertain questions [48:09] questions you might have. [Pause] [48:22] no questions then thank you very much, Dr. MacMaster.

Questioner One:


Dr. Richard K. MacMaster:

Unfortunately, he's been through all those records, so it may be that he has a book coming out on Whitehaven. I suppose if anybody's going to do anything on it we'll have to move.

Questioner Two:

Dr., there's a small town on the north side of the Rappahannock called [49:06].

Dr. Richard K. MacMaster:


Questioner Two:


Dr. Richard K. MacMaster:


Questioner Two:

Whitehaven. [49:21]

Dr. Richard K. MacMaster:

There is a Whitehaven in Maryland, which is almost a location, one of those places where the local people say, well, that's the name of the--because the town died a number of years ago. It's not a particularly viable place. I think there is a post office there, very small place.

Questioner Three:

Is there at the present time any connection with tobacco [in any way in Whitehaven when you were there?]

Dr. Richard K. MacMaster:

I think it's all gone completely. Lever Bros. has a big operation there, and that does have a kind of offhand connection because Howe and Younger were not only manufacturers of tobacco they were manufacturers of soap. It was a kind of a tradition that [50:23]. Well, thank you all very much.

Charles Price:

Thank you very much, Dr. MacMaster.


Transcriber: Deborah Mitchum

Date: October 18, 2010

Richard K. MacMaster oral history interview, March 20, 1975
Transcript and audio of a lecture entitled "Whitehaven and the Tobacco Trade" given by Dr. Richard K. MacMaster. Dr. MacMaster gave this lecture at the third annual Tobacco History Symposium sponsored by the Institute for Historical Research in Tobacco at East Carolina University, March 20, 1975. Introduction to speaker by Charles Price.
March 20, 1975
Original Format
oral histories
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Location of Original
East Carolina Manuscript Collection
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