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The History of Glasgow
Volume 3 - Chapter XXXII - Revolt of the American Colonies


THE fortunes of Glasgow were for years little affected by the wars in which George II. and his connection with the kingdom of Hanover involved this country. The French were our enemies at that time in the new world of America, as well as in India and in Europe itself. In the far east they planned to drive us out of India. Labourdonnais, governor of the French colony of Mauritius, in 1746, besieged and destroyed our colony of Madras, while Dupleix, governor of Pondicherry, profiting by the break-up of the Mogul Empire, conceived the idea of driving the English out of India, and founding a great French Empire there. In Europe, on the conclusion of a treaty between Britain and Frederick of Prussia in 1755, war broke out again—the Seven Years' War—and opened with disaster—the capture of Minorca, the key of the Mediterranean, by the Duc de Richelieu, the retreat of the fleet under Admiral Byng, and the forced disbanding by the Duke of Cumberland of his army of fifty thousand men on the Elbe. Not less alarming was the series of successes of the French arms in America. The English colonies then lay practically along the Atlantic coast, while north and south of them Louisiana and Lower Canada were held by France. From these bases the French planned to close in the English colonies, and claim the entire hinterland for themselves. They drove the British settlers from the valleys of the Mississippi and the Ohio, and founded on the latter Fort Duquesne. In attempting to attack Fort Duquesne George Washington was driven back, and General Braddock was utterly routed and slain. Under the Marquis de Montcalm the French erected a chain of forts which seemed to complete their plan, and shut the British colonies from all access to the West. The fortunes of this country were at their lowest when Lord Chesterfield exclaimed in despair "We are no longer a nation!"

As a matter of fact this country was just then on the eve of its greatest achievements. All the world knows how the genius of William Pitt changed the whole aspect of affairs. From the moment when that statesman took the reins of government in 1757 a new heroic spirit began to move in all the country's interests. In India, Clive avenged the horrors of the Black Hole of Calcutta by the great victory at Plassey, which laid all Bengal, Orissa, and Bihar at his feet. In Europe, Pitt's subsidies of money and men enabled King Frederick to annihilate one French army at Rossbach, and the Duke of Brunswick to overthrow another at Minden, while the invasion of Britain by a great French host was prevented by Admiral Hawke's destruction of the French fleet in Quiberon Bay. At the same time, beyond the Atlantic, a large and well-planned campaign was organized. The colonists themselves raised twenty thousand men, and three expeditions proceeded to attack the French line. One, under General Amherst and Admiral Boscawen, captured Louisburg, with its garrison of five thousand men and the fleet in its harbour. Another, of colonists under George Washington, took Fort Duquesne, and named it Pittsburg after the British statesman himself. In the following year, 1759, the forts of Ticonderoga and Niagara were taken ; and shortly afterwards, by General Wolfe's capture of Quebec, and Amherst's capture of Montreal, the Marquis de Montcalm's splendid dream of a French empire in America was brought to an end.

In that American campaign many Scotsmen took part. Lord Loudon's and the other Highland regiments are said to have captivated our Indian allies by the similarity of their kilt to the nether garment of the Cherokees ; the tragic story of a Highland officer—the Ticonderoga vision—remains a thrilling tradition of the ancient stronghold of Inverawe, below the Pass of Brander in Argyll; and the dispatch intimating the surrender of Quebec was brought home by a Border laird, Douglas of Friarshaw, who was knighted for the service, received a baronetcy for his later naval achievements, and is represented to-day by one of our most distinguished Scottish men of letters, Sir George Douglas, Bart., of Springwood. Many Scottish officers, like Captain MacVicar from the Goosedubs in Glasgow, as already mentioned, received extensive grants of land in the colonies themselves, and settled there as planters, thus affording the prospect of a still closer linking of Scotland, and especially Glasgow, with the sources of its trading wealth across the Atlantic.

Apart from the constant billeting of soldiers, Glasgow seems to have been little disturbed by the warlike movements of that time. Its trade suffered no check. Just at the moment, however, when success crowned our arms in every quarter of the globe an event occurred at home which was to have far-reaching and disastrous issues. On 25th October, 176o, King George II. died suddenly in his palace of Kensington, and was succeeded by his grandson, George III. The new monarch was as headstrong as he was unwise. With the words of his mother in his ears—"George, be a king!" he set himself to make Parliament merely the instrument of his will, and the result was seen in widespread discontent and riots at home—the agitation led by the attacks of Wilkes in the North Briton and by the fierce invective contained in the letters of the writer who styled himself Junius—while beyond the Atlantic it was to bring about the rebellion of our richest colonies and their declaration of independence as the United States of America.

Meanwhile in Glasgow certain depressing and ominous tendencies were to he seen at work. While wealth was still flowing into the city through the great trade with the American colonies, there was growing, in the older wynds and vennels, a substratum of poverty. Attracted by the reports of wealth to be acquired, humble folk were coming in from the country, and there was also in the city itself a residuum of the less capable and less fortunate, whose circumstances were never very far from the subsistence line. When any stringency arose, perhaps by reason of a bad harvest, these people were at once in distress, and provision for them became one of the problems of the Town Council. An emergency of the kind occurred in the winter of 1765, when the Council found it necessary to appoint a committee to meet with committees of the Merchants and Trades Houses, to concert measures for the relief of the distressed. Money was borrowed and meal and victual were purchased. The relief thus provided led to a demand for continued supplies, and the town found it necessary to buy ground and build a granary for the purpose. [Burgh Records, 10th Dec., 1765; 24th Sept., 1766.] Again, six years later, when the Ayr Bank failed, with a loss of 450,000, and the stoppage of credit and calling up of loans caused widespread distress in the West of Scotland, a large number of the tradesmen of the city were faced with want. On that occasion, for the first time, the cause of the trouble is stated to be unemployment. In this case the emergency was met by a voluntary subscription. A similar state of affairs in Greenock and Port-Glasgow at the same time led to riots in these places. [Ibid. 30th Dec., 1772. Humphrey Cunningham, shipmate, was made a burgess and guild-brother of Glasgow for "his spirited behaviour in quelling the late mobs at Greenock and Port-Glasgow."—Ibid. 29th March, 1773.] There then arose an outcry against the Corn Law. This law dealt with the importation of grain and the duties levied upon it. The subject brought Glasgow and the other burghs, with their industrial interests and demand for cheap food, into direct conflict with the interests of the rural districts of the country, which depended upon agriculture for their prosperity. It is a conflict of interests which has lasted from that day till this. [Ibid. 15th Feb., 1774; 28th April, 21st Nov., 1777.] The provost was sent to London to secure alteration of the measure.

But the most serious blow to the trade and fortunes of Glasgow was struck by the outbreak of war with the American colonies in 1775. Whatever might be the justice of the proposal that the colonies should be asked to repay part of the huge expense incurred by this country in freeing them from the constant menace of a French invasion, there can be no question that the method taken to exact that repayment was singularly wanting in tact and needlessly provocative in detail. But Government and people on this side felt that their demand was reasonable, and when the position became really serious, with the surrender of General Burgoyne and his entire British force at Saratoga in 1777, Glasgow at once set an example of raising a regiment for the king's service. To this undertaking the Town Council subscribed a thousand pounds, and, as an inducement to enlist, agreed with the Merchants' and Trades Houses to make every man who should join the regiment a burgess of the city free of charge. [Ibid. 10th Dec., 1777; 17th April, 1778.] In a few days the public of Glasgow subscribed over 10,000, and by dint of processions through the streets, headed by a band in which there were "two young gentlemen playing on pipes, two young gentlemen beating drums, and a gentleman playing on the bagpipes," a fine battalion, 900 strong, was raised, and was known as the 83rd or Glasgow regiment. [Ibid. 29th Dec., 1777 and after; Glasgow Mercury, 29th Jan., 5778; Mitchell, Old Glasgow Essays, p. 29.] The Town Council also offered a bounty of 2 and 1 respectively to every able-bodied and ordinary seaman who should join His Majesty's navy. [Burgh Records, 29th Nov., 31st Dec., 1776.] This example was followed by Edinburgh; other Scottish towns offered bounties for sailors and soldiers; the Dukes of Hamilton and Atholl each raised a regiment; the Dukes of Buccleuch and Gordon and Lord Frederick Campbell each raised a fencible corps; and the Seaforth regiment and other bodies of recruits came pouring from the Highlands, to begin a military period of our history which was to last with only brief intervals for forty years, till the Battle of Waterloo. While the citizens of Glasgow had a great stake in the maintenance of relations with the American colonies, it may be doubted whether the action to which they were thus committed by the policy of King George's Government was the best calculated to further their interests; but there could be no question of the loyalty with which they rallied to the support of the Government in its emergency. When France and Spain, seizing their opportunity, joined forces with the Americans, and the fleets of Admiral Thurot and Paul Jones threatened the West Coast, Glasgow rose still further to the occasion, purchased twelve cannon from the new ironworks at Carron, and sent them to Greenock for the defence of the Clyde. [Burgh Records, 9th Sept., 1778. See infra, chap. xiii.]

Glasgow, Port-Glasgow, and Greenock suffered grievously from the depredations of the privateers of America and France, which swarmed in the narrow seas. Through the inefficiency of Lord Sandwich the British navy was heavily handicapped. British warships seldom visited the Clyde, and it was only after strong remonstrance by the magistrates that a guardship was stationed at the Tail of the Bank. In the emergency the shipowners and sailors of the Clyde rose to the occasion. They fitted out an armada of privateers, which acquitted themselves with surprising effect. Within three months of the outbreak of the war with America Port-Glasgow and Greenock together fitted out fourteen vessels carrying "letters of marque", and more than one Glasgow fortune was founded on the plunder captured in this enterprise. On the morning of one sacrament Sunday in 1777, the good folk of Greenock were scandalized by the beating of the town drum through the streets to announce the capture of several prizes by privateers belonging to the town, [Scots Magazine for 1777.] and it was a Port-Glasgow privateer, the "Lady Maxwell," of which William Gilmour was master, which had the famous brush with Paul Jones off Ushant on a January afternoon in 1780, and by its exploits earned from French shippers the title of "the Scourge of the Channel." [An interesting article on "The Clyde Privateers" by W. Chisholm Mitchell appeared in The Glasgow Herald on 13th January, 1912.]

Out of this great upheaval arose another trouble which threatened to have serious issues at the time. Considerable numbers of the forces which rallied to the Government's support were Roman Catholic. Against the adherents to that faith there still existed penal laws of great severity. Catholics educated abroad could not inherit or acquire landed property, the next heir who was a Protestant could take possession of a Catholic father's or other relative's estate, and a Catholic priest venturing to practise his office was liable to be treated as a felon. Since British law now protected the French Catholics in Canada, it seemed unfair that the Catholics in Britain itself should still-remain under such disabilities- A bill was therefore introduced in the House of Commons in May 1778 for the repeal of the penalties. The bill meanwhile applied only to England, but the fears of Scotsmen of the old Covenanting spirit were at once excited, and in the General Assembly, Dr. Gillies, one of the Glasgow ministers, asked the Lord Advocate regarding the Government's intentions. In reply he was told that though the present bill did not apply to Scotland, a future measure might be introduced for that purpose. At this, large numbers in the country took alarm. Associations were formed, violent resolutions were passed; all the synods except two fanned the flame; and a fast was appointed by those of Glasgow and Ayr. As had happened after the incitements of John Knox, the cue was taken up by "the rascal mob." On 16th November, 1778, in the Blackfriars Church, the Rev. Daniel McArthur, afterwards a teacher in the Grammar School, preached a fiery sermon inveighing violently against the Church of Rome and all its works. [Glasgow Mercury, 10th Dec. 1778.] On 31st January, 1779, a riotous assembly sacked and burned the bishop's house in Edinburgh, and next day destroyed other houses of Catholic clergymen, besides plundering a number of shops and dwelling houses, the tumult being only stopped by the appearance of some troops of dragoons. [Aikman's Continuation Hist. Scot., VI., 640. Glasgow Town Council was one of those which passed resolutions opposing the measure.—Burgh Records, 21st Jan., 1779.] In Glasgow, even before the bill was submitted, a similar mob went through the streets breaking windows, and a few days after the Edinburgh riots, another mob attacked the house of Robert Bagnel, potter, and broke and destroyed its contents to the value of 1429 1s. sterling. In each case the damage was paid for out of an assessment laid upon the townspeople for the purpose. [Aikman VI., 641, Burgh Records, 28th Jan., 1778; 2nd April, 1779. Scots Mag. quoted in McGregor's Hist. Glasg., p. 364.] An assurance by the Government that the bill would not be extended to Scotland quieted the upheaval north of the Border, and the Scottish outbreaks were presently eclipsed by the more serious disturbances led by Lord George Gordon in London. [Aikman VI., 641. Burgh Records, 16th Aug., 1780. In May 1781, nevertheless, the Protestant societies of GIasgow sent to Lord George Gordon the sum of L485, an action which, he declared, gave him " the greatest comfort and satisfaction."—Senex, Old Glasgow, p. 289.]

At that time there were only some thirty Roman Catholics in Glasgow. Six years later, in 1785, Bishop Hay, when he came from Edinburgh to visit the flock, celebrated mass in the back room of a house in Saltmarket. In 1792 the adherents of the Roman faith fitted up the Tennis Court in Mitchell Street as a place of worship, and it was only in 1797 that a small chapel was built in Gallowgate. The Roman Catholic pro-cathedral in Clyde Street was not built till 1815. [Strang, Glasgow and its Clubs, p. 117 note.]

The war itself, as all the world knows, came to an end not a little humiliating to this country. The American colonies, it is true, secured their independence, following the surrender of the British army under Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1782, and Ireland seized the moment of Britain's weakness to make a demand for virtual independence which had to be acceded to. But the naval victories of Admiral Rodney off Cape St. Vincent and in the West Indies shattered the fleets of France and Spain, and left Britain in command of the seas. By the heroic defence of Sir John Elliott, Gibraltar, the key of the Mediterranean, remained a British possession, and in the Far East, India was being steadily brought under British rule, and France was forced finally to give up her pretensions upon that vast empire.

The great struggle, nevertheless, left in Glasgow a sorrowful aftermath which has already been mentioned in these pages. Among other business failures the great houses of Buchanan Hastie & Co. and Andrew Buchanan & Co. came down. Members of these firms, and of the proud Buchanan family who thus saw their great possessions swept from them, were Andrew Buchanan, who was then projecting the laying out of Buchanan Street on his property, and James Buchanan, laird of Drumpellier, who had been Lord Provost of the city. [It is in one of the deeds subscribed by James Buchanan as Lord Provost in 1770 that the title of "esquire" is first appended to the name of the chief magistrate of the city.—Burgh Records, 12th Sept., 1770.] It is pathetic to find this same James Buchanan, in 1779, appointed Inspector of Police, at a salary of 100 per annum, and further that the Town Council thought it necessary to safeguard the payment by the stipulation that the 100 was "meaned and intended for the support and maintenance of the said James Buchanan's family," and was "on no account arrestable or attachable by any of the said Jaines Buchanan's creditors." [Burgh Records, 2nd March, 1779. Buchanan resigned the inspectorship of police in 1781 (ibid. 5th April).] Provost James ended his life as a Commissioner of Customs at Edinburgh in 1793, while his nephew Andrew, son of the builder of the Virginia Mansion, died in an abode in Adam's Court in 1796. [Curiosities of Glasgow Citizenship, p. 23.]

Still more sad was the fate of the senior representative of the proud Buchanan family, Andrew, the projector of Buchanan Street. He was grandson of the original George Buchanan who migrated from Drymen, and head of the two great firms which came down. In 1780, after the crash, no doubt by way of kindly provision for a downfallen merchant, the Town Council appointed him City Chamberlain at a salary of 100 a year. Apparently, however, he had lost heart, his affairs had fallen into confusion, in 1784 his accounts were found to be deficient to the amount of 1457 16s. 1d., and he was summarily dismissed from office. Two brother merchants, his sureties, agreed to make good the default, and on the strength of that arrangement, the Town Council agreed to pay his wife and family an annuity of 40. Three months later Andrew Buchanan was dead. [Burgh Records, 5th June, 1780; 24th June, 23rd Sept. 1784.]

In this way the first great era in the fortunes of Glasgow—the era of trade with the American colonies—came to an end. But already another great era—that of the spinning and weaving and chemical industries—was rising to take its place.


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