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Significant Scots
Charles Williamson


It was in 1781 that Captain Charles Williamson, dissatisfied veteran of Britain's Twenty-Fifth Regiment, first crossed the Atlantic, with letters of introduction to Lord Cornwallis in his luggage. He received a warm welcome, not from Cornwallis, but from the U. S. vessel Marquis of Salem; the former captain found himself a prisoner of war for the duration. Being a gentleman and a non-combatant, having sold his army commission, he was sent not to an American prison, but to the much more pleasant confines of the Ebenezer Newell home in Roxbury, Massachusetts. When he returned to Britain at war's end, he was not alone. Accompanying him was the new Mrs. Williamson, the former Abigail Newell. The new bridegroom had found a wife and a homeland. He would return.

On January 9th, 1792, when Charles Williamson stepped out of a Philadelphia courtroom into the brisk winter air, he was a new American citizen and about to become a landowner, proprietor of one of the largest pieces of property in the world, totaling close to 1,000,000 acres. (The two roles are not unrelated.) He had not been idle in the intervening nine years. Williamson's father Alexander served as a factor for the Earl of Hopetoun. Today we'd call the position a foreman or overseer. As a Robertson, his mother had many family connections including Sir William Pulteney and future Cabinet member Henry Dundas, Lord Melville. Charles and Abigail were soon settled on a Hopetoun estate at Balgray. He entered into politics and agricultural experimentation. And he was bored; too much energy in too small a space. He set off for London, seeking government service, through his family connections. He was soon off on a journey, first to Marseilles, then to the Balkans, where he gathered information on Russia and Turkey. Returning to London he waited in vain for further government employment, finally returning to Balgray, where he continued with his agricultural pursuits and won the local Clackmannanshire election. And the energy began building up again.

It was a legal restriction back in the former American colonies that provided the outlet. Aliens could not own property in the U. S. The Federalists, wishing to strengthen ties with the Mother Country, were striving for repeal of the laws, but Thomas Jefferson's republican adherents, distrusting the British, were adamantly opposed. So when Williamson's relative Sir William Pulteney, reputedly the wealthiest man in Britain, decided to invest in American real estate, he had to create a loophole. There was only one way. Someone in his employ must become a U. S. citizen, settle on the new lands, assume ownership and run the enterprise. By the time he had purchased a million acres in western New York State, he and his associates had been casting about for such an employee. When Williamson came under consideration he had much to recommend him. Family connections counted heavily, even in the New World. He was familiar with government circles, knew the world outside of Scotland and London, grew up in a family that was familiar with the problems of running property, had worked with the most advanced farming techniques and was bursting with ideas. And, he was willing to live in foreign lands. (Abigail of course would be happy to return to her own country).

Read the rest of the story on David Minor's web site


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