STEWART, Alexander (c.1739-94), of Afton, Ayr.

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



16 Aug. 1786 - 16 Dec. 1794

Family and Education

b. c.1739, 2nd s. of John Stewart of Castle Stewart, M.P., by Jean Craik of Duchra, Kirkcudbright; bro. of William Stewart.  m. 1770, Catherine, da. of Thomas Gordon, yr. of Earlston, Kirkcudbright, and Afton, Ayr, gd.-da. of Sir Thomas Gordon, 3rd Bt., 1s. 4da.

Offices Held

Lt. 37 Ft. 1756, capt. 1761, maj. 1771; lt.-col. 3 Ft. 1775; brig.-gen. (America) 1781-3; col. 1782; maj.-gen. 1790; col. 2 Ft. 1793- d.


Stewart served in Germany during the seven years’ war, and as major so improved the smartness of his regiment that, on the recommendation of Gen. John Irwin, he was promoted lieutenant-colonel to do the same for the Buffs.1

His wife brought him the estates of Afton and Stair in Ayrshire, where in 1774 and 1780 he supported Sir Adam Fergusson against the interest of his father’s friend Lord Loudoun.2 He was equally independent of his chief, Lord Galloway. When his brother William retired in 1780, Stewart stood for Kirkcudbright against the Galloway candidate, Peter Johnston, and sought the support of Lord George Germain, who replied 19 Mar. 1780:3

I have not heard of any application made to Lord North for the interest of the ministry in the Stewartry ... I can have nothing to do with elections but if it is necessary to state your merit as an officer and as a friend to Government, I shall do it with pleasure. I inquired of Lord Galloway about this contest and as I understand his Lordship, before he engaged his interest you had no desire of coming into Parliament.

Stewart however withdrew in favour of John Gordon of Kenmure under an agreement whereby, if their joint interest defeated Johnston, they should share the Parliament between them.4 But Gordon was defeated, and early in 1781 Stewart sailed with his regiment for South Carolina, and was wounded at Eutaw Springs in September 1781. On the evacuation of Charleston he was posted to Jamaica where he served until autumn 1783.5

At the general election of 1784 he stood for Kirkcudbright but having reached a secret agreement with Peter Johnston and James Murray of Broughton to divide the Parliament between them, withdrew in Johnston’s favour. Meanwhile he repeatedly sought recognition of his services, but failed to secure either the governorship of Jamaica in 1785 or the colonelcy of his own regiment in 1786. Elected in August 1786, professedly as a Government supporter, he renewed his solicitations. Having received an encouraging letter from Pitt in September 1788, he applied in November for a vacant civil employment. Dundas wrote to Stewart, then in Scotland, 25 Nov. 1788:

I am satisfied by the conversation I have had with Mr. Pitt that he sincerely desires to serve you, but the object you point at would never answer what you had in view ... it is incompatible with a seat in Parliament. I need scarcely mention to you that at present the state of the King’s health suspends all consideration of subjects of that nature for no business can be done which requires his signature. I take it for granted we shall see you here on Thursday the 4th Dec., for the strictness of the call and the importance of the crisis will of course bring every man to town who has a seat in Parliament.

Stewart duly attended but in the Regency debates ‘divided with the Prince of Wales’s friends’, who did not however consider him ‘steady in Opposition’. On the King’s recovery he naïvely supposed the ministry would overlook his aberration, and again importuned Pitt and Dundas for preferment. His hopes were dashed when Dundas wrote, 18 June 1789, brusquely stating that Pitt’s former promise of favour was cancelled by his Regency votes: ‘If political support is to be any foundation for military preferment, these occurrences must of necessity have produced other pretensions not inferior to yours.’6

Stewart died 16 Dec. 1794.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. Stewart’s memorial to the King, c. 1791, Stewart of Afton mss, vol. 3; Add. 40635, f. 101; Cal. Home Office Pprs. 1773-5, nos. 1036, 1052.
  • 2. Stewart to Loudoun, 8 Nov. 1773, John Hunter to Loudoun, 5 Oct. 1780, Loudoun mss.
  • 3. Add. 40635, f. 74.
  • 4. J. Hunter to Loudoun, 5 Oct. 1780, Loudoun mss.
  • 5. HMC Royal Institution, ii. 350-1, 378-9, 390, 434-5, 452, 468, 472; iii. 7, 152, 347.
  • 6. Add. 40635, ff. 78, 83, 85, 87; Adam, Pol. State Scotland 1788, pp. 34, 208.