Cuming, Alexander (DNB00)

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CUMING or CUMMING, Sir ALEXANDER (1690?–1775), chief of the Cherokees, was the only son of Sir Alexander Cuming, M.P., the first baronet of Culter, Aberdeenshire, by his first wife, Elizabeth, second daughter of the second wife of Sir Alexander Swinton, a Scotch judge with the courtesy title of Lord Mersington. He was probably born about 1690, for although his birth is not recorded in the Culter registers he is mentioned with his two sisters in the Aberdeen Poll Book of 1696. In 1714 he was called to the Scottish bar, and also held a captain's commission, it is said, in the Russian army. From his manuscripts, cited in Lysons's ‘Environs,’ iv. 20–3, and ‘Notes and Queries,’ 1st ser. v. 278–9, it appears that Cuming was induced to quit the legal profession by a pension of 300l. a year being granted to him by government at Christmas 1718, and that it was discontinued at Christmas 1721 at the instance, he suggests, of Sir Robert Walpole, who bore a grudge against his father for opposing him in parliament. It is far more likely that he was found of a too flighty disposition to fulfil the services ex- pected of him. In 1729 he was led, by a dream of his wife's, to undertake a voyage to America, with the object of visiting the Cherokee mountains on the borders of South Carolina and Virginia. Leaving England on 13 Sept. he arrived at Charlestown on 5 Dec., and on 11 March following he began his journey to the Indians' country. It was on 3 April 1730 that ‘by the unanimous consent of the people he was made lawgiver, commander, leader, and chief of the Cherokee nation, and witness of the power of God, at a general meeting at Nequisee [Nequassee], in the Cherokee mountains.’ A place in Georgia was named ‘Cumming’ in memory of his visit. Extracts from his journal, giving an account of his transactions with the Indians and his explorations in the Cherokee mountains, were published in the London ‘Daily Journal’ of 8 Oct. 1730. He returned to Charlestown on 13 April 1730, accompanied by seven Indian chiefs of the Cherokee nation, and on 5 June arrived at Dover in the Fox man-of-war; on the 18th he was allowed to present the chiefs to George II in the royal chapel at Windsor, and four days later laid his crown at the feet of the king, when the chiefs laid also their four scalps to show their superiority over their enemies, and five eagle tails as emblems of victory (Daily Journal, 8, 12, and 20 June 1730). The proceedings of the chiefs while in England excited the greatest interest (see Daily Journal and Daily Post, June to October 1730, passim). Shortly before they returned to their country Cuming drew up an ‘Agreement of Peace and Friendship,’ which he signed with them on 29 Sept. at his lodgings in Spring Gardens, in the name of the British nation, and with the approval of the board of trade. There is little doubt that this agreement, the text of which is to be found in the ‘Daily Journal’ of 7 Oct. 1730 (see also ib. 1 Oct.), was the means of keeping the Cherokees our firm allies in our subsequent wars with the French and revolted American colonists.

By this time some reports seriously affecting Cuming's character had reached England. In a letter from South Carolina, bearing date 12 June 1730, an extract from which is given in the ‘Eccho, or Edinburgh Weekly Journal,’ for 16 Sept., he is directly accused of having defrauded the settlers of large sums of money and other property by means of fictitious promissory notes. He does not seem to have made any answer to these charges, which, if true, would explain his subsequent ill-success and poverty. The government turned a deaf ear to all his proposals, which included schemes for paying off eighty millions of the national debt by settling three million Jewish families in the Cherokee mountains to cultivate the land, and for relieving our American colonies from taxation by establishing numerous banks and a local currency. Being now deeply in debt, he turned to alchemy, and attempted experiments on the transmutation of metals. A few years later, in 1737, we find him confined within the limits of the Fleet prison, but having a rule of court. Here he remained until 1765, when, on 30 Dec. of that year, he was nominated by Archbishop Secker a poor brother of the Charterhouse, and took up his abode in the hospital on 3 Jan. 1766. Dying there nearly ten years afterwards, he was buried in the church of East Barnet on 28 Aug. 1775. He had been elected a fellow of the Royal Society on 30 June 1720, but, neglecting to pay the annual fee, was expelled on 9 June 1757. He married Amy, daughter of Lancelot Whitehall, a member of an old Shropshire family, and a commissioner in the customs for Scotland. By this lady, who was buried at East Barnet on 22 Oct. 1743, Cuming had a son, Alexander, born about 1737, and a daughter, Elizabeth, who predeceased him. His son, who succeeded to the title, was a captain in the army, but became disordered in his mind, and died some time before 1796 in a state of indigence in the neighbourhood of Red Lion Street, Whitechapel. At his death the baronetcy was supposed to have become extinct. It has been assumed, however, through the medium of an advertisement in the ‘Times’ of 2 March 1878, and other newspapers, by Kenneth William Cumming, M.D., surgeon-major in the army, whose statement of claim has not been deemed satisfactory by the genealogists.

[Marshall's Genealogist, iii. 1–11; Burke's Peerage (1832), i. 308; Foster's Baronetage (1882), p. 684; Scottish Journal of Topography, Antiquities, Traditions, &c., ii. 254.]

G. G.