Richard Watt (1724–1796),1 a self-made businessman, is probably best known as the purchaser of Speke Hall, near Liverpool, and the founder of the Watt family fortunes. He has, however, remained somewhat of an elusive figure and his career has attracted little attention.
This article brings together a range of surviving evidence about him and in particular uses a letter book dating from 1778 to 1782 to throw light on his career and his business activities. He spent most of his formative years in Jamaica where he traded in enslaved Africans, managed estates for absentee owners and exported sugar and rum to England. Returning to Liverpool in 1782, he continued his successful trading business with Jamaica but also purchased property, seemingly to provide for younger members of his family. His letters reveal him to have been a conscientious businessman struggling with the inefficiencies of his nephew and partner and the difficulties of war-time trading.