Havana: 1811-1816. Eight letters, pp. total. Folded folio sheets, often with integral address leaf. Old folds, light wear and soiling, heavier in some spots. Very good. Item #1701
An archive of correspondence between coffee planter Thomas Leech of Havana and Charles Jenkins, his nephew in San Marcos, concerning business affairs on the island, together with two letters from Joseph Scull regarding Leech's estate after his death. The letters from Leech to Jenkins date from April 1811 to January 1813 and generally concern the transport of goods back and forth from Havana to the plantation in San Marcos and vice versa. Each letter mentions the movement of horses from one place to the other, which seems to have been a serious concern for Leech. Jugs, ropes, onions, snuff, clothing, coffee, tobacco, and other sundries all shuttle between the plantation and the city.
The plantation seems to have suffered from some difficulties, and in a letter of August 1812 Leech laments, "it seems the further I go the worse I fare, & if it was not for my great hopes & good spirits I should sink under the load." Difficulties seem to have stemmed from the plantation's labor force. In July 1811 Leech writes mentioning runaway slaves:
"I rec'd yours with 28 bags coffee and am sorry it is the last for the very low price (say 8 1/2$) and small quantity will leave me very poor till next crop. I was in hopes there would have been at least 50 bags more. I sent the four runaway Negroes yesterday by the Harriers. Antonio carries with him 2 kegs rum, 1 box herrings & a bottle snuff for Mr. La Virtu. The Negroe who goes with Antonio will leave his horse with you & you must deliver my horses Lion & the Guahamon. I hope to be with you in a few days."
The two letters from Joseph Scull, the executor of Leech's estate, provide further context, shedding light on the problems Leech was facing including a falling out with Charles Jenkins. They are written to N.B Boileau in Harrisburg, presumably the stateside attorney for the family. Scull writes that Leech died on June 24, 1815 of dropsy, leaving his estate to his mother and sisters in Pennsylvania:
"The only property existing in this country is a coffee estate in St. Marks which he directs to be sold as soon as the present crop shall be in. The said estate is mortgaged for a debt of 7 or 8000 dollars to the house of Savage & Dugan of Philadelphia.... The estate has been suffering for a considerable time past for want of negroes & it would be much for the interest of the heirs if they could furnish funds for improving it until an opportunity should offer of selling it to advantage."
We presume this to mean the purchase of more slaves for the cultivation of the property, in addition to any physical improvements that might be necessary. Charles Jenkins carried this letter from Havana to its destination in Philadelphia, and Scull notes that he might be able to provide more details, but cautions that they may be unduly negatively inflected:
"...a difference long standing existed between Nephew & Uncle, the latter refusing to see or hear him spoken of during his illness. We are unacquainted with the origin or cause of this difference, but presume there were faults on both sides, but must censure Mr. Jenkins as we have told him personally, for roving about the country in the humble capacity he has done as though he had been abandoned & thrown upon the world by all his respectable connexions, coutenancing as it were the perhaps prejudiced opinion of his uncle to his discredit."
It seems the heirs had no interest in furnishing more slaves or funds for the improvement of the plantation, and, indeed, asked about manumission. Scull replies as to the difficulty inherent in such a proposition in the final letter here:
"On the subject of the sale of the estate we are sorry to say the prospect os not very flattering; it has always been difficult in this country to effect sales of such property but at very long credits & it will be particularly so in the present instance from the circumstance of the estate being in very bad order for want of a sufficient number of negroes... With respect to your suggestion as regards the slaves it is true our laws favour manumission, but the estate without the Negroes would not sell for a sufficient sum to pay the creditors & expences, the alternative therefore is obvious & would bear hard upon the heirs. In the event of a sale we shall observe your request as to the separate value of the Negroes."
An interesting look into the affairs of a coffee planter in Cuba, ranging from the everyday to the final sale of an estate which is short on slaves, compromising its viability.