In the third of Dewey Lambdin’s Alan Lewrie novels, The King’s Commission, freshly commissioned Lieutenant Alan Lewrie finds himself assigned the mission of escorting a covert British mission to arm Indians in North Florida and encourage them to raid into Georgia. The trade network of a company called Panton, Leslie & Company is used to contact the Indians and facilitate the transfer of arms and trade goods.
In The Captain’s Vengeance, Lewrie is again detached to undertake a covert mission against pirates based in Spanish New Orleans. Again, Panton, Leslie & Company is the front used for the operation.
As with most of the side trips Lambdin takes us on, Panton, Leslie & Company was real and it did work hand in glove with the British government.
Panton, Leslie & Company was formed as a direct result of the American Revolution. William Panton, a Scotsman, had been a major landowner in Georgia and South Carolina. Unfortunately for Mr. Panton, he was also a Loyalist at the worst possible time and place. His lands were confiscated and he decamped to the area around Pensacola in what was then British West Florida. He remained there when Pensacola was captured by the Spanish in 1781 and when the Treaty of Paris gave Spain ownership of Florida.
Not only did he remain there, he prospered. Teaming up with fellow Scots Loyalists John Leslie, Thomas Forbes, William Alexander, and Charles McLatchy they formed Panton, Leslie & Company in 1783 and, though their relationship with the Spanish governor, Galvez, established a virtual monopoly over the trade with the Indian tribes as far north as Memphis and as far west as New Orleans.
While their business acumen and monopoly status in Spanish Florida undoubtedly assisted in making the enterprise a success, without question the key to their success was Alexander McGillivray. McGillvray, who makes a cameo appearance in The King’s Commission, was the son of a wealthy Scots trader, Lachlan McGillvray and a half-Creek mother, Sehoy Marchand. His mother was of a very powerful Creek clan and her status and family connections gave him immense influence with Indians in the Southeast.
After the death of its principals, the company was reorganized in 1804 as John Roberts & Company and continued to do business in the southeast and Gulf Coast until the 1840s.
Panton, McGillvray, and others associated with the company were Loyalists and advocates of the rights of Indians, whether by virtue of principal or enlightened self-interest. Panton did arm Indians in Florida and Georgia and urged them to resist the encroachment by American settlers.
The use of these trading networks by the British to effectively limit American settlement of Florida continued until the First Seminole War and the execution for former Royal Marine lieutenant Robert Christy Ambrister and Scots trader Alexander Arbuthnot by Andrew Jackson.