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Robert Fergusson and Alexander Hamilton papers

 Collection 0185-MDHC
Robert Fergusson and Alexander Hamilton were buying agents for Scottish trading firms during the latter half of the eighteenth century. Both Fergusson and Hamilton were born in Scotland, but came to Maryland as young men and established themselves both as agents and as men of property. Fergusson owned Nanjemoy, an estate in Charles County, though he lived in Georgetown and later at "Mulberry Grove," also in Charles County, near Port Tobacco. Hamilton maintained a sizeable estate in Prince George's County, including more than ten slaves at the time of his death in 1799. The papers date from 1761 to 1827, with the majority of documents dating from the 1780s and 1790s. The bulk of the papers consist of correspondence between Scottish firms such as Glassford & Company and their Maryland representatives Fergusson and Hamilton. Other documents include statements of debts incurred by planters and storekeepers with whom the agents dealt, records of the disposition of estates, and some agreements about the running of Fergusson's own estate. The collection also includes a number of legal writs from Worcestershire, England, and several drafted commentaries on a 1786 debate in the Maryland legislature on how to ease the post-Revolutionary War economic depression. The authorship and precise date of the political commentaries are unclear.

Dates

  • 1761-1827
  • Majority of material found within 1780-1800

Use and Access to Collection

This collection is open for research.

Duplication and Copyright Information

Photocopies of original materials may be provided for a fee and at the discretion of the curator. Please see our Duplication of Materials policy for more information. Queries regarding publication rights and copyright status of materials within this collection should be directed to the appropriate curator.

Extent

0.25 Linear Feet

Scope and Content of Collection

The Robert Fergusson and Alexander Hamilton papers date from 1761 to 1827, with the majority of documents dating from the 1780s and 1790s. The bulk of the papers consist of correspondence between European firms such as Glassford & Company and their Maryland representatives, primarily Robert Fergusson and Alexander Hamilton. Other documents include statements of debts incurred by planters and storekeepers with whom the factors dealt, records of the disposition of estates, and some agreements about the running of Fergusson's own estate, Nanjemoy.

The collection also includes a number of legal writs from Worcestershire, England, and several letters and poems commenting on debates carried on in the Maryland Gazette in the mid to late eighteenth century. The authorship and subjects of these political commentaries are unclear.

Biography

Robert Fergusson and Alexander Hamilton were agents for the Scottish firm of James Glassford & Company during the latter half of the eighteenth century. Glassford & Company traded primarily in tobacco, though the company was also concerned with other goods, including coffee, sugar, and slaves. Fergusson and Hamilton made contracts with local stores, which in turn purchased tobacco directly from planters. The agents were then responsible for arranging for the crop to be shipped to Europe. Their responsibilities also included collecting payment for debts and distributing payment for goods and services.

Fergusson was born in Moniave, near Dumfries, in Scotland, around 1745. By 1772, he was established in the American colonies as an agent, or "factor" in contemporary parlance, of Glassford & Company. At different times, he also represented James Brown & Company and Neil Jamieson & Company. Fergusson owned Nanjemoy, an estate in Charles County, though he lived in Georgetown and later at "Mulberry Grove," also in Charles County, near Port Tobacco. The move to "Mulberry Grove" might have accompanied his marriage to Elizabeth Ballantine in 1788. Robert Fergusson died in 1813.

Hamilton was also born in Scotland, in Mauchline, Ayrshire. He was not closely related to either the American statesman of the same name or the Hamilton Family whose papers are held at the University of Maryland Libraries. As a young man, Hamilton emigrated to America. In 1768 he became a factor in Piscataway, Prince George's County, Maryland. Eventually he and Fergusson both served as factors for James Brown & Company as well as Glassford & Company. Hamilton maintained a sizeable estate of his own, including more than ten slaves at the time of his death in 1799.

Robert Fergusson and Alexander Hamilton corresponded frequently on business matters and appeared to be on friendly terms.

Arrangement

The collection has been divided into five series.
Series 1
Robert Fergusson
Series 2
Alexander Hamilton
Series 3
Other Correspondence
Series 4
Political Commentary
Series 5
English Legal Documents

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

The University of Maryland Libraries purchased the Robert Fergusson and Alexander Hamilton papers from Carmen D. Valentino in 2002. This collection was the first purchase by the Libraries from the R. Lee and Evelyn Y. Hornbake Fund. A letter from Josia Beall to Alexander Hamilton and another letter from W. Smallwood to Robert Fergusson were purchased from bookseller Ian Bradner in 2010 and 2014, respectively, and added to the collection in 2016.

Related Material

Many local repositories hold materials relating to Robert Fergusson, Alexander Hamilton, the companies that employed them, and trade in Maryland during the late eighteenth century. More of Robert Fergusson's papers can be found in the special collections of Georgetown University. The Maryland Historical Society holds further correspondence of Alexander Hamilton, and the Library of Congress has a collection of records of James Glassford & Company of Glasgow. Extracts from Alexander Hamilton's letterbooks, part of the Glassford & Company collection, were published in the Maryland Historical Magazine, volume 61, number 2, pages 146-166 and number 3, 305-328. An inventory of the goods and chattels left by Alexander Hamilton upon his death in 1799 can be found online at http://gunstonhall.org/probate/HMLTN99.PDF.

Processing Information

When the collection was accessioned, the documents were already arranged in chronological order, and some were housed in clear plastic sleeves. The papers were separated into series by correspondent and by type. The papers were removed from the plastic sleeves, and the most fragile were placed in acid-free Mylar sleeves. The entire collection was then transferred to acid-free folders and housed in an acid-free box. Several very fragile items were sent away for cleaning, deacidification, and encapsulation. Oversize items were separated from the collection, placed in acid-free map foldering and housed in a mapcase. Separation sheets in the original folders indicate where oversize items were removed.
Title
Guide to the Robert Fergusson and Alexander Hamilton Papers
Status
Completed
Author
Processed by Sarah Heim
Date
2003-02
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

Contact:
University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742
301-405-9212