Leger & Greenwood letterbook  1770-1775; 1788
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History

The mercantile firm of Leger & Greenwood operated in late colonial-era Charleston, trading in a wide variety of goods, including cloth, clothing, tools, wine, seed, tea, spices, candles, and household items. Their primary source of supply was the London firm of Greenwood & Higginson, but they also maintained contacts in New York, Rhode Island, and Manchester (through London), and were willing to use other Charleston merchants when necessary to supply their regular customers. For preferred clientele, they often arranged special import orders for luxury goods such as fine furniture, architectural stone work (marble hearths, chimney pieces, marble tombstones), and guns, and in one case, they even shipped an entire pre-fabricated house to Grenada. The firm also occasionally sold slaves on a consignment basis. Anxious to reap the financial rewards of this lucrative trade, and feeling themselves at an economic disadvantage to those merchants who already did, Leger & Greenwood would have become more extensively involved in human cargo if they had not lacked the capital and the backing of their London connections.

Typical of South Carolinian mercantile firms of the period, the primary media of exchange for Leger & Greenwood were rice and, to a lesser extent, indigo, and they also dabbled variously in tobacco, hemp, pitch, deer skins, and "pink root" (an herb used to kill intestinal parasitic worms) when a favorable opportunity arose. Local planters consigned their rice and indigo directly to Leger & Greenwood in Charleston, or, increasingly after 1770, consigned their crops indirectly through George Croft & Co. of Georgetown, S.C., which was located closer to the point of production. The major rice markets exploited by Leger & Greenwood were London, Lisbon, and Grenada, with less extensive trading to Bermuda, Glasgow, Manchester, Rhode Island, and Philadelphia. Indigo was shipped almost exclusively to London. In turn, Greenwood & Higginson supplied the majority of goods imported by Leger & Greenwood, and in the largely barter-based Charlestonian economy, these goods were then used to pay planters for their crops. Payments for rice shipped to Portugal or Grenada were usually sent directly or indirectly to Greenwood & Higginson to pay for dry goods already shipped.

Specialists in the Carolina trade, John Beswicke Greenwood & William Higginson managed Greenwood & Higginson, which had been founded in 1744 by John Beswicke, who had formerly been a merchant in Charleston, and had been taken over by his namesake and descendent, Greenwood. Though William Greenwood and John Beswicke Greenwood were related, they appear not to have been particularly close. From cordial beginnings, their relationship descended into bitterness by the summer of 1773, and remained strained until the Revolution destroyed the Carolina trade altogether. Greenwood & Higginson complained of being hard pressed for cash and made it clear that Leger & Greenwood had overextended their credit. Further, they insisted that the connection with George Croft & Co. limited Leger & Greenwood's ability to pay off their debts, despite the Carolinians' insistence that Croft was a vital link in their ability to compete with other merchants in the colonies. For their part, Leger & Greenwood complained that overly restrictive credit policies denied them the ability to expand their business, and they were particularly resentful of being unable to venture more deeply into the slave trade. Relations between the firms bottomed out when, at Leger & Greenwood's request, the London firm obtained a tea contract with the East India Company in 1773, at the height of the furor over the tea tax. On December 2nd, a crowd gathered at the port to greet the arrival of the firm's ship, London, with its cargo of 257 chests of tea, and angrily demanded that the firm reject delivery. Leger & Greenwood reluctantly agreed.

Little is known about the life of Peter Leger, senior partner of Leger & Greenwood, other than that his previous firm, Peter Leger & Co., had dissolved in late 1770 and that he established his partnership with Greenwood early in 1771. William Greenwood, however, is much better documented. A native of England, he settled in Charleston in 1767, and soon acquired substantial property holdings, including his own wharf and warehouses, a tenement, a half-share in a 650 acre plantation on the Congaree River and one-third in a 1,000 acre plantation on the Santee. Among his other holdings, scattered widely across the colony, were over 5,200 acres of land and approximately 30 slaves. Neither partner was particularly warm in sympathy for the revolutionary movement, though at times, as during the Charleston Tea Party of 1773, they "supported" the cause under duress. Leger managed to survive the Revolutionary turmoil by sitting the fence, never firmly identifying himself with either side. As a result, he was able to stay in Charleston throughout the war, remaining there until his death some time before 1788. At first, Greenwood, too, waffled, but unlike his partner, he eventually cast his lot with the Tories. Although he had taken an American loyalty oath in 1778 and served as a captain during the campaign against Savannah, he later accepted a commission as major in the Loyalist South Carolina Militia during the occupation of Charleston, and from that point forward, was decided in his commitment.

Not surprisingly, the firm of Leger & Greenwood failed to survive the Revolution, dissolving sometime after 1778. While there is little direct evidence for why it dissolved, it seems clear that economic disruption and divided loyalties may have contributed. Ultimately, the firm's assets were confiscated by the Americans, as were the American assets of Greenwood & Higginson, and the assets of Leger & Greenwood's clerk, Edward Legge, and the firm of Greenwood & Legge.

With the victory of American forces in 1782, William Greenwood fled South Carolina, returning only once after 1784 in an unsuccessful attempt to recover his property. In 1788, his nephew in London, Abram Greenwood, traveled to Charleston to make a second, unsuccessful effort to recover the family assets and collect the debts still owed his uncle. At home in England, William's request for £49,604 in compensation was disallowed for want of proof, but he was permitted an annual pension of £120. He died, presumably in England, on June 30, 1822.