My Friend the Merchant: Thomas Hill and Pepys

Although Pepys often refers in his Diary to Thomas Hill, he remains a somewhat shadowy figure. It is now possible to reconstruct his portrait. Hill emerges as a man after the diarist’s own heart—learned, inquisitive, sociable, garrulous. D. Pepys Whiteley recalls their friendship, which had begun in 1664 and continued until the merchant left England for Portugal.

Readers of Pepys’s Diary will be familiar with the name of Thomas Hill who, though frequently and always affectionately referred to as a constant visitor to the Pepys’s house in Seething Lane for what a later generation called “musical evenings at home,” remains, none the less, a somewhat shadowy figure.

A portrait of Thomas Hill as a young man presented some twenty years ago to Magdalene College, Cambridge, and recently made more accessible, together with an opportunity to read some family letters written to and by Hill during his early years abroad, have shed a fresh light on Pepys’s friend and allow a rather firmer outline sketch to be made of his life and background.

The letters reflect a tranquil Puritan background and show that Tom Hill sprang from a happy and united West-Country family which in the 1630s had settled in Lime Street in the City of London, where the father and his six sons became engaged in a prosperous business which involved the ownership of sailing-ships, plying regularly abroad, and on their behalf bartering and exchanging the cargo carried.

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