Early owners of Abington: sharp-dealing merchants

Quakers could be very good people, with benevolent religious beliefs, but they could also be sharp merchants. Most of them believed that there was no contradiction between being a good Quaker and being successful in business.  Samuel Cart was an active member of Abington monthly meeting, one of the trustees for the meeting house, and prominent in the early meeting minutes. Yet he was willing to cut a harsh deal with a poor man seeking to emigrate. In 1699 Samuel Hadden went before the Council and complained that Samuel Cart had encouraged him to immigrate, saying that if he could procure seventeen passengers, then his own passage would be free and his wife and four children would come for £15. So Hadden sold his effects, travelled 70 miles to Bristol with his family and the agreed-upon seventeen passengers, and loaded his goods on board, only to face a demand from Cart that he pay another £25. Hadden tried to remove his goods from the ship but Cart would not let him. He only had three pence left, and was forced to sell two of his children into indentured servitude or “stay in England, when his whole substance was Caried elsewhere”.  He petitioned the Council to return his children to him. Cart appeared and debated the issue with Hadden, and in the end the Council ruled that Cart had to return Adam Hadden to his father and pay £10 for the passage, while Hadden had to pay £8 to Cart.

Another of Cart’s neighbors also got into trouble with the Council for his business dealings. William Powell was a cooper from Southwark, Surrey. He immigrated, and did not live on his Abington land, but leased it out and lived on the Schuylkill River. The Council had granted Philip England the rights to ferry people and horses across the river, and erect landing places on both sides. Powell bought a boat and muscled into the business, violating the monopoly granted to England. The Council reprimanded him in the summer of 1693, and he tried to evade the restriction by selling the boat to a group of local Welshmen who hired Nathaniel Mullinax to be their ferryman. In 1694 England complained to the council again. The Council read Powell the minutes of the previous reprimand and made him promise to get out of the business; they threw Mullinax in gaol until he gave security for his good behavior.

The early merchants were often over-extended financially, with their money tied up in land or ships. If they happened to die early, as William Stanley did in 1689, they could leave substantial debts. Stanley had grand hopes for his 500 acres in Abington, calling it Mount Stanley. But he died before March 1690 when Walter King took Stanley’s widow Rebecca to court for a debt of £128. The sheriff according to the custom took twelve honest men and appraised Stanley’s various lands, awarding Mount Stanley to King to cover the debt. King promptly sold it to Peter Baynton, a scoundrel who cared more for his fortune than his family, and who specialized in marrying wealthy widows. Baynton first married Rebecca Stanley, but she died in childbirth in 1691. The next year he married Anna Keen, widow of James Sandelands, a merchant of Uplands. Baynton absconded to England in 1694 with the moveable proceeds of Sandelands’ estate, leaving Anna and the children in Pennsylvania. In 1698 he wrote a letter to her saying that he did not intend to return, that he had taken another wife in England, and that he planned to remove the remainder of the estate to England. She promptly went to the Council and pleaded to be allowed to sell the Pennsylvania properties in order to support herself and the children, which the Council granted. Baynton later returned to Pennsylvania, outlived Anna, and left his fortune to his daughter Rebecca.

One thought on “Early owners of Abington: sharp-dealing merchants”

  1. You’ve really made these people come to life! Good reading for non-historians like me too. Just a note from a former editor: In para 3, sentence 1, instead of “with their money died up in land or ships” I think you meant “with their money tied up in land or ships.”

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