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Title: Patton, James to , 1789-1839
CollectionIrish Immigrants in the Land of Canaan. Letters and memoirs from colonial and revolutionary America (1675-1815) [K.A. Miller et al.]
SenderPatton, James
Sender Gendermale
Sender Occupationmerchant
Sender Religionunknown
Recipient Genderunknown
Doc. No.
Partial Date
Doc. Type
Word Count5651
TranscriptJames Patton Memoir, 1789– 1839
.... The first thing that suggested itself to my mind was to get three or four young men to unite their small capitals with mine, purchase a boat load of flour, and take it to New Orleans; but in this I was disappointed. In the same year that I intended to start, a difference took place between the Spaniards and Kentuckians, which prevented all trade from passing down the river. Having failed in this scheme, I (contrary to the advice and wishes of all my friends) concluded to lay out the little money I had in dry goods, and vend them over the country as well as I could. The principal objection that was urged against this plan was the scarcity of money. I told them that I could get something else that would answer in the place of money. About this time I wrote for my mother and family, and mentioned in my letter that I had been unfortunate from sickness, but that I now saw the way clear before me. Accordingly, in the month of November, 1789, I went to Lancaster, Penn., and bought my goods of an old German: he told me, that he and his wife had both been servants, and had served out their time, and that he started in the world on very little. The old woman furnished a piece of Russia Duck, took it to the Saddler’s and had it made in the shape of saddle bags. The old German wrapped up the goods in the best manner. I paid for the whole of them, taking nothing on credit; I was so little acquainted with the nature of trade that I did not ask for credit; neither did I expect that it would be extended to me, as I was poor and had no friends to assist me. When I was ready to start, I placed the pack on the back of my pony and drove her before me, with my staff in my hand, whistling and singing in the highest spirits: I thought that I was a very rich man, or was in a fair way to become so; but misfortune seemed to await me at every turn: I had not gone more than three miles when I met with an awful defeat at the millpond of a Mr. Stoner. The road passed over the end of the mill dam, my pony stopped to drink, after drinking, instead of keeping the road, she  dashed into the pond, but could not get through; she stuck fast in the mud at the bottom of the pond, got her head upon a stump, and thus saved herself from drowning. Imagine (if you can) my distress, at seeing my whole fortune on the back of my pony in the middle of a mill pond, and he stuck fast in the mud and unable to get out; it looked like a bad beginning to the mercantile business; there was no time to be lost, so Mr. Stoner procured some kind of a craft for the purpose of rescuing my pony and goods. He wished to release the pony and let her go out with the pack on her back, but I said no! we will save the goods if the pony should be lost; so we took out the pack of goods first, and then the pony.
The goods had been so carefully wrapped up that they received no material injury. That night I went to the house of a widow woman, one mile and a half from Mr. Stoner’s at the forks of the road, one leading to Anderson’s Ferry, the other to Wright’s Ferry (now called Columbia) on the Susquehanna River. She furnished me with a good room and lines to hang my wet goods upon. I sat up all night drying my goods and cleaning my buckles and buttons with my brush and chalk, so that they looked as well as they did at first.
Having put all in good order, I proceeded on my way: I met with a young Dutchman who wished to purchase a pair of silver lockets; he asked me the price of them: I fearing that they were probably too high, asked him the price of such in town. However, I sold them to him at 13 or 14 cents advance: this was the first profit that I realized from the sale of my goods.
The next night I went to the honest Dutchman’s Philip Kissinger, at whose brickyard I had worked, got all my goods hung upon lines in the stove-room, where he and his wife slept: I went to bed and took a sound sleep. The next morning, Mrs. Kissinger took a dozen of my cotton handkerchiefs and sold eleven of them for me at about 13 cents advance on each, and for her trouble and kindness, I gave her the twelfth and last one. I had now made about $1.43on my handkerchiefs, which money I laid out for the same sort, and got as good a bargain as I did for the first.
I then steered my course for North-Carolina. Fifteen miles from the place I had lived, I met a young man who had been out with $500 worth of goods to the same section of country I intended to go to. I said, hie, hie Elick, sold all and returning, and I doing nothing? Yes, said he, it is well I met you here. I would advise you to sell your goods and go to work; there is no money in the back country, and I sold my goods to a merchant in Virginia for the same they cost me in Philadelphia. I said to him, Elick, did you call at every house and all the cabins on the road? He said, he did not: that he only called at the best looking houses, where he expected to find something. I told him that he was wrong, that money was sometimes to be found in cabins, where there was none to be had at fine houses. Sir, said I, you are too finely dressed, you should have gone out in your common clothes; a man should always be dressed to suit his business, and don’t suppose show will make money. The people took you for some collegian going to College with a load of books. No sir, said I, they would laugh at me if I were to go back, if I cannot get money I will try to get something else, and was determined that I would not be turned by him.
I proceeded on my way and got in company with Mr. James McIntyre, of Morgantown, Burke County, North Carolina, near Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. We travelled together and camped out at night, as he had a wagon loaded with goods.
My forming an acquaintance with him, was the cause of my coming to this part of the country. I formed a good opinion of him; he was kind and advised me what to do. We parted in Botetourt County, Virginia, and I took the road to the head of the Holston. After beating about for some time in that part of the country, I crossed the mountain into the county of Surry; thence, into Wilkes, Burke, and Buncombe. To show how slowly I got along in my business, I will inform you that I travelled in the section of country now called Ashe County, for ten days, and got but three dollars in money. I could have purchased fur skins, but was not willing to risk it, as I did not know their value. During this trip I met with poor success in the sale of my goods.
I will here mention an incident which occurred to me at Morgantown; it will show you the kind of stuff I was made of. An Act of Congress had been passed to pay the Revolutionary soldiers for their services; I found that the certificates were selling very low, and I thought that something could be made by buying them; accordingly I purchased some of them, and paid part in goods and part in money. When I was going from Wilkes to Burke County, the Entry Taker of Wilkes, a Mr. Fletcher, requested me to take an £80 note of his, (as he called it) and dispose of it along with my own. When I got to Morgantown, I showed it and some other notes to several persons in the public square, and they all refused to receive them, as the note I had gotten of Fletcher proved to be a raised note from £8 to £80. I then stepped into Mr. <Mc>Intyre’s and had scarcely seated myself, before a man came in and told me to make my escape, that I had bad money and would be taken up in an hour; said I, thank you sir, for your information, but I never went to a place yet, where I would go out of the back door if the front door was open, for any crime which I have ever committed. I told him that I would go immediately to the gentlemen; they were not dispersed, but were talking together and probably laying some plan to secure me. I said, gentlemen, I am told that I have bad money, if I have, I don’t know it. I am informed that this £80 note is raised from £8 to £80, if so shew it to me; and that you intend to put me in jail; I told them that I hoped they would not do that, that the jail was never made for me; you can take my horse, my money and all I have, until I satisfy you better. I had become acquainted with Mr. Wallace Alexander, a lawyer of

Mecklenburg County, North-Carolina, at Wilkes Court<-house>, previous to this time; he was in Morgantown; I told him that I had gotten that note from Fletcher in Wilkes County, and that I had no suspicion at the time, that it was not good. He said, gentlemen, I believe what Mr. Patton says; he then told me that he would take the note, and put it out of their power to do me any harm. I told him he could have it, if he would stand between me and danger, and let Fletcher have the note if he wanted it.
Now you see, that I possessed a proud, independent spirit and was not to be alarmed at trifles, when I was conscious of my integrity; and remember, a clear conscience will carry a person through difficulties when every thing else fails. When I returned to Wilkes, I told Fletcher that he had done very wrong in giving me that note; that I was not only near getting into trouble, but was in a fair way of having my character injured, as I was a stranger in the country. I told him that he could get his note if he would apply for it; he said, let it go.
I now made preparations to return to the North, which was in the spring of 1790. On my way, I bought 200 pounds of indigo at Fincastle in Virginia, and made almost as much profit on it, as I had done on my goods. I also bought a few fur skins of different sorts, to see what each kind would bring; I shewed them to eight or ten different hatters, told them not to be offended before I opened them. This way of proceeding learned me the value of the different kinds of fur, and was of great service to me the next year, and many years afterwards, when I had a store in Wilkes. This shows with what caution I acted in my trading: I was unwilling to risk anything, even in the smallest matters, without some certainty of profit. During this trip, I called upon my old friend Mr. Walker, with whom I had lived for three years. I had at that time two good horses; I took the best care of them, and they were in fine order. I purchased another from Mr. Walker, and went down to the Federal City, and the adjacent country, with an old Mr. McCall, who had a small drove of horses also. I sold one horse and swapped the other two for an old horse, and got the difference in their value; the one that I got was poor but strong.
I now discovered that there was something to be made by buying feathers and taking them up the country. Accordingly, I purchased some, made a large cloth sack and filled it, and loaded my horse and started. You see, children, nothing was too humble for me that was honest; I was not ashamed of anything that soap and water would wash out.
On my return I bought an old Jersey wagon for about $30, which was not worth

thirty shillings, except for iron. This shews that a person should not touch on matters of which he is not a judge. It was a bad time for me to pay high for my schooling, as I had but little to go on: however, I got my wagon so repaired that I got it to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. There I had to get it made almost entirely new, no part of it being worth anything except the body and some of the irons. As I was going to the North this trip (of which I have been speaking), I met two young men on the way; one of them said to the other, does not that man (alluding to me) favor old Mrs. Patton and family who came in the vessel with us? I then made some inquiry about them, and asked the men if they could name them? They soon satisfied me that it was my good mother and family; this was the first information I had received of their arrival. The next night I arrived at the place they were, and we had a joyful meeting. I then went to Philadelphia and bought as many goods as I was able to pay for, and $90 worth on a credit besides, which I did not ask. When I looked over the bills, I discovered that they would take too much of my money, and prevent me from buying other goods on which I could make more profit, and requested the merchants to take some of them back, and told them my reasons. These merchants were Quakers. One of them said to the other, don’t thee think James will come back and pay us? O, yes, said the other. I thought he was amusing himself with me at the time. I took the goods, and this was the commencement of a credit that would afterwards have commanded twenty thousand dollars or more, if I had asked it, at that house and others. I happened to see a young man in Philadelphia at this time, who was going to Ireland and to the very neighborhood in which I had lived in that country; I sent a small amount of money by him to defray the expenses of my brother Thomas and family to this country, which he received and came in the next summer. When he arrived, the whole of the family were in this country, except one brother who had gone to the East-Indies. I now left Philadelphia with all my goods, for the State of North-Carolina; sold all I could on the road, and would stop a day or two at a place for that purpose. When I came to North River, Rockingham County, Virginia, I stopped at an honest German’s house by the name of Jacob Singer, and staid there three weeks. With what I had gotten before and during this time, I had upwards of three hundred dollars in cash, and also some fur skins and beeswax. The fur skins and beeswax I left at that place until I would return. I laid out what money I had on hand in Staunton, Augusta County, Virginia: this was in the fall of the year: I bought such goods as I thought would sell readily in the country; I got them on very good terms, and had at this time a pretty good assortment. The last purchase I thought would help to sell the first. I travelled on by the way of Lexington, Pattonburg, Fincastle, Pepper’s Ferry on New River, to the head of the Holston. On my way I frequently stopped from six to twelve days at a place; would send out word beforehand, that I would be at such places at the time appointed. By this means the people would get their trade ready, such as fur skins, beeswax, &c., and some money. I sometimes left money with men on whom I could depend, to purchase fur skins, beeswax, &c., for me at such prices as I directed them to give. This year I took in fifteen hundred skins of different sorts, and made a handsome profit on them, having the year before made myself acquainted with the prices of all kinds, from a rabbit skin to an otter skin. I left my wagon on the south fork of the Holston and packed my goods on horseback; came to Roan’s creek, thence into Ashe, Wilkes, Burke and Buncombe counties.
I returned to the North the first of the next summer. I left my small wagon and got a light four horse wagon. I purchased as many goods as I was able, and returned the same road that I had travelled the first two years, stopped at the same places, and sold double the amount of goods that I did the first two years. I drove my own wagon, until I came to the North River, Rockingham County, Virginia; then I hired a little simple Dutchman and kept him until I got to the head of the Holston; he was so much of a fool, and withal o lazy, that I would not have him any longer. I now met with Andrew Erwin, let him have about $150 worth of goods to trade on, sent him into the country and directed him where to go, and to meet me at Wilkes Court-house, which he did. He transacted the business as well as I expected; I did not calculate on his doing much, as he was only nineteen years of age, and had little experience; but I found he was honest: this has caused me to overlook many errors of young men, all my life. I have had a great many in my employment from this time until I quit business; for I touched at everything that I thought would be profitable— gathering ginseng, snake root, purchasing deer skins, bear skins and driving large numbers of cattle.
During this and the preceding trips, I had frequently stopped at the house of a man by the name of Jonathan Tompkins, in the county of Wilkes, a member of the Baptist Church, and apparently a very pious man. He told me, that his land was under execution, and that £40 would save it; that his brother had gone to South Carolina for money, and would be certain to get it, but for fear that he might be detained by high water or some accident, wished me to let him have it, which I did. I knew so little of mankind at that time, that I took no obligation on him for the money, but merely made a memorandum of it in my pocket-book. This single circumstance is sufficient to show my great want of qualification for business at that time. I then attended Burke Court, and on my return, this same man came to where I was stopped by high water, and told me that I would lose my money, and he would lose his land if I did not pay £40 more. He therefore proposed to let me have a part of his land, and he would have a good crop raised on it for me, if I would pay the other £40, to which I agreed, as I intended to move my mother and family to that part of the country.
This summer I intended to go to Philadelphia to dispose of my furs, and purchase goods to enable me to buy a handsome drove of cattle, but finding it would be too late before I could go and return, I stopped at Staunton, Augusta County, Virginia, and employed three hatters to work up a part of my fur into hats, and paid them in fur for their labor. I returned to North Carolina with my hats in boxes, packed upon horses. I purchased all the cattle I was able to pay for, in the counties of Wilkes, Burke and Buncombe, and started for Philadelphia; stopped at Staunton, Virginia, and took on the balance of the furs which I had left there. I purchased in Philadelphia as many goods as I was able to pay for, and returned to North Carolina with two wagons, one loaded with goods, and the other with my mother and family. We moved to the piece of land which I got of Tompkins, in Wilkes County, North Carolina, fifteen miles from the Court-house on Lewis’ Fork, near the foot of the Blue Ridge. This was in the winter of 1792; at that time there was no building of any kind on the place; but I got the assistance of the neighbors who were very kind, and in two weeks had a comfortable house a story and a half high to move into. It was built of pine logs and covered with clapboards. I put my goods on the second story of the house. My principal reason for commencing business at my mother’s was to procure such things as were necessary for the family. We never lived better in our lives, and had plenty of everything that was comfortable. By this time I had fully seen the value of a good parent who strove so hard for the comfort and happiness of her children.
The ensuing fall I moved my goods to Wilkes Court-house. The next year in the fall, I moved my brother Thomas and family to Wilkes County, and settled him on the top of the Blue Ridge, ten miles from my mother’s. I let him have cattle and horses to make a beginning on, and he lived well though at a distance from neighbors; he had but three children and they were small; his wife was an excellent woman, I always esteemed her highly: she was a high-minded honorable woman, and endeavored to instil pure principles into the minds of her children. Brother Thomas was a weakly man, but he did all he could for his family. I gave them all the assistance in my power, but it could not be expected that I could do much for them in so short a time from my little beginning of two hundred dollars; however, I put them all in a way to support themselves and raise their families decently. They are now respectable, which is well known by those who are acquainted with them.
The first year after I moved my mother to Wilkes County, I bought a small drove of horses and took them to the Federal City, and from that to Baltimore. I also bought a house and lot in Staunton, Virginia, from a man who lived in Wilkes County, North-Carolina, and agreed to give him two young negroes for it. Indeed, before I bought it, I had sold it on condition that I would make a right to it. If a man will help himself he will always find friends. The merchants of Staunton saw that I was making a better use of my small beginning, and some of them became my security for a title, before I had bought it myself. I made something by the speculation. I also bought some other negroes, besides the two that I paid for the house and lot. The money was all paid down for the house and lot, and I intended to lay it out for cattle. You will observe how careful I was; I knew how much I would have to pay for negroes, and also knew what I could get for the house and lot before I made the trade.
About two years from the time that I moved my mother to Wilkes County, I was married to your good and great mother. She was the daughter of Francis Reynolds, a man of little property, but as honest and respectable as any man in the County of Wilkes. He was one of the first settlers on the Yadkin River in that county; he had twelve children, of course he was not able to give her much; all she ever got did not amount to more than three hundred dollars. When we were married, she was in the bloom of youth and very handsome; amiable and sensible. There was great disparity in our ages; she was twenty years and five months younger than myself. She was ambitious to excel in all the duties of a wife, and assisted me greatly in my business. She saw that I was using all the exertions in my power, and having confidence in my judgement, it gave an increased impulse to her industry.
Her Mother (Mrs. Reynolds) was a superior house-keeper; it was from the management of her domestic concerns, the neatness of her house, and the nice arrangement of everything about it, that I took a fancy to my wife, and I was not disappointed. She was everything I expected and looked for— prudent, industrious and economical, ready at all times to receive advice— cheerful, but not ostentatious. I gave it as my opinion, that it would be imprudent for myself and her to appear at Church and other public places in superfluous dress, or to appear at any time above our neighbors; not only because I dislike vain show, but my principal reason was, that as we were just starting in the world, and were dependent on the public for our success, it might have an improper influence on their minds, and excite prejudices very much against our interest. My motto was, plainness and neatness; and this is as far as any one should go, however prosperous their circumstances may be; a beautiful exterior may dazzle the fancy for a short time, but solid worth depends entirely on a well trained and virtuous mind.
I made it a rule to consult my wife on all weighty and important matters that I thought she could comprehend, and when I deviated from her opinion, I generally found that I was in error. I would advise all married men to consult their wives in every important undertaking. If they cannot fully understand the whole of any matter that may be presented to their consideration, they will be certain to catch at parts, and make some observations that will set their husbands to thinking. My opinion is, that women have never been allowed their just weight in society; were they permitted to use that influence in society to which I consider them entitled, they would contribute much more to the success of business through life, than is generally imagined, and particularly to domestic prosperity and happiness. During the third year after I had commenced trading, I took Col. Andrew Erwin in, to assist me in my business. The second year that he was in my employment, he married my sister. About twelve months after his marriage, I took him into full connection with me in trade, although he had nothing at the time; I had two reasons for it, one was, on account of the high regard I had for my sister— she was a highminded honorable young woman; the other was, that I wished to encourage him, as he had married my connexion. At this time my capital was greater than his by twentyeight hundred dollars, after all I had done for my good mother and family.
It gives me consolation at this time, to think that I did not grasp all, and prevent others from coming forward, which (it is well known) I had no disposition to do. I find fault very much with wealthy men, for not taking poor young men by the hand, and putting them in a way to do well, when they find them honest, trusty and capable. I had now lived in Wilkes County, North-Carolina, twelve years, and my health had become so greatly impaired, that I took a dislike to Wilkesborough, and resolved to leave the place; accordingly, I rented my possessions to Waugh & Finley (merchants) for seven years. We then moved into the county of Buncombe in 1807 and settled on the farm where my son Thomas now lives, three miles from Asheville, where we lived for seven years. We then moved from the farm to Asheville, where we lived together thirteen years and six months, before your mother died. She had been afflicted with a liver complaint for several years, which finally took her off. I think I can date her indisposition back to the birth of your sister Jane Hardy, who died the past winter in Charleston, South Carolina; she then took cold, and was more or less indisposed from that time until her death. From the time we were married, until the death of your mother, was thirty-two years and ten months. We had eleven children, of whom we raised ten. At the time we moved to Asheville my son James was years 11 of age, my second son John 9, Franklin 7, and Thomas 5 years old. You can judge from this that I had to contend with many disadvantages when I commenced public house-keeping. Col. Erwin and myself were in partnership for twenty years, and made a complete dissolution in one day, to the astonishment of every person of understanding; it was effected in the following manner. As he was the active partner, I told him to make a division of the whole, accompanied with a statement on paper, and give me my choice, which he did; and in this way we came to an amicable settlement at once.
Col. Andrew Erwin was a man of clear head and a good heart, but too credulous and too easily imposed upon by bad men. I was like the little boat spoken of by Dr. Franklin, I would always keep near the shore; I would not venture far out to sea for fear of accidents, therefore, I always endeavored to find out whether a man was deserving of confidence, before I trusted much in his hands.
I have thought it unnecessary to extend this narrative any further, as my principal object has been to give you some knowledge of my low beginning in the world, more than any thing else: and my dear children, having thus endeavored to give you a short sketch of the struggles and difficulties which I have passed through in life, I can assure you that I have not done it by way of boasting, but quite the contrary. It would be vain and foolish in me to suppose that it would be of any advantage to me as an individual, for at my time of life I have no disposition to indulge any such feelings; but I have thought that if it should never be of any benefit, it would perhaps afford satisfaction to some of my posterity to know from whence they sprang. You could not reasonably expect, that I would be able at my advanced age (being now in my 84th year) to give you an exact and accurate account of the various vicissitudes of my life, merely from memory. I know that I have omitted many things worthy of notice, but I could not from recollection alone, embody them in a way calculated either to please or instruct; but imperfect as it is, I hope it may be profitably read by some of you when I am no more. You will see that I had many hard trials to endure, and difficulties to encounter. You will also observe how much can be accomplished by industry and frugality. To the exercise of these virtues is mainly to be attributed the little success I have had in life, for I was possessed of very moderate qualifications for the business in which I was generally engaged; but I had a firm mind, which by the assistance of a kind providence enabled me to surmount the many obstacles which were in my way.... [W]ith all the trials and misfortunes that have come my way, I never desponded; I always looked onwards and suffered nothing to arrest my progress; if I met with troubles, I consoled myself with the reflection, that it was the common lot of man, and endeavored to profit by it in the future. The little success I have had in life, was owing (as I before mentioned) to industry and frugality, for I settled in the upper part of North-Carolina, at that time the poorest part of the country I ever saw to make property; but I do not entertain the same opinion now. Changes and improvements have taken place, which have convinced me that there are few sections of country superior to the western part of North-Carolina. I am thankful that the Almighty blessed my weak means and enabled me to do as much as I have, and I have the consolation at this day to think, that I never made anything at the expense of the widow and the fatherless. I have never sold the widow’s cow or the poor man’s land....