David Greene letterbook  1777-1785
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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 (p. 5, 13 February 1777), and several later letters record naval skirmishes between the French and English fleets, beginning in the Fall of 1778 (p. 99, 27 September 1778; p. 101, 21 October 1778; p. 107, 13 January 1779; p. 115, 12 November 1779; and p. 154, 29 June 1781). In a letter dated 29 June 1781 (p. 154), 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 dated 6 September 1777 (p. 63), 27 September 1779 (p. 113), and 18 August 1780 (p. 130) 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. p. 215, 30 March 1783; p. 216, 10 May 1783; p. 224, 16 July 1783; and p. 239, 11 December 1783).

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 p. 106, 13 December 1778; and p. 132, 19 August 1780), worrying about the conditions of Loyalists who chose to remain in America during the War (p. 82, 17 December 1777; and p. 96, 30 July 1778), and, in one letter, offering his opinion of "his countrymen" (p. 112, 11 June 1779). 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." (p. 125, 15 June 1780).

Once in Norwich, Greene quickly became frustrated at not being allowed immediately back into Boston and with the steps required to gain permission (p. 234, 20 October 1783; p. 241, 19 February 1784; and p. 243, 17 April 1784). Prior to the signing of the Peace of Paris, Greene notes that he felt restrained from speaking freely (p. 171, 12 February 1782), and thereafter, he carefully tracks the evolution of public sentiment with regard to Loyalist exiles (see esp. p. 234, 20 October 1783; p. 236, 5 November 1783; and p. 237, 22 November 1783).

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. p. 214, 30 March 1783; and p. 216, 10 May 1783). 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 (p. 257, 30 October 1784; and p. 263, 7 January 1784).

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