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The 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. W. Macdowall, 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.


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