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Charles Kuhn Prioleau


One of the more lesser known Confederates in Liverpool during the war, was Charles Kuhn Prioleau. A native of Charleston, North Carolina, he was the manager and partner at Fraser Trenholm, 10 Abercromby Square, Liverpool. He was heavily involved in the purchasing of vessels, arms, ammunition and other ancillary goods, required by the Confederacy.

He married a local girl, who was the acknowledged "Belle of the City" at the time, one Mary Eizabeth Wright. Mrs Prioleau organised several bazaars in St. George`s Hall, the proceeds to go to Southern wounded. She raised a total of 20 thousand pounds, a vast amount for the period.

After the war, and the bankruptcy of his old firm, Prioleau set up in business in London. He took with him letterbooks and other records dating from 1860. These, along with some records of his London business up to 1877, and many personal letters from Fraser Trenholm, form the basis of the Fraser Trenholm archive, at the Liverpool Maritime Museum.

The financial operational records, ledgers, accounts, cash books, contracts etc., may well have been hastily destroyed. However the surviving material is of great importance.

Contained in the archive are the following.

Over 200 original letters to C.K.Prioleau from key persons in the Confederate States of America, with a few photographs. Subjects included are:-

Blockade running vessels.

The raising of loans.

Ammunition.

Deatails of battles.

Bundles of letters and telegrams to and from C.K.Prioleau, over 600 in total.

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In 1867 Charles K. Prioleau set up in business in London after the defeat of the Confederate States and the bankruptcy of his old firm, and took the letterbooks and other records dating from 1860 with him. These, with some records of his London business, Prioleau & Co. (1867-1877) and many personal letters form the Fraser, Trenholm archive. The financial and operational records, ledgers, accounts, cash books, contracts, etc., may well have been hastily destroyed, as has been widely believed. However, the surviving material is of great importance. It has been published on microfilm as Civil War & Confederacy: The Business Records of Fraser, Trenholm & Company of Liverpool and Charleston, South Carolina, 1860-1877, by Adam Matthew Publications, 8 Oxford Street, Marlborough, Wiltshire, SN8 1AP.

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Records
200 letters to C.K. Prioleau, many from key characters in the Confederate States, with a few photographs, 1860-1869.

Letters and telegrams sent to/from C.K. Prioleau. Wide variety of subjects, over 600 documents, 1870-1876.

Letters, re mainly financial matters, cheque book stubs, 1871-1877.

Specifications for vessels including steel screw steamer Phantom (Fawcett, Preston & Co., Liverpool), 1862, and paddle steamers Rosine and Ruby (Jones Quiggin & Co., Liverpool), 1864-1867. Drawing of proposed alterations to Colonel Lamb (Jones, Quiggin & Co.), 1864.

Correspondence, re "small arms", and tracings of torpedoes, 1862-1875.

Assorted bills, receipts and accounts, re cotton and military stores, etc., 1869-1875.

Legal documents, re cases held in the New York Supreme Court, the Admiralty and Chancery Courts. Various subjects including the purchase of cotton, ownership of vessels, and Fraser Trenholm's role as agents to the Confederacy, 1862-1870. Parliamentary papers including extracts from correspondence with the US Government and with the Customs Commissioners, re Alabama, 1861-1864. Printed list of members of the Southern Independence Association, Manchester, 1862.

Telegram codebook belonging to G.A. Trenholm and lists of trade codes, c.1870.

Letterbooks of Charles Kuhn Prioleau with various correspondents, subjects include cotton, the Alabama and other vessels, blockade running, Confederate loans, etc., 1862-1877. (The first letterbook is available on microfilm in the Searchroom.) Letterbooks of J.R. Hamilton (Prioleau & Co.), 1868-1874, 3 Vols.

Account Book Sales No. 1, Prioleau & Co., 1869-1876.

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NB The grave of Charles K Prioleau.

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Tom Sebrell, an American academic, has rediscovered the lost grave of Charles Prioleau in Kensal Green cemetery, London.
Photograph: Martin Godwin

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The grave of a man who bankrolled the Confederate side in the American civil war, and ended up costing the British government 3.3m in compensation to the victorious north, has been tracked down in a patch of brambles in a London cemetery.

Charles Kuhn Prioleau, a cotton merchant born in Charleston, South Carolina, was based in Liverpool during the war, from 1861 to 1865. He disappeared from history in a bonfire of company records and correspondence after his firm went bankrupt, having sent supplies, funds, and blockade-busting ships to the Confederates.

But his mortal remains have now been traced to Kensal Green cemetery by a US academic who is gradually unearthing the almost forgotten story of Confederate support in England, which takes in the highest ranks of British politics and society.

Tom Sebrell, a history lecturer at University College London, led a small gang of students into the undergrowth armed with secateurs and cemetery burial records supplied by the Friends of Kensal Green. They literally fell over Prioleau's broken headstone.

His war efforts began as an attempt to save his business when the cotton trade crucial to the economy both of the southern states of America and the Lancashire mill owners collapsed. Prioleau's contribution to the Confederate cause grew to sending supplies, weapons, and ammunition to those states, and finally to buying, equipping and crewing warships.

Through agents, he acquired three of the most notorious privateers of the civil war: the CSS Alabama and the CSS Florida, built on Merseyside, and the CSS Shenandoah, built on Tyneside.

The first ship in particular, with a mainly English crew, caused such havoc that the 3.3m the British eventually paid the US government was known as "the Alabama claim".

After the war, Sebrell says Prioleau simply vanished. His company, Fraser, Trenholm and Co, went bankrupt, almost certainly to pre-empt compensation claims. He has descendants in England, Africa and the US, but none knew where he was buried. One branch thought Belgium, another somewhere called Kelsall, a name that led Sebrell and his team to Kensal Green.

Prioleau was buried there in 1887 among grand neighbours, including: the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel; Lady Byron, the poet's wife; the novelist Anthony Trollope; and WH Smith of newsagents fame.

But while some of their monuments are mini-cathedrals in grandeur, Prioleau's, beside the Liverpool in-laws who moved to London with him, is comparatively modest. It certainly fails to match the millionaire style of his surviving home in Liverpool, now owned by the university. Also traced by Sebrell, the house features portraits of Prioleau and his wife, Mary, as well as elaborate Confederate decoration in all the main rooms.

"This is a part of the cemetery's history that even we didn't know," Barry Smith, a trustee of the Friends, said. "It's fascinating to have another name to add to the already multi-layered history of this place."

Sebrell believes there is a rich tourism dividend in uncovering this lost history: already, he has invitations to lead guided tours of groups from Virginia and Carolina, and Liverpool is planning a Confederate history trail in 2011 to mark the 150th anniversary of the outbreak of the war.

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