Gertrude Selwyn Kimball.

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had purchased another quarter.

Events followed fast in the life of this resolute
young man during the next few years. He was mar-
ried in December, 1722. Six weeks later we find him
on the quarter-deck of "the Sloop Named the four
bachelors," as Captain James Brown. The good
sloop was lying in Newport Harbor, ready " to Sayl
with the first fair Wind & Weather ... to Some of
the Leeward Islands in the West Indies." When
there, her captain was ordered to dispose of the
cargo, and also of the sloop " if an Oportunity pre-
sents . . . and To lay out the produce thereof in
Such Commodityes ... as your Judgement & dis-
cresion Shall direct you : for our best advantage . . .
and So God Send you a prosperous Voyage." And
with this pious wish, good Nicholas Power signed his
name, " in behalf of myself & Company owners of
the Said Sloop and Cargo on board." By the follow-
ing October the gallant captain had come safe to
port, and we are surely justified in assuming the voy-

2 34 ^Providence in Colonial Times

age a prosperous one, for once ashore Captain James
straightway opened a shop on the Towne Street, on a
warehouse lot some seventy feet south of the corner
where College Street meets Market Square, and just
across the way from his own home. It is to the wise
forethought of his youngest son, Moses, that we of
the present day are indebted for the preservation of
the documents in which these details are found. That
same indefatigable investigator of things genealogical
and historical has left us two, out of three, of his
father's shop-ledgers, and they have proved a mine
of information for all facts and details respecting the
stock in trade and business methods of this the first
department store in Providence.

opens with an index of his customers, alphabetically
arranged according to the initial letter of their given
names, and phonetically spelled in accordance with
the compiler's interpretation of sound. Under the
letter "B" we find —

Brother Joseph
Bainonai Crabtrey
Bainonai watterman
Brother andrew Brown

Under "D" we have—

Danel Oldney
doctor Gebbs
doctor Jabis Boin

Letter OF "Directions" from James Brown to his
Wife, August 23, 1737

From the Moses Brown Papers, vol. i, p. 3, in the Rhode
Island Historical Society. t

. ■.'lii ...iu/. |_ i/:o;n '' gzciToa^iCI " - lo ^axTi f
.vtaiooH ifiohoJarH bnclel



'Ui^'^^ 3?^"-' ^*~'' -?»t/L^.^

^-:£5ir* v-.^

■ C^- e;'^ - ■^^/i,^,./,^,
^%44^: ''^l '^C 'Ttc . .^..r,a ^



The Shipping Trade 235

"F" shows us —

Father Brown
feirnot packer
francis hambllton
Father Power

Occasionally a man's trade is given, as "Paul
the tanner, Allin the Blockmason, Tom indian."
A stranger is often designated as such: ''Thomas
Stevens of Plainfield; William admons of Wan-

The indebtedness of the customer is entered item
by item on the left-hand page, and opposite appear
such articles accepted, or services rendered, as may
be credited to his account. The first entry in the
book serves to conclude the tale of the cruise of the
Four Bachelors to the Leeward Islands. Under the
date of October 9, 1723, we read that Mr. Nicholas
Powers's account is settled, and that there is "du to
him ;^4. o. I, onley he is to pay £y]. 10. o to the
wanscut main [men] for their partes of the sloope
foure Bachilors."

The responsibilities of captain, supercargo, and
shopkeeper did not weigh so heavily on our young
merchant-adventurer as to repress all manifestations
of that exuberance of spirits which is one of the pre-
rogatives of youth. On at least one occasion his su-
perfluous energy so shocked the standard of decorum
prevailing in Newport that a worthy citizen of that
highly respectable town entered a complaint against

236 ^Providence in Colonial Times

**Capt. James Browne Junr ... for the breach of
his majestyes Peace." Captain James, on being
brought before the court at Providence, "owned the
fact," and was sentenced to pay "the Sum of twelve
shillings Currant money as a fine to his Majestye."
We have no information as to the manner in which
the peace of Newport was thus violently disturbed.
Perhaps Captain James Brown's idea of fun was not
dissimilar to that of his sons, some twenty-five years
later, when Moses Brown, at Lebanon, was informed
by a letter of young Jabez Bowen that "Brothers J.
Brown and J. Updike have Broke the Meeting Hous
windows. You must make hast home or Else you
will Loose the Cream." It seems pretty evident that
Captain James made sure of the "Cream," and
cheerfully paid the bill.

It is also evident that a man of his energy and abil-
ity would not find either of these attributes exhausted
by the demands of his business on the Towne Street.
Wife, home, and shop could not suffice to keep our
gallant captain in port. On February 24, 1727, he
"sailed oute from Behind dumpileng" (Dumpling),
master of the sloop Truth and Delight, with "a Brave
Gail and fair wether . . . Bounde to martinneco."
Luckily for the inquirer of to-day. Captain James
took with him his book of geometrical and nautical
problems, evidently a relic of his prentice days at sea,
for he has written on the fly leaf, " Begun Octob the
24th 1719." The little volume is chiefly concerned

The Shipping Trade 237

with "Navigation, an art by which the Industrious
marriner Is Enabled to Conduct a Ship the Shortest
& Safest way between any two assigned places,"
and to assure that desirable end there are carefully
worked-out problems in "Plain Sailing," in "Com-
pound Courses," and in " Parallel Sailing."

The last ten pages have preserved for us the log
of the Truth and Delight, We find the customary
record of wind and weather. On March 4, " verey
Blustering wether with rain" covered the decks with
twelve inches of water, and stove in the hogsheads
placed there. On March 14, Fort Royal in Martinico
was reached, and until May 31, the Truth and Delight
lay in port, unloading her cargo of eleven horses,
fifteen hogsheads of Indian corn, sixteen hundred-
weight of tobacco, seven hundred pounds of cheese,
six barrels of tar, twelve thousand, six hundred feet
of boards, and twelve thousand shingles. This ac-
complished, and "a Barril of rum for the vessels
youse" purchased. Captain Brown secured a return
cargo of forty hogsheads of molasses and sixteen
hogsheads of rum, and "Sailed oute of Martineco
. . . Bound for Roadisland of a wensday a Bought
5 in the afternoon" of May 31. The monotony of
the ship's log on the home voyage is broken on one
occasion by the record of "two dolphin caught to
day Butt have no Butter to et with them : which is
verey hard," the Captain adds. By June 19, the
Truth and Delight was almost at Newport Harbor:

238 "Providence in Colonial Times

"haid the Lastime we sounded 43 faddoms . . .
which I Jug to Be in Blok island Chanil," writes
her captain, and with "a good Bres at S W," the
stanch little sloop spread her white wings and bore
away toward home.

From this time Captain James appears to have
given up following the sea as a profession. As an
investment, he continued to follow with keen interest
the conditions of foreign and home markets until his
early death, in 1739. Indeed, the demands of his
trade as shopkeeper would seem to have required
much time and sagacity, — both as buyer and seller.
His shop offered an assortment of necessities and
luxuries so varied as to be positively picturesque.
Thither his neighbors came for wheat, flannel,
brooms, cotton-wool, linen cloth, pepper, flax, boards
(oak and other), beef, stockings, twine, dry goods
such as Osnaburgs, silk, crape, garlits, etc. ; bottles,
grindstones, powder and shot, and more frequently
than for aught else — rum, molasses, and salt. Good,
pious Elder James's account, for the last months of
his upright life, ran like this : —

Nov. 22, 173 1 father is du to gallon rum
to quarter pound powder
25 to Boshil soke

dec. 8 to gallon Rum

to deto
Jan. I to deto Andrew had

28 to deto

febry 29 to gallon rum and cheese

o. 7. o

o. I. 4

o. 7. o

o. 7. o

o. 7. O

o. 7. o

o. 7. o

o- 13- S

The Shipping Trade 239

In the following year we learn that: —

Father power is du to sundres as folloth

£ s d

firste to apair of stokins o. 7. o

to two yardes and hallf garlik at 4J". o. 10. o

to Cotton woll nicholis had i. 4. o
to Cotton woll and molasis a man had that

Came with mosey o. 14. o
to timber, making & setting up gates & other

fence in the nek i. 7. o

to the youse of my scow o. 2. 6

to pd. Samwell Ladd for shuing his horse o. i. 7

to the frate of glas & Led from Boston o. 5.0

to Earthen wair o. 4. 6

to a pair stokins o. 12. 6

to deto o. 12. 6

to a gallon rum o. 6. 6

to money o. 10. o

to 3 Raks o. 6. o

to a saith o. 13. o

to arum Borges o. i. 8

7- 17- 9

— while on the opposite page Father Power is duly

credited with malt, oakum, and fish, amounting to

£l- 9- 4-

When Colonel Power died in 1734, his son-in-law
mourned his loss of a kind friend and sagacious ad-
viser. His will testifies to the good feeling existing
between the two men, for to James and Hope Brown
are left two " small lots of land," one on the east, and
one on the west side of the Great River. The other
married daughters and their husbands received each
one "small lot of land."

240 "Providence in Colonial Times

The Colonel lived in a rather more sumptuous
fashion than the majority of his neighbors. His
spacious homestead on the Towne Street, where the
Talma Theatre now stands, was graced with the
smiles and blushes of five gay girls, and must have
welcomed many a jolly party within the "greate
lower room" of which his appraisers tell us. His was
one of the earliest, if not the first, house in Providence
to be provided with a "dineing room." Among the
"dineing room furniture" was an oval table of a size
to accommodate fourteen chairs and "a Leather
Cheair," doubtless that of the Colonel himself. And-
irons, tongs, and fire-shovel bear authentic witness
to the capacious fireplace, whose dimensions outdid
even our modern standards of hospitality. Next, we
must fancy a "Large Lookeing Glass," a clock, a
glass-case (presumably a corner cupboard), and ta-
ble plenishings of pewter, for the most part. We are
told that the "dineing room" provided also "Chafe-
ing Dishes, 3 Brass skillets, a Brass Kittle, 2 Punch
boles and a stone Jugg & Cups."

Among the neighbors that fancy so readily pic-
tures, gathered about the Colonel's hospitable board,
and the smoking punch-bowl which served as centre-
piece, let us single out Captain James Brown. He
and his wife's father doubtless figured the profits on
many an invoice, and planned the course of many a
cruise — whether to Newfoundland, New York, or
the West Indies. Another son-in-law of Colonel

Sign of "The Bunch of Grapes "

One of the most famous of the early commercial signs of
Providence, and dating from about 1760. Now in the
museum of the Rhode Island Historical Society.

/J:)rjo8 IfijiK

jiVjtjl J'Jl' [

The Shipping Trade 2 4 1

Power's was also a frequent visitor, and his shrewd
counsel was often at the service of Captain James.
This was John Stuart, goldsmith, whose profession
did not make such exhaustive demands on his time
and attention but that he was able to give a share of
both to the carrying-trade. He was the owner of a
*' sloope and the appertinances thereunto belonging,"
and must have been an appreciative listener to the
sea-yarns exchanged between Colonel Power and
Captain James Brown. He and the Captain had their
own little personal transactions, probably to the sat-
isfaction of both parties, for we find in the Captain's
shop-ledger charges for lamb, tar, broadcloth, mo-
hair, boards, rum, etc., and finally a memorandum
to the effect that there will be due to John Stuart on
the last of the following November, " if he Keeps the
Clock in order as in time past he hath, the Sum of ten

John Stuart had a clock of his own valued at no
less than forty pounds, while his silver watch was
estimated at twenty-five. He also owned a violin,
and a most extraordinary possession it must have
seemed to his good friends and neighbors. His gold-
smith's trade was no illusion, although we can hardly
think of Providence as a centre for the manufacture
of jewelry so early as the year of grace 1736. How-
ever tliat may be, we have his appraisers' recorded
testimony to the effect that John Stuart left gold-
smith's tools to the value of sixty pounds, and also

242 Providence in Colonial Times

"one Penney Wt. 22 Grains of Gold: 21 oz. 10 Pwt.,
Silver," the whole coming to £'^0. 19. 8.

Colonel Power's estate likewise included a sloop,
The Sparrow, worth one hundred pounds. He owned
a warehouse, a cooper's shop, a cider-mill, and three
stills ; and it is worthy of remark that this is the first
mention of the machinery of the distiller's trade, on
a scale to furnish more than personal consumption,
that has been found among the Providence inven-
tories. Colonel Power had also a cheese-press, four
negro slaves, a silver-hilted sword, an ivory-headed
cane, decanters, wine-glasses, and silver plate. In
short, all the requisite household furnishings that
became a "good old English gentleman" and a

As we have seen, the greater portion of " Father
Power's" bill for "sundres" and other supplies was
paid by an exchange of commodities, or services, and
the statement holds good respecting the majority
of the customers who patronized this eighteenth-
century emporium. In 1736, Robert Nixon cancelled
his debt for rum, coffee, sugar, rice, and pepper by
making "nine froks ... he finding thread & but-
tons," for three shillings each. For making "a pair
of trows's & finding thread &c.," this accomplished
tailor was paid two shillings and sixpence. Even
neighborly courtesies, whether muscular or mechani-
cal, were exchanged on a strictly cash basis. The
account of Shadrach Kees is a case in point. Kees

The Shipping Trade 243

was an enterprising townsman, who owned a sloop
(Xhe Humhird) in partnership with James Brown
and Captain Jabez Bowen. In October, 1730, The
Humhird, Richard Waterman, master, came home
with a cargo of flour, from a voyage to New York.
In November of that year James Brown's ledger
reads : —

6. 10. 9
Nov. 25 to an oar and rum Shadrah Keis is du

for o. 7. 3

and to stoaring of a Cabbil and . . .

for neir a yeir o. 3.0

to his sloope Lieing at my whorfe o. 5. o
to his sloope Lieing at my whorfe
after he Borte my parte and his
going onto the whorfe with Cartes o. 10. o
Ct to the aBove sd Keis for the youse
of his parte of the sloope humbord
to fecth from the sloope febbey
[Phcehe] ... o. 5. o

and to deto to goin to Newporte o. 5. o
and to the youse of an old Cabbil to

mak the sloope febbey faste with o. 2. o

Buying and selling, whether over the counter, or
"as per invoice," by no means exhausted James
Brown's business resources. He had as many ways
of turning an honest penny as the traditional "hired
man" could have invented for the solution of a
problem in practical mechanics. Brown lent money
at interest, carried on a slaughter-house business,
rented either horse or scow as occasion served, pro-
vided quarters for storage, and drove a thriving trade

2 44 Vrovidence in Colonial Times

with his distillery, — not to mention the crowning
venture of his mercantile career in sending the pio-
neer slave-ship from the port of Providence to the
Guinea Coast. His interests in the shipping trade
were more important than all his other pursuits com-
bined, and assuredly they possess far more interest
for us of to-day.

We watched Captain James himself sail out of
Narragansett Bay, bound for Martinique, in 1727. No
doubt he shared in many a West-Indian venture of
which there is no record before the year 1731, when
we next find him definitely mentioned in connection
with a voyage to the Caribbees, made by the sloop
Humhird, under Richard Waterman. Only a few
years more have slipped by when we find " Brother
Obadiah" acting as captain on one of these West-
Indian craft, while " Brother James" is giving sailing
orders, and figuring on expenses and profits. Oba-
diah Brown, born in 17 12, was number eight in
a family of ten children. There was a difference of
fourteen years between him and ''Brother James,"
the oldest of that goodly assemblage of olive-
branches. A warm attachment existed between the
two. On James's death, at the early age of forty-
one, it was Obadiah who acted the part of counsel-
lor and father to his four younger sons, the oldest of
whom was but ten years, and the youngest seven
months old. Obadiah is said to have sailed on his
first cruise in 1733, in the sloop Dolphin. The inval-

The Shipping Trade 245

uable ledger tells us that he was at sea in 1734, for he
is specifically charged for

ospltel money for his voig to the weste indes

53/^ months o. 13. o

To his parte of damig dun a squairsall 13. o

to Cloath mohair and Bottens 2. 16. 3

Ct to sd Obadiah Brown for wagis on Bord

the sloope marey as pr portridg Bill 5^/^

months at £3 \os. £19. 05. o

In the spring of 1735, Obadiah, then a young man
of twenty-three, sailed again for the West Indies,
with a cargo of horses, flour, and tobacco. On March
30 he wrote from " St Estasha,'* —

Loving Brother

After my duty to Mother and Love to my brothers
and Sister and all my friends hoping thes will find you
all in helth as I am at this present — I have ben Dis-
apointed of my expecttaclon I secured no molasses
before the twenty forth of this month. I have now
fifty hhds onbord at five stivers pr galond but I hope
to git the rest for les . . . horses and tobaco is in good
demand . . .

So I remain your loving Brother

Obadiah Browne

A year later elaborate preparations were making in
Providence for a cruise involving far greater respon-
sibilities. The "Sloope Mary, John Godfrey, Mas-
ter,'* was fitting for a voyage of nearly twelve
months' duration to the ill-famed Guinea Coast.
Among sundry bills, still carefully fastened with the
round-headed pins of the eighteenth century to the

246 ^Providence in Colonial Times

leaves of James Brown's "Ledger," is the account of
Thomas Harding, blacksmith, for "ironwork dun for
the Genne Slupe," in the spring of 1736. He fur-
nished an extraordinary assortment of spikes, large
and small, **a Scuttle bar and 2 Stapels," weighing
together between eight and nine pounds, "a hach
bar'* of nine pounds weight, and lastly, the sinis-
ter item, "35 pare of handcoofs." Nor must we fail
to include among the enumerated preparations the
drum, purchased of Elisha Tillinghast for "Three
pounds Cash ... To Go in the Marey to Ginne."

In the absence of any indication to the contrary we
may assume that the Mary was loaded with the usual
cargo of rum, an article always in demand in the
African market, and readily procured in Providence,
where molasses for the distilling trade was imported
as early as 1684. James Brown himself owned two
stills, and the skill of Rhode-Island distillers was such
that they were popularly said to make a gallon of
rum from each gallon of molasses consigned them.
The usual proportion was ninety-six gallons of rum
for one hundred of molasses.

Obadiah's position on board the Mary was that of
"factor," that is, the management of sales and pur-
chases was in his hands. He had a one-eighth interest
in the sloop and her cargo, and it is to him — and not
to Captain Godfrey — that James writes in March,
1737, as follows: "Loveing brother, I rec'd yours
dated the 25th of November ; wherein you say you

The Shipping Trade 247

[are] come to a poor market." Obadiah was by no
means alone in this account of the conditions prevail-
ing on the slave coast. In the same season letters
from Newport captains declare that " there never was
so much Rum on the Coast at one time before . . .
slaves is very scarce: we have had nineteen sails of us
at one time in the Rhoad, so that those ships that
used to carry pryme slaves off is now forsed to take
any that comes."

Far from being daunted by bad news of the mar-
ket, James philosophically remarks, —

But you are all well, which is good news, for health
in this world is better than welth, you wrote Something
Concerning your Mother, these may informe you that
She died about two Months after you Saild, and I hope
She is now more happy than either of us are we being
burthened with this world and She at rest as I hope,
after this I would tell you ... by all means make
dispatch in your business If you cannot Sell all your
Slaves to your mind bring some home I beleive they
will Sell well, gett Molasses if you can, and if you
Cannot come without It, leave no debts behind upon
no Account, gett some Sugar & Cotten If you Can
handily, but be Sure make dispatch for that Is the life
of trade

James Browne

These words of wisdom and counsel were sent to
meet "Obadiah Browne Merchant" at the West-
Indian market whither the slaves were taken for sale,
and the sloop loaded with a second cargo for the
Providence trade. They were acted upon with that

248 Providence in Colonial Times

zeal and accuracy which marked Obadiah's business
career. By the twenty-sixth of the following May,
James Brown was offering the Marys cargo to his
customers in the back country, in these terms: "Sr.
if I Remember Rite you deziared me to Right you a
few Lines at the Arivol of my Gineman. theas may
informe you that she is Arived and you may have A
slave if you Cum or send Befoar they are Gon I have
soke plentey if you want and sevoral other Sortes of
Goods if you desaine [design] downe you Cannot Be
two soon."

In a statement of accounts, dated 1737, and en-
titled a "Settlement between Obadiah & myself,"
signed by James Brown, there is set down, with a
careful detail and great precision, sufficient of the
minutiae of the sloop Marys "present Voyage too
& from Guenia" to enable us to fill up the remaining
gaps without overtaxing our imagination. Evidently
the rum was taken to Africa, and there bartered for
negroes, — men, women, and children. The slaves
were carried to the West Indies and sold, while the
proceeds were invested in Jamaica or St. Croix rum,
powder, salt, cordage, guns, coffee, Osnaburgs, and
duck; — nor must we omit the "three Slaves that
he brought home being ;^I20." Obadiah had one-
eighth interest in profits and losses, and received his
wages as agreed by contract. The estimated value of
the cargo finally unloaded at the wharf of " Brother
James" is ;^26oi. 16. 10.

The Shipping Trade 249

Figures speak for themselves, even if they occa-
sionally speak for those who figure, and in the face
of the above-mentioned estimate, we cannot wonder
that the old sea-captain sent out his promising
brother in the following year as " Master of the Sloop
Rainbow," a vessel of eighty tons burden, built for
James Brown by Roger Kinnicutt, at his shipyard on
the West Side of the Great River, a little east of the
present Dorrance Street.

On a mild winter's day in February, 1738, Captain
Obadiah dropped down Providence River, under
orders running somewhat as follows: " to make
what dispatch possable you can to Newport, and
there take of George Gibbs your bread for your
Voiage and gett some hay and other Materials for the
Voiage, and then make the best of your way to Bar-
badoes — Speak with no Vessell on your passage if
you can help it; when you are Arrived, do with your
Cargoe as you think will be most to my Advantage,
if you think best Sell there, and if not goe Else where,
be Sure to Keep your Selfe in your right mind if
possable, if any Misfortune Attend you lay it not to
heart, but Consider that there is a higher power that
Governs all things, and if you are likely to meet with
good fortune consider the same: and possably those
two thoughts may keep you in a medium as all men
ought to be : you must not charge me but five pr Cent
Sales & two & halfe Returns," continues the worthy
elder brother, dropping his role of mentor somewhat

250 ^Providence in Colonial Times

summarily; "you must bring me an Accompt how
you Sell each Article too and for how much/* And
he comes to the gratifying conclusion that " in doing
as near as possable you can to my directions I make
no doubt but the heavens will bless you in your pro-

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