1793: John Stille, Jr. to Moses Brown

This letter was written by commission merchant, John Stille, Jr. (1767-1842) who had a store on the west side of Front Street, between Vine and Race Streets, in Philadelphia. He traded in West India goods. Described as an “opulent citizen,” John Stille, Jr. occupied a rather imposing three-story brick house, with pediment front, at the head of McCullough’s Court on Vine Street. John’s parent were John Stille Sr. — a Philadelphia tailor — and Mary Boyd.

The letter was addressed to Moses Brown (1742-1827), a prominent landowner, shipbuilder, and merchant from Newburyport, Massachusetts, who invested in the sugar, molasses, and rum trade during the late 18th and early 19th century. Brown was born on October 2, 1742 in Newbury, Mass., the youngest of thirteen children to Joseph, Jr. and Abigail Pearson Brown. He was apprenticed to a chaise maker when he was a boy. After his apprenticeship he moved to Newburyport to start his own chaise making and repair business. Using some of the earnings he made before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, Brown invested in the importation of sugar and molasses from the West Indies. He profited considerably from this investment and, following the war, he devoted his full effort to this business by exporting lumber, meat, fish, and dry goods and importing sugar and molasses to distill rum. He expanded his holdings by purchasing ships and widespread real estate, especially wharves, warehouses, and distilleries along the Newburyport waterfront. By 1790 Brown was the second wealthiest man in Newburyport and would soon become its largest real estate holder. His fleet of ships sailed to the Carolinas, West Indies, and parts of northern Europe. He was a very active investor with several other prominent Newburyport merchants, especially William Bartlet, in such undertakings as the Newburyport Marine Insurance Company, the Merrimack Bank, Plum Island Company Turnpike, the Newburyport Woolen Manufactory, and the Andover Theological Institution. In 1791 he bought Tristram Dalton’s home at 94 State Street in Newburyport and lived there until his death on February 9, 1827.

1793 Letter

1793 Letter

Addressed to Moses Brown, Esquire, Merchant, Newburyport

Philadelphia [Pennsylvania]
March 5th 1793

Moses Brown, Esquire
Newburyport [Massachusetts]

Your favor under date of the 22nd ultimo is at hand advising of the receipt of mine of 7th ult. in which I informed you that your friend Mr. Samuel Coates had agreed to pay me by your direction for account of Mr. Gurdon Backus, Petersburg, one thousand pounds Pennsylvania currency. This sum I received of him on the 20th of February. You have enclosed a bill in your letter above acknowledges on Mr. Coates for £750 Massachusetts or Virginia currency which fall short £50 of the sum Mr. Backus counted upon receiving from you. It will be necessary, therefore, to forward a bill to me for the above balance in order to agree with the sum actually received of Mr. Coates.

The prices of West India produce is fast falling here and our staple rising. Two causes contribute to the first. Viz: the large quantity’s that have arrived and the extreme scarcity of cash owing to the Bank’s having in great measure withheld their discounts.

Yours respectfully, — John Stille’, Jr.

One response to “1793: John Stille, Jr. to Moses Brown

  • robrnar

    It would have been interesting what kind of produce they were to bring from West Indies. I am assuming that “our staple” were American growers. The early American merchant class has always amazed me with their economic wealth. That 1000 L would be 143,000 in today dollars.

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