John Pinney sugar merchant

John Pinney purchased the supplies for his Caribbean plantations mainly from Bristol. He also sold sugar in Bristol, which had been grown on his plantation. When he returned to England from the Caribbean in 1783, with his family and the black servants Pero Jones and Frances Coker, he settled in the city. His plantations on the Caribbean island of Nevis were left in the care of managers, and he wrote many letters to them discussing the management of the estates. By the time Pinney returned to England in 1783, he was worth about £70,000 (about £3.5 million today).

Already a very wealthy man from sugar growing, Pinney set himself up as a ‘sugar factor’ (or merchant) with James Tobin, his friend and neighbour from the island of Nevis, in the Caribbean, using his house at 7, Great George Street, Bristol (pictured here), as premises. The company set up by Pinney and Tobin acted as agent for other plantation owners in the Caribbean. It handled their sugar crops. This included selling sugar on the owners’ behalf to the sugar processors in Bristol. The company also arranged for supplies, such as machinery, building materials and food, to be sent out to their clients on the sugar plantations. They also lent money to plantation owners who might need money to cover bad harvests or pay debts. Pinney and Tobin would take over the plantations and their slaves if the debts were not repaid.

It is estimated that John Pinney’s fortune at his death in 1818 amounted to £340,000 (about £17 million today). Pinney was one of the wealthiest men in Bristol. His son Charles inherited this fortune. Charles Pinney also benefitted when slavery was ended in 1834. This was because slave owners were given money by the British government to make up for the ‘loss’ of their slaves, which was brought about by ending slavery. Charles Pinney claimed £36,000 (nearly £1,800,000 today). Part of this was for the loss of the slaves he actually owned. The remainder was for the interests in other plantations, which he and his partners held as a result of lending money through mortgages.