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

By Jacob M. Price | Go to book overview

1 / The Early Perrys and Their Wanderings

A traveller by water in 1696 approaching Jamestown, the hamlet capital of Virginia, would have immediately noticed, amidst the nondescript small wooden buildings of the town, two more imposing and relatively large brick structures. At the western end of the town was the new or fourth "state house" where the public affairs of the colony were transacted. A few hundred yards down the James was a partially derelict terrace of three brick buildings facing the river. The central edifice, by then burned and abandoned, had formerly served the colony as its first state house; that to its west had most likely been an inn, serving among others those coming to town for public business. The third structure in the terrace, the only one still in use, belonged to Perry & Lane, merchants of London, and was then occupied by Micaiah Perry's nephew John Jarrett; it was most likely the headquarters of the business of that firm in southern Virginia. 1 The conspicuous size of the Perry building and its site at the very center of the public life of the colony are symbolic of the more than prominent part played by that firm in the life and trade of Virginia. A discreet visitor to the Customs House in London that year could have ascertained that Perry & Co. were by a substantial margin the leading importers of tobacco in the metropolis, indeed in the country. From the well-informed in Whitehall, he could also have learned that most negotiations and communications between the Chesapeake trade of London and the Treasury or the new Board of Trade passed through the hands of the same Micaiah Perry.

The pre-history of even an important mercantile family is usually very difficult if not impossible to establish. 2 However, Micajah (or

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