WILMOT, John (?1749-1815), of Berkswell Hall, nr. Coventry, Warws.
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Family and Education
b. ?1749, 1st surv. s. of Sir John Eardley Wilmot, l.c.j. of common pleas, by Sarah, da. of Thomas Rivett, M.P. educ. Westminster; Brunswick Acad.; Univ. Coll. Oxf. 10 Jan. 1766, aged 16; I. Temple 1767, called 1773. m. (1) 20 Apr. 1776, Frances, da. of Samuel Sainthill, 1s. 4da.; (2) 29 June 1793, Sarah, da. of Col. Haslam, s.p. His sis. Maria m. 1766 Sir Sampson Gideon, 1st Bt.
Wilmot sat at Tiverton on the Ryder interest. In Parliament he followed a completely independent line. He deplored the American war which he felt could have been avoided; but he nevertheless voted for Administration on the bill to suspend habeas corpus in America, 17 Feb. 1777, because ‘the sword was now drawn by America, and ... he sincerely wished success to his own country’. He voted against the Administration on Fox’s motion against sending the ‘old corps’ out of the kingdom, 2 Feb. 1778; and for their conciliatory bills, 24 Feb. 1778, which accorded with ‘the constant guide’ of his conduct—to give the Americans ‘some satisfaction on the subject of unlimited taxation, and to show a willingness to revise the laws by which they might think themselves aggrieved’. The same year he published anonymously A Short Defence of the Opposition giving a brief history of events leading to the war and condemning punitive measures towards America. During the next two years he regularly voted with the Opposition. But between the general election and the fall of North his only recorded vote was on 22 Feb. 1782 in favour of Conway’s motion against the war. On 11 July, a few days after Shelburne had taken office, Wilmot wrote to him:
I confess I went [to the House] with the utmost anxiety fearing ... your Lordship might have less good reasons for continuing in Administration when so numerous a body had seceded from it; I confess I had a high opinion of the public integrity of the house of Cavendish and even of Mr. Fox when his private ambition did not interfere ... but I never heard weaker or more unsatisfactory reasons given, not to say disgraceful to themselves than they gave last night for their conduct at so dangerous a crisis ... but they were replied to most simply and satisfactorily by Mr. Pitt.
Shortly afterwards Wilmot was appointed by Shelburne one of the two commissioners to inquire into the sufferings of American loyalists; and immediately began investigations. During the debate on the peace preliminaries, 21 Feb. 1783, he explained the arrangements made for the loyalists, which, he claimed, provided ‘effectually and completely for by much the greater part’. In answer to criticisms he said: ‘I would share with them my last shilling and my last loaf ... But ... I do not concur in those opinions as to the practicability of subduing America by force, which they have always maintained, and which they now to this day maintain.’ After the fall of Shelburne’s Administration he continued his work for them and put their case several times in the House. Wilmot did not vote on Fox’s East India bill, 27 Nov. 1783. He belonged to the St. Alban’s Tavern group which attempted to bring about a union of parties, but was classed by Robinson, January 1784 and by Stockdale, 19 Mar., as an Administration supporter.1
At the general election he successfully contested Coventry on a joint interest with his brother-in-law Sir Sampson Gideon. During this Parliament he consistently supported Pitt; spoke several times in debates on the American loyalists; also on matters concerning his constituents: on behalf of the Coventry canal proprietors, 18 May 1785, and in favour of regulating the Coventry silk trade to prevent the ‘hardships which the journeymen sustained by advantages being taken of their distress to reduce the price of their labour’.2 He published several books including a memoir of his father, full of filial and general piety, and a History of the Commission of American Claims.
After his death on 23 June 1815 the Gentleman’s Magazine wrote of him as ‘in everything preferring the happiness of others to his own, and suffering no obstacle, however difficult, nor any repulse, however ungrateful, to overcome his exertions to do good’.