Thomas Pownall

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Thomas Pownall
Thomas Pownall.jpg
Baptised4 September 1722 (New Style)
Died25 February 1805(1805-02-25) (aged 82)
Bath, Somerset, England
Alma mater Trinity College, Cambridge
Spouse(s)Harriet Fawkener
Member of the Great Britain Parliament
for Minehead, Somerset
In office
Preceded by Henry Fownes-Luttrell
Succeeded by Francis Fownes-Luttrell
Member of the Great Britain Parliament
for Tregony, Cornwall
In office
Servingwith Sir Abraham Hume and John Grey
Preceded by William Trevanion
Succeeded by George Lane Parker
Governor of the Province of South Carolina
In office
1760 1760,Resigned having never assumed office
Appointed by Lords of Trade
Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay
In office
3 August 1757 3 June 1760
Appointed by Lords of Trade
Preceded by Massachusetts Governor's Council (acting)
Succeeded by Thomas Hutchinson (acting)
Lieutenant Governor of the Province of New Jersey
In office
13 May 1755 23 September 1757
Governor Jonathan Belcher
Preceded byOffice created
Succeeded byOffice abolished

Thomas Pownall (bapt. 4 September 1722 (New Style) – 25 February 1805) was a British colonial official and politician. He was governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay from 1757 to 1760, and afterwards sat in the House of Commons from 1767 to 1780. He travelled widely in the North American colonies prior to the American Revolutionary War, opposed Parliamentary attempts to tax the colonies, and was a minority advocate of colonial positions until the Revolution.

Kingdom of Great Britain Constitutional monarchy in Western Europe between 1707 and 1801

The Kingdom of Great Britain, officially called Great Britain, was a sovereign state in western Europe from 1 May 1707 to 1 January 1801. The state came into being following the Treaty of Union in 1706, ratified by the Acts of Union 1707, which united the kingdoms of England and Scotland to form a single kingdom encompassing the whole island of Great Britain and its outlying islands, with the exception of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. The unitary state was governed by a single parliament and government that was based in Westminster. The former kingdoms had been in personal union since James VI of Scotland became King of England and King of Ireland in 1603 following the death of Elizabeth I, bringing about the "Union of the Crowns". Since its inception the kingdom was in legislative and personal union with Ireland and after the accession of George I to the throne of Great Britain in 1714, the kingdom was in a personal union with the Electorate of Hanover.

Province of Massachusetts Bay English/British possession in America (1691–1776)

The Province of Massachusetts Bay was a crown colony in colonial New England, which became one of the thirteen original states of the United States from 1776 onward. It was chartered on October 7, 1691 by William III and Mary II, the joint monarchs of the kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland. The charter took effect on May 14, 1692 and included the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Plymouth Colony, the Province of Maine, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick; the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is the direct successor. Maine has been a separate state since 1820, and Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are now Canadian provinces, having been part of the colony only until 1697.

The House of Commons is the elected lower house of the bicameral parliaments of the United Kingdom and Canada and historically was the name of the lower houses of the Kingdom of England, Kingdom of Great Britain, Kingdom of Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Southern Ireland. Roughly equivalent bodies in other countries which were once part of the British Empire include the United States House of Representatives, the Australian House of Representatives, the New Zealand House of Representatives, and India's Lok Sabha.


Classically educated and well-connected to the colonial administration in London, Pownall first travelled to North America in 1753, and spent two years exploring the colonies before being appointed Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey in 1755. He became governor of Massachusetts in 1757 after helping engineer the recall of longtime Governor William Shirley. His administration was dominated by the French and Indian War (called the "Seven Years War" in England) in which Pownall was instrumental in raising Massachusetts provincial militia for the war effort. He opposed military interference in colonial administration, including attempts to quarter British troops in private homes, and had a generally positive relationship with the colonial assembly.

London Capital of the United Kingdom

London is the capital of and largest city in England and the United Kingdom, with the largest municipal population in the European Union. Standing on the River Thames in the south-east of England, at the head of its 50-mile (80 km) estuary leading to the North Sea, London has been a major settlement for two millennia. Londinium was founded by the Romans. The City of London, London's ancient core − an area of just 1.12 square miles (2.9 km2) and colloquially known as the Square Mile − retains boundaries that follow closely its medieval limits. The City of Westminster is also an Inner London borough holding city status. Greater London is governed by the Mayor of London and the London Assembly.

Province of New Jersey English, from 1707, British, possession in North America between 1664 and 1776

The Province of New Jersey was one of the Middle Colonies of Colonial America and became New Jersey, a state of United States in 1783. The province had originally been settled by Europeans as part of New Netherland, but came under English rule after the surrender of Fort Amsterdam in 1664, becoming a proprietary colony. The English then renamed the province after the Isle of Jersey in the English Channel. The Dutch Republic reasserted control for a brief period in 1673–1674. After that it consisted of two political divisions, East Jersey and West Jersey, until they were united as a royal colony in 1702. The original boundaries of the province were slightly larger than the current state, extending into a part of the present state of New York, until the border was finalized in 1773.

William Shirley British governor of Massachusetts and then of the Bahamas

William Shirley was a British colonial administrator who was the longest-serving governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay and then Governor of the Bahamas (1760–1768). He is best known for his role in organizing the 1745 Siege of Louisbourg during King George's War, and for his role in military affairs during the French and Indian War. He spent most of his years in the colonial administration of North America working to defeat New France, but his lack of formal military training led to political difficulties and his eventual downfall.

Returning to England in 1760, he continued to be interested in colonial affairs, publishing widely read materials on conditions in the colonies, including several editions of The Administration of the Colonies. As a Member of Parliament he regularly advocated for colonial positions without much success, but supported the war effort once the Revolutionary War began. In the early 19th century he became an early advocate of the reduction or removal of trade barriers, and the establishment of a solid relationship between Britain and the United States. Several writers have proposed that Pownall was Junius, a pseudonymous writer of letters critical of British governmental practices.

Junius was the pseudonym of a writer who contributed a series of letters to the Public Advertiser, from 21 January 1769 to 21 January 1772. The signature had been already used, apparently by him, in a letter of 21 November 1768. These and numerous other personal letters were not included in his Letters of Junius collection, published in 1772.

John Adams wrote, "Pownall was the most constitutional and national Governor, in my opinion, who ever represented the crown in this province." [1]

John Adams 2nd president of the United States

John Adams was an American statesman, attorney, diplomat, writer, and Founding Father who served as the second president of the United States from 1797 to 1801. Before his presidency, he was a leader of the American Revolution that achieved independence from Great Britain and served as the first vice president of the United States. Adams was a dedicated diarist and regularly corresponded with many important figures in early American history, including his wife and adviser, Abigail. His letters and other papers serve as an important source of historical information about the era.

Early life

Thomas Pownall was the eldest son of William and Sarah (Burniston) Pownall, daughter of John Burniston. His father was a country gentleman and soldier whose poor health and early death in 1735 caused the family to fall upon hard times. [2] [3] Baptised 4 September 1722 (New Style) in Lincoln, England, Thomas was educated at Lincoln Grammar School and at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated in 1743. [4] His education exposed him to classic and current philosophers, and the sciences. His first publication, a treatise on the origins of government published in 1752, began as notes developed at Cambridge. [5]

John Burniston was the Deputy Governor of Bombay from 1690 to 1704.

Lincoln, England City and Borough in England

Lincoln is a cathedral city and the county town of Lincolnshire in the East Midlands of England. The non-metropolitan district of Lincoln had a 2012 population of 94,600. The 2011 census gave the urban area of Lincoln, which includes North Hykeham and Waddington, a population of 130,200.

Trinity College, Cambridge constituent college of the University of Cambridge in England

Trinity College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge in England. With around 600 undergraduates, 300 graduates, and over 180 fellows, it is the largest college in either of the Oxbridge universities by number of undergraduates. In terms of total student numbers, it is second only to Homerton College, Cambridge.

During his years at Cambridge, his younger brother John acquired a job at the Board of Trade, which oversaw British colonial affairs, and rapidly rose in the bureaucracy. The brothers were influential supporters of each other in their efforts to advance. [6] John secured a job for Thomas in the colonial office, where he was exposed to the possibilities for advancement and influence in colonial postings. [7] In 1753 he went to America as private secretary to Sir Danvers Osborne, just appointed governor of New York. Osborne committed suicide several days after reaching New York, leaving Pownall without a job and a sponsor. [8] Pownall chose to remain in America, devoting himself to studying the condition of the American colonies. In the following months he travelled widely, from Maryland to Massachusetts. He was introduced into the highest circles of leadership and society in the colonies, and established relationships with a number of influential people, including Benjamin Franklin and Massachusetts Governor William Shirley. [9]

John Pownall (1720–1795) was a British office holder and politician who sat in the House of Commons from 1775 to 1776.

Board of Trade committee of the United Kingdom Privy Council

The Board of Trade is a British government department concerned with commerce and industry, currently within the Department for International Trade. Its full title is The Lords of the Committee of the Privy Council appointed for the consideration of all matters relating to Trade and Foreign Plantations, but is commonly known as the Board of Trade, and formerly known as the Lords of Trade and Plantations or Lords of Trade, and it has been a committee of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom. The Board has gone through several evolutions, beginning with extensive involvement in colonial matters in the 17th Century, to powerful regulatory functions in the Victorian Era, to virtually being dormant in the last third of 20th century. In 2017, it was revitalized as an advisory board headed by the International Trade Secretary who has nominally held the title of President of the Board of Trade, and who at present is the only privy counsellor of the Board, the other members of the present Board filling roles as advisers.

Province of Maryland English, from 1707, British, possession in North America between 1664 and 1776

The Province of Maryland was an English and later British colony in North America that existed from 1632 until 1776, when it joined the other twelve of the Thirteen Colonies in rebellion against Great Britain and became the U.S. state of Maryland. Its first settlement and capital was St. Mary's City, in the southern end of St. Mary's County, which is a peninsula in the Chesapeake Bay and is also bordered by four tidal rivers.

The Evans-Pownall map of 1755 EvansPownallMap1755.jpg
The Evans-Pownall map of 1755

Governor Osborne had been instructed particularly to deal with the rising discontent among the six Iroquois nations whose territory abutted New York (and is encompassed by central and western Upstate New York and part of Pennsylvania). Pownall had studied the matter, and he was consequently invited by his Pennsylvania connections to attend the 1754 Albany Congress as an observer. [10] His observations on the nature of colonial dealings with the Indians (including political infighting for control of the Indian trade, and the corrupt and fraudulent acquisition of Indian lands) led him to draft a number of proposals related to colonial administration. He proposed the establishment of a crown-appointed superintendent of Indian affairs, specifically William Johnson, New York's commissioner for Indian affairs who was highly influential with the Iroquois nations. [11] [12] He also articulated visions for managing the expansion of the colonies to the west. [11]

After the conference Pownall returned to Philadelphia. In this time he apparently deepened a close friendship with Franklin, with whom he began to invest in business ventures. [13] Franklin, who had unsuccessfully proposed colonial union at the Albany conference, may have contributed to Pownall's writings, although the exact nature of his influence is unclear. [14] While in Philadelphia Pownall also established a close collaboration with cartographer Lewis Evans, both of whom recognized the need for accurate maps of the inland regions of North America then being disputed with New France in the French and Indian War. [15] The map Evans published in 1755 was dedicated to Pownall, and brought the latter wide publicity. [16] Pownall's recommendation of William Johnson as superintendent of Indian affairs was implemented by the crown in 1755. [17]

Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey

William Shirley was unseated as Massachusetts governor in part by Pownall's actions. William Shirley.JPG
William Shirley was unseated as Massachusetts governor in part by Pownall's actions.

Pownall had been living at his own expense, in the hopes that a posting would eventually come his way. In May 1755 he was appointed Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey, with little responsibility beyond anticipating the death of the aging governor, Jonathan Belcher, [18] and attending military conferences concerning the ongoing war. Belcher, however, proved to be longer lived than expected (he died in 1757), and Pownall was restless. [19] The military conferences drew him into an ongoing power struggle between Johnson and Shirley (who rose to become military commander-in-chief upon the death of General Edward Braddock in July 1755) over the management of Indian affairs. [14] Johnson capitalized on Pownall's concern over frontier security to draw him into his camp. [20] Pownall already harboured some dislike of Shirley over an earlier snub, and his reports to New York Governor Sir Charles Hardy, combined with damaging allegations provided by other Johnson supporters, led to Shirley's dismissal as commander-in-chief. [21] Pownall returned to England in early 1756, where he confirmed the Johnson allegations, and was rewarded with a post as "Secretary Extraordinary" (a title of Pownall's creation) to the new commander-in-chief, Lord Loudoun. [22]

While Pownall was in England, Shirley's reputation was further damaged by allegations (not apparently furthered by Pownall's action) that he had let military information fall into enemy hands, and the Board of Trade decided to recall him. [23] Pownall was also offered the governorship of Pennsylvania by its proprietors; however, his demands for wide-ranging powers in the post led them to retract the offer. Pownall turned this to his own advantage, widely publicizing the fact that he had turned down the offer because of the "unreasonable, unenlightened attitude of the proprietors." [24]

Pownall's drawing of the Passaic River's Great Falls PownallPassaicFalls.jpg
Pownall's drawing of the Passaic River's Great Falls

He accompanied Loudoun back to America in July 1756, but again returned to England to represent Loudoun in hearings on Shirley's military leadership. [25] Loudoun also instructed him on his military plans and objectives. [26] In London he became closely involved in informing members of the new Pitt-Newcastle Ministry of the state of affairs in North America. His performance in these matters resulted in his appointment as governor of Massachusetts in March 1757. [27] Although he was admired for his competence in colonial affairs, he was also criticised for his vanity and temper, as well as his role in bringing about Shirley's fall. [28]

Governor of Massachusetts Bay

Pownall arrived in Boston in early August. He was well received, and assumed his duties on August 3. [29] He was immediately thrust into a war-related crisis: a French force was reported to be moving toward Fort William Henry in northern New York, and the military commander there had made an urgent call for militia. Pownall was energetic in organizing the militia, but the call to arms came too late: Fort William Henry fell after a brief siege that was followed by some of the worst Indian atrocities of the war. [30]

Pownall had a sometimes contentious relationship with John Campbell, 4th Earl of Loudoun 4thEarlOfLoudoun.jpg
Pownall had a sometimes contentious relationship with John Campbell, 4th Earl of Loudoun

In September 1757 Pownall travelled to New Jersey to attend the funeral of Governor Jonathan Belcher, and stopped in New York to meet with Loudoun. The commander-in-chief was upset that the Massachusetts General Court had not fully implemented a variety of demands he had made, and he held Pownall responsible. Pownall objected to the interference of the military in civilian affairs, the threat of which Loudoun used to implement his agenda, maintaining that it was necessary for the governor to lead, not drive, the provincial assembly. [31] The meeting was acrimonious, and Loudoun afterward wrote a letter to London harshly criticising Pownall's position, calling his ideas on governance "high-handed". [32] Loudoun encountered opposition in the General Court (the provincial assembly) to a demand that British troops be billeted with civilians in Boston, and threatened to march additional troops into the province and take housing by force. [33] Pownall requested that the General Court accede in some way to Loudoun's demands, eventually signing a bill authorizing the quartering of troops in inns and other public spaces. This bill was unpopular, and Pownall was negatively cast in the local press as supportive of Loudoun and his policies. [34] Pownall's exchanges with Loudoun, however, show that he was keenly aware of the colonists' position: "the inhabitants of this province are intitled to the natural rights of English born subjects ... the enjoyment of these rights ... will animate and encourage them to resist ... a cruel, invading enemy". [35] He was equally clear on the relationship between the royal governor and his assembly: "a governor must endeavour to lead those people for he cannot drive them and must lead them step by step as he can gett [sic] footing." [36] He was so committed to these ideas that he offered to resign; however Loudoun encouraged him to remain in the post. [37] Pownall would later author portions of the 1765 Quartering Act, a Parliamentary bill whose implementation was widely resisted in the colonies. [38]

In January 1758 Pownall wrote several letters to William Pitt, outlining the difficult issues surrounding relations between the colonial government and both the military and civil administrations of the British establishment. [39] He specifically recommended that London offer to pay more of the colonial expenses of the war; the implementation of this idea led to significantly increased militia recruitment in the remaining years of the war, including 7,000 men from Massachusetts for the 1758 campaign. [40] Pownall was able to move a bill through the General Court implementing reforms of the militia system. The bill did not include all of the changes Pownall sought in order to achieve a more flexible and less costly organization, and its terms also centered more power over the militia in the hands of local officials (reducing the governor's control). [41]

Order by Pownall authorizing Lieut. Col. John Hawke to beat his drum for enlistments for regiment for the invasion of Canada, 1758 Governor Thomas Pownall order to Lieut Col John Hawke to beat his drum for enlistments.jpg
Order by Pownall authorizing Lieut. Col. John Hawke to beat his drum for enlistments for regiment for the invasion of Canada, 1758

Despite these reforms, recruiting for the militia proved difficult, and recruiting parties were often harassed and stoned, leading to rioting on several occasions. [42] Pownall was, however, successful in recruiting the province's full quota of militia, and his energetic assistance in the war effort earned him approbation from William Pitt, the Board of Trade, and the new commander-in-chief, James Abercrombie. [43] Flush with success, Pownall proposed to General Jeffery Amherst the idea of establishing a fort on Penobscot Bay to contest potential French movements in the area. [44] The area had been the site of periodic frontier raids since 1755, including a major attack on St. George in spring 1758. [45] This idea developed into a major expedition to the area, which received not only Amherst's approval but that of the assembly. Pownall led the expedition, oversaw the construction of Fort Pownall, and counted it as a major success of the year. [46] Its success kicked off a minor land rush in the area. [47]

Although Pownall's start in power was a little rocky, his popularity in the province grew as his term progressed. He assiduously saw to the needs of its many fishermen, successfully convincing military authorities to eliminate burdensome red tape, and courted local merchants. He invested in ventures managed by Thomas and John Hancock, and was lauded by a group of Massachusetts merchants upon his departure. [48] A bachelor, he was reported to be a ladies' man and highly engaged in the social scene. [49] Although he was not strongly religious, he regularly attended Anglican services, but was also a frequent visitor to local Congregational services. [50] He successfully finessed contentious issues surrounding the recruitment, deployment, and provisioning of militia, negotiating compromises between military and provincial demands. [51] He did, however, have a strained relationship with his lieutenant governor, Thomas Hutchinson. The two men never trusted each other, and Pownall regularly excluded Hutchinson from his inner council meetings, instead sending him on missions, for example to deal with militia recruitment issues. [52] One of Pownall's last acts before leaving the colony was to approve the appointment of James Otis, Sr., a longtime Hutchinson adversary, as speaker of the assembly. [53]

In the later months of 1759, Pownall wrote a letter to William Pitt requesting leave to return to England because "I might be of some service" there. [47] Biographer John Schutz speculates that the underlying reason for Pownall's request were related to frustration with his exclusion from the major military actions of the later war years, and possibly his desire to acquire a more significant post, such as a governor-generalship of conquered New France. [54] Historian Bernard Bailyn is of the opinion that Pownall's divisive dislike and distrust of Shirley supporters like Thomas Hutchinson and ensuing local political infighting contributed to the request, as did his difficult relationships with the military commanders. [55] Whatever the reason, the Board of Trade engaged in a reshuffling of colonial positions after King George II died, and Pownall was given the governorship of South Carolina, and permission to first take leave in England. His departure from Boston was delayed by militia recruiting issues and the need to deal with the aftermath of a major fire in the city, and he did not leave until June 1760. [54]

The Administration of the Colonies

Although he held the governorship of South Carolina, he never actually went there. He characterised his term in Massachusetts as "arduous", and informed the colonial office in November 1760 that he would only accept another governorship if the recently acceded King George III directly ordered it. [56] Pitt appointed him to the military commissary's office in the Electorate of Hanover, where he served until the Seven Years' War ended in 1763. The position did not further his career ambitions in colonial administration, however, and led to allegations of financial irregularities (of which he was cleared). [57]

Upon his return to England he prepared for publication a treatise entitled The Administration of the Colonies. First published anonymously in 1764, Pownall revised the work and republished the work several times between 1765 and 1777. [58] The work, a dry and complex treatise on the situation in North America that included commentary on the burgeoning tensions in the Thirteen Colonies, was intended by Pownall to explore how the colonies could properly be incorporated into a larger empire. [59]

Pownall's work identified him as supportive of American liberty. Although he feared that Britain was losing control of its colonies, he wrote that the Americans were entitled to the same rights of representative government as their fellow subjects in England, Scotland, and Wales. At the same time, he insisted that the military protection that the colonists received from Britain created equally extensive obligations to help pay for some of the cost. He was also convinced of the need for a strong, central legislature capable of making common policies that would be binding for every member of the British empire, including the fractious provinces in North America. Pownall eventually decided that the only solution lay in creating an imperial parliament with representatives from both Britain and the colonies. [60] Although he was not the only British commentator to embrace the idea of an imperial parliament, most Americans found it anathema, so much so that John Dickinson singled out his centralized plan of legislative reform for particular criticism in his influential Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania (1768). [61]

Colonial supporter

Pownall continued to communicate with political allies in Massachusetts, and was on several occasions called to appear before Parliamentary committees to comment on colonial affairs. [62] He considered returning to Massachusetts if a post could be found, and began investing in property in Nova Scotia, extending his colonial property interests beyond those he had been granted in Maine during his governorship. In 1765 he married Harriet Fawkener, widow of Everard Fawkener and daughter to Lieutenant General Charles Churchill, giving him a connection to the aristocratic Dukes of Marlborough. [63] Pownall raised her four children as his own. A gracious and intelligent woman, she became a partner in advancing his political career, hosting social events and encouraging his intellectual pursuits. She may have encouraged him to stand for Parliament in 1767, when he won a seat representing Tregony. [64]

Benjamin Franklin was a friend and frequent correspondent of Pownall's. Benjamin Franklin 1759.jpg
Benjamin Franklin was a friend and frequent correspondent of Pownall's.

He renewed correspondence with officials in Massachusetts in the hopes of winning appointment as an agent representing the province's interests, but was unsuccessful. [65] He regularly received visitors from the colonies, and Benjamin Franklin, his old friend from Pennsylvania, was a frequent guest. [66] He observed with alarm the rise in tension in the colonies and the missteps of Parliamentary leadership and colonial administration that exacerbated rather than reduced them. [67] He used his position in Parliament to highlight the colonial objections to the Quartering Act of 1765 and other unpopular legislation. When troops were sent to Boston in 1768 after protests against the Townshend Acts turned violent, he took to the floor of Parliament, warning that the connections between Britain and the colonies were unraveling, and that the end result could be a permanent breach. [68]

Pownall was opposed to Lord North's partial repeal in 1770 of the hated Townshend Acts, in which the tax on tea was retained as a symbol of Parliamentary power. In debate on the act, Pownall pointed out that retention of the tax would be a "millstone" around English necks rather than a yoke on American ones, and that it would lead to civil war. His speech was delivered March 5, 1770, the day of the Boston Massacre. [69] Dispirited by his view that Parliament failed to understand the American colonial issues, he urged his colonial correspondents to continue to press constitutional issues and avoid violence. [70]

Colonial American issues then briefly subsided from the stage. In 1772 Pownall introduced legislation reforming food production and distribution in Great Britain. It passed the House of Commons, but was amended by the Lords, leading the Commons to reject the amended bill as a violation of its prerogatives. The bill passed the next year, and was called "Governor Pownall's Bill". It received much praise, including some from influential figures such as Adam Smith. Pownall was also honoured with membership in the Society of Antiquaries and the Royal Society. [71]


Following the Boston Tea Party in December 1773, Parliament passed a series of bills designed to punish Massachusetts. Pownall was unable to sway opinion toward more conciliatory measures. He was also implicated in the Hutchinson Letters Affair as someone who may have delivered private letters of Thomas Hutchinson to Benjamin Franklin, although Franklin never identified his source for the letters. Pownall was unable to retain his seat: in 1774 he was voted out of office. [72] Seeking to remain active, Pownall ended up appealing to Lord North, who secured a seat for him in a by-election, representing Minehead. This apparent turn towards Toryism alarmed a number of Pownall's colonial supporters; there is also some evidence that North may have engineered Pownall's defeat in order to gain his support. [73] [74]

Lord North, portrait by Nathaniel Dance Nathaniel Dance Lord North.jpg
Lord North, portrait by Nathaniel Dance

Pownall supported North's attempts at reconciliation in debates leading to the start the War of Independence. However, once hostilities began in April 1775, his conciliatory views were dismissed by war-supporting Tories (who opposed them) as well as by Whigs (who saw his proposals as attempts to undercut their positions). [75] Pownall remained nominally in support of North until 1777, when he openly made declarations in support of the peace party. [76] The entry of France into the war on the American side returned him firmly to the pro-war Tory position. [77] His support was, however, nuanced: he continued to argue for some sort of conciliation with the Americans, while remaining resolutely patriotic with respect to the French. He was not alone among British politicians in being unable reconcile these positions, and refused to stand for reelection in 1780. [78]

During the war years he published several revisions to The Administration of the Colonies, updating and expanding the work to reflect changing conditions. He also worked to update and revise the Evans map, soliciting data and updated maps from colonial correspondents. [79] He withdrew to some extent in the later years following the death of his wife in 1777, but continued to appear in Parliament. [80]

Post-war years

Francisco de Miranda, activist for Latin American independence (portrait by Martin Tovar y Tovar) Francisco de Miranda by Tovar y Tovar.jpg
Francisco de Miranda, activist for Latin American independence (portrait by Martín Tovar y Tovar)

In July 1780, Pownall anonymously published an essay titled A Memorial Most Humbly Addressed to the Sovereigns of Europe. This widely published document gained Pownall attention throughout Europe; the anonymity of its author was compromised by the use of extended passages from Administration of the Colonies. The essay propounded instructions to Europe's leaders on how to deal with a newly independent United States, pointing out that America's independence and rapid population growth would have a transformative effect on world trade. He proposed that European leaders meet to establish worldwide regulations for what was essentially free trade. [81]

Pownall continued to maintain an interest in the United States after the war ended, although he never returned. [82] He sought without success a commission in the Massachusetts militia, mostly as a formality so that he could present it during his European travels. He continued to write essays (new ones and revisions to older ones), and published an updated version of his 1755 map. [83] In his later years, Pownall was introduced to Francisco de Miranda, a Venezuelan colonial general who favored Latin American independence from Spain. According to historian William Spence Robertson, significant arguments advanced by Miranda in his later efforts are traceable to Pownall's influence. Pownall also assisted Miranda explicitly, cultivating connections in the British government as he attempted to advance the independence agenda. [84] Pownall's last major work was a treatise again arguing for free trade, and explicitly calling for British support of Latin American independence as a way to open those markets to British and American trade. [85] Pownall died at Bath on 25 February 1805, and was interred in the church at Walcot. [86]

Thomas Pownall as an Antiquary

Monument to William and Sarah Pownall in Lincoln Cathedral, erected by Thomas's brother John in 1790. William Pownall.jpg
Monument to William and Sarah Pownall in Lincoln Cathedral, erected by Thomas's brother John in 1790.

While Thomas Pownall is well known as an American colonial Governor and English politician, he was also an important figure in later 18th century antiquarian and archaeological studies. In her study of Governor Pownall, Bryony Orme remarks that he is perhaps one of the most neglected of our early antiquaries , and undeservedly so. [87] He inherited these interests from his father Captain William Pownall, who lived at No. 5 Pottergate in the Minster Yard, which surrounds Lincoln Cathedral. His father had corresponded with William Stukeley about ancient finds in and around Lincoln, and Thomas Pownall's brother John was also a writer on archaeological subjects. [88] Pownall was already demonstrating his interest in archaeology before he left for America, when, in 1752, he recorded evidence for a Roman villa at Glentworth in Lincolnshire [89]

After his return from America, he became a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1770, and he contributed extensively to early issues of the journal Archaeologia. Some of his writings describe discoveries around Lincoln. But more importantly he wrote more widely on New Grange in Ireland in 1773 [90] and Braich-y-Dinas at Penmaenmawr, on the North Wales coast. He was to follow this with descriptions of Roman remains in France when he was living there, and, on moving to Bath he again provided descriptions of Roman discoveries.

Family and legacy

Pownall married twice. His first wife was Harriet Churchill, widow of Sir Everard Fawkener and illegitimate daughter of Lieutenant General Charles Churchill. In 1784 Pownall married Hannah (Kennet) Astell, acquiring in the process significant estates and the trappings of landed gentry. [91] [92]

The towns of Pownal, Maine and Pownal, Vermont are named after Thomas Pownall. [55] Dresden, Maine was once named Pownalborough in his honour; [93] this recognition survives in the Pownalborough Courthouse, an historic property built there in 1761. [94] The remains of Fort Pownall, named for him, survive in Maine's Fort Point State Park.


Between 1769 and 1772, a series of letters was published in London's Public Advertiser , written by someone using the pseudonym Junius. Many of the letters contained accusations of corruption and abuse of power on the part of British government officials, [95] subjects Pownall also spoke and wrote about. [96] The identity of Junius has since been the subject of contemporary and historical debate. [95] In 1854 Frederick Griffin wrote Junius Uncovered, in which he advanced the argument that Pownall was Junius; this argument was again raised by Pownall descendant Charles A. W. Pownall in his 1908 biography of Pownall. [97] Modern scholars dispute the notion, currently favouring Philip Francis as the writer of the letters based on several lines of evidence. [95]


  1. Adams, p. 243
  2. Pownall, Charles Assheton Whately (1805). Thomas Pownall, M. P., F. R. S., governor of Massachusetts Bay. H. Stevens, son & Stiles. p. 2. Retrieved 14 October 2017.
  3. Schutz, pp. 18–19
  4. "Thomas Pownall (PWNL739T)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  5. Schutz, pp. 26–28
  6. Schutz, p. 20
  7. Schutz, pp. 21–22
  8. Pownall, pp. 5, 41–42
  9. Schutz, pp. 34–35
  10. Schutz, pp. 37–38
  11. 1 2 Schutz, pp. 41–48
  12. Rogers, p. 24
  13. Schutz, pp. 43–44
  14. 1 2 Schutz, p. 49
  15. Schutz, p. 51
  16. Schutz, p. 53
  17. Rogers, p. 25
  18. Schutz, p. 55
  19. Schutz, p. 58
  20. Schutz, p. 60
  21. Schutz, pp. 60–67
  22. Schutz, pp. 68–69
  23. Schutz, pp. 69–70
  24. Schutz, p. 71
  25. Schutz, pp. 74–78
  26. Schutz, p. 78
  27. Schutz, pp. 78–83
  28. Schutz, p. 84
  29. Schutz, pp. 85–87
  30. Schutz, pp. 89–96
  31. Schutz, pp. 105–108
  32. Schutz, pp. 109–110
  33. Schutz, p. 115
  34. Rogers, pp. 86–87
  35. Schutz, p. 116
  36. Schutz, pp. 116–117
  37. Schutz, p. 117
  38. Rogers, p. 88
  39. Schutz, pp. 118–119
  40. Schutz, p. 128
  41. Schutz, pp. 121–123
  42. Schutz, p. 130
  43. Schutz, p. 151
  44. Schutz, p. 152
  45. Bourque, pp. 200–203
  46. Schutz, p. 166–172
  47. 1 2 Schutz, p. 174
  48. Schutz, pp. 155–156
  49. Schutz, p. 154
  50. Schutz, p. 157
  51. Schutz, pp. 162–166
  52. Waters and Schutz, p. 556
  53. Waters and Schutz, p. 557
  54. 1 2 Schutz, p. 175
  55. 1 2 Bailyn, p. 44
  56. Schutz, pp. 182, 197
  57. Schutz, p. 197
  58. Schutz, pp. 181, 194, 293
  59. Schutz, pp. 182–194
  60. Pownall, Administration of the Colonies, 4th edn, 1768, p. 174
  62. Schutz, p. 198
  63. Schutz, p. 199
  64. Schutz, p. 200
  65. Schutz, p. 202
  66. Schutz, p. 203
  67. Schutz, p. 213
  68. Schutz, pp. 219–220
  69. Schutz, p. 226
  70. Schutz, pp. 228–229
  71. Schutz, pp. 230–232
  72. Schutz, pp. 234–236
  73. Schutz, p. 237
  74. Pownall, p. 264
  75. Schutz, p. 241
  76. Schutz, p. 242
  77. Schutz, p. 254
  78. Schutz, pp. 255–256
  79. Schutz, p. 244
  80. Schutz, p. 252
  81. Schutz, pp. 257–260
  82. Schutz, p. 264
  83. Schutz, p. 265
  84. Schutz, pp. 282–283
  85. Schutz, pp. 284–285
  86. Schutz, p. 286
  87. Orme B., (1974) Governor Pownall, Antiquity, Vol 48, 116-25
  88. Hunt R.W. (1962), William Pownall, Antiquarian Lincolnshire Architectural and Archaeological Society Vol.9 pt2, 158-163
  89. Everson P., (1980), Thomas 'Governor' Pownall and the Roman Villa at Glentworth, Lincolnshire, Lincolnshire History and Archaeology, Vol.15. 9-14
  90. "Archaeologia", Vol. 2, 236-75
  91. Stewart Baldwin, "The English Ancestry of George1 Pownall of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, with Notes on Thomas1 Pownall, Governor of Massachusetts Bay and South Carolina", The American Genealogist , 76(2001):81–93, 217–26; Edward J. Davies, "Further Notes on Governor Thomas1 Pownall", The American Genealogist, 77(2002):190–94.
  92. Schutz, pp. 265–268
  93. Allen, Charles (1977) [1931]. History of Dresden, Maine. Dresden, ME: Jennie and Eleanor Everson. OCLC   4042151. p. 265
  94. "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places . National Park Service. 13 March 2009., reference #70000052
  95. 1 2 3 Bowyer, T. H (Autumn 1995). "Junius, Philip Francis and Parliamentary Reform". Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies (Vol. 27, No. 3): 397. JSTOR   4051735.
  96. Pownall, pp. 336–337
  97. Pownall, p. 324; Charles Pownall advances his case that Thomas Pownall is Junius in chapter 12 of his biography (pp. 308ff).

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Publications by Thomas Pownall

Political offices
Preceded by
Massachusetts Governor's Council
Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay
3 August 1757 – 3 June 1760
Succeeded by
Thomas Hutchinson
Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
William Trevanion
Abraham Hume
Member of Parliament for Tregony
With: Abraham Hume 1767–68
John Grey 1768–74
Succeeded by
George Lane Parker
Alexander Leith
Preceded by
Henry Fownes Luttrell
John Fownes Luttrell
Member of Parliament for Minehead
With: John Fownes Luttrell
Succeeded by
Francis Fownes Luttrell
John Fownes Luttrell