5.1 Peter Pott, from Merchant to Administrator
Peter Pott was born around 1715 in Danzig (Gdańsk) as son of a Dutch Lieger, a name for merchants who were stationed in important centers of trade and acted for the State of the Teutonic Order.1 After having been trained as merchant in his native Danzig, Pott was active for five years in Amsterdam and another five years in Bordeaux, ever in the service of the wholesalers. On commission from them he then travelled through Brabant, Flanders, Ireland and large portions of the German Territories. In 1739 he returned to his native city to take over the business of his father, who had been active as Lieger in Danzig for more than three decades and who had died during Peter’s absence. He ran the business as before until the mid-50s, when he decided to obtain civic rights to be able to trade directly in Polish products.
It was a fatal decision, as was to become apparent several years later. According to a written statement composed by Pott in 1776, the burgomaster of Danzig had ordered him fourteen years before to dump a large consignment of wooden beams in the Weichsel River so that it might not fall into the hands of the advancing Russian army.2 Pott is to have lost thousands of thalers as a consequence, which caused his business to run a deficit in 1763. Disagreement among his creditors caused a financial solution to fail, so that Pott was declared bankrupt. He remained in Danzig for another eighteen months to await further developments and then headed via Latvia to Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, to continue trading in wood there. Andreas Schopenhauer of Danzig and Johann and Heinrich Simpson of Memel (Klaipėda) belonged to his circle of clients. Despite financial problems with Schopenhauer, Pott continued to do business with him from 1766 to 1768, travelling back and forth between Memel, Kaunas and Vilnius, while he also established contacts with firms in Königsberg (now Kaliningrad), such as Fa[h]renheid and Weiβ. Problems with repayment of advances caused several merchants of Danzig to launch a lawsuit against him, which was resolved with a compromise.
Around 1770, fed up with financial problems, Pott decided to give up trading on his own and to enter the service of the Bishop of Vilnius, whom he had met through the intervention of Prince Radziwiłł.3 He was again active in the wood trade for the bishop. In February of 1771 Pott decided to return to Vilnius.4 He there occupied himself with giving advice to mercantile houses in connection with important business transactions until 1772, when he became bookkeeper for the Vilnius salt manufacture, a subsidiary of the Societé de Commerce Maritime (German: Seehandlungsgesellschaft), which had been set up by the Prussian King Frederick II in that year. An organization with its own fleet, it was founded to promote trade, developing into a state bank in 1790.5 It was to be the beginning of a lengthy engagement in service within which Pott was able to use his better than average knowledge of trade to rise to the position of bookkeeper at the main office of the Seehandlungsgeschellschaft in Berlin in 1775. Two years later he received a leading function with the Elbing (Elbląg) branch, where he was active until at least 1782.6 He died in 1800.7
1 The State of the Teutonic Order was founded by the Teutonic Knights, a chivalric order on Baltic territory and comprising the later West Prussia, to which the Polish kings also laid claim, and the later East Prussia, the territory of the Baltic Prussians. See: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duitse-Ordestaat (consulted: October 2013). The Lieger traded on behalf of the order and received an annual retainer. They could also trade with the order on their own. For further information see: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lieger#Lieger.2C_Diener_und_Wirte (consulted: October 2013).
2 Pott’s written statement dates from July 1776 and is located in the Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preuβischer Kulturbesitz, II, HA, Ostpreuβen, IV, no. 4 959 (not paginated). Pott wrote to defend himself against the charge that he was a negligent bankrupt. His writing was the source for the biographical data in Straubel 2012, which was in turn our source. Parts of this chapter are available online under: http://books.google.com.au/books/about/Zwischen_monarchischer_Autokratie_und_b.html?id=IJ92RnBe5J4C
3 Straubel 2012, p. 519. Although he gives no names, the bishop was probably Prince Ignacy Massalski (Latvian: Ignotas Jokūbas Masalskis) (1726-1794) Bishop of Vilnius from 1762 to 1776. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignacy_Jakub_Massalski (consulted: September 2013). The Prince Radziwiłł may have been Karol Stanisław Radziwiłł (1734-1790), woiwode of Vilnius from 1762. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karol_Stanislaw (consulted: September 2013).
4 His family - wife, daughter and son - had settled in Memel in the mid-sixties. Shortly before his father’s return, this son, named Peter Emanuel, became associated with Ludwig Simpson and started a wood dealership with him (Straubel 2012, p. 519).
5 The organization continues to operate to this day under the name Stiftung Preußische Seehandlung. For a short survey of its history, see: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stiftung_Preu%C3%9Fische_Seehandlung (consulted: September 2013).
6 Straubel 2012, p. 405.
7 Straubel 2012, p. 549.