Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Black Ball Line

"A manuscript letter of prime significance in maritime history has recently come into the possession of the Marine Historical Association, Mystic, Connecticut.  Contained in the letter copybook of Jeremiah Thompson, who took the prime initiative in developing the Black Ball Line of sailing packets and of bringing southern cotton up the coast to New York to provide eastbound cargoes for them, is a letter pertaining to the inauguration of the first line of regularly scheduled sailing packets.  In this particular letter, reproduced below, Thompson and his three Quaker associates outline in detail the two firms who, they hoped, would handle the Liverpool end of the shuttle...."
-- Planning the Black Ball Line, 1817, Robert Albion, Gardiner Professor of History, Emeritus Harvard University, Business History Review, Spring 1967

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The founder of Cropper Benson & Co, James Cropper, Merchant in Liverpool, much involved with the cotton trade with the southern American states. As a Quaker James realised that his cotton trading clashed with his principles. 'It is a very difficult thing to keep from touching in any shape slave produce' he wrote in 1827.

The earliest record of the business enterprises of the Rathbones of Liverpool is the 1742 MS daybook of William Rathbone II, documenting a timber and ship-owning business.

"My grandfather's [William Rathbone IV] house sold the first American cotton grown in the United States, that ever was imported to this country . . . it came in eight bales and three barrels, and was seized at the Custom House for breaking the navigation laws, which stipulated that produce must come from any country in vessels belonging either to that country or to England, and they held that cotton was not grown in America. It was I believe, eighteen months before it was sold, as the staple was of different length to any in use then. I was told that my grandmother Rebecca had for a long time a sample of this cotton, and my grandmother Greg a sample of the cloth made from some of it; but neither has been found in our day." - William Rathbone, 'A sketch of Family History during four generations'

William Rathbone IV:  "Originally a member of the Society of Friends, he felt compelled to write a Narrative of Events in Ireland among the Quakers in 1786 in protest against religious intolerance in the Society, for which he was disowned from the Society in 1805. He would never join another religious body, though he occasionally worshiped with local Unitarian congregations."