When octogenarian Micaiah Perry I died in 1721, his firm, then styled Micaiah Perry & Co., was indisputably the leading tobacco importing firm in London and all Britain-and probably in the world. 1 It had been in business from about 1665 and had enjoyed its leading position from the early 1690s. The old man's role as the acknowledged spokesman of the Chesapeake trade before government agencies and ministers had been almost uniformly recognized during those same same years of market leadership. 2 The crucial problem then facing his firm -- and indeed all family firms at equivalent stages of their history -- was whether this preeminent and remunerative market position could be passed on from one generation of the family to another.
The transition was made all the more difficult for the Perrys because Richard, Micaiah's only surviving son and partner, had died in April 1720, a year before his father. 3 Thus the business, in default of other partners, passed to Richard's two sons, Micajah III, twentysix years old, and Phillip, eighteen. They also inherited most of the family's other property, though their mother Sarah (née Richards) had substantial dower rights, and respectable provisions were left to their three sisters, Sarah (wife of William Heysham, M.P. and merchant), Mary and Elizabeth (later to marry Salusbury Cade, a court official). 4
When Robert Carter, the Virginia councillor, heard of the death of Richard Perry, he wrote to the aged Micaiah, "I heartily condole with you for the loss of your son, so great and good a prop to our trade. The mercy you enjoy in having a grandson to step into his room is beyond compare." But what "King" Carter really thought of