An 18th Century New York Merchant's Manuscript Receipt Day Book

by PARSONS, James

Price: $12,000.00
from: Between the Covers- Rare Books, Inc. ABAA


  • Seller Inventory #: 423301
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Book condition: Very Good
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • Place: (New York)
  • Date published: 1793
  • Keywords: Americana, NYCinterest, History, Manuscript

(New York), 1793. Hardcover. Very Good. Oblong 12mo. Measuring 6 ½" x 4". Contains 92 leaves or 184 manuscript pages, with three additional sheets pinned onto the first leaf. Bound in contemporary sheep, spine professionally rebacked in leather, with the original metal clasp. There is an old half-inch circular brown stain present on about 35 leaves at the back, partially obscuring legibility in that small area on the final seven leaves, very good. A late 18th Century day book kept by New York merchant James Parsons, a prominent Quaker from Flushing, Queens containing about 400 transactions with numerous notable New Yorkers, including Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Jr., Nicholas Low, and others. It contains a wealth of information concerning Parsons' merchant activities during the late 18th Century in New York City and surrounding areas, including Nantucket. The entries span a 10-year period to the day: December 23, 1783 - December 23, 1793, of paid receipts for services and goods sold to Parsons. Each entry provides a description of the goods and is signed by the merchant or supplier. All 184 pages are covered in full. The three additional pinned-in receipts date from 1785 and 1789. James Parsons established his business in New York City in the 1760s, importing textiles, metal ware, and dry goods from England and other North American port cities. He had close familial ties to the John Bowne family of Flushing, another prominent Anglo-Dutch Quaker family: his son Samuel married Mary Bowne in 1806, and the Parsons family inherited the Bowne House (now a museum), where they established one of the first commercial nursery businesses in the United States and made many contributions to the fields of horticulture and landscape architecture. During the Revolutionary War the city of New York was subject to seven years of British occupation and two calamitous fires: by 1785 it had become the de facto capital of the nation, and during the lead-up to Washington's inauguration: "So many of the republic's most famous men converged on New York ... that the painter John Trumbull moved to the city in December [1789] to finish the portraits on his monumental canvas *The Declaration of Independence.*" Washington also "drew numerous prominent New Yorkers into the new federal orbit ... New York churned with valuable rumors, tips, and inside information that took days, even weeks, to reach buyers and sellers elsewhere." (Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, *Gotham* 1999) Parsons conducted his business at the center of New York's stores and counting houses on Queen Street (renamed Pearl Street) and at Hanover Square: the day book records receipts for a myriad of goods and services such as: staves, ginseng, wine, storage, freight of goods to England, labor, pilotage, beaver pelts, house rent, poor tax, flour, shoe repair, spermaceti candles from Nantucket, tobacco, beef, a crate of medical phials, ballast, ship's carpentry, wharfage, etc., including land in Nantucket. Additional familiar New York names recorded in the book are: Cornelius C. Roosevelt, Benjamin Haviland, Peter Schermerhorn, Samuel and Anthony Franklin, Increase Carpenter, Isaac Moses, Solomon Smith, among others; together with William Rotch and Obed Coffin from Nantucket; and "Hallett & Bowne" and Andrew Underhill from Flushing. Other entries record commodities purchased from sloops arrived from London, Liverpool, and Bristol. There are also several receipts relating to the construction of buildings and related trades, which make up the largest category of receipts in the early part of the book: these include purchases of bricks, timber, planks, shingles, etc., as well as payments for work done such as brick work, installation of gutters, and carpentry. Several entries dating from this period (the first two to three years) indicate that Parsons was involved with several construction projects, possibly of his house, which he mentions several times. A scare survival that merits close scrutiny of every page, dating to the important post-war building boom when New York began to supplant Philadelphia as America's leading port city and center of commerce.