William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan
Finding aid for
Finding aid created by
Leger & Greenwood Letterbook, 1770-1775; 1788
Galen Wilson, April 1985
Leger & Greenwood letterbook
Leger, Peter and Greenwood, Abram
This letterbook contains the outgoing correspondence of the mercantile firm Leger & Greenwood in Charleston, S.C. leading up to the American Revolution. The letterbook also contains correspondence regarding William Greenwood's attempt to receive compensation after fleeing America as a loyalist.
The material is in English
William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu
Access and Use
The collection is open for research.
No copyright restrictions.
The letterbook has been microfilmed.
Leger & Greenwood Letterbook, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan
The Leger & Greenwood Letterbook is divided into two sections: letters written by members of the firm of Leger & Greenwood, 1770-1775; and letters written by Abram Greenwood in 1788.
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.
Collection Scope and Content Note
First Half: Leger & Greenwood, 1770-1775: The first section of the letterbook (pp. 1-194) documents several matters of importance for historians of the history of commerce in late colonial South Carolina. The firm's correspondence, though outgoing only, provides an important perspective on rice and indigo production and marketing in the years immediately preceding the American Revolution, 1770-1775, and it presents a fairly detailed depiction of trade networks, protocols, and the mechanics of trade. Leger & Greenwood were also major importers of British goods, and their willingness to supply luxury goods has resulted in a fascinating portrait of the tastes of wealthy Charlestonians, as well as the sources for supplying those tastes.
More generally, the Leger & Greenwood letterbook documents the tensions building within the trans-Atlantic mercantile community during the pre-Revolutionary era. Neither Leger nor Greenwood were particularly far-sighted about the events in which they were embroiled, and at points, they display a disarming naïveté about how things might work out. Clearly, their venture into the tea trade could not have come at a worse time, and the letters describing the Charleston Tea Party provide a view from some very interested participants in the events.
Second Half: Abram Greenwood, 1788: The second half of the letterbook (pp. 196-271) was written entirely in 1788, when Abram Greenwood, William's nephew, traveled to Charleston to collect the remaining debts of the late firm. At the time, William Greenwood, "the surviving member of the firm," was still very much unwelcome in his former home. Somewhat optimistically, the Greenwood family hoped that the adoption of the Constitution might enable them to collect their debts more easily (p. 211).
Where the first half of the book consists almost exclusively of correspondence with foreign suppliers, the second half contains mostly copies of letters sent to local debtors, and letters from Abram to his father and uncle in London, apprising them of his efforts. While in Charleston, word arrived from London that John Beswicke Greenwood had died, and, following an argument with his brother (another William Greenwood), had left his entire estate to Abram. Several thousand miles from the scene, Abram frantically did what he could to secure his legacy, authorizing powers of attorney to his father and uncle to represent his claims against what promised to be a hotly contested probate.
Most of Abram Greenwood's correspondence was occupied, therefore, with the twin concerns of Leger & Greenwood's settlement in South Carolina, and his own anticipated estate battle in England. His letters include a few other incidental, but important, items of interest, such as an outstanding description of Charleston (pp. 213-15) and an account of a slave being beaten and put into irons ( p. 253). Abram's efforts to collect on outstanding bills took him to the South Carolina convention for the ratification of the federal Constitution (pp. 245, 248), on which he provides some sketchy comments.
- American Loyalists--South Carolina.
- Charleston (S.C.)--History--Revolution, 1775-1783.
- Charleston (S.C.) Description and travel.
- East India Company.
- Grain trade.
- Greenwood & Higginson.
- House furnishings--History--18th century.
- Indians of North America--Commerce.
- Non-importation agreements, 1768-1769.
- Rice trade--South Carolina--History.
- Slave-trade--South Carolina.
- South Carolina--Commerce.
- South Carolina--Description and travel.
- Tea tax (American Colonies).
- Tea trade.
- United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783.
Additional Descriptive Data
The papers of Sir Henry Clinton and William Petty, Earl of Shelburne at the Clements Library contain manuscripts concerning the firm of Greenwood and Higginson.
The Public Record Office of London England holds papers regarding the estate of John Beswicke Greenwood.
African-American merchantsAmerican Loyalists--South Carolina
Architecture--DetailsArchitecture--South CarolinaBilliardsCandlesCarriage and wagon makingCharleston (S.C.)--History--Revolution, 1775-1783Charleston, (S.C.)--Description
- see letters of William Greenwood
CommerceCroft, George & Co.
- passim, especially 213-15
East India CompanyEmployeesFood industry and trade--South CarolinaFurnitureGrain tradeGreenwood & Higginson
- Relations with Leger & Greenwood
GunsHaig, GeorgeHatsHides and skinsHouse framingHouse furnishings--South CarolinaIndians of North America--CommerceIndigoMachineryMackeown, Robert Jr., 1726-1764Manchester (England)MillstonesMusiciansNon-importation agreements, 1768-1769PinkrootPitchPlowsRice trade--South CarolinaSawmillsSepulchral monumentsSlave-trade--South Carolina
- 89-92, 120-22, 162-64, 181
Slaves--South CarolinaSouth Carolina--Commerce
- 4-5, 39, 46, 96-97, 107-8, 121-23, 130, 142-43, 161
South Carolina--Description and travelSpicesStationeryTea tax (American Colonies)Tea tradeTea--ChinaTobacco industry--South CarolinaTrade regulationUnited States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783United States. Constitutional convention (1787)Wine
- 16, 39, 89-90, 111-113, 162