HUSKE, John (1724-73).
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Family and Education
b. 3 July 1724, at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, s. of Ellis Huske by Mary, da. of Ichabod Plaisted, judge of probate, N.H. educ. at Boston. unm.
Chief clerk and deputy to the treasurer of the chamber Dec. 1756-Mar. 1761.
Huske’s father, a brother of Lt.-Gen. John Huske, settled at Portsmouth, N.H., and through his brother-in-law Samuel Plaisted, who was married to a daughter of Benning Wentworth, governor of New Hampshire 1741-67, became connected with the ‘Wentworth political dynasty’. A member of the New Hampshire provincial council 1733-55, justice of the superior court 1739-49, and chief justice 1749-54, he was also postmaster of Boston 1734-54, and deputy postmaster general for the colonies, in which office he preceded Benjamin Franklin. He died at Boston 24 Apr. 1755, bankrupt.
John Huske started as a merchant in Boston,1 and came over to England in 1748. At the general election of 1754 he appears at Great Bedwyn as agent for Roger Townshend (younger brother of George and Charles Townshend) against the candidates of the patrons of the borough Lord Bruce and Lord Verney—‘they join in interest’, read Newcastle’s election notes, ‘and all the neighbouring gentlemen concur, and yet an opposition is apprehended’. 20 Mar.: ‘Mr. Huske, General Huske’s relation, makes great opposition.’ ‘General Huske to be spoken to by Lord Cardigan.’ 21 Mar.: ‘Mr. Huske is gone down making great expense.’ On 25 Mar., three candidates were named, Robert Brudenell, Roger Townshend, and William Sloper: ‘It is supposed, the two last are supported by an unknown hand.’2 Finally the original candidates, Brudenell and Metcalfe, quitted, but so did Roger Townshend; and nothing more appears about this first electoral adventure of Huske’s.
When Charles Townshend was appointed treasurer of the chamber in December 1756, he made Huske his deputy: theirs became a standing connexion.
Huske’s next recorded exploit was in a by-election at Hull, of which the most coherent account appears in a letter of 4 July 1757 from Lord Downe to the Duke of Devonshire:3
I came last night from Hull, where I was detained longer than I expected by an alarm that Sir George Metham received by one Huske coming down as agent to Roger Townshend with a letter of recommendation from Charles Townshend of him to the mayor, which letter met with nothing but the contempt it deserved and thus Mr. Huske finding that he could make no impression even upon the mob which I had secured, and which he expected great matters from, thought it yesterday most prudent to retire which saved us the trouble of throwing him into the Humber which would most undoubtedly have been his fate had he attempted anything. The election was to have been this morning.
In the ‘Schedule of papers sent from Downing Street to Sudbrook’4 after Charles Townshend’s death, a now missing bundle is mentioned of ‘Letters from Lady Townshend to Mr. Huske, written in the summer 1757’; and a few references to the Hull adventure occur in Charles Townshend’s letters to his mother.5 On 13 July he sent Lady Townshend ‘a letter to the mayor of Hull, and also letters upon the same subject to Lord Downe, Lord Carlisle, and such persons of the county as I have any pretence to write to’; for her to post if she approved of them—obviously some kind of post mortem on the affair. On 2 Aug.:
Your Ladyship has probably heard from Mr. Huske an exact account of his wild project at Hull, to which I was no party, and from which I ordered him to desist as soon as I knew he was engaged in it ... I am distressed ... that every step I shall take to punish the author will oblige me to expose, if not ruin, Mr. Huske, whose behaviour to me would indeed well justify what my temper is nevertheless unwilling to bring upon him.
And on 6 Sept.:
I hope you will keep Lord Downe’s letter and apply it as your Ladyship pleases, for I am sure it is your goodness to me makes you desire to have it. The mayor of Hull had not as yet sent me a copy of Mr. Huske’s letter to him, but enclosed you receive Lord Carlisle’s answer.
The matter long continued to rankle—‘after the vexatious affair of Hull’, wrote Lady Townshend to Charles in June 1760, ‘I am always apprehensive of Mr. Hurst’s [Huske’s] mistakes’.6
General Huske died 3 Jan. 1761, leaving nearly £42,000 to friends, servants, and relatives, but nothing to his nephew.7 There were constant ups and downs in the financial position of Huske, a tough, unscrupulous adventurer.
I should hope you have heard Huske’s loss exaggerated, at least I am told he has not yet suffered much. He is incurable; he was easy; he has been in infinite distress, and yet neither the knowledge of misery or the enjoyment of affluence have had the power to prevent him returning to play for the whole of his fortune. At least I am told this is true.
Nothing is known of Huske’s having stood at the general election of 1761, which can be accounted for by financial distress only; and in April 1763 Bamber Gascoyne refers to Townshend having relieved Huske ‘from his distresses when deservedly disinherited by his father’ (in fact Huske’s father did not disinherit him9). When, however, in December 1762 Welbore Ellis, Townshend’s successor at the War Office, had to seek re-election, ‘Mr. Huske’, wrote Fox to Bute on the 21st, ‘is gone to Aylesbury to oppose Ellis, with a great sum of money’.10 But apparently Huske did not stand the poll.
When c.17 Apr. 1763 Gascoyne was appointed to office, at the ensuing Maldon by-election Huske intervened with a mixture of mob-raising ability and ruthlessness. Gascoyne immediately turned to George Grenville who replied by assuring him of Government support.11 Next he wrote to Charles Jenkinson, secretary to the Treasury, 21 Apr.:12
I have herewith sent you a list of the freemen of Maldon who are in office under the Government, to desire an immediate conveyance to them that they are to assist me; for I am sorry to tell you, that they are to a man almost against me. The opposition to me is carried on with a great violence and open bribery. Ribbons with ‘Liberty, property and no excise’ are the ornament of my opponents’ booths and carriages, and some other devices of this sort which I do not choose to mention. Guineas and scraps of North Britons are scattered all over the town and I can assure you that the opposition is founded by that ingenious gentleman Mr. Wilkes and his crew and is more immediately at Government than me.
Besides, Gascoyne appealed to Townshend who was amazed at Huske’s rashness and ‘ignorant of his intentions’; and gave Gascoyne a letter to send to Huske—‘you will see how strongly it is worded’, wrote Gascoyne to John Strutt; also one to John Bullock. ‘If these do not do I know not what will.’
Meantime John Bindley, commissioner of the Excise, explained to Jenkinson how the canvassing of the excisemen, an affair ‘of the most delicate nature’, had to be done, and William Hunter of the custom house, on 26 Apr., how his own had been ‘strictly upright and consistent with the freedom of elections’.13 For Huske had taken action. He wrote to Grenville complaining of Gascoyne having declared to the officers of the revenue who were freemen at Maldon that Grenville had written him a letter which ‘commands them to vote for him upon a penalty of losing their places immediately’. Grenville denied having authorized Gascoyne to make such a declaration, and, while enclosing Huske’s letter, remarked to Gascoyne that he looked upon these ‘extraordinary and unjustifiable assertions’ as ‘mere election artifice’.14 Gascoyne, in reply, assured Grenville of the ‘falsity’ of the charge:15
I was yesterday to my great surprise sent for by Huske to the custom house of this place and when I came there among a multitude of people I was charged by Mr. Huske with having used the unwarrantable means alluded in his. I immediately denied the assertion and called on him to produce his authority which he refused. Lord Tylney, Sir Robert Long and Mr. Houblon were present. The wrath of this gentleman and his friends was very great when they thought they should lose the Government interest, and therefore wrote that letter by way of getting that kind of answer which might induce the placemen to vote for them, which would much injure my election.
Anyhow, Huske’s ‘election craft’ did the trick. Gascoyne, who in 1761, without Government support, had topped the poll with 400 votes, now obtained only 254 against Huske’s 438. Still by June 1763, Edward Richardson,16 a City agent of Jenkinson’s, named Huske as one of his ‘new acquisitions’ to Government, his mind having been freed from wrong ‘surmises’—‘all Gasconade’. And in none of the divisions over Wilkes and general warrants is Huske found voting against the Government, not even on 18 Feb. 1764, though Charles Townshend did so.
In the House Huske was during his first session a fairly frequent speaker, almost exclusively on American revenue and trade—‘a wild, absurd man, very conversant with America’, Walpole called him.17 On the Address, 16 Nov. 1763, notes Harris, Huske ‘was short, but spoke well upon American revenue’; 31 Jan. 1764, ‘proposed an entire new bill of his own—a capitation tax, I think—to be extended through Scotland, Ireland and America’; on 9 Mar., ‘gave us ample detail of America, and of our funds there, that were to raise £500,000’ (and ‘fell on the West Indians’, which made Beckford fall on Huske ‘as a North American’); on the 22nd spoke for reducing the 3d. tax on molasses imported to America; on the 23rd spoke about the King’s quit rents in America, and ‘opposed and prated’ over the drawback on linens and calicoes exported to America; on the 26th, still on the American bill, ‘was seen, not heard, to talk for near an hour’. Thus much from James Harris’s parliamentary reports; to which an important addition is made by Charles Garth, not yet a Member but who as agent for South Carolina carefully followed debates on American affairs. On 17 Apr. 1764 he wrote to the committee of the Commons House of South Carolina about the 15th resolution of the American bill for levying stamp duties, an ‘alarming proposition to all concerned in or for the plantations’:
The chancellor of the Exchequer at first proposed it as a measure to take place this sessions, but Mr. Alderman Beckford and Mr. Huske signifying their wish to have the colonies apprized of the intention of Parliament, Mr. Grenville readily acquiesced, declaring it was far from his inclination to press any measure upon any part of the dominions without giving them time to be heard, should they have objections thereto.18
This certainly runs counter to assertions widely believed that Huske was a supporter, or even originator, of the Stamp Act. As such he was burnt in effigy at Boston, and reviled in a poem, Oppression, printed in London, and twice reprinted in 1765 at Boston and New York.19
There is no record of Huske having spoken in the House during January-March 1765; not even when the Stamp Act was before the House in February—he may have been abroad: ‘I congratulate you upon the arrival of Mr. Huske into this kingdom who made his appearance at the House on Monday last [25 Feb.]’, wrote Gascoyne to Strutt on the 28th.20 Was he pre-occupied with a shady law-case in which he was then involved? In Michaelmas term 1764 an information against him was moved for having been concerned with others in a fraud in October 1762: he was indicted in 1765, and tried on 12 June before Lord Mansfield. It is difficult to obtain a clear picture of the case from the materials in the Public Record Office,21 while Gascoyne’s running commentary on it in letters to Strutt is too virulently hostile to be of full value. According to him Huske tried to circumvent the prosecution, and even to avail himself of parliamentary privilege, but gave in, ‘Mr. Sandys and Lord Warkworth having spoke to him that they should move the House to enforce him, and the Speaker also assured him that he had no privilege in such a case.’22 In the end the accused were acquitted, the plaintiff’s behaviour having also been shady.
In April 1765 Huske was again prominent in debates on America: ‘flamed’ against an American mutiny bill; called for extracts from Gage’s letter about quartering soldiers; and ‘battled clause by clause’ against the bill, ‘though totally disarmed of its offensive clause, the quartering soldiers’.23 Although Huske was on friendly terms with the Grenville Administration, and at times seems to have aspired to employment,24 he switched over quickly to the Rockinghams—Charles Lloyd, Grenville’s secretary, wrote to Jenkinson on 24 Aug. 1765: ‘Huske is talked of to succeed Mellish as secretary to the Treasury.’25 And when on the re-assembly of Parliament, Grenville, on 17 Dec. 1765, moved an amendment to the Address declaring the American provinces in rebellion, Huske spoke against it.26 He spoke again on 14 Jan. 1766 ‘on the impracticability of the Stamp Act’; 17 Jan., for rescinding the order to print the American papers; on 28 Jan., for receiving the petition from the Stamp Act Congress (Pitt and his followers spoke for it but the Rockinghams mainly against it); on 3 Feb.—against Grenville.27 On 7 Feb. once more against Grenville on his motion for ‘enforcing’ laws in America.28 Lastly, on 24 Feb., he spoke for the repeal of the Stamp Act.29 In short, his record during these months was irreproachable from the American point of view, and it seems certain that there was no tergiversation on his part with regard to the Stamp Act: had there been any, Harris, a thoroughgoing Grenvillian, would not have failed to point it out in his notes. In the budget debate on 18 Apr. 1766 Huske spoke again on the Government side: ‘wild and saucy’, writes Harris.
On the advent of the Chatham Administration with Townshend at the Exchequer Huske received no office—the relations between the two seem to have been less close than before: in November 1766 Rockingham listed Huske as ‘doubtful’, and not as a sure follower of Administration, as which he was, however, listed by Townshend in January and by Newcastle in March 1767. Among the Townshend papers at Dalkeith House there is only one important letter from Huske, dated 9 Apr. 1767, which shows that he was consulted about the American duties, as he had been by the Rockinghams, but that some essential information concerning Townshend’s intentions he had only at secondhand. He starts by stating what duties he had proposed to lay on wine, oil, and fruit imported into America.
These duties were judged too high by Lord Rockingham; and that Administration had agreed to admit those articles into America direct from the place of their growth, at a much inferior duty, but I cannot recollect what rates they fixed. You may have them from Mr. Dowdeswell, or from Mr. Rose Fuller who took a copy of them at a meeting I was at on the occasion at Mr. Dowdeswell’s. Mr. Cooper can give them to you. They are necessary for you to see as they were communicated to the American agents and by them sent to America, or at least by some of them; but they were never proposed in the committee of supply, though Mr. Dowdeswell carried them to the House for that purpose, which was owing to the difficulties which arose about the free-ports.
Permit me to remark to you, that it is certain that by a regulation of the trade of America for the reciprocal interest of both mother and children, you may have a sufficient revenue to pay all Great Britain’s expense for her colonies and in a manner perfectly agreeable to both under your conduct; but be assured no regulation or measure that is to raise money can be agreeable or practicable in the continent colonies till you give them a currency. Till then you are demanding brick without straw. A bill for this purpose was drawn up by Mr. Franklin and myself last year; and I moved to bring it in with the seeming approbation of the ministers; but Mr. Dyson and Lord Clare opposing it, though they knew not one tittle of the plan, or of the nature of a good or bad paper currency, nor never will know any more of it than I do of the Mogul’s cabinet, it was carried to postpone it to this session when to this moment nothing is brought into the House about it.
I have been told to-day by a gentleman, who said he had it from you, that you intended to impose a duty upon salt imported into America! ... permit me, Sir, to assure you that a more fatal imposition to both Great Britain and her colonies could not be devised ... I shall conclude with saying your account will be finished as soon as I can stand and move without assistance.
It is not clear what account he refers to, but the most likely would be of the treasurer of the chamber, the only office dealing with finance in which he was engaged with Townshend.
No detailed reports having been found for the last two years of the 1761-8 Parliament, it is not possible to follow Huske’s part in debates during the Chatham Administration. He was absent through illness from the division on the land tax, 27 Feb. 1767, but voted with the Government on the nullum tempus bill, 17 Feb. 1768.
In 1768 Gascoyne and his friend John Strutt did their best to raise an opposition at Maldon against Huske who stood on a joint interest with John Bullock; and naturally a good many voters were ‘desirous for an opposition ... chiefly for what they can get’. But Huske secured re-election. In the new House he is not known to have spoken or voted on Wilkes and the Middlesex election. His most important interventions were again on American questions. When in September 1768 the Pennsylvania assembly sent through its agents, Benjamin Franklin and Richard Jackson, petitions to the Crown, Lords, and Commons against being taxed by the British Parliament, Jackson thought that ‘what he had to say in support of it, would have more weight if it were offered by another’;30 which was done, on 7 Dec., by Huske. When the petition met with considerable opposition, Huske remarked: ‘The agent who gave me the petition has received positive orders to present it to this House ... what will be the consequence of giving no relief to any petition from America? The inhabitants of Pennsylvania would not come into the desire of New York of stopping the use of manufactures, they did this a second time.’31Finally he withdrew the petition saying that if it was rejected ‘it would probably be the last ever offered them from any colony on any occasion’. He continued co-operating with the colonial agents—thus on 21 Jan. 1769, W. S. Johnson, agent for Connecticut, mentions having met him together with Jackson and Barlow Trecothick and several agents ‘on American affairs’.32
Huske’s last recorded speech in the Commons was on 8 Mar. 1769 when he divided the House over Burke’s motion on the St. George’s Fields riots. England was getting too hot for him: on 11 Dec. 1768 Gascoyne wrote to Strutt33 about an ‘intended benevolence to Mr. Huske’—‘a place in America’; and when this fell through, Huske decamped to Paris. John White, Strutt’s election agent at Maldon, wrote to him on I June 1770 that early in the year Townshend’s widow tried to have Huske arrested ‘if found in England’.
You must know, Sir, the Government has demanded of that lady between 30 and 40 thousand pounds due from Mr. Townshend at the time when Huske was secretary to him. It appears by the books that Huske defrauded Mr. Townshend of chief parts of the money. The lady was determined to bring him to justice if he could be found. She offered Brownton a thousand pounds if he could procure him. He did come to England about the time but made a very short stay. He returned in a day or two after they began to seek him ... He is a complete villain ... Mr. Clark tells me he heard in London last week there was an extent out against him and, farther, that he and two more such had actually opened a banker’s shop in Paris. Upon the whole I do imagine he will never appear in the House of Commons again ... I have lately stuck up at the town hall his last dying speech.
White’s allegation of Huske’s default is borne out by an entry in the accounts of the treasurer of the chamber, which refers to vouchers and books ‘in the possession of Mr. Huske ... who absconded with them and resided abroad and died there’.
On 22 Dec. 1777, W. Hayes, who had once been valet de chambre to Huske, wrote to Franklin on behalf of Huske’s ‘orphan son’ apprenticed to Hooper of Wilmington, North Carolina, asking him ‘to recommend the young man to some of his friends in that part of the world’.36
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Sir Lewis Namier
- 1. F. S. Drake, Dict. Am. Biog. 469.
- 2. Add. 32995, ff. 81, 105, 111, 127.
- 3. Devonshire mss.
- 4. Townshend mss in the possession of the Duke of Buccleuch.
- 5. Townshend mss at Raynham.
- 6. Buccleuch mss.
- 7. Gent. Mag. 1761, p. 22.
- 8. Hatfield mss.
- 9. Gascoyne to Strutt, Strutt mss at Terling Place, Essex. For Ellis Huske’s will see Probate Recs. of N.H. (State Ppr. ser. xxxiv), iv. 184-5.
- 10. Bute mss.
- 11. Grenville letter bk.
- 12. Add. 38200, f. 312.
- 13. Jenkinson Pprs. 148-50.
- 14. Grenville to Huske, Grenville letter bk.
- 15. Grenville mss (JM).
- 16. Jenkinson Pprs. 69.
- 17. Mems. Geo. III, ii. 213.
- 18. In transcripts of Chas. Garth’s letter books, in the possession of Capt. W. Godsal, at Haines Hill, Berks.
- 19. N Q. (ser. 12), viii. 217, 335.
- 20. Strutt mss.
- 21. A. Pickersgill, ‘Parlty. Elections in Essex 1759-74’ (Manchester Univ. M.A. thesis).
- 22. Gascoyne to Strutt, 26 Apr. 1765, Strutt mss.
- 23. Harris’s ‘Debates’, i, 2, 30 Apr. 1765.
- 24. Gascoyne to Strutt, 26 Apr. 1765.
- 25. Jenkinson Pprs., 380-1.
- 26. Harris’s ‘Debates’.
- 27. Fortescue, i. 226, 236, 247; Newdigate’s ‘Debates’.
- 28. Fortescue, i. 267.
- 29. Harris’s ‘Debates’; Newdigate’s ‘Debates’; Add. 32974, f. 79.
- 30. Franklin to Joseph Galloway, 9 Jan. 1769; C. van Doren, Franklin’s Autobiographical Writings, 183-9 and Franklin-Jackson Corresp. 22.
- 31. Cavendish’s ‘Debates’, Egerton 215, f. 283.
- 32. Diary of W. S. Johnson, Bancroft Transcripts, N.Y. Pub. Lib.
- 33. Strutt mss.
- 34. I. M. Hays, Cal. Pprs. Benjamin Franklin, i. 131; iii. 143.
- 35. Pickersgill, 65.
- 36. Hays, iii. 323.