Gunston-Hall July 12th. 1791.
I did not receive yr. Letter of the 13th of May Via Nantes, until Saturday the 9th Instant, after that Day's Post had past; so that I had no Opportunity of conveying a Letter to Norfolk, until this Days Post. Here with you will receive a Packet (containing several Letters) which I have put under Cover to Mr. John Brent, as you desired; and hope it will be in time; but shou'd you have arrived, & have left Norfolk, before my Packet reaches the Hands of Mr. Brent, I have desired him to send it immediately after you (Per Post) to Petersburg, or Richmond.
The Letters are all left open for your Perusal. You will easily distinguish, which are intended as complimentary Introductions, merely to entitle you to Civilities; and those which may be of Use to you, in the Line of Business, or in making you acquainted with the most respectable Merchants; for I have myself so little Acquaintance with the James River Merchants, that I am not able to recommend such, as it may be proper for you to confide in. Most of my Letters are to Gentlemen in Richmond: Since the Death of my worthy Friend, Colo. Bland, I have no intimate acquaintance nearer Petersburg than Colo. Heth & Mr. David Ross. Colo. Heth, having been some Years a member of the executive Council in Richmond, & having married some Years ago in the Neighbourhood of Petersburg, & lived there a good while; and from his Office of Collector of the upper District of James River, must be as well acquainted with the Situation, & Character of all the Merchants there as any Man in Virginia. I believe he lives near Cabbin Point, or at Bermuda Hundred; you will find him a Man of Information, & good Sense; and I am sure, his Friendship for me will induce him to do you every Service in his Power; and I think you can confide in any information he gives you. Mr. Ross is also a particular Friend of mine, and I think will be ready to do you any good offices in his Power. I have also received many Instances of Civilitie & Attention from Mr. Alexander; who is a very intelligent Man, & well acquainted with Business. He resided many Years in France, & is perfectly acquainted with that Country; but he is a Scotchman; & has the character of an artful designing Man; with this Caution, I think he may be serviceable to you; and if it does not [in] any way interfere with his own Interest, I make no Doubt will take Pleasure in being so; and I think his Acquaintance is well worth you cultivating. Mr. David Ross is well acquainted with all the Merchants upon James River, & is generally thought to understand Commerce better than any Man in the State; he is a Man of uncommon Penetration, and Depth of Understanding & Judgment; by which he has acquired immense Possessions; but is said to be very much in Debt. He is a very plain Man in his Manners; and I have always found him a very friendly Man; but he too is a Scotch Man. I thought it necessary, however, to give you the outlines of his character.*
The Governor, Colo. Harvie, & Mr. Marshall, are all very worthy Men, & intimate Friends of mine; but they have never been in any Mercantile Line; tho' they may be serviceable to you, in making you acquainted with the most respectable Merchants; and in promoting Connections with the Country Gentlemen; if you have a Mind to form any such. Mr. Hopkins has been many Years a Commissioner of the Continental Loan Office, he is well acquainted with every body in that Part of the Country, has been concern'd in Trade, is a Man of good Sense, and has always supported a good Character.
It is proper to inform you, that Colo. Wood's, the Lieutenant Governor's Lady is a distant Relation a second Cousin of ours, and the Daughter of the late Revd. Mr. Moncure, the most valuable Friend I ever had in my Life.
I think it will be best not to mention any thing of your buying Tobo. upon Commission; if the People think you are buying for Fenwick Mason & Compy., without your telling them so; let them continue to think so. I imagine you will make your Purchase chiefly from the Merchants; and if you have brought over with you ready Money sufficient for that Purpose; I shou'd presume you may make the Purchase yourself, without the Intervention of any commercial House in Petersburg or Richmond; who in Case of their being concern'd in the Purchase, wou'd expect to divide the Commissions with you, but of this you will be the best Judge.
Shou'd you have Occasion to lodge money any time in Richmond; the Iron Chests in the Public Treasury will be the safest Place. Colo. Harvie is a very intimate Friend of Mr. Ambler, the Treasurer; & Mr. Marshall married one of his Daughters; either of these Gentlemen can procure you Leave to do so.
The present Price of Tobo. at Richmond & Petersburg, I am told, is from 17/6 to 2o/ Virga. Curry.; upon Potomack 13/, & I believe almost any Quantity cou'd readily be bought here at 14/ or at most 15/. It is unfortunate you did not, immediately, upon the Decree, wth. Respect to Tobo. charter & send out a french Ship or two; if you had at this Instant three or four french Ships in Potomack, they cou'd be readily loaded, upon Consignment; but I doubt you have lost the time, & that it is now too late to send Orders for that Purpose to France; as I have Reason to believe several of the Merchants here have ordered their Correspondents in Europe to Charter french Ships, as speedily as they can.
Pray write to me as soon as you arrive; a Letter Post will reach me in four or five Days from Norfolk, & in two or three from Richmond. I long to see you exceedingly, & so do all your Brothers & Sisters; yet I think, if you load the Ship in James River, you had better not leave that Part of the Country, until you dispatch her. Your Brother George is in much better Health than he has been for two Years past. He thinks he received much Benefit, last Summer, from the Use of the Augusta Springs. He & your Brother William spend this Season there also; they set out the Day before Yesterday, & dont intend to return before September.
I wish to hear, as soon as possible, how your Health is, and what Effect the Voyage has had upon it; I hope a good one; and am, dear John, Your ever affectionate Father
P. S. If your Ship draws a great deal of Water, she can't go very high up James River; it is a Circumstance You shou'd inquire into; and if you find she can't go at least as high as Jam[es] Town; perhaps it will be best to conti[nue] her at Norfolk, & send the Tobo. down in Craft; the James River Merchants frequently do so.
Mr. Ross spends as much of his time in Richmond as in Petersburg.