Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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POWNALL, Thomas, statesman, born in Lincoln, England, in 1720; died in Bath, 25 February, 1805. His father had been connected with the English civil service in India, and his brother John was long the secretary to the lords of trade and plantations. Thomas first came to this country in October, 1753, as private secretary to Sir Danvers Osborne, royal governor of New York. In 1754 he attended the Albany congress, in what capacity is not understood, but it is presumed that he was private agent of the colonial authorities in London. While in Albany he first perceived, as if by inspiration, the drift of American political tendencies. He next advocated the delimitation of the French and English possessions in America, and a neutral Indian territory between them. In 1755 he was appointed commissioner for Massachusetts, in negotiations with the colonial authorities in New York, concerning military operations against the French, and in the same year he was made lieutenant-governor of New Jersey. He was present at the meeting of the colonial governor with General Edward Braddock at Alexandria. In 1756 Pownall was made arovernor of Massachusetts, to succeed Shirley. The accompanying engraving represents the old Province house, his residence in Boston. While conducting the government of that province, he built the fort that was named after him, on Penobscot river, and was active in the military campaign against the French. In 1760 he was appointed governor of South Carolina, but he never assumed the government of that colony, as he returned to England and was almost immediately elected to parliament. He was next made "director-general of control," and joined the English force in Germany. After the peace of Paris he was again returned to parliament, where he sat almost continuously till 1781. He was the firm and consistent friend of the American idea. In 1767 he opposed parliamentary taxation of the colonies. In 1777, six years before the peace, he was the first to announce that England's " sovereignty over America was gone forever," and he then advocated a commercial treaty in order to frustrate French influence. He was the first member of parliament to bring in a bill for peace with the colonies. Soon after the Albany congress Pownall formulated a plan for an English speaking empire whose seat of authority was ultimately to be in this country. He believed that the Americans had equal constitutional rights with the English in England, and his wonderful sagacity, penetrating the future so clearly as to make him seem somewhat visionary to contemporary "practical politicians," made him anticipate the political preponderance of the English race in America. Because he was wedded neither to the American plan for independence of England nor to the English plan for colonial subordination to the political emporium in London, he failed to exert on his contemporaries all the influence that his singular ability warranted. Yet he always was considered in parliament the chief authority on all exact questions of American affairs, whether relating to South or North America. He was the first Englishman of note that made politics in America a profound study. When the United States became independent he proclaimed that he regarded the future political supremacy of England as doubtful, and admitted that the aim of his life--a consolidated English-speaking empire--was frustrated. As a scientist, Pownall was much esteemed by Benjamin Franklin, whose close friend he was. even during the trying ordeal of the Revolutionary war. As an antiquary, scientist, and man of letters, Pownall stood high in England. He wrote extensively on Roman antiquities and published many papers in the "Gentleman's Magazine" on widely different subjects. But his great literary effort was one on the "Colonial Constitutions" (London, 1764). Though somewhat deformed by classical quotations, it works out in detail the first comprehensive argument for the equal political status of English freemen in America. In one aspect this book and its views entitle Pownall to be regarded as almost the first American statesman. Certainly he merits renown for being the first Englishman of education and influence that devoted his entire life to the amelioration of American political conditions. Pownall was a member of the Society of antiquaries, and a fellow of the Royal society. By some he was thought to be "Junius." Pownall's political history is yet to be written. When it is written, if just to him, it will magnify the place that is commonly accorded to him by those historians that have treated the entire epoch in which he lived. He was the author of many works, including" Principles of Polity" (1752): "The Administration of the Colonies" (1764) ; " Description of the Middle States of America" (1776) ; "A Memorial to the Sovereigns of Europe on the State of Affairs between the Old and the New World" (1780); " Memorial to the Sovereigns of America" (1783); '" Notices and Descriptions of the Antiquities of the Provincia Romana of Gaul" (1788); " Intellectual Physics" (1795) ; "Letters advocating Free-Trade" (1795); an antiquarian romance; and a treatise on "Old Age."
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