The Treaty of Paris ending the American Revolution was signed in 1783. Among the terms was the agreement that British merchants would be allowed to recover debts on their books from former American colonists.
The process for the settling of the claims moved slowly however. It wasnât until 1800 that agents were chosen to begin investigations. For the area including Culpeper, a man from Richmond by the name of William W. Hening was hired. His reports began in the year 1802 and he had quite a job to undertake. He had to locate the individual debtor, determine if the payments had been made, and if not, if the debtor had the current means to make the payments. As the debts had been incurred as much as 30 years previously, people were naturally hard to track down; some were deceased, others had relocated from the area. Hening relied heavily on informants, such as relatives, neighbors, and acquaintances of the debtors.
That he found such help invaluable was evident by the following acknowledgment he added to the end of one of his reports:
In all the forgoing claims where Mr. Pannillâs name is introduced as my informant, I am equally indebted to his lady, Mrs. Ann Pannill, for the information she communicated. She possessed the most retentive memory of any person with whom I have yet conversed on the subject of British debts. Mr. Pannill is one of the most celebrated farmers in our country. He and his wife have resided on the same estate for near forty years.
This is a little gem of a statement as it is very rare to find credit given to a woman in this manner in such documents from this era. Hening was speaking of William Pannill and his wife, Ann Morton Pannill. It is easy to imagine that Hening found much hospitality and counsel at the Pannill home while he performed his thankless job.
For the genealogist of today, the British Mercantile Claims are a unique resource for research as the reports contain so much personal detail. Even for William Pannill, Mr. Heningâs statement provided some clarity.
William Pannillâs estate was located along the Rapidan River and he was a prominent citizen of Orange County until his death in 1806. He is sometimes confused on genealogy webpages with another William Pannill who migrated from Virginia to South Carolina. Mr. Heningâs note that William and Ann lived in the same place for ânear forty yearsâ is first-hand proof that this William was not the man in South Carolina.
The original reports for the British Mercantile Claims are housed in Englandâs National Archives. They were abstracted for John Dormanâs publication, The Virginia Genealogist, beginning in 1962.