Panton, Leslie & Company

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.

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6 Comments

Filed under Age of Sail, Alan Lewrie Novels, Culture and Life Style Ashore, Period History

6 responses to “Panton, Leslie & Company

  1. JeepThang

    I recently discovered Lambdin’s Lewrie series.. and after whetting my teeth on scores of various “Golden Age of Piracy” fiction and non. Lewrie is a breathless view of the “other side” of life.. just a little later in the era.
    I shant rest until I’ve devoured all the books in this series. Lambdin has a knack for capturing the entire period.. slang, food, cavorting, everything.. he’s an excellent writer.
    After reading 3 and almost a done with a 4th of the Lewrie series, it is definitely clear that I was born in the wrong time.

  2. JT

    Im up to Gunketch now.. just waiting on the mail.. a bunch of slowcoaches!

    Also picked up a couple James L Nelson books.. these look promising..

    Also.. nice blog you’ve got 🙂

  3. DV

    Small correction, It became the John Forbes & Company in 1804. Nice little bio though! I just found your site, quite interested.

  4. hb

    Another note: John & Thomas Forbes = ancestors of John Forbes Kerry’s Forbes, and some of Panton, Leslie & its successor John Forbes & Co’s business involved slave-trading.

  5. hb

    Re the Forbes family in Florida: here’s a quick link:
    http://archives.clayclerk.com/Places-Towns-MagnoliaSprings.html

    “John Murray Forbes, the railroad baron owned a cottage at Magnolia Springs. He had inherited a fortune passed down from his grandfather who had been a partner in the Panton, Leslie & Co. Indian trading firm. Later he earned a second fortune as a “supercargo” on ships trading with China. A third fortune came and a shrewd investment with Standard Oil. A fourth, by building the railroad from New York to Chicago. Later he took an interest in stopping slavery, and funded the printing of the emancipation proclomation….Did John Murray Forbes, one of the cottage owners, fight so earnestly against slavery because of the guilt of knowing his grandfather had been one of the largest slave traders in Florida?”

    PS: The “Joseph Story Fay” in this article = Samuel Prescott Bush’s great-uncle (SP Bush being the grandfather of President GHW Bush).

    The Fays and the Forbes knew each other back in the day. And have ever since, I believe.

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