Perry of London: A Family and a Firm on the Seaborne Frontier, 1615-1753

By Jacob M. Price | Go to book overview
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3 / The Business of the Perry Firm

The only previous extended work on the Perry firm was an important article by Elizabeth Donnan which appeared in 1931. 1 She was able to uncover relatively little about the family but presented an interesting account of the business, which she described almost entirely in terms of the consignment system. This is understandable in light of the material she used. In fact, most of the surviving correspondence touching the Perrys (including much not used by Donnan) is planter correspondence of the 1720s and 1730s, when the firm was owned and managed by the third generation, Micajah III and Phillip. In that generation the firm can reasonably be described as a house serving planter consigners. However, to acknowledge this is not to say that the firm had been such in the time of their grandfather, founder Micaiah I.

To understand what the business and market might have been like when Micaiah Perry I and Thomas Lane were starting out in the 1670s, one needs first to be reminded of the socio-economic hierarchy of the tobacco growing areas of Virginia and Maryland around 1670-1700. At the bottom of society were the slaves and indentured servants. Their labor produced much of the tobacco but they did not market what they produced. Hence they intruded into the world of Perry & Lane only when the firm ventured into the servant or slave trades. The next social level consisted of tenant farmers, most commonly former indentured servants. They frequently had to raise tobacco to satisfy their rent and taxes (commonly paid in leaf) but normally had a surplus to sell. All of them hoped and many of them eventually succeeded (if they lived long enough) in becoming independent proprietors or smallholders owning their own farms or

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