Thursday, 16 May 2019

A Mercantile Family's Correspondence 1743-1866

In September 2018, papers relating to the Terry family of Hull were deposited with Hull History Centre.

The papers consist of a large quantity of correspondence which has the potential to reveal a great deal about the religious development of the Hull area and beyond during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It could also be useful in telling us more about merchant family relationships in Hull as well as helping to shed light on the many battles for social reform and philanthropic causes that took place during this time, including William Wilberforce’s campaign to end slavery. The correspondence makes a fascinating read and has now been catalogued under the reference C DFTF. Additionally, the depositor created transcriptions of the correspondence, copies which are available in our search room [C SRL/T/46].

The Terry family were merchants. Richard Terry (c.1740-1804) was a Hull shipowner. His company ‘Richard Terry & Sons’, traded primarily with the Baltic and Russia importing timber. He was also an Evangelical Anglican. A Methodist sympathiser, he was a devotee of John Wesley, who visited Richard’s Hull home at Newland several times and once even preached in his garden. Richard married Anne Avison in in 1767.

One of Richard and Anne's sons was Avison Terry, another merchant and ship owner who served Hull twice as Mayor (1827, 1829) and once as Sheriff (1813). He was the person responsible for raising £1,110 by public subscription for the building of St. John's Church, Newland. The Church was consecrated by the Archbishop of York on 23rd September 1833.

Newland Parish Church, Hull [L RH/3/315]

Ann Terry’s brother was William Charles Avison (1746-1821), another Baltic trader who spent most of his working life in Baltic ports, mainly Narva (Russia) and Elsinore (Denmark). From the correspondence it is clear that he was in close business contact with Richard Terry. However there had been a short period when the suitability of Richard as a husband for Ann was in doubt. Some of the letters make astonishing reading and are certainly good examples of what women faced when they dared to marry someone whom their family and friends deemed unsuitable!

Other letters in the collection are from members of the Stillingfleet family. Rev. James Stillingfleet [1741-1826], a noted evangelical, attended Oxford University and became a Master of Arts and fellow of Merton College. He was ordained as a deacon in 1764 and as a priest in 1766. He became rector of Hotham in 1771, where he remained for nearly 56 years until his death. One of his closest friends was the Rev. Joseph Milner headmaster of Hull Grammar School, himself a prominent evangelical and historian.

Another contributor is John Thornton of Clapham, London (1720-1790). He was a merchant involved in the Baltic trades and Russia and an early patron of the evangelical movement in Britain. Some sources suggest that John Thornton was the second richest man in Europe. He traveled extensively and spent most of his fortune on promoting the Evangelical movement and buying up parish patronages so that they could install evangelical priests thus contributing to churches in many different parts of the country. Some correspondence is between John Thornton and Richard Terry and relates to the churches in and around Hull, including Cottingham. During this period the mainstream Church of England was in a parlous state with much corruption and absentee clergymen claiming their salaries.

John Thornton married Lucy Watson in 1753. Their sons; Henry, Samuel and Robert all became Members of Parliament and members of the Clapham Sect of evangelical reformers determined to reform the established church. The Clapham Sect was led by Rev. Henry Venn, curate at Holy Trinity, Clapham Common. The Thornton brothers, close friends and cousins of William Wilberforce, were also associated with the campaign for the abolition of the slave trade and many other campaigns for social reform and philanthropic causes, as were the Terry and the Stillingfleet families.

Portrait of William Wilberforce, 1836 [L DFWW/3/1]

This is a fantastic collection and we are really happy to be able to promote it as a valuable historical research resource. As a hitherto undiscovered collection, the research value is huge and would make a fantastic project for any student of history.

Anyone wishing to learn more about this collection can visit us at the History Centre. For visiting information please see our website. A full descriptive catalogue is available to view in paper format in the searchroom and will shortly be available through the online catalogue.

Elspeth Bower, Archivist Librarian (Hull City Archives)

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