Editor’s Note: The two transcribed letters below are found in the Prince Edward Chancery case Gdns. of Jacob Michaux vs. William Smith, 1788-001. The case has been scanned and is available through Virginia Memory.
The first letter is from William Tompkins, a London silk weaver with mercantile aspirations, and is written to Jacob Michaux, his wife’s cousin in Cumberland County, Virginia. (The part of Cumberland County in which Michaux lived became Powhatan County in 1777.) Tompkins’ wife was a member of the Michaux family, Huguenots who fled France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes and settled in England and in Virginia. Tompkins lived in Spittlefield, an area of London with a high concentration of Huguenot weavers. His letter concerns family matters and a recent shipment of goods he made to Virginia. Unfortunately the shipment arrived a few days before the flood of 1771, one of the worst floods in eighteenth-century Virginia.
The second letter is Jacob Michaux’s reply to William Tompkins. Jacob Michaux, grandson of Abraham Michaux of the Manakin Town (Virginia) Huguenot settlement, was a planter and ran a ferry across the James River. Michaux’s letter describes in detail the flood of 1771, the loss of Tompkin’s goods, consumer tastes along the upper James River, and family matters.
– Chris Kolbe, Archives Reference Coordinator
Mr. Jacob Michaux
On James River
Favour of Capt. Walker with Goods to be Delivd
By Robt. Walker
I received yours pr. Capt. Ashburne and am extremely glad to hear of you and your Familys good Health. I have several particulars to acquaint you as to the Alteration in our Family My Wife’s Father Mr. James Michaux Died about six weeks ago at the Age of 70 years he was Ill a long time before died. His eldest Son Paul died about 12 Months ago and his Wife much about the same time and left 5 Children three Girls and two Boys the eldest about 8 years and the youngest about 3 months I took the Youngest Boy William and different relations of the Mothers side took three Others the Youngest is at Nurse in London My Wife’s Eldest Sister Nancy has lost a Daughter( Elizabeth) at about 18 years old, these are all the Particulars that has happened since we wrote before. I regretted the loss of Mr.Payne as I was in hopes of his returning to his native Country living to see many happy years and acquainting you with our Situation. I went to see him 2 or 3 Days before he died, he was very glad to see me but was won to a Shadow he seem’d quite resigned for I believe he was a good young Man, he myself and wife often used to visit and talk about all he knew of Your Family’s which we heard with Pleasure but hope he is in a far happier Place now, in a Former letter I received from you twas your desire that we might have some Correspondence together in the Mercantile way which I dare say might be made very Advantageous to us both but since that time there has been so many Political [ Disputes] that Trade has been very Indifferent and hazardous, but now I think every thing seems to subside and there is a Probability to imagine twill be very brisk, for which Reasons I have Ship’d pr Capt Robert Walker of the Randolph ( who goes up James River ) Different European goods as pr Invoice, which I thought wou’d suit your part of the Country I have Charg’d every Article as they Cost with the different Expenses, from which you’ll be able to see whether twill be worth while to extend our Connections. The Silk Goods are made in my House and are therefore Cheaper than they can be sent by the Mercht. but if these sort are not so suitable as Others, if You’ll Please to send word I can send any Quantity of what you’ll think more suitable but then Particulars and the manner of Remittance shall be glad you’ll Inform me of the first Opportunity possible, the Mercantile Business is what I should be very fond of Provided your Answer will encourage me to pursue it in an Extensive manner, the Article of wrought Silks I should make a particular Object as the manufactory is carried on in my own home and Sewing Silk I could send on more Advantageous Terms than they are because I should Dye them my self as for every other Article would send what you think will sell best and make the return the soonest, I hope you’ll be able to understand every thing because I’m not acquainted with this Business therefore beg you’ll Excuse my fault think as Your Different Relations are Despond about the Country we might be able to doe a great Deale for the Spirit of Trade to pursue it with Ardour,and hope twil be a means of bringing a family Intimate that has been Seperated so many Years, and I sometimes think I should be able to do my self the Pleasure of Coming to see you if twas Posable to spare the time my wife and my relations Join in Love to all the Family and believe me to remain Affectionally
red Lyon Street
 March 1771
Nearly a Copy Letter
Mr. William Tompkins
Red lion Street Spittlefields
D[ear] S[ir] This will give you the disagreable Act. of the loss of your good before they came to hand it so hapened that two or three days after they were landed at a Publick store at one of the convenientest Ports to me there came the greatest fresh in the River by far that was ever h[ ?] so great that it carried off all or almost all the Houses that ware built neer the River for receiving goods from the Shiping & many of our Tobo. Warehouses & many Thousand Hhd. of Tobo. & several Stores full of Goods ware carried off down the Stream the houses gen[er]ally broak to pieces & the goods ware scattered along the River fo[r] many Miles many of the goods when found ware looked on as a Prize by the finders & but very few came to the use of the proper owners, this was the fate of yours the house they ware landed in was carried off & though the house continued unbroak till it wint 20 or 30 Miles down the River then [ torn] of Negroes & others no better went to the house [ torn] got out the things ( in the spiled condition they ware in after lying in the water about a night & a Day ) part of which I received which ware delivered up to me & part found by a serch warrant & many things that I have no [ torn] came to their hand, I could not find to the amount of near 60 L sterling they charged 20 L for taking up the goods & their trouble for drying them & which I had [a]greed to pay before I knew there was so many missing the reward they they took out of the Goods I have some expectation of Proving that they did receive more of the good, then they have delivered me which if I can as they have demanded & received such a reward expect it will make them liable for what are missing I shall advise with an Attorney & if he gives encouragmt shall bring a Suit hope & to recover something however I expect to make but little out of the goods they are so damaged The Silks are so staned & spiled they are quite unsalable for which reason, I should send back part of them to you except a few pieces which if I can sell for first cast think it will be better than to send them back the People that [ torn ] cut some off almost ever piece & [torn] missing I shall endeave to make the best I can of what I have but that will be of little for they are much damaged & the goods missing are such as the takers thought the best part no doubt The Silks Embroidered Coat Necklace & ware very improper for this part of the country for the inhabitants of these Parts are generally poor no towns neer us the best livers here are only able to get the common necessaries & conveniences of Life without aiming at Shew or superfluities those that incline that way generally broke in a few Years & become the Poores[t] I have no doubt our way of living is very defrent from what you that live in a Capital Citty can imagine I wish I could ever see You here provided it could be to Your advantage but don’t expect that ever will be Your way of life will never do amongst us & as to the Mercantile business I expect that will nerever be inviting I expect The first attempt seems discouraging to You & as to my self my schemes for life have been for some years fixed on another plan for which reason on receiving your Letr. I concluded I would sell your goods in the best manner I could on a reasonable commission for my trouble & write you not to send any more but as there is such a loss in these I shall not chare You any thing for what I shall do for Your loss will be great at any rate. I should send some of the Silks by Captn. Walker but don’t know that I can have an opprertunaty to contrive them to the Ship before he will Sail the ship lies fifty miles from me & I don’t know as yet what I can sell therefore think it will be better [t]o wate for a other opty & sell what I can first
There is no material alteration among our relacions here the great is in our estate some are much damaged by the fresh I have lost I think to the value of about 5 or 6 hundred pounds in houses & other plantation affairs.
I have now three children and another near at hand we seame to be in away of adding one to the family almost ever year the oldest will be about four years old when we expect to have four in number there is no great alteracion amongst the rest of our relacions here the greatest is our Estates occasioned by the fresh lately I have lost I think in houses and plantation affairs to the amount of About five or six hundred pounds & don’t expext to make provision plenty for my family this next year though I yoused to make something considerable to spare