Secret Societies ‘n such

So I was reading some stuff online Saturday at PortCities Bristol, trying to see if the Big Traumatic Moment for one of my characters was even plausible in 1800.

The answer turned out to be not likely. But what is likely is that the characters would encounter several fat, rich, self-satisfied slave ships owners in the city and I can twist Big Traumatic Moment that way. 
But as I read, I came across a mention of the Society of Merchant Venturers in Bristol. It started as a guild and ended up largely running the city of Bristol and its port for centuries. They had a huge economic impact in Bristol in that the Society argued against a London society that had a monopoly in the slave trade. 
What I’m trying to figure out is if Miles, a merchant, a successful merchant who has just established a foothold in Bristol’s busy port, actually needs to be a member of this society in order to run to his business. Did every prominent merchant who came to settle in Bristol have to be a member? Did they pay something to this society? If they weren’t members, did that affect how much they could use the port? 
If he doesn’t, then Miles won’t be a member–he’s not a slave trader and doesn’t appreciate those who are–but if he does, it adds another strand to his becoming acquainted and integrated into English rich-people society.

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