Anecdotage of Glasgow
Col. W. MacDowall and Major J. Milliken,
Founders of the Sugar Trade of Glasgow
EARLY efforts were made to establish a West India
sugar trade in Glasgow, unsuccessful attempts in this direction being
noticed by Tucker in 1651. it was not till the
eighteenth century that the tradc fairly took root in the city of St.
Mungo, and it was planted not by native Glasgow merchants, but by two
Scottish officers in the King’s army—Col. William Macdowall (a younger
son of the ancient Galloway family of Macdowall of Garthland), and Major
James Milliken, who, being quartered in St. Kitt’s, woo’d and won two
West Indian heiresses, the one Mary Tovie, and the other her mother,
Mary Stephen, then Widow Tovie.
Returning to Scotland, Col. Macdowall, in 1727,
bought Castle Sempill, the ancient patrimony of the Sempills, Barons
Sempill; and Major Milliken, in 1733, bought the adjoining estate of
Milliken, then called Johnston. They brought their business with them,
making Glasgow the market for their sugar, and Port-Glasgow the
headquarters oF their ships. This was enough to materially help the West
India trade of Glasgow and the Clyde. But this was only a small part of
what they did for it. They founded the West India house of James
Milliken & Co. (which in Gibson’s History appears in the list of
shipowners of 1735), and out of James Milliken & Co. grew the great West
India house of Alexander Houston & Co., which would be regarded as a
great house even now, and did business then on a scale that one would
scarce believe possible for a house of last century.
The partners in 1795 were two sons of the founder,
Alexander Houston, namely, Andrew Houston of Jordanhill, and his
brother, Robert Houston-Rae of Little Govan, and two grandsons of Col.
namely, William Macdowall of Castle Sempill, M.P., and his brother,
James Macdowall, Provost of Glasgow. This great firm failed, and there
had been no such crash since the Virginian collapse in 1775, and there
has been no such crash since till the collapse of the Western and City
Banks. Ultimately, after untold delay and confusion, every creditor was
paid in full, principal and interest; for the assets, including the
great estates of the partners, realised over £1,000,000 sterling,
but the Houstons were utterly ruined, and the Macdowalls were left
with but a fragment of a great fortune.