Artisans and Entrepreneurs
While the majority of Poyas’s customers were Lowcountry planters, the colony’s diverse and growing artisan and entrepreneurial business class also relied on his services. By the 1760s, there were approximately four hundred skilled white men and women, and an unknown number of skilled Africans, plying their trades in the city. The most frequently listed artisan occupation in the daybook was that of the tailor. Tailors helped clothe the colonists of South Carolina and fashioned outfits for the gentry, and most worked in Charles Town. Archibald Tomson purchased horn buttonmolds from Poyas for his store on Bay Street. Customer Thomas Fell’s garment shop was on Elliot Street. In May 1760, local tailors and Poyas customers William Williams and John Logan formed a partnership and opened a store on Broad Street after apprenticing for several years with master tailor Walter Mansell.
In addition, Elliot Street tavern keeper John Wood also purchased Irish linens and a dozen sailors’ buckles from Poyas. Wood’s wife, Sarah Wood, was a midwife who purchased several types of cloth, linens, and thread. Prominent gunsmith John Milner purchased pewter dishes, tea canisters, shoes, and an umbrella.
By the mid-eighteenth century, the wealthiest planters in South Carolina were often absentee landowners. While they maintained residences on some of their plantation properties, colonial planters often traveled during the summer and winter seasons to urban townhouses in Charles Town or Georgetown, or to northeastern retreats such as Newport, Rhode Island. While they were away, white male overseers maintained and directed the labor of the enslaved population. Several of these Lowcountry overseers purchased items from Poyas’s store, including Maurice Fleming, overseer for J. Wright’s property on the Santee River, and Alexander Miott who managed Elias Horry’s properties in Prince George Winyah parish. Edward McCally, who managed Richard Beresford’s Santee properties, purchased seventy-five yards of assorted fabric, linens, and husbandry tools necessary for the work and clothing of enslaved Africans cultivating indigo on the property. Historic accounts of plantation life in the Lowcountry often focus on the relationship between the masters and slaves. From the Poyas Daybook, however, it is evident that overseers also took an active role in procuring and distributing material goods as well as directing labor on plantations.
By the mid-1760s, settlers in the South Carolina backcountry represented about three-fourths of the white population in the colony. Merchants like Poyas provided access to trading networks that were crucial to their survival in the often-harsh South Carolina hinterlands. Supplying the region required navigating the many waterways that served as the most accessible means of transportation in the eighteenth century. As the colony’s white population expanded in the late colonial period, coastal schooners and sloops also transported goods from Charles Town to burgeoning settlements on the Saluda, Savannah, and Pee Dee Rivers. In the 1760s, at the height of his mercantile career in Charles Town, Poyas supplied dry goods and groceries to over sixty rural customers.
Though Poyas also distributed his goods in wagons, he primarily used coastal schooners. The boats he used belonged to members of the Cordes, Mazyck, Gailliard, and Horry families, among others. Poyas hired Captain George Dick to carry goods to customers in Georgetown where they were sold and transferred onto smaller riverboats for transport further inland. Poyas’s rural customers lived at Boonesborough, Congaree, Williamsburg, Black Mingo, Purrysburg, Savannah, and Cainhoy. The backcountry settlements of Camden, Long Canes, and others tended to cluster near navigable rivers, stores, and trading posts, and were held together by religious, ethnic, and familial ties. For Poyas and other Charles Town retail merchants, backcountry settlements were prime markets to sell excess goods and manufactured products.