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Meeting of West India Merchants, London



Agreeable to previous invitation, an exceedingly numerous meeting of West India Merchants and Planters, on the 18th of January, 1775, assembled at the London Tavern, "to deliberate on the measures necessary to be pursued on this very important crisis."About one o' clock, Beetson Long, Esquire, took the Chair,

When Mr˙ Rose Fuller opened the business by calling the attention of the meeting to what he was about to propose. He stated with conciseness, yet with extreme judgment and precision, the alarming situation into which the present plan of measures respecting America was likely to plunge this country; and from a desire of averting those evils which it so materially concerned the West India Merchants and Planters to prevent, he evinced the absolute necessity of "petitioning Parliament as the only probable means of warding off impending ruin."

Having thus pleaded for a Petition as the ground-work of every subsequent proceeding, Mr˙ Fuller declared, that


before he preferred his motion, he would lay open the whole of his intentions, which were, "first, to move for a Petition; and if that motion passed, then to explain to the meeting the objects to which such Petition should be confined, as well as the particular facts it should set forth."

After some trifling altercation, Mr˙ Fuller' s motion, both for a Petition and the articles to which, in his opinion, the framers should confine themselves, were called for and attended to.

The motion for a Petition was conceived nearly in the following words: —

"That it is the opinion of this meeting, a Petition should be presented to Parliament, representing the alarming state of affairs in the West India Islands, and setting forth the apprehensions of the Petitioners, on account of certain Resolutions entered into by the American Congress, held at Philadelphia, on the 5th of September, 1774; and praying interposition."

Mr˙ Fuller grounded the necessity of a Petition of this kind on the two Resolves of the Congress, whereby they firmly covenant, in behalf of the whole Continent of America, "not to have any commercial dealings, either in the way of Export, or Import, with the West India Islands, unless certain obnoxious Acts, passed by the English Legislature, shall be repealed."

The articles to which Mr˙ Fuller wished the framers of the Petition to confine themselves were, first, "That an investment of stock, the property of various Merchants, to a very large amount, was now placed in the West India Islands, and that, by the circuitous operation of events, the returns arising from this stock would be considerably lessened, and the stock itself would be diminished in value, provided that the stoppage of commercial intercourse between the West India Islands and America, threatened by the Resolves of the Congress, should take effect."

A second article, which Mr˙ Fuller wished the framers of the Petition to state fully, was, "the amount of debt due from the Planters and others in the West India Islands to those Merchants in England with whom they carried on a reciprocal communication."

Mr˙ Fuller' s motion having been seconded by Sir Philip Gibbes, and ably supported by Mr˙ Walker, Agent for Barbadoes, a very warm and interesting debate ensued. The foremost in opposing it was Mr˙ Willet, of St˙ Kitts, who stated his objections to petitioning substantially thus:

Before a Petition for the removal of an evil was agreed on, it should be determined whether the evil actually existed or not; a Petition for redress implies a state of suffering. Had the West India Merchants yet experienced the smallest inconvenience from any Resolves, passed by the Congress? Mr˙ Willet ventured to answer for them, "that they had not."Were the West India Islands yet in a suffering state? So far from it, that they had now sufficient, and to spare of every article supplied by the North American Colonies; and, if they should hereafter stand in need, they might be easily supplied from Quebec, and various other places willing and able to supply them. As therefore no inconveniences had as yet arisen from the Resolutions of the Congress, the West India Merchants should at least delay their Petition until inconveniences were experienced, which, in the opinion of Mr˙ Willet, would never be the case, as he did not apprehend that the Resolves of the Congress would be long adhered to.

In support of this conjecture, Mr˙ Willet begged leave to produce a letter, dated the 7th December, from Mr˙ Galway, a young man at New-York, a near relation of Sir Ralph Payne, who, Mr˙ Willet observed, was so closely connected with Mr˙ De Lancey, that the sentiments contained in the letter might be supposed exactly consonant with those Mr˙ De Lancey held.

The purport of this letter was, "that the Resolutions of the Congress were never meant to be observed; thatthe Delegates themselves were so ashamed of them, that they were only studying ways and means to elude them; that the moderate party at New-York laughed at these Resolutions, and the most flaming zealots despised themselves for passing them; that as, on the occasion of the Stamp Act, there had been similar confederacies formed, which a defection soon put an end to, there could be no doubt but that a similar defection would


soon demonstrate how little was to be apprehended from the Resolutions of a Congress; that four or five Provinces to the writer' s certain knowledge were preparing to violate these Resolutions."

The writer concludes by hoping, "that the West India Merchants will not be duped by specious appearances, as they must be fools indeed to be alarmed at what a Congress like that held at Philadelphia can propose; and that, as the West India Islands are at present overstocked with Staves, and every article they want, nothing is to be feared from a scarcity on their account."

Mr˙ Willet having read this letter, a gentleman begged to know "how long the writer had been at New-York, when he wrote the letter?"Mr˙ Willet replied "five days."— It was observed, “that he must be a young man of surprising abilities, to penetrate so intimately into the minds of the people in so short a time; and he must have a tolerable share of confidence to answer for four or five Provinces, when he had himself been in one of them only five days."

Mr˙ Willet accounted for this by saying, though Mr˙ Galway had wrote the letter, yet the sentiments might be supposed more properly to be those of Mr˙ De Lancey.

Here a gentleman addressed the Chair, by observing that he was a native of New-York, and connected with some of the first people in that Province; that Mr˙ De Lancey was a mere creature of Government, connected with the Governour, who had attempted to enforce the Stamp Act, which Governour was a subservient minion to the Duke of Grafton.

The gentleman acknowledged that on a former Association a defection had happened, but that very defection, he contended, was brought about by the machinations of Mr˙ De Lancey. Considering, therefore, the political principles, the conduct, the views, and connections of Mr˙ De Lancey, his opinions were to be examined with cautious distrust; his letters were to be read with grains of allowance.

Mr˙ Edwards, of Jamaica, next observed, that there was one part of the letter which totally misrepresented the real matter of fact; for, so far were the West India Islands from being "overstocked"with Staves, and other articles, that, to his certain knowledge, they lately called for a supply.

Several other gentlemen testified the same; and letters were offered to be produced of as late a date, all written in a very different style, all declaring, that there was every reason to believe that the Resolutions of the Congress would be strictly adhered to, the measures of resistance increased, not diminished, unless the obnoxious Acts were speedily repealed.

The result of this debate (to which the letter of an inexperienced youth gave rise,) was, "that the letters of particular persons deserved no greater respect than the sentiments of any individual present; that it was injudicious to produce them, the sole point for discussion being, whether the motion for a Petition should be read?"

This question being vehemently called for, the motion was read from the Chair, when Mr˙ Edwards, with great force of reasoning, evinced the absolute necessity, not only of petitioning, but of petitioning without a moment' s loss of time.

In answer to Mr˙ Willet, he ventured to affirm, that the West India Merchants were now actually suffering on account of the American measures; that the low price of Sugars was occasioned chiefly by those measures; that it was not merely in the article of Lumber the West India Islands would suffer, but in various other instances. It had been said, that "Quebec could supply Staves." Mr˙ Edwards denied the fact, and demonstrated the extreme folly of expecting Staves and other necessaries from Canada and the Floridas, at least in sufficient quantity, as well from the inadequate population at the extremities of the Continent, as from the difficulty at certain times of the year of the navigation from Canada. He gave reasons equally forcible against a notion which he said some people entertained of being supplied with the article of Staves from Hamburgh, or Norway; but, he said, putting supplies of all kinds out of the question, the produce of America was not more necessary to the support of the West Indies, than her markets were for the sale of a considerable part of their


Rum and Sugar. America, says he, purchases annually from our Sugar Islands, (Jamaica included,) twenty thousand hogsheads of Sugar, and twenty-five thousand puncheons of Rum, besides all our Molasses not used in distillation. She exports annually from Great Britain, upwards of ten thousand hogsheads of refined Sugar, which creates a farther consumption of thirty thousand hogsheads of raw or Muscovado Sugar. By the Resolutions of the Congress, this last great consumption is already suspended; and will any man say that the planting interest is not thereby immediately affected? Should the great export from the Islands be stopped also, and the whole brought to a glutted market, the consequence to every Planter will be absolute ruin. It may be said indeed, that Sugar will be so much the cheaper in England; but this argument is fallacious and foolish. No man will raise commodities which he cannot sell. Who but a madman will continue a losing adventure? It is the same in England, in regard to Corn: Stop the exportation, you create a famine.

This gentleman then proceeded to demonstrate that Great Britain, as a commercial Nation, must participate deeply in whatever affects the Sugar Islands. He said the whole of the West India Colonies must be considered as British property, or national stock. He proved that the whole of this stock amounted to the enormous sum of sixty millions Sterling, the particulars of which he enumerated, and he appealed to Mr˙ Walker, Agent for Barbadoes, for the accuracy of the estimate; which that gentleman confirmed, and declared he produced the same amount by a different mode of calculation. The whole profits and produce of this great capital, Mr˙ Edwards averred, centered in, and tended to, the increase of the Navigation, Commerce, Manufactures, and Revenues of Great Britain. Should, therefore,"he said, "any interruption happen in the general system of the commerce and cultivation of these Islands; should the vast national stock thus employed, become unprofitable and precarious, will not Great Britain, with a debt of one hundred and forty millions, be sensibly affected? Sir, it will shake her Empire to its base. Her African trade will be lost, and the many other great branches of her commerce, with her Colonies, which, during the last war, rendered her sole arbitress of the fate of Europe, will be dried up and exhausted forever. "He concluded by observing, that no opposition to this motion could arise, but from interested motives, or from a mistaken notion, that Government would be offended at our proceedings, which he said was a most absurd idea; for that no personal reflections against people in power, nor any questions of mere political disquisition, had been once introduced; and he added that, admitting, however, that the West India Islands had not yet experienced any inconvenience from the American measures, were we to await until ruin had overtaken us before we applied for relief? Were we to feel nothing for those Planters whom the American Resolves would reduce to beggary? Nothing for the trade, prosperity, or Constitution of our country? If there were any West India Merchants whom contract, pensions, or the smiles of Government allured to approve measures baneful in their operations, destructive in their effects, they ought to be marked out, that the honest Planter might in future know the men in whom he ought not to confide.

Mr˙ Atkinson next spoke against the motion, on the ground, that as the Petition was only meant to recommend to the consideration of Parliament, what Parliament would certainly consider of themselves, it was a futile measure.

This argument Mr˙ Edwards refuted in a masterly manner. "The gentleman,"says he "lays it down as a fact, that Parliament mean to consider this business; if they mean to consider it at all, they must intend to take it up on the largest scale possible; to do this, every information they can possibly procure is necessary for their assistance, and therefore, as we mean only to afford them every information in our power, the very reason the gentleman urges for our not petitioning, is the very reason why we ought to petition. Nor can the Ministry be displeased, for their welfare, as well as ours, is at stake; if this country is ruined, (and ruined it must be, unless a reconciliation with America takes place,) the Ministry who projected the Acts must be ruined also."

Mr˙ Fuller added this pertinent observation: that as the


Petition would be supported by evidence, it would be absurd not to petition before Parliament took the matter into consideration; for that would be to let the House of Commons consider a business first, and produce the evidence afterwards; a method of proceeding hitherto unprecedented.

Mr˙ Fuller concluded by observing, that although some of the Members of the Lower House might be, yet he would be bound to say, the majority of them were not apprised of the magnitude of the American business as a national concern; the Petition, therefore, from the West India Merchants, would furnish them with information on that head, which they much wanted.

The question being now called for, the Chairman was about to put it, when a gentleman started an objection to the word "Congress."He said that, as a meeting under that description had not yet been recognised by Parliament, it might be construed as taking a part in the political disputes to adopt the term. It was therefore proposed to vary the language of the motion thus: "Two Resolves passed by a Meeting held at Philadelphia, called a Congress."

Mr˙ Alderman Turner very properly objected, that the words "called"a "Congress,"were certainly of the reflective kind, and might be supposed to contain an oblique censure on the Americans for giving the name of "Congress"to the meeting of their Delegates. The Alderman observed, that equal care should be taken not to offend either the Americans or the Government.

Mr˙ Fuller yielded, and to avoid the possibility of offence, both the words "Congress"and "called"were struck out of the motion, and it stood simply thus: "A Meeting held at Philadelphia."

Thus put, the motion for a Petition was carried by a majority of about two hundred to seven.

This point being settled, Mr˙ Fuller proceeded in the next place to move for the instructions to be given to the Committee that might be appointed to prepare the Petition. Accordingly, he offered a second Resolution, which being first read throughout, and the question afterwards put on each paragraph, was, after receiving many amendments, and considerable additions, finally agreed to, (with one division only, on the last paragraph,) and is as follows:

Resolved, That the said Petition do set forth, that the Petitioners are exceedingly alarmed at an Agreement and Association entered into by a Meeting held at the City of Philadelphia, in North America, the 5th of September, 1774, whereby the Members thereof have agreed and associated for themselves and the inhabitants of the several Colonies lying between Nova-Scotia and Georgia, that from and after the 1st day of December, 1774, they will not import into British America any Molasses, Syrups, Paneles, Coffee, or Pimento, from the British Plantations; and that, after the 10th day of September, 1775, if the Acts of the British Parliament therein mentioned, are not repealed, they will not, directly or indirectly, export any Merchandise, or commodity whatsoever, to the West Indies.

"To represent, that the British property, or stock vested in the West India Islands, amounts to upwards of thirty millions Sterling. That a further property of many millions is employed in the commerce created by the said Islands; a commerce comprehending Africa, the East Indies, and Europe. That the whole produce and profits of these capitals ultimately centre in Great Britain, and add to the national wealth, while the navigation necessary for the support of this commerce through all its various branches, establishes a strength which wealth can neither purchase nor balance.

That the Sugar Plantations in the West Indies are subject to a greater variety of contingencies than many other species of property, from their necessary dependence on external support; and that, therefore, should any interruption happen in the general system of their commerce, the great national stock thus employed must become unprofitable and precarious.

"That the profits arising from the present state of the said Islands, and that are likely to arise from their future improvement, in a great measure depend on a free and


mutual intercourse between them and the several Provinces of North America, from whence they are furnished with provisions of all kinds, and other supplies absolutely necessary for the support and maintenance of their Plantations. And that the scarcity in Great Britain, and the inadequate population of the Provinces at the extremities of America, forbid them to hope for any material addition to the feeble imports of such supplies from other places.

"That, if the first part of the said Agreement and Association for a Non-Importation hath taken place, and shall be continued, the same will be highly detrimental to the Sugar Colonies; and if the second part of the said Agreement and Association for a Non-Exportation shall be carried into execution, (which the Petitioners are apprehensive will be the case, unless some measures are immediately fallen upon to restore the harmony that subsisted a few years ago between this Kingdom and America, which was of infinite advantage to both,) the smallest Islands, which are supplied with most of their subsistence, both for themselves and Slaves, from thence, will be reduced to great distress; and the Trade between, all the said Colonies and this Kingdom, will of course be obstructed, to the ruin of most of the Planters, and to the great prejudice of the Merchants, not only by the said obstruction, but also by the delay of payment of the principal and interest of the immense debt due from the former to the latter.

"And, referring to the salutary effects of that system of policy which formerly subsisted between Great Britain and her Colonies, humbly to pray that the House would take the premises into consideration, and adopt such measures as to their wisdom shall seem adequate to quiet the minds of their fellow-subjects in America, and prevent the evils with which the Planters and Merchants are now threatened, and restore that confidence and affection between the mother country and North America, on which the general happiness of this Empire depends; and that the Petitioners may be heard by themselves or Counsel in support of their Petition, &c."



* It was first stated at sixty millions, but it being observed that by inserting a less sum than could really be proved in evidence, it would give an air of moderation and caution to the Petition, it was Altered as above.