Pownall, Thomas (DNB00)
|←Pownall, Robert||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 46
POWNALL, THOMAS (1722–1805), known as ‘Governor Pownall,’ politician and antiquary, was second son of William Pownall (d. 1731) and grandson of Thomas Pownall of Barnton, Cheshire. He is said to have been born at Lincoln in 1722, and to have possessed property at North Lynn in Norfolk. He was educated at Lincoln, and graduated B.A. from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1743. Soon afterwards he obtained a place in the office of the board of trade and plantations, to which his elder brother, John Pownall, was secretary, and he speedily acquired the confidence of his chief, George Montagu Dunk, second earl of Halifax [q. v.] On the nomination of Halifax's brother-in-law, Sir Danvers Osborn, to the governorship of New York, Pownall was appointed his private secretary. Either then or at a later date he received the commission of lieutenant-governor of New Jersey, the governor being old and infirm. They sailed from Portsmouth on 22 Aug. 1753, and arrived at New York on 6 Oct.; but a few days later Osborn committed suicide. The late governor's papers were at once demanded by the council of the province, but Pownall refused to surrender them until the temporary successor had duly qualified, and informed his superiors in England that he would permanently retain any secret papers. He remained in America, and in June 1754 was a spectator at Albany of the congress of the commissioners of the several provinces in North America which was held for the purpose of adopting some common measure of defence against French aggression. It was at this congress that the proposition of taxing the colonies was first put forward by the English authorities, and to its meeting many politicians attributed the beginning of the subsequent revolution. Pownall himself on this occasion for the first time ‘conceived the idea, and saw the necessity, of a general British union.’
About 1755 Franklin drew up, at the request of Pownall, a plan for establishing two western colonies as ‘barrier colonies’ in North America (Franklin, Works, iii. 69), and in February of that year William Shirley, governor of Massachusetts, sent him to solicit the aid of the colonies of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York in driving the French from the continent of America. His heart was in his work, for his policy was that of Pitt: to put an end to the strife in America with France by depriving that country of all its North American possessions. He obtained the assistance of the colony in the projected expedition against Crown Point, and took an active part in forwarding the military operations. In January 1756 he went to England, but in the following July returned to America with Lord Loudoun, the new commander-in-chief of the military forces. Shirley had seemed to him to be deficient in vigour, and the new commander met with equal disapproval. Pownall again repaired to England, and in February 1757 was appointed governor of Massachusetts, in place of Shirley. On 2 Aug. he arrived at Boston, where his liberal views and his knowledge of American affairs made him at first very popular, and directed all his energies to the vigorous prosecution of the war. On 31 Aug. Belcher, the governor of New Jersey, died, and on the strength of his old commission the duties were assumed by Pownall; but in about three weeks he returned to Boston, finding it impracticable to retain the administration of the two colonies at the same time. In Massachusetts he took into his confidence the popular leaders, but this proceeding alienated from him the opposite party. He succeeded, however, in raising no less than seven thousand fighting men for the war, and he himself, in May 1759, commanded an expedition to Penobscot river, where he built a fort, closing against the French this passage to the sea. His journal on this voyage is printed in the ‘Maine Historical Society Collections’ (vol. v.). This expedition secured for the states at the peace of 1782 ‘a large and valuable portion of territory.’ But, with all his efforts, Pownall could not acquire the confidence of the old governing class, and he did not escape calumny and ridicule from the friends of Shirley. It is alleged that his habits were rather freer than suited the New England standard (Hildreth, United States, ii. 476); from his love of gay attire and social life he was called by one of the stern puritans ‘a fribble.’ His vanity was undoubted, and he was satirised by Samuel Waterhouse in proposals for a ‘History of the Public Life and Distinguished Actions of Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Brazen, in thirty-one volumes in folio, by Thomas Thumb,’ which were issued at Boston in 1760.
Pownall wished to retire from this irksome position, and made application to England for his own recall; but the request was met in November 1759 by his appointment to the more lucrative and less irksome position of governor of South Carolina. He was still bent, however, on going to England, and on 3 June 1760 he quitted America, when the two branches of the legislature of Massachusetts showed their respect by accompanying him to the place of embarkation. On his arrival in London he resigned his colonial governorship, and during 1762 and 1763 he acted as director-general, or comptroller of the commissariat, for the active forces in Germany, receiving with it the rank of a colonel in the army. On the information of a subordinate he was accused, in No. 40 of Wilkes's ‘North Briton’ (5 March 1763), ‘of passing inferior oats and falsifying the military accounts;’ but on the establishment of peace in 1763, the charges in the libel were investigated at his own desire, and he was honourably acquitted.
Pownall held liberal views on the connection of England with its colonies, and was a staunch friend to the American provinces. He explained his sentiments in his famous work on ‘The Administration of the Colonies,’ 1764, stating that his object was to fuse ‘all these Atlantic and American possessions into one Dominion, of which Great Britain should be the commercial center, to which it should be the spring of power.’ The loyalty of the colonies was in his opinion undoubted; but the settlers insisted that they should not be taxed without their own consent or that of their representatives. The true principles of commerce between Great Britain and her colonies were that they should import from Britain only, and send all their supplies to it; but he urged that to carry out the intention of the Act of Navigation, and to give the colonies proper facilities for trading, British markets should be established ‘even in other countries.’ In an appendix containing a memorial dated in 1756, and addressed to the Duke of Cumberland, he dwells on the wondrous means of intercommunication possessed by America through its noble rivers. The first edition was anonymous, but its successor, ‘revised, corrected, and enlarged,’ which came out in 1765, bore his name, and was dedicated to George Grenville. The third edition appeared in 1766, and the fourth, which was again much enlarged and contained a new dedication to the same statesman, in 1768. Pownall had forwarded to Grenville on 14 July 1768 the draft of the dedication, and had received from him a letter reiterating his convictions on American affairs, and hinting that he should like it to be made clear that the views of the writer were not necessarily those entertained by himself (Grenville Papers, iv. 312–14, 316–19). The dedication allowed that they differed on several points, again urged the attachment of the colonies to the mother country, but with the limitation as to taxation, and insisted that the British isles and colonies were a grand marine dominion, and ought to be united into one ‘imperium in one center, where the seat of government is.’ The fifth edition, in two volumes, is dated 1774, and it again appeared in 1777. The plan set out in the later issues for a general paper currency for America was drawn up by Pownall in conjunction with Franklin (Works of Franklin, ii. 353–4).
In the hope of carrying his political principles into practical action, Pownall was returned at a by-election on 4 Feb. 1767 for the Cornish borough of Tregony, and sat for it throughout the next parliament of 1768–1774. From that date until 1 Sept. 1780 he sat for Minehead (Abergavenny MSS.; Hist. MSS. Comm. 10th Rep. App. pt. vi. pp. 6–10; cf. Courtney, Parl. Rep. of Cornwall, pp. 176–7). At first he allied himself with the whigs, but he would not accompany the American colonists any further than to oppose any steps for the limitation of their liberty. From the beginning he announced that they would carry their opposition to taxation without representation to the extent of armed resistance. When the war broke out he became an adherent of Lord North; and when Burke brought forward, in November 1775, his conciliatory bill, it was opposed by Pownall. But he displeased his new friends by insisting that England's sovereignty over America had gone for ever, and by urging his countrymen to circumvent the French by making a commercial treaty with the revolted colonists. In February 1778 he spoke against the employment of the Indians; he then laid before the ministry a plan for peace, and at last (24 May 1780) he brought into the house a bill for making peace with America. Pownall was of course derided as visionary; he was called by Thomas Hutchinson ‘a man of parts, but runs away with strange notions upon some subjects’ (Diary, i. 303, 315), and it was urged that the support of such a tory would ruin the ministerial party (cf. Memoir of Josiah Quincy, Junr. pp. 205, 255–9; Hutchinson, Diary, i. 251; and Franklin, Works, v. 32–33). As a speaker he was ineffective, but he took infinite pains to preserve his orations. Many of them, and some with his own corrections, are in Cavendish's ‘Debates,’ and they were printed by Almon from his own manuscripts in his ‘Parliamentary Register.’ Pownall also assisted Almon in the twenty volumes of his ‘American Remembrancer.’
About 1784 Pownall gave up his house at Richmond, and spent much of his time in travelling. At the close of 1784 Joseph Cradock and his wife made the Pownalls' acquaintance in southern France, and notes of their travel are given in Cradock's ‘Memoirs’ (ii. 146, 178–97). Attacks of gout made him a frequent visitor to Bath; he died there on 25 Feb. 1805, and was buried in Walcot church. An epitaph to his memory was placed in Walcot church by his widow. Pownall married, on 3 Aug. 1765, at Chelsea, Hannah, relict of Sir Everard Fawkener [q. v.], by whom she had been left with more children than money. A curious story about her attempt to get a second husband is told by Gray (Works, ed. Gosse, iii. 33). At her death on 6 Feb. 1777, aged 51, a sarcophagus, with a bombastic inscription by Pownall, was erected to her memory on the north side of the lady-chapel in Lincoln Cathedral. He married, on 2 Aug. 1784, as his second wife, Hannah, widow of Richard Astell of Everton House, Huntingdonshire.
Pownall's portrait, by Cotes, belonging to Lord Orford, was engraved by Earlom in March and June 1777 (Smith, Portraits, i. 255), and is reproduced in the ‘Magazine of American History’ (xvi. 409). A portrait, painted from the engraving by H. C. Pratt of Boston, was given to Pownalborough (now known as Dresden) in Maine by Samuel J. Bridge. A second portrait was presented by Lucius M. Sargent in 1862 to the Massachusetts Historical Society (Proceedings, 1862–3, p. 17). Immediately after the revolution Pownall gave to Harvard College five hundred acres of land for the foundation of a professorship of law (Franklin, Works, ix. 491–3).
Pownall was author of: 1. ‘Principles of Polity, being the Grounds and Reasons of Civil Empire,’ 3 parts, 1752. The first part was originally published as ‘A View of the Doctrine of an original Contract.’ The whole work was dedicated to the university of Cambridge, ‘in testimony of his filial regard to the place of his education.’ 2. ‘Administration of the Colonies,’ 1764, and subsequent issues. 3. ‘Of the Laws and Commission of Sewers;’ never published; a few copies for friends. 4. ‘Observations on his own Bread Bill;’ never published. The provisions of the act for regulating the assize of bread are set out in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ 1773, pp. 465–6. There was published in 1774 a letter to Governor Pownall on ‘the continued high price of bread in the metropolis.’ 5. ‘Two Speeches of an Honourable Gentleman on the late Negotiation and Convention with Spain,’ 1771, condemnatory of the proceedings. 6. ‘Considerations on the Indignity suffered by the Crown and the Dishonour to the Nation on the Marriage of the Duke of Cumberland with an English Subject. By a King's Friend,’ 1772, written in an ironical strain. 7. ‘The Right Interest and Duty of the State in the Affairs of the East Indies,’ 1773; 2nd ed. revised, 1781. 8. ‘A Memoir entituled Drainage and Navigation but one United Work, and an Outfall to Deep Water the First and Necessary Step to it,’ 1775. 9. ‘Topographical Description of such parts of North America as are contained in the annexed Map of the Middle British Colonies in North America,’ 1776. The original map, by Lewis Evans, came out at Philadelphia in 1755, and was dedicated to Pownall. The profits of the issue in 1776, which was edited by him, were assigned to the daughter of Evans and her children. In 1785 he had prepared a second edition with very many additions, which was probably identical with the copy sold at New York about 1856 (Drake, History of Boston, p. 655). He meditated publishing a French translation for the benefit of the daughter of Evans (Franklin, Works, x. 198–201). 10. ‘A Letter from Governor Pownall to Adam Smith, being an examination of several points of doctrine in the “Inquiry into the Wealth of Nations,”’ 1776. He desired the appointment of a tutor in the universities to lecture on political economy. It was a very courteous letter, and Adam Smith addressed him a letter of thanks on his ‘very great politeness’ (Gent. Mag. 1795, pt. ii. pp. 634–5; Rae, Memoir of Smith, p. 319). 11. ‘Memorial addressed to Sovereigns of Europe,’ 1780. A very bad translation in French of a portion of it, entitled ‘Pensées sur la révolution de l'Amérique-Unie,’ was published, through the influence of John Adams while at the Hague, at Amsterdam in 1781; and another translation by the Abbé Needham appeared at Brussels in 1781. Stockdale brought out in 1781 a volume professing to be a translation of it ‘into common sense and intelligible English,’ and this was also rendered into French. In 1782 Pownall caused the original memorial to be translated into the same language. 12. ‘Two Memorials, with an explanatory preface by Governor Pownall,’ 1782. 13. ‘Memorial to Sovereigns of America,’ 1783; a French translation was also published. 14. ‘Three Memorials to Sovereigns of Europe, Great Britain, and North America,’ 1784. 15. ‘Memorial to Sovereigns of Europe and the Atlantic,’ 1803. Reviewed by Hugh Murray [q. v.] in ‘Edinburgh Review’ (ii. 484–91), where it is stated that his advice during the American crisis ‘did honour to his character as a man and his judgment as a politician,’ but had little effect upon the minds of his countrymen. 16. ‘Treatise on the Study of Antiquities as the Commentary to Historical Learning,’ 1782. This was the first part only; the contents of the second and third parts were described, but they were never published. 17. ‘Proposal for Founding University Professorships for Architecture, Painting, and Sculpture,’ 1786. 18. ‘Answer to a Letter on the Jutæ or Viti,’ 1786. 19. ‘Live and let Live, a treatise on the Hostility between the Manufacturer and Land-worker, with especial reference to the present contest between the Woollen Manufacturers and Wool-growers’ (anon.), 1787. This provoked from Norwich ‘Whilst we Live let us Live: a short View of the Competition between the Manufacturer and Landworker,’ 1788. There was a bill impending in parliament for preventing the exportation of live sheep, wool, &c., and much controversy ensued thereon. 20. ‘Hydraulic and Nautical Observations on the Currents in the Atlantic Ocean, with Notes by Dr. Franklin,’ 1787. 21. ‘Notes and Descriptions of Antiquities of the Provincia Romana of Gaul, with an appendix on Roman Baths at Badenweiler,’ 1788. 22. ‘An Antiquarian Romance,’ 1795. 23. ‘Descriptions and Explanations of Roman Antiquities dug up at Bath in 1790,’ 1795. 24. ‘Considerations on the Scarcity and High Prices of Bread-corn and Bread at the Market, in a series of Letters,’ first printed in the ‘Cambridge Chronicle,’ 1795. He urged, if necessary, ‘a free mart for corn and grain opened in Great Britain to all Europe and America.’ 25. ‘Intellectual Physicks: an Essay on the Nature of Being and the Progression of Existence’ (anon.), 1795.
Pownall was a good mathematician, understood practical surveying, and was skilful with his pencil. He contributed to the ‘Archæologia,’ ‘Tilloch's Philosophical Magazine,’ the ‘American Museum’ for 1789, Arthur Young's ‘Annals of Agriculture;’ and a memoir by him on the corn trade is in Young's ‘Political Arithmetic.’ In Vallancey's ‘Collectanea de rebus Hibernicis’ (1786), pp. 199–204, is ‘An Account of the Ship-Temple near Dundalk,’ with remarks by Vallancey (pp. 205–9) and Ledwich (pp. 429–41). His paper ‘On the Conduct and Privileges of Sir Robert Walpole’ is inserted in Coxe's ‘Memoirs of Walpole’ (iii. 615–20). Horace Walpole (who at one time promised to assist him in his inquiries into the ancient history of the Freemasons, but subsequently sneered at him ‘as pert Governor Pownall, who accounts for everything immediately, before the Creation or since’) wrote him two letters on it, which are included in Nichols's ‘Literary Anecdotes’ (iv. 709–12) and in Cunningham's edition of Walpole's ‘Letters’ (viii. 420–4). Two of his drawings of American scenery are in the ‘Magazine of American History’ (xvi. 414, 420); his view of Boston in 1757 is in Drake's ‘History of Boston’ (p. 655), and his sketch of the old town at Boston is published among the ancient views of that city. In 1761 there came out in folio ‘Eight Views in North America and the West Indies, painted and engraved by Paul Sandby from drawings made on the spot by Governor Pownall and others’ (Lives of T. and P. Sandby, p. 30). Count Rumford possessed the correspondence of Franklin and Pownall with the Rev. Samuel Cooper, D.D., of Boston. He gave the letters to George III, ‘who was vastly pleased with them,’ and they are now preserved at the King's Library, British Museum. Some were printed in Frederick Griffin's ‘Junius Discovered’ (Boston, Mass.), a claim to identify Junius with Pownall, which was rejected in Parkes and Merivale's ‘Memoirs of Sir Philip Francis’ (i. 299). His manuscript letter-book, in folio, with copies of his letters while governor to the British generals and others, was sold by Bangs Brothers & Co., at New York, on 4 March 1854. It afterwards belonged to G. W. Pratt of that city. Several letters to Franklin are in the latter's ‘Works’ (vols. vii.–x.), and letters to Almon and Eden, first lord Auckland, are in Addit. MSS. Brit. Mus. 20733 and 34413.[Nichols's Lit. Anecdotes, viii. 61–6, 110–12, 761; Nichols's Illustrations of Literature, vi. 430, vii. 438; Mag. of American History, xvi. 409–32; Gent. Mag. 1805, pt. i. pp. 288–9, 380–382; Atlantic Monthly, xx. 285–91; Rich's Bibl. Americana Nova, pp. 143, 230, 284, 296, 305, 310, 317, 483; Hutchinson's Diary, i. 56, 63, ii. 28, 337; Historical Mag. (New York), vi. 23–4, 30; Stone's Sir W. Johnson, i. 482–3; Drake's Boston, pp. 614, 643–4, 654; Horace Walpole's Letters, v. 425, 439, vi. 292, viii. 26; Charles A. W. Pownall's Thomas Pownall, 1908, an elaborate biography which seeks anew to identify Junius with Pownall.]