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Magon de la Ballus letterbook


Magon de la Ballus letterbook
Magon, de la Ballus
Collection number:
1.5 linear feet
Bulk dates:
Inclusive dates:
Collection Area:
State of Maryland and Historical Collections
Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries, Hornbake Library, College Park, MD 20742. Tel: 301-405-9212, Fax: 301-314-2709, Email:

Magon, captain of the ship the "Ballus," or "Balue," was a descendant of a prominent French merchant family highly influential in sixteenth-century mercantile endeavors. The Magons were heavily involved in international trade and played a significant role in the growth of the port city Saint Malo, France. The papers of Magon de la Ballus consist of a letterbook, written entirely in French, in which he recorded his correspondence both at sea and in port. Magon's letters cover a variety of topics, including French-English war matters; trade of various commodities, such as codfish, coffee, corn, wheat, cloth, and sails; transportation and trading of slaves; and privateering.

Important Information for Users of the Collection


This collection is open for research.

Preferred citation:

Magon de la Ballus letterbook, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries.

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Historical Note

The sea captain Magon of the ship "Balue" (or "Ballus") was a descendant of a prominent merchant family widely known and highly influential in sixteenth-century economic enterprises. The Magon family was among a number of elite merchant families, who for many generations were deeply involved in international trade and who in turn led to the growth of Saint Malo, France, as an economic metropolis and worldwide port during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. Like other privateer-merchant families of the time, the Magons joined in business with a number of families of the royal court and were of great service to the royal family.

During the 1700s the Magon family became the wealthiest of all of Saint Malo residents. The ship "Balue," under the auspices of the Magon family, was used for the transportation and trade of dye, coffee, printed cotton, dollars, corn and wheat, codfish, slaves, and sails and other ship equipment.

Beginning in the sixteenth century, and until the time of the French Revolution, the Magon family was highly regarded as a powerful, enterprising commercial giant of the region. The family was also well known for their affiliations with Saint Malo's admnistration of commerce, office of farmer general of revenues, and office of "The Bank of the Court." The Magons were also among the first economists in Saint Malo. The family is believed to be originally of Spanish lineage.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The papers of Magon de la Ballus consist of a letterbook containing copies of letters of a French merchant/privateer, Magon, of the ship "Balue," who home was the port-city Saint Malo, France. The letters cover the period October 1756 to May 1757. The correspondence is written entirely in French. Nearly 1,1000 letters of generous length are included in the handwritten 380 page letterbook. The letters were recorded both at sea and during anchorage and primarily French-English War matters and trade of various commodities such as sails and other ship equipage. The transportation and trading of slaves is also a frequently discussed issue. Magon's correspondents lived in various cities throughout France.

The records have been arranged in a single series entitled "Letterbook."

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

The source of the Magon de la Ballus letterbook is unknown.

Processing Information

Processed by:

Processed by David C. Clemons, April 1993

Processing note:

The letterbook has been stored in an acid-free box.

Encoded by:

EAD markup created using EAD database in Microsoft Access. Markup completed by Henry Allen, June 2004.

Arrangement of Collection

The collection is organized as one series.

Detailed Description of the Collection

Series 1: Letterbook, October 1756-May 1757 (1 volume)

Magon supplies a wealth of information to his correspondents concerning the affairs of the privateers of Saint Malo, as well as news regarding the war on the sea against the English. His most frequent addressees are Lefouteaux and Company of Paris; Bigot, Lieutenant over King Louis XV's officials of Brest; and Dondel of Vannes. Among others of regular but intermittent contact are David of Morlaix, David Chauvel of Havre, DuRadier of Rennes, and David Cradin and Sons of Bordeaux.

Information concerning the French-English War appears throughout. In one of the first letters, he writers: "In this quarter, the movement is a stupendous opportunity for the privateers..." Magon's letters regarding warfare are not only informative in nature but are written with an effort at optimism and at boosting the morale of the war effort. In a letter addressed to Sir Debarrau of Bayonne on the 20th of October, 1756 Magon writes:

"Your privateers have been more diligent than ours and furthermore they need to be better. It will only be in December that they will have begun to dispatch from here troops of honest strength that will combat the English whose weak resistance they will continually devastate."

Within another letter to Sir P. S. Marigny of Paris dated the 31st of October, 1756, Magon reports:

"Here is a war that has the appearance of lasting for a long time. It would be a fatal blow to France's commerce to forgo having the merchants protected by the regiment staff. Our deck is full of vigor due to the productiveness of a number of noble privateers who are equipping Paris with an armament, an issue which has captured great interest."

The letters particularly portray a concern over the interdependent relationship between preservation of commerce and the protrusion of English forces. An extract of Magon's letter to Courton and Baur of Paris on October 31, 1756 provides a generous view of this mutual dependency:

"We have received from London by means of our letters the grievous list of 12 takeovers. It is certain that commerce is in true desolation. We cannot continue without an obvious, indiscreet act on our part to such a degree that merchant sailing may go unprotected. The small squadron sea routes are clouded with the sobering news."

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
Letterbook, October 11, 1756-May 4, 1757 series 1box 1folder 1

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