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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4 / The Public Role of Micaiah Perry I

The tobacco import trade at London, like so many other trades, needed some effective structure for collective action even though it possessed no chartered form of organization. In 1685 the nominal import duty on tobacco had been raised from 2d. to 5d. per lb.; by 1704 that duty had reach 6.33d. per lb. There were various deduction from the nominal duty, but, even when all allowances were subtracted, the effective burden of taxation -- when the duties were bonded (rather than being paid in cash) -- was 4.15d. per lb. in 1685 and 5.28d. in 1704. These were duties of roughly 100 percent at the time of adoption 1 and could be much heavier (over 200 percent) whenever tobacco prices in Europe declined. These very high import duties, almost all drawn back (refunded) at re-exportation, involved the trade in frequent negotiations with the Treasury on the details of payment and bonding. For its part, the Treasury was none too happy about the various stratagems which less upright importers might use to avoid or delay paying the duties. To plug these loopholes, the Treasury frequently found it necessary to obtain from Parliament supplementary legislation altering the rules governing the importation of and the payment of duties on tobacco -- such as the clause of 1699 which forbade the importation of bulk or loose tobacco. Between 1689 and 1723 there was an act of Parliament affecting the tobacco trade approximately every other year. 2 In addition, the tobacco merchants of London had frequently to intercede with the secretaries of state, the Privy Council and the new Board of Trade on matters concerning the tobacco colonies of Virginia and Maryland and foreign markets for re-exported tobacco. In wartime they had also to remonstrate most strenuously with the Admiralty about convoys. In the very difficult war years of the 1690s sailings to

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