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 peter Tait

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Date d'inscription : 29/06/2006

MessageSujet: peter Tait   Mer 19 Nov - 20:38

Peter Tait: A Remarkable Story
By John E. Waite
Illustrated, maps, appendices, notes, index, 338 pp., 2005. Milnford Publications, Leigh House, Little Norton, Stoke sub Hamdon, UK TA14 6TE, £20 plus shipping, (check exchange rates).

Reviewer: Joseph Derie
Joseph Derie is a VMI graduate and a long time Civil War buff and military book reviewer. A retired Coast Guard officer and licensed officer of the Merchant Marine, he is a Certified Marine Investigator and marine surveyor.



Review:
Sir Peter Tait JP DL (1828-1890) was a clothing manufacturer in Limerick, Ireland. He was reputed to be the first to use steam-powered sewing machines to manufacture clothing and obtained many contracts to furnish shirts to the Royal Navy and uniforms for the Canadian Volunteer Militia, the Royal Irish Constabulary Force as well as for the British Army. (Limerick legend has it the 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars were wearing Tait-supplied shirts when they participated in the Charge of the Light Brigade.)

He eventually became Deputy Lieutenant of Limerick, its mayor for three successive years and was knighted. Not bad for a man who started out selling shirts out of a basket to merchant seamen on the city docks. Peter Tait's connection to the Civil War then becomes obvious: furnishing uniforms to the Confederate Army and blockade running.

His brother's visit to Richmond in December 1863, and his contact with James R. Seddon, the Confederacy's Secretary of War, and Col. Alexander Lawton, Quartermaster General of the Confederate Army, are chronicled in this volume and Confederate records.

Tait offered to supply uniforms at lower prices and better quality than other contractors. He eventually got a contract to furnish uniforms to the Confederate Army. Later he got contracts for uniforms from the State of Alabama and the Trans-Mississippi Department.

Author Waite estimates about 48,500 Tait uniforms worth some 42,500 pounds and who knows what in Confederate currency were shipped to the Confederacy via Wilmington. He cites records that 4,000 suits, tunics and trousers were received in the Richmond Depot at the end of 1864. He feels they were probably part of the Tait contract but cites no source in the notes.

Buttons with Tait's backmarks have been discovered in Texas and buttons with his backmarks have also been found in the Eastern Confederacy. A picture of Tait Confederate uniform buttons is included. There are also several paragraphs on how to identify a Tait Confederate uniform via its stitching, buttons, shank and material, but the author does not state if there are any Tait Confederate uniforms remaining. The uniforms were sent to the Confederacy in blockade-runners. Waite names three: The Evelyn, Adelaide and Condor. Tait had a two-thirds share in the Evelyn, which Waite says was the last vessel to leave Wilmington prior to the fall of Fort Fisher.

Stephen R. Wise's Lifeline of the Confederacy does not agree. He shows the Evelyn only running the blockade to Galveston from Havana in February, March and April 1865, and never to Wilmington.

The Adelaide survived the war, but is listed by Wise as only being used to carry supplies to England and thus was not a true blockade-runner. The Condor carrying Tait uniforms for the Confederate Army and the State of Alabama was caught by the Union Navy and run aground below Fort Fisher on Oct. 7, 1864, with most of the cargo eventually being saved.

This was the vessel the famed spy Rose O'Neal Greenhow was on. She insisted on going ashore and drowned, weighted down with gold, when her boat capsized.

Peter Tait is a volume for the aficionado of blockade-runners and European clothing contractors of Confederate uniforms. It is well-written, but only about 40 pages are Civil War-related and some of that information is contradicted by other sources. Still, it's more information on a subject we all love.

Editor's Note: Author John E. Waite responds as follows:

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to comment on Mr. Derie's review of my book Peter Tait: A Remarkable Story.

If I have disagreed with any expert in the field of Civil War research, it is only on the basis of what I believed to be reliable evidence, and of course I stand to be corrected if I have got my facts wrong. For this reason, and in any case, I should of course be pleased to correspond with any of your readers who would like further information about anything I have written.

However, there in one apparent disagreement, which I should like to mention here, because what I have said is central to Peter Tait's involvement in the supply of uniforms to the Confederacy and his relationship with Alexander Collie.

Mr. Derie points out that Stephen R. Wise does not agree that the SS Evelyn ran the blockade into Wilmington or was the last vessel to leave prior to the fall of Fort Fisher.

On the other hand, Marcus W. Price in Ships That Tested The Blockade of the Carolina Ports, 1861-1865 records her as making one successful run in 1864 and Lloyds List recorded on 9 February 1865 that the Evelyn "which was supposed to have been captured in Cape Fear River by the Federals, has arrived at Nassau with cotton; she reports that the SS North Heath was the only steamer in Wilmington when she left." The North Heath was later scuttled by the Confederates in the channel at Wilmington.
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MessageSujet: Re: peter Tait   Mer 19 Nov - 20:43

Peter Tait: A Remarkable Story | Book Reviews
Published by EH.NET (December 2006)

John E. Waite, Peter Tait: A Remarkable Story. Stoke sub Hamdon, Somerset: Milnford Publications, 2005. xiii + 338 pp. £20 (cloth), ISBN: 0-9550379-0-5.

Reviewed for EH.NET by James Jaffe, Department of History, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

The extensive research that appears to have gone into the writing of this book was undoubtedly a labor of love for the author. Apparently the result of many hours in a number of archives and research libraries throughout the UK, Ireland, and as far afield as Istanbul, the biography of this nineteenth-century entrepreneur tells the not altogether uncommon story of a man blessed with unpredictable success, but then brought down by ill-advised investments, unsatisfactory legal entanglements, and almost inevitable financial failure and ruin. EH.NET readers, however, must be warned that while there is much that may be extracted from this book that may be relevant to the history British and Irish entrepreneurship during the mid-nineteenth century, this work appears to be that of a dogged and determined genealogist rather than that of a professional academician.

Of course, professional economic or business historians hold no patent over the production of material in their field. They have often learned much from the contributions of genealogical historians like John Waite, the author of this biography, who have sought to recover the history of their families and forebears. Yet, obviously, the interests of the two groups are not always the same and I need not belabor the differences in training, perspective, interpretation, and audience, to name but a few areas, which distinguish and separate the two.

Peter Tait, the author's great-grandfather, was typical of many Smilesian entrepreneurs. Born in the Shetland Islands in 1828, he was apparently apprenticed to a Limerick draper in 1844. By 1850, he had begun to manufacture shirts on a small scale. When Britain entered the Crimean War in 1854, Tait was therefore in an advantageous position to reap the benefits of the Government's increased demand for military clothing. Tait even gained some measure of historical fame by virtue of his adoption of Elias Howe's sewing machines sometime in the mid-1850s. By some accounts, he was the first entrepreneur to manufacture clothing using the sewing machines powered by steam. While the author argues here that there is evidence that a French factory employed the machines briefly before Tait, it is not clear whether or not Tait's example was the first of its kind in the UK. Whatever the case, Tait certainly reaped substantial rewards. Between 1855 and 1858, Tait & Co. generated approximately £250,000 in total sales on Government orders of 120,000 uniforms and employed about 1,000 people.

Thereafter, Tait's fortunes were tied to his ability to secure Government contracts first in Britain and Ireland but then throughout the world. Peace-time demand for his product was naturally low, although he did continue to produce uniforms for local constabularies, so it is not surprising to find Tait profiting from or attempting to profit from many of the most significant outbreaks of military hostilities that occurred in the West during the next thirty years. If Tait was not a 'merchant of death,' as arms manufacturers came to be called in the 1920s, he was nonetheless quite typical of the legion of profiteers for whom war is nothing more, or nothing less, than a unique business opportunity.

If Tait's name is known at all, it is most often recognized in the context of the American Civil War during which he supplied uniforms to the Confederacy. Through Peter Tait's brother, James, Tait & Co. initiated contact with James A. Seddon, the Confederate Secretary of War, in December 1863. Offering to supply well over £150,000 worth of clothing and related supplies, the rather jumbled account presented here does not make clear whether the company fully understood the difficulties inherent in fulfilling such an order. Indeed the offer was phrased in quite the opposite manner. James Tait offered to protect the Confederacy from the unscrupulous English broadcloth trade, a trade, he wrote, that was "beset with snares and pitfalls" and "unprincipled shoddy houses."

Yet to supply the Confederacy from Britain or Ireland entailed running the Union blockade of southern ports. Toward this end, Tait came into contact with Alexander Collie, one of the South's principal financial links in England, and owner or part-owner of several infamous blockade-runners. The author quite adamantly contends that Collie repeatedly cheated Tait by hiding the accounts of profits or sales from him, an argument that Waite tries to support by introducing an apparently unconnected account of Collie's bankruptcy a decade later. At the end of war, Collie presented Tait with a bill for approximately £30,000, Tait's share of the alleged losses in this joint venture. Despite these losses, Tait's relationship with Collie was not broken and they continued some sort of business relationship for the next several years.

After the Civil War, Tait appears to have tried to diversify the company, first by purchasing a colliery in South Wales and then by making substantial investments in the floatation of a shipping company. In this latter adventure, Collie reappeared and, according to the author, once again cheated Tait. The evidence again is inferential rather than conclusive. More importantly, however, the shipping company failed and contributed to the eventual bankruptcy of Tait & Co. in 1869. Tait struggled on nonetheless trying to revive his company. Perhaps fittingly, he died in 1890 after spending many of his last fifteen years chasing down clothing orders from the Ottoman Empire during the Christian Rebellion of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1875-78 and from Russia after the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78.

For professional business and economic historians this book will have only very limited value. The review here omits discussion of the many pages allocated to the various illicit affairs of family members and associates, at least three by my count, the reprints of laudatory poems written for and about Tait by his personal poet, Michael Hogan, Tait's years in Irish politics, and the complete menus of Tait's celebratory dinners. An interesting although not altogether remarkable portrait of nineteenth-century British entrepreneurship may be extracted from this account, but it is unlikely to repay the effort.

James Jaffe is Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He has recently completed editing and transcribing the diaries of Francis Place, which will be published by the Royal Historical Society in 2007.

Geographic area: Europe (4), North America (7)
Time period: 19th Century (7)
Subject: Business History (B), Military and War (O)
Copyright © 2006 by EH.NET. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and EH.Net. For other permission, please contact the EH.NET Administrator (admin@eh.net; telephone 513-529-2229; fax: 513-529-6992). Published by EH.NET Dec 4 2006 All EH.Net reviews are archived at http://eh.net/bookreviews/.
Citation
James Jaffe, "Review of John E. Waite, Peter Tait: A Remarkable Story." EH.Net Economic History Services, Dec 4 2006. URL: http://eh.net/bookreviews/library/1149
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