Edmund Pershall (Pearsall)

EDMUND PERSHALL, son of Richard Pershall, was born circa 1531 and died in April 1629. He was married to Maria Bathurst, daughter of Lancelot Bathurst, alderman of London who died Sept. 27, 1594 aged 65 years.

In 1552, Edmund Pershall went into business in London. He changed his family name to the Pearsall spelling. Thus, when his descendants came to America, this was the spelling of the American family name. The London pronunciation differed from the country neighbors way of saying it back in Staffordshire at Horsley. He continued to use various spellings of the surname as shown by various court documents over the years. By the time of the first census of the United States in 1790, the descendants then living of Edmund Pearsall had increased to ninety-four separate families and four hundred and seventy-eight individuals, and these spelled their family name in 28 variant ways. (Century of Population Growth, page 246 quoted in "History and Genealogy of the Pearsall Family in England and America" p.859). When these families traced back their ancestry, all met at the point of common ancestry in Edmund Pearsall.

Edmund Pearsall lived to be almost one hundred years old. He was a "merchant of the staple" or as we would say, a wool merchant. He reached his greatest success and prosperity after he was eighty years old. His career spanned the last years of Queen Mary, all of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, all of the reign of James I and the early years of the reign of Charles I.

In his childhood, Edmund Pearsall saw the troops of King Henry VIII drilling on the village green and along the king's highway which ran in front of his father's home in Horsely in Staffordshire after the Muster of 1539.

When Henry III seized and sold the lands belonging to the Catholic Church, he saw the purchasing of these lands by newcomers. Today we would probably consider them "land developers". The use of the land changed from farming to sheep grazing and the developing of flocks for the production of wool. It may be that his career in the wool trade stemmed from this childhood observation of the changes in Staffordshire where his family had lived for over four centuries. (History and Genealogy of the Pearsall Family in England and America v. I p. 867)

At age 21, he left Horsely in Staffordshire and went to London to take up the wool trade as Merchant of the Staple. In 1552, London was a city of ninety thousand inhabitants including both those within and without the walls of the old city. ("Social England" by Traill and Mann, London 1909, Vol. III, page 511 as quoted in vol. I of the family history).

The guilds of that time had a monopoly on the wool trade. The earliest company was called "The Merchant Adventurers". Edmund became associated with "The Russia Company" in 1555. In 1556, an Act of Parliament extended their monopoly to o include trade with Armenia, Media, Hyrcania, Persia and the Caspian Sea conditionally on the trade being carried only on English ships. Other traders in the Russian market were the Randolph and Bathurst families. Edmund found his wife Maria Bathurst through this contact. Other merchants succeeded in influencing a change in the Czar's trade agreements after 1571 and the British trade in these areas fell off. Edmond Pearsall continued to trade profitably in these areas nevertheless.

Before the Industrial Revolution, fleece was shorn, cleaned, carded and spun and woven by individual families. Guilds and their officials controlled various stages of the product as it was sold. Reputations for excellence gave more profit to individual producers. Edmund Pearsall represented some of these independent producers to their mutual profit. Some of them were also named Pearsall.

Edmund Pearsall, along with other merchant's of the staple contributed to the exploration and settlement of new areas for British trade.They sent Martin Frobisher to the coast of America in 1577 where he attempted a settlement on Hudson's Bay. This failed because of the loss of some boats. ("Social England" by Traill and Mann, vol. III, page 678) Another avenue of trade was from the fisheries in Newfoundland. The 15 English vessels protected the numerous French, Spanish and Portuguese ships against pirates and provided law for them. England was the best market for world trade at that time. Cargoes from all over the world were sold by the Merchants of the Staple of London. "It was through this trade, which extended to the West Indies, that Edmond Pearsall gained such a knowledge of the possibilities of American trade as warranted him subsequently to take so great a venture in the Tobacco trade in connection with the settlement of Virginia" (Family History V. I p. 870

The actual wool, sheepskins (with wool attached), leather, lead, tin, butter, cheese and cloth intended for the export shipment were exposed for sale in London so the king's tax officials could collect their due and the foreign merchants could make their purchase orders. This preceded the paper and now electronic ordering as a version of a stock exchange. The company of merchants had their own courts at the exchange to settle disputes. For wool, it was the "Court of the Staple".

The merchant members of the company traveled from place to place to gather into the "City of London" the staple products of England and to display them for sale there to home and to foreign buyers. Edmund traveled to make these purchases in England and went back to Staffordshire to purchase from the wool clip twice a year. Brother Robert would inquire of him at these visits how the investment of his money was faring and calculate how much he could get as loan against Edmund's property. (Family History v. I pp. 868-869)

Edmund's brother Robert begged a loan of his wealthier sibling to purchase a large piece of property composed of a priory and many farms and establishments.This purchase was to the advantage of Robert and embroiled Edmund in legal difficulties as the responsibility for payment became his and the land purchase was in Robert's name. This disassociated the land purchase from Edmund's successful and extensive wool business.

Edmund had a large landholding at the Frythe in the county of Kent. He had dealings with a Mr. Higges in the courts about this property. It appears Mr. Higges was what we would call a "squatter" in this country. In settling in the courts, Edmund paid him a sum of money to move off the property by the "Feast of St. Michael". Higges logged the property, removed and sold the wood and then died. His son William and two friends claimed that they could legally stay until 1614 Michaelmas. They threatened to cut the stripling replanted trees and the twelve trees required by act of Parliament to be left as well on each acre. In effect, they would, as we Oregonians say, "clearcut" the property in revenge for being evicted. In Chancery, they lost their case. (Chancery Proceedings, James I., Bundle 6, No. 9) This was quoted in "History and Genealogy of the Pearsall Family in England and America p.865)

Another landholding of his in Bromley, Kent was subject to another fraud scheme of brother Robert's. The rents from this land gave Edmund twenty nine pounds profit per year as the books listed that as the rent. Actually, Robert divided off a part of this property and charged forty three pounds a year for it which never appeared on the books and was never paid to his brother, the owner. There were other dealings concerning this property which Robert arranged for his own profit. Logging of this parcel gave him a profit of eight thousand pounds. He was held liable for this money as were his heirs (who never paid) until this day. (Chancery Proceedings, Charles I Bundle 53, No. 48; Bundle 65, No. 37). There is ample evidence of extensive fraud committed by Robert Peshall against his brother Edmund. This was continued by Robert's heirs Sir Humphrey Styles and Elizabeth Peshall Styles.

Queen Elizabeth encouraged the extension of England's domination of the high seas by her talented captains and crews and the extension of her colonial might. This was achieved largely at the expense of Spain, whose captains lost many ships and cargoes to the depredations of captains like Francis Drake (later Sir Francis Drake) These pirate expeditions were not funded by British taxes. The Merchants of the Staple outfitted the ships and hired the crews. Profits and losses were likewise borne by them. Even the ships which successfully fought the Spanish Armada in 1588 were raised by the merchants like Edmund Pearsall and others of The Grocers Guild. (Family History v. 2 p 272) The British Navy gradually took back the support of the fighting ships and the merchant class supported more and more the costs of colonization in the New World.


This period of time preceded both the stock exchange and modern banking. Money was invested in trade with individual merchants or was put into bullion and housed in the Tower. The merchants would send large sums of money with their representatives or by stagecoach to their representatives to purchase goods for world trade. Highwaymen prospered in this time as the roads carried vast sums for them to seize. Merchants were their own bankers and were bankers and "stockbrokers" and "investment councilors" for others.

The political conditions and export taxes then, as today, favored opening a branch office in another European country. Edmund opened one in the great Free Trade Market at Middleburg, Holland with it's harbor at Flushing, or Vliessingen, Holland in 1584. "...Which shortly afterwards came to be very serviceable to those who were engaged in the conspiracy to bring King James of Scotland to the English throne as the successor and heir to Queen Elizabeth." (Family History p.878) This occurred in 1603 "...entirely due to the plotting of these associates..." (ibid. P.878)

This trade branch in Holland was very profitable. It was as a result of the connections made here that the family businesses in America were established. In the beginning, goods traded to England included: jewels, precious stones, silver, bullion, quicksilver, wrought silks, cloth of gold, gold and silver thread, camblets, grograms, spices, drugs, sugar, cotton,cummin galls, linen fine and coarse, demi-pistades, glass, salt fish, metallic and other merceries of all sorts to a great value, arms of all kinds, ammunition for war, and household furniture. From England, Holland received vast quantities of fine and coarse draperies, fringes and other things of that kind to a great value,, the finest wool, excellent saffron in small quantities great quantity of lead and tin, sheep and rabbit skins without number, and various other sorts of fine peltry and leather, beer, cheese and other sorts of provisions as well as Malmsey wines which the English imported from Candia. (Ibid p. 878)

In 1587, Edmund Pearsall joined the larger, more powerful Grocers Guild. The Bank of England was organized around the Grocers Guild and occupies the site of its old Hall. (Ibid. p. 879)

In 1609, Edmond Pearsall and his friends and family members organized the second Virginia Company. They were the heaviest contributors. Every member of the family subscribed either directly or through him, and practically every relative by marriage did likewise. (Ibid. p. 880). Through a family relationship through the Fitz Alans and because of their assistance to him before he became king, King James was favorably inclined to grant the concession to Edmund Pearsall and his family and friends to establish the second Virginia colony. "The General Historie of Virginia, New England and the Summer Isles", by Captain John Smith, published in 1624, contains a list of 'the Names of the Adventurers for Virginia Alphabetically set downe, according to a printed Booke, set out by the Treasurer and Councell in this present yeare,' 1620, and amongst these names are those of Edmund Peashall and Timothy Bathurst." (Ibid. p.881) Earlier unsuccessful efforts at establishing a settlement in America were as early in 1578 in the Chesapeake Bay Country by a patent to Sir Henry Gilbert, followed by a series of like failures. The first Virginia Company (1600-1607) became known as the "Lost Colony". They totally disappeared. The legends of the child named "Virginia Dare" and the fate of the lost colony give rise to much speculation to this day.

King James granted to Edmund Pearsall (Peshall) together with his fellow merchant Edmund White the tobacco concession for Virginia with the obligation to pay the crown 3500 pounds stirling the first year and 7000 pounds thereafter for the tobacco monopoly with the concession to name franchisees to sell the product. This was finally confirmed (retroactively) in 1615. There existed no market for the product in the beginning. The payments were based on fantasy and enthusiasm at that time and were not required. The monopoly only lasted until 1620. Edmund's son Robert was dispatched in 1609 to arrange for the growth of tobacco by the colonists. He stayed until 1612. (Ibid. p.883) "But neither Edmund Pearsall nor his sons or grandsons were ever tobacco planters although, as the colony prospered, there came a time when the fields, gardens, public squares, and even the streets of Jamestown were planted with tobacco. This was because the weed became an article of such universal desire that it was practically the money of the colony of Virginia. Private debts, as well as public salaries and officers' fees, were paid in tobacco and the Statute books, where they mentioned money, also mention the equivalent in tobacco. The salaries of the rectors of the churches were paid in tobacco,.the amount in pounds being fixed by Statute; with the result that the bad quality of tobacco in certain parishes left them almost without the ministrations of the established church. This was specially the case in Nansemond County. The Reverend Hugh Jones, writing of this section in 1724, says some parishes are long vacant on account of the badness of tobacco, which gives room for dissension; that is to say for non-conformist [non Church of England] to thrive." (Ibid. pp. 883-4) Tobacco had been introduced to court in England in 1614. By the year 1620 the amount of tobacco imported to England reached one hundred and forty-two thousand pounds weight. (Ibid. p. 884)

Several of the Pearsall (Peshall) families in England used their tobacco profits to purchase tracts of land. In 1612, John Peshall of Horsley had a baronetcy purchased for him by his uncle Robert, Edmund's brother. Actually, Edmund paid (1237 pounds which covered the baronetcy among other things). (Ibid. p 884) Meanwhile, Edmund Pearsall was carrying on his work as an international financier and merchant.

In 1614, at the age of eighty-three, Edmund Pearsall decided to retire and to settle all debts and collect all debts owing to him in the course of his business and to live on the income from his tobacco interests. At that time, the schemes of his brother Robert matured and all the crows came home to roost. The lawyers were heard from.

Personal loans could be sold to one or more persons to collect. Robert had sold his loan from Edmund to others. There was a large amount owed by him to his genealogist, Simon Erdeswick as well. At his death, somehow his large debts, including those to his brother were, in his will, assigned to be paid by his brother, with interest. "The first intimation that Edmund Pearsall had that they were held as a debt against him personally was the statement in Robert Peshall's will dated 1622 and proven in 1627, that Edmund, his brother was indebted to him." (Ibid. P.886) The original small loan had started small and, due to compound interest over 34 years time reached the staggering sum of nineteen thousand five hundred and twenty six pounds. Robert's inclusion of this exaggerated demand in his will in 1622 was an attempt to keep his brother from retiring and to remain on his bounty. "Nor was this the only advantage taken by Robert Peshall at this time for he was a conservative and could only see the rank that would come from the possession of large landed estates. But he despised the means whereby this wealth was obtained in trade. To him the feudal system was the acme of perfection, and rank, high rank in that system, the height of his ambition." (Ibid. P.887)

Note: Most of this material is drawn from "History and Genealogy of the Pearsall Family in England and America" by Clarence Pearsall and Harry Neale. Some of this material disagrees with other accounts and some is being added to or corrected by descendants of the Pearsall family and the Parshall family. It has been noted that Clarence Pearsall was quite critical of Edmund's brother Robert. Descendants of the two brothers have differing traditions.


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