Friday, December 5, 2008

Sir Thomas Lipton's Autobiography

Sir Thomas Lipton once worked the tobacco fields of Samuel Clay near Wilson Depot in Dinwiddie County, after the Civil War in 1866 & 1867. Thomas Lipton was then a young man, age 16, working his first job on Clay's plantation and were he was injuried that Fall...

See page 60-68.

Any one with additional information on Samual Clay or Thomas Lipton in Dinwiddie and Nottoway Counties... ?

From his New York office author Michael D’Antonio, who wrote the best seller Hershey and A Ball, A Dog, and a Monkey: 1957 – The Space Race Begins, which was NPR’s Science Friday, “A Best Science Book of 2007” contacted historian Ronald Seagrave here in Dinwiddie in late November for assistance in developing material for his upcoming biography on Sir Thomas Lipton (1850-1931), the later founder of Lipton Tea. Between these two men they were able to prove that young Scotsmen Thomas Lipton who had been born on May 10, 1850, of Irish parents in Glasgow, Scotland had in fact come to Dinwiddie County in the summer of 1866 to obtain his first American job when he was a merely sixteen. Lipton had arrived in New York where he was offered a job on a tobacco plantation in Dinwiddie County, Virginia by a New York employment firm. Lipton had selected Virginia for his future employment based on its imagery appeal of the name alone. Seagrave was able to paint a visual image for D’Antonio of Lipton’s arrival at City Point and his travel to war torn Petersburg, then passing the battle scared grounds of Five Forks and on to Wilson Depot where he met his future employer Sam Clay. This was Lipton’s first job working as a replacement field hand, a position once held by a slave working Clay’s Nottoway and Dinwiddie fields from dawn to dark, six days a week, as a young Scot-Irish immigrate living in a former slave’s cabin and a straw bed. Several months into his employment he was cutting wood that autumn when the hatchet slipped and severely injured his right foot. When Samuel Clay learned of the accident he removed Lipton to his house. For weeks he suffered in agony, only relieved by the knowledge imparted by his doctor that he was not going to lose his leg. Seagrave was able to determine his physician was Dr. Henry E. Shore who owned a nearby Plantation. Dr. Shore was a well respected physician and son of Dr. John Shore, II, of Petersburg. As soon as Lipton could hobble about, again they insisted on Lipton taking things easy and even drove him to church with them on Sundays. Lipton forever held in the highest regard the kindness shown him by Samuel Clay and his wife. After a few weeks he toured Virginia, but then returned to New York City.
Later on in Sir Thomas Lipton's life he entertained at his Osidge home near London, a grand-daughter of his first American employer. Seagrave has yet to determine the name of this grand-daughter, nor the church they attended and would appreciate any additional information on this early Nottoway/Dinwiddie family.
Sir Lipton left much of his fortune to the city of Glasgow, to aid the poor, and to build hospitals. He was the oldest member on the rolls of Lodge Scotia No. 178 when he died in 1931. Seagrave stated he’ll never again drive on Rt. 460 pass Wilson while going to ‘Black and White’/Blackstone and not think of this young man working the tobacco field’s in that area and Lipton’s Tea. It goes to show you anything’s possible, no matter where you live, if you have drive and imagination. Seagrave believes that this area helped seed Lipton’s imagination for his future business. It was here he saw the value of international trade first hand and he was surrounded by former countrymen who had kept strong trading relationship with Great Britain. For nearly a century Petersburg has kept trading relationships alive with Great Britain and the Mason’s.
Thomas Lipton developed a unique style of shop-keeping and imaginative advertising. He also introduces the teabag and developed a small grocery store into an international business, making him a millionaire at the age of thirty.
First challenging the America’s Cup yachting trophy in 1899, he made five unsuccessful attempts, endearing himself to the American public, which gave him a gold cup after his last defeat in 1930.
Queen Victoria knighted Lipton in 1898 for his commercial success and philanthropy. He was created a baronet in 1902. During the Spanish-American war, and later during WWI, Lipton gave money and services to aid the wounded. Lipton’s motto was "Work hard, deal honestly, be enterprising, exercise careful judgment, and advertise freely but judiciously."
Update... March 29, 2009, Progress Index
DINWIDDIE — Dinwiddie’s Lipton saga continues.In previously unknown letters of Sir Thomas Lipton, the Scottish Tea Baron wrote about his life working on a plantation in Dinwiddie County in the years after the Civil War.After a story in The Progress-Index about the efforts of local historian Ronald Seagrave to learn more about Lipton’s time in the tobacco fields of central Virginia, Emporia resident Terry Botts contacted him to show him what Seagrave called “a historical sensation.”Behind a glass frame, Botts keeps a three-page letter dated Feb. 24, 1926, that Lipton sent Ambler Brook Moncure, who resided on Old Stage Road in Dinwiddie County at the time. Lipton sent the letter from his home at Southgate, Middlesex, England.
To historians like Seagrave, the letter is of high interest because Lipton gave few details about his time in the county in his personal diary.In November of last year, bestselling author Michael D’Antonio contacted Seagrave, hoping he would be able to help his monumental biography about the famous merchant and yachtsman.During his research, Seagrave learned that Lipton was 17 when he arrived in New York and took a job as slave replacement on the Samuel Clay plantation in Wilsons, which today is a small town off Route 460 in Dinwiddie County.Until now, it was always believed that Lipton left no written records about the nine months he worked on the farm from the summer of 1866 until early 1867, when a leg injury forced him to leave the job.In his letter to Moncure, Lipton seemed happy about being able to discuss his life in Virginia. “My Dear Mr. Moncure,” Lipton wrote. “I was very pleased indeed to receive your kind letter, it being the first communication I have had from Dinwiddie since I worked there.”Lipton went on to describe his experience. “I was engaged in New York to go to work for Sam Clay near Wilson’s Depot in Dinwiddie County, and on first arriving at the estate, I slept in a little hut, but my boss, Mr. Sam Clay, apparently thought so well of me that he afterwards took me into his big house.”Seagrave said that he found it interesting that Lipton would use a slave’s term — “big house” — in describing Clay’s residence.The letter also gave Seagrave more insight to the Clay’s family situation. “He wrote that both of Clay’s sons were killed in the Civil War,” Seagrave said. According to census records, the three sons were Patrick, Robert and Travis. Because the latter died prior to the 1860 census, Seagrave concluded that Lipton was referring to the other two sons.But he also found out that Patrick, the oldest son, established himself as a farmer after the war. There are no records of Robert’s whereabouts.Lipton also talked about Clay’s daughters. “But he had two young daughters, who treated me most kindly and made me feel quite at home.” He then wrote about his travels to Charleston and New Orleans. Then Lipton states, “The goal of my life, however, was to make money for the old folks at home, and when I had saved what I thought was sufficient I came home and open my first little shop, bring with me a barrel of flour and rocking chair for my mother.”Seagrave said Lipton gained much more than money during his early travels in America, because he witnessed international trade and commerce first-hand and later applied those concepts to the foundation of his own tea empire, which would become one of the most successful businesses of its kind in the world. Today, Lipton Tea owns about 10 percent of the world’s tea market, and the famous Lipton Iced Tea is available in more than 60 countries.Moncure, the letter’s recipient, responded on March 17, 1926, and invited Lipton to stay at his house in Wilsons, should he ever come back to visit Dinwiddie County. “Oh what pleasure it gave me to know that the Clay’s upheld the tradition of this old state by showing courtesy and kindness to a stranger among them,” he wrote.At last, the collection includes a typewritten letter, dated June 30, 1927, from Lipton’s private secretary, John Westwood, to Moncure, stating, “I am desired by Sir Thomas Lipton to acknowledge receipt of your letter on the 28th inst., and to thank you for same and should Sir Thomas be in your neighborhood at any time, he will be very pleased to give himself the pleasure of calling upon you.”Botts found the letters and a photograph signed by Lipton when a small museum closed down in 1995. “I knew that these were some rarities, so I bought them,” he said.


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LAK50 said...

Any one with additional information on Samual Clay or Thomas Lipton in Dinwiddie and Nottoway Counties... ?

We met at the State Library a couple of weeks ago and were talking about the Clay's of Nottoway Co. My ancestor who owned a plantation there in the Civil War era was Archibald Clay. His father was Samuel Clay (1775-1821). Archibald would have fit your description of someone needing to hire workers to replace the labor provided by his ex slaves. Could he be the farmer that Lipton worked for?

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