GORDON, Sir William, 1st Bt. (d.1742), of Invergordon, Cromarty, and Dalpholly, Sutherland.
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Family and Education
1st s. of Sir Adam Gordon, M.P. [S], of Dalpholly; fa. of Sir John Gordon, fa.-in-law of Robert Dundas, bro. of Alexander Gordon. m. (1) a da. of Henderson of Fordell, Fife; (2) 19 Mar. 1704, Isabel, da. and h. of Sir John Hamilton, M.P. [S], of Halcraig, Lanark, Lord Halcraig, S.C.J., 4s. 5da. suc. fa. 1700; cr. Bt. 3 Feb. 1704.
Commr. for stating army debts 1715-20; sheriff, Ross 1722-7.
The son of a moneylender, Gordon purchased Inverbreakie, which he renamed Invergordon.1 A member of the Squadrone, he represented Sutherland on the interest of the 16th Earl of Sutherland, to whom he was related. Elected by the House of Commons in 1715 to be one of the commissioners appointed to state the debts due to the army, at a salary of £500 a year, he voted with the Government in every recorded division. During the rebellion that year he and his brother Alexander were active on behalf of the Government under Sutherland, who was commander-in-chief in the north. In February 1716 he asked Robethon, George I’s private secretary, that greater recognition should be given to Sutherland for his services in securing the Hanoverian succession.2 In April 1716 John Forbes wrote to his brother Duncan:
Sir William Gordon is a very busy man, dunning the ministry for his losses sustained by the rebels, which he says amount to no less than £14,000 sterling. I desire you to write north ... and let us have an account as near as possible of the damage he and his people have really sustained.3
In June he accused Lord Lovat of belittling Sutherland’s share in the re-capture of Inverness, challenging him to a duel, which was interrupted by the guards. Suggestions that the interruption had been prompted by Gordon himself led to a duel in which his brother Alexander killed his opponent. In the House, he surprised English members by voting in favour of a petition that the wives and widows of English Jacobites should be granted jointures out of their husbands’ forfeited estates, but opposing a similar petition on behalf of his compatriots.4
A friend of John Law’s, Gordon speculated in the French Mississipi scheme, boasting in October 1719 ‘that having put in £500 in March last, he is now a-selling out for £9,000’.5 One of the ‘chief favourites’ of the Duke of Roxburghe, the Squadrone secretary of state for Scotland, he was used by Sunderland for paying Scotch Members.6 He was one of the Members who were credited by the South Sea Company with stock — in his case £4,000 at 276 on 23 Mar. and a further £3,000 at 300 on 25 Mar. — without paying for it, with the right to ‘sell’ it back to the Company whenever they chose, taking as ‘profit’ any increase in the market price.7 Again returned for Sutherland in 1722, he was active on behalf of the Squadrone, who were so heavily defeated by the Duke of Argyll that George Baillie wrote:
those of the Scots in the House of Commons that are not Argyll’s men act as individuals and but a few by Roxburghe’s interest (scarce Sir William Gordon, if anybody else would take him up).
In 1727, when Sutherland returned his grandson for the county, Gordon was put up for Cromartyshire by his son-in-law, the 3rd Earl of Cromartie, but withdrew when Cromartie was offered a pension by the Government for returning Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.8 At the beginning of 1734 financial difficulties obliged him to sell an estate at Deptford.9 At the general election he stood unsuccessfully for Sutherland against the candidate of the new Earl, who had succeeded Gordon’s patron in 1733. In 1741 he was returned for Cromartyshire by the 3rd Earl of Cromartie, voting against the Government on the election of the chairman of the elections committee, 16 Dec. 1741, and on the Westminster election petition, 22 Dec., though the day before Sir Charles Wager had given his son a ship. On a surprise opposition motion to set up a secret committee to inquire into the conduct of the war, 21 Jan. 1742, he was brought in ‘from his bed, with a blister on his head, and flannel hanging out from under his wig’. The news of his son’s death in a shipwreck off the Suffolk coast had just arrived but
they concealed it from the father that he might not absent himself. However, as we have good-natured men too on our side, one of his own countrymen went and told him of it in the House. The old man, who looked like Lazarus at his resuscitation, behaved with great resolution and said he knew why he was told of it, but when he thought his country in danger he would not go away.
He rose again from his bed to vote against the Government on the critical Chippenham election petition, 28 Jan. 1742, which Walpole lost by one vote.10 He died 9 June 1742.