North American journal sells for thousands

An apparently unpublished account of a journey made by two Englishmen across colonial North America sold for a total of £30,000 at Chiswick Auctions in London recently.

Joseph Cator (1733-1818) and Joseph Sparkes had spent four months travelling by horse and carriage from ‘Charles Town’ to Boston accompanied by two black servants, Tancred and Caesar. 

The 88-page manuscript, that carries Cator’s bookplate, is thought be a copy of a letter he wrote to a friend (the name now sadly illegible). Cator, whose brother was an English timber merchant and an MP, had left his native Kent for the sugar plantations of Jamaican around 1754 at the age of 21. The account of his return home a decade later begins in the West Indies on April 1764 with the chartering of a boat to South Carolina. In Charleston they were received by Henry Laurens (1724-92), a merchant, slave trader and member of South Carolina’s colonial assembly who provided them with the letters of introduction that eased their passage to Boston – ‘Be so kind to give them your countenance and aid if requisite as they pass by your door. If they have occasion for Cash their Bills upon me shall by duly honoured.’

Cator using the text to note the places he and his entourage visited, the produce of each area, notable buildings, the people they met, hospitality they received and incidents on the road. Having passed through South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, they arrived in Boston on July 9. 

Such a descriptive account of life in America a decade before the stirrings of revolution had obvious appeal to buyers across the Atlantic. The winning bidder, paying several times the pre-sale estimate, was from Massachusetts.