Isaac Allerton and Tobacco

By John M. Hunt, Jr.

Isaac Allerton Tobacco

Mayflower passenger Isaac Allerton, the first Assistant Governor or Plymouth Colony (and as such second in power only to Bradford), was an entrepreneur. Robert Charles Anderson, in The Great Migration Begins, called him "one of the busiest and most complicated men in early New England." And truly he was. Business took him everywhere on the Atlantic seaboard, not to mention Barbados, the Dutch Est Indies, Spain, Portugal, and England. It was only when the profit motive drove him to prefer himself to Plymouth, and thereby to defraud the colony, that he earned Bradford's immediate contempt and received, in the pages of his History, his everlasting censure.

Bloodied but unbowed, Allerton moved to Marblehead. Various misfortunes (God's judgement upon him, Bradford thought) befell his fishing enterprises there. In New Amsterdam, however, he prospered greatly and was, as the New York Mayflower Society proclaimed on a tablet in 1904, "a leading merchant," being also, the same Society said, "the Father of New England Commerce." His two-story warehouse, on 500 ft. or water frontage on the East River, bulged with tobacco, imported by the ton.

An incident in the early days of Plymouth Colony symbolically anticipates Allerton's success with this commodity. As it happened, the first gift he received in the New World, from Chief Massasoit's hand to his own, was tobacco. Our source for this is Mourt's Relation (Heath's edition, p. 58). On March 23, 1620/21, the day after signing the peace treaty with the Wampanoag Chief, "divers of their people came over to us...; some of them told us the king (Massasoit) would have some of us come to see him. Captain Standish and Isaac Allerton went venturously, who were welcomed of him after their manner: he gave them three or four ground nuts and some tobacco."

It is interesting to compare, among Allerton's transactions in New Amsterdam, "a declaration of Director (Governor) Kieft, dated February 17, 1639, that he had offered to receive tobacco from Mr. Allerton in exchange for corn or money." Similarly, on June 8, 1654, "Thomas Adams and Isaac Allerton gave a bond...for the delivery of 3000 pounds of tobacco to Director (Governor) Stuyvesant." Again, on June 11, 1649, "Mr. John Treworgie [of Kittery] did acknowledge to have received four thousand wt of Tobacco by Isaac Allerto[n] for the Account of Mr. Georg Ludlow.


The most detailed survey of Allerton's activities is still that of Lora Altine Woodbury Underhill in Descendants of Edward Small of New England and the Allied Families with Tracings of English Ancestry, revised edition (Boston and New York, 1934), pp. 756-851, from which the "tobacco records" cited above are taken (pp. 798, 799, 806).  For recent bibliography see Robert Charles Anderson, The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England 1620-1633 (Boston 1995), pp. 35-39.  On our own website see two insightful essays by SMDPA member Robert Jennings Heinsohn, Ph.D.: "Isaac Allerton in Marblehead, New Amsterdam and New Haven" and "Reflections on Isaac Allerton."