STANLEY, John (1740-99), of Plumstead, Kent.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1784 - 1796

Family and Education

b. 1740, 1st s. of Michael Stanley of St. Johns, Nevis by 1st w. Anne. educ. I. Temple 1758, called 1761. m. on or bef. 7 Dec. 1773,1 Susanna, da. of Lewis Feuilleteau of St. Kitts, wid. of Henry Brouncker of St. Kitts, 1s. d.v.p.

Offices Held

Solicitor-gen. Leeward Islands 1771-81, attorney-gen. 1781-d.; pres. council of St. Kitts 1793-5; bencher, I. Temple 1797.

Recorder, Hastings 1787.


Stanley described himself to the House, 30 May 1791, as ‘the first of a proscribed family, which a century ago had been driven from England’. In 1750 his father had mortgaged his Nevis estates to a relation, Ralph Willett, who acted as a benefactor to Stanley, as he did to John Willett Willett*. After being given a start in life, he pursued a successful career as a lawyer and bought plantations in St. Kitts and Nevis. When Ralph Willett died in 1795, he left Stanley £4,000 and returned to him the estates mortgaged by his father.2

Returned for Hastings in 1784 as a supporter of administration, Stanley retained the seat in 1790, although his parliamentary conduct had not been uniformly favourable to Pitt. There is no evidence of his having opposed government after 1790. In 1791 he was listed among opponents of repeal of the Test Act in Scotland, and he was marked ‘pro’ in the ministerial survey drawn up for the 1796 general election. On 19 Apr. 1791 he ‘spoke strongly and at very great length’ against the abolition of the slave trade. He ‘wished some salutary regulations could be thought of’, but he ‘could never agree to a total abolition’. He objected to the Sierra Leone bill, 30 May, and accused the abolitionists of going to unreasonable lengths to denigrate the planters.

In this speech Stanley said ‘he had now returned to spend the remainder of his days in his native country’, but in March 1792 he was in Madeira and the following year he was in St. Kitts. His seniority in the Leeward Islands compelled him to remain there to administer the government on the death of Governor Woodley, 2 June 1793, and thus to miss the 1794 session; but he made his political views very clear in a letter to his friend Charles Rainsford, 6 Dec. 1793:

thank God, I am not yet a democrat ... From what I collect on the business of the King’s proclamation, I hope the first step of the Parliament will be to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act, the militia called out, the army and the navy establishment increased to a war establishment and a junction of all the maritime powers to seize all the French colonies; and then let this republic of France, like their Swiss neighbours, live by making of watches and gew-gaws. What do your Priestleys, your Wilberforces and all these gentry think now of their Rights of Man, and the levelling of all distinctions?3

Stanley was still in the Leeward Islands on 9 Aug. 1794, when he wrote to Pitt asking to be appointed governor or to be recalled. Two days later, the appointment of General Charles Leigh was gazetted. Stanley was in England in November 1794, but again acted as governor of the Leeward Islands in 1795.4 He did not vote in the division on the abolition of the slave trade, 15 Mar. 1796, and retired from Parliament at the dissolution in May. He died 1 Apr. 1799.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: J. M. Collinge


  • 1. Caribbeana, iii. 364.
  • 2. Ibid. ii. 294-5; iii. 362-3.
  • 3. Ibid. iii. 362; PRO 30/8/180, f. 134; Add. 23670, f. 46.
  • 4. PRO 30/8/180, f. 141; Caribbeana, iii. 363; V. L. Oliver, Antigua, iii. 319.