The wool of Merino sheep was highly prized and for centuries the flocks were not allowed to be exported from their home in Spain. One of the few individuals to get Merinos into the United States was U.S. minister to Spain David Humphreys, who imported twenty-five rams and seventy-five ewes to his home in Connecticut in 1802. The Library of Virginia has a copy of Humphreys’s 1804 book The miscellaneous works of David Humphreys, late minister plenipotentiary —to the court of Madrid, which contains an essay on Merino sheep. Thomas Jefferson was also particularly interested in the improvements of sheep herds and by 1810 had acquired his own herd of Merino sheep. The demand for Merinos soon reached manic proportions, a bubble was created, and like all bubbles there was a crash. (For more on this subject see Monticello’s article on sheep.)
Amongst the Cowling Papers found in the City of Richmond records is a letter dated 14 August 1827 from William DuVal (1748-1842), a Virginia lawyer, legislator, and planter, to Willis Cowling (1788-1828), a Richmond cabinetmaker. Enclosed in the letter is a sample of Merino wool. DuVal wrote to ask Cowling if he would sell two hundred pounds of Merino wool to buy material for slave clothing. Cowling was a good choice for carrying out DuVal’s request as he regularly dealt with merchants in New York and Philadelphia for mahogany and furniture hardware. He also had experience in selling Virginia coal in New York. (For more on Cowling see “Willis Cowling, Richmond Cabinetmaker “in the Journal of Early Southern Decorative Arts, Winter 2001, Vol. XXVII, No.2)
The transcribed letter below is found in the Richmond City Clerk’s Correspondence that includes both personal and court related material for 1801-1866 (Barcode 1117043).
-Chris Kolbe, Archives Reference Coordinator