Merchants played a vital role in the successful development of Liverpool in the 18th century. It was usual at this time for merchants to deal in a wide range of commodities and trading areas, and they were often involved in other business interests such as insurance, banking and brokerage, and ship owning and shipbuilding. For example, Bryan Blundell, was a master mariner and merchant engaged mainly in the transatlantic trade and the firm of T and J Brocklebank , were merchants as well as ship owners and shipbuilders until 1864. Other Liverpool merchant companies which also engaged in ship owning include John Holt, in trade with West Africa, and Sandbach, Tinne, whose interests included West Indian sugar plantations, ship owning, trade in rice, transportation of coolies from India and the sale of sugar in the United Kingdom. The papers of slave trader William Davenport give a detailed insight into all areas of his mercantile activities in the 18th century.

From about 1800 merchants in Liverpool began to specialise in one particular area or commodity, the result of the increase in the volume of trade and the rising complexity of commercial mechanisms. Records of specialist merchants in Liverpool, held at the Maritime Archives and Library, include those of William Gardner and Co, provision merchants, and William Lowe (Grain) Ltd.

There is also important material to be found in the archives of families who were engaged in mercantile trade, such as the Cropper, Earle and Crosbie-Oates families. One of our most outstanding collections are the correspondence and other documents of Fraser, Trenholm and Co, of 10 Rumford Place, Liverpool (1860-1866), and of Prioleau and Co, of London (1867-1877). During the American Civil War (1861-1865) Fraser, Trenholm was a prominent commercial house in Liverpool. The Liverpool firm made an enormous contribution to the war effort of the South, acting as banker to the Confederate Government and financing the supply of armaments in return for cotton.

See our online information sheets for further information on the collections described above.