Rhode Island Stampless Covers & Letters
1766 Stampless Folded Letter from Alex Willock - Antigua

To Samuel & William Vernon, Merchants - Newport, Rhode Island
(Scroll Down for Biographical Information, Background History and Text of Letter)

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The 1766 Stampless Folded Letter shown above and to the left was sent from Antigua in the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean Sea, where a colony had been established by the British in 1667. Sugar Cane was the most important crop and slavery was well established on the island by 1766.

The letter was sent outside the Colonial Mail System via Captain George Buckmaster on the Vernon's Brigantine, "Othello" and concerns the cargo of sugar and rum, market prices, and conditions. The letter also mentions a previous request by the Vernon family about the number of slaves in the possession of, or held by a Captain Rogers.

NOTE: I was unable to tell from the letter if the Vernon family wanted to purchase the slaves from Rogers, but it is probable, as Samuel and William Vernon of Newport were among the first of the major slave traders in Rhode Island and the Othello is documented on three slaving voyages. The Vernons entered the slave trade as early as 1737.

The brigantine "Othello" is documented as being in the slave trade. She is listed for at least three voyages; 1765 carrying 56 slaves, 1769, carrying 90 slaves, and 1774 carrying 54 slaves.

Samuel and William Vernon were the sons of Samuel Vernon, (Dec 6, 1683-Dec 5, 1737) a noted Newport silversmith and Elizabeth Fleet. A third brother, Thomas was also engaged in trade, but not in direct partnership with Samuel and William.

For additional Vernon Family History & Biographical Information SEE:
1867 letter from London to Samuel & William Vernon

Samuel Vernon was born on September 6, 1711 in Newport, Rhode Island and died in 1792. He married Amy Ward on December 29, 1739 and they had two children Elizabeth, (April 24, 1738) and Samuel S. (February 17, 1745). William Vernon was born in 1719 and died in 1806. Samuel and William were 3rd generation descendents of Daniel Vernon (born in England on September 1, 1683 - died 1715 in Rhode Island).

William and Samuel formed a partnership that included trade in rum, molasses, rice, sugar, slaves and privateering. Their first venture into the slave trade was in 1737 with their ship "Olive Branch" under the command of Captain John Godfrey. One of the most thoroughly documented slave voyages in history was a voyage by the Vernon's sloop "Hare" under Captain Caleb Godfrey in 1754.

NOTE: While doing online research, I noted that a direct descendent, (Mrs. Thomalind Martin Polite) of a slave named Priscilla taken on the 1756 voyage of the Hare, is a teacher in Charleston, South Carolina today and will be returning to her ancestors homeland in Sierra Leone in 2005.
SEE: Priscilla's Story at Project Priscilla 

Captain George Buckmaster was born on October 6, 1720 and is listed as living in Newport, RI in 1782. He was a fourth generation descendent of Zachariah Buckmaster (born 1623 Lancastershire, England - died 1691 Roxbury, Massachusetts).

The Willock family name is still quite common on Antigua and there is a village on the island today known variously as Willock Village and Cedar Grove.

The content of the letter deals with a shipment of sugar and rum from Willock to the Vernon brothers aboard their brigantine, "Othello," under Captain George Buckmaster. It also appears from the letter that they were expecting lower prices and Willock has lowered the price to what he says is, "at the price they cost me." (I feel sure that Willock made his profit on the cargo and probably fudged his numbers to show a higher cost than he actually paid.)

The letter also mentions a previous request for information from the Vernons concerning the number of slaves held by a Captain Rogers. It is not clear from the letter if the Vernons wish to purchase them, or if they were just checking up on a competitor in the trade.

In the annals of the Triangle Trade, the partnership of William and Samuel Vernon rank only behind the DeWolf family of Bristol in the number of slave voyages made by their ships.
SEE: The DeWolf Family Letters for further information on the Rhode Island Slave Trade.

The Complete Text of Letter Follows Below:

Antigua May 10th 1766

  Mesrs Samuel & William Vernon
                                                                                          Your letter 21st March, I have received by your Brigantine Othello, Captain George Buckmaster who has brought back my bill of exchange for five hundred pounds sterling for which I have supplied him with in goods and Rum to the amount of said bill at the current price. When I wrote you in November from the great prospect of a crop, I didn't think Rum or Sugar would have been so dear, but the great prices in North America and in Europe occasioned a large demand for those articles here and very high prices. The sugar, I have shipped you is of the first quality and doubt not, it will turn out well. the 15 first h'hds
(hogs heads) he has on board cost 38 pounds and the other five h'hds cost 36 pounds, 3 shillings, however to avoid any dispute, before I would ship the sugar, Capt Buckmaster agreed that I should ship them at the price they cost me, as you seem to think in your letter I must find you the sugar at 27 to 28 percent. Had it been only 20 percent you should have paid me no more than what they cost me. Captain Buckmaster will sail in a few days. I shall enclose you a copy of my accounts with Captain Rogers, which is all the information I can send you about the number of his slaves.

May 15 1766

                 Above is a copy of my last enclosed
(to) you Invoice and Bill of Lading for 20 h'hds of sugar 20 bbls & seven h'hds of rum amounting to 850 Pounds,  3.7 percent (I believe the 3.7 percent to be the fee charged by Willock.) that you have & herein enclosed, my accounts current balanced by Capt. Buckmaster  - 3.7 percent. Invest the sugar to a good market. Enclosed you have copy (of) Captain Rogers account. 

                                                                                    I am Sirs
                                                                                            Your Humble Servant

                                                                                            Alex Willock

RI Historical Society
Stampless I
Stampless II

Stampless III
Stampless IV
Stampless V
Stampless VI
Brown & Ives Letters
The Hazard Family Letters
Joseph Tillinghast
Free Franked Letters
DeWolf Family Letters

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