Various locations, primarily Connecticut and New York: 1794-1827. Unbound. This archive contains 46 manuscript and partially-printed receipts, invoices, ship registrations, letters, and similar items. It begins with a 1794 letter from an agent in London to the family patriarch, Samuel Watkinson Sr., concerning the purchase of property in the United States and continues with several items related to the family’s subsequent immigration in 1795. The remainder of the archive documents the Watkinson’s business activities that were key to developing the textile industry in and around Middletown, Connecticut. All are in nice shape. The letters are franked with a variety of British and U.S. rate stamps and postmarks including many scarce New York City “clamshell” handstamps.
Samuel Watkinson, Sr., and his Scottish wife, Sarah, settled in Lavenham, Suffolk, England where they began to raise a family of 12. Samuel Sr. became a successful woolcomber and joined a Dissenting Society compose of tradesmen, craftsmen, and merchants that was often at odds with the Anglican Church. As Dissenters, the family was persecuted for suspected disloyalty during the French Revolution. In 1795, the entire family immigrated to the United States and settled in Middletown, Connecticut. They soon began a thriving textile business, and four of the brothers (Samuel, Jr., Richard, David, and William) established business offices in New York City. There all four contracted Yellow Fever during the epidemic of 1798 and Samuel, Jr. and Richard died. David returned to Connecticut where he became a noted printmaker, banker, businessman, and philanthropist. He founded Trinity College to include its Watkinson Library, the Watkinson Farm School, the Watkinson Prisoner’s Aid Society, the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford Hospital, and what would become the Hartford Library. His contribution to the Hartford orphanage was also considerable. Another brother, John, went on to produce woolen textiles and equipment in Middletown where he founded the Pameacha and Sanseer Manufacturing Companies. (For more information, see the Watkinson family papers at Trinity College and Siskind’s Rum and Axes: The Rise of a Connecticut Merchant Family.
A few of the highlights include:
*Letters regarding the purchase of land in the United States, assembling a party of emigrants to make the journey with them, hiring a ship for their voyage, and their departure - “I wish the emigrants a safe and pleasant passage tho’ am rather surprised. . .. It must have been a trying Scene at parting. May You and Yours be under the Direction & Blessing of that Providence who causeth all Things to make for the good of the People.”
*A large (9.75” x 15”) and impressive legal
“Award, Order, and Determination” (on heavy laid paper with an embossed five shilling revenue stamp) directing that as “The said Ship Minerva prior to her sailing had been burnt in the River Thames [causing the passengers] to be deprived of their passage out to Boston . . . Richard Crownenshield [the ship’s owner and commander] shall . . . at Lloyds Coffee House London . . . well and fully pay and return back unto the said Samuel Watkinson [and his fellow emigrants] all Sum and Sums of Money so paid by them. . ..”
Other letters receipts, and invoices regarding
The latest news from England – “Ireland being in a disturbed state perhaps a revolutionary one. . .. Country gentlemen are reported very poor. Hilliers have quite left Lantham & let their premises to an Irish Emigrant. . .. The unpleasant situation of Wm Cook, Debts up to 3000 L & little to pay, sequestered his Preston [property] to liquidate his debts Furniture sold. [At least] you still have yr lands. . .. I shall be very cautious that Mr. Pitt [not] have me under particular control – it is sufficient to have our pockets pick’d & Trade destroyed. I will guard my little property from his capricious encroachments, as well as the ravaging French. I detest both.”
Efforts to import “East India Goods” and acquire Chinese tea, Irish linen, and pepper, and take advantage of a new booming business in New York City – “Military coats are very much in fashion & making the Accoutrements the principal trade in the City a Chief topic of conversation.”
Bad beef in the city – “General merchants in Pearl Street in looking over their Beef in the Cellars have found a great deal to be bad, Fifty barrels . . . were thrown . . . into the East River.”
Condolences for the hard times that had befallen the family (i.e., the Yellow Fever deaths of the two brothers).
Purchases, sales, and shipping of “East India Good”, “clean flax”, muslin, gingham, quilting, linen, hats, “pickled beef”, glass, and Congo (Congou) tea from China, tobacco, hemp, indigo, flour, wool, evenly colored blue cloth, and “black printed fancy device mugs & jugs”.
An investment in the New York Insurance Company.
The purchase of weaving mill reeds, searing machines, and napping machines.
A partially-printed document emblazoned with a federal eagle regarding the purchase and registration of the Ship Rolla and a receipt for the “recaulking and graving (scraping and cleaning a vessel’s hull)” of the Ship Industry, and
A partially-printed customs form documenting the purchase of 300 gallons of rum.. Very good. Item #009788
This is an exceptional archive of both historical and philatelic value documenting the success of an immigrant family in the early United States. At the time of this listing, there is nothing similar in the trade. Trinity College holds a collection of Watkinson family papers mainly consisting of John Watkinson’s business documents from the 1800s.