Charles Machin memoir  1807-1820
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Collection Scope and Content Note

The Charles Machin memoir was written in an engaging, literary style, its strength lying in its ability to put the reader into the mind of an early 19th-century trans-Atlantic merchant. It is possible that Machin embellished the truth to make for better reading.

English in origin, Machin lived and traded in Savannah, Charleston, New York, Philadelphia, Jamaica, Havana, and England, moving easily among the port cities, raising capital and stores for trading voyages that inevitably went sour. Through his adventures, Machin emerges as a likable, but not always reputable man who beat and threatened the lives of his debtors and was willing to engage in smuggling cotton and slaves. At the same time, he was constantly surprised by the unethical behavior of his partners and their willingness to hurt others in the name of profit. Machin was repeatedly caught up in the machinations of other, more ruthless merchants.

The memoir provides insight into the financial wrangling, legal and extralegal, of merchants and entrepreneurs. The networks of friendships and false-friendships, the schemes to raise money, and the ideas about profit and risk are all important in situating the mind of the early American merchant. In some ways, Machin was the proverbial man without a country who either easily switched identities or whose identity changed with the context: an Englishman, a some-time resident of Savannah, and a trader in any port or enterprise that promised a good return.

Machin's memoir also includes some excellent descriptions of life in the several ports and countries he visited, most notably of Havana and other locations in Cuba, but also of Jamaica, Cartagena, and the far interior of Georgia and South Carolina.

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