1796: John Pemberton Pleasants to Samuel Coates

This letter was written by John Pemberton Pleasants (1766-1825), the second son of Samuel Pleasants and Mary Pemberton of Philadelphia. “He wedded his first wife, Anne Cleves Armistead of Hesse, Matthews County, Virginia, on 14 March 1793. His marriage to a woman not of the Quaker faith may have been the reason Pleasants became a member of the Protestant Episcopal Church. Anne Pleasants died on 9 June 1801 leaving her husband with four children. Secondly, on 19 May 1816, Mr. Pleasants married Mary Hall of Harford County, Maryland, who bore him nine children.

“Following his brother Israel, John P. Pleasants came to Baltimore, Maryland, ca. 1785, and helped to establish the Israel and John P. Pleasants Company, a mercantile business engaged in the tobacco and mercantile trade. Their business, however, went bankrupt in 1805. Israel returned to Pennsylvania, but John remained and established the John P. Pleasants Company which later became John P. Pleasants and Sons. Mr. Pleasants lived at 334 St. Paul Street in Baltimore. He died 6 August 1825. His second wife preceded him in death in 1824.”  [Source: Maryland Historical Society]

Samuel Coates of Philadelphia

Pleasants wrote the letter to Samuel Coates (1748-1830, a prominent Quaker merchant in Philadelphia, who was the son of Samuel Coates and Mary Langdale. “In 1767 at the age of nineteen Coates was put in charge of a small commercial business in order to give him practical experience. This first business endeavor lasted until May 31, 1771, when he became a partner of his uncle John Reynell. In January, 1775 Coates married Lydia Saunders, daughter of Joseph and Hannah Saunders. The couple had four children, John Reynell, Hannah, Joseph Saunders and Lydia, all of whom survived their father. His wife Lydia died in 1789. Coates remarried at the end of 1791 to Amy Horner, daughter of Benjamin Hornor, a Market Street merchant. She bore him three children, Samuel Hornor, Benjamin Hornor and Reynell. The American Revolution was the first major event of Coates’s life. As a Whig, he supported the boycott of British goods, but drew back from the prospect of revolution against King George the Third, for whom he had a personal and patriotic attachment. As a Quaker, he found revolution inimical to public morality, but also considered the prosperity of the American colonies best served by continued union with Great Britain. Although a man of Tory sympathies, Coates did not actively oppose the American Revolution. The commercial partnership of Reynell and Coates continued until early 1782, when his uncle retired. Coates revered his uncle John Reynell, and emulated many of his traits. Coates was noted for “strict and severe uprightness,” thoroughness—especially in bookkeeping, prompt attendance to business, determination and a cheerful demeanor. In October, 1783 he entered a business partnership with his brother Josiah Langdale Coates, although it is not clear how long the association continued. With the adoption of the Constitution in 1787, Coates joined the Federalist Party. He rejoiced in the new peace and stability, and feared that the presidency of Thomas Jefferson might again bring disunion and civil war. On September 3, 1791 he entered a new business with Messrs. Moses Brown and the Bartlet brothers of Newburyport, Massachusetts. Later he was associated with Messrs. James and John M. Atwood of Philadelphia. He was involved in commerce, and occasionally became interested in shipping, but not as a ship-owner. He pursued his commercial activities with vigor until the yellow fever epidemic of 1793 caused a general evacuation of the city. Under the circumstances Coates shifted his attention away from business and took a more active role in charitable affairs. Gradually, his business activities became irregular and eventually ceased altogether. Nevertheless, his means were sufficient to retire his debts and to provide for his family. Consequently, he was free to pursue philanthropic and other public commitments. Opportunities for public service abounded. In 1784 Coates was elected Treasurer of the Library Company of Philadelphia, an appointment that he held until 1793, when he took charge of the accounts of the Loganian Library. He faithfully administered its finances for nearly thirty-two years. Coates was better known for his work on the Board of Managers of the Pennsylvania Hospital, a position to which he was elected on July 24, 1785.” [Source: Americal Philsophical Society]

There is mention of Joseph Richardson in the letter. This may have been Joseph Richardson (1752-1831) who was appointed by President Washington as Assayer of the Mint in Philadelphia.

Stampless Letter


Addressed to Samuel Coates, Merchant, Philadelphia [Pennsylvania]

Baltimore [Maryland]
December 27, 1796

Samuel Coates, esteemed friend,

We have thy letter & Capt. [W.] Vickery’s of the 13th inclosing Joseph Richardson’s note for $50 which we shall attend to and by this to inform Capt. Vickery that we intend to write Col. Richardson by the first conveyance, who we have no doubt will pay the amount. Our situation as it respects Bankruptsy and individual confidence has not sustained so fatal an attack as yours, but we have many large traders staggering under the oppression of a wild extended commerce, unsupported by capital who must finally surrender to their creditors a shameful statement of unprincipled speculation. The number is small and the injury will not be severe.

The fall of produce & suspension of shipments more or less affect the engagements of every man in business and we may say with propriety that few find themselves embarrassed whose connections have a general relation. The Banks are cautious but inclined to diffuse its funds for the relief of all who require it & are entitled to liberality.

We are thy friends, — John P. Pleasants & Co.


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