By Robert Jennings Heinsohn, PhD
The activities of Isaac Allerton in Leiden and Plymouth are well known. Well known also are the circumstances concerning his dismissal as Plymouth's London agent. The purpose of this article is to piece together information describing his activities after he left Plymouth in 1631 until his death in 1659. To appreciate Allerton's activities it is useful to summarize developments in the English, Dutch and Swedish colonies during the time he pursued his trading activities.
Dutch, Swedish, English Rivalry
The Dutch and Swedes were rivals and built forts and settlements along the Delaware River to control trade. While rivals, they were united in their desire to prevent the English from creating competing settlements on the Delaware. The rivalry between Dutch and Swedes waxed and waned and it wasn't until 1655 when the Dutch gained the upper hand and eliminated Swedish influence. Complicating matters were treaties with Indians that often deeded the same land to different people at different times.
New Amsterdam – The Dutch West India Company (WIC) was chartered in 1621. The company claimed all the land between the Connecticut and Delaware Rivers as, New Netherlands, and built trading stations on the Hudson (North) and Delaware (South) Rivers. While English and Dutch colonies were organized for trade, they were governed differently. The English colonies at Plymouth, New Haven and Massachusetts were established for trade and conversion of Indians to Christianity. The English colonies a nonconformist religious ethos from which evolved the concepts of self-government. The Dutch on the other hand, organized colonies as business ventures requiring... "...peopling the colony ...expanding to unsettled parts increasing profit and trade..." Trade was to be "free" providing it was conducted in WIC vessels, and subject to freight charges, 15% export and 10% import duties set by WIC. New Amsterdam was the colony on Manhattan Island and the colonists were considered WIC employees subject to the authority of the Director-General who was accountable only to the company directors in the Netherlands. The Director-General and two administrators were advised by a council of five personally chosen colonists. Fort Orange (Albany, NY) was settled in 1623, Fort Nassau on the east side of the Delaware River (Camden, NJ), was settled in 1625, later abandoned but reoccupied in 1633. In 1626, Peter Minuit the first Director-General of New Amsterdam (1626-1631) purchased 22,000 acres of land from the Manatans Indians for 60 guilders ($24) worth of trinkets. Dutch families were assigned land and provided farm equipment, animals and supplies. Prescribed amounts of their agricultural products were required as repayment. In 1628 New Amsterdam contained 270 people. In 1638 William Kieft became the third Director-General and served until 1645 when he was replaced by Peter Stuyvesant.
New Sweden – The first major settlement on the lower Delaware Bay, Swanendael (Lewes, DE), was undertaken by the Dutch in 1631 for whaling and growing tobacco and grain. The settlement was abandoned after Indians destroyed it and massacred the inhabitants. In 1632 Swedish, Dutch and German stockholders formed the New Sweden Company and claimed land surrounding the Delaware Bay and River to trade for furs and tobacco. In 1638 the company financed Fort Christina (Wilmington, DE) and placed it under the command of Peter Minuit. From 1638-43 tobacco became the most profitable product sent to Sweden.
In 1641, the New Sweden Company purchased the WIC interests in Fort Nassau. In 1643 settlements were built on Timicum Island in the Delaware River (Essington, PA) and Fort Elfsborg (Salem, NJ). By 1646 New Sweden contained 200 inhabitants. Stuyvesant began to recognize that prosperous New Sweden was adversely affecting the Dutch fur trade. In 1648 he constructed Fort Beversreed on the west side of the Delaware near the mouth of the Schuykill River (Philadelphia, PA) and in 1651 he built Fort Casimir (New Castle, DE) south and upstream of Fort Christina to control all ships on the Delaware River. In 1654 new settlers from Sweden expelled the Dutch from Fort Casimir. Stuyvesant retaliated in 1655 be sending seven armed ships and 317 soldiers newly arrived from Holland to put the New Sweden forts under siege and forced their surrender. After 17 years, New Sweden passed into Dutch hands. Stuyvesant permitted the Swedish and Finish colonists to continue as a "Swedish Nation" governed by a court of their choosing, free to practice religion, organize a militia, retain their land holdings and trade with the Indians. All the Dutch settlements in North America passed into English hands after the English seized New Amsterdam in 1664. The independent "Swedish Nation" continued until 1681 when William Penn received a charter for Pennsylvania and Delaware.
New Haven – Theophilus Eaton was a wealthy merchant and governor of the Eastland Company in London. He became interested in New England colonization and was one of the original patentees of the Massachusetts Colony. His longstanding friend, John Davenport, minister of a large London congregation, was persecuted by Bishop Lourd for his nonconformist views. Eaton joined Davenport and his congregation immigrating to New England, arriving in Boston Harbor in 1637. The congregation became dissatisfied with the Massachusetts Colony's severe practices and was given permission by Governor Winthrop to establish the colony, New Haven, even though the Dutch laid claim to the Quinnipiac harbor. The English did not have a patent but the settlers purchased land from the Indians in November 1638. Within a few years New Haven settlers founded settlements along the Connecticut coast and at numerous locations throughout eastern Long Island. A group of settlers in New Haven wished to establish a fur trading station on the Delaware River. While they did not have a patent, 20 families purchased land from the Indians in 1641 on the east side of the Delaware River near the Dutch Fort Nassau (Camden, NJ) opposite the mouth of the Schuykill River and at Varkens Kill, south of the Swedish Fort Christina. Disagreement arose with the Swedes in Fort Christina and the English settlers were asked to swear allegiance to Sweden or return to New Haven. In addition, the Dutch did not want competing English settlements south of New Amsterdam and in 1643 sent forces to seize the settler's ships and supplies and transport them to New Amsterdam whereupon they returned to New Haven. The smaller English settlement at Varkens Kill was allowed to remain. In 1654 some New Haven settlers made plans for a second expedition to build a settlement on the Delaware River based on their 1641 agreement with Indians and asked the Dutch for permission. The request was denied.
Allerton's Activities in Marblehead, 1631-1636
In 1630/1, Bradford dismissed Allerton as Plymouth's London business agent because he betrayed the colony's trust by overcharging, mishandling the colony's finances and increasing the colony's debt without approval. Believing his work was misunderstood and unappreciated, Allerton decided to trade for himself. Allerton's stature in the colony was substantial, and he continued living in Plymouth with his wife and children and was elected Assistant Governor in 1633/34. At this time Allerton was the wealthiest man in Plymouth and the largest taxpayer.
In June 1632 Allerton and James Sherley (an original Merchant Adventurer and Undertaker) formed a trading company and built trading stations on the Kennebec and Penobscot Rivers. In September 1632 Allerton and Moses Maverick (1611-1685, husband of his oldest daughter, Remember, 1614-1652/56) sailed the White Angel (leased from James Sherley) into the harbor at Marblehead. Allerton and Maverick purchased fishing vessels, built a warehouse and quarters for fishermen. By 1633 they had five men and eight boats fishing in the harbor. In 1633 they built a second warehouse and fisherman's quarters at Machias on Maine's north coast. Maverick and Allerton were among the original settlers of Marblehead.
In 1633/44 Allerton experienced a series of misfortunes. The French and Indians destroyed his fishing facilities in Machias and one of his ships was lost at sea while trading with France. In February 1634 the living quarters housing Allerton and his fishermen in Marblehead was destroyed by fire. Plymouth suffered an epidemic and Allerton's second wife, Fear, daughter of William Brewster, died of fever in December 1634. Allerton conveyed his Plymouth property at Rocky Nook (later called Kingston) to his youngest daughter Mary (1616-1699) and her husband Thomas Cushman (1607/08-1691). Allerton angered the Massachusetts Colony General Court by embracing freethinking religious views. In addition, he employed as secretary, Thomas Morton of "Merrymount," whose religious beliefs and unacceptable personal behavior caused him to be involuntarily returned to England in 1629. In addition, Morton and Allerton befriended Roger Williams whose extreme separatist views offended the Puritan ministers. Williams was banished and established a colony in Providence, RI. In March 1635 the civil authorities ordered Allerton to leave Marblehead and in May he conveyed his Marblehead fishing properties to Moses Maverick and moved to New Amsterdam. Moses remained in Marblehead to become a leader in New England's fishing industry, and one of Marblehead's leading citizens holding many positions of civic authority throughout his life.
Allerton's Activities in New Amsterdam, 1636-1646
Between 1636 and 1642 Allerton's activities are not well known. There is not evidence that he had a permanent home in New Amsterdam. He may have traded for himself, or the WIC, or for wealthy Dutch family trading companies in New Amsterdam.
Allerton established good relations with Director-General William Kieft and was granted "burger privileges" as a resident of New Amsterdam. One of the earliest records of Allerton's trade in New Amsterdam was trading corn with Director-General William Kieft in 1639. In 1642 Allerton sold his bark, Hope, to New Amsterdam residents Govert Loockermans and Cornelius Leendertsen. Allerton and Loockermans became partners in trading and in 1643 were granted permission to buy land on the east side of Broadway, which they sold shortly thereafter. Loockermans became a wealthy landholder, and influential in the governance of New Amsterdam, both before and after being seized by the English.
Director-General William Kieft was an autocrat and ruled New Amsterdam in an arbitrary fashion, generating animosity throughout the colony. In 1643 a minor altercation with Indians evolved into a serious uprising followed by an ugly slaughter of Weckquaskeek Indians on Manhattan Island. Kieft feared a major Indian assault. Allerton was asked by Kieft to join a "group of 8 men" to help New Amsterdam. Because he was English and respected in New Haven, Kieft sent Allerton and another Englishman to New Haven in 1643 to ask for men and materials to help defend New Amsterdam. In addition, the "group of 8" was asked to propose measures to improve civility and law-and-order in New Amsterdam. New Haven refused to send men to support the Dutch but Kieft entered into an agreement with the Indians in 1645 that settled the dispute. Because of Kieft's dictatorial manner, several of the eight men petitioned the WIC directors to recall Kieft as Director-General. In time Kieft was replaced by Peter Stuyvesant, and the men initiating the recall petition were accused of insurrection and faced punishment. Allerton was the second signatory of the petition but was not the group's primary spokesman. In 1646, Allerton established a permanent residence in New Haven.
Allerton was unique among all the 17th century New England trader merchants because he was an influential resident in both New Amsterdam and New Haven. As a resident in both colonies, he engaged in trade free of the restraints New Amsterdam imposed on English traders, and New Haven imposed on Dutch traders. Thus Allerton was able to trade in English colonies in North America, Swedish and Dutch settlements on the Delaware River. Trade records show that he also traded in ports in England and the Netherlands, Curacao, the Barbados, Virginia, New Amsterdam, New England and Canada. During the testy years when New Amsterdam and New Sweden were at sword's points, Allerton traded in New Sweden while not antagonizing the Dutch and obtained goods that he transported to New Amsterdam for shipment to Europe in Dutch ships. Other English traders were less successful from trading with the Swedish and Dutch on the Delaware.
Allerton's Activities in New Sweden, 1644-1655
Ships from Sweden were unable to provide a reliable stream of supplies to the New Sweden settlements and the settlers depended on visits from Dutch trader merchants. Using his sloop, Allerton began trading in New Sweden and remained one of its principal and reliable traders until he retired. In January 1644 Allerton sold goods at Fort Christina. In June 1644 he sold 11,346 pounds of tobacco for 5 stivers per pound (Dutch money, 20 stivers = 1 guilder). In the fall of 1645 he returned to collect his outstanding accounts and sold 14 bushels of barley seed, a pair of millstones and Dutch bushel measures. In the fall of 1647 Allerton returned to collect 3,800 florin (British money, florin = 2 shillings) on his accounts. In 1651 Allerton was a witness to an agreement in which the Indians granted the Dutch land south of Fort Casimir. In 1654 Allerton sold 13,519 pounds of Virginian tobacco at 9 stivers per pound and if the Swedes were unable to receive a gross profit of 7 stivers per pound that they expected in Europe, he agreed to reduce his price. In 1654/6 Allerton acted as courier and interpreter for the Governors of New Haven and New Sweden concerning permission for the English to build a settlement on the Delaware based on an agreement the English made with the Indians in 1641. The request was refused. In 1655 Allerton brought food, vinegar, hops to Christina on credit. In 1656 he transported goods from Christina for sale in New Amsterdam. These trading practices illustrate a way for the Governor of New Sweden ensured steady visits from merchant traders. Using both credit and currency the Governor knew that the trader merchants would return to redeem credit owed them. For their part, Allerton and other trader merchants offered credit to ensure that their return with new supplies would be welcomed.
Owing to the shortage of European currency and manufactured goods in New Sweden, Indian wampum became a common medium of exchange in the fur trade. Wampum were beads Indians made from clam shells and strung on strings, woven into belts or sewn on garments as ornaments. Indians along the Delaware River valued wampum made by New England Indians from clam shells found in the Narragansett Bay and from the shores of Long Island Sound. Making wampum was a time-consuming craft in which the Narrgansetts excelled. Wampum made by the English was inferior and less valuable in trade. Indians with whom New Sweden traded prized New England wampum as the medium of exchange in trade for furs. Allerton acquired New England wampum extensively, he often acted as a courier carrying passengers, important documents, letters of credit between Dutch, English and Swedish colonies.
In 1654 Cromwell sent two ships and 900 men to seize New Amsterdam by force. When the ships were anchored in Boston harbor Allerton learned that the attack would begin in a few weeks and informed Director-General Peter Stuyvesant who began to assemble a force to defend the colony. Cromwell and the government in the Netherlands signed a treaty of allegiance and the attack was called off.
Allerton's Warehouse in New Amsterdam, 1646-1655
In 1646 Allerton purchased a narrow, 500-ft strip of waterfront property on the East River a mile north of the tip of Manhattan and constructed a two-story warehouse and dock. The warehouse was managed by George Woolsey from Yarmouth, England. The warehouse at 1700 Pearl Street became known as "Allerton's Building" and was a favorite place where English traders convened when conducting business in New Amsterdam. The northern end of the land was called Peck's Slip where a ferry provided service across the East River to Brooklyn. In 1654 the house was used as an almshouse for boys and girls from the Netherlands "bound-out" for employment in New Amsterdam. In 1656 Woolsey received permission to sell beer and wine and to operate the house as an inn. After Allerton's death, George Woolsey lived in the house until 1668. The building survived into the 18th century at a location that today would be near the South Street Sea Port and the intersection of the South and Peck Slip Streets, several hundred feet south of the Brooklyn Bridge. By 1655 Allerton was recorded to be the sixth wealthiest resident in New Amsterdam.
Allerton Married Joanne Swinnerton
Sometime before 1644 Allerton married his third wife, Joanna Swinnerton in New Haven. Joanna is believed to be the widow of Job Swinnerton, admitted to Salem in 1637. In 1646, Allerton asked Bradford, Brewster, Winslow and Standish to be his agents and sell his lands, goods and cattle to clear all his debts and demands of the undertakers that were uncovered in 1630/31. In 1646 Allerton became a permanent resident of New Haven where he and his wife lived for the remainder of his life except for trading voyages and occasional visits to his warehouse in New Amsterdam. In March 1647 Isaac and Joanna were assigned seats in the New Haven meeting house. He built a stately home with four porches and many fireplaces on two acres of land on the creek on the northwest corner of Union Street between Cherry Street on the north, and Fair Street on the south. The home was located among the grand homes of Davenport, Eaton and other original New Haven settlers. In 1661 Allerton's widow, Joanna sheltered Edward Whaley and William Goffe, the Regicide Judges who sentenced Charles I to be beheaded and who were now being pursued by the agents for Charles II to be returned for trial in England.
Allerton Died in 1659
Isaac Allerton died early in the year 1659. He was buried in the old Burying Ground at New Haven that occupied the square in the heart of the present city upon which stands the Old State House and three churches. No monument or gravestone have been found. The burgomasters of New Amsterdam appointed Allerton's son, and his business associates, Loockermans, Leendertsen, George Woolsey, and John Lawrence to be curators of his trading business which included ships, warehouse and real estate in New Amsterdam. In spite of his reputation as one of New England's wealthiest merchants, Allerton died insolvent with debts to creditors located in many of the ports in which he traded. Allerton's son purchased his father's New Haven home from his creditors and deeded it to his stepmother, Joanna, in 1660. Joanna died in 1682. The home was taken down in 1740.
Allerton's Son Isaac, 1630-1702
Allerton had two sons, His first son, Bartholomew, was born in Leiden (ca 1612), sailed on the Mayflower but retuned to England after 1627. His second son, Isaac, was born to Fear in 1630 and was among nine men in the seventh class to graduate from Harvard in 1650. By 1653 he was active in his father's trading activities. Following the death of his mother (Fear) in 1633, Isaac (Jr.) was raised by his grandfather William Brewster. Brewster died in 1644 and it is not known who cared for Isaac (Jr.), who would have been 14 years old. In order to enter Harvard, Isaac (Jr.) needed to demonstrate a certain level of academic achievement and secondly, the recommendation from a prominent individual(s). Allerton (senior) had the wealth for his son's education and it is suspected that William Brewster, who had the largest library in Plymouth, provided the education and recommendation needed to be accepted in Harvard.
Isaac (Jr.) married Elizabeth __ from New Haven as early as 1652. they had two children while residing in New Haven, Elizabeth (b 1653), Isaac (b 1655). As early as 1655 Isaac Allerton (Jr.) purchased land in Northumberland Country Virginia. Isaac Allerton's (Jr.) wife Elizabeth died about 1660. He moved his young family to Virginia and married the widow Elizabeth Colclough about 1663. They had three children, Willoughby, Frances and Sarah, born in Virginia. In 1665 Isaac Allerton (Jr.) was a major in the Virginia militia and second in command to Colonel John Washington (grandfather of our first president) engaged in Indian campaigns. Isaac Allerton (Jr.) was a county Justice of the Peace, member of the Virginia House of Burgess 1676-7 and died in 1702 owning a 2,150-acre plantation on the Rappahanock River. Children in Isaac's (Jr.) first family returned to New Haven, married and their descendants distributed themselves throughout New England and New York. Children in Isaac's (Jr.) second family remained in Virginia, married and their descendants distributed themselves throughout Virginia.
There are no portraits of Isaac Allerton and very few reports about him written by people who actually knew him. In the words of James Sherley:
As an agent, Mr. Allerton appears to have been indefatigable in his attempts to promote the interests of his employers. He was a person of uncommon activity, address and enterprise.
In the absence of more information, it is possible to speculate about Allerton's personality based on his accomplishments. His vigorous trading practices would be commonplace today but in the 1620s they offended the Pilgrim's collectivist attitude and he was censured by Plymouth. His freethinking religious views would also be commonplace today but in 1634/5 they offended Puritan sensibilities and caused his banishment from Marblehead. Having been burned twice, Allerton's activities in New Haven and New Amsterdam display prudence borne of experience. He avoided personal involvement in acrimonious political disputes within, and between the colonies. Caution enabled him to remain above controversy to pursue trading and become a prominent and trusted trader merchant in three rival colonies that were often sword points. Records show that he contributed financially to civic activities in both New Amsterdam and New Haven when called upon during emergencies and trough regular assessments.
Some historians use the words "unlucky" and "unscrupulous" to describe Allerton, but the historical records of New Amsterdam, New Haven and New Sweden contain no evidence that his trading practices were unscrupulous. Johan Rising, Governor of New Sweden recorded that Allerton drove a "sharp bargain," but so did all trader merchants of the time. While other men rose to prominence as political leaders, Allerton achieved success in the world of commerce. He overcame adversity three times in his life and recovered to build four successful careers. After fleeing Suffolk County England, Allerton, Brewster and Priest displayed such enterprise in the Netherlands that they were granted honorary citizenship in Leiden. Allerton survived the Mayflower voyage and the horrific first year in Plymouth and rose to become Assistant Governor and London agent. He left Plymouth in disgrace, began a thriving fishing enterprise in Marblehead only to be expelled because of his freethinking religious views. Beginning anew for the fourth time he became one of New England's most successful trader-merchants and a prominent citizen of both New Haven and New Amsterdam.
Allerton was an uncommon man of unusual talent who lived a long and active life. His resourcefulness to overcome adversity suggests that he should be counted as one of the remarkable men in early 17th century America. He mastered the world of commerce and rose above the political conflicts that embroiled the English, Swedish and Dutch colonies to become a respected citizen in all these colonies. Many of Allerton's contemporaries refer to him as the first "Yankee trader" and "more Dutch than English." He epitomized what today is called the entrepreneur. One suspects that if Allerton were alive today, he would recognize, indeed master, the exotic financial activities such as off-shore limited partnerships, investment hedging, derivatives and other business practices that characterize today's global economy.
Dr. Robert Jennings Heinsohn is Emeritus Professor of Mechanical Engineering at The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA. Born in Brooklyn, New York, he and his wife Anne have lived in Pennsylvania Furnace, PA, since 1963. He is a descendant of Isaac Allerton, John Howland, John Tilley, and Robert Cushman, the chief agent of the Pilgrims in London.
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