John Glassford – Tobacco Lord (1715-1783) Part 2

Part 1 of this post discussed Glassford’s family background and marriages and the general performance of the Glasgow tobacco industry. This final part looks at Glassford’s specific business structure, his partnerships and some of the personalities involved. It also covers his final years, how some of his children fared, and the impact on the tobacco business, his and others, of the American War of Independence.

Business continued.

The diagram below is a representation of John Glassford’s overall business activities and how they were interlinked in some cases by common partners consisting of kinsmen and friends. It also indicates the number of diverse commercial enterprises he was involved with. The other interesting point is the relatively small number of people he partnered.

Figure 1. John Glassford’s Business ‘Compass’ George Manzor

He was involved in ten tobacco companies with a total of thirty five partnerships consisting of sixteen individuals, the main names being James Gordon – son in law – (6), Henry Riddell – son in law – (5), Archibald Henderson (3), John Campbell senior and junior – Caribbean sugar traders – (3), Arthur Connell – Lord Provost of Glasgow 1772/73 – (2), Neil Jamieson – also his factor in Chesapeake – (2) and Archibald Ingram – brother in law – (1).

These companies had a significant number of trading posts in Virginia and Maryland including Bladensburg, Lower Marlboro, Upper Marlboro, Chaptico, Leonardstown, Newport, Piscataway, Port Tobacco, Quantico in Maryland, and Alexandria, Boyd’s Hole, Cabin Point, Colchester, Norfolk in Virginia.

A similar partnership arrangement is evident in the thirteen non tobacco companies he had an interest in. They included banks, textiles, brewing, acid manufacture, and mining as follows:

Glasgow Arms Bank – along with Archibald Ingram (brother in law, married Glassford’s sister in 1743[1]), John Coates Campbell of Clathic (brother in law, brother of Anne Coats), Thomas Hopkirk (father of Glassford’s future son in law James Hopkirk) and twenty two others, seven of whom were successively Lord Provosts of Glasgow, founded the bank in 1750. Thistle Bank – founded the bank in 1761 along with John Coates Campbell and others.

His textile interests were Pollokshaws Dyers, Pollokshaws Printfield (bleaching), Glasgow Inkle Factory (manufacture of linen tape), Glasgow Tanners, Glasgow Cudbear Co. (dyers), Graham Liddell and Co. (stocking manufacturers) and James McGregor and Co. (bleachers and linen dealers), key partners in most of these businesses being Adam Ingram and John Coates Campbell

His other activities included Banton Ironstone Mines, which he leased from the Carron Company, the Anderston Brewery, the Prestonpans Vitriol Company, and the Borrowstouness Coal Company which again involved the Carron Company.

Another venture he became involved with was the Forth and Clyde Canal. In 1767 the cost of the canal was put at £50,000. The men of commerce in Glasgow decided to raise £40,000 in £100 shares. This was done with Glassford and another tobacco merchant John Ritchie raising between them £24,000.[2]

He, Adam Ingram and John Coates Campbell also supported financially the Foulis Art Academy founded in 1753/54 by Robert and Andrew Foulis, the University’s printers. Students were taught painting, drawing, engraving and modelling and were accommodated in rooms freely given by the University with exhibitions of their work being occasionally held in the faculty hall.[3]

Figure 2 The Foulis Academy of Art. From Old Glasgow: The place and the People by Andrew MacGeorge 1880.

The academy lasted until 1776 when it experienced serious financial difficulties. A number of the academy paintings were sold at auction in London for very low prices, with Robert Foulis dying on the return journey from London, his brother predeceasing him in 1775.[4]

Perhaps unexpectedly, this support of the academy by Glassford seems to have fostered in him an interest in art to the extent that he began collecting. At the time of his death in 1783 he had a sizable collection of Dutch, British, Italian, Flemish and French paintings. They were sold at auction at Christies in London on the 23rd December 1786, as his executers tried to deal with his rather messy finances. The Getty Provenance Index Database lists twenty six, which generated a total sale of just under £80. Included were paintings by Canaletto, Hobbema, and Griffier, the most expensive being by Barend Gael which raised £8 10s.[5]

As trade increased competition between the Glasgow merchants’ factors also increased as they tried to obtain the largest share of the crop for their company. They loaned cash to planters and gave unlimited credit such that the trade, as time went on, became more speculative rather than a normal and sustainable branch of business. In the meantime, all seemed well, with Glassford owning around twenty five ships and becoming extremely wealthy.

However, more and more complaints about the quality of goods from Glasgow were made in letters home from the factors. In a letter dated the 13th July 1758 Alexander Henderson, factor and partner, wrote that the price of tobacco was increasing and that there had been a number of complaints about the quality of china and gloves from Glasgow.[6]

The debt situation began to cause planters to move between agents to get credit regardless of their level of debt elsewhere. However, they also began to feel trapped by the level of debt they had.

By 1775 John Glassford is testifying to a parliamentary committee in London that debt age could be as much as four years and that the total debt to Glasgow merchants was £500,000 (between £65m and £5.5b today [7]), some of it in large amounts but much of it in small sums as low as £30, Glassford’s share being £50,000.[8] As indicated in Part 1 the level of debt was a significant proportion of the capital in the business and by 1775 had probably become unsustainable. To protect themselves to some extent against the effects of this situation the tobacco companies had for some time wrote down the value of a significant portion of their debt and controlled the level of profit claimed.[9] However this was a not a good position for the business nor the individual who owed the money.

When the War of Independence broke out in 1775 it signalled the end of the trade as it had been. As the war progressed the French market collapsed due to French sympathies lying with the revolutionaries, import volumes dropped, and debts were not being paid as settlers probably saw a way out of what they had come to believe as their entrapment by British plutocrats.

If the war had not occurred would the business have survived?

Probably, but not operating in the way that it had prior to the war. Without tackling the ever-ballooning level of debt and its increasing longevity (agents at one point had been instructed not to chase debt repayment aggressively), working capital would have reduced and cash flow problems would have occurred threatening the existence of some companies.

Possible solutions could have included amalgamation of the growers into larger plantations, varying the procurement of the product between direct purchase and consignment dependant on the circumstances of the individual planter thereby varying the business risk and reducing debt, creating joint stock companies to increase investment in the business and change the nature of the business risk, and perhaps the combining of some of the Glasgow companies into larger units.

The war however did take place and that fundamentally was that!

What of Glassford’s fortune? Well, it really did not survive the war either. Letters from Neil Jamieson late in 1775 spoke of the confusion that existed, about the arrival of British troops, residents declaring for the crown or being prevented from doing so, others leaving the area, still talking however about cargoes, asking Glassford to send sailcloth and twine, potatoes and porter. One letter finishes with “send no strong beer”. However it’s probable that these letters were never received by Glassford as they are annotated as follows; “intercepted letter transmitted to Congress by General Washington, with his letter dated December 18, 1775” [10].

In fact, Glassford’s financial difficulties actually began before the war. He was by nature a gambler both in business and in gaming. In particular a number of disastrous business speculations between 1774 and 1778 fundamentally laid the foundations for the loss of his fortune. He had a ‘gambling room’ built in an outhouse on his estate where he would indulge his passion for games of chance.

He was also described as a thrawn, stubborn individual. He believed the War of Independence was essentially an English conflict which should not have involved Scotland. He sided with the revolutionaries, unlike his peers, even to the point of refusing to sell his ships to the government to aid the war effort, leaving them berthed in Port Glasgow harbour. This at a time when he was already in deep financial trouble and could have done with the funds that these sales would have brought.[11]

As 1783 approached Glassford’s financial affairs continued to be problematic and he was in poor health. On the 6th August 1783 he created a tailzie (entail) of his Dougalston estate in favour of his son Henry and his heirs thus protecting it from his creditors. On the 14th August he established a trust covering the rest of his property, real and personal, the purpose of which was the winding up of his financial affairs and to protect the entailed Dougalston estate.[12]

Glassford died on the 27th August 1783, cause of death was given as ’growth in stomach.’[13] He was buried in the Ramshorn Churchyard, where also lies several members of his family.[14]

In his will, dated the 15th August and recorded on the 5th September, son Henry, John Coates Campbell, William Coates, Archibald Henderson, and sons-in- law James Gordon and Henry Riddell were named as trustees and executors.[15]

It seems that it took a further ten years sort out Glassford’s finances, his personal debt amounting £93,1430.[16]

In 1790 son-in-law Henry Riddell swore an affidavit to the Lord Provost of Glasgow John Campbell in an endeavour to claim compensation for the losses suffered by John Glassford and Co. as a result of the War of Independence. In it he stated that the claims were for property confiscated in Maryland consisting of land, houses, granaries and other effects. He also stated that the company was specifically mentioned in an Act of Parliament dealing with such claims, but the time limits imposed by the Act could not be met.

They authorised Robert Ferguson to act on the company’s behalf in Maryland who had been successful in saving a great deal of company property. The claim now being made was for the residue not secured by Ferguson. Riddell also state that he had been resident in Maryland at the outbreak of the war but as the situation became more and more difficult had moved back to Britain in 1778.

The losses amounted to £1915 14s (equivalent today in simple RPI change terms to £240,000) which is a relatively small amount considering the size of Glassford’s business, and that of a similar claim made on behalf of Spiers, French and Co. was for c. £1,000,000 at current values. Having said that the value of the property saved by Ferguson is not known. Interestingly the person making the claim on behalf of Spiers was another son-in-law of Glassford, namely James Hopkirk.[17] What the outcome was of both claims I have not ascertained.

Glassford’s children.

Nine children survived into adulthood, four of whom remained unmarried. Of the five who did marry only three of them produced offspring – surprisingly perhaps, none of Glassford’s sons produced any children.

  • Jean married James Gordon on the 18th August 1768.[18] They had seven children, their eldest son James inheriting Glassford’s estate of Dougalston in 1845 from his uncle James who died without children. He took the name Gordon Glassford in accordance with the requirements of the tailzie which detailed the succession. He was in turn succeeded by his brother Henry Gordon Glassford in 1847. Henry’s son James Glassford Gordon Glassford inherited the estate in 1860 which he eventually sold.
  • Ann married Henry Riddell some time between 1779 and 1781. Their first child Ann was born in August 1782.[19] They had seven others. He was also Glassford’s nephew by marriage, his mother, Christian, being the sister of Ann Nisbet.[20]
  • Catherine died unmarried on the 23rd November 1825, cause of death recorded as ‘decline’.[21] The inscription on the family tomb in the Ramshorn Churchyard records her death as being on the 13th[22]
  • Christian married James Hopkirk on the 28th March 1784.[23] They had ten children, their son Thomas becoming a famous botanist.[24] The Hopkirk Building in the Glasgow Botanical Gardens is named in his honour.[25]
  • Rebecca died unmarried on the 8th January 1780.[26] She was buried in the Ramshorn tomb.
  • Henry inherited Dougalston on his father’s death in 1783. He matriculated to the University in 1775 and was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates in 1785. In 1805 he became Rector of the University serving until 1807[27]. He served in local Militia companies, in 1798 he was a captain in the Baldernock Yeomanry, becoming a major the following year and in 1804 was a lieutenant colonel in the West Stirling Volunteers. He became MP for Dunbartonshire from 1806 to 1810.[28] He died on the 26th May 1819[29] having never been married. Brother James inherited Dougalston on his death the estate eventually going to his nephew James in 1845 as indicated above.
  • Isabella married William Simpson on the 24th November 1804.[30] He was cashier to the Royal Bank of Scotland at the time of their marriage. They had no children.
  • James married Isabella Murray, the daughter of Sir William Murray of Auchtertyre, on the 24th September 1808.[31] He married for the second time Jane MacKay on the 8th May 1812. Both marriages were childless.[32] He was an advocate and legal writer. In 1820 he published ‘An Essay on the Principles of Evidence’ in which he treated evidence as a distinct subject, which changed the approach to testimony and evidence.[33]
  • Euphemia; according to the Ramshorn tomb inscription she died in 1850.[34] She was unmarried as far as I can tell.

Without the entailment specifying that the name Glassford should be taken if the succession passed through the female line, the surname would have been lost to Glassford’s direct descendants.

In due course the three families all went their separate ways.

The Gordon Glassfords branch ended up in New Zealand, the Hopkirks in Canada (James Hopkirk) and Northern Ireland (Thomas Hopkirk), whilst the Riddells essentially remained in Scotland or England.

In 1978 Glassford’s great great great great grandson Gordon Glassford Leask published a history of the Gordon Glassfords in New Zealand.[35]

In a short biography of Glassford in ‘Curiosities of Glasgow Citizenship’ written in 1881 the writer observed that ‘Glassford tried to found a family to keep his name alive but it all came to nothing. The Glassfords are gone, their heirs are seeking to found a fortune on the other side of the globe…Glassford now almost forgotten, the very stone (in the Ramshorn Churchyard) tells the story of neglect, decay and desolation.[36]


The Tobacco Lords, Tom Devine, 1975, John Donald Ltd Edinburgh.

The Ascent of Money, Niall Ferguson, 2009, Penguin Books.

Scotland’s Empire 1600 – 1815, Tom Devine, 2003, Penguin Group.

The Union – England, Scotland and the Treaty of 1707, Michael Fry, 2007, Birlinn Ltd.

Studies in Scottish Business History, Ed. Peter Payne, 1967, Frank Case & Co. (Reprint from the William and Mary Quarterly entitled ‘The Rise of Glasgow in the Chesapeake Tobacco Trade 1707-1775)

Glasgow Past and Present-3 Volumes – 1884, David Robertson and Co.


[1] Marriages (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 27 February 1743. INGRAM, Archibald and GLASSFORD, Rebecca. 644/01 0250 0080.

[2] Daiches, David. (1977). Glasgow. Glasgow: Andre Deutsch. p. 70.

[3] Coutts, James. (1909). History of the University of Glasgow. From its Foundation in 1451 to 1909. Glasgow: James Maclehose and Sons. pp. 258 – 260.

[4] MacGeorge, Andrew. (1880). Old Glasgow: The place and the People. Glasgow: Blackie and Son. pp. 302-304.

[5] The Getty Research Institute. The Getty Provenance Index Databases.

[6] TD 168, Mitchell Library. Letter book of Alexander Henderson 1760 – 1764.

[7] Measuring Worth (2016).

[8] TD 88/2, Mitchell Library. Xerox copy of BM Add MS33030 in the British Library.

[9] Price, Jacob M.  (1980). Capital and Credit in British Overseas Trade, The View from the Chesapeake 1700 – 1776. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 26.

[10] Northern Illinois University. Digital Records: American Archives. Letters from Neil Jamieson to Glassford, Gordon and Co. and

[11] Castle, Colin M. (1989). John Glassford of Dougalston. Milngavie and Bearsden Historical Society. p. 22,23 and Oakley, Charles A. (1975). The Second City. Glasgow: Blackie. p. 7,8.

[12] Shaw, Patrick and Dunlop, Alexander. (1834) Cases Decided in the Court of Session 1822-1824. Vol II. Edinburgh: Thomas Clark. p.432.

[13]Deaths (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 27 August 1783. GLASSFORD, John. 644/01 0590 0131.

[14] Senex et al. (1884) Glasgow Past and Present. Vol.2. Glasgow: David Robertson and Co. p. 295.

[15] Maryland State Archives. Maryland Indexes, Charles County Maryland Will Book AH-9, 1785-1788; p. 361, 367, 369.

[16] Castle, op.cit. p.24.

[17] AO/12/9 in TD 88, Mitchell Library. Glasgow Tobacco Merchants – Claims of American Loyalists to the British Government after the American Revolution.

[18] Marriages (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 18 August 1768. GORDON, James and GLASSFORD, Jean. 644/01 0260 0056.

[19] Births (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 6 August 1782. RIDDELL, Ann. 644/01 0170 0214.

[20] Births (OPR) Scotland. Edinburgh. 26 December 1744. RIDDELL, Henry. 685/01 0240 0294.

[21] Deaths. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 23 August 1825. GLASSFORD, Catherine. 644/01 0610 0228.

[22] Senex etc op.cit.

[23] Marriages. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 28 March 1784. HOPKIRK, James and GLASSFORD, Christian. 644/01 0260 0319.

[24] Hopkirk Family Worldwide.

[25] Glasgow City Council. Glasgow Botanic Gardens Heritage Trail (PDF).

[26] Deaths. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 8 January 1780. GLASSFORD, Rebecca. 644/01 0590 0057.

[27] University of Glasgow. The University of Glasgow Story: Henry Glassford of Dougalston.

[28] The History of Parliament: Members 1790-1820. Henry Glassford (1764-1819).

[29] Deaths. Scotland (OPR) Glasgow. 26 May 1819. GLASSFORD, Henry. 644/01 0610 0228.

[30] Marriages (OPR) Scotland. Edinburgh. 24 November 1804. SIMPSON, William and GLASSFORD, Isabella. 685/01 0530 0164 .

[31] Marriages (OPR) Scotland. Edinburgh. 24 September 1808. GLASSFORD, James and MURRAY, Isabella. 685/01 0530 0292

[32] Marriages (OPR) Scotland. Edinburgh. 8 May 1812. GLASSFORD, James and MACKAY, Jane. 685/02 0180 0429

[33] Wentworth-Shields, W.F. and Harris, Jonathan. (2004) Glassford, James (1771-1845). In: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[34] Deaths. Find a Grave 1850. GLASSFORD, Euphemia

[35]  National Library of Australia.

[36] Stewart, George (1881) Curiosities of Glasgow Citizenship. Short biographical notices of the principal merchants, manufacturers etc of Glasgow in 1783: John Glassford. Glasgow: James Maclehose.


Author: harmonyrowbc

Ex aero engineer with a life long passion for Glasgow History

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: