This information is on the Clayton Library's (Houston, TX)webiste.
The Papers of Panton, Leslie and Co.
by Ruby Dusek, February 1996
A recent Clayton Library acquisitionâ€”applauded by many of us doing research in British West Floridaâ€”is The Papers of Panton, Leslie and Company: Guide to the Microfilm Collection (Woodbridge, Connecticut: Research Publications, Inc., 1986). This is a guide to the 26 rolls of microfilm containing the more important records of the trading firm of Panton, Leslie and Company and (after 1805) John Forbes and Company, 1783-1847. The work is introduced by Dr. William S. Coker, project director for the Panton-Leslie collection and professor of history at the University of West Florida in Pensacola. Dr. Coker is coauthor of Indian Traders of the Southeastern Spanish Borderlands, 1783-1847 (Gainsville, Florida: University Presses of Florida, 1986), which delves into the historical context of the Company.
The book, as of this writing, is shelved in the new book section under USA with the call numbers 970.1 P198. The book is not only valuable for research in British West Florida but also for the whole southeastern United States. Those interested in Native American research will also find this book to be of interest.
Panton, Leslie and Company, established in 1783 and headquartered in Pensacola from 1785-1830, was the Sears and Roebuck of its day, dealing in a variety of goods and servicing over a large geographical area. The company had trading posts scattered as far north as Memphis (then known as Chickasaw Bluffs) and as far west as New Orleans, including posts at Mobile and at several locations in Florida, the Bahamas, and in the Caribbean.
William Panton and John Leslie were merchants from Scotland who emigrated to Georgia. When the American Revolution heated up, theyâ€”being Loyalistsâ€”relocated to St. Augustine in British East Florida. Accompanying them were other Scots including Thomas Forbes, William Alexander, and Charles McLatchy. They were all experienced merchants involved in the Indian trade, and together they formed Panton, Leslie and Company (known as John Forbes and Company after 1805).
By the time the Company received its license in 1783, British East Florida had again become Spanish East Florida, and in 1784 we find John and Thomas Forbes, William Alexander, and William Panton joining other loyalists in the Bahamas. In 1785, however, William Panton and John Forbes relocated again to Pensacola and established the Companyâ€™s headquarters there.
By 1795 the company had a monopoly on the Indian trade from present day Memphis to St. Augustine, possibly due to the fact that one of their Pensacola stockholders (or partners according to one source) was Alexander McGillivray, chief of the Creeks. They also traded with the Seminoles, Upper and Lower Creeks, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Cherokees, and other Indian tribes. Even though under Spanish domination, many of these tribes preferred British goods, and the Panton-Leslie Scots were favored traders. As a result, by the late 1700s, the Company had annual business activities that exceeded $200,000.
In 1795, when the northern boundary for the Floridas moved up to the 31st parallel, Natchez and St. Stephens in Alabama became part of the United States, making it harder for the Company to collect money owed to it by those residing in that area, especially the Indians. However, through negotiations between the Company and the U.S. Government, arrangements were made for such debts to be paid through the transfer of property rights. As a result, Panton-Leslie was able to acquire, at one time, over three million acres of land.
The Papers of Panton, Leslie and Company provides a background on the Companyâ€™s papers and gives a general description of the microfilm collection, much of which contains correspondence between the firm and those doing business with it, including individuals who owed money to the Company.
The collection is owned by the University of West Florida at Pensacola (Special Collections Department), and since 1972 the University has been attempting to gather as much Panton-Leslie material as possible. The University of Florida, the Florida Historical Society, and the National Historical Publications and Records Committee all became involved in the effort. Currently, over 200,000 pages of documents are on hand. Of this, some 8,357 documents (ranging from one to several hundred pages each) were chosen for microfilming.
The Papers of Panton, Leslie and Company lists, in chronological order, each of the microfilmed documents and provides the date of the document, the sender and receiver, the location of the receiver, the type document (account, memorial, affidavit, petition, indenture, etc.), the language in which the document was written, the original source citation, and an abstract of the document. In the front of the book are eight pages of source references.
The abstracts really make one want to see the original documents. Some of them are fascinating. If it were your ancestor mentioned in one of the following examples, wouldnâ€™t you love to obtain a copy of the original?
A declaration by inhabitants of East Florida showing their gratitude for the prosperity that loyalists have enjoyed under the Kingâ€™s reign. They proclaim themselves against the rebellion. Many signatures.
A memorial written by inhabitants of East Florida in June 1783 discussing their preparation for the prosecution of their claims should East Florida be ceded by the English to the Spanish. Many signatures of Loyalists.
An affidavit (in English) to John Leslie (who was a judge) in St. Augustine taken on 12 October 1784 from two men who saw five armed Spaniards with tow-laden horses around the house of Mr. Proctor, alias Welch, who at that time was in jail. Immediately following this is another affidavit from Louisa Waldron (Welch, Proctor) stating that she was imprisoned by the Spaniards for supposedly having stolen a Negro woman. While she was in prison, her house was ransacked and her horses stolen. Her stolen articles are also listed.
A letter written in June 1786 giving the account of the scalping of a young English girl who lived on the southern shores of St. Maryâ€™s River. A second letter written in August stating that the scalped girl had recovered. (This one might prove someoneâ€™s family story about great-great-...grandmother being scalped!)
A list of claims dated January 1787 of East Floridians suffering losses upon cession of East Florida to Spain; report on names and numbers of the claims and claimants.
Letter from the commandant of His Britannic Majestyâ€™s forces in Florida to Jean Lafitte dated 31 August 1814 offering him the rank of Captain and his followers land if they joined the British. This was before Lafitte offered his services to the Americans just before the Battle of New Orleans.
The book is a guide to the microfilm collection, NOT an index. The index at the back of the book is only a â€œTo/Fromâ€ index, so unless your ancestors wrote or received one of these documents, their names will not appear in the index. It is best to read through the book and select the document you would like to examine, then go directly to the microfilm containing that document. Unfortunately, Clayton does not yet own this microfilm. In fact, unless it has been recently purchased, the collection is not available anywhere in Texas. The closest known repository is Tulane University in New Orleans. Other locations where this microfilm can be found include Mobile, Pensacola, Oklahoma City, and the Newberry Library in Chicago.
The originals of this collection are housed in the Manuscript and Special Collections Department at John C. Pace Library at the University of West Florida in Pensacola, open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. There is also a guide and a set of microfilm in the main part of the Pace library, which is open until 10:00 most evenings.
The documents on the microfilm are each preceded by the same information found in the guide book, providing the reader pertinent facts about the document. As in all microfilms of old documents, some images are excellent, some barely readable, and others nearly illegible. Remember also that the University started making copies of Panton-Leslie materials in 1972, so some of the older, chemical-process copies are faded, and microfilming them did not improve their readability. A few of the copies are black with white writing and are impossible to read. Fortunately, this represents only a small percentage of the collection. Many of the documents are in English, but quite a few are in Spanish or French (some translated). In a number of cases, handwritten documents are accompanied by typescripts.
This is a fabulous collection and one that Clayton Library really should have. All 26 rolls can be purchased for around $2,000; however, since the cumulative cost of the individual rolls is more than this amount, it is best to purchase the entire set at one time. If you would like to contribute to the purchase of this collection, please do so. One way to contribute is to provide a designated cash gift to Clayton Library Friends, stipulating that your gift is to be applied toward the Panton-Leslie acquisition. Gifts can be mailed to the address shown on the second page of the newsletter [Clayton Library Friends, P.O. Box 271078, Houston, TX 77277-1078].