The Merchant’s Role

Glasgow woman shopkeeper, late 1700s

Glasgow woman shopkeeper, late 1700s

Courtesy of Glasgow Museums Collection

The market revolution depended on merchants. In their ledgers, they recorded complex dealings about goods from near home and across the oceans. Farmers and artisans paid on credit or bartered with their labor or produce; few paid in hard currency.

William Ramsay's Store

Merchant and shopkeeper Ramsay worked at this desk in Alexandria, Virginia, in the mid-1700s. The desk’s interior was a business center, where the merchant tracked and recorded financial transactions. Ramsay’s account ledgers fit the niches in the upper portion of the bookcase.

William Ramsay’s desk and bookcase, mid-1700s

Letter, 1769

Letter, 1769

The colonial postal system supported long-distance transactions and united the country. Sending letters was expensive, but was a necessary cost of doing business.

Quill pen, about 1750
Quill pen, about 1750

Ribbons and Things

Ramsay sold a variety of goods to many clients, including slaves, farmers, and artisans. Less expensive items, such as English-made ribbons, or more costly objects, like a man’s buckle or an East Indian-made handkerchief, were often purchased on credit. Ramsay received his payment, sometimes months later, in crops, goods, services, and occasionally in currency.

Handkerchief, about 1775

Man’s buckle, mid-to-late 1700s

Man’s buckle, mid-to-late 1700s

Candle snuffer and tray, about 1795

Candle snuffer and tray, about 1795

Lilliputian Magazine, 1765

Lilliputian Magazine, 1765

Farmers in the Market Economy

Most Americans were farmers who labored with simple tools. Though largely feeding themselves, they also engaged in the market economy, selling everything from grain to butter, and purchasing everything from nails to ribbons. Ramsay used these weights and measures to determine accurate quantities of a farmer’s produce.

Homespun sack, mid-1800s

Homespun sack, mid-1800s

Wooden grain fork, mid-to-late 1800s

Ramsay’s official measures, 1744

Ramsay’s official measures, 1744

Lent by Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22, A.F. & A.M., Alexandria, Virginia

Ramsay’s official measures, 1744

Ramsay’s official measures, 1744

Lent by Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22, A.F. & A.M., Alexandria, Virginia

Ramsay’s official measures, 1744

Ramsay’s official measures, 1744

Lent by Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22, A.F. & A.M., Alexandria, Virginia

Ramsay’s official measures, 1744

Ramsay’s official measures, 1744

Lent by Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22, A.F. & A.M., Alexandria, Virginia

Screenshot of the Ramsay ledger interactive displayDecode a historic ledger that belonged to William Ramsay, a merchant in Alexandria, Virginia in the mid-1700s. Learn more about the people and objects that passed through his store. Click on the screenshot above to open the interactive display in a new window.