Academic journal article South Carolina Historical Magazine

James Crokatt's "Exceeding Good Counting House": Ascendancy and Influence in the Transatlantic Carolina Trade

Academic journal article South Carolina Historical Magazine

James Crokatt's "Exceeding Good Counting House": Ascendancy and Influence in the Transatlantic Carolina Trade

Article excerpt

JAMES CROKATT HAS LONG OCCUPIED A FOOTNOTE IN histories of colonial South Carolina. From his conspicuous career as a trader in Charles Town, London's leading Carolina merchant of the 1740s and 1750s, and the colony's agent in London between 1749 and 1756, historians have focused their attention on three episodes. First, Crokatt is noted as mentor to the young Henry Laurens in mid-1740s London. In this role, he is known chiefly not for what he did, but for what he did not do: he denied partnership in his London firm to Laurens in 1748. Laurens later considered the rejection "one of the most Fortunate Episodes in the History of my Commercial Life," and it led the future patriot to return to Charles Town and make his business and political fortunes there. Thus, Crokatt has served to elucidate Laurens's life and career path. ' Second, Crokatt is known for his activism in London to promote indigo as an agricultural staple in the province.2 Third, the controversy surrounding his attempt to resign as South Carolina 's agent in London, beginning in 1753, has been identified as a seminal moment in the political aspirations of the Commons House of Assembly.3 Invariably, Crokatt himself is sublimated to the wider historical trends that each episode illustrates: the dynamics of colonial South Carolina's transatlantic trade, the diversification of its agricultural base, and its growing political power struggles.

Crokatt merits closer scrutiny, however. Reconstructing his commercial ascendancy and transatlantic advocacy on South Carolina's behalf reveals how he both embodied and shaped the province's Atlantic connections in the mid eighteenth century. To borrow historian David Hancock's phrase, he was a true "citizen of the world," moving between imperial periphery and metropolis, managing a diverse portfolio of investments on either side of the Atlantic, and actively promoting as well as participating in the trade that made him rich.4 Probably the wealthiest and certainly the most prominent figure in the London-South Carolina trading axis before the Revolution, Crokatt's success was based on shrewd commercial and political strategies that set him apart from most merchant contemporaries. At the same time, he exemplified broader currents in transatlantic agency that shed new light on the operation and dynamics of South Carolina's colonial trade and development. Unlike the twenty-three "associates" examined by Hancock, Crokatt actively sought to shape the political, institutional, and legal determinants of his trading orbit through engaging with the apparatus of the imperial state.

Through an examination of Crokatt's career, this article addresses notable historiographical lacunae. Importantbiographical studies have demonstrated colonial South Carolina's commercial dynamism using the lives and careers of individual Charles Town traders - men such as Gabriel Manigault, Robert Pringle, and JohnGuerard.5 Conversely, their trading correspondents in London, specialist "Carolina traders" who controlled a sizeable share of South Carolina's Atlantic trade, have hitherto remained obscure.6 Study of James Crokatt helps illuminate this group. For two decades, Crokatt was at the forefront of London's Carolina trade, the province's most effectual advocate in the mid-century metropolis and a mainstay in the informal channels of influence and information that underpinned South Carolina's commercial and political links to Britain. This article follows his geographic and professional trajectory, which represented a well-trodden path in the eighteenthcentury Carolina trade from an upbringing in Britain, to an early career in Charles Town, and then to commercial fruition in London. In so doing, it exposes the lifecycle of an elite Atlantic merchant in the Hanoverian Imperium - a figure superficially familiar to historians, but one rarely scrutinized in his private or public capacities.7 Throughout his career, Crokatt demonstrated the traits of an elite Hanoverian merchant, cultivating an array of associative, affective, and ethnic ties to enhance his commercial and personal status. …

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