MITCHELL, William (?1742-1823), of Upper Harley Street, Mdx. and Spanish Town, Jamaica.
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Family and Education
b. ?1742, 1st. s. of John Mitchell of Doune, Perth by w. Margaret Ferguson. m. Mrs Catherine Hamilton, 1da. d.v.p. suc. fa. 1783.
When giving evidence before the committee of inquiry into the commercial state of the West Indian colonies in 1807, Mitchell stated that he had ‘known’ Jamaica for 44 years and ‘resided there nearly 40 years’. In that time he had prospered greatly, acquiring several estates on the island: he had had ‘perhaps 16 or 18’ sugar plantations under his ‘care’ at various times, though he was ‘not so much in that line as others’ and had spent over £30,000 on the erection of a sugar works on one of his own estates.1
His career in the Commons was brief and unremarkable. Returned for Plympton on the Treby interest at the general election of 1796 and labelled ‘pro’ in the ministerial election survey, he presumably gave silent support to government. Although he did not vacate his seat until June 1799, he had returned to Jamaica by November 1798, probably because of the death of his brother James, who had apparently held the lease of the office of receiver general, nominally in the possession of Charles Germain, 2nd Viscount Sackville, from 1776 to 1815. Mitchell, who took his seat in the Jamaican assembly on 29 Nov. 1798, evidently succeeded his brother as lessee and in November 1799 he managed to secure the defeat of a bill designed to replace the receiver general’s commissions, worth an average of £6,000 a year, with a fixed annual salary. According to his will he renewed the lease in 1808 for a period of 19 years or the lifetime of Sackville’s younger brother, George Germain.2
‘King Mitchell’, as he was known in Jamaica, was described by Lady Nugent, wife of (Sir) George Nugent*, governor from 1801 to 1806, as ‘a coarse looking man, but humane’, who ‘treats his negroes most kindly’:
Mr M’s delight is to stuff his guests, and I should think it would be quite a triumph to him, to hear of a fever or apoplexy, in consequence of his good cheer. He is immensely rich, and told me he paid £30,000 per annum for duties to government.
In October 1805 he obtained a year’s leave of absence and early in 1806 he entertained ‘all Jamaica’ at his London house. Nugent had written that Mitchell, who had ‘very great influence in the assembly and in the island generally’, was ‘soon expected to return to Jamaica, as England does not agree with him’; but he was granted a year’s extension of leave in October 1806 and a year later vacated his seat in the assembly. He was still in London in May 1808, when he was a witness before the committee of inquiry into the distillation of sugar, and it is not clear whether he ever returned to Jamaica.3
In his will, dated 11 Feb. 1819, Mitchell bequeathed his Jamaican property and ‘personal estate’ in Scotland to his nephew John Mitchell* and distributed over £25,000 in annuities and legacies between his wife and other relatives. He died a Brighton, 10 Nov. 1823, ‘aged 81’.4