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James Caldwell: Immigrant Entrepreneur

James Caldwell: Immigrant Entrepreneur

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Published by Tricia Barbagallo

Hudson Valley Region Review 2000, vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 54-68.

Hudson Valley Region Review 2000, vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 54-68.

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Tricia Barbagallo on Jan 23, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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10/16/2013

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Excavation
of
1780s
Albany wharf.
Vertical timbers from a bulkhead; horizontal tim-bers from the wharf. Courtesy
of
Hartgen ArcheologicalAssociates,Rensselaer.
 
J
mes
Caldwell,
ImmigrantEntrepreneur*
Tricia
A.
Barbagallo
Acolleagueintroduced metoJam
es
Ca
ldwell
in
1992
when
he
showedme
an
etching
of
Caldwell'sMills nearAlbany.I was intriguedto see such extensive factories
on
the
Hudson River
as
early
as
1790.
Hoping to
understand howa
common
Irish immigrant w
as
able to buildsuch
an
industry,I looked foranswers in Warren
County
and
Alb
any repositories,
and
I hiked Albany's hillystreets,walking
the
beat
of
the man
whosaw a small
port
townandchanged it into a
center
for industry and commerce. I paced
the
Lake George beaches to becomeaware
of
how Caldwell developed
the
nearly barren shores
into
a communityforshipping,travelers,
and
industry.Ilet my work rest forseven years periodically collectingbits
of
information.
In
1999, my interest
in
Caldwell wasrenewed
when
mywork
as
ahistorianfor Hartgen Archeological Associatespresented arare and more realistic insight into hiseverydaylife. Archeologistsexcavated
the
eighteenth-centuryAlbanywaterfront
and
revealed
the
remains
of
James Caldwell'sdock.I
had
the
oncein-a-lifetime pleasure
of
sauntering
on
the
very timbers where barrels
of
New
York's first manufactured products were rolled
onto
sloops.Istood
onthe
veryspotwhere two
hundred
yearsearlier
Ca
ldwellscoped incoming vessels,a
nd
Iimagined
him
shoutingorders
with
his Irish broguetoworkmenwholoaded wares.I pictured
him
in his knickers
andthree-point
hat,and, knowing hishumor, Isaw
him
snicker
and
laugh.
Th
en
Isaw
him
twirl
hi
scane,swiftly
tum,
and
head
up
Maiden
Lane backto
hi
sstore.
As
my imagin
at
ion watched
him
leave, I thought, theregoesJames
Ca
ldwell,
the
founder
ofthe
American
facto
ry
a
nd
an
inventor
of
American
business.
While
my interest inCaldwellstemmedfrom a personalcuriosityitledme
to
conclude
th
at ifitweren't for JamesCaldwell,Albany, LakeGeorge,
New
York State,and
the
Northeast
would not be
what
theyaretoday.
'Iwish above a
ll
to ac
kn
owledge
Stefan
Bi
e
li
nskifor redirecting
my
stubborn energy andurgingme topursue
Ca
ldwell.
Without
his
int
erest and appreciation,mywork would beless valuable.I
th
a
nk
Prudence BackmanandMarySchiffe
rl
y
atth
eMcKinneyLibraryfor being so
attentive
in r
et
rievingd
oc
uments.Iam indebtedmost
to
Ned
Hoskin,a
ndto
Sea
nKeegan,
Graham
Hodges,and
th
enoble
Tom
Wallacefor
theircomments
anden
co
urageme
nt.
James Caldwe
ll
,ImmigrantEntrepreneur
55
 
JamesCaldwell
was
bornin
1747, inDonegal County,northwest Ireland.
In
hisearlytwenties James took his lastlook
atthe
rocky cliffs
and
heather-coveredhills beforeleaving
to
beginanew life in theColonies.A pious Presbyterian dis
contented
with
an
increasingly
Catholic
state,he
and
hisolderbrother, Joseph, found
their
way to Philadelphia.
With
the
establishment
ofthe
DonegalPresbytery in Pennsylvania, Philadelphiabecame a
haven
for Scots-Irish immigrantsoffering awelcoming destination for
the
Caldwells.James found work
as
acourier runninggoods
and
mail
to
the
New
York frontier for
merchant
FrancisWade. As abroker for
New
York'sCommissioner
of
Indian AffairsSirWilliam Johnson, Wade transportedslaves
and
furniture and promoted
settlementin
the
Mohawk
Valley. Using
their
connections
to
WadeandJohnson,
the
Caldwellslearned
the
ropes
of
retailin
g,
developed trustworthy reputations,a
nd
established relationships withsome
of the
most notable merchants
on
the
E
as
tern
seaboard.
They
stayedin Philadelphia long
enough to
deepen
their
ties withlocalmerchants,
then
took
their
moneyandleftPhiladelphia
to
make
their own
way.
Keen
and
ambitious,they headed for Albany, realizing
the
centrality
ofthe
inland po
rt
town would makea success
oftheir
newly found initiative.
I
The
Ca
ldwells
opened
a grocery storeon
Market
Street
to
serve
the
locals
and
sawafuture
as
suppliersfor
John
son.
They
broke
into
the
retail market bysellingimportedfoods
th
at were unavailable
in Albany
stores.Scots-Irish localsyearningfor
homeland
foodsappreciated
their
rice,
Scotch
snuffa
nd
Scotch
barley,allspice,
and
groundmustard.Shoppers suchasScots-Irish
physicians
Hunloke
W
oo
druff, William McClelland,
and
JamesLow-
and
James's comrades
atthe
Masters Lodge,allwould have indulged
their
desire forsmokedmeats
and
cheeses
and
cured
gammon(bacon).
Th
e Caldwellsalsointroduced
hard-t
o-find expensive
items-citrus
fruits
and
more
than
fivevarieties
of
imported liquors.
What
putthem
apartfrom
other
Albany
retailers was
their
supp
ly
of
"Virginiatobacco."
Sincetheir
reasonably pricedgrocerieswereaffordabletoaverageconsumers and
their
specialty items
attracted
Albany'selite, theyestablishedasteadyclientele.
Comparedto
o
therAlbany
retailerswho mainlysoldfabric
and
clothesona
cash-on
lyb
as
is,
the
Caldwellswereeager
to
please
and
acceptedcash, credit,
or
produce,
and
promised
to
importmore "English"
and"American"
goods.
2
Succe
ss
in retailing mea
nt
majorchanges
in their
personal live
s,
a
nd the
brothersestablished
permanent
roots in
Albany
.
In
1774 James returned
to
Philadelphia
on
business a
nd
boarded
at
the
houseof militaryofficera
nd
mer
chant
William Barnes. Beforeleaving
the
city, Jamesmadealife-long business
investment
.
At
27
he
married Barnes's daughter,
Eliz
abeth, locking himself
into
56
The
Hud
sonValleyRegionalReview

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