Saturday, March 31, 2012

the merchant banker Samuel Meeker and his own tragedy, his son

With my interest in economics alongside my ever-ongoing and abiding interest in the merchant Samuel Meeker, I have started to read a book "The House of Morgan" by Ron Chernow. He makes the point that often business was passed to the sons who were groomed for the takeover.  It took years to build up trust, and this trust was built upon and continued by future generations.

He writes: "Since merchant bankers financed foreign trade, their bills had to be honored on sight in distant places, so their names had to inspire instant trust."

I think this concept works very well in Samuel Meeker's case; does not his portrait radiate trust? We know that Meeker engaged in the trade of goods, sending goods to Liverpool where his first cousin William was the agent, who would arrange for sale and use the profits to buy goods and ship items back to Philadelphia. It can be sure that Meeker, Denman & Co did not receive loans for these business activities, but funded them on their own, plowing back growing profits into the business.
Samuel Meeker played a major role in the creation of the new elite merchant class in the city of Philadelphia, by now established as an important financial and cultural center. All evidence points to the man being a talented, motivated and successful participant and opportunist.  Samuel would have definitely been grooming his young son to take over his successful business.

The accounting ledgers of the Morrises, a prominent Philadelphia family contain accounts showing Meeker conducting trade in New Orleans, Ohio, and Kentucky, besides the overseas trade.Besides business and banking, Meeker became involved in marine insurance which played a crucial role in supporting the rapidly expanding trade of the American colonies throughout the eighteenth century. In the early years merchants had obtained insurance in London, but by the time Samuel Meeker arrived in Philadelphia, the city was the center for the writing of insurance against losses at sea from all causes and to a lesser degree losses on land by fire. The Napoleonic wars caused a great increase in demand for marine insurance. Samuel Meeker became actively involved in the booming, but risky, insurance business. About 1802 Messrs. Welsh, Fitzsimons, Dutihl, Bolen, & Meeker established a new insurance company, The Delaware Insurance Company of Philadelpha. Samuel was also on the Board of Directors of the Insurance Company of North America.

From all that I have found, I have determined that Samuel only had one son, who died at age 26. I don't know how he died, but hope to find out more.  It surely was a tragedy in his life. "Samuel's wife was Jane (born in 1763; married on March 3, 1792; died on July 1, 1845, aged 82 years), daughter of Jonathan Hampton. Her son Samuel Hampton Meeker, was born in 1796, and died on Tuesday, May 21, 1822, aged 26 years. He was named after Samuel Hampton, who, in 1785, was a private in the Third Company, Second Battalion, Philadelphia City Associators, Colonel James Read." This excerpt is from "The Second Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry" an article by W.A. Newman Dorland, 1903. To remind new readers, I am descended from Phoebe, Samuel's twin sister, to whom the portrait was gifted.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

the War of 1812 (two hundred years ago this year) & a Meeker perishes

Two hundred years ago, America declared war on Britain. The reasons were many...the wartime atmosphere in Europe (Napoleon was wreaking his havoc) led to British seizure of American ships, more often than not forcing American sailors into the British navy, and the severe restrictions imposed by the British on American trade with France... In June 1812 James Madison became the first U.S. president to ask Congress to declare war.
Samuel Meeker at this time was 49. For many years before the outbreak of the war, Samuel Meeker was engaged in the trade/wholesale/retail business; his second firm was located at #20 South Front Street in Philadelphia and was called Meeker Denman & Co. comprising Samuel himself, his first cousin William Meeker, and brother-in-law Samuel Denman.
click on image below for a larger view
~The authenticity of Samuel Meeker as a work by Gilbert Stuart was further confirmed when I learned that his cousin William’s portrait was listed in the Lawrence Park volumes.~

William Meeker by Gilbert Stuart

[most likely c. 1803 as arrangement, hair, clothing are very similar to Samuel Meeker and the firm had received a large loan at this time ]The following information comes from an auction house, 2009;

PROVENANCE: From a fine Sudbury, MA home. CONDITION: Very good, restored, relined with inpainting. [In my opinion, the restorative touch-up work botched Stuart's portrait in a very major way. The portrait did not sell at auction.]

From Lawrence Park; William Meeker
“The present owner of this portrait was told at the time of its purchase that William Meeker was a member of the London firm of Meeker & Denman, shipping agents, and that he died en route to New Orleans in 1812. [slightly inaccurate, the firm was out of Philadelphia]
Canvas 28 x 23 inches.Bust, half-way to the right, with his light brown eyes directed to the spectator. His brown hair is brushed back, with curls in the neck, and tied with a black queue bow. He wears a dark blue, or blue-black, coat with small brass buttons; a very high white neckcloth and a ruffled shirt, with a bit of a white waistcoat showing. His complexion is ruddy and he wears small side-whiskers. The background is plain, of greenish-olive tones, becoming warm brown in the lower right corner.

New Orleans had been aquired with the Louisiana Purchase 9 years before, was an important and principal port since the American Revolution for importing and exporting—imported goods were warehoused and then distributed up the vast Mississippi river. William was the agent in England for the firm, selling goods sent from Philadelphia and purchasing items to be shipped back. As he died at sea en route to New Orleans in 1812, one might surmise that perhaps he was returning home with one of his shipments, and perished in a skirmish at sea. The region was targeted by the British and was attacked in a final battle in 1815, although a peace treaty was already in place. William Meeker never married.

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