PERRY, Micajah (d.1753), of St. Mary Axe, London and Epsom, Surr.
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Family and Education
s. of Richard Perry, merchant, of Leadenhall St., London, director of Bank of England 1699-1701, by his w. Sarah;1 bro.-in-law of William Heysham. m. Elizabeth, da. of Richard Cocke, linen-draper, of London,2 s.p. suc. fa. 1720; gd.-fa. Micajah Perry 1721.
Haberdashers’ Co., master 1727-8; alderman of London 1728, sheriff 1734-5, ld. mayor 1738-9; col. Orange Regt. 1738-45.
Perry’s grandfather was the greatest tobacco merchant in England and agent for Virginia.3 Inheriting the family business in 1721, Perry handled the affairs of the Virginia planters in London, and was frequently consulted by the board of Trade about the colony.4 In 1723 he told a House of Commons committee investigating customs frauds in Scotland
that his father ... paid upon the importation of tobacco, to the Crown, for duties, from £80,000 to £100,000 p.a., and that he does not now pay above £30,000 p.a. because the North Britons give greater prices in Virginia to the correspondents there than he is capable of rendering them here. That he sent out five ships the last year, none of which came home above half laden, although the last crop but one was greater than had been for these two seven years, and that he lost £1,500 by that voyage; that, the same year, the North Britons sent out above 51 sail, all which returned home full-freighted.5
As a result an Act was passed, putting the customs administration of England and Scotland under one commission.6
Returned for London as a government candidate in 1727, Perry soon went over to the Opposition, speaking against the Address in January 1729 and taking a prominent part in the debates on Spanish depredations. In February 1729 he presented a petition from Virginia against a clause in the Act unifying the customs of England and Scotland which prohibited the import of tobacco stripped from the stalk and in 1730 one on behalf of New York for allowing salt to be imported into it from Europe, securing the passing of bills for those purposes. He supported John Barnard’s petition in 1730 to end the monopoly of the East India Company, and in 1732 he moved unsuccessfully that a qualification in the funds be as good as a qualification in land for Members of Parliament. In March 1732 he presented a petition designed to encourage the growing of coffee in Jamaica, as a result of which an Act was passed to promote the growing of coffee in the Plantations.7 He opposed the Molasses Act of 1733, which aimed at giving the West Indian sugar colonies a monopoly of the North American market for their products, writing to the governor of New York:
Last year when the sugar islands presented their petition it was a good deal of surprise to me to find no advocate in the House of Commons for the continent but myself, and I very unequal to such a task, however, I ventured to deliver my sentiments as well as I was able, and had the good fortune to bring over to me one Mr. Barnard, a colleague of mine ... It was laid down as a fundamental that the islands were the only useful colonies we had and that the continent was rather a nuisance. It happened a little unluckily that I had at that time in my hands an account from the custom house of the amount of the duty on sugars imported from all the islands, and I made it appear that I paid more duty on tobacco singly, than they all did upon their importation. I had also an account of their exports and it appeared that my family have exported more of the manufactures of this country to the continent than the island of Barbados ever took off in one year.8
But, as he told the same correspondent,
it is my misfortune at present to be so much out of favour ... that my appearance at the Council board would rather do you hurt than good.9
Perry and Barnard, described as ‘the two tribunes of the London plebeians’,10 led the opposition to the excise bill. On its first reading he
undertook ... to make it appear that the utmost which can possibly be recovered by this bill is £20,000; the frauds (said he) can be but upon 800 hogsheads of tobacco, the duty of which is not £12,000. The pretence of loss to the government by the method of bonding for the duty is made one great argument for this bill, but this very morning the chief tobacco merchants of London were with me to give me an account of the bonds they are under, and they assured me they have now actually in their cellars 12,000 hogsheads of tobacco ready to answer their bonds, the value of which is exceeding more than the £140,000 due from them by those bonds; they are gentlemen of such character and credit, that I can so far depend on their veracity, as to offer for a bottle of claret to answer for all they owe the government.
... If this bill passes, if I continue in the same mind I am, I will quit my trade, as every honest man will do, for if I should offer at a seat in Parliament, is it possible I can act an independent part? No, sir, this bill will subject me to arbitrary power, and my vote must be at the will of the Minister ... It is pretended this bill will ease the fair trader, but on the contrary it will distress them. For the tobacco trade cannot be carried on without the credit of long time given the merchant by taking his bond for the duty. To expect ready money for his duty because he shall not pay it till the retailer pays him, is impossible, the retailer cannot himself pay ready money to the merchants, but is commonly allowed twelve or fifteen months’ time.
I own there may be men found who are of overgrown fortunes, and able to pay down the duty, and when you have turned out of the trades a number of fair and reputable merchants, who have less wealth but more regard to their fellow subjects, these richer men may take it up, but then the trade will be monopolized into a very few hands, and the planter will be enslaved to them. Sir, I speak against my own interest in urging this; for though I have not a very great fortune, because my grandfather and father, who with me have followed this trade for 70 years, left me their own example to content myself with a fair and honest gain, rather than to make haste to be rich, yet my fortune is perhaps good enough for me to commence one of these monopolizers, but I scorn the thought, and shall choose to sit down and leave off business rather than increase what I have by extortion and the oppression of my fellow traders.11
When Walpole was insulted by the anti-excise mob, Perry joined in the general disavowal of these proceedings so vehemently that his tears ‘flowed down his cheek’. Next year he supported a petition of the tea merchants to be relieved from the excise. In 1736 he voted against the Westminster bridge bill to which the common council were opposed, and in March 1737 he supported Barnard’s scheme for a reduction of the interest on the national debt. In 1738 he presented the merchants’ petition on Spanish depredations, taking the chair of the committee of the whole House to consider the petition, 30 Mar., resulting in a motion for an address to the King ‘to use his royal endeavours with his Catholic Majesty to obtain effectual relief for his injured subjects’. On 23 Feb. 1739 he moved unsuccessfully that the city of London’s petition against the Spanish convention should be heard by counsel; in September he received the public thanks of the livery of the city of London for his ‘endeavours to preserve us from the ruinous consequences we then too justly apprehended from the convention with Spain’; and on 18 June 1740 he was thanked by the common council for his support of the place bill. In February 1741 he voted unexpectedly against the motion for Walpole’s dismissal.12
In 1741 Perry was defeated for London. In the spring of 1743 he went to Bath ‘in a condition which made his friends despair for his life’, suffering from ‘a dropsy and not able ever to attend’ the meetings of the corporation.13 In November 1746 he resigned his aldermancy owing to ill-health. Having apparently fallen into financial difficulties, he was granted a pension of £200 p.a. by the court of aldermen, to whom he returned ‘his most humble and hearty thanks for their generous and kind concern for him and for the seasonable support they have given him in his present necessity’.14 He died 22 Jan. 1753.
Ref Volumes: 1715-1754
Author: Eveline Cruickshanks
- 1. N. and Q. clxxix, 59.
- 2. W. P. Treloar, A Ld. Mayor’s Diary, pp. x-xii; Oliver, Antigua, iii. 20.
- 3. Pol. State, xxii. 332; CSP Col. xxix. 10.
- 4. E. Donnan, ‘Micajah Perry’, Jnl. of Econ. Business Hist. iv. 70-98.
- 5. CJ, xx. 102.
- 6. 9 Geo. I, cap. 21.
- 7. HMC Egmont Diary, i. 68, 240; iii. 330; Winnington to Fox, 25 Jan. 1729, Fox mss; CJ, xxi. 232-3, 829, 845-6; 2 Geo II, cap. 9; 5 Geo. II, cap. 24.
- 8. Jnl. of Econ. and Business Hist. iv. 96.
- 9. Cadwaller Colden Pprs. ii. 105-6.
- 10. Hervey, Mems. 168.
- 11. HMC Egmont Diary, i. 351-2.
- 12. Hervey, Mems. 168; Egmont Diary, ii. 19; iii. 192; Harley Diary, 31 Mar. 1736; Chandler, x. 182, 257; Proceedings of the Court of Hustings and Common Hall of the Liverymen of the City of London at the late election for Ld. Mayor, 1739; Jnl. of Common Council, vol. 58, 18 June 1740.
- 13. Stuart mss 249/113; 254/154.
- 14. A. Ld. Mayor’s Diary, p. x.