ABERCROMBY, James (1707-75), of Brucefield, Clackmannan.
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Family and Education
b. 1707, 3rd s. of Alexander Abercromby, M.P., of Tullibody by Mary, da. of Alexander Duff of Braco; uncle of Burnet and Ralph Abercromby. educ. Westminster 1720; Leyden 1724 or 1725; L. Inn 1726, called 1738. unm.
Attorney-gen. S. Carolina 1730-45; agent N. Carolina 1748-57; agent N. Carolina assembly 1758-60; agent Virginia 1754-61; agent Virginia gov. and council 1761-74; dep. auditor gen. of plantations 1757-65.
Purchased Brucefield estate 1758 or 1759.
The greater part of Abercromby’s active life was spent in the Carolinas and Virginia, or on their business in London.1 During his residence in South Carolina as attorney-general he acquired a plantation and other property in the colony, and in 1739 became a member of the assembly. Diligent in the conduct of affairs, he acquired a reputation for being ‘very tenacious of his fees and perquisites’;2 and by 1761 his agency business was running down. The only agency he retained, that for the governor and council of Virginia, was more concerned with the raising of royal revenues than with the business of the colony.
Returned apparently unopposed for Clackmannan in 1761, he attached himself to Newcastle, to whom he sent on 4 Apr. 1762 a memorandum on sugar exports from Martinique and Guadeloupe. In a covering letter he wrote:3
His Grace ... will be pleased to look upon this as an instance of Mr. Abercromby’s inclination to serve his Grace in public or in private capacity on all occasions, in return for his Grace’s favour about to be granted to Mr. Abercromby in the way of office (as others before him have enjoyed) upon the interposition of his friend Lord Kinnoull.
It is not known to what office this refers.
Abercromby, however, did not follow Newcastle into opposition, but in December 1762 was counted by Fox among those favourable to the peace preliminaries, and appears in no minority list during the Grenville Administration. In 1763 he was examined before the Board of Trade on the question of Virginia’s paper currency and sterling debts,4 but despite his expert knowledge, did not intervene in the debates of March 1764 on Grenville’s budget and the American tax bill. Charles Stuart, a Scots Virginia merchant, reported on the third reading of the American bill:5 ‘The colonies mustered their forces. New England was pretty strong; Virginia made no figure at all.’
On 6 Jan. 1765 Abercromby wrote to Grenville:6
After many years service in plantation business, but of late years more particularly concerned in matters of his Majesty’s personal revenue, I have ... made some discoveries and observations whereby the King’s particular revenues may be much improved, through the interposition of the Treasury alone; but while duty to the King leads me to lay such before you, on the other hand, I am restrained from doing anything whereby I may undo myself in the service of those upon whom at present is my sole depen[dence]. In this situation prudence directs me to remain silent, and thereupon I make the following proposal ...
Finding that my conduct in Parliament with regard to plantation matters ... may not correspond in many respects with the sentiments of my constituents in America, and moreover that public business and service in Parliament become too much for my health, but above all considering that my situation must prove extremely precarious, serving in office under the nomination and pleasure of the government of Virginia, whose administration in point of the King’s revenues I must call in question ... I am very much inclined to retire from the service and to resign my employment of solicitor or agent for the King’s affairs in Virginia ... The nomination ... is from the lt.-governor and council in Virginia, the salary £400 sterling per annum (besides occasional perquisites), 200 whereof paid out of the 2s. hogshead tobacco, the additional 200 out of the quitrents. But as my circumstances do not admit of a resignation without obtaining an adequate income, in consideration therefore of my services and of the improvement of the King’s personal revenue ... I humbly propose that his Majesty do grant to me an addition of £300 to the £200 which I now have on the quitrents, so as to make up to me my present income by way of an annuity for life ... which addition may be considered as a temporary reward to a person by whose means an additional and permanent revenue is acquired by the King and a revenue of such a nature as may be extended to all others of the King’s colonies.
In return for the pension, Abercromby proposed to prepare a complete review of American royal revenues. If the offer were accepted, the King would receive the benefit ‘of the labour of thirty years’ service ... and your Administration the merit of carrying into execution what may be found beneficial therein ...’ Abercrombie was apparently interviewed either by Grenville or Jenkinson, but received no pension, and of his revenue scheme nothing further is recorded. He remained agent for Virginia council until at least September 1774.7
Grenville so far interested himself in Abercromby’s career as to make in June 1765 a tentative and obscure approach to Sir Lawrence Dundas and Lord Gower, with the apparent object of obtaining for Abercromby a seat in the next Parliament.8
Although listed ‘pro’ by Rockingham in July 1765, Abercromby followed Grenville into opposition, spoke 18 Dec. 1765 in support of Rigby’s and Grenville’s motion for American papers,9 and voted against the repeal of the Stamp Act, 7 Feb. 1766. Under the Chatham Administration he was listed by Rockingham as attached to Bute, by Townshend as ‘doubtful’, and by Newcastle as ‘Administration’, but he voted against the Government on the land tax, 27 Feb. 1767. He does not appear to have stood in 1768.
He died before November 1775.10
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest
- 1. For his work as colonial agent, see E. Lonn, Col. Agents of Southern Cols., Bd. Trade Jnls., Col. Recs. of N.C., and Recs. of Robert Dinwiddie (Va. Hist. Coll.).
- 2. Robert to Andrew Pringle, 7 May and 9 June 1744, Pringle’s letter bk. in possession of S.C. Hist. Soc.
- 3. Add. 32936, f. 329.
- 4. Bd. Trade Jnl. 1759-63 , pp. 330-1 and 2 Feb. 1763.
- 5. Stuart’s letter bk. 23 Mar. 1764, Liverpool RO.
- 6. Add. 38204, f. 9.
- 7. Lonn, 66.
- 8. Sandwich to Grenville, 15 June 1765, Grenville mss (JM); Gr