The Philpot family of Stamford England were among the first settlers to Baltimore. Though the family had resided in Baltimore from it’s inception, it’s not known when these buildings were constructed. Likely original development of some of these structures had begun by the 1760s, though it might be guessed that the manor house as photographed displays refurbishment at a later time. Philpot had purchased in the Mantua Mill area by 1757 and likely started “Stamford” soon after. Tax records for 1783 noted that the estate involved over 1000 acres and noted improvements on the land though the dimensions of the brick dwelling in the tax records do not match the present structure. Currently the building serves as the clubhouse of the Green Spring Valley Hounds. It was undoubtedly pretensious and among the most sophisticated dwellings of its era.
In the 18th Century, families in business were “extended”. There were no corporations, though there were durable partnerships. Most lasted only a short period and were discharged, even if the participants renewed on similar terms. But relatives and in-laws were often involved in such enterprises, and among large British firms, these enterprises could range around the world.
Philpots had been ancient merchants of London, from among the first grocers of the place. By the 17th Century they had a global merchandising system specializing in fabrics and household items. Members of the family were closely associated with board members of the East India Company, the world’s most powerful trading empire, but they had also been extensively involved with Tidewater settlers of Virginia and Maryland, serving really as bankers in securing plantation mortgages of the gentry while cementing life long relationships with them as favored providers of manufactured goods.
Brian Philpot was a nephew of John Philpot and had been sent to the colony to represent the family’s business interests. He’d arrived early and was central in organizing the efforts of land investors to dredge the river and put up docks, going into competition with Philadelphia as a port. Owning much of the land on which Baltimore was to be built provided a nice foundation for the family to prosper. Frank Leake, also a Philpot relative of some sort had come to Maryland and lived at Prince George County to the south of Baltimore where he became a law partner of Ralph Forster.
London merchants held first mortgages on massive amounts of land in Virginia and Maryland. Some farmers sold their tobacco crops to Scottish merchants who offered cash for barrels, though most consigned their crops to London merchants who sent ships and charged freight and insurance, promising to get the planter the best deal they could when their tobacco hit European markets. Tobacco had a pretty good shelf life, and so it was often a year or so before a farmer would learn through slow mails what his product had sold for, and what the losses, damages, storage and other fees would be marked against his proceeds. In the meantime, most often the planter had sent a list of items he wanted by return boat in the following year when he signed to have his tobacco removed from provincial warehouses and boarded for consignment to market. These credit and debit operations often led to very large arrears in the accounts of plantation owners, and when the British economy fell under pressure, as it usually did with recessions every ten years, credit tightening could produce calamities. It was during the 1860s during one such period that a major Philpot partnership was scheduled for bankruptcy in London, and creditors demanded strong collection efforts in the colonies. A merchant might be involved in several such partnerships — each involved separately invested funds — and the failure of one didn’t suggest that the merchant house itself was doomed. Creditors of the particular partnership, however, often took strong measures to secure their debts.
Ralph Forster and Frank Leake were designated as lawyers of Maryland assigned responsibilities to collect on behalf of one large Philpot partnership in the 1760s. Their efforts involved efforts to collect from plantation owners of Virginia and Maryland, often through advertisements published in Maryland and Virginia Gazettes of community meetings for such collections, though the pair undoubtedly were involved in numerous county court efforts to redeem assets. Some of their efforts were directed by Bartholomew Pomeroy, then a member of the board of the East India Company, and a legal representative of Philpot who delegated his authority to Forster and Leake through letters of introduction to Maryland courts from the Mayor of London. In this connection, Leake and Forster were involved in repossessing and selling several commercial properties in Annapolis, including a brewery and wharf-side buildings which were purchased by Samuel Galloway, then the “dean” of Annapolis shipping with over eighty vessels in his fleet. Galloway managed a ship building operation and a global trading operation of his own, and imported several boat loads of English prisoners or African slaves a year.
It was likely as compensation for his legal work at Philpot debt collection that Ralph Forster wound up with his name on a town lot in downtown Baltimore. No other real estate in his name has been found, and it’s known that Forster leased the house and estate in which he lived after 1783 and his return to the colony from England. His residence while sheriff and during his days as a merchant aren’t known though it’s likely that his dock stores served as residence when the merchant and sailer were in port — at least during his early days of growing his business. Ralph Forster died after 1785 and his estate sale was administered by his brother-in-law George Digges, though Digges died within a few years and likely before completing the sale of Forster’s assets which seem never to have been inventoried for the Prince George courts. The Baltimore town lot mentioned above was sold by Frank Leake on behalf of the Forster estate following the death of George Digges, it’s administrator. No probate work with Frank Leake’s name on it has been found at Prince George, though it’s known that during this period Leake himself sat as a justice of the court.