The Callister Papers, Volumes I and II

by Mary Klein, Diocesan Archivist

A most interesting collection of early Maryland documents, known as the Callister Papers, has been housed in the Diocesan Archives since the 1850’s. Chiefly made up of the correspondence, business records and various manuscripts of Henry Callister and his wife Sarah Trippe Callister, these documents shed light upon life in a small remote village on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in the eighteenth century. Henry Callister came to Maryland as a factor, or agent, for Foster Cunliffe & Sons of Liverpool, England in 1742, and lived in Oxford, Talbot County, and at “Townside”, an estate in Kent & Queen Anne Counties, about 12 miles north of Chestertown on the Chester River.

We must note that in addition to supplying merchant goods to markets in the New World, Henry Callister’s employers, Foster Cunliffe & Sons, were heavily involved in the slave trade. In fact, Foster Cunliffe, as a young man, had thought to go into the Church, but was apprenticed instead to Richard Norris, who owned one of the first slave ships to leave Liverpool. Cunliffe amassed a fortune, and by the middle of the eighteenth century he and his sons had shares in 26 ships; at least four of them were slave ships. Reflecting the association between merchants and traders, in a letter of September 2, 1759, Henry Callister wrote to “Captain Potter” saying, “I have this day received a letter from Mr. Robert Morris of Philadelphia desiring me to inform him of your abilities to take the command of a good vessel properly fitted for the Guinea trade, and on my approbation, desiring me to acquaint you.” Robert Morris, known as the Financier of the American Revolution, was also born in Liverpool, the son of a tobacco trader, and came to the Colonies at age 14. Having made his money by shipping and trading in human cargo, his role in the Revolution was to raise enough money to create an American army and navy, but in 1759, he was obviously engaged in slaving, as shown by his ownership of a boat involved with “the Guinea trade”.

How these rare papers (all 869 pages of them) came to be in the possession of the Diocesan Archives can be attributed to the Rev. Ethan Allen, our first historiographer and avid collector of manuscripts. In 1858 Allen was writing a sketch of the Rev. Thomas Bacon (who compiled the “Laws of Maryland” and was rector of Anglican churches in Oxford, Maryland, Dover, Delaware and Frederick, Maryland) when he came across Bacon’s tract concerning slaves and their masters in which Bacon mentioned Mr. Callister, also of Oxford. When Allen visited “Myrtle Grove”, the home of the late U.S. Senator Robert H. Goldsborough in Talbot County, Mr. Goldsborough’s daughter Mary showed Allen Callister’s boxes of letter books and papers, which contained correspondence from Bacon. How did the Callister papers end up at “Myrtle Grove”? Henry Callister died in 1768, and his widow Sarah took all his papers with her when she set up a girls’ school in Chestertown. Sarah Callister died in 1805 in the home of her sister – which was “Myrtle Grove”. Later the home of the Goldsborough family, “Myrtle Grove” became the attic depository of the papers which Ethan Allen would recover in the 1850’s. After decades in an unheated attic, the papers suffered from dampness and gnawing predators, chemical deterioration, and brittle fragility. Although the collection was photostated in 1931, it was not until Garner Ranney struck a collaborative deal with a donor from the Queen Anne’s County Historical Society that the papers were restored in 1980 and can now be researched with ease.

Letter from the Rev. Thomas Bacon to Henry Callister, April 12, 1756
(click image to see a close up)

Not only do the Callister Papers reveal details of many citizens of the Eastern Shore, but they also tell a story of the social and cultural conditions of a remote outpost of the British Empire before the Revolution. Material about the French and Indian War, the natural history of Maryland, social life of the era, the tobacco trade, mercantile relations with Great Britain, and insights into slavery are only a few topics contained in the documents.

Henry Callister wrote an 8-page description of “Some Accounts of the Most Remarkable Curiosities of Maryland, or the Rarities of the New World”, perhaps to amaze his friends and family back in the Old World. His description of a muskrat, so abundant in the rivers of the Eastern Shore, is fascinating. “This is one of the most extraordinary & curious of the animal creations. Here is a creature the size of a common cat, the whole of him at first view has some resemblance of a racoon, but the hair of his body comes nearer to the hair of a hog than the fur of that animal; his feet & nose are like a racoon, his tail entirely like a rat’s tail, his teeth like a dog’s.” Callister talks about the “birds, beasts, fishes, insects, trees & plants which for their near resemblance & similarities of their nature to that of the European kind have justly received the same names, yet in general they are both different and special.”

In 1750, Henry Callister outfitted a store on the Wye River for a cost of £1274 -13 -7. Among the items he stocked were “Bibles & Common Prayers”, fans, gauze handkerchiefs, tin colanders & cheese toasters, candlesticks & snuffers, spice mortars, black jacks (a large container for beer or ale), snuff boxes, bellows, sheep shears, frying pans, chafing dishes, looking glasses & glassware, boots, “all the green teas”, Irish linens, writing paper, cambric & lawn (fabrics) “all sorts of crockery”, grindstones, “an assortment of hats” and brass locks.

The relationship between Thomas Bacon and Henry Callister may have begun as customer and merchant but evolved into one of intimate friendship and support. The Rev. Mr. Bacon wrote Callister on December 23, 1756, with requests for a variety of items. “I must request the favour of your sending me & bearer, three bushels of salt and charge my account with it. Can you spare us a few roots of good celery? What is the price of your rum & best brown sugar? If you have got any coffee, pray send me a couple of pounds; and a pound or two of chocolate if any to spare. Compliments to Mrs. Callister. Many happy returns of the good season to you both.” The following March, Mr. Bacon wrote, “I have a parcel of garden ground, but neither spade to dig it with nor seed to sow in it. If you have got any spades, let me have one, and a few seeds out of your stock. Perhaps cheese may be had, necessary, you know on certain occasions. Pray let me have another bushel of salt or my beef will spoil. …If you have any good news by your ship, on whose arrival I wish you joy, please let me have a sketch of it. If bad, keep it to yourself, for I have had no other for some time past, and begin to be heartily tired of it. …I have still a heart open to candour & friendship, which you will always find when I shall at any time have the pleasure of assuring you in person that I am with great esteem your very affectionate humble servant, Thomas Bacon.”

Henry Callister, Plan for Assortment, Abstract of Merchandise, 1750 – 1751

Henry Callister’s Index of Ships

Letter from the Rev. Thomas Bacon to Henry Callister, December 23, 1756

Lest we think of the early inhabitants of the Eastern Shore lacked any cultural opportunities, an April 3, 1756 letter from Bacon to Callister noted, “By the firing of the guns, I expect your ship is arrived, & I wish you joy. You’ll not forget that Mr. Harrison expects the Musical Society at his house on Monday. Col. Chamberlain, I hope, has notice, and that business will not prevent your attendance. We shall want what music you & he have, with the tenor fiddle, etc., which please to bring up with you; and Monsieur de L’ amour must not fail.” On October 26, 1756, Bacon wrote, “We had on Friday & Saturday last at Col. Lloyd’s the most delightful concert America can afford. My honorable fiddle being accompanied on the harpsicord by the famous Signor Palma who really is a thorough master on that instrument and his execution surprising. Signor Palma has promised me one evening at Jeremy Dickinson’s where I shall also expect your attendance.  p.s. You see by this specimen how badly I am off for paper. Can you spare a few quires?”

In April of 1756, Thomas Bacon suffered the death of his only son John, whom Bacon called “Jacky”. John Bacon, a casualty of the French and Indian War (1754-1763), was a lieutenant commanding troops from Annapolis, when he was killed near Fort Cumberland. Thomas Bacon wrote Callister on April 12, “I’m much obliged for your kind communication of circumstances relating to the melancholy loss of my son. The following is what my taylor will be wanting for the coat I shall put on in respect to his memory: 2 ½ yards of superfine black cloth; 5 yards shalloon (a lightweight fabric used for lining); 1 ½ dozen buttons; 1 hank of mohair; 1 hank of silk; 1 hank of thread; ¾ yard buckram. I also want a pair of garters, course cambric for two handkerchiefs, two flagons of your best oyl, and what beeswax you can spare me. And one of your best penknives.”

We owe a debt of gratitude to Henry Callister for keeping such good records, to his wife for saving them, to Ethan Allen for rescuing them, and to Garner Ranney for restoring them. Immersing yourself into the world of Henry Callister can transport you to eighteenth-century Maryland with discoveries of life in a British colony. Callister’s stores furnished Eastern Shore inhabitants with essentials as well as luxury goods for over 25 years, and the wealth of information contained in his papers is available to researchers. As always, visitors are welcome in the Archives, where wonders await.

Callister’s Ferry