ISAACSON, James (1660-1724), of Lambeth, Surr.
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Family and Education
bap. 3 Sept. 1660, o. surv. s. of Randolph (or Randall) Isaacson, merchant, of St. Katharine Coleman, London by Margaret, da. of Robert Shawe of St. George’s, Southwark, Surr. m. (1) 6 Sept. 1688, Anne, da. of Nicolas Pluym (or Plume) of Wandsworth, Surr., 1s. d.v.p. at least 1da.; (2) 9 Nov. 1702, Mary, da. of one Smith of Walton, Essex; (3) Barbara; 1 other da. suc. fa. 1688.1
Commr. stamp duty 1694–1702; King’s warehouse keeper of the customs, port of London c.1696–?bef. 1702; commr. of customs [S] 1707–9.2
Gov. Friendly Soc. for Widows 1696.3
Asst. Banbury 1699.4
Isaacson was born into a prosperous merchant family which had been resident in the London parish of St. Katharine Coleman since at least the mid-16th century, having before then been natives of Sheffield. Details of his early career are obscure, though he is believed to have been a London stockbroker. His associations with the capital’s financial scene are substantiated by his involvement from the mid-1690s with several other gentlemen in an early ‘friendly society’ scheme for raising a ‘joint stock of assurance for widows’. Such a society was established in 1696 and had Isaacson as one of its ‘governors’. He held a modest investment in the Old East India Company of £500 but had sold out by 1698. In 1693 or 1694 he submitted proposals to the Treasury for managing the newly created impost on paper and vellum, an indication that he may have had contact with members of the revenue-raising bureaucracy. His scheme was so much admired that he was rewarded with appointment in May 1694 as a commissioner at the stamp office with £300 p.a. In 1698 he was elected for Banbury. His credentials to represent the borough are not immediately clear, though it would seem probable that he came into the seat through acquaintanceship and shared political views with Sir John Cope*, a Whig with financial commitments in the City, whose country estate near Banbury gave him an interest there. It was probably Isaacson’s new status as an MP which merited his inclusion in August on the magisterial bench for Surrey, this being his county of residence, but he was at no time added to the Oxfordshire bench. As a Whig placeman he dutifully served the government in the Commons, appearing as a Court supporter in a comparative listing of the old and new House compiled in around September 1698, and dividing in favour of the standing army on 18 Jan. 1699. However, his parliamentary career came to an abrupt end on 10 Feb. when he was expelled from the House. On that day a bill was moved for limiting the number of placemen in Parliament, and in the course of subsequent debate it was revealed that Isaacson was one of several Members already disqualified, being in a revenue post incompatible with a seat under the terms of an Act of 1694 granting several duties on salt, beer, ale and other liquors. It is quite probable that government enemies among the Country gentlemen saw him as a classic example of the lowly Court creature interloping in a constituency where he had no ostensible concern. Isaacson, apparently absent on this occasion, was immediately summoned to the House, and on arrival was permitted to speak in his own defence. After desiring time ‘to answer for himself’ the following morning, he withdrew to the Speaker’s chamber and the question was put for his expulsion. This was debated for ‘some hours’, concluding at seven in the evening with the failure of an adjournment motion by 164 votes to 111. After being heard in his place once more, he was ordered to be expelled forthwith. Several other officials followed the same fate over the next few days. Initially, it was reported that Isaacson intended to resign his commissionership in order to stand for re-election at Banbury, but he did not in fact do so since his patron Cope, having failed to secure one of the Oxfordshire seats in 1698, now sought the Banbury seat for himself.5
Early in June 1702 Isaacson was removed from the stamp duties commission, an apparent victim of the purge of Whigs that accompanied the Queen’s accession. He lost no time in petitioning Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†) for the vacant post of comptroller in the same office, pointedly reminding Godolphin that it had been he who had originally ‘contrived’ these duties. But when his petition was read at a Treasury meeting on 5 June, it was evasively minuted: ‘My lord shall be glad to provide for him when there is any proper occasion.’ Undeterred, Isaacson wrote again to Godolphin on the 12th, drawing his attention to a neglected recommendation he and his fellow stamp commissioners had made to the Treasury the previous August that an extra ‘riding’ or travelling commissioner be appointed to investigate suspected abuses in certain counties, especially those occurring in the inferior courts. Accordingly, in mid-July, the Treasury agreed that he should be put to work in this capacity, but only for the limited period of three weeks. It was not until May 1707 that he was taken back into government employment when he was appointed to the new commission of customs established at Edinburgh, but his relations with his senior colleague, the impecunious and intemperate Sir Alexander Rigby*, were stormy. It may be assumed that Isaacson, experienced in the byways of financial administration and mindful of the need for efficiency, resented Rigby’s nepotism and lack of professionalism. In 1709, he and two fellow commissioners drew up an account of customs management in Scotland that was heavily critical of Rigby, and sent it in May for ministerial attention in London. Unfortunately for Isaacson, the episode demonstrated that Rigby had much greater authority with the ministry than he, for when the commission was reconstituted in June, it was Isaacson who was left out. His unsuccessful petitions of September 1710 and June 1711 to be reinstated might suggest a naive imperviousness to political reality since men of his Whiggish stamp were least likely to be favoured by the incoming Tory ministry. But it is possible that amid recurrent reports of mismanagement within the various departments of government Isaacson felt that the ministry had particular need of men of his own particular expertise. Indeed, in August 1711 Lord Oxford (Robert Harley*) consulted him about the problems of inefficiency and loss of revenue currently afflicting the Scottish customs. He promptly submitted a detailed scheme of improvement, but it did not bring him the restoration to government service he craved.6
Isaacson died within a few days of completing his will on 4 Apr. 1724 and, in accordance with his request, was buried at St. Katharine Coleman church in Fenchurch Street on the 16th, ‘where my ancestors were buried’. He left leasehold estates in Dorset to his wife, and elsewhere to his two daughters.7
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Andrew A. Hanham
- 1. Guildhall Lib. St. Katharine Coleman par. reg.; Vis. Surr. (Harl. Soc. lx), 101; Mar. Lic. Vicar-Gen. (Harl. Soc. xxxi), 78; St. Dunstan in the East (Harl. Soc. Reg. lxxxiv–lxxxv), 40; Wandsworth Par. Reg. 81, 112; St. Mary Aldermanbury (Harl. Soc. Reg. lxii), 236; PCC 141 Bolton.
- 2. Cal. Treas. Bks. x. 618, 697; xi. 350; xvii. 238; xxi. 259; xxiii. 213; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1697–1702, p. 12.
- 3. BL, Dept. of Printed Bks. 712.m.1. (47), Friendly Society for Widows (1696).
- 4. Banbury Corp. Recs.: Tudor and Stuart (Banbury Hist. Soc. xv), 312.
- 5. St. Katharine Coleman par. reg.; PCC 141 Bolton; Vis. London (Harl. Soc. xvii), 3–4; W. R. Williams, Oxford MPs, 181; Bodl. Rawl. A.302, ff. 224–7; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1557–1696, p. 335; CSP Dom. 1698, p. 337; 1699, p. 52; VCH Oxon. x. 89; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 253; HMC Portland, iii. 620; Cumbria RO, Carlisle, Lonsdale mss D/Lons/W2/2/2, James Lowther* to Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. I*, 11 Feb. 1699; P. W. J. Riley, Eng. Ministers and Scot. 45; Bodl. Carte 130, f. 396; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 482.
- 6. Cal. Treas. Bks. xvii. 238, 303, 446, 482; xxi. 259; xxiii. 213; xxiv. 590; xxv. 631; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1702–7, pp. 22, 24; Riley, 49, 132–3, 190; HMC Portland, x. 162–3.
- 7. PCC 141 Bolton; St. Katharine Coleman par. reg.