Introduction

Merchant James Poyas lived in South Carolina from approximately 1736 to 1767. During that time, this developing colony emerged as one of the most valuable settlements in the British Atlantic World, which led to growing numbers of Europeans and enslaved Africans arriving in the Lowcountry region. Poyas’s father, Jean Louis Poyas, emigrated from the Italian Piedmont to South Carolina in 1734. He initially settled with his family in the small township of Purrysburg, before moving to the thriving port city of Charles Town to become a merchant. His son soon followed in his footsteps and became his apprentice. Early Charles Town merchants like Jean Louis and James Poyas developed trade networks that provided their local and backcountry customers with access to a range of goods. They also engaged in the trade and use of enslaved laborers. By the mid-eighteenth century, even small-scale merchants played a role in expanding the forced labor system of slavery that was so central to the growing trade markets of the Atlantic World.

Between 1760 and 1765, James Poyas kept a daybook to document his clients and trading activities. This daybook, now held at the Charleston Museum, is currently the only archival document available that details the daily activities of a Charles Town merchant-retailer in the late colonial period. Poyas’s account provides rare insights into the trading patterns of the British Atlantic World, and the development of commercial networks within Charles Town and in connection to the colony’s emerging backcountry population in the eighteenth century. This online exhibition traces Poyas’s mercantile career, and examines the various customers and exchanges he details through his meticulous records.