Calef & Chuter

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Robert Calef and John Chuter were shipbrokers in London in the 1780s and 1790s. They were Quakers from Nantucket, and remained connected to that community in London. Some of their business was conducted on behalf of that group (the Coffins, the Bunkers and the Folgers).

Robert Calef was sworn as a broker on 19 March 1782, and ceased to be part of the firm in 1798. John Chuter was sworn as a broker on 23 April 1783. Son Robert continued the firm after his death in 1810, but turned it into a wholesale ironmongers. The firm was based at St Mary Axe.

They were not major players: their significance arises from the survival of their letterbooks which cover the period 8 May 1783 to 8 July 1796. (Calef and Chuter Letterbook, 1783-1796, Rhodes House Library, Oxford, MSS. Brit. Emp. s.3)

The following are rough notes from their letterbooks which provide some insight into the practice of a shipbroking firm at the time.

The Business

They bought and sold, chartered and fitted out ships. They sought to find cargoes for ships to carry. They were forwarding agents for a variety of cargoes:

- Rice, indigo, tobacco, potash (lots), timber from America

- Firearms, porter, ship’s chandlery, anchors, canvas and cordage to America

They provided shipping intelligence and legislative impediments to commerce. They undertook commissions for Captains of vessels, including collecting debts and verifying the bona fides of bills of exchange. They appeared before Admiralty prize courts. They organised insurance on ships and cargoes and managed claims.

They provided short-term finance to Captains to defray necessary expenses, when alternative sources were not available. They arranged Customs clearance. They arranged convoys and execution of the associated bonds.

They avoided becoming adventurers in the American trade, although from time to time they had an interest with their trans-Atlantic counterparts in some of the ships.


September 1794. To Harris, Leach & Harris, enclosing their account.

To expenses attending shipping & insuring 6 cases per the Ohio, John Kemp, for New York as per account furnished - £24.7.0

To ditto on shipping 1 case per Caroline, J. Hilton, per Philadelphia - 13.3

To ditto on shipping & insuring 1 case per the America, B. Coit, per New York - £6.5.3

To ditto on shipping & insuring 2 cases per the Sansom, John Smith, for New York - £9.3.6 [Total] £40.9.0

4 October 1794 – To Captain Edward Davis.

Amount of tradesmen’s bills - £51.19.7

C&C for Custom Hse Charles Dabb Commission of [Fab?] & husbanding - £38.14.6 [Total] £90.14.4

Negotiations Concerning Ships

24 October 1783 – To Nathaniel Fellows, in response to his of 12 August per Captain Pierson, and were gratified to hear of his safe arrival after so disagreeable a passage. They were much surprised at not hearing a line from him during his stay at Portsmouth, especially since he had promised to write at every opportunity.

They advertised his vessel some days but saw no probability of obtaining a price which could favour his interests, so they put her up and exerted their utmost endeavours to procure her a good cargo and quick dispatch. They flattered themselves that he would see it had been effectual as she [entered?] out at the Custom [?] no longer ago than the 10th inst. ‘but much praise is due to Captain Pierson who has acted with the greatest good conduct and assiduously without which our endeavours must have been of less [effect?]’.

9 March 1784 – To Mr Joseph Rodgers. They had this day agreed with Messrs Henry & Samuel Cox of [?] to hire their snow called the Amelia, Throckmorton Master, ‘for the sum of four hundred and fifty pounds to be paid here, she to lay forty two days in this port to receive a cargo for Halifax and Port Proseway, and to be allowed the usual lay days at each of the above ports. The charter party will drawn tomorrow & sent to your in due time to peruse’.

17 March 1784 – To Messrs Henry & Samuel Cox. From the uncertain state the business concerning the Amelia remains in, in consequence of the conversation which took place last night and on account of the loss which Mr Rodgers must unavoidably sustain by a detention of it they were induced to request their determination whether or not they meant she would proceed on her voyage agreed between them. If they determined she should not, they asked for them to point out their reasons by 9 o’clock the following morning.

8 May 1783 [actually 1784] – To Mr Gannon. The last time they heard from him, he had asked to be informed when any French built vessel was in their hands for sale. They wrote to acquaint him that they had one of about 260 tons lately from Carolina where she was purchased. She appeared to be a remarkably strong ship, having undergone a thorough repair in Carolina. They could not recommend her for beauty but her frame was quite strong and they doubted not the price could be made perfectly agreeable. . .

25 May 1784 – To Mr Gannon, responding to his of the 11th. They enclosed an inventory of the Two Friends, price £900. They confirmed their opinion that her frame was perfectly sound, but she could not be much commended as a handsome vessel.

12 June 1784 – To Mr Richard Blow. His staple commodity was rather low with them owing to the rapid importation ‘and the state it comes in’. It had been brought to market immediately, so that it was new and ‘in so great a heat’ from being on the ship. The price now was 20/- to 21/-, at which price it would continue until about September, when they thought it would rise by 2d or 3d. But to keep it for that period of time would result in a loss of weight that would not make it profitable. There was not person in Virginia with whom they would rather make a connection, ‘but from the concerns we have at present in shipping and so unprofitable as we find them, we must beg leave at present to decline dipping further into them. Should any regulation take place favourable to the commercial intercourse between us, and we should feel a disposition to become adventurers in that line, we shall certainly do ourselves the pleasure of making our wish known to you immediately.‘

11 September 1784. To Captain Henry(?). The last time they had the pleasure of seeing him in London, he had expressed an intention of purchasing a vessel for his own use of he could meet with one to his approbation. Mr Rone(?) was with them this morning and had put in their hands the Peggy, which Henry had sold him. He had said that Henry had been on board at Torbay and had expressed the desire of having her again, if he could have her reasonable. He thought that 800 guineas or pounds might be regarded reasonable and if that met with his approbation would he let them know.

23 September 1784 – To Captain Coffin. His letter of 28 July expressed a desire of carrying on the fishery from England if the alien duty on oil remained. The duty was still on and there was very little prospect of it being taken off and the government seemed determined to give all the encouragement to the Loyalists. He had mentioned Coffin’s plan to several wealthy men and he had no doubt they give him all the encouragement he could wish and provide any amount of ship he desired.

24 September. To Doc. E. Pearse. [at Nantucket] They had examined his four casks of oil per the Liberty and they were sorry to acquaint him that No.2 [illegible] 31½ gallons in whale oil and will not fetch more than £24 per ton, therefore whoever he purchased it of (if for sperm oil) had imposed on him.

[next letter] 25 October. To Messrs Gosling & Allen. They enclosed the accounts of the sale of the Betsey and cargo, with the whole of the papers delivered to them by Captain Mather. They had previously expressed their regrets at having had to hurry the cargo to market at so unfavourable a time. [They went on to explain the recent price movements.] A friend of theirs, a Mr Foster of this City, was sending a vessel from hence to Halifax, from whence she was to go to [P…?] for a load of lumber to sell at Barbados. They had recommended him to their house.

[next letter] 24 November 1784 – Mr C. Williamson. His letter had come to hand and in conformity thereto they had immediately opened a policy for £400 on the Christian. However, they had not been able to effect more than £200 on her. She was thought out of date (and they thought with some degree of reason), not only from the time she was expected to sail by letters but likewise the [illegible] brought by the Ocean, which had been some days arrived, who reported that she sailed the same day as the Christian. They would endeavour to complete the sum but could not say at present that they had any prospect of it. They would exert their interest to procure a freight but at that time nothing offered. With respect to selling her, they did not think that with the current prices being offered, she would fetch more than £500.

[next letter] 27 November 1784. To Mr Geo Rawlins. In response to his of the 20th – they made insurance on his account for £200 on 17 September, conformable to his order. They did it at 30 per cent from Leghorn to Dublin, to perform quarantine at Dublin. [Then a discussion of attempts to obtain payment on a ten pound note from the Doctor.]

21 December 1784. To Mr C. Williamson concerning market for ships. They desired him to transaction some business for them in Whitehaven. They had inquired into the background of the Ocean (where she was built - Whitehaven, what trade she was in and when she was taken prize by the Americans). She was not in London and they were seeking to have her registered, but they could not do so without obtaining a copy of the register from the Custom House at Whitehaven. They asked him to inspect the register, and if she appeared there, to obtain an attested copy. There was a footnote advising that the Ocean measured around 160 tons.

24 December 1784. To Captain George Rawlings, in response to his of the 18th conveying his bills. The one for £22.8.10 and the other for £10.10. were to hand. The former was accepted and when in cash would be passed to his credit. The latter, unfortunately, was a Pump of Aldgate Bill, no such person as Mrs Millingen being in Palace Yard, nor after the strictest inquiry could they find anyone who had known such a lady. This was not the first instance of this that had come within their knowledge and they feared it was a kind of fraud frequently practised by young men on gentlemen in his line.

12 May 1785 – To William Davenport, Esq. By letters of the house of William Foster & Co of Boston dated 21st January, they were advised of the new ship Mercury, Daniel Coffin Master, having been dispatched to Baltimore, there to take in a cargo of wheat or flour, for Lisbon or Cadiz. But from accounts subsequent to the above, they had reason to conclude she would proceed to Lisbon. In that case, they requested, as part owners of the vessel, that he would dispose of her should a price of two thousand five hundred guineas be to be obtained. If not, they would be much obliged by his endeavours to secure a freight to London. Their communications from Boston was very imperfect, nothing being mentioned of any person in Lisbon having been written to by Messrs F & Co., and they rather supposed no letter had been forwarded. In that case, they enclosed instructions for Captain Coffin to rely on Mr Davenport. They asked him to send them a line by the first opportunity after her arrival.

[A similar letter was sent to Messrs Dominick Terry & Co, Cadiz, although without the same confidence that the vessel might arrive there.]

22 September 1785 – To Messrs Wm. Foster & Co. They had written per Hyde, since which they had not been favoured by any of theirs. The Mercury cleared out yesterday and they were sorry to find after all their exertions that she made only £858.16.?? freight. The cabin, they thought was done in a manner that would please them, though time would not admit of decorations. They agreed with the joiner for £35 only, everything but the paint included. They thought the vessel unexceptionable and only lamented that the commercial system would not assist their efforts in her favour. The Massachusetts Act would operate very much against her, notwithstanding Foster & Co having registered her as wholly American. They thought it most advisable for all parties to dispose of their concern in her, which, though so evident a loss must accrue to them, they were willing to do for the sum mentioned in their former letter, of £600, provided remittance be made immediately to them of that sum. . .

25 September 1785 – To Mr Parkinson. As from the inaccuracy of the Nasborough’s papers, it was probable that a settlement of the average might be at a great distance, they requested the favour of him of writing off ten per cent on account. Should that seem appear on the adjustments more than could be claimed had nothing been allowed, they would consider themselves bound by such adjustment as fully as if no partial settlement had been made.

[next] 22 September 1785 – To Captain Edward Davis. Enclosed was the register of light bills of the ship Mercury, of which he was the Master. He was to proceed with all prudent expedition with her to Boston and on his arrival there, wait on Messrs William Foster & Co, merchants, to whom he was to deliver the necessary papers and following their instructions in the disposal of the vessel. They wished him a pleasant voyage.

18 November 1785 – To Messrs Henry Mather & Co (Manchester). They had at length the pleasure of informing them of success in the business of the Perseverance, Parker. The Commissioners of the Customs having admitted the cargo at the British duties, they had obtained an order for landing it some days since. However, notwithstanding Captain Parker’s impatience while the matter was pending, he had not yet delivered the whole of it. . . They would forward an ‘account sales’ as soon as the articles were delivered.

19 February 1793 – Robert Calef to Captain Benjamin Coleman, Dunkirk, in response to his letter in which he mentioned having purchased an American ship without her register, but a certificate attached to the bill of sale. He had taken advice of Mr Johnson, the American consul, who wished to refer him to Mr Morris, the plenipotentiary in Paris for his opinion. Calef was of the opinion that if he was an American and his family were still residing there, there could be no doubt as to the legality of proceeding to any of the states, provided the bill of sale was in his name and no other. The certificate was quite sufficient. But if a foreigner’s name appeared in it, then he didn’t imagine any register would be granted by any of the states.

16 March 1793 – To Joseph Taylor Esq., Lynn. We are not certain whether you have disposed of the Nova Scotia ship or not. If not, we think there now presents a very good opportunity to proceed for porter dick on the following condition, that is to say, the charterer doth consent to take her for six months certain if she should suit. We have forgot her name but we think the preference [would be] for you to make the insurance and they pay the premium, victual & man her at their expense for which we think they will allow £7 per ton per month, the ship being fitted as a common merchantman with good sails, rigging, cables etc. They say 6 months certain, but don’t remember such a voyage determined under 8 or 9. If you think this may answer, you’ll please to let us know by return of post.

17 April 1793 – To Messrs Thomas & James Day & Co, Cowes. The owner of the Triton was with Day & Co, and they had no concern in the business, but as brokers, it would be necessary for Day & Co to furnish C&C with the amount or as near as could be ascertained of their demands against her. C&C were accountable to Mr Cohen for whatever they might recover of the underwriters, but the vessel not being fully insured by them, they could not hold themselves responsible for her repairs. Day & Co would doubtless see the propriety of this and furnish C&C with a full statement of their demands.

18 April 1793 – To Mr Joseph Taylor Esq., Lynn. They begged him to sign the second seal of the enclosed convoy bond and return it by reply post without fail, as the vessel could not clear out of the Custom House until it was executed by him, the Master and themselves. His signature had to be witnessed by the Collector & Comptroller of Customs at his port. They enclosed the charter party signed by Mr Robert Hunter and would be happy to receive his orders for insurance.

20 April 1793 – To Mr Joseph Taylor Esq., Lynn. They were favoured by his of yesterday, which had enabled them to complete the clearance of the Perseverance, Mann, that morning, and they had just delivered him his papers. The major part of the insurance to Montreal had been done @ 6 guineas per ct, warranted to sail with convoy, but within the last few days it had been written at 5 guineas, at which premium they were in no doubt of being able to effectually insure any amount he might be pleased to favour them with. Captain Mabb having been unsuccessful in his application to P&B, they had advanced him thirty pounds to defray the necessary expenses of procuring seamen. [They advised several days later that the best prince their could obtain on the insurance was six guineas.]

5 July 1793 – To Captain Bunker (of the New Hope, who had recently arrived from the Southern Whale Fishery).

"Your favour of 25 June hath lately come to hand. [We] are sorry by the date it did not come to hand sooner that we might [have] given you an early information in regard to the insurance of Suralone. [We] find that it cannot be done with such men as we would with under twenty five guineas per cent which we are induced to think very high, although we produced your letter.

"As for the William, Captain Folger hath sailed 5 or 6 days since. You will please [pay] our respects to ye family, also to Captain & Mrs Folger and inform the latter that our RC hath just received a letter from Mrs Calef from Nantucket & that she was very happy in meeting her friends & what we think rather singular was not the least seasick on her passage & sent mention any particulars occurred on the island.

"We are with respects your sincere friends & humble servants, C&C."

The War

The war closed down European markets which made some commodities, such as pearl ash (an impure form of potassium carbonate), more difficult to sell, at least in the short term. On 4 March 1794, they advised Captain Edward Davis that the government had put an end to the shipment of pot and pearl ash to France.

They were now arranging convoys and the associated bonds as part of their responsibilities for ships.


25 July 1793 – They had been attempting to obtain insurance for the Sierra Leone, a whaler owned by David Grieve, then in the SWF. (Grieve appears to have been connected to the expatriate Nantucket whaling community.) The price offered by their friends at Lloyds Coffee House was 25 guineas, which they thought too much. Then a sailor who had escaped from France reported seven whalers had been taken into Nantes and the cost had gone up to fifty guineas. (The story was that four of these were fully laden.)

6 August 1793 – They wrote to Grieve again. He was surprised at the cost of 20 to 25 guineas for the insurance. C&C responded that they would find it difficult to get it done at that since the major part of ‘our friends’ don’t care to write insurance cover for southern whalers, so strong were they of the opinion that the report of the capture may be true. This had been reinforced by a report from an American vessel.


9 August 1793 – To Forbes & Co, Gosport. They sought information about the [Ceaunure?], a French brig of war, which they understood was exposed for sale. They asked them to ascertain whether she was really sold or on speculation, and whether the purchasers were inclined to make a price for her. They would also like to know her age and the condition of her stores. They thought Mr Lundigreen had charge of her. Should she be up for sale, they were interested in becoming purchasers.

10 August 1793 – To Mr James Fox, concerning the French ship, the Robert, now lying at Plymouth, to know whether she had been disposed of or was going to be. They wished to know her age, condition and tonnage when coppered, as well as her inventory. They were interested in becoming purchasers.

13 February 1794 – To Captain Edward Davis. They were extremely sorry to inform him of the fate of the Boston Packet which now lay at Jersey in, they feared, a helpless state. She was captured by the Alligator privateer and a lugger in company, under an order from the Admiralty to seize all vessels of ‘your country’ whatsoever laden with West India produce of any of the French West Indies islands bound to Europe. A revocation of that order had taken place, however, at the instance of the American merchants, but this could not attach itself to vessels taken under the former edict. Mr C has in course laid in his claim at the Commons as proprietor of the cargo & we as your agents took similar steps in behalf of the vessel but to our surprise, we were informed a few days since that Captain Barrett had forwarded power to Messrs [J&C?] to negotiate the business of the ship. . . The letter also raises their concerns for Captain Ewell in the Neptune who was overdue at Falmouth by several weeks. [They had earlier been told by the Master of a vessel that had been boarded by the French that he had been taken. It arrived shortly thereafter.]

18 February 1794 – To Captain Barrett concerning his ship, for which they were trying to obtain a speedy release. She was in a rather dangerous situation and they were petitioning for her removal to a more secure place. They were surprised at his having empowered [Mr Caborden?] to act for the ship on behalf of the owners, as they assumed he must have had directions from Captain Davis, he having written to them for that purpose. On being advised of the capture, they had laid a claim on behalf of the owners, but at present were quite ignorant as to what time the trial might commence. . .

25 February 1794 – To Captain Edward Davis. Nothing had transpired very favourable to the Boston Packet. She was lying at Jersey in the same state as when they last wrote. As his attorneys, they had laid their claim. The industry of the captors in their search for materials for condemnation seemed to have relaxed somewhat. They had at first strong hopes from the disposition of the parties, that from the transaction appearing so clear, they would, on the advice of their Proctor, have relinquished their claim. They understood from Captain Barrett, who was in London, that attempts had been made to corrupt his people, and they feared they had been sufficiently successful to give them further trouble.

4 March 1794 – To Captain Edward Davis. They had the satisfaction to inform him that the Boston Packet had that day been given up by her captors, who still insisted on landing the cargo and submitting it to the adjudications of the Commons. The freight and charges were to be defrayed by the parties to whom the produce may be adjudged. They had hopes, however, that she would still be permitted to proceed with her cargo, on security being given for the amount. They thought that Mr Callender would be competent to bring forward his securities and their would take it upon themselves to make themselves responsible for Captain Davis’s and Mr Brazier’s proportion. . .

Business Practice

In 1793 they submitted an account of their commission on the charter of the Perseverance to the ship owner, Joseph Taylor, shortly after she sailed. Taylor misunderstood this as a claim, and they advised that, as usual, they expected payment on the return of the vessel. They had provided it only so that he could have advance notice to prepare the account. (23 May 1793)

Taylor also took exception to a charge of $55.14.2 for the tradesmen. It would appear that he thought that the brokers should pay this sum. C&C replied that they clearly would never make themselves accountable for outfitting a vessel. As per his request, they agreed to refer the tradesmen to Taylor direct. (23 May 1793)

However, they had paid pilotage (£5.15.6) which was not included in the account rendered.

Southern whalers had to lodge an oath from the Master, the Mate and two mariners of the days and latitudes where whales were taken. These had to be filed before the cargo could be cleared by Customs. (see Letter of 12 July 1793)