Fraser, Trenholm and the end of the American Civil War

April 2014 to April 2015

The current and final archives display in the series about Liverpool and the American Civil War | features a selection of documents relating to the role of Fraser, Trenholm and Co of 10 Rumford Place, Liverpool in the final years of the war. 

Letter 1: from Charles K Prioleau, Liverpool to George A Trenholm, 29 June 1864, written ten days after the CSS Alabama was sunk at Cherbourg (19 June 1864). Archive reference B/FT/8/1 Letter 319 Letter 2: from Mary Prioleau to her husband, Charles K Prioleau, referring to the St Georges Hall Bazaar in aid of the Southern Prisoners' Relief Fund, 26 August 1864. Archive reference B/FT/1/88 Letter 3: from GA Trenholm, Fort Pulaski, Georgia, 4 Oct 1865. Archive reference B/FT/Box 1/128 Letter 4:  from James D Bulloch, Rumford Court, Liverpool,  to General CJ McRae, Agent of the CS Treasury Department, London and Fraser Trenholm and Co, Depositaries of the CS Treasury Department, Liverpool 18 March 1865. Archive reference B/FT/1/6 page 4

Fraser, Trenholm and Co was a prominent commercial house in Liverpool.  The firm’s senior partner, Charles K Prioleau, was a naturalised Englishman, who had been brought up in Charleston, South Carolina, where most of his family still lived.  It was the English branch of Fraser, Trenholm and Co, based in Charleston whose senior partner, George A. Trenholm, became Secretary to the Confederate States Treasury in 1864.  

The Liverpool firm made an enormous contribution to the war effort of the South, acting as banker to the Confederate Government, financing the supply of armaments, blockade running and organising the building on the Mersey of ships such as the commerce-destroyer, Alabama.

Select the thumbnails above to see highlights from the display and read about them below.

Letter 1

Sent from Charles K Prioleau to George A Trenholm

This letter was written on 29 June 1864, ten days after the CSS Alabama was sunk at Cherbourg (19 June 1864). Charles K Prioleau was a senior partner of Liverpool merchants and bankers Fraser, Trenholm and Co. His letterbook covering the period 1862-1865 contains copy letters to many leading Confederates, with references to blockade running. 

Partial transcript of extract from letter:

"We are much depressed at the loss of the ‘Alabama’ particulars of which you will have received etc this through the newspapers.  It was certainly a gallant act, but to unprofessional eyes looks a very unnecessary one.  However Capt Semmes probably knew best and there is no help for it now.  On the other hand the political effect has been good and the most profound sensation and sympathy has been produced by the action both in France and England.

We continue deeply anxious for the result of the continued bloody & momentous struggle in Virginia but have so far every occasion for profound gratitude for the position held by our armies and our light loss compared with that of the enemy. 

With much affectionate regard from all to all

Yours most sincerely CKP"

Archive reference B/FT/8/1 Letter 319

Letter 2

St Georges Hall Bazaar in aid of the Southern Prisoners’ Relief Fund

In October 1864 Liverpool staged a bazaar at St George's Hall called the 'Southern Prisoners' Relief Fund'. It lasted for 5 days and raised more than £20,000. Charles Prioleau was the treasurer and his wife Mary hosted a stall, attractions included a raffle for a donkey!

The display includes a letter from Mary Prioleau to her husband, Charles K Prioleau, on 26 August 1864, in which she writes:

"I do wish the Bazaar was over I am sure it is going to be worse than troublesome in some ways. There sees to be so little satisfaction felt amongst the various ladies connected with it. I hope I shall have strength enough to hold my tongue whatever happens..."

Archive reference B/FT/1/88

Letter 3

Sent from GA Trenholm, Fort Pulaski, Georgia, 4 Oct 1865

"Despite being in prison, his health is still good. He is in favour of abolition of slavery and believes that every effort should be made to "elevate" Blacks."

George Alfred Trenholm sent this letter from Fort Pulaski, Georgia, 4 Oct 1865. He was the senior partner in Fraser, Trenholm and Co based at Charleston. He was appointed Secretary to the Confederate States Treasury in July 1864 and was arrested by the Union in June 1865  along with the other heads of the blockade running firms because they would not reveal the whereabouts of the Confederate funds.

On 11 October Trenholm was released on parole. However, although he had resigned from the firm when he became Secretary of the Treasury, the US government held his partners liable, including the Charles Prioleau and Theodore Wagner (head of John Fraser and Co, Charleston) were prosecuted with lawsuits. These long drawn out  legal cases  eventually bankrupted Fraser Trenholm, and cost the United States virtually all of the funds recovered.

Archive reference B/FT/Box 1/128

Letter 4

Seny by James D Bulloch

This lengthy six page letter, written towards the end of the war on 18 March 1865, highlights the involvement of Fraser, Trenholm and Co, in the funding of the Confederate cause. It was sent to General CJ McRae, Agent of the CS Treasury Department in London and Fraser Trenholm and Co, Depositaries of the CS Treasury Department, in Liverpool 

James Dunwoody Bulloch, agent for the Confederate Navy in Britain, based at Rumford Court, Liverpool, has been asked to transfer £40,000 from Navy funds to meet bills drawn on Fraser, Trenholm and Co.  He states that to meet the demands of the Treasury Department above £40,000 would put an end to all his offensive operations.

You can also see first page of this letter in an earlier feature on the American Civil War|.

Partial transcript of page four: 

"…in a condition to meet unexpected demands. The Shenandoah and Stonewall, although far away at sea, are by no means off my hands; allotment tickets for officers and men attached to them must be paid monthly, and evidently cannot be neglected, and either of them may at any time be compelled to seek harbour for repairs or be forced by the casulaties of the sea and of war, to draw upon me for very considerable amounts. My functions have lately been greatly enlarged under date of Decr. 16th 1864, the Dept. places me in actual Navl Command abroad, and directs me to retain such officers in Europe, as I may require for future expeditions of the kind aforementioned, and points out the "earnest desire of the Government to place cruizers afloat". In compliance with these instructions I have ordered a number of officers to remain within reach, and I have an important expedition in progress of organization, which will require a large sum of money to complete, and which after completion and departure will continue to be,  like the others, a source of expenditure which must be provided for in advance. Furthermore the Navy Dept. from time to time draws upon me for expeditions fitted out and purchases made upon the other side of the Atlantic, and the bills are frequently presented through Banks, or parties who have come into possession of the them in the regular course of business; and not to pay such Drafts would affect the credit of the Government quite as ruinously as failure to meet a demand upon the Treasury Dept. It results from my official position as this set forth, that it is quite impossible for me to calculate even approximately the liabilities of the Navy Dept., for though all purchasing may be suspended, there must be continuous outlay, only a portion of..."  

Archive reference B/FT/1/6 page 4