GRANT, James (1720-1806), of Ballindalloch, Banff.

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



26 Apr. 1773 - 1780
1 Aug. 1787 - 1802

Family and Education

b. 1720, 2nd s. of Lt.-Col. William Grant of Ballindalloch by Anne, 2nd da. of Ludovick Grant of Grant, M.P. [S]; cos. of Sir Ludovick and Francis Grant. educ. Edinburgh Univ. 1736-40. unm. suc. nephew as laird of Ballindalloch 12 July 1770.

Offices Held

Ensign 1st Royal Regt. 1741, capt. 1744; maj. 77 Ft. 1757; lt.-col. 40 Ft. 1760; col. 1772; col. 55 Ft. 1775-91; maj.-gen. (in America) 1776; maj.-gen. 1777; lt.-gen. 1782; col. 11 Ft. 1791- d.; gen. 1796.

Gov. East Florida 1763-73; gov. Stirling castle 1789- d.


Grant was educated in the care of Patrick Grant, Lord Elchies, S.C.J., on whose advice he studied law, but, preferring a military career, obtained a commission in his brother’s regiment, commanded by James St. Clair.1 He served in Flanders from 1743, fought at Fontenoy, and returned to England in autumn 1745 with St. Clair, who appointed him and Sir Harry Erskine his aides-de-camp for the expedition intended against Canada. Expecting to leave he unsuccessfully appealed to his brother, the laird of Ballindalloch, to ‘make him of more consequence in the country’ by giving him electoral qualifications in Elginshire and Banffshire.2 When the American venture was cancelled, Grant, with Erskine and David Hume, served in the L’Orient expedition under St. Clair, who also appointed them his aides-de-camp during his diplomatic mission to Vienna and Turin in 1748.3 After the peace Grant continued to act as aide-de-camp to St. Clair, who in April 1752 sent him abroad as travelling tutor to his grand-nephew William, 17th Earl of Sutherland. In the spring of 1755 St. Clair ordered him to rejoin his regiment, in expectation of active service.4

Through St. Clair and Argyll Grant obtained a major’s commission in the new Highland regiment, commanded by Archibald Montgomerie; recruited two companies of Grants; and sailed for Charleston, South Carolina, in 1757.5 In June 1758 the regiment took part in the campaign against Fort Duquesne, during which Grant ‘sacrificed with good grace his repugnance for serving under colonial officers for the good of the service’.6 Taken prisoner in September 1758, he was sent to Montreal and released in November 1759:7

In 1760 he served against the Cherokees in South Carolina. Contemptuous of South Carolina’s war effort, he had a violent quarrel with Col. Middleton, the provincial commander, over the merits of their respective troops.8 In 1762 he served in the expeditions against Martinique and Havana. He returned to London in February 1763, renewed his friendship with Sir Harry Erskine, Bute’s favourite, and shortly afterwards was appointed governor of East Florida.

An able, if autocratic, administrator, he vigorously promoted the development of communications, agriculture and settlement; took a firm line on ‘land grabbing’; and maintained good relations with the Indians, claiming that American backwoodsmen were often the aggressors. On one occasion, in fulfilment of his pledge that ‘red and white rogues’ be equally punished, he ordered the execution of a white man convicted of having murdered an Indian. Proud of his colony, he wrote to Robert Grant of Tammore, 8 Jan. 1768:9

This province, which was a desert when I came to it, though inhabited by Spaniards at least 200 years, will soon be a fruitful and plentiful country, it fills faster with inhabitants than I could well have expected.

In 1770, by the death of his nephew, Grant became laird of Ballindalloch. Hillsborough at once offered him 15 months leave, which Grant however postponed accepting:10

People are accustomed to me and will go on as they have begun while I remain with them, but I am afraid of trusting them to themselves. Dissension might creep in if there was a change of measures to mine, and East Florida, which I have taken so much pain about for seven years, would dwindle to nothing.

He wrote to Brigadier Haldimand in West Florida, 20 Oct. 1770:11 ‘I think I shall hardly leave the province for two years, though my friends at home will think me mad, more so when I return from Europe to Florida, which I shall certainly do for a year or two.’

Ill health, however, induced Grant to go home in the early summer of 1771.12 He now had to face considerable criticism. An opponent wrote: ‘Governor Grant may be an excellent officer but he is a most tyrannical governor.’ Another complained of his injustice in granting land and ‘his persecution shown to those who refuse to submit to his ... caprices’.13 Shortly after Dartmouth had succeeded Hillsborough Grant was displaced, and he never again went back to Florida.

In April 1773 he was returned unopposed for Tain Burghs on the Sutherland interest. He voted with Administration, and at the general election of 1774 was re-elected after a contest. While a petition was pending against him, Grant made a violent speech on 2 Feb. 1775, ridiculing what he considered American religious cant, the poor quality of colonial troops, and boasting that with 5,000 regulars he could march from one end of America to the other.14 Americans present at the debate were incensed.15 Ralph Izard of South Carolina wrote to George Dempster: ‘Lord Sandwich and Colonel Grant have persuaded all ranks of people that Americans are base abject cowards.’16

Grant was not interested in a parliamentary career. He wanted another governorship or a high military command; and in the spring of 1775 was sent to America with the rank of brigadier. He served at Boston until the evacuation, and distinguished himself at the capture of New York. After his successful operations on Long Island he wrote to Richard Rigby, 2 Sept. 1776:17

You will be glad and Lord North not displeased that we have had the field day I talked of ... and if a good bleeding can bring those bible-faced Yankees to their senses, the fever of independence should soon abate ... These cursed saints put me in the newspapers as being killed and rejoiced exceedingly at getting rid of a man who had abused them in Parliament ... They may from compulsion become dutiful subjects for a time, but they will never be cordial and affectionate ... In the course of the winter the commissioners will probably be able to bring things to an accommodation, for I don’t look for another campaign.

He was wrong. He spent the next two years on active service in New Jersey, fought at Brandywine, took part in the capture of and withdrawal from Philadelphia, and was highly commended by Howe and Clinton, who in 1778 appointed him to command the land forces in the expedition to St. Lucia.

After the capture of the island Grant, crippled by gout and fever, sailed for England, and on his arrival was attacked in the Lords by Shelburne on 25 Nov. 1779,18 and in the Commons by Sir Charles Bunbury and others on 8 Dec. He defended himself in ‘a faithful narrative of his conduct and motives’;19 and when Temple Luttrell taunted him with ‘his former gasconades’ on American cowardice, claimed that he had referred only to untried, ill disciplined men, and that now, after battle experience, ‘he never saw better troops than some of the rebel regiments were’.

At the general election of 1780 Grant lost Tain Burghs and unsuccessfully contested Elgin Burghs. North in 1782 mentioned him to the King as a possible candidate for Inverness-shire or Elginshire.20 He was an intimate friend of Henry Dundas, whose politics he followed, but who failed to secure his return in 1784 for Elgin Burghs.21 In 1787 he re-entered Parliament for Sutherland. He voted with Pitt on the Regency, and in 1789 obtained through Dundas the governorship of Stirling castle.22

He continued in Parliament until the age of 82, a corpulent, amiable, eccentric old gentleman, well known in London society as a bon viveur and gourmet. Every summer he travelled north, with his retinue of attendants and his black cook, in his state coach, to his Ballindalloch estates. Here he spent immense sums on improving agriculture, building roads and bridges, dispensing vast hospitality, and ruled his tenants with the same firm but benevolent paternalism which had characterized his government of Florida.

He died 13 Apr. 1806.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. Macpherson Grant, Gen. James Grant of Ballindalloch, 24-31.
  • 2. Add. 25408, f. 174.
  • 3. Ibid. f. 323; J. Kay, Edinburgh Portraits, ii. 22.
  • 4. Add. 25411, f. 98.
  • 5. Add. 17493, f. 28; 25411, ff. 231-6, 253.
  • 6. H. Bouquet to Gen. Forbes, 20 Aug. 1758, Macpherson Grant, 53.
  • 7. Pprs. of Henry Bouquet, ii. 499-504, 517-21, 537; Corresp. of W. Pitt with Colonial Govs. (ed Kimball), i. 370-1; N.Y. Col. Docs. x. 902-3; Gent. Mag. 1759, pp. 173, 223.
  • 8. E. McCrady, S.C. under Royal Govt. 350-2; D. D. Wallace, Life of H. Laurens, 51.
  • 9. Add. 25412, f. 301.
  • 10. Macpherson Grant, 79.
  • 11. Add. 21729, f. 169.
  • 12. Add. 25412, f. 345.
  • 13. HMC Dartmouth, ii. 83, 185.
  • 14. Almon, i. 135.
  • 15. W. A. Duer, Life of Ld. Stirling (N.J. Hist. Soc.), 162-4.
  • 16. Corresp. of Ralph Izard, ed. A. Deas, 79.
  • 17. Macpherson Grant, 85.
  • 18. Almon, xv. 45-46.
  • 19. Ibid. xvi. 155-6, 162.
  • 20. Fortescue, v. 362.
  • 21. Laprade, 102.
  • 22. Macpherson Grant, 106.