GORDON, Lord Adam (?1726-1801), of Cuttieshillock, Aberdeen, and The Burn, Kincardine.
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Family and Education
b. ?1726, 4th surv. s. of Alexander, 2nd Duke of Gordon [S], by Lady Henrietta Mordaunt, da. of Charles, 3rd Earl of Peterborough. educ. Eton 1742-3. m. 2 Sept. 1767, Jane, da. of John Drummond, M.P., of Megginch, wid. of James, 2nd Duke of Atholl, sis. of Adam Drummond, s.p. suc. mother to Preston Hall estate, Edinburgh, 11 Oct. 1760.
Ensign, 2 Drag. 1741, lt. 1743; capt. 18 Ft. 1746; capt. 3 Ft. Gds. and lt.-col. 1756; col. 1762; col. 66 Ft. 1763-75; maj.-gen. 1772; col. 26 Ft. 1775-82; lt.-gen. 1777; gov. Tynemouth castle 1778-96; col. 1 Ft. 1782- d.; c.-in-c. Scotland 1789-98; gen. 1793; gov. Edinburgh castle 1796- d.
In 1754 Lord Adam Gordon stood for Aberdeenshire against the sitting Member Andrew Mitchell. After Pelham’s death Lord Cathcart wrote to Loudoun, 26 Mar. 1754:1
The Duke of Argyll ... told me ... that everything was to go on as concerted in Mr. Pelham’s time, in so much that the Duke of Newcastle, who protected Mr. Mitchell’s interest against Lord Adam Gordon, who was supported by the Duke of Argyll and Mr. Pelham, has sent him word that he must not stand for Aberdeenshire as he is resolved to carry everything out on his brother’s plan.
Nevertheless Mitchell joined forces with the third candidate Sir Archibald Grant, and both resigned in favour of Col. Robert Dalrymple Horn who, however, withdrew when the accession of the Duffs of Braco made Lord Adam’s victory certain.2
Gordon was listed by Dupplin in 1754 among those personally connected with Argyll, but during the negotiations of March 1757 on Argyll’s position in a new Government, Newcastle, hopeful of attaching Gordon to himself, counted him among those ‘not to be relied on at present—to be treated with’. Lord Adam voted on 2 May 1757 with Newcastle’s supporters on the Minorca inquiry.3 In 1758 he served in the expedition to the French coast, and distinguished himself in the rearguard action at St. Cas on 10 Sept.4
In 1761 Gordon was faced with an opposition in Aberdeen from the Duffs of Braco, but was returned ‘by a very creditable majority’.5 He attached himself to Bute with whom in 1762 he sought to intervene on behalf of his friend Lord George Sackville.6 He was not listed by Fox among those favourable to the peace preliminaries, but did not vote against them. He supported the Grenville Administration, and in April 1764 he sailed with his regiment for Jamaica. In his ‘Journal of an Officer’s travels in America and the West Indies, 1764-5’7 he recorded his impressions of an extensive tour, the purpose of which is not stated. He was attracted by the prospect of becoming a great landowner in America and possibly obtaining a colonial governorship, particularly as his parliamentary future was uncertain. His absence abroad indeed seemed to confirm rumours that he had given up the county of Aberdeen.8
After visiting Antigua and St. Kitts, and inspecting his corps in Jamaica, he sailed for West Florida, which did not impress him. For East Florida, however, he shared the enthusiasm of Governor James Grant. ‘Was I ever to apply for any land in America, it should be in this province.’ Of Virginia he wrote: ‘Was it the case to live in America this province in point of company and climate would be my choice.’ His observations in Maryland and Pennsylvania confirmed his objections to proprietary governments.
I cannot help wishing that ... every ... proprietary government in America was re-annexed to the Crown and governed by royal governors whose salaries ought to be permanent and independent of the fickle will and fancy of those they are sent to superintend; till this ... take place Americans will never cordially unite or be induced to act warmly and effectively either towards their own defence or to such other purposes as may equally tend to their own and to the honour and advantage of Great Britain.
By the time he reached New York in May 1765 his views on American hostility to the recently passed Stamp Act had crystallized. ‘He seems to be as sanguine about laying it thick upon the Colonies as they are to throw off everything’, wrote his friend John Watts on 1 June 1765.9 Gordon sailed up the Hudson to Albany and thence to the Mohawk Valley to visit Sir William Johnson, superintendent of Indian affairs. Continuing his tour to Fort Niagara and the Great Lakes, Gordon deplored the general neglect of the back country communications and defences. ‘It would be for the good of the public to give the charge and government of what I may now be allowed to call back America, to some man of sense and service who should reside in it and be empowered to act as circumstances should require.’ After visiting Montreal and Quebec he recorded ‘some thoughts relative to Canada’.
I would by Act of Parliament vest all the religious property of Canada inalienably in the King ... I would throw into this fund all other King’s revenues, whether customs, stamps etc. ... I would have a brigade of militia ... [which] would be a useful nursery in a future war either against Spain or any of our own provinces that might wish to shake off their dependence on Britain ... I would have an open and free toleration of all Christian religions throughout Canada and the two Floridas and all the back country.
He returned to Johnson Hall, negotiated with Sir William Johnson about a land grant, and thereafter travelled through New England to Boston where a delegation waited upon him with an address:10
Humbly to request your kind representations and influence in favour of this town and province as your Lordship’s wisdom and justice shall direct; particularly with regard to the new parliamentary regulations ... which have created universal uneasiness among his Majesty’s most loyal subjects on this continent.
Gordon gave a non-committal reply:
What little influence I ... have shall ever be cheerfully employed where the interests of Great Britain and America are concerned, which to me seem inseparable: having ever been of opinion that any man who could wish to see a distinction or endeavour to create a difference between them must be an enemy of both.
Unsympathetic to Boston’s ‘ancient rugged spirit of levelling’, he recommended in his journal ‘a thorough alteration in their charter ... putting it ... on the footing of a royal government’. After visiting Rhode Island he returned to New York, sailed for home on 14 Oct. 1765,11 and on 20 Nov. ‘had a conference with his Majesty’s secretaries of state’ on the American situation.12 Sir William Johnson, reporting Gordon’s letter of 14 Dec., wrote to Cadwallader Colden:13
Lord Adam says nothing to me of his being appointed to any American government ... nothing could then be determined upon and the ministry were not expected to hold their places.
In the debates of January-February 1766 Gordon made use of his American experience; spoke on 17 Jan. in support of Dowdeswell’s motion to rescind the order for printing the American papers lest it expose to danger those who had supplied information;14 but he was among those ‘particularly remarked’ by Conway as voting against Administration on the Anstruther Burghs election petition on 31 Jan.15 He spoke in the American debate on 5 Feb. ‘to justify the Quakers’;16 on 17 Feb. on West Indian trade;17 and on 22 Feb. voted against the repeal of the Stamp Act.
In association with Charles Townshend he applied for a land grant in East Florida,18 and became chairman and spokesman of a group of prospective Florida proprietors.19 He also acquired, through Sir William Johnson, 10,000 acres in the New York back country and in 1767 sent out two Lincolnshire farmers to report on the land, with the intention, in collaboration with certain ‘noble associates’, of settling 300 families there as his tenants.20 He had therefore personal as well as military reasons for opposing Grenville’s motion of 18 Feb. 1767 to withdraw troops from American frontier posts on the ground of expense.21 During the winter of 1766-7 he was listed by Rockingham as connected with Bute, by Newcastle as pro Administration, but by his associate Townshend as ‘doubtful’. He did not vote on the land tax, 27 Feb. 1767, but voted with Administration on nullum tempus, 17 Feb. 1768.
Gordon failed to obtain a seat in 1768. Out of Parliament he maintained his interest in America and the West Indies. His New York associate John Watts wrote to Sir William Johnson, 16 Jan. 1769:22 ‘Lord Adam ... says his friends upbraid him with his friendship for America’; and Gordon wrote to Johnson, 21 July 1771:23
I see Governor Grant has arrived from East Florida ... My property there lies just as it did when I got it. Marriage put a great stop to my American plans of improvement and quickened those at home ... Two or three seasons more will complete the plan of everything I possess in Britain. It consists of about 750 acres and I am hopeful to bring it to a neat £1,000 per annum, after which I shall be more free and more able to do something in America.
Although he took out his patent and paid his quitrent on his New York lands, his hopes of revisiting America were disappointed.
In 1772-3 Lord Adam was invited by a majority of the freeholders to stand for Kincardineshire, where ‘he had no fortune’, and was returned unopposed in 1774.24 In Parliament he consistently supported Administration, but failed to obtain an active military command either in America or India.25 On 7 Apr. 1778 North wrote to the King enclosing Lord Adam’s application for the governorship of Tynemouth castle:26
Lord North ... begs leave to repeat, what he has often taken the liberty of mentioning to his Majesty before, that no Member of the House of Commons has been more uniform and zealous in support of Government than Lord Adam.
The King replied:
There is a very improper warmth in Lord Adam Gordon’s letter that undoubtedly would be a good reason never to promote him, but I am above remembering improprieties when men have good qualities.
In this Parliament only two speeches of Gordon’s are recorded: one in support of Administration in the American debate of 23 Jan. 1775, the other on 14 Dec. 1778 in favour of the augmentation of the army.27
In the Parliament of 1780 he continued to support North. He was absent from the division of 22 Feb. 1782 on Conway’s motion against the war, but at Sandwich’s request was sent for by Amherst and voted in the division of 27 Feb.28 He was also absent from the division of 8 Mar. on Cavendish’s censure motion, but was again summoned, and voted on 15 Mar. against Rous’s motion of no confidence.
Deeply concerned by reports of loyalists’ hardships, Gordon voted against Shelburne’s peace preliminaries on 18 Feb. 1783. He spoke during the loyalist debate of 24 June and again on 27 June in support of North’s motion for half pay for officers of American provincial corps, mentioning particularly the vast losses suffered by Sir William Johnson’s son, Sir John:29
It was one among the ill effects of the late peace ... that it left us no other power to reward the provincial officers but half pay ... by giving the Americans so much of the continent we had effectually deprived ourselves of rewarding the brave officers by grants of land.
He did not vote on Fox’s East India bill on 27 Nov. 1783 and shortly afterwards Robinson and Dundas were ‘hopeful’ that he would support a Pitt Administration.30 By January 1784 he was counted ‘pro’, and at the general election was returned as a Government supporter. On 4 Aug. 1784, on instructions from his constituents, he opposed the partial abolition of franking; on 15 Feb. 1785 spoke in support of retaining on the establishment four regiments including his old corps, the 66th,31 but thereafter his parliamentary career is obscure. He did not vote on the Duke of Richmond’s fortifications plan on 27 Feb. 1786, and in April 1788 vacated his seat. Appointed c.-in-c. Scotland the following year, he became closely connected with Henry Dundas and the Duke of Gordon in Scottish politics.32
He died 13 Aug. 1801.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest
- 1. Loudoun mss.
- 2. Add. 32735, ff. 3, 36, 74; Aeneas Mackintosh to Loudoun, 10 May 1754, Loudoun mss.
- 3. Add. 33034, f. 232.
- 4. Anderson, Scottish Nation, ii. 319.
- 5. G. Middleton to Bute, 24 Apr. 1761, Bute mss.
- 6. Same to same, Aug. 1762, Bute mss.
- 7. Copy in the King’s mss (B.M.), including comments added after the imposition of the Townshend duties.
- 8. A. H. Tayler, Ld. Fife his Factor, 21.
- 9. Letter Bk. of John Watts (N.Y. Hist. Soc. Colls.), 355-6.
- 10. Mass. Gaz. 19 Sept. 1765.
- 11. N.Y. Col. Docs. vii. 765-6.
- 12. Pennsylvania Gaz., 13 Feb. 1766.
- 13. Colden Pprs. 103.
- 14. Harris’s ‘Debates’.
- 15. Fortescue, i. 250.
- 16. Ryder’s ‘Debates’, Harrowby mss.
- 17. Harris’s ‘Debates’.
- 18. APC Col. 1745-66, p. 815; Unbound Pprs, no. 688.
- 19. Bd. of Trade Jnl. 1764-7, p. 383.
- 20. Johnson Pprs. v. 391, 767-9, 587-8, 799.
- 21. Fortescue, i. 453 (misdated).
- 22. Johnson Pprs, vi. 587.
- 23. Ibid. viii. 196.
- 24. Laprade, 6, 19; Add. 39190, ff. 197, 199.
- 25. Fortescue, iii. 162, 439.
- 26. Fortescue, iv. 99-100.
- 27. Fortescue, iii. 169; Almon, xi. 155.
- 28. Sandwich to Robinson, 25 Feb. 1782, Abergavenny mss.
- 29. Debrett, x. 211-12, 245.
- 30. Laprade, 102.
- 31. Debrett, xvi. 344; xvii. 175, 178.
- 32. H. Furber, Hen. Dundas, 81 168-70, 268, 271-2.