Manuscripts Division
William Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
David Greene Letterbook, 1777-1785

Finding aid created by
Manuscripts Division Staff

Summary Information
Title: David Greene letterbook
Creator: Greene, David, 1749-1812
Inclusive dates: 1777-1785
Extent: 225 pages
Abstract:
The David Greene letterbook contain copies of the outgoing correspondence of an American loyalist and merchant from his wartime exile in Antigua and postwar residence in Connecticut. The letters record his business affairs, including the West Indies trade of his firm, Rose & Greene, as well as personal reflections on his experiences as a Loyalist exile.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu


Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1992. M-2776.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.

Copyright:

No copyright restrictions.

Preferred Citation:

David Greene Letterbook, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


Biography

David Greene was born in Boston in 1749 into the wealthy mercantile family of Thomas and Martha (Coit) Greene. After graduating as valedictorian of his class at Harvard in 1768 and earning a second degree from Yale in 1772, Greene entered the import/export trade in partnership with his brothers, Daniel and William Hubbard, operating from a store located on a portion of Greene's Wharf that he had inherited. By 1772, Greene had become prominent enough in the Boston mercantile community to win election as Clerk of the Market, but two years later he cut himself off from all hopes of public office when he allied himself with the Loyalist cause by signing the merchants' testimonial to Governor Thomas Hutchinson. Such an unpopular public stance in a city as radicalized as Boston was not only personally risky, it soon made it impossible to continue business. As a result, shortly after the outbreak of hostilities in the spring of 1775, Greene was forced into exile.

Arriving in London, Greene was taken into the home of Thomas Fraser, partner in the firm of Lane, Son & Fraser, known for its cordial relationship with Loyalist refugees. Never one to stray far from business, even as a refugee, Greene soon hooked up with a merchant from Antigua, John Rose, with whom he went avidly into partnership. A substantial credit line from Lane, Son & Fraser enabled Rose and Greene to finance their new enterprise, and although the firm was established in London, Greene accompanied Rose to the West Indies early in 1777 to gain better access to the West Indian markets. In November, this new commercial relationship was sealed with a personal twist when Greene married Rose's eldest daughter, Rebecca (d. 1800).

An astute businessman, Greene used the base in Antigua to develop advantageous associations with a number of mercantile firms in America, the West Indies, and the Pacific. Rose & Greene pursued a trade in West Indian produce, including rum, sugar, tobacco, rice, and molasses, as well as oak staves and lumber from East Florida, marketing most of the raw materials in England. Occasionally, they also dealt in goods captured from French ships, such as gauze, soap, wine, and brandy. Like many in the West Indies in the 1770s, Greene and Rose suffered their share of hardships from several seasons of crop failure and from the periodic interruption in trade due to the War. Greene also seems to have suffered physically from an unnamed illness.

When the French entered the War on the side of the Americans, the safety of Antigua and other British West Indian colonies was compromised. Greene became involved in the island's defense effort, working as an unpaid subaltern, and he did his best to keep abreast of the naval skirmishes off shore. Throughout, his most ardent hope was less for British victory than for the settlement of a lasting peace so that he could resume his money-making efforts at home. He finally arranged to return to New England in August, 1781, settling with his wife and two sons in New London, Conn., due to legal proscriptions in Massachusetts on exiles. While awaiting a decision on his status by the Massachusetts General Assembly, Greene appears to have lived in Norwich, Conn., maintaining the New London store that he owned with his old partner, William Hubbard. Though suffering in the post-war economic malaise, Greene and Hubbard carried on a trade in flour, pine boards, butter, and pickled fish, and occasionally in oxen, horses, flaxseed, and pot- and pearl ash. At one point, Greene floated the idea before John Rose of re-establishing a three-way trade between Boston, London, and Antigua, but these plans never materialized, and he was interested in entering the slave trade, if nothing more.

Greene submitted a petition to the Governor and Council of Massachusetts in April, 1784, for a license to return to Boston, and was added to the list of Loyalists permitted to return. Although not formally naturalized for several years more, Greene returned with his family to their manor home in Boston by the summer of 1784, and re-established his business, probably in conjunction with the Hubbard brothers, as he had long planned. Once home, he became singularly civic-minded, taking memberships on the Boston School Committee and in the Boston Tontine Association, and serving as the second vice-president of the Chamber of Commerce, director of the Union Bank, and president of the Union Insurance Company. He was also appointed Justice of the Peace.

Greene died on June 12, 1812, in Ballston Springs, N.Y., where he had gone seeking treatment for ill health. An excerpt from his obituary speaks highly of his achievements, emphasizing his skill in business and his personal integrity:

"Very few persons have passed through this life so much beloved and esteemed as Mr. Greene, by a numerous circle of friends and acquaintance -- His singular sweetness of temper, his undeviating politeness, his uncommon attention to strangers, and his extensive connections in business, made him known and admired in every part of the Union; and he was justly considered, both at home and abroad, as one of the most accomplished gentlemen of New England. He was... alike esteemed for his integrity and his attention to business."


Collection Scope and Content Note

David Greene's letterbook contains copies of Greene's outgoing business correspondence, almost evenly divided between his period as a Loyalist refugee in Antigua (ca.120 letters) and his stay in Norwich, Conn., awaiting permission to return to Boston (ca. 110 letters). The final twenty letters are written from Boston. The bulk of the letterbook consists of letters written by Greene, and are either unsigned, signed by Greene, or in a few cases, signed in the name of the firm, Rose & Greene. Most of the letters in the first half of the letterbook appear to be full text copies of letters sent, with most in the second half consisting only of brief excerpts or paraphrases.

Greene's business affairs form the core concern of the majority of letters in the letterbook. These letters include discussions of the usual round of commercial topics: the shipment of cargo to or from Antigua, East Florida, or Boston, the status of various markets, prices current, and shipping accidents. Greene occasionally records bills of lading, invoices, and insurance requirements, as well. The letters from Antigua (1777-1781) include an interesting account of an accident involving ships captained by John Callahan and William Blake and rumors of the scandalous activities of Richard Leake, a merchant indebted to Greene. In addition to his correspondence with the firm Lane, Son & Fraser, Greene corresponded with William Gardiner Greene, a Boston merchant living in Demerara, William Cowell from Grenada, William Priddie, and William Hubbard, a Loyalist merchant from Boston and old compatriot of Greene's, now conducting his affairs from New London, Conn. Greene's letters from Norwich (1781-1785) continue his correspondence with former partner and father-in-law John Rose as well as with Lane, Son & Fraser. Several letters from this period relate to a dispute over the misplacement of a debt payment to John Smith, Jr.

In Antigua, Greene was personally and financially absorbed with an interest in the course of the Revolutionary War in the West Indies. One of his letters discusses the activities of armed merchantmen capturing American ships and claiming them as prizes (#4), and several later letters record naval skirmishes between the French and English fleets, beginning in the Fall of 1778 (#69, 71, 76, 85, and 116). In letter #116, Greene comments on the British command. Several letters offer particular insight into the effect of the War on trade, both in Antigua and Connecticut. Letters #42, 83, and 97, reveal the stagnation of commerce in the West Indies, and later letters from Norwich discuss the difficulties in exporting goods from America prior to the signing of a commercial treaty between Britain and America (see esp. #180, 182, 188 and 209).

Throughout the letterbook, Greene interweaves business matters with personal reflections on his experience as a Loyalist exile in Antigua or, later, as a former exile living in Norwich, not yet permitted to return home to Boston. Such reflections are quite common in the letters written to his friend and colleague, Thomas Fraser, but may be found in letters addressed to other individuals as well. Safely removed in Antigua, but still concerned, Greene often muses about the state of the War, yearning for a stable peace so that the can return home (see #75 and 98), worrying about the conditions of Loyalists who chose to remain in America during the War (#53 and 67), and, in one letter, offering his opinion of "his countrymen" (#82). Greene was displeased with the social climate on Antigua where, he felt, "every man seems to live... with a View to some other Place to which he hopes to remove at some future Period." (#94).

Once in Norwich, Greene quickly became frustrated at not being allowed immediately back into Boston and with the steps required to gain permission (#202 and 218). Prior to the signing of the Peace of Paris, Greene notes that he felt restrained from speaking freely (#132), and thereafter, he carefully tracks the evolution of public sentiment with regard to Loyalist exiles (see esp. #202, 204, and 206).

Greene's letters to Thomas Fraser in particular demonstrate Greene's clever wit and a sensitivity to those to whom he is close (see esp. #177 and 182). Also of interest are two letters that refer to the treatment of and attitudes toward slaves shipped to the United States from the West Indies (#237 and 245).

Subject Terms

    Subjects:
    • American Loyalists--Antigua.
    • Antigua--Commerce.
    • Antigua--History.
    • West Indies--History.
    • Merchants--Antigua.
    • Merchants--Connecticut.
    • Great Britain--Commerce--United States.
    • United States--Commerce--Great Britain.
    • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Economic aspects.
    • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Peace.
    • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Prizes, etc.
    • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Refugees.
    • Callaghan, John.
    • Leake, Richard.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Volume   1  
    David Greene letterbook,  1777 February 12-1785 June 21 [series]
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Partial Subject Index
    Dupuis & Co.
    • 1778 June 16
    African Americans--Legal status, laws, etc.
    • 1777 October 23
    African Americans--Social conditions
    • 1777 May 27
    • 1785 January 7
    Agriculture--West Indies
    • n.d.
    • 1781 February 24
    American Loyalists
    • 1778 July 30
    • 1779 June 11
    • 1781 June 29
    • 1782 February 12
    • 1783 May 10 (2)
    • 1783 October 20
    • 1783 November 22
    • 1784 February 19
    • 1784 April 30
    American Loyalists--Antigua
    • passim
    American Loyalists--Connecticut
    • 1777 December 17
    American Loyalists--Massachusetts--Boston
    • 1777 December 17 and passim
    Antigua--Commerce--18th century
    • 1777 March 7
    • 1777 March 10
    • 1777 April 10
    • 1777 May 6
    • 1778 January 7
    • [1780] June 15
    • 1780 September 11
    Antigua--Commerce--East Florida
    • 1777 April 8
    • 1777 May 6
    Antigua--Economic conditions--Revolution, 1775-1783
    • 1777 March 7
    • 1777 April 8
    • 1777 June 12
    • 1777 September 5
    • 1777 September 6
    • [1780] June 15
    • 1780 August 18
    • 1782 November 24
    Antigua--History--Revolution, 1775-1783
    • 1778 September 27
    • 1778 October 21
    • 1778 December 13
    • 1779 February 12
    • 1779 March 17
    • 1781 June 29
    Armed merchant ships
    • 1777 February 13
    Barbados--History--Revolution, 1775-1783
    • 1778 December 13
    Blake, William
    • 1777 June 30
    • 1777 July 19
    Boston (Mass.)--Commerce
    • 1783 July 16-21
    Callaghan, John
    • 1777 March 7
    • 1777 April 2
    • 1777 May 24
    • 1780 March 28
    Childbirth
    • 1779 December 23
    • 1782 October 1
    • [1783] May 29
    Coast defenses--Antigua
    • 1778 September 27
    Coinage, International
    • 1777 December 16
    Connecticut--Commerce--1783-1789
    • 1782 December 11
    • 1784 June 15
    Connecticut--Economic conditions--Revolution, 1775-1783
    • 1782 November 24
    Demerara--History--Revolution, 1775-1783
    • 1777 December 14
    Domestics
    • 1782 July 31
    Dominica--History--Revolution, 1775-1783
    • 1779 February 12
    Estaing, Charles Henri, comte d', 1729-1794
    • 1778 December 13
    • 1779 January 13-20
    Exports--Saint Croix
    • 1778 December 4
    Flaxseed
    • 1778 January 7
    • 1778 March 11
    • 1778 December 13
    Friendship
    • 1777 April 10
    • 1783 January 10
    Great Britain--Commerce--United States
    • 1777 April 10
    • 1783 March 30
    • 1783 May 10 (2)
    Hair preparations
    • 1777 December 17
    Hood, Samuel Hood, viscount, 1724-1816
    • 1781 June 29
    Imports--Saint Croix
    • 1778 December 4
    Leake, Richard
    • 1777 March 7
    • 1777 July 28
    • 1777 September 5
    • 1778 June 16
    • 1779 June [7?]
    • 1780 March 28
    Letter-writing
    • 1783 January 10
    Marketing channels--Antigua
    • 1778 January 7
    • 1778 March 11
    Marriage
    • 1777 September 16
    • 1785 June 21
    Massachusetts--Commerce
    • 1785 June 21
    Merchants--Antigua
    • passim
    Merchants--Connecticut
    • passim
    New London (Conn.)--Description
    • 1781 November 11
    Partnership--Antigua
    • 1777 September 16
    Prices--Antigua
    • 1777 May 6
    • 1777 June 12
    • 1780 September 11
    Prices--Connecticut
    • 1782
    • 1783 July 16-21
    Prisoners of War
    • 1779 January 13-20
    • 1781 November 14-17
    Privateers--West Indies
    • 1777 February 13
    • 1777 February 13
    • 1777 March 10
    Retirement
    • 1777 October 13
    Rice trade--Antigua
    • 1777 October 14 (2)
    Rum industry--Antigua
    • 1777 March 7
    • 1777 April 15
    • 1777 October 13
    Russell, Charles
    • 1780 August 19
    Russell, James
    • 1777 April 14
    • 1777 April 15
    • 1777 June 12 (1)
    Russell, James, Jr.
    • 1783 June 28
    Saint Lucia--History--Revolution, 1775-1783
    • 1779 January 13-20
    Shipping--West Indies
    • 1778 December 4
    • 1778 December 13
    Shipwrecks--Antigua
    • 1777 March 7
    Slavery--Antigua
    • 1777 May 27
    • 1780 September 19
    Slavery--Dominica
    • 1777 October 23
    Slaves--Massachusetts
    • 1784 October 30
    Slave-trade--Connecticut
    • 1783 October 20-November 3
    Slave-trade--Massachusetts
    • 1784 October 30
    Speculation
    • 1777 June 12
    • 1777 September 6
    • 1778 July 31
    • 1779 December 23
    • 1780 September 11
    Staves and stave trade
    • 1778 February 10
    Tobacco--Antigua
    • 1777 October 14 (2)
    • 1778 July 31
    United States--Commerce
    • 1783 July 16-21
    United States--Commerce--Great Britain
    • 1777 April 10
    • 1783 March 30
    • 1783 May 10 (2)
    United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783
    • 1777 December 17
    United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--British Forces
    • 1781 June 29
    United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Economic aspects
    • 1777 September 5
    • 1777 September 6
    • 1777 October 30
    • 1778 January 7
    • 1778 March 11
    • 1778 July 30
    • 1778 September 27
    • 1778 December 13
    • 1778 December 13
    • 1779 September 27
    • [1780] June 15
    • 1781 November 14-17
    • 1782 November 24
    • 1783 March 30
    • 1783 March 30 (1)
    • 1783 May 10 (2)
    United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Naval engagements
    • 1777 February 13
    • 1778 December 13
    • 1779 January 13-20
    United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Participation, French
    • 1778 October 21
    • 1779 January 13-20
    • 1779 September 27
    • 1779 November 12
    United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Peace
    • 1777 September 6
    • 1777 September 16
    • 1778 October 21
    • 1778 December 13
    • 1783 March 30
    • 1783 March 30 (1)
    • 1783 May 10 (2)
    United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Prisoners and prisons
    • 1779 January 13-20
    United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Prizes, etc.
    • 1777 February 13
    • 1777 February 13
    • 1778 January 7
    • 1780 September 11
    • 1780 October 12
    United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Refugees
    • 1777 April 10
    • 1777 September 16
    • 1778 September 27
    • 1778 October 21
    • 1778 December 13
    • 1779 June 11
    • 1780 March 22
    • 1780 August 19
    • 1781 June 29
    • 1783 July 16-21
    West Indies--History--Revolution, 1775-1783
    • 1777 February 13
    • 1779 June 11
    Young, Adam
    • 1777 March 10