Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Craggs, James (1657-1721)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

CRAGGS, JAMES, the elder (1657–1721), postmaster-general, was the eldest son of Anthony Craggs of Holbeck, in the parish of Wolsingham, Durham, and Anne, daughter of the Rev. Ferdinando Morecroft, rector of Stanhope in Weardale, and prebendary of Durham. He was born at Wyserley, and on 10 June 1657 was baptised at Wolsingham, in the county of Durham. He was educated at the free school at Bishop Auckland, and on attaining the age of twenty-one joined with his father in cutting off the entail and selling the whole of the small family property. At the age of twenty-three he went up to London, where he obtained employment in various capacities. His early career is involved in considerable obscurity, and though the assertion that he commenced life as a country barber is probably untrue, it is quite likely that his earlier occupations were not of the very highest character. In 1684 he was steward to the Duke of Norfolk. He afterwards became attached to the household of the Duke of Marlborough, where his shrewdness and administrative ability attracted the attention of the duchess, who entrusted him with the management of her business affairs.

On 4 March 1695, Craggs, who was at this time engaged in business as an army clothier, refused to submit his books to the commissioners appointed to examine the public accounts of the kingdom. Three days afterwards being ordered to attend the House of Commons, he was committed to the Tower for obstructing the inquiry into the disposal of the public moneys (Parl. Hist. vol. v. cols. 892–5).

Through the influence of the duchess he was returned in 1702 as one of the members for the borough of Grampound, which he continued to represent until the dissolution of Anne's fourth parliament in August 1713. In 1702 he was one of the committee of the East India Company, and for several years held the posts of clerk of the deliveries, and secretary of the ordnance office, over which his patron, the Duke of Marlborough, presided. Though he lost these last two appointments in the last year of the queen's reign, he was reappointed clerk of the deliveries on 19 Nov. 1714, and in the early part of the following year was made joint postmaster-general with Charles, fourth lord Cornwallis. Though not a director of the South Sea Company, when the crash came, Craggs was deeply involved in its transactions. He was examined before the secret committee of inquiry appointed by the House of Commons at the beginning of 1721. From their third report, which was not considered by the house until after his death, it appeared that no less than 40,000l. of South Sea stock had been taken in and paid for out of the cash of the company for his use and benefit, and that 30,000l. of this had actually been transferred to him. An act was afterwards passed by which all the property which he had acquired since 1 Dec. 1719 was confiscated for the relief of the sufferers by the collapse of the bubble. One of the recitals of this act (7 Geo. I, c. 28) sets out that ‘James Craggs the elder, esquire, was a notorious accomplice and confederate with the said Robert Knight, and some of the late directors of the South Sea Company, in carrying on their corrupt and scandalous practices; and did by his wicked influence and for his own exorbitant gain promote and encourage the pernicious execution of the late South Sea scheme.’ Craggs died on 16 March 1721, and was buried in the churchyard at Charlton in Kent, where there is a monument to his memory. He is supposed by some to have committed suicide by taking poison, but the cause of his death is stated to have been ‘a lethargick fit.’ His death was probably accelerated by his grief at the loss of his son, for whom he had been amassing a huge fortune, and the anxiety of mind occasioned by the impending disclosures. He is reported to have left behind him an estate valued at one million and a half. Craggs was a man of great energy of character, extraordinary financial ability, and marvellous assurance. He was also remarkable ‘for his talent in reading men, and by a peculiar way of gaining on the minds of those he dealt with.’ Troubled with few scruples he was the beau idéal of a successful speculator and floater of bubble companies. ‘Once when he was entrusted with Lord Sunderland's interests while the latter attended the king to Hanover, Walpole and his party got hold of some story very much against Lord Sunderland, which it was impossible to counteract by any common means. Old Craggs sent to Sir Robert Walpole to see him, and acknowledged the fact, but told him if the least use was attempted to be made of it he would that moment go before the lord mayor and swear that he, Walpole, had a conversation with the Pretender. Walpole said that it was a gross falsehood. Craggs said that might be, but he would swear it, and accompany it with such circumstances as would make it believed, and that Walpole knew he was able and capable of it’ (Life of William, Earl of Shelburne, 1875, i. 40–1). Craggs married Elizabeth, daughter of Jacob Richards, and sister of Brigadier Michael Richards, surveyor-general of the ordnance. She died on 20 Jan. 1711, and was buried at Charlton. By her he had three sons and three daughters. James [q. v.], who afterwards became secretary of state, was the only son who survived infancy. His three daughters all married well. Margaret became the wife first of Samuel Trefusis, and secondly of Sir John Hinde Cotton, bart.; Elizabeth married Edward Eliot of Port Eliot; and Anne was successively the wife of John Newsham, John Knight, and Robert, first earl Nugent [see Nugent, Robert]. As his son predeceased him, the manors of Kidbrooke and Catford in the county of Kent, which he had purchased from the trustees of Ralph, first duke of Montagu, descended to his daughters as coheiresses. The portrait of Craggs which was painted in 1709 by Sir Godfrey Kneller has been engraved by Vertue. Another portrait by Sir James Thornhill is in the possession of the Earl of St. Germans at Port Eliot.

[For authorities see under James Craggs the younger].

G. F. R. B.