James Claypoole's Letter Book: London and Philadelphia, 1681-1684

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9780873280273: James Claypoole's Letter Book: London and Philadelphia, 1681-1684
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The letters that make up this book present a vivid account of the life of an active and successful businessman in the latter seventeenth century. They give a fresh, absorbing picture of the early years of the colony of Pennsylvania and of the inner (as well as outer) life of London Quaker merchant James Claypoole, who was by turns generous and penny-pinching, forbearing with important clients, intolerant with others, deeply religious, often irritable—but certainly never dull. He loaned large sums of money to his brothers and friends, knowing he would never get it back, yet he haggled for months over tiny debts. A man of peace, he quarreled with most of his correspondents, writing them verbose sermons but continuing to do business with them. He was strictly honest in all his business dealings, but he cheated the Customs when he could and was furious when they caught and fined him. He was a good friend of William Penn and George Fox, and of all the leading Quakers of the day. He was hard-working and popular in his Meeting, and one can only conclude that he had charm.

Claypoole also had intelligence, as Fox and Penn consulted him about their writings, and he helped Penn draft the Frame of Government for Pennsylvania. He held a prominent post in the Free Society of Traders. As the letter book begins about the time Penn was granted his colony, the reader can follow, week by week, the founding of the state, in which Claypoole played an important part. The reader can also see the frustrations in the life of a seventeenth-century merchant and the workings of an expanding colonial trade. Although Claypoole was in debt when he left London to follow Penn to Philadelphia, when he died a few years later he was one of the richest merchants in that infant town.

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Marion Balderston is the author of Here is England.

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