John Hunter 1797

Letters from the Past

To Mr John Hunter, Edinburgh,
from Mr Aiken of Liverpool, 1797

This is a single sheet letter on very fine paper with the watermark J WHATMAN but no year. It has three postal markings, a LIVERPOOL horseshoe of the type in use from 1791-1801, and the 8 which covers the cost of a single letter from Liverpool to Edinburgh over 150 miles. This was introduced by the Act of 1786, and was in force until 1801. The last is a red receiving date stamp from Edinburgh FE 20 in a circle. The paper is so thin that the first page is hard to decipher because the ink has come through from the writing on the second page. There is a filing note on the outside of the letter which is a note about the contents.

17th Feby 97
Mr A H Aiken
23d Ansrd These I had remitted today L500 by Dft
On London to Mr Leary

Then there is a sum of addition written in black ink

2:10
2: 9
8
6: 3

This is correct, as a sum in shillings and pence, but does not seem to relate to anything in the letter. However, because one of the figures is ‘8’, it could have been written by the postal clerk who wrote the ‘8’ charge on the front, as a total postage charge for the addressee, to pay for all the letters which were delivered at that time. As a Writer to the Signet it is likely that John Hunter would have had more than one letter for which he would have to pay the postage.

So now to the letter which concerns finances and commerce.

My dear Uncle,

Your early reply to my letter of the 8th inst is Kindly attentive. Everything goes on as we could wish. Mr Edg Couts being now in London we have for Prudent Motives declined for the present to press for the signature of his principals, but one of our Particular Friends in London is Watching for the proper time to Apply.
In the interim we continue to Correspond with our old Connexions both in London and on the Continent, till we are at liberty to ask openly for ourselves. One of our friends here has Kindly undertaken to ship for us any Goods. We may receive Commissions for. I know it will afford you pleasure to learn that we have actually received already from some of Our Most respectable Correspondents Orders for West India Produce to the Amt of Twenty Five Thousand Pounds and afterwards with Confirmed & Approved Credits to draw upon the first Houses in London, this is a very Comfortable Commencement as it will yield us a Clear Commt of £500 without Risk.

You will Oblige me by Remitting the 800 you have so Kindly procured for me, to Mr Joseph Leary of this Town & I will Request Mr Copland to send the £200 also to him. As Mr Leary is apprized of it, you will only have Occasion to write him a short letter. When I am again at liberty I will send you either my bond or note as you may require it as I can give Mr Richards my Joint Note

The money which Mr Richards friends have advanced him has also been paid to Mr Leary.

Mrs Aiken is thank God quite recovered and joins me in best wishes to my Aunt Patsy

I am most Gratefully
Yours A H Aiken Sunday 17th Feby 97


This amount of money (Twenty five thousand pounds for West India produce) for trade seems enormous for the late 18th century. However, a list published of Bankruptcies and dividends includes the following

December 10th 1796 Aiken John, Peter Richard and Andrew Hunter Aiken Merchants, Liverpool {Ellames Liverpool} Certificate granted May 9 1797 to firm.

This seems to indicate that they had been declared bankrupt in December 1796, so they should not have been trading in February 1797 as indicated by this letter.

But the names listed appear to show that the signature of the letter is A.H. being for Andrew Hunter Aiken and the Mr Richard mentioned in the letter is one of the partners or directors of the trading firm.

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