Abstract: Scamps, Scoundrels, and Chivalrous Retailers: A Northern Credit Agent in a Southern City

Amanda R. Mushal

Abstract

This paper identifies and traces the background of one of the anonymous antebellum correspondents employed by R.G. Dun & Company, one of the nation’s first credit rating agencies.  Founded by northern abolitionists, the firm initially struggled to gain intelligence on southern businesses.  An examination of the life and connections of one Charleston correspondent suggests strategies the firm used to build its southern network and cultivate local informants—most notably, that to staff its Charleston office it sought a professional agent who shared the community’s social values and proslavery politics.  More broadly, this analysis provides insight into the operations of an agency branch office and the interactions between early professional agents and local communities.  By focusing on the identity of a single correspondent, it suggests the degree to which individual correspondents’ own attitudes and personal relationships shaped early institutionalized credit reporting.