BACON, Anthony (c.1717-86), of Woodford, Essex, and Copthall Court, Throgmorton St., London.
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Family and Education
Manxman; yr. bro. of Rev. Thomas Bacon of Maryland, compiler of Bacon’s Laws of Maryland. m. bef. 1757, Elizabeth, 1s. d.v.p.
As a young man Bacon kept a store on Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. He left America about 1740, and for the next few years traded between England and the southern colonies as master of his own ship. About 1748 he settled as a merchant in London, importing tobacco from America, dealing in coal from Cumberland where he acquired mines, in Senegal gum, in slaves, etc. From 1758 onwards he held Government contracts; during the seven years’ war for victualling and paying troops in West Africa, and from 1764 onwards in the West Indies; for the supply of slaves; for coal and shipping.
The most important chapter of his business career was concerned with South Wales. In 1765 he took out a 99-year lease of some 4,000 acres of mineral bearing land around Merthyr Tydvil ('Bacon’s Mineral Kingdom'), and set up furnaces and forges at Cyfarthfa and Hirwain. As a gun-founder he held Ordnance contracts from 1773 onwards, being among the first to use Wilkinson’s invention of boring cannon from the solid. From 1775 he was one of the chief contractors for provisioning British troops in America. In 1782 he leased his works and retired from business.
In 1763 Bacon began to cultivate an interest at New Shoreham: in November he was defeated at Honiton after an expensive and riotous election; and in January 1764 returned for Aylesbury. Alexander Fall, a London merchant, wrote to Charles Jenkinson, 29 Jan.: ‘They say ... Bacon was obliged to get Member cost what it would, other ways he could not pass his accounts as contractor. He paid five guineas a man at Aylesbury, and £8000 it cost him opposing Yonge at Honiton.’ Having made himself unpopular at New Shoreham, he henceforth stuck to Aylesbury, and, building up an interest of his own in a venal and expensive constituency, held his seat in contested elections in 1774 and 1780.
Bacon’s first recorded speech in the House, 8 Mar. 1764, was for a bill to make Members liable to bankruptcy proceedings.1 On 22 Mar. he spoke against Grenville’s proposals for taxing American imports, and on 4 Apr. introduced a bill to prohibit paper currency in the colonies from becoming legal tender. He subsequently claimed to have opposed Grenville’s Stamp Act. He ‘was favoured with a long, though unsuccessful, conference with the minister’, he wrote in 1775, ‘... in the course of which all that has since happened in consequence of that ill-concerted measure was very nearly predicted’. His objections were against the mode of taxing the colonists, not against the right; still, though the Rockingham Administration opposed him at New Shoreham, he spoke for the third reading of the repeal bill, 4 Mar. 1766. Similarly he claimed to have been against the Townshend duties—‘a more absurd or insufficient tax was never conceived, both with respect to the Americans or ourselves’—but nothing has been discovered of any opposition he made in the House of Commons.
Bacon consistently supported the Grafton and North Administrations—as a Government contractor for most of the period it was expected of him. About 1773, when his contracts were much reduced, he received a secret service pension of £600 per annum—which seems a small sum considering his wealth and standing, and which was presumably relinquished when he again became a contractor. Few speeches by him are recorded—less than half a dozen for the period of the American war. On that war, his opinions are best seen in a pamphlet he published in 1775.2 Taking his stand on his long association with America, he repeated every current cliché: the mother country should be lenient and tender and the children dutiful and obedient, but if ungrateful and obstreperous, should be treated ‘with a little wholesome severity’; and he appealed for support of Lord North ‘in every measure which may tend to bring back the Americans to their duty’.
In August 1782 John Robinson wrote in a memorandum for Shelburne: ‘Mr Bacon had connexions with Government but they are all now put an end to, yet may be hopeful with attention.’ But Bacon voted against Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783, and supported the Coalition: his last speech in the House was a defence of their unpopular receipts tax;3 he also voted for Fox’s East India bill, 27 Nov. 1783, and in Stockdale’s list of 19 Mar. 1784 is classed as an opponent of Pitt. He did not stand at the general election of 1784.
Bacon died 21 Jan. 1786. In contradistinction to most nouveaux riches of the period he does not seem to have risen socially, and little is known about his private life. His only legitimate child died in 1770, aged 12; but he left an illegitimate family by Mary Bushby of four sons and one daughter, to whom he bequeathed his property. When he drew up his will in 1785 his eldest son was at school at Gloucester ‘by the name of William Addison’; another name used for him was Frankland, and for the other children Smith. In 1792 the eldest assumed the name of Bacon, and so apparently did the other children. Anthony Bacon’s descendants in the male line died out in the second generation, and, though landowners, did not appear in Burke’s Landed Gentry. He had done his best to hide his progeny, and in turn seems not to have been avowed by his descendants.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Sir Lewis Namier
This biography is based on Namier, ‘Anthony Bacon, M.P., an 18th century merchant’, Jnl. Econ. Business Hist. 1929.