William Cunninghame – Tobacco Lord (1731-1799)

Having written about Spiers and Glassford I have now got round to completing the trio of the major Glasgow Tobacco Lords by writing about William Cunninghame.

The Cunninghame Family

Cunninghame’s wider family can be traced back at least to the mid seventeenth century in Ayrshire, in the parish of Stewarton, his great grandfather being Adam Cunninghame. He was connected to the Cunninghame’s of Caprington in the county and was servitor (assistant) to Sir William Cunninghame, a position usually taken by a family member. In 1653  Sir William borrowed £2,000 with Adam acting as cautioner (he would be liable for the debt if Sir William defaulted). Unfortunately that is what happened and a decree was granted in 1654 against Adam by the Commissioners of Justice in Scotland in favour of Lieutenant Colonel Osborne.[1]

Prior to that he acquired the lands of Kirkland in 1653 and in the same year he married Janet Baird. It seems they had several children, the eldest surviving son being George, the Tobacco Lord’s grandfather. In 1673 he purchased the lands of Little Bridgehouse in the parish of Riccarton thus beginning the family’s connection with that estate.[2] He died in 1677,[3] his wife Janet being his lawful heir in accordance with the marriage contract agreed in 1653. There were five surviving children when he died, four daughters and son George who was his mother’s heir.[4]

George had a son, Alexander, however it’s not clear if and when he married. He died in 1696 [5] just before he intended to marry, the lady in question bearing him the son after he died. If true that would make Alexander illegitimate. There is a suggestion however that he actually married a Sarah Miller, but no evidence has been discovered that supports that or any marriage, or Alexander’s birth date. Three surviving sisters of Alexander appear to have been the beneficiaries after their mother’s death however before that in 1726 by various decreets of the Court of Sessions he had gained one half of his grandfather Adam’s property.[6]

Alexander was a very successful merchant in Kilmarnock and was a bailie of the parish in 1729 and 1730.[7] He married Barbara Hodgert, widow of William Findlay in 1727,[8] who had one son by her first husband who became Professor of Theology at Glasgow University.[9]

Alexander and Barbara had eight children, all born in Kilmarnock parish, as follows:

  • Alexander, born 1728,[10] died 1735.[11]
  • John, born 1729.[12] He matriculated at Glasgow University in 1742 and graduated MA in 1746. He was licensed as a minister by the Presbytery at Irvine in 1753 and was ordained at Dalmellington in 1756. In 1762 he moved to Monkton parish where he died unmarried in 1774,[13]  his younger brother William his heir as the next eldest brother.
  • William Cunninghame, the Tobacco Lord, more of him in due course.
  • Charles. Born 1732.[14]
  • Janet, born 1734.[15]
  • Barbara, born 1738.[16]
  • James, born 1740.[17]
  • Alexander, born 1741.[18]  He became involved in the tobacco trade through his brother William and went to America to act as agent for his company. He eventually returned to Glasgow and set up his own company, Alexander Cunninghame and Co., his partners being William, Alexander Houston, Robert Bogle and James Dougal.[19] He died circa 1773, testate, his will being confirmed at the Glasgow Commissary Court in March 1773 his heirs being his sisters Elizabeth and Barbara.[20]

Alexander senior died without leaving a will in 1748, eldest son John inheriting his estates and other property. A sum of £1800 was also left, William’s share being £300.[21] The registration of Alexander’s death adds to the puzzle surrounding his birth and parentage as his age is recorded as 58, which implies his birth date was c.1690.[22]

William Cunninghame

William was born in Kilmarnock on the 30th May 1731 and baptized the following day.[23] Where he attended school has not been established but in 1746 he went to Virginia as an apprentice working on the tobacco plantations of Andrew Cochrane who at that time was an established colonial trader and was the founding partner in Cochrane, Murdoch and Co.[24] Cunninghame was apparently related to Cochrane hence his introduction to the tobacco trade at which he was to excel. Andrew Cochrane was an original ‘Tobacco Lord’ long before Glassford, Speirs and Cunninghame came to the fore. He had been Lord Provost of Glasgow from 1744/45, in 1748/49 and again in 1760/61.[25] In 1745 he led the opposition to Bonnie Prince Charlie’s quartermaster (Squire Hay) who demanded a levy of £15,000 from the city. Along with Allan Dreghorn, Andrew Buchanan, Lawrence Dinwoodie, Andrew Aiton, James Smith and Richard Oswald he managed to reduce that sum to £5,000 cash plus £500 in goods.[26],[27]

Cunninghame was to remain in Virginia until 1762 during which time, from 1752, he had become responsible for running all of the company’s business in Virginia.[28] Whilst there in 1759 he entered into a partnership on his own account with two fellow plantation factors or managers, John Doncastle of Maryland and Alexander Finnie of Virginia, the purpose of which was to supply the British Army in Pittsburgh with wine, sugar and other similar produce. He also owned 2,000 acres of land in Virginia.[29]

On his return to Scotland he became a full partner in Cochrane, Murdoch and Co. and was established as the managing partner responsible for all aspects of the business, shipping, trading, and specifying the operations of each of the companies stores in Virginia.[30]

An indication of how successful he was is indicated by the company’s capitalisation values. In 1755 as Cochrane, Murdoch and Co. it was £22,903. In 1773, by which time the company name had changed to William Cunninghame and Co. it was £79,300.[31] The partners during this period were, Cunninghame, Peter Murdoch, Andrew Cochrane, son in law to Murdoch having married his daughter Janet, Robert Bogle, John Murdoch, James Robinson, William Reid, William Henderson, and John Hamilton, the last four named being located in America.[32] William was a partner  in two other companies involved in Maryland, firstly with his brother Alexander’s company as previously stated. After his brother’s death c.1773 it became Cunninghame, Findlay and Co.[33], the other partners being Robert Findlay, Robert Bogle and Alexander Houston, the latter two being partners in the original company. In addition two others were based in America as storekeepers, James Dougal and David Walker. The third company was Cunninghame, Brown and Co., the other partners being Robert Findlay and James Brown.[34]

His major company was however the one bearing his name. The share distribution was such that Cunninghame owned 229, the Murdoch’s 104, Cochrane 48, Bogle 64 and James Robertson 13. The financial stability of the company was to a large degree assured by the fact it had access to the Glasgow Arms Bank, established in 1750, as Cochrane and John Murdoch were two of its founders, to be joined later as a major shareholder by Peter Murdoch.[35] It had fourteen stores in Virginia located at Fredericksburg, Falmouth, Richmond Petersburg, Culpepper, Dumfries, Fauquier, Amherst, Cabin Point, Brunswick, Granvill, Halifax, Mecklenburg, and Rocky Ridge, generally located in the vicinity of the Potomac, Rappahanock and the James rivers.[36] In 1772/3 just under 5,200 hogsheads of tobacco were shipped back to Glasgow, the ships involved being the Cunninghame, Ocean, Cochrane, Venus , Janett, and the Neptune, each ship making two journeys between December 1772 and September 1773, except the Janett.[37]

William also had other commercial interests being involved with the Port Glasgow Sugar House, the Pollockshaws Printfield Co., the Dalnotter Iron Co., the Glasgow Tanwork Co., the Glasgow Bottleworks, and the Anderston Brewery.[38]

He married three times, firstly to Jean Dunmore in 1763, the daughter of Thomas Dunmore a Glasgow merchant.[39] They had six children all born in Glasgow:

  • Thomas, b. 1764.[40]
  • Helen, b. 1766.[41]
  • Barbara, b. 1767.[42]
  • Jean, b. 1769.[43]
  • Elizabeth, b. 1770.[44]
  • Alexander, b. 1772.[45]

The sons from this marriage were disinherited by William, no reason has been ascertained.[46]

His second marriage in 1775 was to Elizabeth Campbell the daughter of James Campbell, another Glasgow merchant.[47] They had one child William, born in 1776.[48]

William was educated in London and studied at Utrecht University. He then went to India to serve in the Bengal Civil Service. It was there he met the Baptist missionary William Carey which led him in due course to become a biblical scholar. He was at the forefront of the 19th century’s prophetic scholarship movement. He died unmarried in 1849.[49]

Prior to this marriage William’s brother John had died in 1774 but it was not until 1777 he came into full ownership of his estates as John ‘s heir.[50] It was around this time, probably c.1778 that he started to build his mansion in what was Cow Loan, now Queen Street. The area was essentially swamp land and by the time the mansion was completed in 1780 it had cost c. £10,000.[51] He also purchased the estate of Lainshaw in Stewarton in 1779,[52] these two events demonstrating the wealth he had accumulated through tobacco trading, which like his contemporaries, relied on the exploitation of African slaves, men women and children.

There was one other action which he took which significantly increased his fortune. The American War of Independence began in 1775, with the colonists declaring themselves independent of Britain during 1776. Cunninghame’s company had some initial difficulties when the war started but as tobacco supplies decreased the price of tobacco increased to sixpence per pound as a consequence. The partners of William Cunninghame and Co. met to discuss selling the company’s stock which was the largest of any in Britain. Cunninghame offered to buy each partner’s share of the company stock at sixpence per pound which was readily accepted. The price subsequently rose to three shillings and sixpence per pound, Cunninghame having sold his stock before then ensuring a vast profit.[53]

The company’s ships were also eventually put to use as privateers, the Cochrane in 1778 capturing a French East Indiaman with a cargo valued at £100,000.[54]

His mansion house still exists today but not in its original form. He sold it to the Stirling family in 1789 for £5,000 who occupied it commercially and as a residence until 1817, it then being sold to the Royal Bank of Scotland. The bank made some alteration to the building, essentially retaining the mansion house, and thereafter carrying out its banking activity. It remained as such until 1827 when the bank sold it to the committee for establishing a new Exchange. Architect David Hamilton was charged with making major changes to the building and amongst his changes were the addition of the portico now seen at the front of the building, a newsroom described as Glasgow’s most magnificent 19th century interior and the cupola. It took from 1827 until 1832 to complete.[55]

The Royal Exchange as it was known continued to operate as such until 1954 at which time it became Stirling’s Library, the library donated by the Stirling family in 1791 moving from its original premises in Miller Street.[56]

Since 1996, its current manifestation is as the Gallery of Modern Art, (GoMA), the original mansion being subsumed into the building, the core structure being over two hundred and  forty years old.

Elizabeth died at the age of 35 in 1778, cause of death given as ‘chilbed’ which I believe means a problem arose during her giving birth which resulted in her death

His third wife was Margaret Nicolson Cranston, the daughter of the Honourable George Cranston. They married in Edinburgh in 1780 and had eight children all born at Lainshaw.[57]

  • George, b. 1780.[58]
  • Maria, b. 1782.[59]
  • Margaret, b. 1784.[60]
  • Ann, b. 1785. Interestingly his two sons by his first marriage Thomas and Alexander were present at Ann’s baptism, Whatever caused their disinheritance must have happened sometime after 1785.[61]
  • Darcy Maxwell, b. 1786.[62]
  • Louisa, b. 1788.[63]
  • Isabella, b. 1791.[64]
  • John, 1794.[65]

It seems that Cunninghame retired from business around 1780, spending the rest of his life at Lainshaw as evidenced by the birth of his children at Stewarton,[66] although he did become a founding member of the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce in 1783.[67]

He died in 1799 at Lainshaw, son William inherited his Ayrshire and Peeblesshire estates, with his Kirkcudbright estate going to his youngest son John.[68]

There is a lot more to the story of William Cunninghame. I would recommend the following books:

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

Scottish Firm in Virginia 1767 – 1777, William Cunninghame and Co., Tom Devine (ed.), 1984, Scottish History Society.

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)

Capital and Credit in British Overseas Trade, Jacob M Price, 1990, Harvard University Press.

Devine, T. M. “Glasgow Merchants and the Collapse of the Tobacco Trade 1775-1783.” The Scottish Historical Review 52, no. 153 (1973): 50–74. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25528986.


[1] Paterson, James. (1866). History of the Counties of Ayr and Wigton. Cunninghame – Vol III, Part II. Edinburgh: James Stillie. pp. 580-589. https://archive.org/details/historyofcountie32pate/

[2] Paterson, op. cit.

[3] Testamentary Records. Scotland. 10 January 1678. CUNNINGHAME, Adam. Eik. Glasgow Commissary Court. CC9/7/42. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[4] Paterson, op. cit.

[5] Testamentary Records. Scotland. 10 January 1678. CUNNINGHAME, Adam. Eik. Glasgow Commissary Court. CC9/7/42. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[6] Paterson, op. cit.

[7] McKay, Archibald. (1863). History of Kilmarnock. Kilmarnock: Archibald McKay. p. 288. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=5R8NAAAAYAAJ&pg

[8] Marriages. (OPR) Scotland. Kilmarnock. 2 June 1727. CUNNINGHAME, Alexander and HODGERT, Barbara. 597/ 50 237. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[9] Paterson, op. cit.

[10] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Kilmarnock. 18 February 1728. CUNNINGHAME, Alexander. 10 490. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[11] Deaths. (OPR) Scotland. Kilmarnock. 16 March 1735. CUNNINGHAME, Alexander. 597/ 60 407. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[12] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Kilmarnock. CUNNINGHAME, John. 10 504. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[13]Scott, Hew. (1920). Fast Ecclesiae Scoticanae. The Succession of Ministers in the Church of Scotland since the Reformation. Vol. III. New Edition. Synod of Glasgow and Ayr. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd. p. 57. https://archive.org/details/fastiecclesiaesc03scot/page/57

[14] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Kilmarnock. 31 December 1732. CUNNINGHAME, Charles. 10 532. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[15] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Kilmarnock. 22 August 1734. CUNNINGHAME, Janet. 597/  10 547. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[16] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Kilmarnock. 25 May 1738. CUNNINGHAME, Barbara. 597/  10 588. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[17] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Kilmarnock. 30 March 1740. CUNNINGHAME, James. 597/  10 609. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[18] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Kilmarnock. 1 October 1741. CUNNINGHAME, Alexander. 597/  20 18. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[19] Devine, T.M. (1990) The Tobacco Lords. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. pp. 77,188.

[20] Testamentary Records. Scotland. 11 March 1773. CUNNINGHAME, Alexander. Testament Dative and Inventory. Glasgow Commissary Court. CC9/7/68. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[21] Paterson, op. cit.

[22] Deaths. (OPR) Scotland. Kilmarnock. 1 July 1748. CUNNINGHAME, Alexander. 597/ 60 43. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[23] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Kilmarnock. 31 May 1731. CUNNINGHAME, William. 597/  10 517. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[24]Devine, T.M.(1990). The Tobacco Lords. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. pp. 7.179

[25] Provosts of Glasgow. https://www.glasgow.gov.uk/index.aspx?articleid=16556

[26] Durie, Alastair J. ‘Cochrane, Andrew ’. (1692/3-1777). In: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/65006

[27] Smith, John Guthrie and Mitchell, John Oswald. (1878). The Old Country Houses of the Old Glasgow Gentry. 2nd. ed.  Glasgow: James Maclehose and Sons. LXXVI. Mount Vernon. http://gdl.cdlr.strath.ac.uk/smihou/

[28] Paterson, op. cit

[29] Devine, T.M. ed. (1984). A Scottish Firm in Virginia. Edinburgh: Scottish History Society. p. xi, xii.

[30] Devine, op.cit. p. xii.

[31] Price, Jacob M. (1980). Capital and Credit in British Overseas Trade. The View from the Chesapeake, 1700-1776. pp. 153,154.

[32] Devine, op.cit. p. 187.

[33] Price, op.cit. p. 154.

[34] Devine, op.cit. p. 187.

[35] Devine, op.cit. p. 82.

[36] Devine, T.M. ed. op.cit. p. 253 index.

[37] Devine, op.cit. p. 86.

[38] Devine, op.cit. p. 83.

[39] Marriages. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 30 January 1763. CUNNINGHAME, William and DUNMORE, Jean. 644/1 250 334. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[40] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 25 December 1764. CUNNINGHAME, Thomas. 644/1 140 229. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[41] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 23 May 1766. CUNNINGHAME, Helen. 644/1 140 313. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[42] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 29 October 1767. CUNNINGHAME, Barbara. 644/1 150 31. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[43] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 10 April 1769. CUNNINGHAME, Jean. 644/1 150 126. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[44] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 21 December 1770. CUNNINGHAME, Thomas. 644/1 150 232. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[45] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 1 June 1772. CUNNINGHAME, Alexander. 644/1 150 330. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[46] Paterson, op. cit.

[47] Marriages. (OPR) Scotland. Govan. 18 September 1775. CUNNINGHAME, William and CAMPBELL, Elizabeth.  646/ 20 283. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[48] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 3 July 1776. CUNNINGHAME, William. 644/1 160 249. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[49] Carter, Grayson ‘Cuninghame, William’. (1775-1849). In: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/40934

[50] Paterson, op. cit. p.588.

[51] Senex et al. (1884) Glasgow Past and Present. Vol. 1. Glasgow: David Robertson and Co. pp. 281, 282.

[52] Paterson, op. cit.

[53] Senex et al, op. cit. pp. 282, 283.

[54] Devine, T.M. (1990) The Tobacco Lords. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 133.

[55] Williamson, Elizabeth, Riches, Anne and Higgs, Malcolm. (1990). The Buildings of Scotland: Glasgow. London: Penguin Books. pp. 166, 167.

[56] Williamson, Elizabeth, Riches, Anne and Higgs, Malcolm, op. cit.

[57] Marriages. (OPR) Scotland. Edinburgh. 24 February 1780. CUNNINGHAME, William and CRANSTON, Margaret.  685/1 510 174. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[58] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Stewarton. 9 December 170. CUNNINGHAME, George. 616/  30 78. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[59] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Stewarton. 21 February 1782. CUNNINGHAME, Maria. 616/ 20 159. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[60] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Stewarton. 2 March 1784. CUNNINGHAME, Margaret. 616/ 20 169. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[61] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Stewarton. 6 May 1785. CUNNINGHAME, Ann. 616/ 30 103. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[62] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Stewarton. 31 July 1786. CUNNINGHAME, Darcy Maxwell. 616/ 20 186. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[63] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Stewarton. 17 January 1788. CUNNINGHAME, Louisa. 616/ 20 192. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[64] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Stewarton. 6 February 1791. CUNNINGHAME, Isabella. 616/ 30 126. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[65] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Stewarton. 31 March 1794. CUNNINGHAME, John. 616/ 30 144. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[66] The Glasgow Story. William Cunninghame. https://www.theglasgowstory.com/story/?id=TGSBH08

[67] Senex et al. (1884) Glasgow Past and Present. Vol. 2. Glasgow: David Robertson and Co. p. 50.

[68] Paterson, op. cit. p.588.

Alexander Speirs – Tobacco Lord (1714 – 1782) Part 2

Part 1 told of Speirs’ early life and his time in Virginia, his first marriage and his wife Sarah’s family and his early business career. It ended with his marriage to his second wife Mary Buchanan. This second part will look at his family life with Mary, her family, and the part they played in his commercial success, the growth of his business and his partnerships and his property purchases.

As told in Part 1 he married Mary Buchanan on the 2nd March 1755.[1] She was the daughter of Archibald Buchanan[2] a tobacco merchant (Archibald Buchanan  & Co.), and one of his partners in the tobacco co-partnery established in 1754, that  partnership eventually becoming known as Speirs, Bowman and Co. Her mother was Martha Murdoch the daughter of Peter Murdoch of Rosehill,[3] a sugar merchant and Lord Provost of Glasgow from 1730 to 1732.[4]

The Buchanan family had been prominent in Glasgow’s commercial activities for a considerable number of years. That activity included dealing in tobacco in the American colonies prior to the Union of Parliaments in 1707, up to which point Scotland was specifically excluded from doing so by various English Navigation Acts. Subsequently, when these restrictions were removed, they became, arguably, Glasgow’s most important and influential commercial family of the first half of eighteenth century.

The Buchanan Family

Figure 1. Mary Buchanan. (Mrs. Alexander Speirs). Photograph: G.Manzor by permission of The Merchants House.

Mary Buchanan’s paternal ancestry can be traced back to the 16th century at least, her progenitor being Walter Buchanan of Lenny, her great, great, great, grandfather. He had two sons Andrew and Alexander, her paternal line coming through Alexander, then his son Andrew.

Andrew’s eldest son was known as Alexander Buchanan of Gartachairn (various spellings), which estate was feud to him in 1673 by Lord Napier, his father having a tack (mortgage) on the property in 1660.[5]

Andrew’s second son George, Mary’s grandfather, moved to Glasgow where he was a maltman (brewer) and became a member of the Incorporation of Maltmen in 1674,[6] one of the fourteen craft guilds within the Trades House of Glasgow. (Merchants joined the Merchants House, both organisations being formally constituted in 1605 when local government was being reformed.)[7]

He became a burgess and guild brother in 1674 by right of his father in law, merchant Thomas Smith,[8] whose daughter Issobell he married in July of the same year.[9] He held the position of Visitor of the Maltmen in 1691, 1692 and 1694, the role being to ensure people in the trade were working within the craft’s rules in respect of prices, working practises, quality and market hours. Any ‘non-compliance’ he encountered he had the power to correct. He also supervised the training of apprentices and was involved in the Incorporation’s charitable activities which were aimed at the maintenance of elderly members and where required, the support of widows and children of deceased members. He became Glasgow Burgh treasurer in 1690[10] and was a Bailie from 1695 to 1705. He was also Deacon Convenor of the Trades House in 1706-1707.[11]

There is also some evidence that George was a covenanter who in 1679 bore arms at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge, the last major conflict of the Covenanter War. He was outlawed, apparently had a price on his head, but subsequent events (pardoned?) allowed him to move back into his more normal life.[12]

His marriage to Issobell ended when she died, the date of her death not being established. A search for children of the marriage has also proved fruitless.

In July 1685 George married Mary Maxwell, the daughter of Glasgow merchant Gabriel Maxwell.[13] They had ten children as follows:

  • George jnr, b. 3rd June 1686.[14] Like his father he became a maltman, joining the craft guild in 1707 and in 1719, 1720 he was Visitor.[15] He married three times, had several children, including three boys named George, two of whom clearly died young.[16] He was a Glasgow Burgess and Guild Brother (1707)[17] and was Glasgow Burgh Treasurer in 1726, and a Bailie from 1732 to 1738.[18] He died in 1773, his daughter Cecilia by his third wife named as his executor.[19]
  • Gabriel, b. 5th August 1687[20].
  • Mary, b. 12th February 1689.[21]
  • Andrew, b. 29th January 1691.[22] He was one of the first of the Buchanans to take full advantage of the American tobacco trade opening up to Scotland after 1707 subsequently owning property and plantations in Virginia. By the 1720s he and brothers Neil and Archibald were fully involved in the trade through their company Andrew Buchanan, Bros. & Co., becoming in 1730 Glasgow’s largest tobacco importer at over 500,000 lbs per annum[23] and owning, in 1735, five ships, the Glasgow, Pr. William, Argyle, Buchanan and the Virginia Merchant.[24] In 1737 Neil left the partnership and it became known as Andrew and Archibald Buchanan & Co. In 1749 Archibald also left to set up his own company with John Bowman and others, the original company becoming Andrew Buchanan, Son & Co. this time with brother George as a partner.[25]

Andrew’s other business interests included the King Street sugar house in Glasgow, linen works, ropeworks and a sailcloth factory.[26] He was also one of the founders of the Ship Bank in Glasgow in 1749 and was also responsible for Robert Carrick joining the bank as a clerk at the age of 14, his father the Rev. Robert Carrick being Andrew’s tutor as a student.[27]

Figure 2. Andrew Buchanan of Drumpellier, Merchant and Lord Provost of Glasgow 1690 – 1759. Unknown Artist. National Galleries of Scotland. https://www.nationalgalleries.org/art-and-artists/114517/0/andrew-buchanan-drumpelier-merchant-and-lord-provost-glasgow-1690-1759

In 1716 Andrew became a Burgess and Guild Brother,[28] in 1729-1730 was Dean of Guild[29] and was Lord Provost of Glasgow, 1740 to 1742.[30]

In 1745 during the Jacobite rebellion he and others on behalf of Glasgow resisted paying to the rebels the sum of £15,000, successfully getting it reduced to £5,500. Andrew was also pressed to pay a personal levy of £500, the plunder of his house being threatened. He refused essentially telling them to plunder away, which in the event did not occur.[31]

He married twice firstly to Marion Montgomery in 1723[32] with whom he had two sons and four daughters. The sons James (b.1724) and George (b.1728) both became involved in the Virginia trade, James through Buchanan, Hastie & Co., George with Buchanan and Simson[33]. James was also Lord Provost from 1768 to 1770 and again from 1774 to 1776.[34] Andrew married his second wife Elizabeth Binning, the daughter of Edinburgh advocate Charles Binning, in 1744,[35] Marion having died the previous year

Figure 3. Thomas Annan (Scottish,1829 – 1887) Drumpellier, 1878, Albumen silver print 11.6 × 15.9 cm (4 9/16 × 6 1/4 in.), 84.XB.1360.36. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program

Like most of his contemporaries he acquired property, his most significant probably being the Drumpellier estate which he bought in 1735, building Drumpellier House the following year.[36] He also bought three tracts of land near the Shawfield Mansion between 1719 and 1740 in an area called the Long Croft.[37] In 1753 this stretch of land became Virginia Street, named for the tobacco trade between Glasgow and Virginia.[38] It’s likely when he bought the land he intended at some future date he would build a mansion house, however that task fell to his son George who built the Virginia Mansion which was subsequently purchased by Alexander Speirs.[39]

Figure 4.Thomas Annan (Scottish,1829 – 1887). Mount Vernon, 1878, Albumen silver print 11.6 × 15.9 cm (4 9/16 × 6 1/4 in.), 84.XB.1360.76. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program

George also purchased the estate of Mount Vernon (originally called Windy-edge) in 1756 [40].

Andrew Buchanan died in 1759,[41] son James inheriting Drumpellier. The estate was sold to Andrew Stirling in 1777 following the collapse of James’ company.[42] (see post Mrs Anne D. Houstoun of Johnstone Castle (1865-1950)).

  • James, b. 25th May 1693.[43]
  • Alexander, b. 17th October 1695.[44]
  • Neill, b. 3rd May 1698.[45] He married Anna Rae, daughter of George Rae a Glasgow merchant in 1719[46] and had a number of children, son George being the eldest born in 1721[47], the year he became a Burgess and Guild Brother of Glasgow.[48] When he left the partnership with his brothers in 1737 he moved to London and set up as a tobacco merchant there. He also acted on behalf of his brothers in London as well as trading in Virginia on both a retail and wholesale basis. He also became MP in 1741 for the Glasgow burghs.[49] His time in London did not last very long as he died there on the 14th February 1743.[50] It seems to have taken a long time to settle his affairs as it took until 1753 to finalise the situation, in Edinburgh, based on a will written in 1741. At the time of his death two sons and five daughters, plus his wife Anna, were named as beneficiaries and/or executors.[51] He had owned an estate in Hillington which passed to his brother Archibald.[52]

His son George took over the business in partnership with his father’s clerk William Hamilton being known as George Buchanan & Co. in London, and Buchanan & Hamilton in Scotland and Virginia. The company however did not survive for very long. Francis Jerdone, their manager in Virginia had advised the purchase of large amounts of tobacco rather than the shipment of goods to the colony for sale there. His advice was ignored and in 1752 the company was made bankrupt by its creditors.[53]

  • Archibald, b. 20th July 1701.[54] Alexander Speirs’ father in law. As indicated earlier Archibald left the partnership with his brother Andrew in 1749 and set up a new partnership with John Bowman, Thomas Hopkirk, James Smellie and others to trade in tobacco from the James River plantation in Virginia.[55] This was the company that Speirs formally became a partner of in 1754 (see Part 1), the partners being Archibald Buchanan, Spiers, John Bowman, Hugh Brown, Thomas Hopkirk, Alexander Mackie and James Clark, the partnership being pre-dated to July 1753.[56] However, there is some evidence in the Virginia Deeds Book 1 (1749-1753) to support the idea that Speirs whilst in Virginia had been acting for the Buchanans, not necessarily solely on their behalf, since the 1730s and that he had become a partner of Archibald’s when he broke away from his brother in 1749. Regardless of when Speirs and Archibald joined forces what is in no doubt is the significant impact Speirs had on the company. The partnership became known as Buchanan, Speirs & Co, in the early 1750s and by 1760 had become Alexander Speirs & Co. In that year, the company imported 3,792 hogsheads of tobacco, all from Virginia, only bested by John Glassford who imported 1153 hogsheads more from Virginia and Maryland. Speirs’ total was 16% of all imports to the Clyde.[57]

Note: One hogshead can vary based on the commodity being carried however it seems generally accepted that  a tobacco hogshead equals 1,000 pound weight.

Archibald became a Burgess and Guild Brother in 1729[58] and in October 1739 was elected as a Bailie of Glasgow and a member of the burgh council.[59] Like his brother Andrew he was also a founding partner of a bank, along with twenty five others in 1750, the bank being the Glasgow Arms Bank.[60]

In 1728 he married Martha Murdoch[61], the daughter of an ex Lord Provost of Glasgow (1730-1732), Peter Murdoch[62] and owner of the King Street sugar house that Andrew Buchanan had an interest in. They had seven children, four of whom grew into adulthood: Peter, b. 1735, George, b. 1737, Andrew, b. 1745 and daughter Mary, b. 1733, future wife of Alexander Speirs, the sons all being involved in the trade with Virginia or the Caribbean to some extent. Archibald Buchanan died in 1761[63], his estates of Auchentorlie, Hillington and Silverbank being inherited by his son Peter.

  • Marie, b. 20th July 1701.[64]
  • Mary, b. 29th March 1704.[65] Married yet another George Buchanan, of Moss and Auchentoshan, in 1731.[66]

In 1725 the four brothers formed the Buchanan Society whose aim was to support poor clan members, in particular to assist their young in education and apprenticeships. The society is still in existence and continues to award educational and hardship grants.[67] The brothers membership numbers were George 1, Neill 11, Archibald 12 and Andrew 19.[68]

The brothers’ father George senior, who also had very successful career as a maltman died in 1719,[69] his wife Mary surviving him until 1741.[70]

Alexander Speirs

Figure 5. Alexander Speirs. Photograph: G.Manzor by permission of The Merchants House.

When Alexander married into the Buchanan family, knowingly or unknowingly, he was making an alliance with a family whose commercial experience was wider and greater than that of his own family, particularly in respect of the Chesapeake tobacco trade. His marriage with Sarah Cary had also joined him to a family whose tobacco interests were well established and who had been in the Americas for a considerable time. It’s not necessarily the case that his prime motive for these marriages was to further his career as a tobacco trader, however there is no denying that they were advantageous to him both from a business stand-point and also socially. It also should be said that his impact on the Buchanan’s business was very significant.

The timing of Speirs co-partnery with Buchanan, Bowman et al in 1754 could not have been bettered. The Buchanan brothers had been pre-eminent in the trade in the 1720s/30s however Speirs involvement with them coincided with an exponential growth in tobacco imports from around the 1750s to just before the War of Independence, tobacco imports in the early 1770s being ten times that achieved in the 1730s.[71]

Speirs tobacco interests during that period, eventually manifested as three co- partneries, the major one being Speirs, Bowman & Co., the partners being Speirs, John Bowman, William French, Peter Murdoch, Andrew Buchanan (son of Speirs’ father in law Archibald) and John Robertson. The others were Speirs, French and Co. whose partners include Speirs, French, Bowman and John Crawford, and Patrick Colquohoun & Co. with Speirs as a partner.[72]

The growth of the first two companies in a relatively short timescale, circa 10 to 12 years, was extraordinary. Speirs, Bowman capitalization in 1765 was £90,350, by 1776 it was £196,676,[73] equivalent in today’s commodity or project terms of £2.8 billion.[74] The Speirs, French numbers were less spectacular, and particularly flat for a number of years, however by 1779 they had a capitalization of £55,872 (£780m). In 1774 Speirs’ group imported 6,035 hogsheads of tobacco, around 15% of the total coming to the Clyde, with John Glassford’s companies, this time second best, importing 4506 hogsheads.[75]

The wealth generated by his tobacco trading allowed Speirs to invest in a number of other Scottish business activities. In common with John Glassford he was involved in a wide range of enterprises, which included:

  • Bells Tannery, Wester Sugar House, Smithfield Iron Co, Port Glasgow Ropework, Pollockshaws Printfield Co, The Inkle Manufactory.[76]

In more general terms his investments in 1770 totalling £131,437[77] were as follows:

  • Virginia tobacco trading: £55,057
  • Maryland tobacco trading: £7,411
  • Land: £49,050
  • Domestic Industry and banks: £18,141
  • Others including canals: £1,778.

By 1780 it had risen to £190,439.[78]

Of all the tobacco lords he was the most prolific purchaser of land, between 1760 and 1782 acquiring estates in Renfrewshire, Lanarkshire and Stirlingshire, his two key objectives being to create a single large estate (Elderslie) from adjoining smaller properties and to provide land specifically for members of his family to make them financially independent.[79] During this period he also purchased George Buchanan’s Virginia Mansion in Virginia Street as his town residence.[80]

Figure 6. Thomas Annan (Scottish,1829 – 1887) Elderslie, 1878, Albumen silver print11.6 × 16.2 cm (4 9/16 × 6 3/8 in.), 84.XB.1360.40. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program

The two main constituents of what became by Crown Charter the “Barony of Elderslie” were the estates of Kings Inch, bought in 1760 and Elderslie, bought in 1769. He subsequently built Elderslie House there, which took five years, it being completed in 1782.[81]

Alexander and Mary had nine children, four sons and five daughters:

  • Martha, 2nd March 1756.[82] She married a colleague of her father’s, George Crawford, her dowry being £5,000.[83]
  • John , 1st March 1757.[84]
  • Archibald, 6th March 1758.[85] Merchant in Glasgow, was Alexander’s heir, John having died in 1773 whilst a student at Glasgow University.[86] He married Margaret Dundas, daughter of Lord Dundas in 1794.[87] They had fourteen children, five sons and nine daughters[88]. As a young man he was a lieutenant in the 3rd Dragoon Guards, 1781-1782 and in 1804 was a major in the Renfrew Yeomanry.[89] In 1802 he was one of the founding partners in the Renfrewshire Bank based in Greenock as was his brother Peter. The bank failed in 1842, Archibald having resigned from the co-partnery in 1809.[90] He also had political ambitions which, despite a number of attempts he failed to achieve until 1810, when he became M.P. for Renfrewshire, a position he held until 1818.[91] He died in 1832 at Elderslie whilst dressing for a dinner to be held in his honour at Johnstone.[92]
  • Alexander, circa 1759. Died in 1772, age thirteen, whilst a student at Glasgow University.[93]
  • Peter, 15th May 1761.[94] Merchant in Glasgow. Attended the Glasgow Grammar school[95] following which he had seven years education/training in “languages, commercial skills, dancing. riding and fencing” on the Continent at a cost of £1,000.[96] He married Martha Harriet Graham, the daughter of Robert Graham of Gartmore, in 1792.[97] They had nine children, three sons and six daughters.[98] One of the companies he was involved with was the Culcreuch Cotton Co. whose business was cotton spinning. It was so named after the estate left to him by his father, more of which later. It first appeared in the Post office directory in 1799[99] being listed at least until 1838.[100] His eldest son Alexander Graham was listed with the company from 1827 to 1838,[101] Peter’s last entry being in the directory for 1829,[102] the year he died.[103]
  • Mary, 26th January 1765.[104]
  • Helen, 8th July 1768.[105]
  • Grace, 28th July 1770.[106] She married William Murray in 1805[107], his third wife.
  • Joan Isabella, 24th June 1772.[108]

Just as Alexander’s fortune and the tobacco trade generally peaked an existential threat manifested itself in the form of the American War of Independence which began in 1775. It was to last until 1783 with the Americans freeing themselves from British rule, changing how the tobacco trade was conducted permanently.

Some individuals suffered badly from these changes, in particular John Glassford whose fortune did not really survive the war, although other issues played their part. (see John Glassford post Part 2).

So, how did Speirs fare? Like most of the tobacco importers on the Clyde, Speirs thought the war was a temporary inconvenience, but also an opportunity to make more money. The years 1773-1775 had been relatively poor in respect of the price achieved for tobacco per pound, in 1774 it was      1 3/4d., driven down by the main French purchaser, however the general feeling was that despite anticipated difficulties in procuring and importing tobacco, demand would cause the price to rise significantly. The threat of the closure of colonial ports in 1775 helped reinforce that view.

In the beginning he encouraged his factors to keep acquiring tobacco and selling goods, and not to chase debt to maintain the good will of the planters. Most of the stores that Speirs, Bowman had were located on the upper James River and they were able to increase their purchases from there by 598 hogsheads to 5,471 hogsheads in 1775, compared to 1774. This at a time when only four out 27 Scottish exporters from the James River increased their purchases, some of them experiencing 50% reductions.

Such was the credit situation for the Glasgow tobacco companies that there was no great pressure to sell their stock to clear debt owing to their creditors. In March 1776 John Glassford and two others sold their tobacco for 3 3/4 d. per lb. Speirs waited a few more weeks and achieved 4d per lb from the French. By August of that year prices had risen to 1s 6d per pound for the best quality and 8d for the lowest quality. Speirs had 2,000 hogsheads in store at that time these prices valuing it at somewhere between £4,000 and £10,000.

The profits accruing from these sales was put to good use by him as he continued to buy land, spending £85,338 between 1776 and 1783, the estates purchased included Yoker and Blawarthill, Culcreuch and Houston.

This situation however was not to last. Between 1778 and 1783 Speirs imported a total of 1284 hogsheads, one fifth of his previous annual imports from Virginia. Following a poor year in 1778  Speirs turned his attention to the Caribbean in 1779. He instructed a former factor of Speirs, Bowman in Virginia, Robert Burton, to go there and provided him with £10,000 to purchase tobacco, sugar, rum and coffee. By 1782 Burton had become a major merchant in the Caribbean, transaction funds totalling £50,000 per year.

So how did Speirs fare? Remarkably well considering. He understood risks, mitigating where he could, and identified and exploited opportunities effectively.

This success however did not prevent him from hoping that the war would end. In the year before he died he wrote to Leland Crosthwaite; “I would we could get peace with the Americans”.[109]

About ten months after the war started Speirs had received a hand delivered letter dated the 16th February 1776 from his sister-in-law Judith Bell in Virginia. Its first lines are remarkable in that she comments on the Revolution and castigates the then Royal Governor of Virginia, John Murray the 4th Earl of Dunmore. In it she hopes that Alexander is “not among the herd that think us all rebels because we have been obliged to take up arms in our own defence” She added that “the king has not better subjects in Britain than the Americans, tho they will not willingly be made slaves they would still be dutiful subjects”.[110]

Figure 7. John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore. Artist Sir Joshua Reynolds. National Galleries of Scotland. https://www.nationalgalleries.org/art-and-artists/8802/0/john-murray-4th-earl-dunmore

The  Earl of Dunmore in her view was a villainous and cruel individual and was the cause of the disturbances in the state and the resultant bloodshed. History has certainly painted him, correctly in my view, as one of the British villains of the Revolution. His rash approach in the three years before hostilities began, he had suspended the Virginia Assembly in 1772, 1773 and 1774, hardened the attitude of those colonists who had thoughts of independence.

He had also got involved in a successful war against the Shawnee Indians in 1774 which probably caused him to give scant regard to the growing antithesis towards him. The day after war was declared in 1775 he removed the store of gunpowder held in the public magazine at Williamsburg which resulted in an armed uprising. He also offered slaves their freedom if they fought on the British side.[111]

The rest of her letter told him of family matters, her financial situation, which was not particularly good, and closed by wishing him and his wife and children well; “I pray God that they may be a comfort to you in your old age.[112]

Alexander Speirs died on the 14th December [113]1782. On the  day of his death at Elderslie House a meeting was held by his Trust disponees (trustees responsible for the disposing/granting of property, real or personal, legally). They were:

  • Patrick Colquohoun, Glasgow Lord Provost
  • John and William Bowman, both ex Lord Provosts of Glasgow
  • Archibald and Peter Speirs, sons
  • George Crawford, son-in-law
  • Peter and Andrew Buchanan, merchants
  • John Robertson, merchant.

They opened Speirs’ repositories which contained two deeds of entail, one in favour of his eldest son Archibald, the other in favour of his second son Peter, plus a Trust disposition of his whole personal estate not included in the deeds of entail. The Trust was dated 23rd May 1782 and named the above individuals plus Mary Buchanan, his wife, and her brother George as trustees.

Archibald as the eldest son, got the estates in Renfrewshire and Lanarkshire, including Elderslie. Alexander also specified that the final payment for purchase of the Glenns estate and others in Stirlingshire should be made and that his son Peter should inherit, this being agreed with Archibald previously. The deceased specified that the workmen and labourers of the Renfrewshire land should be dismissed on 1st January 1783, thereafter the “upkeeping of the policy” would be Archibald’s responsibility, the Trust deed providing £200 for that purpose. He also specified that the factor of all the Speirs estates should be retained for the ensuing year to ensure the collection of rents.

His personal property was detailed which totalled £123,236 which included £46,510 due to him in the colonies of Virginia and Maryland, and £28,275 owed to him.[114]

The Trust Settlement was dated 23 May 1782 and essentially laid out the entail details plus other bequests and requirements that the named trustees were required to act upon.

Archibald’s entail was dated the 9th December 1779 specifying the estates in Renfrewshire and Lanarkshire. Peter’s entail was dated 13th September 1780 and covered the estates in Stirlingshire including Culcreuch.

To his wife Mary he left £12,500 and she was given liferent of the estate of Yoker and Blawarthill and also of his dwelling house, office houses and pertinents at the head of Virginia Street, son Peter to inherit on her death or if she remarried.

His four youngest daughters were also bequeathed £2,500 each on marrying with their mother’s consent. Failing that they would only get the interest on that sum, the capital being given when both parents had died. He also specified which trustees would be tutors to them. His married daughter Martha was given £5,000.

He made other family bequests, £50 to his sister Helen and £50 to his sister-in-law Judith Bell should she survive him. If she did not then £500 would go to her brother Archibald Cary for her children, less any monies that Cary owed Speirs.

Other bequests included:

  • Merchants House of which he had been a member – £20.
  • Marine Society in Glasgow – £50.
  • Kirk Sessions of Fintry, Neilston and Fintry – £10 each
  • George Wilson’s Charity – £30
  • The English Chapel in Glasgow – £50.

This last bequest had conditions, namely that no one beneficiary would receive more than 10s. and that the Chapel had to account for their spend annually to Archibald. If they refused he had the right to take the money back.[115]

Alexander’s wife Mary died on 24th December 1818; her estate mainly being left to her unmarried daughters, Helen, Mary and Joanna.[116]

During April 1850 Helen and Joanna, Mary had died in 1849,[117] through their nephew Captain Speirs of Culcreuch contacted the Dean of Guild of the Merchants House to advise him that it had been the desire of their mother Mrs Mary Speirs that the sum of £1,000 should be held by them for the House until it reached the sum of £2,000 whereupon it would be given over to help “decayed members of the Merchants House”. That sum being reached the sisters were now ready to hand the money over. The main terms of the donation were that the money would be paid on Whitsunday 1850, the interest on the capital to be shared among four needy members, or their widows or children, and that the donation was in perpetual remembrance of the sister’s father Alexander Speirs.[118]

As far as I can tell Helen and Joanna were the last survivors of Alexander and Mary’s children, Helen dying in 1854[119] and Joanna in 1860.[120]


[1] Marriages (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 2 March 1755. SPEIRS, Alexander and BUCHANAN, Mary. 644/01 0250 0157. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[2] Births (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 13 June 1733. BUCHANNAN, Mary. 644/1 110 197. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[3] Births (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 3 March 1702. MURDOCHE, Martha. 644/1 80 127. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[4] The Glasgow Story. Peter Murdoch. https://www.theglasgowstory.com/image/?inum=TGSA02084&t=2 and Glasgow City Council. Provosts of Glasgow. https://www.glasgow.gov.uk/article/16556/Provosts-of-Glasgow
[5] Smith, John Guthrie. (1896). Strathendrick and its inhabitants from early times. Glasgow: James Maclehose and Sons. pp. 303 to 306. https://archive.org/details/strathendrickits00smit/page/n7/mode/2up.
[6] Douie, Robert. (1879). Chronicles of the Maltmen Craft in Glasgow 1606-1879. Glasgow: Aird and Coghill. p. 91.
[7] Trades House of Glasgow. Who we are. https://www.tradeshouse.org.uk/who-we-are/
[8] Anderson, James R, ed. (1925). Burgesses and Guild Brethren of Glasgow, 1573-1750. p.201. https://archive.org/stream/scottishrecordso43scotuoft#page/n5/mode/2up.
[9] Marriages (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 14 July 1674. BUCHANAN, George and SMITH, Issobell. 644/1 230 257. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[10] Marwick, James D, ed.(1905) Extracts from the Records of the Burgh of Glasgow Vol. 3, 1663-1690. p. 520. https://www.british-history.ac.uk/glasgow-burgh-records/vol3
[11] Trades House of Glasgow. Maltmen. https://www.tradeshouse.org.uk/crafts-maltmen/
[12] Electric Scotland. The History of Glasgow. Volume 3 – Chapter XXVII – “The Tobacco Lords” https://electricscotland.com/history/glasgow/glasgow3_27.htm
[13] Marriages (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 2 July 1685. BUCHANAN, George and MAXWELL, Mary. 644/1 230 289. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[14] Births (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 3 June 1686. BUCHANAN, George. 644/1 60 220. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[15] Douie, op. cit. p. 95.
[16] Births (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 1712-1738. BUCHANAN. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[17] Anderson, op cit. p. 275.
[18] Electric Scotland. The History of Glasgow. Volume 3 – Chapter XXVII – “The Tobacco Lords” https://electricscotland.com/history/glasgow/glasgow3_27.htm
[19] Testamentary Records. Scotland. 7 January 1774. BUCHANAN, George. Glasgow Commissary Court. CC9/7/69. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[20] Births (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 5 August 1787. BUCHANAN, Gabriel. 644/1 70 6 www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[21] Births (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 12 February 1689. BUCHANAN, Mary. 644/1 70 32. . www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[22] Births (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 29 January 1691. BUCHANAN, Andrew. 644/1 70 83. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[23] Price, Jacob M. “Buchanan and Simson 1759-1763: A Different Kind of Glasgow Firm Trading to the Chesapeake” The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 40, No. 1 (Jan. 1983). pp. 3-41. JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1919526
[24] Gibson, John (1777). The History of Glasgow etc. Glasgow: Chapman and Duncan. p. 210.
[25] Price, Jacob M. “Buchanan and Simson 1759-1763: A Different Kind of Glasgow Firm Trading to the Chesapeake” The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 40, No. 1 (Jan. 1983). pp. 3-41. JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1919526
[26] Russell, Iain F. ‘Buchanan, Andrew (1690-1759)’. In: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://www.oxforddnb.com/view//article/3829
[27] Cameron, Alan. (1995). Bank of Scotland 1695- 1995. Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing Company. pp. 54,67.
[28] Anderson, op cit. p. 322.
[29] Ewing, James (1866). View of the Merchants House of Glasgow. Glasgow: Bell and Bain (reprint) p. 556.
[30] Glasgow City Council. Provosts of Glasgow. https://www.glasgow.gov.uk/article/16556/Provosts-of-Glasgow
[31] Russell, Iain F. ‘Buchanan, Andrew (1690-1759)’. In: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://www.oxforddnb.com/view//article/3829
[32] Marriages (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 30 January 1723. BUCHANAN, Andrew and MONTGOMERY, Marion. 644/1 240 230. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[33] Price, Jacob M. “Buchanan and Simson 1759-1763: A Different Kind of Glasgow Firm Trading to the Chesapeake” The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 40, No. 1 (Jan. 1983). pp. 3-41. JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1919526
[34] Glasgow City Council. Provosts of Glasgow. https://www.glasgow.gov.uk/article/16556/Provosts-of-Glasgow
[35] Marriages (OPR) Scotland. Edinburgh. 1 July 1744. BUCHANAN, Andrew and BINNING, Elisabeth. 685/1 480 23. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[36] Smith, John Guthrie and Mitchell, John Oswald. (1878) The Old Country Houses of the Glasgow Gentry 2nd ed.  Glasgow: James Maclehose and Sons. http://gdl.cdlr.strath.ac.uk/smihou/smihou063.htm
[37] Senex et al. (1884) Glasgow Past and Present. Vol.3. Glasgow: David Robertson and Co. p. 517
[38] Foreman, Carol. (2007) Glasgow Street Names. Edinburgh: Birlinn Ltd. p. 162.
[39] Senex et al, op. cit. pp.516-522.
[40] Smith and Mitchell, op.cit.  http://gdl.cdlr.strath.ac.uk/smihou/smihou076.htm
[41] Russell, Iain F. ‘Buchanan, Andrew (1690-1759)’. In: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://www.oxforddnb.com/view//article/3829
[42] Smith and Mitchell, op.cit.  http://gdl.cdlr.strath.ac.uk/smihou/smihou076.htm
[43] Births (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 25 May 1693. BUCHANAN, James. 644/1 70 161. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[44] Births (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 17 October 1695. BUCHANAN, Alexander. 644/1 70 244. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[45] Births (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 3 May 1698. BUCHANAN, Neill. 644/1 70 340. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[46] Marriages (OPR) Glasgow. 1719 BUCHANAN, Neill and RAE, Anna.
[47] Births (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 16 March 1721. BUCHANAN, George 644/1 100 93. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[48] Anderson, op. cit. p.355.
[49] Price, Jacob M. “Buchanan and Simson 1759-1763: A Different Kind of Glasgow Firm Trading to the Chesapeake” The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 40, No. 1 (Jan. 1983). pp. 3-41. JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1919526
[50] Testamentary Records Scotland. 10 May 1753. BUCHANAN, Neil. Wills and Testaments. Edinburgh Commissary Court. CC8/8/114. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[51] Ibid.
[52] Clan MacFarlane and associated clan genealogy. Archibald Buchanan https://www.clanmacfarlanegenealogy.info/genealogy/TNGWebsite/getperson.php?personID=I9601&tree=CC
[53] Price, Jacob M. “Buchanan and Simson 1759-1763: A Different Kind of Glasgow Firm Trading to the Chesapeake” The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 40, No. 1 (Jan. 1983). pp. 3-41. JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1919526
[54] Births (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 20 July 1701. BUCHANAN, Archibald. 644/1 80 99. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[55] Price, Jacob M. “Buchanan and Simson 1759-1763: A Different Kind of Glasgow Firm Trading to the Chesapeake” The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 40, No. 1 (Jan. 1983). pp. 3-41. JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1919526
[56] Deed of Contract 1754. Alexander Speirs. Mitchell Library Archives Glasgow. Reference Number B10/15/6653.
[57] Price, Jacob M. “Buchanan and Simson 1759-1763: A Different Kind of Glasgow Firm Trading to the Chesapeake” The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 40, No. 1 (Jan. 1983). pp. 3-41. JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1919526
[58] Anderson, op cit. p. 395.
[59] Renwick, Robert, ed. (1911). Extracts from the Records of the Burgh of Glasgow Vol. VI, 1739-1759. pp. 34,35. https://www.tradeshouselibrary.org/uploads/4/7/7/2/47723681/burgh_records_1739_to_1759.pdf
[60] Senex et al. (1884) Glasgow Past and Present. Vol.1. Glasgow: David Robertson and Co. p. 473.
[61] Marriages (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 4 December 1728. BUCHANNAN, Archibald and MURDOCH, Martha. 644/1 240 283. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[62] Glasgow City Council. Provosts of Glasgow.
[63] Deaths (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 17 March 1761. BUCHANAN, Archibald. 644/1 480 70. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[64] Births (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 20 July 1701. BUCHANAN, Marie. 644/1 80 99. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[65] Births (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 29 March 1704. BUCHANAN, Mary. 644/1 80 230. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[66] Marriages (OPR) Scotland. Old Kilpatrick. 18 November 1731. BUCHANAN, George and BUCHANAN, Mary. 501/  10 536. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[67] The Buchanan Society. https://www.buchanansociety.com/about-the-society/
[68] Buchanan, Robert MacNeil. (1931) Notes on the Members of the Buchanan Society. Numbers 1 to 366. 1725-1829. pp. 5, 10, 11, 14. https://archive.org/details/notesonmembersof00buch/page/n5/mode/2up
[69] Deaths (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 14 April 1719. BUCHANAN, George. 644/1 450 306. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[70] Deaths (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 8 September 1741. BUCHANAN, Mary. 644/1 470 30. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[71] Devine, T.M. (1990). The Tobacco Lords. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 73.
[72] Devine op. cit. p.187
[73] Price, Jacob M. (1980). Capital and Credit in British Overseas Trade. Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press. p. 155, 156.
[74] Measuring Worth (2020). https://www.measuringworth.com/m/calculators/ukcompare
[75] Pagan, James (1847). Sketch of the History of Glasgow. Glasgow: Robert Stuart & Co. p.80. https://archive.org/details/sketchhistorygl01pagagoog/page/n6/mode/2up/
[76] Devine op. cit. p.183
[77] Devine, T. M. “The Colonial Trades and Industrial Investment in Scotland, c. 1700-1815.” The Economic History Review, Vol. 29, No.1 (Feb., 1976). pp. 1-13. JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/2594504.
[78] Devine, T. M.  “A Glasgow Tobacco Merchant During the American War of Independence: Alexander Speirs, 1775 to 1781.” The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 33, No. 3 (July 1976). pp. 501-513. JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1921545
[79] Ibid.
[80] Senex et al. (1884) Glasgow Past and Present. Vol.1. Glasgow: David Robertson and Co. p. 520.
[81] Smith, John Guthrie and Mitchell, John Oswald. (1878) The Old Country Houses of the Glasgow Gentry 2nd ed.  Glasgow: James Maclehose and Sons. http://gdl.cdlr.strath.ac.uk/smihou/smihou063.htm
[82] Births (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 2 March 1756. SPEIRS, Martha. 644/1 121 176. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[83] Settlement 23 May 1782, Registered 16 December 1782. Alexander Speirs. Mitchell Library Archives Glasgow. Reference Number B10/15/8453.
[84] Births (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 1 March 1757. SPEIRS, John. 644/1 130 9. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[85] Births (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 6 March 1758. SPEIRS, Archibald. 644/1 130 88. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[86] Addison, W. Innes. (1913). The Matriculation Albums of the University of Glasgow 1728 – 1858. p. 90.
[87] Burkes Family Records. SPEIRS. P. 541.  https://www.ancestry.co.uk/interactive/1860/1860_BurkeFamilyRecs-00549?pid=26506&backurl=https://search.ancestry.co.uk/
[88] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Renfrew. 1794-1815. SPEIRS. Parish No. 525. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[89] The History of Parliament. Speirs, Archibald (1758-1832), of Elderslie, Renfrew. https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1790-1820/member/speirs-archibald-1758-1832
[90] Senex et al. (1884) Glasgow Past and Present. Vol.1. Glasgow: David Robertson and Co. pp. 496,497.
[91] The History of Parliament. Speirs, Archibald (1758-1832), of Elderslie, Renfrew. https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1790-1820/member/speirs-archibald-1758-1832
[92] Gentleman’s Magazine . July to December 1832. Vol. CII. Archibald Speirs death notice. p. 486.
[93] Addison, op.cit. p. 96.
[94] Births (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 15 May 1761. SPEIRS, Peter. 644/1 130 350. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[95] Senex et al. (1884) Glasgow Past and Present. Vol.1. Glasgow: David Robertson and Co. pp. 404-410.
[96] Devine op. cit. p.8.
[97] Marriages (OPR) Scotland. Port of Menteith. 7 April 1792. SPEIRS, Peter and GRAHAM, Martha Hariet. 388/  10 489. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[98] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Edinburgh and Fintry. 1793-1806. SPEIRS. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[99] Directories. (1799) Scotland. Glasgow Post Office directory. Glasgow: W. McFeat and Co. p. 27. https://digital.nls.uk/directories/browse/archive/87869810
[100] Directories. (1838) Scotland. Glasgow Post Office directory. Glasgow: Post Office. p. 67. https://digital.nls.uk/directories/browse/archive/90160183
[101] Ibid, p.204.
[102] Directories. (1829) Scotland. Glasgow Post Office directory. Glasgow: Post Office. p. 236. https://digital.nls.uk/directories/browse/archive/83783748
[103] Burkes Family Records. SPEIRS. P. 542.  https://www.ancestry.co.uk/interactive/1860/1860_BurkeFamilyRecs-00549?pid=26506&backurl=https://search.ancestry.co.uk/
[104] Births (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 26 March 1761. SPEIRS, May. 644/1 140 233. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[105] Births (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 8 July 1766. SPEIRS, Helen. 644/1 140 319. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[106] Births (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 26 July 1770. SPEIRS, Grace. 644/1 150 206. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[107] Marriages (OPR) Scotland. St Ninians. MURRAY, William and SPEIRS, Grace. 488/  50 395. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[108] Births (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 24 June 1772. SPEIRS, Joan Isabella. 644/1 150 334. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[109] Devine, T. M.  “A Glasgow Tobacco Merchant During the American War of Independence: Alexander Speirs, 1775 to 1781.” The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 33, No. 3 (July 1976). pp. 501-513. JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1921545
[110] Letter dated 16 February 1776. Judith Bell to Alexander Speirs. Mitchell Library Archives Glasgow. Reference Number TD 131/18 Bundle 8.
[111]Selby, John E. (2009) ‘Murray, John, 4th Earl of Dunmore’. In: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/19631
[112] Letter dated 16 February 1776. Judith Bell to Alexander Speirs. Mitchell Library Archives Glasgow. Reference Number TD 131/18 Bundle 8.
[113] Deaths (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 14 December 1782. SPEIRS, Alexander. 644/1 0590 0115. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[114] Deeds of Entail. Alexander Speirs. Mitchell Library Archives Glasgow. Reference Number TD 131/13.
[115] Settlement 23 May 1782, Registered 16 December 1782. Alexander Speirs. Mitchell Library Archives Glasgow. Reference Number B10/15/8453.
[116] Testamentary Records. Scotland. 30 August 1819. SPEIRS, Mary. Stirling Sheriff Court. SC67/36/5. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[117] Testamentary Records. Scotland. 6 November 1849. SPEIRS, Mary. Stirling Sheriff Court. SC67/36/30. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[118] Ewing, James (1866). View of the Merchants House of Glasgow. Glasgow: Bell and Bain (reprint) pp. 466,467.
[119] Testamentary Records. Scotland. 29 June 1854. SPEIRS, Helen. Stirling Sheriff Court. SC67/36/35. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[120] Testamentary Records. Scotland. 16 November 1860. SPEIRS, Joanna Isabella. Stirling Sheriff Court. SC67/36/42. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk


Alexander Speirs – Tobacco Lord (1714 – 1782) Part 1

Note: There are many different spellings of Speirs. These include Speers, Spears, Spiers and Speirs.

In my John Glassford post Part 1 I referred to William Cunningham, Alexander Spiers and John Glassford as the most prominent of the Glasgow Tobacco Lords. As with Glassford, the purpose of this post is to comment on Speir’s family background, his business activities and partnerships. Without the use of slave labour however it is clear that none of these individuals, and others, would have been as successful as they were and, perhaps, Glasgow’s financial pre-eminence in the tobacco trade and the concomitant development of local industry would not have occurred. This I believe would have inhibited the city’s commercial growth and progression in the 19th century as a significant amount of ‘slave delivered’ funding would not have been available.

Again, I refer those with an interest in Glasgow’s involvement with slavery to the writings of Stephen Mullen, Tom Devine and others.

Alexander Speirs’ parents were John Speers, an Edinburgh merchant and burgess of the N.W. (Tolbooth) parish in Edinburgh and Isobell Twedie, the daughter of John Twedie an ex Lord Provost of Peebles (1703-1707).[1] They married in 1708 and had eight children, three sons and five girls,[2] Alexander being the fourth child and second son, born and baptized in September 1714.[3] John became a burgess of Edinburgh in 1705, his third son James in 1743.[4] The eldest son John died in 1726 at the age of fourteen from drowning.[5]

What Alexander did as a young adult is not clear, however there is some evidence to suggest he went to Virginia in the 1730s, more of which in Part 2. However in 1740 at the age of twenty six he did travel to Virginia.[6] If he had gone to Virginia earlier it would have been as a factor/associate of a tobacco company, which is what a number of young men did then, and in his case, more than likely for the Buchanan  family which again will be looked it Part 2.

Whatever the reason he became involved with the Cary (Carey) family plantations in Virginia, eventually marrying Sarah Cary the youngest daughter of Henry Cary jnr. of Ampthill in Chesterfield County, and his second wife Anne Edwards. Henry Cary’s main occupation was as a contract builder. His buildings include the President’s House and the Brafferton Building of William and Mary College, both still existing, and Ampthill House, the family home built in 1732.[7] In 1929 the house was dismantled and rebuild in Richmond where it remains.[8]

Figure 1.  Ampthill House from Webb, May Folk and Estes, Patrick Mann. (1939). Cary – Estes Genealogy. Rutland, Vermont: The Tuttle Publishing Company. pp. 46,47.  https://archive.org/details/caryestesgenealo00webb/mode/2up

Additionally, he owned a large acreage of land, slaves, cattle, horses etc, the land and the slaves most likely used  for the cultivation of tobacco, in which Spiers was to become involved, in due course.[9] In 1860 the Virginia census showed that the population of Chesterfield county consisted of ten thousand and eighteen whites, and eight thousand three hundred and fifty five slaves, suggesting an ‘industrial’ level of slaves working in the fields.[10] It’s worth remembering the UK had abolished slavery in 1833.

Figure 2. from Graham, H. S. & Hergesheimer, E. (1861) Map of Virginia: showing the distribution of its slave population from the census of. Washington: Henry S. Graham. [Map] The Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2010586922/.
Alexander married Sarah (born in 1729) in 1741[11] although other sources say it was in 1748[12] or 1746[13]. At the time of her marriage she had two live siblings, Archibald, born in 1721 and Judith, born in 1726. Judith married David Bell in 1744[14] who along with Archibald and Spiers’ brother James, ran Alexander’s tobacco interests in Chesterfield subsequent to his return to Scotland, more of which shortly.

Note: Henry Cary jnr. had three children with his first wife all of whom died before they reached their majority. He had four children with Anne Edwards, the first of whom died as an infant. He married for a third time in 1741, Elizabeth Brickenhead, the marriage producing no children.[15]

Henry Cary jnr. died circa 1749. His will dated 1748, naming Archibald as his executor, detailed a number of bequests as follows:

  • to his wife Elizabeth, essentially liferent of property, slaves and money
  • to his daughter Judith and her husband, three thousand acres of land on Hatchers Creek in Albemarle, including livestock, buildings, slaves etc.
  • to his son in law Alexander Speirs, three thousand acres of land on Willis Creek, “currently in his possession” also the plantation slaves, cattle, horses etc., “including a negro wench named Sarah and a negro girl named Nell”.
  • to his son Archibald , the residue of his estate both real and personal.[16]

It’s clear from the above that Speirs was working the land bequeathed to him for a period of time, probably from the time of his marriage at least.

When Cary’s third wife Elizabeth died in her will dated 1751 she left bequests to Mrs Judith Bell and Mrs Alexander Speirs.[17]

Alexander and Sarah came to Glasgow around 1750 shortly after her father died. As perhaps expected he began to be involved in the civic life of the city. In 1750 subscriptions were being raised to erect an episcopal church in Glasgow. In due course the church became known as St Andrews by the Green. The original subscribers and directors of the project included a number of well known merchants of the city to which, in September 1751, Alexander Speirs was added.[18] His personal life however was to change in June the following year, his wife Sarah unfortunately dying; the marriage having produced no children.[19]

Despite his personal loss Speirs continued to develop and expand his tobacco interests. In April 1754 a co-partnery was established between Archibald Buchanan, Alexander Spiers, John Bowman, Hugh Brown, Thomas Hopkirk, Alexander Mackie and James Clark, all tobacco merchants, the latter two located in Virginia. The partnership was pre-dated to July of 1753. It was to last for seven years, the capital in the company amounting to £16,200, with borrowing and profit taking rules established for the first three years. Item three of the partnering conditions stated that it was also agreed that no one partner could act separately until April 1756.

Figure 3. Mrs Judith Bell, Speir’s sister in law from Webb, May Folk and Estes, Patrick Mann. (1939). Cary – Estes Genealogy. Rutland, Vermont: The Tuttle Publishing Company. pp. 58,59. https://archive.org/details/caryestesgenealo00webb/mode/2up

There was one exception however to that condition. Item ten allowed Speirs to continue to operate his Chesterfield plantation in the way he had done before the partnership was signed. He would be able to trade his crops as he saw fit, transport them as he required, all managed in Virginia by his brother James, his brother-in-law Archibald Cary and his sister-in-law Mrs Judith Bell.[20]

He had become a burgess and guild brother of Glasgow in 1753,[21] ,and was a merchant councillor, being elected Glasgow Treasurer in 1755. This was followed by his election as a Bailie in 1757[22] and again in 1762.[23]

He also remarried, this time to Mary Buchanan in 1755.[24]

His return from Virginia and his second marriage was the start of a new and highly successful period of his life, leading to him becoming one of the richest merchants of his time. Part 2 will look at his family life, the growth of his business and his partnerships, his new wife’s family and the part they played in his commercial success, and his property purchases.


[1] Paton, Henry Rev. (1902). The Register of Marriages for the parish of Edinburgh.1701 – 1750. Edinburgh: Scottish Record Society. p. 510. https://archive.org/stream/scottishrecordso23scotuoft#page/510/mode/2up/search/spiers
[2] Births (OPR) Scotland. Edinburgh. 1709 – 1720. Speers/Spears/ Speirs/ Sphers. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[3] Births (OPR) Scotland. Edinburgh. 14 September 1714. SPEARS, Alexander. 685/01 0160 0056. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
[4] Watson, Charles Boog B. (1930). The Roll of Edinburgh Burgesses and Guild Brethren. 1701 – 1760. Edinburgh: Scottish Record Society. p. 190. https://archive.org/stream/scottishrecordso46scotuoft#page/190/mode/2up
[5] Burke, Ashworth P. (1897) Burkes Family Records. Reprint 1994. Baltimore: Clearfield Company Inc. pp. 541,542. https://www.ancestry.co.uk
[6] Scots on the Chesapeake, 1607-1830. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co. Alexander Speirs arriving Virginia 1740. Collection: U.S. and Canada, Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s. https://www.ancestry.co.uk/
[7] Webb, May Folk and Estes, Patrick Mann. (1939). Cary – Estes Genealogy. Rutland, Vermont: The Tuttle Publishing Company. pp 48-51. https://archive.org/details/caryestesgenealo00webb/mode/2up
[8] Chesterfield County, Va. History. Historic Chesterfield – Mary Randolph. http://www.chesterfield.gov/content.aspx?id=2978
[9] Webb and Estes, op. cit. pp. 48-51.
[10] Library of Congress. Map of Virginia: showing the distribution of its slave population from the census of 1860.https://www.loc.gov/resource/g3881e.cw1047000/?r=-0.072,0.289,0.478,0.22,0
[11] Marriage: Alexander Speirs to Sarah Cary, 1741. Mitchell Library Archives Glasgow. Reference number B10/15/5943.
[12] Marriage: Alexander Speirs, 1748. Webb and Estes, op. cit. p. 51.
[13] Marriage: Alexander Speirs, 1746. Burke, op. cit. p. 541
[14] Webb and Estes, op. cit. pp. 48-51.
[15] Ibid
[16] Webb and Estes, op. cit. pp. 52-54.
[17] Webb and Estes, op. cit. p. 51.
[18] Senex et al. (1884) Glasgow Past and Present. Vol.3. Glasgow: David Robertson and Co. p. 226.
[19] Burkes. op.cit. p.541.
[20] Deed of Contract 1754. Mitchell Library Archives Glasgow. Reference Number B10/15/6653.
[21] Anderson, James R. (ed). The Burgesses and Guild Brethren of Glasgow 1751-1846. Edinburgh: Scottish Record Society. p.7. https://archive.org/stream/scottishrecord51scotuoft#page/n5/mode/2up/search/speirs
[22] Renwick, Robert (ed). Extracts from the Burgh of Glasgow Records 1739-1759. Vol VI. Mitchell Library Archives Reference Number LK 1/7. p. 447, 508.
[23] Renwick, Robert .(ed). Extracts from the Burgh of Glasgow Records 1760-1780. Vol VII. Mitchell Library Archives Reference Number LK 1/8. p. 1912
[24] Marriages (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 2 March 1755. SPEIRS, Alexander and BUCHANAN, Mary. 644/01 0250 0157. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk






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. http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[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. http://piprod.getty.edu/starweb/pi/servlet.starweb

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

[7] Measuring Worth (2016). https://www.measuringworth.com/m/calculators/ukcompare/

[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. https://digital.lib.niu.edu/islandora/object/niu-amarch%3A81398 and https://digital.lib.niu.edu/islandora/object/niu-amarch%3A82956.

[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. https://books.google.co.uk

[13]Deaths (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 27 August 1783. GLASSFORD, John. 644/01 0590 0131. http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[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. http://www.colonial-settlers-md-va.us/getperson.php?personID=I056812&tree=Tree1

[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. http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[19] Births (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 6 August 1782. RIDDELL, Ann. 644/01 0170 0214. http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[20] Births (OPR) Scotland. Edinburgh. 26 December 1744. RIDDELL, Henry. 685/01 0240 0294. http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[21] Deaths. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 23 August 1825. GLASSFORD, Catherine. 644/01 0610 0228. http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[22] Senex etc op.cit.

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

[24] Hopkirk Family Worldwide. http://www.hopkirk.org/hopkirk/Page122321.html

[25] Glasgow City Council. Glasgow Botanic Gardens Heritage Trail (PDF). https://www.glasgow.gov.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=31476&p=0

[26] Deaths. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 8 January 1780. GLASSFORD, Rebecca. 644/01 0590 0057. http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[27] University of Glasgow. The University of Glasgow Story: Henry Glassford of Dougalston. https://www.universitystory.gla.ac.uk/biography/?id=WH1166&type=P

[28] The History of Parliament: Members 1790-1820. Henry Glassford (1764-1819). https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1790-1820/member/glassford-henry-1764-1819

[29] Deaths. Scotland (OPR) Glasgow. 26 May 1819. GLASSFORD, Henry. 644/01 0610 0228.  http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

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

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

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

[33] Wentworth-Shields, W.F. and Harris, Jonathan. (2004) Glassford, James (1771-1845). In: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/10806

[34] Deaths. Find a Grave 1850. GLASSFORD, Euphemia https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/182342566

[35]  National Library of Australia. https://trove.nla.gov.au/work/26800581?q&versionId=32284868

[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. http://gdl.cdlr.strath.ac.uk/stecit/stecit14049.htm


John Glassford – Tobacco Lord (1715-1783) Part 1.

The three most prominent Glasgow ‘Tobacco Lords’ were William Cunningham, Alexander Speirs and John Glassford. Much has been written about all three, in particular detailing how they and others, developed the trade, ran their businesses and with whom. In more recent times the issue of Glasgow’s involvement with slavery in the American Colonies and the Caribbean has been more vigorously explored than previously. It’s clear that the success of the Colonial tobacco trade owes much to the use of slaves in Virginia and Maryland.

The purpose of this post is not to look at this aspect of the trade* but to comment on John Glassford’s family background and his immediate family life, identify his business structure, activities and partnerships, and give some detail to a few of the men he partnered.

There will be one comment on what may be a direct contact Glassford had with slavery but more of that later.

*Those with an interest in this subject should, at least, read ‘It Wisnae Us’ by Stephen Mullen and ‘Recovering Scotland’s Slavery Past’ edited by Tom Devine.


John Glassford’s father James was a merchant in Paisley. He married Eupham Smelie (various spellings) in Edinburgh on the 27th April 1710.[1] Her father was Thomas Smelie, an Edinburgh merchant and also a burgess and guild brother of the city. As was the custom, the daughter of a burgess could transfer to her husband her right of admission as a burgess, which she got through her father. This duly occurred and in July of 1710 James became a burgess and guild brother of Edinburgh.[2]

It seems they had six children, born in Abbey parish, Paisley: one son John, and five daughters, Jannet, Euphame, Catharine, Rebecca and Helen.[3] However, there are other sources which say that John was the third of three sons, the others being William and James, and that there was another daughter Elizabeth.

If he did indeed have other children he must have been married before. One strong candidate would be Agnes Gemmill who married a James Glassford in 1690.[4] They had children named William, Elizabeth, James, and Agnes, all born in Abbey parish, Paisley, the father being described as a bailiff or merchant there.[5]

Pure conjecture of course, and just to confuse matters further a William Glassford, described as ‘James Glassford’s’ first son was made a burgess and guild brother of Glasgow in 1723 by right of his father,[6] additionally a James Glassford, described as ‘James Glassford’s’ second son was made a burgess and guild brother of Edinburgh in 1733 by right of his father[7] and also a burgess and guild brother of Glasgow in 1734 by right of his father.[8]

One thing is certain, when James Glassford senior died in 1730, age 63, his wife Euphame survived him and in his will he mentions he had four living children all in their minority; John, Rebecca, Katharine and Helen.[9] He died in Edinburgh on the 6th November, reportedly murdered on the way home to his chambers.[10] He was buried in Edinburgh in the Smelie family lair on the 9th November.[11]

John Glassford was born on the 11th December 1715 and baptised on the 15th of that month.[12] He matriculated at Glasgow University in 1728, age 13.[13] I

It’s not clear when he became involved in the tobacco trade however his initial business activity was as a manufacturer of textiles.[14]  In 1739 he, along with fellow merchant Andrew Thomson, is said to have undertaken a trip on horseback to London. For what business reason has not been established however it must have been a long and arduous journey with “no turnpike road until they came to Grantham, within 110 miles of London.” [15]

This journey may well have been the precursor to his involvement with tobacco as around 1745 he has purchased Whitehill House[16] and by 1750 he is a founder member of the Glasgow Arms Bank.[17]

Figure 1. Whitehill House from The old country houses of the old Glasgow gentry. John Guthrie Smith and John Oswald Mitchell, 1878. Glasgow: James Maclehose & Sons. http://gdl.cdlr.strath.ac.uk/smihou/smihou098.htm

John Glassford married three times, the first of whom was Anne Coats, who he married on the 24th April 1743 in Glasgow.[18] Her father was the Glasgow merchant Archibald Coats who, along with Baillie George Carmichael, was ‘taken hostage’ in 1745 by Bonnie Prince Charlie and his army to ensure that the terms they had forced on Glasgow were duly implemented.[19] These demands included “six thowsand shirt cloath coats, twelve thowsand linnen shirts, six thowsand pairs of shoes and the like number of pairs of tartan hose and blue bonnets.”[20]

Anne’s mother was Jean Campbell who was the heir to the Clathick estate in Perthshire. On her death in 1729[21] her eldest son John became heir and in due course became known as John Coats Campbell of Clathick.

John and Anne had five children, all but one dying in infancy.

  • Anne – born 1744, died the same year.[22]
  • Jean – born 1746.[23]
  • James – born 1748, died in 1751[24].
  • Archibald – born 1750, died the same year.[25]
  • Euphan – born 1751, died 1752.[26]

In each case the registration documents record the witnesses to be Anne’s father Archibald and Archibald Ingram, who had married John’s sister Rebecca in 1743[27]. More of Ingram and Campbell of Clathick later.

A few weeks after giving birth to Euphan, Anne died on the 18th December.[28]

Less than a year later in November of 1752 John married Ann Nisbet the daughter of Sir John Nisbet of Dean in Edinburgh.[29]

They had six children all of whom, with the exception of John, survived into adulthood.

  • Ann – born 1754.[30]
  • Catherine – born 1755.[31]
  • Christian – born 1757.[32]
  • Rebecca – born 1758.[33]
  • John – born 1762, died 1777.[34]
  • Henry – born 1764.[35]

An interesting point again arises from the parish registration documents in that James Glassford is recorded as a witness in five of the births. Was this John’s brother from his father’s first marriage to Agnes Gemmill? If so why was he not mentioned in his father’s will?

Ann Nisbet died on the 11th April 1766 in Glasgow, cause of death was child bed fever.[36]

In 1768 there were two Glassford family marriages. The first was that of daughter Jean to James Gordon on the 18th August.[37] The second was when John married his third wife Lady Margaret McKenzie, daughter of the Earl of Cromarty on the 7th December.[38]

This marriage produced a further three children.

  • Isabella – born 1770.[39]
  • James – born 1771.[40]
  • Euphemia – 1773.[41]

Euphemia was born on the 21st February. Unfortunately, just over five weeks later on the 29th March, Lady Margaret died.[42]

Throughout the period of his three marriages Glassford’s business empire, in common with the other leading tobacco merchants increased almost exponentially. His local prestige and involvement with the city’s governing bodies both commercial and civic grew apace.

He became a burgess and guild brother of Glasgow in 1737 by right of his father James,[43] played his part in the activity of the Merchants House, was a partner in two Glasgow banks (see business section) and finally in 1783, the year of his death, was a founder member of the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, created by Royal Charter on the 9th June.[44]

He sold Whitehill House in 1759[45] and purchased Shawfield Mansion the following year from William McDowall for 1700 guineas.[46] In 1767 he bought the Dougalston estate from the Grahame family.[47]

Figure 2. Shawfield Mansion © Glasgow City Libraries https://www.scran.ac.uk/database/record.php?usi=000-000-095-665-C

The Glassford family portrait referred to earlier demonstrates how wealthy John had become with the fine clothing on display and the room’s fine furnishings. Much has recently been written about it particularly around the time (2007) when conservation work on the painting was being undertaken.

The painting contains the surviving children from his first two marriages and his third wife Lady Margaret McKenzie. The conservation work led by conservator Polly Smith established that his second wife Ann Nisbet had been painted out following her death in 1766 suggesting that it was in progress prior to that date or possibly had been completed, with Lady Margaret being added when he remarried in 1768.

Figure 3. John Glassford (1715-1783), and His Family. © CSG GIC Glasgow Museums Collection. (www.artuk.org)

I believe the children in the painting to be Jean at the rear to the right of her father, the middle row left to right being Rebecca, Christian, Anne, Catherine and on Lady Margaret’s lap Henry, and standing at the front, John.

Another figure was also established behind John Glassford’s chair, that of a negro manservant. It had been believed previously that he had been painted out to avoid any family connection to slavery, however it seems that the figure simply faded over time.

Who was he, by what means did he come to Glassford’s household? Perhaps the answer lies in the following extracts from Frederick County, Maryland Land Records[48] and the Maryland Genealogical Society Records.[49]

Robert Peter or Peters was a Scottish tobacco factor working for John Glassford and Company in Maryland. He began in Bladensburgh circa 1746, moving to Georgetown in 1755. (In 1790 he became the first mayor of Georgetown). He was also John Glassford & Company’s attorney in Maryland. On the 27th September 1756 he bought a negro boy named Jim for 4,000 lbs of tobacco and £2 5s. I think it probable that this purchase was in the name of the company. Why else record that it was made by the attorney of John Glassford?

Robert Peter bought other slaves but those records I have seen clearly state that the purchases were on his own or his family’s behalf, and they never involved a single slave purchase.

Was ‘Jim’ purchased for Glassford personally? Is he the manservant in the painting? In truth who knows but intriguing none the less.


It’s probably worth looking, first of all, at how the tobacco industry in Glasgow began and developed.

Before the Union of Parliaments minor trade in tobacco took place between Glasgow merchants and the American colonies during the 17th Century. This included having an embryonic stores system on the Potomac River manned by Scottish agents towards the end of the century.

The English Navigation Acts of 1660 to 1664 in particular treated Scotland as a foreign nation thereby legally excluding them from colonial commerce.

Some circumvention of these Acts occurred aided and abetted by Scottish settlers in the Chesapeake colonies and by speculative purchase of tobacco from traders in Whitehaven and Liverpool for resale to the European markets, particularly in Holland and Sweden.

The Act of Union of 1707 resulted in changes to the Navigation Acts which allowed ‘Freedom and Intercourse of Trade and Navigation’ with England and her colonies.

The pre-union trading in tobacco helped establish commercial knowledge and trade contacts which made Glasgow ready to develop and exploit the activity.

English tobacco trading was mainly commission based which involved taking crops on consignment and selling them on in domestic and European markets on behalf of the planters thereby earning a commission on the sale. Ownership of the tobacco remained with the planter until the sale. Fundamentally the English traders were ‘middle men’ with business risks mainly with the planter.

The Glasgow trade involved direct purchase of tobacco from the planters, but as other ports including English ones gradually moved to this system, this was only one factor which distinguished the Glasgow businesses from those in England and made it eventually very successful and pre-eminent in Britain.

Not everyone welcomed this success. The near monopoly of the English ports had been removed by the Act of Union; therefore, the challenge from the Glasgow merchants was not welcomed by them. When that challenge began to erode the English ports activity in tobacco, the reaction from London and Bristol merchants in particular was to attribute this to illicit activity on the part of the Glasgow merchants.

Specifically, they formed the view that ‘North British’ customs officers were corrupt and lazy thereby impairing the collection of taxes to the benefit of the Glasgow trade, and to the disadvantage of the Treasury. Lack of familiarity with correct English customs procedures was also blamed.

In due course this view prevailed and in 1722-1723 Parliament and the Treasury upheld the complaints resulting in significant changes to customs collections in Scotland.

Key changes were: more stringent regulations for the collection of dues, abolition of the separate Board of Customs for Scotland and replacing it with a rotating subcommittee of the London Board located in Edinburgh, and the sacking of native Scottish customs officers and their replacement by experienced English officers.

Despite these actions the Glasgow trade continued to flourish resulting in further complaint from the main English ports which gave rise to the Tobacco Act of 1751.

This Act put in place a series of controls which were intended to govern the internal movement of tobacco. In essence unmanufactured tobacco could not be moved or traded without a permit. A central accounting system was established, operated by special officers in London and Edinburgh, to ensure that every pound of tobacco was tracked from importer to retailer.

Contrary to expectations perhaps, Glasgow activity continued to grow to such an extent that by 1758 it surpassed London as the first tobacco port of the realm.  In 1762 tobacco accounted for 81% of Scottish re-exports of foreign produce and 52% of all Scottish exports. By 1775 the Scottish share of imports to Britain from the American colonies was 45%.

The ‘business compass’ below shows what I believe became the generic arrangement of the businesses of the major tobacco lords. The core business may have been tobacco but their diversification into other industries and the selling of their other products to the tobacco producers, their use of several co-partneries, the fundamentally tight communities internally and externally within the broader Glasgow merchant class where they set up institutions (banks) to help finance their ventures, all created a very successful business model.

Figure 4. Tobacco Lords Business ‘Compass’ George Manzor

The statistics quoted earlier are no doubt impressive however they do not convey the rapid growth in the Scottish (mainly Glasgow) tobacco industry from 1707 until the American War of Independence. To have a full understanding of the change of activity during these years it’s necessary to look at import levels at key points during this period.

Immediately post 1707 imports averaged 1,450,000 lbs per annum

Post 1710 pre-1720 imports averaged 2,500,000 lbs per annum

1722     6,000,000 lbs.

1741     8,000,000 lbs

1745     13,000,000 lbs

1752      21,000,000 lbs

1753      24,000,000 lbs

1760      32,000,000 lbs

1771      47,000,000 lbs.

Some stagnation occurred after 1722 when the initial custom changes were applied. However, it’s clear that in the long term the changes in law, regulation and customs procedures did not hinder Glasgow’s implacable growth in tobacco trading.

There were a number of advantages Glasgow had over the English ports, one natural, the others as a result of astute business methods and structures. It can be argued however that in due course, in one of their methods of operation, namely advancing credit to the colonial planters lay the seeds of the ultimate demise of the Glasgow tobacco trade.

The shortest route to the American colonies from Britain was north of Ireland. As a consequence, a ship sailing from the Clyde to Virginia could arrive there two to three weeks earlier than one sailing from London. Ships from the Clyde could achieve two journeys per year compared to those from London. Shorter sailing times meant commercial intelligence could pass between Glasgow and the colonies much more quickly. Control of the operation in the colonies by the principals in Glasgow would be tighter ensuring a more rapid response to changing circumstances than their competitors could achieve. Coupled with the organisational structure of the Glasgow companies, namely, partner (Glasgow), managing partner or factor (colonies), and storekeeper (colonies), this was an important feature of Glasgow’s success.

However probably the most significant and influential aspect of the Glasgow tobacco trade was the combination of information pooling between agents and employees (referred to as ‘network externalities’), reduced operating costs, the factoring system, and economies of scale.

Operating costs fundamentally were driven by freight costs. At a time when tobacco could be purchased for one penny to three halfpennies per pound, the cost of freight was one halfpenny per pound.

The size of ship was important, however unit shipping costs varied directly with the length of the voyage. The principal variant in the length of the voyage was the duration of the stay in the colonies, which could be between three and six months as a full ship load for the return journey was procured.

In terms of ship procurement, a considerable number were built in the colonies due to the cheaper cost of labour, sometimes built with Glasgow capital.

Ships crewing, and victualling costs were significantly lower due to the shorter journeys. Dwell time in port was considerably reduced by advance purchasing of tobacco (turn time in port could be as little as fifteen days), which was more expensive, but more than compensated for by the much-reduced freight costs. This also drove up the price of tobacco which obviously benefited the planter but disadvantaged the consignment competition with their higher operating costs.

The factor system with its network of stores and agents scattered throughout Maryland and Virginia was the means by which tobacco could be purchased directly from the planter. The consignment system had been best suited to large scale planters but as planting of tobacco expanded westward into the ‘back’ country this resulted in a large number of smaller individual operations which were not attractive or viable to the commission businesses.

A key aspect of direct purchase was that the business risk shifted from the planter to the merchants. Inevitably such small operations required financial support which was provided by the Glasgow merchants through extended credit, primarily to buy goods shipped from Glasgow, which were necessary to everyday life.

As the merchants owned a number of manufactories where goods and supplies were produced this was another significant income stream where ownership of production would lead to lower operating costs.

Liquidity however of this process was not ideal as continuing extension of credit for a number of reasons, including rivalry between the merchants, merely increased the indebtedness of the planters. A goods pricing structure evolved where cash purchases or purchases made using tobacco as currency were cheaper than if a purchase was made on credit.

Whilst this would appear as a reasonable long-term investment in the trade, particularly as the shipped tobacco was very quickly sold on domestically and into Europe, there was an incipient threat in that a growing and significant proportion of the capital in the business was debt. A further consequence was that eventually accessible credit became the life blood of the trade without which, it would not have existed in the way that it did.

Another significant advantage of the Glasgow tobacco trade was its access to capital in Scotland. There was a lack of competing areas of investment therefore the industry had little difficulty in attracting investment from the landed gentry and others who had capital to spare. Most of these investors had no connection to the industry other than what they had invested.

Additionally, the three major banks (Ship, Arms and Thistle) formed between 1750 and 1761 were co-partnerships dominated by the tobacco lords. This situation would have facilitated financial support of the industry.

There was another major change in the tobacco trade which significantly contributed to Glasgow’s success. The size of the market increased. Originally the most important market for tobacco was centred on Amsterdam. The nature of that trade meant that supplies of tobacco came from a multitude of ports in Britain. Small businesses therefore flourished.

The emerging French and German markets changed that situation. As they grew in significance, particularly the French, major companies prospered driving out the smaller ones. French and German buyers were in place in Glasgow and London making sure they were able to satisfy their own domestic demands for tobacco.

In Glasgow between 1728-1731 there had been 91 companies involved in the tobacco trade. By 1773 that number had reduced to 38, many with common partners and more closely associated by joint interest and kinship. This in turn provided another edge for Glasgow in that London merchants tended to act alone or in smaller partnerships of two or three.

French purchase of tobacco was not carried out by individual merchants or companies but through a state monopoly run by private interests.

As an aside around 1717-1720 that monopoly was run by a Scottish economist called John Law (a convicted murderer) through an organisation called ‘The Mississippi Company’ who had the monopoly on the importing and reselling of tobacco. He created a joint stock company which unfortunately became the first casualty in 1721 of a share price bubble which starts with share prices inflating rapidly followed by a total collapse of the price. The company became known as ‘the Mississippi Bubble’.  Its effect on the French economy was disastrous far outweighing the impact of the ‘South Sea Bubble’ in Britain.

The French purchases from Britain were initially small but as the 18th century progressed they began to buy more and more from Britain; significantly greater domestic demand, reduced British taxation impositions and the quality of the product driving them to do so. By the 1760’s over 50% of the French requirement was being purchased through Glasgow.

The Glasgow tobacco trade was by this time a resounding success with the main players such Glassford, Spiers and Cunninghame becoming fabulously wealthy.

Part 2 will look at Glassford’s business structure, partners, children and how the American War of Independence effected the tobacco industry generally.


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. Edinburgh. 27 April 1710. GLASSFORD, James and SMELIE, Eupham. 685/01 0460 0089. http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[2] Watson, Charles B. Boog, ed. (1930) Roll of Burgesses and Guild Brethren 1701-1760. Edinburgh: Scottish Record Society. p. 79. https://archive.org/

[3] Births (OPR) Scotland, Abbey, Renfrewshire. 1712-1725. GLASSFORD. 559/ 20 29; 559/ 20 39; 559/ 20 65; 559/ 20/81; 559/ 20 114. http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[4] Marriages (OPR) Scotland. Abbey, Renfrewshire. 14 November 1690. GLASSFORD, James and GEMMILL, Agnes. 559/ 10 336


[5] Births (OPR) Scotland. Abbey, Renfrewshire. 1695-1702. Glassford. 559/ 10 164; 559/ 10 196; 559/ 10 204; 559/ 10 215.


[6] Anderson, James R., ed. (1925) The Burgesses and Guild Brethren of Glasgow 1573-1750. William Glassford 1723. Edinburgh: Scottish Record Society. p 367.  https://archive.org/

[7] Watson, Charles B. Boog, ed. (1930) Roll of Edinburgh Burgesses and Guild Brethren 1701-1760. James Glassford 1733. Edinburgh: Scottish Record Society. p. 79. https://archive.org/

[8] Anderson, James R., ed. (1925) The Burgesses and Guild Brethren of Glasgow 1573-1750. James Glassford 1734. Edinburgh: Scottish Record Society. p 414.  https://archive.org/

[9] Testamentary Records. Scotland. 6 November 1733. Testament, Testamentar and Inventory. GLASSFORD, James. Glasgow Commissary Court. CC9/7/54. http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[10] Deaths (OPR) Scotland. Edinburgh. 6 November 1730. GLASSFORD, James. 685/1 890 301. http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[11] Burials. (OPR) Scotland. Edinburgh. 9 November 1730 GLASSFORD, James. 685/1 900 103. http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[12] Births (OPR) Scotland. Abbey, Renfrewshire. 11 December 1715. GLASSFORD, John. 559/ 20 52. http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[13] Addison, W. Innes. (1913) The Matriculation Albums of the University of Glasgow 1728 to 1858. Glasgow: James Maclehose & Sons. p. 1. https://archive.org/stream/matriculationalb00univuoft#page/n9

[14] Devine, T. M. (1990) The Tobacco Lords. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 181.

[15] Cleland, James (1832) Enumeration of the Inhabitants of the City of Glasgow ….1831. Glasgow: John Smith & Son. p. 156.https://archive.org/stream/enumerationofinh00clel#page/156

[16] Senex et al. (1884) Glasgow Past and Present. Vol.2. Glasgow: David Robertson and Co. p. 499

[17] Ewing, Archibald Orr, ed. (1866) View of the Merchants House of Glasgow etc. Glasgow: Bell & Bain. p. 530

[18] Marriages (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 24 April 1743. GLASSFORD, John and COATS, Anne. 644/01 0250 0082. http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[19] Stewart, George (1881) Curiosities of Glasgow Citizenship. Glasgow: James Maclehose. p. 138. https://archive.org/stream/curiositiesofgla00stewuoft#page/138/search/coats

[20] Ewing, op.cit. p. 166

[21] Deaths (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 30 December 1729. COATS, Jean (Campbell). 644/01 0460 0080. http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[22] Deaths. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 1 November 1744. GLASSFORD, Anna. 644/01 0470 0068. http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[23] Births.

[24] Deaths. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 31 January 1751. GLASSFORD, James. 644/01 0470 0151. http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[25] Deaths. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 9 October 1750. GLASSFORD, Archibald. 644/01 0470 0147. http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[26] Deaths. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 30 January 1752. GLASSFORD, Euphan. 644/01 0470 0168. http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

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


[28] Deaths (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 18 December 1751. COATS, Anne. 644/1 470 166. http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[29] Marriages (OPR) Scotland. Edinburgh. 5 November 1752. GLASSFORD, John and NISBET, Anne. 685/1 480 196 http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[30] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 7 March 1754. GLASSFORD, Ann. 644/01 012A 0090. http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[31] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 23 September 1755. GLASSFORD, Catharine. 644/01 012A 0158. http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[32] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 29 June 1757. GLASSFORD, Christian. 644/01 0130 0034. http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[33] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 4 January 1759. GLASSFORD, Rebecca. 644/01 0130 0161. http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[34] Deaths. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 3 January 1777. GLASSFORD, John. 644/01 0590 0005. http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[35] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 15 November 1764. GLASSFORD, Henry. 644/01 0140 0223. http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[36] Deaths. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 11 April 1766. GLASSFORD, Anne. 644/01 0480 0174. http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[37] Marriages. (OPR) Scotland. 18 August 1768. GORDON, James and GLASSFORD, Jean. 644/01 0260 0056.        http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[38] Marriages. (OPR) Scotland. St Cuthbert’s, Edinburgh. 24 November 1768. GLASSFORD, John and MACKENZIE, Margaret. 685/02 0160 0212. http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[39] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 14 January 1770. GLASSFORD, Isabella. 644/01 0150 0173.  http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[40] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 19 February 1771. GLASSFORD. James. 644/01 0150 0248. http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[41] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 21 February 1773. GLASSFORD, Euphemia. 644/01 0160 0007.   http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[42] Deaths. Scotland. Glasgow. 29 March 1773. McKENZIE, (Glassford) Lady Margaret. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/182330714/margaret-glassford#source

[43] Anderson, James R., ed. (1925) The Burgesses and Guild Brethren of Glasgow 1573-1750. John Glassford 1737. Edinburgh: Scottish Record Society. p 425.  https://archive.org/

[44] Senex et al. (1884) Glasgow Past and Present. Vol.2. Glasgow: David Robertson and Co. p. 50

[45] Senex et al. (1884) Glasgow Past and Present. Vol.2. Glasgow: David Robertson and Co. p. 499.

[46] Goodfellow, G. L. M. “Colin Campbell’s Shawfield Mansion in Glasgow.” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, vol. 23, no. 3, 1964, pp. 123–128. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/988232.

[47] Devine, op. cit. p. 181.

[48] Maryland State Archives. Maryland Indexes, (Chancery Papers, Index), 1788-1790, MSA S 1432. 1790/12/013990: Robert Peter vs. William Deakins, Jr., Bernard O’Neal, Edward Burgess, Richard Thompson, John Peters, and Thomas Beall. MO. Contract to serve as securities. Accession No: 17,898-3990. MSA S512-4108   1/36https://msa.maryland.gov/msa/stagser/s1400/s1432/html/s1432b.html

[49] Maryland Genealogical Society. Bulletin Vol. 36, No.2, Spring 1995. https://mdgensoc.org/