PRESCOTT, George (c.1711-90), of Theobalds Park, Herts.
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Family and Education
b. c.1711. m. (2) Mary, da. of Abraham Elton, M.P., 2s. 1da.
The Gentleman’s Magazine (1790, pp. 377-8) wrote in Prescott’s obituary:
Mr. Prescott was descended from an ancient Cheshire family. His father was an eminent lead merchant, and placed him from school in the house of Raguoneau, a French Protestant merchant, at Leghorn, where, after ten years, he engaged in business for himself, having, by a prudent management of his income, saved £5,000. During his stay in Italy, he visited Rome, and formed connexions with all the English nobility there ... In the Italian trade he continued till he engaged, about 20 years ago, in a banking-house with Andrew Grote, a Hamburg merchant ... It has been said, with a degree of authority, that the house of Prescott and Grote turned fifty millions annually ... In or about the year 1770, he purchased, for £75,000 exclusive of timber, of the Duke of Portland, the manor of Theobalds.
Early in 1761, Lord Fitzmaurice wrote against Stockbridge in a list of constituencies: ‘Mr. Fox has recommended Mr. Prescott, merchant, at great expense.’1 Newcastle sent him his parliamentary whip in October 1761 through James West. Prescott wrote in reply, 27 Oct.:
I will certainly attend at the Cockpit and the first day of the sessions, and your Grace may depend on my attendance on any future day when business of moment may be supposed to come on. If I have not appeared at your levee it has not been through want of respect, but it is my opinion that the public and your Grace may be better served by a close attention to my commercial affairs and a regular conduct of them and I wish some of my brethren had followed this rule.2
On the day of Newcastle’s resignation, 26 May 1762, Prescott wrote congratulating Sir Francis Dashwood, the new chancellor of the Exchequer:3
Persons like you of resolution, ability, and honesty are more than ever necessary in the first departments of the state, to extricate us from the labyrinth of wild expense and politics we are got into. You may rely, Sir, that without any pecuniary view to myself I shall most heartily concur to second in my sphere of life all measures the new ministry may adopt towards the attainment of such a desirable end.
In Bute’s list of December 1761 he is marked ‘Fox’ and ‘pro’; in Fox’s list of Members supporting the peace preliminaries his name appears with a query against it; but in Newcastle’s list of 13 Nov. 1762 he is classed as ‘contra’; and on 9 and 10 Dec. he did not vote with the Opposition, and on 16 Nov. 1763 defended the Treaty. But he was essentially independent; over general warrants he appears in Jenkinson’s ‘List of persons who voted with the minority on the 17 Feb. 1764 who are friends or nearly so’.4 In Rockingham’s list of July 1765 he was marked as ‘doubtful’: on 22 Feb. 1766 he voted against the repeal of the Stamp Act; and when on the 24th complaints were raised in the House ‘of the rudeness and insults of the American rabble and merchants in the lobby to Members, not their friends’, Prescott informed the House ‘that an American merchant drew all his cash from his hands, the mighty sum of £170, signifying by letter, that his vote had been the reason’. On 4 Mar., on the third reading of the repeal of the Stamp Act, Prescott spoke against it: ‘dwelt on the late favours done to America, far beyond the value of the tax, supposed £50,000 a year—hemp, iron, timber, potashes—bounties on them all when imported from America’. After this Rockingham naturally classed him in November 1766 as an opponent; and after he had voted with Administration on the land tax, 27 Feb. 1767, Newcastle listed him as ‘doubtful or absent’. Still, he voted with the Opposition on the nullum tempus bill, 17 Feb. 1768—holding neither place nor contract, rich and independent, he obviously voted according to his convictions. In the House he spoke on trade problems; and on 8 Mar. 1764, arising out of the bankruptcy of Samuel Touchet, he ‘moved the House for a bill to make Members of Parliament being merchants, liable to bankruptcy, and to take away privilege—he spoke well, called it a self-denying ordinance, but necessary—that some foreigners had given orders not to accept draughts on merchants being Members’; which bill was carried.5
He does not seem to have stood at the general election of 1768, but the following year he considered contesting Hertford. He was finally returned on petition for Milborne Port, an expensive borough, in May 1772. His name appears in two division lists, on the naval captains’ petition, 9 Feb. 1773, and on Grenville’s Act, 25 Feb. 1774, both times on the Opposition side, but marked in Government lists as a friend and generally voting with them. In this Parliament his interventions in debate were on East Indian affairs: 7 Dec. 1772 on the motion to restrain the East India Company from sending out commissioners; 21 May 1773 on the motion against Clive; and 25 May on the Company’s dividend.6 In 1774 he was defeated at Hertford. That year at Bristol he voted for Lord Clare, and Burke, accusing Prescott of spreading false rumours about him, wrote with his usual sweet temper: ‘But as it is universally known that he is the lowest and most infamous of mankind, and one whose cowardice alone protects him from the punishment his daily falsehoods and habitual villainies so richly deserve ...’7
Prescott died 20 Apr. 1790.