GOODS BETWEEN BALTIMORE AND WEST INDIES
by Pat Melville
A state Chancery Court case
heard between 1807 and 1809 provides detailed financial information on
trade between Baltimore and the West Indies. (Chancery Papers) 4883 [MSA
S512-5035, MdHR 17,898-4883-1/21] concerns a suit filed by John Smith,
a master mariner, against James Biays, a merchant in Baltimore. Smith stated
that he and Biays were partners involved in shipping goods between Baltimore
and the West Indies from 1799 to 1806. Smith classified himself as master,
supercargo, and part owner of vessels and their cargo. He claimed that
much of the income from the sale of merchandise was deposited with Biays
who "produced such a complicated account as rendered it impossible for
your orator to define accurately the sum due to him." After dissolution
of the partnership in 1806 the two men tried to settle their accounts.
Smith alleged that accounts worth $90,000 remained unsettled and wanted
the court to make a determination.
Biays offered a different
version of the transactions with Smith. Biays said he employed Smith as
a ship's master for the years 1799-1801 and paid him monthly wages. The
partnership supposedly existed only between January 1801 and May 1805.
During that time Biays claimed that he bore most of the expenses, sometimes
meeting them by borrowing money at a high interest rate. He filed several
accounts, one of which showed Smith indebted to Biays for $10,000.
Most of the papers found
in the twenty-one folders consist of exhibits detailing shipping expenses,
cargo values, and merchandise sales. The documents included wage agreements
with crew members, cargo invoices, insurance policies, letters, bills of
lading, and other account statements. An auditor appointed by the Chancellor
analyzed the documents and filed an initial report and