Tobacco Trade


Thomas Pearsall loaded his cargoes on the Delaware River. He was one of the most successful of the "free traders". He was a friend of the Dutch governors of New Netherlands (New York) and it was with the assistance of Governor Adrian Joris (who became a tobacco trader) that the family obtained their land holdings on Long Island fifteen years later. (Ibid p.892) His main trading outlet was on Kent Island. Lord Baltimore wanted to start a colony in that area and especially wanted Kent Island. Through campaigns in England and America he began a plan to seize the tobacco trade begun by Thomas Pearsall and the other Dutch English traders on Kent Island. The New Netherlands traders and the New England traders o the Hudson were at odds with each other as well. When the son of Lord Baltimore pressed his father's claim to Kent Island, the resident traders took up arms to defend it.

The Dutch Englishmen and the Puritans had set sail from the same Holland ports not so long ago. Previously we described the family trading centers in the English cities of Middleburg and Flushing in Holland. This Dutch connection which survived the failure of the family fortunes in England was the one fueling the American trade at this time. The Virginia Company had transferred the center of it's trade to Middleburg, Holland "Thomas Pearsall was as leader among these merchants, so much so that the old records speak of him as Mr. Pearsall, which at this time would mean Master, that is a man of authority, a man who exercises the chief control over something or some one." (Ibid. P.972)

"These were the days when human life was valued lightly, and when the weakling had no place in the affairs of men.... In those days the waste and ravage of war were no idle terms of speech, but stern and actual realities. In this particular, the strife for the possession of Kent Island was no exception. The war was, however, short in duration as Baltimore was speedily placed on the defensive by the Dutch-English traders who administered to him one defeat after another. In fact, they very shortly would have driven him out of the country had the English fleet not intervened, by whose aid Baltimore finally gained the victory in his warfare with these Dutch Englishmen and their Puritan allies." (Ibid. p. 972) As a result of the civil warfare, Kent Island became closed as a trading post and loading dock. Unless a new post could be planted, the essentially illicit trade in tobacco (avoiding Dutch, English and American taxes) would disappear.

When Lord Baltimore discovered that Kent Island would no longer serve his purposes as a tobacco trade outlet, he determined to take vengeance on the very traders he had driven out. One of them, William Claiborne, was indicted under Maryland law and charged with murder, piracy and sedition and after escaping to Virginia, was extradited to England to stand trial. The Virginia planters along with the Dutch English traders looked on Claiborne as the champion of free trade and as a result of their outrage over his treatment, they deposed their governor, Sir John Harvey in April, 1635. As an eventual result of this strife, our ancestors came from Virginia to Long Island, New York. The next generation of the Pearsall family had, by this time, with one exception (Samuel) arrived in America. Most had come from Flushing and Middleborough in Holland.

A record of this period of time exists in the diaries of a Dutch trader named DeVries. Clarence Pearsall calls him a "celebrated Dutch trader and adventurer...a fine old man, brave, shrewd and crafty, who, however, kept the record of his life in his diary in such a way as to put the best possible light upon his own actions. Consequently his book is one of the most delightful and valuable of the Dutch manuscripts which have been preserved." (Pearsalls v.2 p 972) He sailed to Virginia in 1633 and visited the tobacco trading sites of Thomas Pearsall and the Dutch English traders at Accomac and Isle of Wight Counties. He was received hospitably by Sir John Harvey, governor of Virginia He informed the governor that the Delaware was indeed navigable and that the Dutch had established a fort on it which was now abandoned called Fort Nassau.

DeVries convinced the Dutch English traders and the then Virginia governor West that the combined trade of the Dutch English and Puritan tobacco merchants evicted from Kent Island could resume on the Delaware at Fort Nassau. Thomas Pearsall and others of the Dutch English merchants funded this expedition which occupied the abandoned fort. It is probable that Thomas, Henry, Nicholas and George Pearsall were members of this expedition. When informed of this development by Thomas Hall, Dutch governor Wouter Van Twiller issued the order from Manhattan that the expedition members were to be seized and imprisoned for making an armed invasion into Dutch territory. DeVries was a guest of the Dutch governor at that time and convinced him that the valuable tobacco trade would be destroyed if he were to continue to alienate the Virginia merchants. DeVries volunteered to take the Virginians home on his own vessel and the governor agreed. They arrived in time to find that Thomas Pearsall and others had raised armed vessels to the number of thirty-six as a rescue party. These were no planters' sons on an expeditionary lark. These were men of fortitude who had fought off Lord Baltimores's men on Kent Island. DeVries averted a serious threat of a nasty local war by his humor and diplomacy and focused their thoughts once more on the main point - profitable trade and avoiding multi-national imposts, fees and taxes on tobacco.

Fort Nassau appeared to be near enough to the boundaries of Lord Baltimore's claim that that wealthy gentleman could make a case to seize it as he had Kent Island. Long Island was a preferred point to relocate the tobacco trade. It was disputed wilderness at that time with Dutch and New Englanders both wanting to settle it. The New England colonies were also divided among themselves over various issues and it did not look as though a peaceful and secure post could be established among them. The Dutch English traders then decided to settle in Brooklyn which The Netherlands had just established as a settlement.

Meanwhile, back on Kent Island, Lord Baltimore had the property, but not the trade he intended to establish there. His family, the Calverts, were related by marriage (Jane Peshall, daughter of Sir John married Richard Calvert of Stafford) to the Pearsall/Peshall families in Horsely and Staffordshire and related by marriage to the Brents, (Margaret Peshall, another daughter of Sir John married Richard Brent, a relative of Lord Baltimore) relatives of the Pearsalls as well. Lord Baltimore invited them to re-establish the tobacco trade on Kent Island.

The Brents, along with Samuel Pearsall came to America at this time. Margaret and Mary Brent and the brothers Giles and Foulk Brent bought most of Kent Island. Giles Brent was acting governor of Maryland while Lord Baltimore was absent. (Pearsalls p.981)

Samuel Pearsall took over the management of the Kent Island post while the family opened negotiations with the Swedish Crown to establish a joint tobacco trading venture on the Delaware River. This negotiation was carried out by the family connections in Middleborough and Flushing in Holland.

Samuel was the son of Thomas Pearsall of England and Virginia. His sons were, John Pursel, Arthur Pursall and Tobias Purcell.

Samuel Pearsall came to Maryland in 1635 with Margaret Brent and her brothers. In 1639, the other brothers left for Long, Island, New Netherlands to remove the tobacco trade in the Virginia and Maryland sites to the new location. The founding of the Swedish colony on the Delaware peninsula revived the trade at the remaining site on Kent Island and the tobacco trade with Sweden became profitable for Thomas Pearsall the elder and his youngest son Samuel and Brents at Kent Island.

"The use of tobacco had increased enormously in Sweden from 1637 until 1643, and it was now a profitable business to smuggle tobacco into this kingdom...the most convenient trading places being located on Kent Island and in Talbot County Maryland. Tobacco was brought into Sweden by way of Norway and the Danish provinces south of Sweden. By sea most of the smuggled tobacco was brought in on the Crown's ships from Riga, Narva and Nyskants. These ships were not so well guarded or searched as other ships and hence the opportunity of smuggling was greater on them than on the merchant vessels."

"Tobacco was supplied to the merchants by smugglers to such an extent that the Swedish company could not find buyers for its large stores" (Pearsalls V.3 p.1479)

The civil strife over Kent Island and between the English supporters of the Cromwell government and the supporters of the King continued. At the death of Samuel Pearsall in 1643, Mark Pheypo became the executor of his estate. Over a period of time, he removed the Pearsall's business to Virginia. The business went from St. Mary's to Gloucester County, Virginia and the Kent Island factory to the mainland of the Delaware peninsula, just across the open water to the east of Kent Island to a site called at that time Pheypoes Fort. (Pearsalls v.3p.1481)

The Swedish government tried several times to get the flow of the tobacco trade to Sweden under license and subject to taxation. They failed.

"It was as a fact no use trying to beat the Dutch-English merchants. They managed to control the market no matter what were the local regulations. Even though the Swedish colony obtained its supply across the free route made no particular difference, if it had to pay the royal taxes at home. It is impossible to follow up the interesting details of the Swedish tobacco trade; the reader will find it all in Amandeus Johnson's work on the Swedish Settlement in America. The details that there appear show how profitable was the business of the comparatively unimportant trading station on the Wye River,Talbot County, Maryland." (Pearsalls, v. 3 p.1482)

In 1638, the last tobacco monopoly (the Dutch West Indies Company) was abolished. Open trade commenced and the Dutch-Englishmen left Virginia for Long Island. Thomas Pearsall kept his Virginia Home. His son Samuel took charge of the Kent Island business. Thomas Pearsall the younger, Nicholas, Henry and George moved to Long Island. (Pearsall p.983) The Pearsall brothers in Long Island were aided by their former Jailer (under Governor Wouter Van Twiller) and by the son of the former Governor Jorrison who was a family friend.

Thomas Pearsall, Sr. Settled in St. Michael's Hundred, Maryland in 1642. He paid twenty three ponds of tobacco as property tax that year. (Archives of Maryland, page 146) The capitol of Maryland at this time was St. Mary's which was also located in St. Michael's Hundred. Thomas Pearsall died there in 1642. (Pearsalls 985)

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