Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hunter, Robert (d.1734)

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HUNTER, ROBERT (d. 1734), governor of New York and Jamaica, belonged to the family of Hunter of Hunterston, Ayrshire (see Burke, Landed Gentry, 1886 ed.) Paterson describes him (Hist. of the Counties of Ayr and Wigton, iii. 354) as one of the children of James Hunter, who was a son of the laird of that ilk, and married Margaret, daughter of the Rev. John Spalding of Dreghorn. It appears probable that Hunter was the 'Robert Hunter, esquire,' appointed major of Brigadier-general Charles Ross's dragoons(5th royal Irish dragoons) on 13 April 1698 (Home Office Mil. Entry Book, vol. iv.) Major Hunter was present with that regiment at the battle of Blenheim (Treas. Papers, vol. xciii. Blenheim Roll), and was afterwards lieutenant-colonel of the regiment until about 1707 (Chamberlayne, Angliæ Notitiæ). Owing probably to the influence of George Hamilton, earl of Orkney [q. v.], one of Marlborough's generals at Blenheim and governor of Virginia 1704-34, Hunter was appointed lieutenant-governor of Virginia, and sailed for that province on 20 May 1707 (Treas. Papers, civ. 39), but was taken prisoner on the voyage by a French privateer and carried to France. He was an acquaintance of Addison and Swift. The latter appears not to have known Hunter personally in 1708 (Swift, Works, xv. 310), but in January-March 1709 two letters written by the dean to Hunter in Paris (ib. xv. 326, 337) rallied him pleasantly on his social successes there, and falsely suggested that Hunter was the author of the famous 'Letter concerning Enthusiasm' (London, 1708), which had been attributed to Swift. Hunter was exchanged for the French bishop of Quebec soon after. Between May and December 1709 large numbers of poor protestant refugees from the palatinate of the Rhine sought an asylum in England, and became a source of much trouble to the government. In a letter dated 17 Dec. 1709 (Treas. Papers, civ. 39) Hunter proposed to take three thousand of the people out to New York and settle them on the banks of the Hudson. The plan was approved. Hunter was appointed governor of New York, and sailed with the refugees early in 1710. In November of the same year (ib. cxxv. 45) he reported that the refugees were settled on the banks of the Hudson, close to the great pine woods, and that 15,000l. a year for the next two years was all that was needed for the success of the great project. He promised that the colonies would supply tar enough for the English navy for ever if sufficient hands were employed. Orphans, he wrote, had been made over to those who would maintain and educate them. Each person's account was kept separate, as they would have to repay by their labour what they then received. He prophesied that their numbers would increase, as they were very healthy (ib. cxxv. cxxxvii. 25). In 1712 he reported that his colonists were all settled in good houses and lands near the pine woods, that a hundred thousand pine-trees had been felled and burned for tar during the autumn, and that it was proposed to employ a number of the colonists in the navy yard at New York, adults at 6d. and children at 4d. a day. But Hunter added that he had laid out all his money and engaged all his credit, that the Indians grew threatening, and the officers were starving for want of pay. He concluded that he had had nothing but labour and trouble, with the pleasure of having surmounted opposition and difficulties next to insurmountable' (ib. cxlix. 1-2). Hunter had constant disputes with his assembly, which refused again and again to vote the required 'appropriations 'unless their inherent right ' to a voice in the disposal of the money was admitted (Bancroft, Hist. ii. 24). Hunter foresaw that the question would some day lead to the secession of the provinces from the parent country (ib. ii. 239). A compromise was arrived at in 1715 (Treas. Papers, ccliii.42). From 1709 to 1715 the assembly of New York refused to vote a revenue without particular application of it, to which the governor would not submit, but which was agreed to by Hunter in the latter year. American writers describe Hunter as a man of good temper and discernment, the best and ablest of the royal governors of New York. He returned home with the rank of brigadier-general in 1719. On 20 June 1729 he became major-general, and was appointed governor of Jamaica and captain of the independent companies garrisoning that island, which appointment he held up to his death (Home Office Mil. Entry Book, xiii. f. 221). He died in Jamaica on 31 March 1734 (Gent. Mag. 1734,p.330). By his will, proved in November 1734, he left considerable property at Chertsey (including the patronage of the living) to his son Thomas Orby Hunter (d.1769), M.P. for Winchilsea, from whom descended the family of Orby-Hunter (on condition of his not contracting a certain marriage), together with 5,000l. to his daughter Katherine, wife of William Sloper, and fortunes to his daughters Henrietta and Charlotte. He also mentions a debt of 21,000l. due from the crown for the subsistence of the colonists of the palatine in New York, which 'had been acknowledged by Mr. Harley and the treasury, but never paid' (Manning and Bray, vol. iii.) A Latin epitaph on Hunter, written by the Rev. Mr. Fleming, is given in Nichols (Lit. Anecd. vi. 90), but does not appear among those still extant in Jamaica, collected by Major Lawrence Archer. Hunter married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Thomas Orby, third baronet, of Croyland Abbey, Lincolnshire, and widow of Brigadier-general Lord John Hay (d. 1706) [q.v.] of the royal Scots dragoons.

Hunter became a member of the Spalding Society in 1726. Most biographers, relying on Swift, describe Hunter as the author of the ' Letter concerning Enthusiasm,' which was written by Shaftesbury, and of which the original is in the `Shaftesbury Papers' in the Public Record Office [see Cooper, Anthony Ashley, third Earl of Shaftesbury]. Thomas Coxeter [q.v.], on the authority of a manuscript note on the title-page of the only known copy extant, once in possession of John Philip Kemble, gives Hunter as the author of a farce entitled 'Androboros' (Biog. Dramatica, i. 251).

[Paterson's Hist. of the Counties of Ayr and Wigton, vol. iii.; Manning and Bray's Surrey, iii. 230; Bancroft's Hist. of the United States, vol. ii.; Appleton's Encycl. Amer. Biog.; Swift's Works; Luttrell's Relation of State Affairs; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. i. 339, iv. 261, vi. 89; Treasury Papers indexed under name in Calendars of State Papers, 1704-7, 1708-14, 1714-17, 1718-25; J. Lawrence Archer's Monumental Inscriptions in the West Indies. Papers relating to Hunter's governments of New York and Jamaica will be found among the Board of Trade and other papers in the Colonial Office Records in the Public Record Office. A letter from Hunter to Addison in 1714 forms Egerton MS. 1971, f. 15, and one to C. Heathcote Add. MS. 24322, f. 1. Hunter's correspondence with the Duke of Newcastle in 1728-33, with Sir Chas. Ogle and P. Y. Ximenes, is also among Add. MSS.]

H. M. C.