David Hartley, George Hammond: Anti-Slavery, Recognising American Independence and the first British Ambassador to the United States

David Hartley was born in Bath in 1732, the son of the renowned philosopher of the same name. He attended Oxford University and later became a Fellow of Merton College. Hartley took a substantial interest in science and during the 1760s became a close friend and correspondent of Benjamin Franklin. He also pursued a political career and was MP for Hull on two occasions: 1774 to 1780 and 1782 to 1784. He was the first MP to speak up against slavery in the House of Commons, moving a resolution in 1776 which stated that ‘the Slave Trade was contrary to the laws of God and the rights of men’ and he laid chains used to shackle slaves upon the table of the House of Commons to emphasise his argument. His motion was seconded by Sir George Saville, MP for Yorkshire. He also spoke often in Parliament against the war with the American colonists (The American War of Independence).

William Hammond was a very powerful Hull personality. He became Chairman of the Hull Dock Company and was one of the Elder Brethren of Hull Trinity House and also occupied the office of Warden. William Hammond was a successful Hull sea captain, shipowner and merchant with properties across Hull’s Old Town, including High Street as well as Kirkella, where his son George was born. William, together with Sir Samuel Standidge, played a prominent role in the foundation of Trinity House School and his influence extended far beyond the eighteenth century town. He was a prominent supporter of David Hartley as MP and was certainly well acquainted with many leading seafarers of his time including Captain Cook.

A portrait of Captain James Cook
Source: GFS Net

In 1771 Cook had returned from his first voyage on the barque Endeavour and was keen to use similar vessels on his next voyage. William Hammond already owned two such Whitby built vessels, the Marquis of Granby and the Marquis of Rockingham and both were less than two years old. Hammond subsequently sold both ships to the Admiralty after conducting negotiations with Captain Cook::the Marquis of Granby changing hands for £4,151.00.The two vessels were initially renamed Drake and Raleigh by the Admiralty but Lord Rockford, the Secretary of State, thought the two names might offend the Spanish so, after consultations with King George III and the Earl of Sandwich, they were renamed Resolution and Adventure. Although today it is perhaps the Endeavour from Cook’s first voyage which is perhaps the best remembered of his ships, his favourite vessel was the Resolution which he used on both his second and third voyages. Resolution, just 110 feet in length, thus made two circumnavigations of the globe and on the last of these voyages explored the Pacific coasts of North America and Siberia before Cook was killed after an attack by islanders on the Sandwich Islands in the Pacific on the 14th February 1779.

20 cents US postage stamp in 1996, commemorated the 200th anniversary of the “Treaty of Paris” [1783], which marked the formal end of the US independence from Great
Source: Hartley Family

In 1778, a few years after selling his ships to Captain Cook, William Hammond joined David Hartley on a quiet and unofficial visit to Benjamin Franklin and John Adams in Paris. The visit was very low key as the American War of Independence was still raging and the Americans in Paris were regarded by the British as rebels. The Americans were suspicious of the motives behind the visit, John Adams thought both were probably British government spies and remained on his guard throughout their stay but noted in his journal at that time that he found George Hammond a ‘plain honest Man’ though he was less enamoured with David Hartley.

However, David Hartley was a friend of Franklin and this was probably a major reason why he was sent back to Paris by the British Government in 1782 – this time on an official basis – to act as plenipotentiary in peace talks with the representatives of the new United States of America. This time he was accompanied by William’s son, George Hammond. George was just twenty and still a student at Merton College Oxford. When Hartley returned to Paris in 1782 it was to negotiate with Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and other US representatives on behalf of the British government. In 1783 they signed the peace settlement which became known as the Treaty of Paris. .Benjamin West’s famous painting depicts the event but only partially: the painting was not finished. Only the American representatives, John Jay, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Henry Laurens and William Temple Franklin are shown. The Hull people, Hartley and Hammond, refused to be painted in and their part on the canvas remains blank to this day. Despite this, young George Hammond established some firm friendships with the Americans which were to stand him in good stead in later years. Hartley also retained an interest in politics after his return to Britain, later writing a sympathetic Argument of the French Revolution in 1794, and continued his studies in chemistry and mechanics. He died in 1813.

George Hammond completed his degree at Merton after returning to Britain, and was elected a fellow of the college in 1787. He pursued a diplomatic career, being appointed Charge d’ Affaires in Vienna for a time and served later in Copenhagen and then Madrid. In 1791 he was recalled from Spain by the Foreign Minister, Lord Grenville, and sent out to America as ‘Minister Plenipotentiary to the United States of America’. He fulfilled this role until 1795 and is now regarded as the first British Ambassador to the United States. Whilst in America he married a descendant of William Penn, the founder of the State of Pennsylvania. He continued to use his diplomatic expertise both in office and on special missions across Europe for many years and finally died in April 1853 when ninety years of age. His son also pursued a distinguished diplomatic career and was made Lord Hammond of Kirkella.

Benjamin West’s Unfinished painting of the Treaty of Paris. The Hull people refused to be painted in!
Source: Wikipedia

Today, article one of the Treaty of Paris, which recognises the independence of the thirteen former American colonies, is still in force. In the Hull area today there are still a few reminders around of the influential Hammond Family. Portraits of William Hammond, the man who met with the ‘rebels’, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, and also sold the Admiralty the ships for Captain Cook’s second and third voyages, still hang in Trinity House and the Hull Maritime Museum. William himself died on the 26th June 1793 aged 66 and is buried in St Helen’s Church, Welton where a monumental inscription still marks his memory..

Select Bibliography

Christopher L. Brown, Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism (USA: University of North Carolina, 2006)

James Cook, The Three Voyages of Captain Cook (UK: Longman, 1821)

James Cook, Archibald Grenfell Price, The Explorations of Captain James Cook in the Pacific, as Told by Selections of His Own Journals 1768 – 1779 (UK: Dover Courier Publications, 1971)

Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick The Age of Federalism: the early American republic 1788-1801 (USA: OUP, 1993)

Benjamin Godwin, The Substance of a Course of Lectures on British Colonial Slavery (UK: Hatchard and Son 1830)

Gordon Jackson, Hull in the Eighteenth Century (UK: University of Hull, 1972) Jerome R. Reich, British Friends of the American Revolution (USA: M. E. Sharpe, 1997)

On-line References


John Adams Autobiography, part 2, “Travels, and Negotiations,” 1777-1778 sheet 14 of 37, 19 – 21 April 1778 , Adams Family Papers, An Electronic Archive, The Massachusetts Historical Society