John Hook papers, 1737-1889 and undated

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Hook, John, 1745-1808
Scottish merchant and Tory, of Hale's Ford (Franklin Co.), Va. Letters, papers, and mercantile records belonging to John Hook of the mercantile firm of Bowker Preston, Hook's son-in-law, and Smithson H. Davis at Goose Creek, Bedford Co., Va.; and of a similar firm of Asa, Smithson H., and Alexander G. Holland and John D. Booth at Hale's Ford and Germantown, both in Franklin Co., the Holland family apparently being connected with the Hook family by marriage. John Hook's papers consist of daybooks, ledgers, letter books, and memoranda of his mercantile firm and its branch stores, as well as plantation and land records of his extensive holdings and genealogical materials. There is also information concerning sequestration proceedings brought against him by David Ross, a former business partner. The records span the last quarter of the eighteenth century and document the American colonial and post-revolutionary trade system. Records of Bowker Preston and Smithson Davis concern the operation of their mercantile firms, 1813-1830, and include information on goods purchased in Philadelphia, New York City, and Richmond and Lynchburg, Va., and on the tobacco trade in Virginia, especially the effects of the panic of 1819. Records of the Holland family consist of merchants' correspondence, ledgers, account books, and daybooks.
30 Linear Feet
Approx. 7392 Items
Material in English
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

Letters, papers, and mercantile records of John Hook (1745-1808), wealthy Scottish merchant and Tory; of the mercantile firm of Bowker Preston, Hook's son-in-law, and Smithson H. Davis at Goose Creek, Bedford County, Virginia; and of a similar firm of Asa, Smithson H., and Alexander G. Holland and John D. Booth at Halesford and Germantown, both in Franklin County, the Holland family apparently being connected with the Hook family by marriage.

The records of John Hook are comprised of daybooks, ledgers, letter books, and memoranda of the mercantile firm of Ross and Hook at New London, Campbell County Virginia, 1771-1784, of branch stores at Bedford Court House and Falling River in Bedford County, and of John Hook's mercantile establishment in Hale's Ford from 1784 to 1808. These records reflect the nature of goods in common use, the volume of trade, the large trade in iron, the manufacture of plantation tools at Hook's blacksmith shop, and the operation of his distillery. Concerning the mercantile operations are various memoranda and notes kept by Hook relative to debts due him, places of abode of the debtors, and the type of security for the debts; schedule of court days in the various counties of Virginia; inventories of goods; and letters relative to the operation of his business. Many of the records reveal information on the operation of Hook's valuable plantations, two in Franklin County and one in Montgomery County; much concerning the purchase, prizing and shipment of tobacco, usually on the barter basis; and information on large-scale purchase of Revolutionary land warrants with long lists of land owned by Hook.

A great proportion of Hook's papers relate to sequestration proceedings brought against him by David Ross, his partner in business from 1771 until after the Revolution. Concerning the suit are numerous depositions, explanations, histories of the operation of the firm, letters, inventories, lists of questions to be asked of his lawyers (Edmund Randolph and Philip Norbonne Nicholas) and witnesses, copies of letters and documents, and petitions to the Court for various concessions. There are many papers and letters relative to Nanny Pegee's efforts to sue Hook for her freedom. Nanny Pegee had been held as a slave by Hook since 1787 and had brought suit against him in 1803. Hook's efforts to recover Nanny Pegee from Congressman George Hancock, with whom she stayed, are also documented. Included are long lists of slaves; many papers concerning Hook's determination to serve as administrator of the estate of an Englishman, Jeffrey Gresley, who had owed Hook a large sum; many papers concerning the suit of sequestration after Hook's death; papers dealing with the administration of Hook's estate; numerous depositions and other papers relative to the disposition of the estate of Henry Hook, son of John Hook; and letters discussing the Revolutionary War, fugitive slaves, and prominent political figures.

Included also are papers concerning Hook's troubles with the Bedford County Committee of Safety, and two letter books. The papers connected with the Committee of Safety consist of a summons, a rough draft of Hook's reply, his discharge from jail, his oath of allegiance, and others of a similar nature, all bearing on an accusation that Hook had disseminated pamphlets antagonistic to the American cause. The letter books, 1763-1784, contain much information on mercantile pursuits in colonial Virginia, Hook's partnerships, analyses of trade opportunities at various locations, and information on several Scottish merchants prominent in colonial Virginia and their connections in Scotland. Included also is much information concerning David Ross and his connections with Hook before the Hook-Ross suit was started. Among the letters is information on Hook's family life, his wife, his children, his father and his father's family in Scotland, and his brothers in Jamaica. Records centering around Bowker Preston and Smithson H. Davis pertain to the operation of mercantile establishments at Goose Creek and Falling River in Bedford County from 1813 until about 1830, with letters between the partners concerning goods purchased in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, New York City, and Richmond and Lynchburg, Virginia; the purchase, prizing, and sale of tobacco; and the disastrous effects of the panic of 1819. There are also inventories of goods, including one in 1819 which contains the titles of many books and different types and styles of merchandise in common use; ledgers, daybooks, and other mercantile records; and personal letters to Preston after the dissolution of the firm.

Records pertaining to the Holland family are, with the exception of a constable's records kept by Asa Holland while an officer of Franklin County, confined to correspondence, ledgers, account books, and daybooks for the mercantile firms of Asa and Smithson H. Holland and John D. Booth.

Included also are manuscript arithmetic books kept by Robert Hook, Peter D. Holland, and John Hook, Jr., and numerous volumes containing accounts of the Ross-Hook lawsuit. Scattered through the papers and memoranda are various recipes for the cure of rheumatism, an affliction of both Hook and Preston. Among the correspondence are a few perfunctory letters from James Innes, H. H. Leavitt, B. W. Leigh, P. N. Nicholas, and Edmund Randolph. Included also are numerous documents signed by W. W. Hening and copies of Hook's letters and legal documents concerning the Ross-Hook suit.

Biographical / historical:

John Hook (1745-1808) came to Virginia at the age of twelve or thirteen years in 1758 as a clerk for William and James Donald, Scotch merchants and ship owners of Greenock, Scotland. He later married Elizabeth Smith, daughter of Colonel John Smith of Goochland to which union six children, at least, were born: Henry Hook (1775-1811), who was educated at William and Mary but died young of alcoholism; John Hook, Jr., a physician who died mysteriously in 1807 in Nashville, Tennessee; Elizabeth, who married Christopher Clark, an attorney and U.S. Representative from Virginia (1804-1806) of Bedford County, Va., and had at least six children of her own; Charlotte, who married Dr. Samuel Griffin first, and had at least four children, and married second William Shrewsbury; Margaret (d. 1822), who married Thomas West, had one daughter, and probably married Smithson H. Davis second; and Catherine, who married Bowker Preston and had at least four children.

Hook's career as a merchant is reflected clearly in his papers after 1771 when he entered into partnership with David Ross, but the place and number of branch stores operated are not always clear. From 1771 to 1784, his main store was located at New London in Campbell County, and during that period and later, he operated a store at Bedford Court House and another known as the Falling River Store in Bedford County. In 1784, he moved to Hale's Ford (also spelled Hailsford), Franklin County. Here he operated a store, a distillery, a blacksmith shop, and three plantations: one on which he lived at Hale's Ford, another one probably more valuable called Maggotty because of its location on Maggotty Creek in Franklin County, and another known as Burksfork in Montgomery County.

Following the Revolutionary War, a significant portion of Hook's life was devoted to the sequestration proceedings instituted against him by David Ross. This suit remained in the courts from 1791 until 1850, long after the death of both principals. The sequestration trials began after Ross criticized Hook's numerous lawsuits, brought against his debtors after the Revolutionary War when the latter were unable to repay. In one case, Hook sued an army commissary, Venable, who had taken Hook's cows for troops in 1781. (Venable was defended by Patrick Henry, whose speech against Hook only added to Hook's unpopularity as a Tory.) When the sequestration proceedings began in 1791, Hook began repeated trips to Richmond and hired lawyers such as James Innes, Edmund Randolph, Philip Norbonne Nicholas, John Marshall, and Patrick Henry. He also attempted to obtain William R. Davie. Following his death, William Wirt and Benjamin Watkins Leigh were employed by his heirs. The suit resulted in Hook's store, distillery, and shop being locked by the sequestrators, as well as an attempt to haul his property eighteen miles from Hale's Ford to the court house for public auction. It also led to animosity towards him in the community.

Another significant portion of the collection centers around the activities of Bowker Preston, Hook's son-in-law, whose mercantile firm was Davis and Preston at Goose Creek (later called Davis Mills) in Bedford County. This firm, composed of Preston and Smithson H. Davis, seemed to prosper until the panic of 1819, after which time it was continued for a while but under great difficulty. After 1819, John O. Leftwhich entered the firm, and by 1830 it appears that all partners were almost bankrupt.

Acquisition information:
The John Hook papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library as a purchase in 1950s.
Processing information:

Processed by Rubenstein Library Staff, 1950s

Encoded by Meghan Lyon, February 2011

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[Identification of item], John Hook Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University