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Bombast and Broadsides

George Johnstone, 1730-1787

Written by Robin F. A. Fabel

Publication Year: 2009

 George Johnstone has never received the scholarly attention he fully merits. Historians have assessed him, usually briefly, as governor of West Florida, or as naval commander, or as a member of parliament. Nevertheless, none has considered his important role in East India Company politics, nor, until Bombast and Broadsides, has one synthesized the various roles in which Johnstone was entrusted with high responsibilities.

Through research in Cardiff, Edinburgh, Kew, London, Philadelphia, and Washington in largely unpublished manuscripts, together with the use of secondary sources, the author has been able to present the first coherent picture of Johnstone, a vigorous and intelligent but turbulent and always controversial figure. Johnstone was effective as a colonial governor at a difficult time; in the navy he performed several coups de main; in parliament he was formidable in debate but an opportunist; and at East India House he was a doughty, conservative, and largely successful defender of the proprietary interest.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-ix

It has been said, probably many times, that when historical topics have been "hitherto neglected," it has usually been for good reason. In the case of George Johnstone's life the most probable reason for the lack of a biography lies in the difficulty of finding the raw materials for the study of his many-faceted career. There...

Johnstone Family Tree

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pp. x-xi

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1. Man of War

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pp. 1-24

Like the hero of a novel by Sir Walter Scott, George Johnstone was of an ancient but impoverished family of Border gentry. An ancestor, Sir Adam Johnston, had distinguished himself under the command of the Earl of Douglas at the notable Scottish victory of Sark in 1448. An elder son of Sir Adam was the founder of the famous Annandale...

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2. "Emporium of the New World"

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pp. 25-57

Johnstone's governorship of West Florida has evoked no eulogies from historians, although the more perceptive, like Lawrence Gipson, have praised some aspects of his administration.1 That a man appointed to govern any American colony in the 1760s should fall short of triumph need surprise nobody. The times were not propitious for success. The treaty signed in 1763 brought...

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3. The Guerilla of Leadenhall Street

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pp. 59-81

The political world of the later 1760s which Johnstone entered on his return from Florida had seen many changes in his absence. Grenville had been in power when the governor had received his commission, only to fall after the failure of the Stamp Act. Rockingham had temporarily seized the dropped reins but had been compelled to hand them over to Chatham, from whom George III hoped...

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4. "Man of Business"

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pp. 83-99

For the first time in fifteen years Johnstone was offered and accepted an office of profit under the crown when, on All Fools' Day, 1778, he agreed to become one of the commissioners whom George III sent from England with "Powers to Treat, Consult and Agree upon the means of Quieting the Disorders now Subsisting in certain of Our Colonies, Plantations and Provinces in North...

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5. A Philadelphia Story [contains image plates]

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pp. 101-119

The commissioners spent forty-four days crossing the Atlantic, arriving in the Delaware on June 4. The voyage was made without any remarkable occurrence despite some considerable discomfort. Including the crew and troop reinforcements, 600 human beings were crammed into a 64-gun ship, and the Edens were sick much of the time. On May 6, Johnstone had submitted to the consideration...

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6. Gunpowder and Port

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pp. 129-146

Ebullient and self-righteous as ever, Johnstone landed in England toward the end of October 1778, his estimate of himself undimmed by the complete failure of his dubious diplomatic methods. To a surprising extent this opinion was shared by others. His fellow commissioners in America wrote that only Johnstone's "Strict Sense of Honour" had caused him to leave them, and they bemoaned his departure. If...

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7. The Broad Pendant Wavers

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pp. 147-164

Johnstone had been highly favored. Given command of an important naval expedition and thus the chance of prestige and prizes, he had also been granted freedom from one of the usual disadvantages of such a responsibility. He was not under Admiralty orders but answerable only to the earl of Hillsborough, the secretary of state for the southern department. His mission was twofold: first he was to attempt the conquest of the Dutch settlement at the...

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8. Final Appointments

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pp. 165-179

Like 1778, the year 1782 was crucial for Johnstone. For his career the chief event in it was the fall of the North ministry-which meant the end of indulgence for the commodore. As the American war wound down, his naval career was bound to finish anyhow. The struggle at sea ended with a final flash of true glory when Rodney, with great skill and some of his customary luck, destroyed French naval power in the West Indies at the battle of the Saints...

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9. Conclusion

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pp. 181-185

George Johnstone has been described as "an enigmatical character."1 The purpose of this biographical study has been partly to assess the significance of his splintered career but also in part to decipher the enigma. Although many questions still remain unanswered, the recurring patterns discernible in his varied...


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pp. 187-219


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pp. 221-233


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pp. 235-249

E-ISBN-13: 9780817382780
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817303372

Publication Year: 2009