TRECOTHICK, Barlow (?1718-75), of Addington, Surr.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Constituency

Dates

1768 - 1774

Family and Education

b. ?1718, s. of Capt. Mark Trecothick, mariner, by his w. Hannah Greenleaf.1  educ. Boston, Mass.  m. (1) 2 Mar. 1747, Grizzell (d. 31 July 1769), da. of Charles Apthorp of Boston,2 s.p.; (2) 9 June 1770, Anne, da. of Amos Meredith, sis. of Sir William Meredith, 3rd Bt., s.p. Of her sisters Henrietta m. 1758 Frederick Vane, and Mary 1769 Lord Frederick Campbell.

Offices Held

Alderman of London 2 Jan. 1764-1 Nov. 1774; sheriff Apr.-Sept. 1766;3 ld. mayor 29 June-Nov. 1770.

Provincial agent for New Hampshire 1766-74.4

Biography

It has long been a moot point whether Trecothick was born in England or in America. His name appears in the birth registers of Stepney: which may, however, also mean that he was born at sea. In his evidence before the committee to examine the American papers, 11 Feb. 1766, he said that he lived ‘at Boston from 7 years old to 22, then lived 7 years in Jamaica. Returned to New England for about 3 years, and after that came and settled in London.’5 This would put his parents’ migration at c.1725; and their daughter Hannah was born at Boston, 2 Dec. 1724.6 Barlow Trecothick served his apprenticeship at Boston with Charles Apthorp, his future father-in-law;7 when in the West Indies acted as agent for Apthorp and Thomlinson; and settled in London c.1750.8 Trecothick further stated in his evidence, 11 Feb. 1766: ‘Has been concerned in the N. American trade there and here about 23 years on his own account. Has been a merchant in London for 15 years past, and has been employed in purchasing goods for the merchants in N. America.’ In London he became a partner of the Thomlinsons and Apthorps; with Thomlinson negotiated for a victualling contract for troops in North America;9 and held with Sir George Colebrooke and others remittances of money for troops there.10 In 1761 he took up by subscription £17,500 of Government stock;11 and in 1762 the firm of Trecothick, Apthorp, Thomlinson applied for a subscription of £20,000 to Newcastle’s last loan.12 But Trecothick at no time appears as a big Government contractor; or is one but incidentally, as a partner of such contractors.

In January 1768 Trecothick purchased for £38,500 the Addington estate of about 5,000 acres.13 He owned together with the Thomlinson family a plantation in Grenada;14 and according to a writer in the Gazetteer of 19 Mar. 1768, friendly to him, ‘a considerable estate in Jamaica’, but only property ‘let at £70 or 80 p.a.’ in North America.

At the Guildhall meeting of the livery of London, 4 Mar. 1761, to choose candidates for the general election, Trecothick ‘was proposed, but not being free of the City, was not put in nomination’.15 Next, he was admitted to the company of Clothworkers, ‘and it is said’, wrote the British Chronicle, 20 Mar., ‘still intends to stand a candidate for this city’, which he did not in 1761.

A vacancy occurred in the summer of 1765 at New Shoreham, a borough under Newcastle and Treasury patronage. The Duke’s agent reported that there was ‘not the least doubt of success’; the expense ‘will not exceed £1,050’; but ‘it would be of great service’ if the merchant who was to be recommended would contract with the local shipbuilders for a ship.16 An offer of the seat was made by Newcastle to Trecothick, who declined it—

being determined not to incur any considerable expense in a matter of that sort, especially as it may rather check the purpose of standing for London at the next election, in case things should then hear a promising aspect in my favour.

Before Trecothick’s letter had reached Newcastle, the Duke wrote again entering more fully into details, and concluding:

I really believe that you may depend upon the truth of these facts. If, as I hope, for the honour of the City, you shall be chose for the City, at the next election, I dare say the town of Shoreham will readily choose any one whom you shall recommend.
My friends at Shoreham are very desirous that you should be their Member. You must know what an honour and pleasure it would be to me to contribute to bring into Parliament a gentleman of your known principles, ability, and integrity; and one so able, and so willing to serve his country, and so capable to do it, particularly at this time, when things must come before Parliament, which perhaps no one man knows or understands so well as yourself.

But Trecothick persisted in his resolution—‘the sum mentioned in your Grace’s letter of this morning is too large for a man who has no lucrative views from a seat in Parliament as I really have not’. In short, he refused to be a merchant Member sent by the Treasury to a venal and expensive borough and repaid by contracts—a type unpopular with the City electorate.17

Still, as an expert on America he rendered material service to the Rockingham Government while not yet a Member. He had played a part in the opposition to the Stamp Act by colonial agents and merchants before it was passed; was in touch with Rockingham on the subject in November 1765; presided on 4 Dec. over ‘a numerous meeting of merchants trading to North America’, at which ‘a committee was appointed (consisting of merchants trading to each colony) to solicit some effectual remedy in the present distressed state of trade to the colonies’;18 concerted with Rockingham a circular letter sent by the committee to the outports and manufacturing towns calling for their support by ‘a regular application to Parliament’, or by petitioning their own Members—Burke described this letter (in the docket to a copy of the letter in Trecothick’s handwriting, Rockingham mss) as ‘the principal instrument in the happy repeal of the Stamp Act’); was included on 31 Dec. 1765 in one of Rockingham’s dinner parties at which the policy with regard to the Stamp Act was hammered out; was one of the chief witnesses in favour of the repeal before the committee to examine the American papers, and the foremost organizer of the agitation for it among the British merchants. ‘Trecothick and the merchants and trading and manufacturing towns go on well’, wrote Rockingham to Newcastle, 2 Jan. 1766. And James West to Newcastle, 11 Feb.: ‘Trecothick was examined four hours and gave a full, clear, and satisfactory account of the distress at home and abroad.’ But James Harris, a follower of Grenville, 10-12 Feb. 1766:

We examined witnesses, sitting each day till near ten o’clock—some of them were Americans, some Yorkshire manufacturers, and the leaders London merchants with Alderman Trecothick at their head, all primed ... to say everything against the Stamp Act, and neither to answer nor to know anything on the other side.19

Lastly, being connected both with the West Indian and the American merchants, Trecothick greatly contributed toward co-ordinating the policy of the two groups.

Also after the dissolution of the Rockingham Administration, Trecothick remained for Rockingham and Newcastle a link with the City. In the letter to West, 16 Jan. 1768, in which Newcastle announced his own withdrawal from ‘politics and public affairs’ and asked his friends to adhere to Rockingham, Trecothick is one of the three City men specifically named to whom the message was to be conveyed; and the Duke showed much concern when told that Trecothick’s return to the next Parliament was thought improbable. Although Trecothick’s campaign had opened favourably, by the middle of January the opposition to him was gaining ‘great strength from his actions as a friend to the Colonies, in opposition to the trade of Great Britain, which however untrue ... has ... weight in popular elections’.20 Similarly, on 12 Mar., W. S. Johnson, agent for Connecticut, wrote to Governor William Pitkin:21

Mr. Trecothick, who has very just and clear opinions of the true interests of Britain and her colonies ... has offered himself a candidate for the City of London at the approaching election, and is almost every day violently abused in the papers as an enemy to this country, and unfit to represent his fellow citizens, because he received his education at Boston, and has, upon many occasions, warmly espoused the interests of the Colonies. Strange objections these, you will say! and especially in the mouths of those who, at the same time, insist that the Members of Parliament whom they elect are also the representatives of America ... Surprising as these objections must appear to all unprejudiced observers, yet seconded as they are with warm declamations upon the inimical nature and tendency of the Boston resolves and proceedings with respect to the trade and manufactures of this country, they seem to make unhappy impressions, and will, I fear, endanger this gentleman’s election.

Trecothick’s American antecedents were discussed in anonymous, often well-informed, letters to the Press.22 He was on the defensive, and discourses on his English birth and connexions by his ‘election friends’ merely provoked accusations of ingratitude to Boston: there he received his education and made his fortune, ‘yet does not choose to acknowledge his original’.

It seems that all seven City candidates stood on separate interests; and while in national politics Trecothick’s line came nearest to that of William Beckford, and the two afterwards closely cooperated in the House, there was no junction between them in the election: of the 3,402 who voted for Beckford, only about half voted for Trecothick, which, considering that they had three votes to distribute between the other six candidates, is but a proportionate quota; and while Beckford voted for Trecothick, Trecothick did not vote for Beckford. Trecothick was returned fourth on the list, defeating Glyn by about 130 votes on a poll of nearly 5,700.

Fifty interventions in debate by Trecothick are recorded during his six years in Parliament, most of them in the first three; and with very few exceptions they were on matters relating to the City of London or on American affairs—much averse to Wilkes, Trecothick apparently never spoke in any debate about him or the Middlesex election. In his own words, ‘scarcely within the doors of this House’, he spoke on 13 May (and again on the 19th) about the seamen’s strike and riots in the port of London, which concerned him both as a magistrate and a merchant-shipowner. Next followed a spate of speeches and motions on America, which, to begin with, were of an extremely conciliatory character. On 12 May 1768 Grenville told his friends23 ‘that Alderman Trecothick had addressed him this morning in the House of Commons with much respect and said he desired to be thought an Englishman and act the part of one, expressing his concern at the present state of America’. Thus in his first speech on the subject, 15 Nov. 1768:

I look upon America as deluded. There may be a few factious individuals. We have factions here. The town of Boston does not contain a thirtieth part of the inhabitants of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay.

On 7 Dec., supporting Beckford’s motion for American papers, he claimed that ‘the general complexion of the country was submission to Great Britain for all purposes connected with the regulation of trade’, and that ‘the solid advantages’ of a trade monopoly should not be given up ‘for a non-entity’ of colonial taxation; but he finished on a rather stronger note:

Things may be taken up and inquired into; but not upon the ground of the little, trifling, though dangerous commotions at Boston ... Soothing, conciliating arts should be used by a ruler of the people ... I beseech the House that the matter may be taken up upon an extensive plan, and not let the wound continue rankling, ’till it becomes a gangrene.

This stiffening of attitude continued—thus on as Jan. 1769, about the petition from Massachusetts: ‘Shall we mind a little want of form ...? You throw out of doors the first movement made to a reconciliation with our colonies.’ And on 8 Feb.: ‘They have been deprived of their government, I do think we stand upon the best ground to relax, we ever shall stand upon that phantom we called honour.’ Five further speeches by Trecothick on America are reported (14 Mar. and 19 Apr. 1769, 5 Mar., 9 and 26 Apr. 1770), before the subject as such vanished for nearly four years from House of Commons debates. The last speech, after the ‘Boston massacre’, was downright indignant in tone: ‘We have shown the Americans that we are not incapable of ideas, and even systems, of despotism ... We choose to govern by will, rather than by reason ... We have acted the parts of bullies to America.’24

Also otherwise Trecothick was adopting a sharper line: on 8 Feb. 1769, over the arrears of the civil list, he seconded the motion for accounts to be laid before the House; and he supported the City remonstrance to the King, 15 Mar. 1770, against ministers and Parliament, and avowed his share in it: he had done so ‘from a consciousness of its being my duty to do so’.25

On Beckford’s death in June 1770 during his second term as lord mayor, Trecothick was elected to fill the place for the rest of the year. He was succeeded by Brass Crosby, a central figure in the conflict between the City and the House of Commons over the printers’ case: 15 interventions by Trecothick in debate are recorded in February-March 1771, most of them in defence of Crosby and Richard Oliver.

Between 1768 and the end of March 1771, Trecothick’s name appears in 10 out of 11 division lists, always on the Opposition side. He was also present at the Opposition dinner, 9 May 1769; on 26 Apr. 1771 spoke for Sawbridge’s shorter Parliaments bill; and on 6 Feb. 1772 voted for the motion of his brother-in-law Meredith supporting the petition of the clergy against the 39 Articles.

After March 1771 very few speeches by Trecothick are reported, and his name appears in only one out of four division lists. He was a sick man; there were no debates on America between those of 9 May 1770 and 2 Mar. 1774; and in City politics Trecothick’s position was becoming increasingly difficult. Within the radical camp Wilkes was fighting James Townsend and Horne; and Trecothick was on bad terms with both. His speech, when elected to succeed Beckford, 29 June 1770, was criticized for compliments to one of the court aldermen;26 he was bitterly attacked by Wilkes; in the election for lord mayor in 1771 he voted for the moderate Nash against the radical Sawbridge;27 and after the next election of October 1772—‘I am vexed’, wrote Rockingham to Burke, 29 Oct., ‘that Trecothick voted for these shabby fellows. His known and well grounded aversion to Wilkes and Townsend might prevent his voting for either of them; but there was no necessity of voting for the courtiers.’

Trecothick’s last but one reported speech in Parliament, 9 Dec. 1772, was a passionate protest against savage repression of the native rising in St. Vincent.28 He demanded an inquiry.

There was a time when the British [name] stood high for humanity. To all the enormities in the West Indies we are about to add another ... I doubt the justice of the cause. I doubt the justice to dispossess poor, defenceless, innocent, some of them aborigines inhabitants. Are we to take example from the Spaniards?

He neither spoke nor voted on the Massachusetts bill, 6 May 1774; and wrote to Rockingham, 10 Aug.:

I have been long on the confines of the grave, from whence if anything can the cries of my agonizing country would call me ... Can anything equal their beginning at Boston—it is a beginning only. Great Britain is the ultimate object—plainly is it, and a fixed plan of despotism fixed upon ... I will certainly attend Parliament when it meets for the last time if alive.

When Parliament was dissolved on 30 Sept. Trecothick did not stand again.  He died 28 May 1775, aged 56.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier

Notes

  • 1. D. H. Watson, ‘Barlow Trecothick and other associates of Lord Rockingham during the Stamp Act crisis, 1765-6’, unpublished thesis in Sheffield Univ. Lib.
  • 2. Add. 32880, f. 363.
  • 3. Gent. Mag. 1766, p. 197.
  • 4. New Hampshire Provincial Pprs. vii. 92.
  • 5. Ryder’s ‘Debates’; Add. 33030, f. 88.
  • 6. Boston Record Commissioners’ 24th Rep. 167.
  • 7. New Haven Hist. Soc. Pprs. ix. 332.
  • 8. T. D. Jervey, ‘Barlow Trecothick’, S. Caroli