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Scots and Scots Descendant in America
Part I - Scots in the Settlement and Development of The United States
Colonial Governors


OF the colonial governors sent from Britain to the American colonies before the Revolution, and of the provincial governors from that time to 1789, upwards of forty were of Scottish birth or descent. Among them may be mentioned Robert Hunter (1710-1719), William Burnett (1720), John Montgomerie (1728-1731), John Hamilton (1736), Cadwallader Colden (1761), John Murray, Lord Dunmore (1770-1771), James Robertson (1780), Andrew Elliott (1783), all of New York; Robert Barclay (1682), John Skene (1686), Lord Neil Campbell (1687), Andrew Hamilton, John Hamilton (1736), William Livingston (1776-1790), all of New Jersey: Andrew Hamilton (1701), Sir William Keith (1717), Patrick Gordon (1726), James Logan (1736), James Hamilton (1748-1754, 1759-1763), Joseph Reed (1778), all of Pennsylvania, and all, except the one last named, governors of Delaware also; John McKinley (1777), of Delaware; Robert Hunter (1707), Alexander Spotswood (1710), Robert Dinwiddie (1751-1758), John Campbell (1756-1768), John Blair (1767), William Nelson (1770-1771), John Murray. Lord Dunmore (1771-1775), Patrick Henry (1776-1779), Thomas Nelson (1781), all of Virginia; William Drummond (1663), Gabriel Johnston (1734), Matthew Rowan (1753), Alexander Martin (1782), Samuel Johnston (1788), all of North Carolina; Joseph Morton (1682), Richard Kirk (1684), James Moore (171.9), William Campbell (1775), John Rutledge (1779), all of South Carolina; William Erwin (1775), Archibald Bulloch (1776), John Houston (1778), Edward Telfair (1786-1787, 1790-1793), all of Georgia; and George Johnstone (1763), of Florida (Hanna. v. 1, p. 49). Brief biographical sketches of some of these governors and of some others of the more prominent colonial officials, may here be added.

Robert Hunter, believed to have been the first Scottish governor of New York, previously held the same office in Virginia in 1707. In 1719 he returned to Britain, but on the accession of George II. he was reinstated as governor of New York and New Jersey. In 1728 he became governor of Jamaica and died there in 1734. He was author of the famous Letter on Enthusiasm (1708), attributed by some to Dean Swift and by others to Anthony Cooper, third Earl of Shaftsbury.

William Burnet, the governor in 1720, was a son of the celebrated Gilbert Burnet, bishop of Salisbury. Smith, the historian of New York, describes the governor as "a man of sense and polite breeding, a well bred scholor" (History of New York. p. 167; Phila., 1792).

Cadwallader Colden, the ablest governor of New York before the Revolution, was born in Duns, Berwickshire, in February, 1688. He studied at the University of Edinburgh, and pursued the study of medicine after his graduation. In 1708 he came to this country and for a few years lived in Philadelphia. At the request of Governor Robert Hunter he settled in New York in 1718, and in the year following he became the first surveyor-general of the colony and Master in Chancery. In 1724 he published a collection of Papers relating to an Act of the Assembly of the Province of New York to which he contributed a Memorial concerning the Furr-trade of New York, with a map. In this work the importance of an easier interior system of navigation by means of canals is first suggested. The work is also of interest as containing the first map engraved in New York city. About 1755 he retired to a tract of land, for which he had received a patent, about nine miles from Newburgh on the Hudson. Colden was an earnest royalist and strongly advocated the taxation of the colonies by the home government. In 1761 Lord Halifax, in return for his "zeal for the rights of the crown," appointed him lieutenant-governor, an office which he held with intervals till his death (1761-62, 1763, 1769, 1774). Many of the most prominent scientific men of his time were his correspondents. He took special interest in botany, and was the first to introduce the Linnean system of classification into America.

John Murray, Lord Dunmore, who followed Colden (1770-1771), after wards held the governorship of Virginia from 1771 till 1775. He was the eldest son of William Murray, the third earl, and Catherine Nairn, and was born at Taymouth, Perthshire, in 1732, and died in Ramsgate, England in 1809. During his short stay in New York he was ninth president of the New York St. Andrew’s Society. He threw in his lot with the loyalists at the beginning of the war and carried on guerilla warfare along the coast of Virginia until 1777.

Andrew Elliott, who held the governorship for only a few months (1783), was the third son of Sir Gilbert Elliott of Minto, Lord Justice Clerk of Scotland, who sat on the bench as Lord Minto. Born in Edinburgh in 1728, he came to Philadelphia in 1747, and entered on a mercantile career. In 1764 he was appointed Collector of Customs in New York, and in consequence removed to that city. During the Revolution he adhered to the mother country, and was one of the Commissioners for Restoring Peace to the Colonies. He was also one of the three persons sent by Sir Henry Clinton to intercede with Washington on behalf of the unfortunate Major André. On the conclusion of peace he felt that his loyalty during the war would make life unpleasant for him and his family and he decided therefore to return to Scotland. On his departure he received many expressions of esteem for his benevolence and liberality from Elias Boudinot, General Knox, and General Washington. He died at Mount Teviot, Jedburgh, in 1797.

Robert Barclay of Ury, the eminent apologist for the Society of Friends, who was appointed governor of the province of East New Jersey in 1682, sent a deputy and never came to America himself.

William Livingston, the "Don Quixote of the Jerseys," who held the governorship for fourteen years, was a grandson of Robert Livingston of Ancrum, the founder of the Livingston family in America. He was also a member of the Convention which framed the Constitution (b. 1723. d. 1790). James Hamilton, who was Lieutenant-Governor of Pennsylvania from 1748

to 1754 and again from 1759 to 1763, was born in Accomac County, Virginia, of Scottish parentage. somewhere about the year 1710. His father, Andrew Hamilton, ranked as the most eminent lawyer of his time in Pennsylvania, held the office of Attorney-General of that state in 1717, and ten years later was appointed Prothonotary of the Supreme Court and Recorder of Philadelphia. James Hamilton was elected a member of the Provincial Assembly when but twenty-four years of age, and was re-elected five times. In 1741 he became an Alderman of Philadelphia, and in 1745 was Mayor of the city. During his tenure of this office he was called to a seat in the Provincial Council, and in 1748 received his commission as Lieutenant-Governor of the Province. In 1754 he asked to be superseded, and was succeeded by Robert Hunter Morris, who, through his mother, was connected with Scotland, and at the time of his appointment was President of the St. Andrew’s Society of Philadelphia. In 1759 Hamilton was again induced to become Lieutenant-Governor, and four years later was relieved by the nomination of John Penn to the office. Hamilton was a generous donor to all worthy projects, and assisted in founding many public institutions. In 1731, along with a number of others, he took part in the formation of the first Masonic lodge in America. ‘‘For more than a quarter of a century James Hamilton had participated largely in the political affairs of the Province and held many important offices, the duties of which were discharged by him with signal ability. Whether as Assemblyman, Alderman, Mayor, Councillor or Governor, he was always equal to the task imposed upon him, and even those who differed from him in political sentiment were willing to confide in him on account of his honesty. integrity, and devotion to the public welfare (Beath, v. 1, p. 199).

Alexander Spottiswood, a scion of the Spottiswoods of that ilk, who was Lieutenant-Governor of Virginia from 1710 t.o 1722, was one of the most successful of the transplanted Scots, and one of the ablest representatives of the crown authority in the colony. He conciliated the red men, and strove earnestly to improve their condition. He also promoted education, encouraged agricultural improvement, and especially the cultivation of tobacco, at that time Virginia's greatest export and principal source of wealth. By his action in this matter he became a considerable factor in laying the foundation of Glasgow’s prosperity, which began in the days when her merehants were known as "Tobacco Lords" and "Virginia Dons."

Robert Dinwiddie, who became Lieutenant-Governor of Virginia (1751-1758), was a son of Robert Dinwiddie, a merchant of Glasgow, where the younger Dinwiddie was born in 1693. After filling various positions in the West Indies he was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Virginia, which high position he filled honourably and wisely in a most trying period of the colony's history. To him is also due the credit of calling George Washington to the service of his country. On his retirement he received testimonials of regard from the Council and from the municipal authorities of Williamsburg, the seat of government of the colony. He died in 1770.

John Campbell, Earl of Loudon (1705-1782), who succeeded Dinwiddie, was appointed Commander-in-chief of the troops in North America. Although he held the appointment of Governor of Virginia, he does not, however, appear ever to have been in the colony, as during his brief term of office he was detained in Boston in negotiations with the New England authorities in raising an army for the ensuing campaign.

John Blair, who followed the Earl of London in the governorship, was a son of Dr. Archibald Blair and nephew of the Rev. James Blair, founder and first president of William and Mary College. Before his accession to the presidency of the council he held various other subordinate though important positions in the colony. A number of his descendents have been distinguished in the annals of Virginia.

Patrick Henry (1736-1799), the orator and patriot, was the son of a Scotsman named John Henry. His grandmother was a cousin of Principal Robertson, the historian, and of the mother of Lord Brougham. In 1765 he was elected a member of the House of Burgesses of Virginia, his native state, and it was before that body that he made his famous speech against the Stamp Act in which occurs the celebrated passage "Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell, and George the Third"—here he was interrupted by loud cries of "Treason!" from all parts of the House—" may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it." Between this date and the outbreak of the Revolution he was constantly engaged with the most ardent of the patriots, stimulating the weak-hearted by his own example, and, says A. H. Everett, in his Life, suggesting and carrying into effect "by his immediate personal influence, measures that were opposed as premature and violent by all other eminent supporters of the cause of liberty." Perhaps the greatest triumph of his wonderful eloquence was his speech in March, 1775, in the Virginia Convention for the passage of a resolution "that the colony be immediately put in a state of defence." He there insisted on the necessity of fighting for independence, and closed his speech with the now historic words, "Give me liberty or give me death!" It is as America’s greatest orator that his memory lives, but he was more than that. His ability as an able administrator and wise and far-seeing legislator was preeminent.

Thomas Nelson, who became Governor in 1781 in succession to Patrick Henry, was a son of William Nelson mentioned above, and was born in 1738. He finished his education at the University of Cambridge and returned to Virginia. Immediately afterward he was elected to the House of Burgesses. On the outbreak of the Revolution he rendered efficient services, becoming a member of the Revolutionary Convention of 1774; 1775, and 1776. In August, 1777, on the approach of the British fleet he was appointed commander-inchief of the state forces. In 1781, when the colony was in its most desperate and trying position he accepted the position of governor, and took part in the siege of Yorktown as commander of the Virginia militia. A rich man before the war, he sacrificed everything he possessed for his country's welfare, and died so poor that he was laid in the graveyard at York without a headstone or slab to mark the spot, and his property put up at public sale to pay the debts contracted in his country’s cause. A. typical example of the ingratitude of republics.


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