Help Decipher a 1790 Letter Between Philadelphia & Alex., VA Merchants

Ken Lopez
Posted by Ken Lopez on Sep 24, 2021 12:32:58 PM

The year was 1790, George Washington delivered the first State of The Union address, and the Supreme Court met for the first time. Washington, D.C. was formed from land in Maryland and Virginia (Philadelphia was still the capital), and Vermont was created out of territory in New York. Two merchants, one in Alexandria and the other in Philadelphia, were negotiating a deal.

Andrew Clow (Philadelphia) and Buchan Patton (Alexandria) were both entrepreneurs who started companies that shared their names. Both had dealings with George Washington, and both were in the import-export business. Andrew Clow would meet an early death (yellow fever) a few years after receiving this letter. Buchan Patton is very much like a historical ghost. Little information seems to exist about him.

George Augustine Washington, George Washington's nephew, was managing Mount Vernon at that time. Buchan Patton, of Buchan Patton and Co. (Alexandria), had frequent dealings with Mount Vernon. A glance at Washington's financial records reveals purchases such as:

• 4 Sticks Twist @ 6d. 1 hank silk @ 6d. 1 ditto Thread @ 6d. for makg Coat for Frank & Bishop

• 3 lbs. seine twine for 0.7.0

• 6 Kegs white Lead @ 22/

• 1 Bushl Cranberries

• a wire meal sifter

• 2 Grind Stones

• 12 Dutch Blankets 1500—20d. Nails—2 lb. Fig Blue & 4 Wash Basons

Andrew Clow was one of two partners in the firm of Andrew Clow & Company (Philadelphia). In the 1790s, they operated a retail store located in Philadelphia at 20 South Front Street. According to Winterthur Museum:

The Philadelphia mercantile firm of Andrew Clow & Company was active in the period after the close of the Revolutionary War. It conducted trade with Great Britain, France, Germany, Spain, the West Indies and coastal ports south of Philadelphia. The firm exported flour, grain, sugar, tobacco, and other commodities and imported a wide variety of goods, especially textiles (including calico, chintz, sheeting, worsted and hosiery) from Great Britain, wine and brandy from France, and wine, raisins and almonds from Spain. Both Andrew Clow and his partner David Cay died in the great yellow fever epidemic of 1793.

Andrew Clow & Co. makes frequent appearances in the Philadelphia newspapers of the early 1790s.

1793

20 S. Front St in the 1950s:

Screen Shot 2021-09-24 at 9.24.28 AM

Here's a notation from the 1790 census showing the business at 20 S. Front St:

Screen Shot 2021-09-23 at 11.08.06 AM

Here is what 20 S Front St. looks like today:

Screen Shot 2021-09-23 at 11.12.32 AM

And from Market Street looking south on South Front Street in front of the old London Coffee House location.

Screen Shot 2021-09-23 at 3.00.28 PM

In 1854 photograph of the same corner showing the London Coffee House building still intact:

service-pnp-ppmsca-39900-39941v

An 1816 etching of that same corner:

service-pnp-cph-3c00000-3c06000-3c06800-3c06832v

 

Buchan Patton & Company often appears in George Washington's financial records. I can find little else about the man or the company. Anyone?

Screen Shot 2021-09-21 at 4.56.28 PM

Transcription: By Buchan Patton & Co. pd them for 6 Yds Wildboar for Miss Harriet Washington ( Washington's Niece) for a peticoat

The original correspondence appears below, followed by the transcript. In the version after the envelope, I have highlighted areas where I am uncertain about the transcription. Would you mind leaving your guesses about the words highlighted in the comment section at the bottom of the page?

IMG_6437

Alexandria 5th March 1790

Messrs Andrew Clow

Gentlemen,

Your Esteemed favor of the 23? ultimo now lays before us as our vessell was obliged to call at Liverpool. Your offer would not answer — we have since sold the cargo under that disadvantage - but have 1000 to 1200 barrels grn at Norfolk. Will you want _____ highest you would give one half in bills the other in s/oecie or bank notes. It is on the sloop & may be shipped immediately. - Wheat, (what little comes in) is sold at 8/6 and flour 40/ I believe seven dollars may be had for a quantity.
Please forward note of M Buchan.
And we are very ______
Buchan
Yr might ob sts
Buchan Patton

IMG_6435

 

Highlighted letter

Alexandria 5th March 1790

Messrs Andrew Clow

Gentlemen,

Your Esteemed favor of the 23? ultimo now lays before us as our vessell was obliged to call at Liverpool. Your offer would not answer — we have since sold the cargo under that disadvantage - but have 1000 to 1200 barrels grn at Norfolk. Will you want lb in the highest you would give one half in bills the other in specie or bank notes. It is on the sloop & may be shipped immediately. - Wheat, (what little comes in) is sold at 8/6 and flour 40/ I believe seven dollars may be had for a quantity.
Please forward note of M Buchan.
a/e And we are very resp
Buchan
Yr might ob sts
Buchan Patton

 

Updates: Based on a large response, here are the things I know and don't know. I'm putting uncertain's in the don't know column:

KNOW

  1. grn = grain
  2. s/oecie = species... a word I've never heard before that means either "in coin" or "in the same or like form."

DON'T KNOW

  1. lb in the highest
  2. M Buchan
  3. a/e
  4. sloop vs. spot
  5. resp = abbreviated respectfully. Although I can see there is a strong argument for "responsible gentleman" or "respectful gentlemen."

Topics: Alexandria, Virginia, George Washington, Philadelphia, PA, London Coffee House, Andrew Clow, Buchan Patton, South Front St., George Augustine Washington, Harriet Washington, Liverpool

Leave Comment

About OHM

OurHistoryMuseum is a crowdsourced and virtual history museum that anyone can contribute to. We are prototyping with our hometown first — Alexandria, Virginia. The app will be available nationally in early 2022. In the meantime, sign up for our blog or follow OHM on social media (both at the bottom of this page) to keep updated.

Free Subscription to This Blog

Enter your email.
One-click unsubscribe anytime.

Recent Articles

Most Popular Articles

Post By Topic

See all