MAJOR, John (1698-1781), of Worlingworth, Suff.

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



1761 - 1768

Family and Education

b. 11 May 1698, o. surv. s. of John Major of Bridlington, Yorks. by Elizabeth, da. of Rev. Richard Tennant of Carnaby, Yorks.  m. 28 June 1724, Elizabeth, da. of Daniel Dale, Bridlington merchant, 2da.: Anne, who m. John Henniker in 1747, and Elizabeth, who m. in 1767, Henry, 2nd Duke of Chandos.  suc. fa. 1717; cr. Bt. with sp. rem. to John Henniker 15 July 1765.

Offices Held

E. bro. of Trinity House 1741; director, South Sea Co.; sheriff, Suss. 1755-6.


Biographical data concerning Major are supplied in a letter from Henniker to George Grenville, 2 July 1765,1pleading for his baronetcy. He describes Major as ‘the oldest merchant in the iron trade’ and ‘the largest dealer’. ‘In younger life he commanded a ship of his own in the Stockholm trade ... but left the sea when about 30 years old.’ In 1743, when there was danger of invasion,

he went himself down in the worst time of the year and lay ready to take up the buoys and beacons, by the desire of the Admiralty, without any gratification whatever, and had several vessels under his command for that purpose.

In 1745 he was commissioned ‘to impress ships and men to fetch our troops from Flanders’. Again, in the seven years’ war ‘he conducted the affairs of transport at the earnest request of the Navy Board, though much to the hindrance of his own affairs’. ‘He always engaged in every subscription and forwarded every measure of Government to the best of his power, no man more loyal than himself.’ He was now the owner of extensive estates in Suffolk and Sussex, ‘besides freehold lands in Essex, Surrey, Kent, Norfolk and Yorkshire—all clear of any incumbrance—the amount about £5,000 per annum’.

Major entered politics late in life. On 29 Sept. 1760 Newcastle wrote to Rockingham:2 ‘Some time ago one Mr. Major, a contractor, and who has an estate in Sussex, wrote to me that he had got a great interest in Scarborough, and intended to stand, and ... desired the interest of the Government.’ Newcastle’s chief concern was to do nothing that could hurt the interest of William Osbaldeston, and there were several candidates soliciting his interest.3 In the end Osbaldeston and Major were returned unopposed.

In politics and in business Major was so closely associated with John Henniker that the two are best treated together: which is done in Henniker’s biography, he having usually taken the initiative. On one occasion they are differently classified: Rockingham, in July 1765, listed Henniker as ‘contra’, but Major as ‘doubtful’, which he afterwards changed to ‘pro’ with the remark: ‘Saw him and spoke to him’. As a fellow-Yorkshireman Rockingham was in closer touch with Major, who moreover wished for Rockingham’s support at Scarborough. But in the end Henniker went with his father-in-law. In 1768, Major had Rockingham’s support, but was defeated by the interest which Lord Granby had built up at Scarborough with Government support. After that Major did not stand again.

Mrs. Thrale’s derogatory remarks about him4 merely suggest that even when rich Major remained a simple man; but it was her habit to vent on businessmen the dislike and contempt she felt for her husband. Major died 16 Feb. 1781, leaving a life interest in half his estate to Anne Henniker, and in the other half to Elizabeth, Duchess of Chandos; ultimately the whole was entailed on Anne’s son John Henniker jun. who was to take the name and arms of Major.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Grenville mss (JM).
  • 2. Add. 32912, ff. 223-4.
  • 3. Add. 32909, f. 217; 32912, ff. 381-2; 32916, f. 23; 32917, ff. 10, 12, 355.
  • 4. Thraliana, i. 139.