STEPHENSON, John (?1709-94), of Brentford, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. ?1709. Owned property in Alston, Cumb. and seems to have been connected with Sir William Stephenson, ld. mayor of London 1764.
Director, E.I. Co 1765-8.
Stephenson was established in London at least as early as 1749, and in 1753 was a ‘very considerable Spanish and Portugal merchant’.1 He had extensive dealings in Government loans. In 1765 he was described by John Walsh2 as a ‘true and trusty’ friend who ‘would certainly follow Lord Sandwich on all occasions’: this sums up his attitude, in Parliament and in East India House, till 1784. In 1754 he stood at Mitchell on the Courtenay interest managed by Sandwich, together with Robert Clive standing on the Scawen interest; while the Edgcumbe and Falmouth candidates had Newcastle’s support. Stephenson and Clive were returned, but were unseated on petition after a long and very bitter fight in the House. When next, in 1761, Stephenson stood jointly with James Scawen, Sandwich assured Newcastle that he personally would be answerable for Stephenson’s conduct in Parliament. But when in the autumn of 1762 Sandwich went over to Bute, Stephenson naturally followed him. In notes on changes in office after the division on the peace preliminaries, 10 Dec. 1762, Henry Fox wrote that Stephenson had ‘hopes of some share in contracts and remittances that remain in peace’;3 again on 17 Apr. 1763 Samuel Martin mentioned Stephenson as a merchant ‘zealously attached to Government’ and hoping for a contract;4 but in December 1764 Sandwich described him to Grenville as ‘a very good politician [who] will always bring himself into Parliament, and has no favours to ask’.5
In March 1764, when Grenville’s Administration was supporting Clive in his contest with Sulivan at East India House, Stephenson was mentioned as a possible director, and in 1765 was elected as a Sandwich candidate.6 As a follower of Sandwich Stephenson voted against the repeal of the Stamp Act, 22 Feb. 1766, and opposed Chatham’s Administration till the Bedfords went over to the court in December 1767.
In March 1774, on the death of Robert Jones, another follower of Sandwich, Stephenson succeeded to his contract for victualling troops in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, and during the American war obtained further contracts in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and West Florida.7 The Public Ledger wrote of him in 1779: ‘A contractor, and ready upon all occasions, both in and out of Parliament to oblige the Treasury.’ In 1780 he was returned unopposed at Tregony, where both seats had been put at the disposal of the Treasury, and continued to support North till his fall. He voted against Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783, and for Fox’s East India bill, 27 Nov. 1783, but in January 1784, having obviously abandoned Sandwich, was classed by Robinson as a supporter of Pitt and at the general election was returned as a Government candidate. He paired in favour of parliamentary reform, 18 Apr. 1785, and voted with Pitt over the Regency, 1788-9.
Only two speeches by Stephenson are reported during nearly 30 years in Parliament; in a debate on hops, 18 Apr. 1774, and to move that an order for calling over the House be discharged, 6 Feb. 1782.8
He died 17 Apr. 1794, in his 85th year.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Mary M. Drummond
- 1. Geo. Cooke to Ld. Lichfield, 16 Sept. 1753, Add. 35592, f. 162.
- 2. To Clive, 5 Apr. 1765, Clive mss.
- 3. Add. 40758, f. 279.
- 4. Bute mss.
- 5. Grenville mss (JM).
- 6. Jenkinson Pprs. 273; L. S. Sutherland, E.I. Co. in 18th Cent. Politics, 181.
- 7. T54/42/56-61, 77-82, 499; T54/43/127.
- 8. Brickdale’s ‘Debates’; Debrett, v. 420.