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Pownall, Thomas

Pownall, Thomas

POWNALL, THOMAS. (1722–1805). Colonial governor. Born on 4 September 1722 and educated at Lincoln and Trinity College (Cambridge), after 1743 Thomas Pownall entered the office of the Board of Trade, where his brother was secretary. He accompanied Sir Danvers Osborn to New York as the new governor's secretary and remained after Osborn committed suicide in October 1753. In May 1755 he was appointed lieutenant governor of New Jersey and began a lifelong friendship with Benjamin Franklin. Attending the Albany Conference as an observer, he presented a memorandum on the importance of the Great Lakes to British control of the continent. He returned to England early in 1756, where he presented a paper stressing the need for unity of command in America and urging the need to gain control of Lake Ontario. Pownall accompanied Lord Loudoun, the new commander in chief, to America as his secretary, but he returned to London in October 1756 to present Loudoun's case against William Shirley. William Pitt was so impressed by the ambitious, knowledgeable student of colonial affairs that he appointed Pownall to succeed Shirley as governor of Massachusetts.

The thirty-five-year-old governor reached Boston on 3 August 1757. Reacting promptly to a desperate call from Major General Daniel Webb for reinforcements in the Hudson River-Lake Champlain corridor, he called out the militia without waiting to get the assembly's approval, but the troops were too late to prevent the surrender of Fort William Henry on 9 August. For the three years of his administration, he promoted the participation of Massachusetts in the French and Indian War, but he alienated the friends of Shirley, antagonized such crown supporters as Thomas Hutchinson, and clashed with Loudoun over the war powers claimed by the military. His only military exploit was as leader of the expedition to build a fort on the Penobscot River in Maine in May 1759.

The Board of Trade ordered him to South Carolina as governor in November 1759, but he resigned without assuming office. In the summer of 1761 he became commissary general to the Anglo-Hanoverian army on the Rhine, a post he held until the end of the Seven Years' War in 1763. In 1764, he published his famous Administration of the Colonies, in which he argued for greater centralization of colonial administration. It ran to five editions, the last in 1777.

In 1767 he was elected to Parliament and supported North's measures against the colonies. He opposed Burke's bill for conciliation but introduced a peace bill on 24 May 1780 when he realized that the war was lost. In the summer of 1781 he declined to run again for Parliament and spent the rest of his life in travel and writing. He died at Bath, England, on 25 February 1805.

SEE ALSO Chatham, William Pitt, First Earl of; Fort William Henry (Fort George), New York; Unity of Command.


Schutz, John A. Thomas Pownall, British Defender of American Liberty: A Study of Anglo-American Relations in the Eighteenth Century. Glendale, Calif.: A. H. Clark, 1951.

                            revised by Harold E. Selesky

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