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Richard Atkinson's descendant David Kellie-Smith has contacted us with this query;

“I am hoping this North Country story may interest one of your members. We need help to interpret an eighteenth century ledger which may conceal a massive fraud. Here is the background. I'm researching the story of an ancestor, Richard 'Rum' Atkinson (1739-85), a West India merchant who became the most scandalous army contractor of the American War of Independence. His numerous government contracts to provide everything from fleets of ships to woolen mittens (and, most notoriously, Jamaican rum) were acquired through John Robinson, who was Lord North's Secretary to the Treasury.

Robinson meanwhile arranged for Richard Atkinson's elder brother, George, a Newcastle based tanner-turned-bill broker, to become receiver-general of the land tax for Cumberland and Westmorland. I own George Atkinson's business ledger for 1778 until the end of the war five years later, from which it's clear that enormous amounts of money were regularly paid into his brother Richard's London partnership in the form of bills and cash. But what I cannot work out - here the eighteenth-century book-keeping defeats me - is whether these payments were loans from George to aid Richard's cashflow at a time when he was greatly stretched, or whether Richard was acting as George's banking correspondent in the capital, or perhaps both? I'd be thrilled to meet someone who might be able to shed further light on this.”

If you know anything about the Atkinsons, or would like to help with David’s research, please e-mail him.


In the future, don’t forget your past