The Letters of John Paige, London Merchant, 1648-58. Originally published by London Record Society, London, 1984.
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'Introduction', in The Letters of John Paige, London Merchant, 1648-58, (London, 1984) pp. ix-xxxix. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/london-record-soc/vol21/ix-xxxix [accessed 1 March 2024]
Origins of a London merchant
The letters published here were written by the London merchant John Paige in the years 1648 to 1658. They were used in an accounting between Paige and one of his trading associates, William Clerke, and form part of a larger Master's exhibit in Chancery which includes accounts, invoices, bills of lading, and letters written by Paige's other trading associate, Gowen Paynter. (fn. 1) The exhibit, taken as a whole, may well constitute the most complete documentation that is extant for any London merchant of the Interregnum. And in addition to casting some light on London's business conditions during those years of political experiment and commercial war, Paige's letters reveal the mind and methods of a young merchant who dispatched ships to five continents, counselled the government on matters of trade, and would serve for many years as a director of the East India Company.
John Paige's own activities in the 1640s and 1650s nicely represent the larger features of London's trade in the seventeenth century. Before 1640 traders in Spanish wines had participated in the import boom which had made the City a centre of conspicuous consumption. (fn. 2) And Paige's main business at mid-century was the importation of a luxury wine from Tenerife in the Spanish Canaries. From 1660 to 1700 the most significant development in London's foreign trade would be the growing re-export of Asian and American goods. (fn. 3) And Paige was already in the 1650s not only an importer of wines but also an East India merchant and a broker of American fish, sugars, hides and dyestuffs. If the middle two decades were years of commercial growth in London, even while the export of English cloth may have declined, it was because the City's trade was, like Paige's, based on elements both old and new. (fn. 4)
Information about his origins and business associates, as well as the pattern of his trade, might indeed tempt us to identify Paige as one of the influential 'new merchants' of the revolutionary decades, men who were at once interlopers on the preserves of the old chartered companies and also serious entrepreneurs in the newer American trades. These merchants, of whom Maurice Thomson is taken as the pre-eminent example, have been described as typically republican in politics, Independent in religion, and militantly expansionist in their commercial programmes. It is argued that they played an important role in the radical politics of the 1640s and that they helped to design key economic measures of the commonwealth, notably the Navigation Act of 1651. (fn. 5) And Paige, a young Canary merchant who joined Thomson in trading ventures and petitions, was at least familiar with these activists and their programmes.
Like most of the 'new merchants' Paige was a Londoner only by adoption. His migration from Stoke Fleming in Devon, where he was born in about 1627, was one instance in an established pattern of mobility which had had consequences for London's trade. (fn. 6) The Thornes of Bristol and the Hawkins family of Plymouth, pioneers in the Canary trade, had sent their sons to London in the sixteenth century. (fn. 7) And if the City's share of the Spanish trade grew faster than that of the outports in the seventeenth century, it was in part because the Lants, Boones, Warrens and other contemporaries of Paige had brought their knowledge of the Spanish trade from West Country towns to London. (fn. 8)
Paige was first sent to London, after an apprenticeship in Tenerife, by his master, Gowen Paynter. Paynter, another West Countryman, was the fifth son in a family of traders and sea captains from Dawlish. He had been a factor at Tenerife in the 1630s for three London merchants, John Paynter, probably his older brother, and Robert and Richard Lant, sons of an Exeter mayor and leading City merchants in the Spanish trade. With John Lambell, the Lants' first cousin, Gowen Paynter received ships at Tenerife and re-laded them for London. By the 1640s he was a professional factor who acted for several London and Bristol merchants and needed the help of apprentices (128). (fn. 9) Paige, it appears, entered Paynter's service at Tenerife in about 1642 and sometimes travelled as a supercargo on ships to London before becoming a permanent resident of the City in late 1648. By then he was twenty-one years old and ready to assume the role of London wholesaler in his master's wine trade (1, 7b).
As Paige was becoming the London factor for Paynter in 1648, he was also transacting business for one of Paynter's associates in Tenerife, William Clerke. The second son of Samuel Clerke, doctor of divinity and absentee master of Wyggeston's Hospital, Leicester, William was born at Kingsthorpe, Northamptonshire, in 1620. He was apprenticed to Richard Lant of London and by the 1630s had been sent to assist his master's agents in Tenerife. Taken captive by Turks as he was sailing from Palma in the Canaries to London, Clerke was not yet ransomed from Algiers when his father was making out a will in early 1641. By May, however, he was free and living in the Lants' parish of All Hallows Barking, and by 1645 he was again in Tenerife where he lived with another factor of the Lants in a house described by Inquisition officials as decorated with pictures of Greek philosophers, bare-breasted women, and, inexplicably, the King of Sweden. (fn. 10) Three years later, as these letters begin, both William Clerke and Gowen Paynter had broken their association with the Lants and were consigning wines to John Paige at London (10).
Paige, as a factor, received commissions of only two per cent from Clerke, but he was anxious to have his patronage (22b). He was aware that Clerke sent wines to other London merchants and had relatives who could handle his affairs in the City. (fn. 11) To impress Clerke that he had quickly established his name among London's traders, Paige wrote in 1649 and 1650 that it was no longer necessary to address letters to him under cover of another merchant's name for his own was known on the Exchange (10, 25a). And though he had rented lodgings during those years in the parish of St Mary at Hill, by early 1651 he had married Katherine Paynter, his master's daughter, and had taken a house in the parish of St Helen, probably the residence in Bishopsgate Street which he was leasing as late as 1677 from his fellow Canary merchant, John Bewley (26a, 31c, 66b, 118). (fn. 12) The location was convenient. At nearby St Helen's the young merchant worshipped with men who would be his lifetime business associates. His typical working day might have taken him to the Custom House where he could check the weights of goods he had imported or the destinations of his competitors' ships (40b, 58a) or to Doctors' Commons where he might hear testimony before the Admiralty Court (78a). Closer to home, he could stop at the hall of the Merchant Taylors, whose company he would join, transact business at the Ship Tavern in Bishopsgate Street, or walk the Exchange to deal with underwriters at the Insurance Office and to gather the latest foreign and domestic news, the 'timely advice'— 'the main of all business'— which he reported to his principals in Tenerife (9).
The structure of trade with the Canaries
The rhythm of Paige's business activity and correspondence was set by Tenerife's vintage and London's social season, for the principal item imported from the Canaries was a sweet, white malmsey which held a special attraction for the City's elite. Paige also regularly sent price quotations from London and the continent for a variety of American goods, dyestuffs, hides, tobacco and sugar, all of which were available at the Canaries and accounted for a large share of the cargoes which he imported at London. The difficult task for English merchants was to balance such importation of wines and American goods by exporting merchandise of equal value to the Canaries. Paige shipped English manufactures from London, worked with his West Country contacts to send fish, and with his correspondents on the continent to ship wheat and linens. But he was also enticed into sending ships along exotic routes in quite dangerous ventures to find goods which would sell for 'ready money' in the Canaries. This was necessary because the wine from Tenerife's narrow northern slopes was to discriminating Londoners what Madeira would become in the eighteenth century, and the Canarian winegrowers could extract ever higher prices, paid largely in cash, from Paynter, Clerke and the other resident English merchants.
To enjoy the best market at the peak of London's social season, the Canary merchants wanted their rich cargoes home 'at Christmas, which is all in all for wines'. (fn. 13) In January 1646 the Thames was so full of ice when the vintage fleet arrived two weeks late that the masters would not venture up river from Gravesend. Two veteran merchants nevertheless ran 'the great hazard' of hiring a lighter and running 60 pipes amid the ice to the Custom House. They might have feared that the unfortified and delicate malmsey would grow eager by being too long on board (39a, 66c, 71b) and require 'mending' with good Malaga wines (50). But they could also anticipate that their risks would bring rich rewards for 'there was never such a want of Canary wines' in London. (fn. 14)
And so it was at Christmas that Paige usually faced payment of customs and freight for wines (47d) and then prepared to renew the cycle. The Canary merchant might begin buying merchandise in February or March if a large outward cargo were intended (17, 30a, 84c). But if the ship carried little and went directly to Tenerife for the vintage, it was usually freighted by 1 July to accomplish the three-to four-week passage in late summer and to lie in the dangerous roadstead Puerto de la Cruz off the northern coast of Tenerife. There the ship might remain for up to three months, taking in 30 to 40 half-ton pipes of wine on days when northerly winds did not force the crew to put out to sea in order to save ship and limb. (fn. 15) And on the way home the sailors might face experiences like those of the Susan's crew in December 1651 when 'dark and dirty' weather forced them to cut the mainmast by the board and jettison the boat and gun (50).
But merchants like Paige, Paynter and Clerke risked their capital and hired others to risk their lives because the rising demand for Canary wine in London brought ever higher prices and attractive returns in the first half of the seventeenth century. Only 585 pipes of Canary wine were taxed at London in 1595. (fn. 16) But the single wine import book preserved from the middle decades of the seventeenth century shows that almost ten times that much, at least 5,508 pipes (2,754 tons), was taxed in the twelve months ending on 25 December 1644. (fn. 17) And the vintage fleet of 1644 (about twenty-four ships) can be compared with Paige's references to the number of shipmasters hired for later vintages to get a rough estimate of the Canary wine imported in 1649–55. With two exceptions, Paige's reports indicate a fleet of twenty or more ships, and this suggests that in 1650 and again in 1654–55 the amount of Canary wine taxed annually at London was comparable to the 5,500 pipes of 1644. In 1649 the importation may have been well above this figure because Paige listed forty ships with a total capacity of 6,490 tons (12,980 pipes) which had been freighted for the vintage (128). On the other hand, the importation from 1651 to 1653 may have fallen below 5,000 pipes. In 1651 English merchants agreed to limit their purchases at the Canaries in an effort to force down wine prices (52b). In the autumn of 1652 Paige reported only twelve ships freighted for the vintage, the fleet initially turned back to London after the Dutch victory off Dungeness, and the war discouraged factors at Tenerife from buying wines (63d, 73a). (fn. 18) But an annual importation during peacetime of 5 to 6,000 pipes (and perhaps considerably more than that in 1649) compares favourably with the average of 5,033 pipes calculated from import books of the 1630s and 5,522 pipes from those of the 1660s. (fn. 19) Londoners' consumption of a luxury wine seems not to have been much affected by civil war and political change.
Price data from the period confirm the buoyant demand. Richard Best, a London wholesaler, sold Canary wine during the years 1640 to 1647 for £16 to £19 per pipe. And even in years when Paige was reporting a vintage fleet of unprecedented size (1649–50) and expecting twenty new merchants in the trade (1650–51), prices moved well over £20, by early 1652 to £30 per pipe (11a, 13a, 22d, 29, 30a, 51a–b, 52a, 53c, 59b). The onset of war allowed Paige to sell at nearly £36 in 1653 (68a, 80), but prices over £30 per pipe were common from the late 1650s to the 1680s. (fn. 20).
In order to impress Clerke that he could obtain the best prices on the London market, Paige compared his own success with that of the preeminent wine merchant of the mid-seventeenth century, Rowland Wilson, Sr. (6, 9, 39b). Wilson and his partner Martin Bradgate (27b) had been involved in the Canary wine trade as early as 1615. (fn. 21) It appears that Henry St John had traded with them from time to time, and these three merchants, who also dealt in Iberian and French wines, accounted for 21 per cent of the Canary taxed at London in 1644. (fn. 22) Their chief factor at Tenerife, John Turner, was shipping over 1,100 pipes of wine annually from 1645 to 1647, so that the partners probably continued to import about 20 per cent of the Canary at London in the late 1640s. (fn. 23) Indeed Paige feared in 1651 that Wilson and company were determined to engross all of the best wines and was convinced at other times that Turner would use every trick, including the interception of letters, in order to confound his competitors (22c, 23b, 30a).
Paige himself probably imported at most about 200 to 300 pipes of wine a year in the late 1640s and early 1650s, only a fraction of that handled by Wilson and company, and Clerke shipped little malmsey to Paige in 1654–6. In those years Clerke did buy a volume of vidueño, the drier and inferior Canary, which he intended to sell in Barbados, Ireland or Bristol. But Paige did not expect success in any of those markets. Other merchants intended to supply Barbados where beverage Madeira was already a staple of the market (91b, 93b, 99b). (fn. 24) The West Country took, by Paige's estimate, only about 100 pipes of Canary a year (89d). And when vintage ships were forced by weather into western ports or directed against Paige's advice to Dublin, the London factor arranged to bring the wines to the City (65, 66c, 102). (fn. 25)
So the Canary trade at mid-century was not really one of an Atlantic empire, nor did it serve even an English national market. There is some evidence that the wine was traded in the provinces, but Macaulay was probably right to doubt that the squirearchy could regularly have afforded choice Canary, and it was apparently Paige's practice to sell only the inferior wines to those who drove 'a country trade' (50). (fn. 26) In his drinking song, 'On Canary', the royalist Alexander Brome praised the effect of the wine on the drinker ('Though an abbess he court/In his high shoes he'll have her'), but he also saw the trade as an urban phenomenon:
'Tis this that advances the drinker and drawer:
Though the father came to town in his hobnails and leather,
He turns it to velvet and brings up an heir,
In the town in his chain, in the field with his feather. (fn. 27)
Ranter poets numbered Canary among the delights of their heaven on earth, but surely a good many more sober citizens of London consumed their share and the growing metropolis took well over half of Tenerife's malmsey from the time Paige became a Londoner until the end of the seventeenth century. (fn. 28)
Paige also dabbled in the sugar trade and quoted London prices for whites from Palma in the Canaries (e.g. 5b, 17, 22a, 53c, 64b). But he recognised that the Canarian product had been eclipsed in Europe by sugars from Brazil and Barbados (31b, 106a). In fact Clerke sent his assistant Henry Hawley from Tenerife to Barbados where he trucked vidueño wines for sugars that were delivered to Amsterdam (25b, 28, 31a, 35, 40a, 42, 44), and all three parcels of sugar which Paige received at London from the Canaries were American in origin (103, 106a, Table 1 below).
In addition to wines and sugars, the consumer goods of an ever richer metropolis, Paige imported such raw materials as dyestuffs and hides. Though he could find no vent for Canarian orchil, a purple dyestuff (26b, 31b), he quickly sold American cochineal imported via the Canaries (22a, 40b, 52a). And his accounts with Clerke reveal that imports of American goods from the islands accounted for about 40 per cent of their trade by value (Table 1 above). John Turner, Wilson's agent in the Canaries, preferred to deal in American dyestuffs and hides rather than in wines because, 'God sending [them] home, a man shall find what a man embarked and may keep them and stay for a market'. (fn. 29) And this relative durability also allowed for a natural rhythm in the trade. Ships which had hurried to London in December with the first wines could return to Tenerife for West India goods in the spring when there was more leisure to load, provided that the proper licences had been obtained from Canarian officials (9, 22a, 26a, 39a, 59a, 85).
The Judge of the Indies granted permission to export American goods from the Canaries, Paige told the Admiralty Court in 1650, so long as the merchants paid the usual duties and returned a certificate proving that they had sent the goods to a country at peace with Spain. (fn. 30) While Paynter lived at Orotava in the heart of Tenerife's lush vineyards, Clerke lived near the bureaucrats at the capital city of La Laguna where he could apply for the necessary papers and also ship the American goods which lay down the hill at Santa Cruz, the port most frequented by West Indiamen (82, 84a-b). (fn. 31) But Paige's testimony had been necessary in 1650 because the Captain General of the Canaries, Don Pedro Carrillo de Guzman, had imprisoned Englishmen, Clerke among them, on charges that included the illegal export of American goods. London merchants, including Paige, petitioned the Council of State to protest that this prosecution violated the Anglo-Spanish treaty of 1645, and Don Pedro was soon replaced as Captain General (9, 15, 19a). (fn. 32) But again in 1654 Paige's principals feared that Canarian officials would embargo hides which they wished to export from Palma, and Paige worried that such rigour would 'undo the [West] Indians and cause them to forsake the Islands, which will be a great hindrance unto that trade' (84b, 96e, 99b). (fn. 33) Clerke nevertheless continued to send American goods to London in 1655 and 1656 even after he had nearly ended his trade in wines.
To be sure, Paige tried to discourage the export of some American goods from the Canaries. Ginger, which came to London directly from Barbados, was not worth insuring (63b, 91b). Indigo came in such quantity from the East Indies that Paige paid cellar rent for nearly a year before he could dispose of his stores (22a, 26a, 40a-b, 60d, 101). But cochineal was quite another matter. Composed of dried insect carcasses, this brilliant red dyestuff would be used for centuries to colour the coats of English soldiers and was second in value only to silver as a Mexican export. (fn. 34) And while Paige might ordinarily trust ship captains to see his imports weighed at the Custom House, he went in person to verify the cochineal. One chest sold in 1650 for £222, and a single barrel in 1652 for £182 (22a, 40b, 52a). (fn. 35) However, Paige had to keep his partners informed about the market trends of even this valuable commodity. Abundant supplies via Cadiz of sylvester and campechena, the wild and inferior varieties, could depress the market for cultivated cochineal mesteque, even though a pound of this quality dyestuff, by the salters' estimate, would 'strike a better colour and go further than 4 lbs of campechena' (91a). (fn. 36)
Indeed, Paige learned to be constantly alert to the prospects for large importations of all American goods via southern Spain. In December 1648 he reported a London price of 14s per pound for Varinas tobacco, and in June 1649 advised that at 13s it was the only American commodity worth sending from Tenerife (1, 2, 5a, 6). But after the galleons had arrived at San Lucar, the price fell to 5 or 6s per pound in late 1649, and Clerke, who had acted on Paige's earlier advice, was caught holding a parcel (10, 12a). Thereafter Paige often reported the latest speculation about the great Spanish fleets and the effect of their arrivals on the London market for American goods (31b, 58a, 59b, 94b, 96c-d, 101, 110b, 117).
Only the prices of American hides, imported via the Canaries from Caracas, Havana and Santo Domingo, suffered no sharp decline at London during the period. John Turner had considered them a staple item if they came well enough cured for the London tanners, and Paige thought hides 'the staplest' of American goods because they could be sold for cash while other goods, including wines, were frequently sold on credit (40a, 46, 56a). (fn. 37) He predicted that the arrival of 4,000 hides in 1653 would not lower the price a farthing; and after he had sold a cargo in 1654 at 10d per pound, the highest price quoted in the letters, he declared that 10,000 hides would not satiate the London demand (58a, 73c, 83b, 85, 87, 89a, 91a-b, 92).
The prices which Paige quoted for hides and other American goods were drawn from continental as well as London markets. Campeachy wood shipped via the Canaries had regularly been re-exported to the continent by London merchants because an import licence had been necessary in England before 1650. (fn. 38) And even after the London price for the dyestuff had risen in 1654 to more than twice the first cost at the Canaries, Paige also reported French quotations, perhaps because the English tariff was so high (26b, 49, 79–80, 81c). He had correspondents in Amsterdam, Middelburg, Antwerp, Nantes, Le Havre, Rouen, Lisbon, Bilbao, Cadiz and San Lucar (e.g. 40b). He sent his employers bills of rates especially from the French and Dutch cities and issued warnings when the lists could not be trusted for having been 'toned' with overstated quotations (e.g. 5b, 6, 7b, 9, 61e, 77c, 84b). He finally sent Clerke's indigos to Lisbon (48), looked especially to Rouen and Nantes as markets for hides and dyestuffs (e.g. 40b, 89a, 90, 96c, 112, 117) and could suggest Genoa as the best alternative when ginger was a drug on the London market (82).
The Canaries did not always, however, provide American goods at the lowest prices. Paige justified his investment in a cargo of tobacco imported from Cadiz in 1654 by observing that the prices of American goods in Spain were 20 per cent cheaper than at the Canaries (90, 91a-b). And there were even better terms in the American trade for those who sent their ships direct to the source as Spain proved unable to maintain an imperial monopoly. Both John Turner in 1646 and William Crosse in 1721 discouraged silent participation in American voyages with Canarians who, they warned, gave 'lame accounts' and were typically men of no integrity. (fn. 39) Perhaps the risk was no greater when Englishmen sent ships on their own. They could use the Canaries as staging points for their assault on the Spanish colonial monopoly. (fn. 40) And Paige's interest in the game must have heightened as he watched his Devonshire cousins, the Stephens, his correspondent at Antwerp, John Shaw, and his friend George Jennings all successfully penetrate the Spanish markets in America for tobacco, hides and dyestuffs (57, 110b). (fn. 41) Later, when his wine trade was interrupted by war, Paige himself risked investment in a voyage to the West Indies. (fn. 42)
Paige drew upon London sources to supply the household needs of his principals. From his own parish he sent Thomas Leigh when Clerke needed an apprentice (47a, 48, 52b, 60d, 62, 64b). (fn. 43) In London he paid the wife of Clerke's cook, William Phillips, and the apothecary who concocted pills for Clerke's stomach. He found Turkey carpets and Russian couches in the emporium of the metropolis and contracted in Westminster for a coach upholstered in scarlet and silk which had been ordered by a wealthy Canarian. (fn. 44) But Paige's invoices show that he had to exploit international as well as provincial markets to find items which would bring the cash needed by his partners at the Canaries to buy wines and American goods (Table 2 below).
Fish accounted for the largest share of his exports by value, and he shipped the same varieties recommended to Canary merchants in the late sixteenth century, a few barrels of red herring, several hundred hogsheads of pilchards bought in Plymouth, Fowey and Falmouth and picked up by ships outbound from London, but especially cod contracted in England and loaded in Newfoundland (e.g. 11a, 13a, 15, 17, 22d, 81a, 81c, 106b). (fn. 45) Pilchards were sent to arrive in the Canaries for Lent. The rhythm of the Newfoundland trade allowed for convenient delivery of the cod during Tenerife's vintage. For example, the Blessing, a ship of 65 tons, loaded 1,409 quintals of dryfish at St John's, Newfoundland, in September 1651 and, after a voyage of fifty-six days, had delivered her cargo to Paynter at Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife, by 14 November. (fn. 46) Though Paige had earlier been unable to sell wines to the royalist governor of Newfoundland, Sir David Kirke, he had contracted for part of the Blessing's fish from Kirke's brother John at London, and the rest from West Country merchants, including his cousin John Paige at Plymouth (13a, 37, 39b, 43, 49). (fn. 47) Similar contracts for cargoes on the Matthew in 1650 and the Mary in 1655 confirm that a City merchant of Paige's origins could co-operate with Devon men in a trade which had sometimes caused conflict between Londoners and West Countrymen. (fn. 48)
Wheat would account for more than 13.5 per cent of outbound cargoes to Clerke if the quantity delivered by the Elizabeth in 1650 were known. In the late summer of that year the merchants at Tenerife had ordered grain, suggesting Danzig as a source. But Paige was advised that it was too late for a ship to escape westward through the Sound before there was ice in the Baltic and that wheat at Amsterdam and Nantes was dear. Within ten days he had freighted the Elizabeth, laded an assorted cargo of birding pieces, German and Polish linens, calicoes and Spanish iron, and had cleared her for Safi in Barbary. There the supercargo Richard Jewell traded for wheat which sold well at Tenerife (23a, 26a). (fn. 49) When the price at La Laguna soared to over three times the legal maximum in 1651, Paynter was ready to 'try all the ports without the Straits', and Paige reported from London that 'every man hath order' for corn (37). (fn. 50) This time the Matthew was unable to get a cargo at Barbary, but Paige called for his correspondent at Middelburg to load the Blessing, and Henry Hawley, Clerke's assistant who had carried the proceeds of Canary wines from Barbados to Amsterdam in sugars, returned to Tenerife on a second ship laden with wheat (39b, 44, 48). As the Canarian wheat crisis continued into 1652, Paige directed the Blessing to Morbihan in France. There his agent John Holle loaded seventy tons and provided a bill of lading falsely dated at Plymouth to save Clerke and Paynter from trouble over contraband French goods (61a). (fn. 51) But when the French authorities prohibited further shipments because of drought, Paige and Clerke's brother George found a way, despite statutory restrictions, to ship 200 tons from Faversham on the Agreement and Constant John, and Paynter and Clerke sent the Elizabeth and John to the Azores for wheat (61d, 63d, 64c, 65). Paige reported the shipment of a thousand tons from Amsterdam to Tenerife in 1658. And again in 1660–1 and 1676–7 English merchants helped to alleviate, and no doubt profited from, food shortages which were caused in Tenerife not only by pests and weather but also by the continuing appropriation of scarce arable land to meet the demand for the island's luxury wine (127a). (fn. 52)
Canarians had less critical need in their warm climate for the most famous English export of the early modern period, but Paige's shipments of woollen textiles (6 per cent by value of all cargoes sent to Clerke) were unrepresentative of total traffic to the Canaries. English woollens accounted for 24 per cent by value of all the merchandise which John Turner sold at the Canaries in 1646 and 39 per cent of the total imports at Tenerife's busiest port in 1694. (fn. 53) Paige's shipment of '6 ends of goods' suggests the character of his cloth trade which shows no growth despite what he described as a twenty per cent decline in textile prices at London during the Dutch war (64c, 107). He sent a few Colchester bays, the type of new draperies which had given English merchants entry into Mediterrenean markets, and he had orders for traditional Hampshire kersies (46, 94a, 96a, 107). But he shared John Turner's opinion that 'the multiplicity of sortments cause sales' in the Canaries. (fn. 54) And even the small sample found in Paige's invoices—fustians, silk druggets, mohairs, damaselas, medusas, calicoes, Welsh cottons and plains— proves that the merchant could find in London a veritable bazaar of cloth.
Paige's London invoices understate the quantities of linens which Paynter and Clerke received at Tenerife because most of these were shipped directly from Nantes by Paige's correspondent, John Holle, especially while the Dutch war interrupted the flow of German and Polish goods to London. Linens were required in the Canaries for uses which ranged from sacking to fancy shirts and especially for re-export in quantity to Spanish America. (fn. 55) And in the absence of a competitive English industry, Paige and his partners tolerated high French prices and repeated threats of embargo to supply roans, creas, dowlas and tregars (e.g. 7a, 34, 40b, 67b, 84c, 89d, 91a, 94a). They ran the greatest risk, however, at the moment of importation when Tenerife's officials could either enforce the latest cédula against contraband French goods or happily accept a bribe to overlook them (9). (fn. 56) It was apparently the importation of French linens, as much as indiscretions in exporting American goods, which led to Clerke's imprisonment in 1650 and to the London merchants' petition complaining of prosecutions by the Captain General (15, 19a, 20, 25b). (fn. 57) This official was soon replaced, but not before the English merchant Robert Breton had left his trade at Tenerife to take up residence in Madrid in order to obtain licences which would allow Canary merchants to import French goods (21, 43). (fn. 58) The American demand for French linens had convinced Spanish officials to regulate, rather than prohibit, the traffic and to raise revenue by selling permits. (fn. 59) And when Clerke was imprisoned again in 1656 for having imported contraband linens, it was apparently because he had not given Breton time enough to send the appropriate papers (89e, 91a, 116–17).
The most audacious of Paige's and Clerke's dealings in contraband was their importation of black slaves into Tenerife from Guinea. The slave population of the Canaries was never apparently as large as one might have expected, given the earlier phase of sugar production and the proximity of the slave markets. Even in Las Palmas, the capital of Gran Canaria where sugar cultivation had been intensive, slaves accounted for just over 6 per cent of the registered births in the seventeenth century. But there were complaints about the growing number of blacks imported by foreign merchants. There is evidence that Englishmen managed such traffic before and after Paige's venture. And this is not surprising since some of the earliest promoters of the English Guinea Company were also Canary merchants, notably the Londoners George Rookes, Humphrey and John Slaney, William Cloberry, and Paige's rival, Rowland Wilson, Sr. (fn. 60)
Londoners trading in slaves had to be wary of officials at Tenerife who were ready to confiscate such cargoes after 1640 as contraband coming from rebel Portuguese dominions, and Clerke proceeded cautiously in 1650 by commissioning Richard Baker, Breton's partner at Madrid, to obtain a licence which would allow the entry of 300 blacks (25b). Paige sent the £324 which Baker thought the licence would cost, and went about providing a slaver's cargo of coloured beads, Swedish iron, copper bars, Sheffield knives, German linens, and distilled drink. (fn. 61) He hired Richard Jewell to go as supercargo and persuaded him to take an assistant who spoke Portuguese (31b, 40c, 47b).
But in the summer and autumn of 1651 the business became the most 'vexatious' Paige had ever been assigned. After £1,000 was invested in outward cargo, Baker at Madrid could not obtain the licence (44). When Paige tried to freight a new ship of 200 tons for the voyage, the owners refused his offer of £160 per month (40c). And although he was delighted to hire the Swan, a 300-ton ship with thirty-two men and twenty guns, at the rate of £150, he was shocked when the captain, William Pyle, who had signed the charter-party, refused to begin the voyage. Paige attempted to enforce his contract in the Admiralty Court where, on 23 July 1651, the captain protested that he had not been informed of the ship's destination before the charter-party was sealed. But Paige produced witnesses who testified that he had indeed described his plans to Pyle at the Ship tavern in Bishopsgate Street and had even mentioned the shackles he had bought for the slaves' hands. Next Pyle objected that the voyage was excessively dangerous. He argued that Guinea was an enemy dominion, that the 300 slaves might 'rise and cut the throats' of the crew, that the Canarian officials could confiscate the ship for carrying contraband, and that, in any case, Paige was not a member of the Guinea Company. Paige had suspected that Captain Pyle had been set to this obstruction by unnamed members of the Guinea Company, perhaps including Rowland Wilson, Sr, but he was vindicated when two captains who were present in court told the judges that they themselves were fitting out ships for Guinea and that 'divers others which were not of the Guinea Company did usually set forth ships to the said River of Gambo'. So Pyle scrambled for a final plea: the thirty sailors hired for the voyage had forsaken the ship on learning of her destination. But after a long debate, the judges ordered Pyle to find a new crew and have his ship ready for departure from Gravesend within fifteen days (42, 46, 47a-b). (fn. 62)
Despite his victory at law, Paige did not force Pyle to command the ship after Pyle's wife appealed against the 'unhealthy' voyage. He agreed to the promotion of Henry Pulman from chief mate to captain. And the Swan, accompanied by a thirty-ton pinnace for negotiating the African rivers, left the Downs for the Gambia, Gold Coast, and Bight of Benin on 8 September 1651. Paige complained that he had no rest for ten weeks; he worried that with cargo, insurance and freight there was over £3,000 invested. But he also boasted that he had hired the Swan at the cheapest rate ever for a Guinea voyage; and he anticipated that she would reach Tenerife in five months with a rich cargo of 300 slaves, £1,500 in beeswax, elephants' hides and ivory (46, 47a-b, 61e).
Nothing was heard of the ship for a year. The monthly charges for freight mounted. Paige worried that he would be 'laughed at by many upon the Exchange' who had taken note of the voyage. He tried to unload his share in the business on Clerke (48, 50, 53c, 58b, 61b, 64a). And when the first news finally reached Paige in September 1652, it must have confirmed his worst fears. To be sure, the voyage had begun propitiously when the supercargo had traded less than £1,200 in goods for 200 slaves, wax, gold, ivory and elephants' hides. But Jewell died as the ship left the river Gambia, and then Captain Pulman and the merchant assistant both perished before the Swan had reached the Bight of Biafra. The master's mate, John Carnaby, took command, but the ship was 'staved upon the sand' at Rio del Rey and 'was utterly lost'. Carnaby sent thirty of the surviving slaves to Tenerife on the pinnace, sold the rest cheaply to other English ships, and then fled with the gold and the Swan's remaining cargo to Barbados. At London Paige was left with a difficult insurance claim to negotiate, the demands of shipowners for over £900 in freight due, and threats from the widows of fourteen seamen who had perished on the voyage that they would come with their children to his doorstep to appeal for their husbands' wages (63a). (fn. 63)
While he conceded the widows' case for wages, payable by the shipowners, Paige was determined to resist the shipowners' claims against him for freight (63a, 64a). But he was ignorant of the Admiralty Court's rule that 'freight is the mother of wages'. And when the judges ordered that wages be paid and civil lawyers advised that the court would force him to pay freight, Paige looked for another way out (77a, 78b). (fn. 64) He had successfully dealt with the Swan's insurers by entertaining them 'at tavern', convincing them to concede the proceeds from the nineteen slaves who had reached Tenerife alive and to abate only 13 per cent of the total policy (66a). (fn. 65) And the same strategy worked with Captain Pyle, spokesman for the shipowners. Paige 'got him in the mood', perhaps again at the Ship tavern, and persuaded him to take £40 for cancelling a charter-party on which freight of £900 was due (78b, 81b).
There were still problems. William Berkeley, an alderman and underwriter, had died a bankrupt before paying £200 of the Swan's insurance. Carnaby was in Barbados with the merchants' gold (74, 77a, 78b, 84b, 89e). But the human tragedy of the Swan's voyage seems never to have troubled Paige. The protests from seamen's widows had been predictable: 'those kind of people will not understand reason' (63a). And even when he considered his capital, and the potential there had been for financial disaster, Paige congratulated himself on having kept the loss within acceptable bounds (81b).
Imbalance, regulation, and war
Paige paid the bills for voyages to Guinea, Barbary and Newfoundland. He sold wines on credit and held dyestuffs which did not sell. He complained from time to time that he was short of cash and might be forced to draw upon the 'usurer's bags' (27b, 44, 49, 60a, 105). And yet his accounts and letters suggest that he borrowed only once in a decade of trading (45, 47d). This record reflects in fact a chronic problem which may have worsened in the 1650s: imbalance in the Canary trade. Because his principals in Tenerife could not sell quantities of English goods which equalled in value the wines and American goods they exported, the London factor, who sold hundreds of pipes of expensive wines but bought relatively little for outward cargoes, must have been periodically awash with cash.
Canary merchants, including Paige, Paynter and Clerke, sought to resolve this problem of imbalance by organisation and self-regulation. But other serious problems of the 1650s lay beyond their control. War with the Dutch imperilled their capital and complicated the daily tasks of Paige at London. War with Spain eventually sent Paynter and Clerke scurrying from the Canaries and forced the three merchants to rebuild their trade on new foundations.
A pipe of malvasia was selling at Orotava in the 1650s for the equivalent of nearly £14, a price perhaps 40 per cent higher than that of the previous decade. And if we can assume that the roughly 5,500 pipes which came annually to London accounted for 60 per cent of the shipments northward, the rest made up of American goods, English merchants would have had to sell each year about £3 worth of fish, wheat and cloth for every resident of Tenerife just to balance the trade. (fn. 66) They must have fallen far short of this in most years. John Turner in Tenerife advised his London partners in 1646 that cloth prices had fallen by 15 per cent and warned against sending more goods. (fn. 67) Clerke gave Paige no encouragement to send pack-goods in 1651 (34). Ships were sometimes dead-freighted to the vintage. (fn. 68) And wheat crises like that of 1651£2 gave Londoners rare and fleeting opportunities because the markets for grain and fish could be easily glutted, leaving the merchant with perishable merchandise. Consequently English factors in the island had to pay cash, as a rule, one-third in money for most West India goods and perhaps as much as one-half for cochineal and superior wines. (fn. 69) Their cash was undoubtedly spent quickly, and Paige remembered from his years at Tenerife that a factor there seldom held anything but unsold goods and uncollected accounts (27b, 63c, 94b).
On the other hand, as he went about selling Paynter's and Clerke's new wines at London in December and January, Paige must have become the steward of a respectable capital, perhaps £3,000 to £4,000. (fn. 70) But unable to keep it employed by investing in large cargoes for Tenerife, he had to find some way to put money in the hands of Clerke and Paynter. Canary merchants had solved this problem in the conventional way at least since 1559 when Thomas Nichols, who could not sell enough English goods in Tenerife to pay for the sugars he exported, drew on his London agents by bills of exchange. (fn. 71) And Clerke likewise paid for about 40 per cent of the goods he exported in the 1650s by drawing bills which were ultimately paid in London by Paige (Table 3 below).
But even this solution was more complicated than it appeared. Canarian winegrowers rarely needed credits in London but often instead wanted purchasing power in peninsular Spain. And the Englishman in the Canary trade had to accumulate credits in the peninsula against which he could draw, hence Paige's references to merchants who were making 'great preparation' for Tenerife's 'next vintage via Spain' by shipping cod to Bilbao or pack-goods to San Lucar (21, 32). (fn. 72) Paige on occasion encouraged such designs (81c). But it was difficult at times to find a winegrower who would sell his wines, as Diego Pereyra did to Clerke in 1651, for bills drawn against accumulated credit in Spain. He might literally demand cash on the barrel head. Thus it was rumoured that Wilson and company intended to sell large cargoes of English goods in San Lucar and carry pieces of eight to Tenerife (30a). (fn. 73) But it was also possible to find individuals other than winegrowers who, in exchange for a bill drawn on Seville, would supply the local Canarian coinage. (fn. 74) Canarian officials needed to remit monies to Madrid, so John Turner drew bills for the royal audiencia in 1645 and Thomas Hart bid for the right to remit 20,000 Ds (c. £5,500) which were owed the King as the donativo of 1647. And while Paynter worried about the usual risks of dealing with seventeenth-century tax collectors, 'great men who do value themselves of the King's money to keep it in their hands a long time with one trick or other', Clerke was bidding in 1651 for the contract to remit part of the Canarian tithes to the peninsula by bill of exchange in order that he might receive in the islands 4,500 Ds (c. £1,238) in Canarian coinage with which he could buy wines or American goods. (fn. 75)
Paige's cash, then, was periodically drawn down as he accepted and paid Clerke's and Paynter's bills of exchange. Clerke drew about 55 per cent of the exchange he needed via Spain, and Paige paid the sixty- to ninety-day bills to the accounts of Abraham Lee of San Lucar or Arthur Ackland and Richard Davies of Bilbao. Most of the remaining bills paid by Paige were of ninety to 120 days and drawn in favour, or at the direction, of English merchants at Tenerife from whom Clerke had obtained cash when he could not exchange English goods for the wines and dyestuffs he exported. (fn. 76)
The boldest attempt by English merchants to deal with this persistent imbalance in the trade was their formation of the Canary Company, a chartered monopoly, in 1665. But Paige's letters of 1651–2 record an earlier effort by the traders, including Paige, Clerke and Paynter, to resolve the problem through regulation. Their assumptions were no doubt similar to those of a speaker who defended the Canary Company's charter before the Lords in 1666:
[A]s this sort of wines (which we bring from the Canaries) is only to be had in the Canaries … so is there no other country (besides England) in which these wines are (to any considerable quantity) vended. . . .[W]hilst we trade thither in a loose and promiscuous way (that is, every man for himself) they have an advantage on us by raising their wines to what value, and to sell them for ready money or barter them for what kind of commodities, they please. . . .But … this trade may be so regulated as to turn to the advantage of this nation . . . . If the men of England do so unite and hold together that one shall not outbid another, that they will only give in exchange for those wines the commodities of their own growth … then must the Islanders part with their wines upon our reasonabler terms or else they must keep them to their own loss. (fn. 77).
Action upon such assumptions was motivated in the early 1650s as much by events in London as by winegrowers' demands in Tenerife. The wholesale price of Canary wine in London had been rising even faster than its cost in Tenerife, allowing profits of 33 to 50 per cent on some shipments (12b, 14). But the Vintners 'met at their hall' to consider the rising prices and threatened in 1650 to fix a maximum for Canary at £21 per pipe (14, 17, 22a, 27a). At that rate, the first cost in Tenerife plus freight, insurance, handling, and taxes would have allowed little margin to the wholesaler. And 'if ever the Vintners' had wanted 'the upper hand', their opportunity came in early 1651 when Paige estimated that there were 1,500 pipes of Canary unsold in the merchants' cellars and warned Clerke and Paynter that they must 'beat down the Islanders in price' or send no wines. (30a, 37, 39a).
Before the vintage the English factors in Tenerife had agreed to limit both the price they would pay for wines and the quantity they would buy. Paige feared that Rowland Wilson, Sr's political connections might allow his company to ignore the pact; but apparently the English merchants honoured the agreement and left the Canarians with wines in their cellars (49, 52b). The wines Clerke shipped as his share were poor, prompting London Vintners to call Paige 'the Canary scavenger'. But Paige also reported that 'all men that walk the Exchange' approved the regulation of the trade, and he joined other London merchants in asking the Council of State to enforce the agreement by allowing only merchants of the pact to import Canary wine (50, 51b, 52b). (fn. 78) Apparently the plan was rejected. Paige never mentions merchant regulation after the spring of 1652, and his fear that the large vintage fleet of 1653 would raise prices 'higher than last year', suggests that unrestrained market forces were once again determining prices at the Islands (76b). When the failure of regulation coincided with Clerke's purchase of bad wines and the Swan's misadventure, Paige and Clerke nearly ended their wine trade. (50, 56b).
Clerke sent only ten pipes of wine to Paige after 1653, but it may have been the onset of war as much as the failure of regulation that discouraged him. Paige was almost always worried about some threat at sea— the Irish, Rupert, the French, the Turks, or Jerseymen, to whom Clerke lost a cargo in 1650 (e.g. 1, 4, 26b, 27b, 32). (fn. 79) And just as a treaty with Portugal seemed imminent, the English provoked the Dutch by insisting on the Navigation Act (51a, 53b-c, 56b). Paige sent the act in duplicate to his partners, but when the intent of the English diplomats became clear, he warned Paynter and Clerke to send all their ships for London and predicted that trade must end as not one ship in ten would escape the enemy (58a-b). However, his pessimism vanished as the war began. He anticipated a quick and glorious victory and, despite dangers in the Channel, looked forward to big shipments of wine in January 1653. The Blessing arrived in February, after a stop in Falmouth, and Paige sold her wines at what he called the 'unprecedented' price of £35 13s 4d per pipe. He hoped for an unusual spring shipment on the Mary, and even when it seemed that all the northern nations would join the Dutch, Paige was confident that the English naval forces would 'bang them soundly' and 'ruin their trade' (62, 63c, 64c, 66a, 68a-b).
But just as he was reporting news that his ship the Agreement had captured a Dutch prize, Paige began to learn the hard lessons of commercial war. The Golden Star, which he had sent from Plymouth with rye, was captured and taken to Nantes (72). The Elizabeth and John, which was carrying wheat from the Azores to Clerke and Paynter, was seized off Tenerife and then burned by her Dutch captors after they had set the crew ashore. (fn. 80) The war also changed the London merchant's habits of freighting and insuring ships. Before the war Paige had sometimes invested in ships for himself and his principals. He had bought shares in the Blessing until he owned with his principals and the master nine-sixteenths of the seventy-ton ship. With majority control, he was determined 'to vex the other owners by sending the ship where I want' until they sold him the remaining shares (19b, 20, 25b, 27b). But during the war Paige became disenchanted with ownership when he could not get £20 for a quarter part of the Blessing, and later he advised Clerke that it was better to freight ships because it was too dangerous to own both vessel and cargo and one could command even a hired ship if it were 'well tied in [the] charter-party' (89c).
The war also forced him to hire larger ships. The average capacity of the seven which Paige freighted before the hostilities, and for which an estimate is known, was 119 tons. He had preferred to hire them by time charter even though he considered that freight accumulating by the month, rather than per voyage, was like 'a continual moth' (7a, 11a, 16, 40a, 53a, c). (fn. 81) But the four ships which the merchants were using during the war, and for which estimates are available, averaged 168 tons, a capacity Paige considered too large for the Canary trade when peace returned (94a). He complained during the war of higher freight rates and poorer service, noting that the price of cordage and seamen's wages had risen 50 per cent, that owners might refuse to man the ship fully or to have it ready in the Downs by a specified date, and that most would let only per voyage, not, as he preferred, by the month (67a, 71c, 77c, 81d, 82, 83a).
Finally, the Dutch war altered Paige's habit of insuring ships, already, 'a thing of more difficulty to perform than other businesses' (22b). Before the conflict he had never paid more than 5 per cent to insure any of the eight voyages from Tenerife to London for which there are records. But as the Navigation Act was being published in November 1651 the underwriters asked 12–15 per cent (63b, d). Later they quoted 60 per cent for a voyage from the Canaries to Genoa and back, and 10 per cent for the short passage from Falmouth to London (66b-c). And while Paige admitted that good Canary would bear a rate of 15 per cent (63b), his accounts show that none of the cargoes solely owned by Clerke was insured during the war. (fn. 82)
When Paige did attempt, with some initiative, to protect his principals' investments during the hostilities, he was frustrated by the uncertainty of legal remedies. He learned that there were Dutch men-of-war lying off Tenerife just as the Elizabeth and John was carrying wheat from the Azores to Clerke and Paynter. Though Paige had no interest in the cargo and no orders from Tenerife, he quickly got £1,200 underwritten in his employers' names. And after the ship was burned by the Dutch, he followed the usual procedure by producing the captain and another witness in the Admiralty Court to verify the loss. But to Paige's astonishment they testified under oath that the wheat lost was his, not Clerke's and Paynter's, and thereby, either through 'ignorance or perfidy' contradicted and invalidated the insurance policy (67b, 76a, 77a, 78a, 81a). (fn. 83)
Despite such setbacks Paige continued to describe English victories in arrogant detail and even rationalised that Dutch control of the Straits would raise the price of good Canary. But he grew gloomier when he saw 'little hopes of peace' and recounted his difficulties in freighting ships (76b, 77b-c, 80, 81d, 83b). And even when he could send the articles of peace to Clerke and Paynter (84c, 85), any relief on his part was premature. The partners were yet to lose a third ship to the war. The Agreement, which had earlier taken a Dutch prize, was herself seized en route from Tenerife—after the peace was signed but before it was to take effect (87–8).
As Paige learned of this loss at the end of one war, he was reporting the details of Cromwell's western design and, effectively, the beginning of a conflict which would nearly end his trade (85, 87, 89f, 91b). He had long feared a rupture with Spain and now warned his principals to 'prepare for a storm' and to get their estates out of the islands by exporting West India goods and wines (94b, 95). But Clerke and Paynter remained confident that they could stay for the vintage of 1655 even after the Spanish ambassador had left London, thirty English merchants had fled the peninsula and others had suffered violent reprisals at Tenerife (99b, 100b, 105, 106b, 107). Paige sent his partners tonnage in four ships, but before the last of these, the Prosperous, had left the Isle of Wight with fifteen other vessels bound for the Canaries, news of the Spanish embargo reached London. Matthew Smith, master of the Prosperous, ignored Paige's orders not to sail, and when the ship arrived at Tenerife, the embargo had been in effect there for nearly a week (108a). The English merchants ordered Smith and other masters in the road off Orotava to leave the island, whereupon they sailed to Madeira took on the colours of neutral states, and the Prosperous returned among them to Tenerife flying the flag of Hamburg. Some of the ships were laden with wines after a special fee was paid to the Captain General, but the Prosperous sailed for London with nothing in the tonnage hired for Clerke's account. Paige was nevertheless forced to pay freight after the Admiralty Court had awarded the seamen their wages and had referred the freight issue to arbitrators. (fn. 84)
Meanwhile Paige's principals were beginning to suffer at the hands of Canarian officials. The Captain General, Don Alonso Davila y Guzman, apparently took bribes from Clerke and Paynter and then confiscated their goods and credits anyway, perhaps including some of the wines which Clerke had intended to ship on the Prosperous. Seven other merchants, including Arthur Ingram who would later become the governor of the Canary Company, assessed their losses through reprisals at over £13,000. (fn. 85) And fearing further hostile acts, Clerke and Paynter sent home their assistants, Leigh, Standish and Hawley in December 1655 (111a).
When the assistants arrived in England, Paige was complaining of English actions against the Spanish. He described Cromwell's plan to regulate wine prices as 'of greater prejudice and loss to the poor merchants than the embargo in Spain' (110b, 112). A decision to revive Henrician powers of price control had been taken in May, a proclamation was published in July, and a wholesale limit of £26 per pipe was proposed in December 1655, which, Paige reported, caused wine prices to fall by 50 per cent. He joined other Londoners who asked for a suspension of the prisage. Their petition, which Paige himself could have written after his recent experience with the Prosperous, complained that some merchants had large stocks of Spanish wines which they had been able to import only after paying 'gratifications' to Spanish officials, while others had lost their estates by the embargo and that at great cost their ships had returned dead-freighted. (fn. 86) The Vintners were, of course, protesting that the proposed price ceiling was too high; but after another petition, Paige and his friends won delays in the effective date of regulation, first to Michaelmas and then to 1 December 1656 (114–15, 117). (fn. 87)
Paige assumed that the price control would prevent Clerke from paying more than 20 Ds per pipe, less than half the recent prices in the Canaries, but still he sent pipestaves in two ships and skilfully directed the wartime voyage of the Mary. When this ship was turned away from Bilbao with her cargo of Newfoundland fish, Paige hired a Dutch crew, sent her to Tenerife, and consigned the cargo under the names of Antwerp merchants (93a, 95, 99a, 100b, 103–4, 108a, 109, 110a). The deception worked. (fn. 88) But Paynter had to receive the fish because Clerke was in prison, apparently for importing French goods without the proper licence (116–17). Clerke managed somehow to return West India goods to Paige on the Mary, but though he survived another imprisonment and stayed with Paynter for the vintage of 1656, the two sent no more wines. They arrived at Plymouth with other merchants just before Christmas 1656, and a second 'fleet' of Englishmen escaping the island was under sail (118). (fn. 89)
When the three merchants returned to the Canary trade, it was by different approaches. Clerke found himself in Plymouth at the end of 1656, threatened by angry creditors, and without his books which Canarian officials had confiscated. Paige advised him to come to London 'where you may be as private as you please—no place like unto it', and then helped him to escape the City for Antwerp in January 1657. When Clerke's flight was bruited on the Exchange, his creditors were angry (118–20), but he had gone to the continent not only to escape debts but also to obtain Spanish permission to return to the Canaries. He had advice that an agent in Flanders could get licences 'passed by the Consejo in Spain', and Paynter hoped that with such protection Clerke and he would be free from both insurance charges and the Judge of the Contraband (120, 122). (fn. 90) Clerke's mission eventually took him to Madrid in 1657 where he may have solicited the aid of English royalists. In the same year Hyde drafted a commission of consulship in the Canaries for those merchants who opposed Cromwell and awarded it to Leonard Clerke, a West Country merchant who was not apparently related to William. Both Hyde and Bennet heard appeals for aid from other merchants, including John Shaw, Paige's correspondent at Antwerp, and Francis Millington, soon to be Paige's partner in the Malaga trade. But Bennet, who resented the pressures of these merchants, warned from Madrid that Philip IV could not be expected to grant such protection to Protestants. And when he reached the Spanish capital, Clerke himself may have heard this advice from the exiled courtier. In any case he openly embraced Roman Catholicism while at Madrid and then returned to Tenerife in the late summer of 1659 carrying licences which gave him 'considerable freedom' in his trade. (fn. 91)
The trade to which he returned was fraught with wartime difficulties, which Paige and Paynter in London had already discovered. Paige had initially doubted in 1657 that Blake had intelligence of the Spanish flota's approach to Tenerife (123–4). But English ships arrived at London with confirmation that the general had burned the treasure fleet in Santa Cruz harbour, that English captains had been given the rack by angry Canarians, and that the prices of West India goods had been driven to prohibitive levels (125a–b). While the Naval Commissioners rewarded Blake with a pipe of Canary wine, Paige and Paynter found that their former friends at Tenerife refused to receive their goods and that French ships were supplying the Canaries with an abundance of linens (125b, 126). (fn. 92) They complained that the price regulation which was renewed by Parliament in June 1657, together with new taxes imposed in the same month, amounted to a prohibition of the trade (125a, 126). (fn. 93)
London middlemen like Paige and Paynter could easily have assumed at the beginning of the war that the Canary trade would end or that, at the least, they would be displaced from it. In 1656 Paige himself had reported the story that a junta of eight Canarian winegrowers and merchants had bribed the Captain General to expel the English (120). Four of the eight listed by Paige had regularly shipped wines to Iberian Jews who had settled in London. For example, Balthazar de Vergara Grimon, one of Tenerife's richest growers, and his relatives, Christóbal de Alvarado Bracamonte and Benito Venia y Vergara, had sent wines since the early 1640s to the most prominent of Jewish merchants in London, Antonio Fernandez Carvajal, and, after Fernandez's death in 1658, to the Francias, also Jewish merchants. (fn. 94) Other Londoners, including Rowland Wilson, Sr, managed to continue in the wine trade only by employing Canarians who were members of the junta identified by Paige. (fn. 95) After Paynter at London had watched these merchants import the Canarian vintages of 1657–8, he concluded that 'the Jews and Spaniards' had 'all the privilege of the trade'. (fn. 96) And as the letters end in 1658, Paige and his father-in-law had left the wine trade because, as Paige wrote, 'those [Canarian] rogues which do our business cheat us and take all the gains to themselves' (127a).
The two Londoners were able to continue as brokers of West India goods, but now only by risking what they had thus far avoided: direct trade with Spanish America. And driven to such adventure—now during a state of war—they were anxious to describe it as an innovation of national importance. 'Debarred' from a wine business which, they later wrote, had 'supported [their] families', they decided 'to experiment a trade into the Spanish West Indies' where 'none had formerly been driven by any English'. They had, of course, known several Englishmen who had profited from direct trade, but Paige and Paynter found the exaggerated rhetoric necessary to save their own design from catastrophe. With four other merchants they had sent the ship Hope, disguised as Spanish, from Amsterdam in 1657. A Spaniard, Juan Lopez, acted as captain at Trinidad, Cumana, Truxillo and Honduras, where less than £3,000 in English cloth and continental linen was exchanged for indigo, sarsaparilla and hides worth £12,000 on the London market. But a Dutch sailor, hired at Cumana where he was 'starved and eaten up by mosquitoes', became a 'quarrelsome, lewd and wicked fellow' on the homeward voyage. He threatened to kill three of the crew; and, after the disguised ship was taken as a Spanish prize by an English warship, he testified in the Admiralty Court that the Hope was indeed owned by Spaniards and that papers verifying this had been thrown overboard. It was now that Paige, Paynter and the other investors petitioned Richard Cromwell for the ship's release, claiming that they, the true owners, 'had opened a way to trade in [the Spanish West Indies] which otherwise must be left to the Dutch and other foreigners'. (fn. 97). But it was several months before the ship and cargo were released. And, because the Hope's effective disguise had prompted action by the English warship, the Admiralty judges assessed the merchants for court costs. (fn. 98)
While ownership of the Hope was still in dispute in early 1659, Paynter asked Paige for an accounting of their partnership which had lasted fourteen years. Paige replied with 'base words and wished the ship [had sunk' which had brought his father-in-law home from Tenerife. Paynter moved out of his son-in-law's house in Bishopsgate Street and complained that he and Paige communicated only in letters, 'like two lovers—[wanting] only the friendship'. The older merchant had lost his books to the Canarian officials and could not document his claim that he had sent Paige £50,000 in goods from the Canaries since 1647 and that his son-in-law had fraudulently made over bills of exchange to his own use. I was rumoured that Paige had failed to keep his books in order, and, in the event, merchants who arbitrated the account determined that Paige owed his former master £7,000. Of this there was still about £2,000 outstanding in 1660 when Paynter preferred a bill in chancery against his own son-in-law. (fn. 99)
From London Paynter had in the meantime resumed his trade in pilchards, wheat and wine, but now only with Clerke who had returned to Tenerife in 1659. Paynter even wrote enthusiastically to Clerke of a plan to deliver 200 black slaves at £20 per head which, he thought, could be sold at Tenerife for £50 each. (fn. 100) But before he could act Paige's role in another Guinea design, Paynter was dying, and in his will he attempted to settle matters with Paige, whom he called the most 'perverse fellow' he had ever known. Paynter assigned to his daughter Katherine the debt of £2,000 owed by her husband and then ordered Paige as executor to buy land for his family with the money. (fn. 101)
William Clerke was also dead before his account with Paige was settled. Paige had found one excuse after another for not totting up the books, writing in 1658 that the London winter had been so bitter that 'no man could endure to sit and write an hour' (26a, 31c, 66c, 73c, 77b, 100b, 124, 127b). At least three of Paige's later trading partners would find it necessary to force settlements from him in Chancery, and Sir Samuel Clerke initiated proceedings in 1681 to recover the debts owed to his younger brother's estate. (fn. 102) William Clerke had traded for about twenty years after his return to Tenerife in 1659. He had married the daughter of a Canarian winecooper and had twice survived process by the Inquisition, once for having said that there was really no difference between the English and Roman religions, and later for speculating, in allegedly blasphemous terms, that heaven was a place where one is free from work. (fn. 103) At his death sometime in the late 1670s he left a young daughter. And on the child's behalf, Sir Samuel complained in Chancery that Paige had never given his brother an account and had gone about the Exchange exulting that he owed Clerke nothing, that the Spanish had taken Clerke's books, and, later, that in any case the statute of limitations had run. Sir Samuel alleged that Paige owed £10,000; Paige finally produced an account which showed his debt at £610. (fn. 104) Paige's numbers may have been the kind which the laggard merchant, according to Lewes Roberts, 'mumbles' up when finally forced to acquit himself. And the final Chancery decree of 1685 may have resolved nothing. It ordered that Paige settle with Clerke's executors after more papers had been received from the Canaries, but it has not been possible to determine if such an accounting ever took place. (fn. 105)
If Paige had profited from the use of Clerke's money for nearly thirty years and from the way his account with Paynter was settled, he had not done so by capitalising a larger trade in Canary wines. He kept his hand in the business after the war and for the rest of his active life but imported only fifty to sixty pipes a year, mere dabbling when compared, for example, with Robert Breton's 600 pipes a year in the same period. Paige continued to import a small volume of Iberian wine, but he was developing other interests after the Restoration, especially in the Asian trade. (fn. 106)
He had already been involved in at least four East India voyages during the 1650s. That of the Katherine, a ship in which Paynter, Clerke and he owned shares (25b, 52b, 61e, 77c), brought Paige into contact with Maurice Thomson. Thomson had plans for reorganising the eastern trade, and in partnership with him Paige would later be transformed from a mere shipowner to an active India merchant. After voyages to the Canaries and state service during the Dutch war, the Katherine was hired by the East India Company in February 1654 to sail to the Coromandel Coast and bring home all that she could stow as the last carrier for the United Joint Stock. Paige, whose partners at Tenerife had just lost a ship to the Dutch, was probably one of the Katherine's owners who wanted assurances of safe conduct from the Hollanders even on 2 May, two days before the peace was to take effect. To satisfy the owners, Maurice Thomson acted for the Company and applied to the Dutch ambassadors. They replied that the peace was signed, that they had never granted a safe conduct to anyone, and that to do so would dishonour Dutch shipmasters. But apparently Thomson's efforts quieted the Katherine's owners. The ship sailed, returned safely, and in the summer of 1655, just as the Spanish war was about to disrupt his Canary trade, Paige was pleased with his first income—freight payments—from Asian traffic (106b). (fn. 107)
His first endeavours as a merchant to the East were less successful. In September 1654 he had signed Maurice Thomson's petition which called for a freer Eastern trade in which individuals might send private adventures independent of the Company. Then he joined Thomson and Thomas Canham in such a voyage. They hired the Golden Cock, a ship of 85 tons owned by Richard Ely and Paige's cousin John Paige of Plymouth, and set her out in November for Bantam. The ship stopped at Tenerife for the vintage and had delivered wines safely to Bantam by August 1655. There she was freighted by the Company to carry pepper from Sumatra to Bantam, but in October 1656 was leaking so badly from worm damage that she was scuttled in the Jamboaye River. And in November 1657 Paige's own cousin was suing him, Thomson and Canham in the Admiralty Court to recover the value of the ship and freight due. (fn. 108)
Paige had also invested with Thomson in the Jonathon, another ship sent independently of the Company in June 1654. Like the Golden Cock, it was employed in the eastern carrying trade but was prevented by five Dutch warships from returning to Bantam from Coromandel. And this brought Paige and Thomson into the Admiralty Court as plaintiffs seeking compensation from the Dutch East India Company. (fn. 109)
Part ownership of the Katherine involved Paige in at least two more voyages during the 1650s. The second of these, from 1659 to 1661, was so profitable that it allowed the Company to distribute a 20 per cent dividend, the first paid on the New General Stock. (fn. 110)
India ventures had brought Paige into close association with the chief radical among London merchants of the 1640s. Maurice Thomson envisaged an English commercial empire which would be established aggressively on all continents and in which the old and narrower chartered companies would give way to national monopolies of trade. (fn. 111) And few merchants could have acted more consistently than Paige in ways that were compatible with such goals. In his first decade as a Londoner he had interloped with impunity on the Guinea Company's charter, had hailed English victories in a commercial war with the Dutch, had sent the Hope to violate the Spanish monopoly in America and other ships to the East Indies independently of the chartered English company. But whether he was conscious of any broad imperialistic programme is unclear. He had been commissioned by his principals to deal in slaves. He had become interested in the India trade only after the Company had hired a ship in which he owned a small share. And the voyage of the Hope was, after all, less a matter of aggression than of stealth.
In any case, there is nothing from which to complete a portrait of Paige as a new and revolutionary merchant—no evidence to link his economic activities with religious or political radicalism. Of his religious practices we can know only that his children were baptised at St Helen's. (fn. 112) About politics during the years of revolution he was consciously reticent: 'In these dangerous times', he wrote, 'it's good for men to be circumspect and cautious of what they say' (15). And there are suggestions of political conservatism, if anything, in his letters to Tenerife. He viewed with gloom the execution of Charles I which Thomson and other merchants had helped to effect (5b). The letter in which he had first reported the dissolution of the Long Parliament is missing (76b). And perhaps he had commented there in the manner of a 'new merchant' who had been politically active. But his dealings with the royalist Kirkes, with Shaw and Millington who were anxious before 1660 to gain the protection of Charles Stuart, indeed his association with Clerke, who easily embraced Roman Catholicism and whose brother's lands had been sequestrated by parliament in 1644, hint at something other than puritan radicalism. (fn. 113)
What can be said with more confidence is that Paige flourished after 1660. He was elected a 'committee' of the East India Company in 1663 along with Thomson and three other trading acquaintances who figure in these letters. And though he had his differences with the Company from time to time, he served as a committee, with only one brief interval, for the next twenty-three years, rented the great vault in Crosby House, and in 1679 was dealing in Company stock worth over £12,000. (fn. 114) He was a court assistant of the short-lived Canary Company in 1665–6, served on the Council of Trade from 1668 to 1672, and as first warden of the Merchant Taylors' Company in 1687. Sir Joseph Williamson, the courtier whom Paige supported politically and advised on East India matters, recommended him to Sir William Petty as 'a very considerate merchant'. And if, as seems unlikely, he had earlier been a republican, Paige was not perceived as one in 1687 when, in the charged political atmosphere of that year, he was appointed by royal commission to serve as a London alderman. (fn. 115)
The West Country apprentice who had married his master's daughter, had sent ships from London to five continents in the 1650s, and had settled accounts with his partners when compelled by the law, died a retired Tory director in December 1689. He left a handsome estate including a coach, chariot and horses. He also left a son John (1656–1711) who survived the perils of his infancy mentioned in these letters (125b) and moved down the street from his father's place of business to become an early director of the Bank of England. (fn. 116)
A Note on Editorial Method
The exhibit at C. 105/12 includes 148 letters written by John Paige. For this edition we have eliminated those which are trivial or repetitious and have also cut a number of such passages from the letters retained. The collection includes both original letters in Paige's hand and copies by his clerks, for he often enclosed in his current letters copies of the most recent ones he had sent. (fn. 117) We have used the copies to provide the text where the originals are damaged, and where the original is not extant, have transcribed from the copy.
Letters 1–117 were addressed by Paige to Gowen Paynter and William Clerke Jointly or to Clerke individually in Tenerife. Letters 118–27 were addressed to Clerke at the locations indicated. Letter 104 is dated from Dover; all others are dated from London, with the exception of a few letters (110–17, 126–7) written in London during the war with Spain which Paige falsely dated from Amsterdam and signed in the name of his correspondent there, John Schanternell. (fn. 118)
Letters written from Tenerife by Gowen Paynter and John Turner and cited in the Introduction are dated in the new style as indicated by 'n.s.'. Paige himself probably reported in the new style the dates of those letters which he had received from Tenerife or the continent, but it has not been possible to confirm this. All other dates, those of Paige's own letters and those given in editorial comment, are in the old style, except that 1 January is taken as the beginning of the year.
Salutations, dismissals and Paige's signatures have been omitted. Spelling, punctuation and place-names have been modernised, contractions expanded, and a few scribal errors silently corrected. Words added to the text as well as editorial explanations are enclosed in square brackets. In four letters, which are noted, a few words are supplied and bracketed where the manuscript is damaged but Paige's intent is reasonably clear. Personal names have been standardised by using, wherever available, the spellings given by the individuals when they signed various documents, principally examinations in the Admiralty Court.
Paige made some use of Spanish words and his own pidgin Spanish, e.g. verbs with Spanish roots and English endings. Most of these we have translated, leaving a few technical terms which are clarified in the Glossary, Appendix C, along with technical terms in English, commodities, weights, measures, and monetary units.