James Blair (MP)

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James Blair
Born c. 1788
Died 9 September 1841
Nationality British
Occupation Planter, politician
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Catherine Stopford
Parent(s) John Blair
Relatives Lambert Blair (paternal uncle)
Edward Stopford (father-in-law)
William Henry Stopford (brother-in-law)

James Blair (c. 1788 – 9 September 1841[1]) was a Scots-Irish owner of plantations in the West Indies. He entered Parliament as a Tory in 1818 to protect the interests of slave-owners.[2] Blair sat in the House of Commons from 1818 to 1830, and later from 1837 to 1841.[3][4]

When slave-owners were compensated for the abolition of slavery in British colonies in 1833, Blair received the biggest single compensation payment.

Early life

Blair was the son of John Blair of County Armagh in Ireland. However, his family came from Wigtownshire in Scotland, and their business interests were there.[3]

Career as a planter

In 1815, his father's brother Lambert Blair left his South American estates jointly to James Blair and his cousin John MacEamon[2] (or MacCamon).[5] These included sugar and cotton plantations in Berbice, Demerara and Surinam.[2]

Career in Parliament

At the 1818 general election, Blair bought a seat in Parliament, in the rotten borough of Saltash in Devon.[2] That seat was bought for one Parliament only from Michael George Prendergast, who had purchased a life interest from the borough's owner James Buller.[2]

At the 1820 general election, Blair was returned for another rotten borough, this time Aldeburgh in Suffolk.[3] It was owned by the Yorkshire ironmaster Samuel Walker, who had bought it in 1818 for £39,000[6] (equivalent to £2.54 million in 2018[7]).

Blair had entered Parliament to defend the slave plantations, and while he voted on conventional Tory lines, he did not speak in the Commons until March 1824, in the debates which followed the Demerara rebellion of 1823. He opposed measures to improve the living and working conditions of slaves.[3] He told the house that the slaves were "as mildly and as humanely managed in Demerara, as in the Islands, or as is compatible with a state of slavery and pressure" and that "there can be no doubt that the revolt in Demerara is to be attributed to the debates which took place in this House last year, and to the notice preceding them".[8] His only other contribution to Parliamentary debates was in 1825,[3] when he supported retaining the preferential tariff on sugar imported from the West Indies.[9] He had been an active member of the London Society of West India Planters and Merchants , attending 33 meetings between 1824 -1829.[10]

Walker's interest in Aldeburgh had been sold in 1822, and at the 1826 election Blair was returned for Minehead in the Fownes Luttrell interest. He continued to take a Tory line, voting against repeal of the Test Acts, against Jewish emancipation, and against Catholic emancipation.[3]

He stood down at the 1830 general election, with hopes of a seat in Wigtownshire.[3] However, he did not return to the Commons for seven years.

In 1833, Parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act, which abolished slavery throughout the British Empire. The Act reconciled two central principles of 19th-century classical liberalismhuman liberty and private property – by paying compensation to slave-owners for the loss of their property.[11] The sum allocated in the Act was £20 million, which amounted to 40% of the United Kingdom's annual budget.[12] Owners submitted separate claims for their slave-holdings on separate plantations, and the largest single claim came from Blair.[1][13] (Others such as John Gladstone made multiple claims which reached a higher total.[14]) For the 1,598 slaves he owned on the Blairmont plantation he had inherited in British Guyana, Blair was awarded £83,530 8shilling and 11pennies[1][13] (equivalent to £7.08 million in 2018[7]).

Blair did not contest the Wigtownshire seat until 1835, when he was defeated by the incumbent Sir Andrew Agnew, Bt.[15] Agnew retired at the 1837 election, when Blair won the seat by 362 votes to 314 of the Whig Alexander Murray.[15] At the general election in August, Blair lost his seat to the Whig John Hamilton Dalrymple.[15]

Personal life

In 1815, he married Elizabeth Catherine Stopford, youngest daughter of Lieutenant-General Hon Edward Stopford. In 1825, he bought the Penninghame estate in Wigtownshire from a merchant whose business had failed. The estate included the lands of Penninghame, Castle Stewart and Fintalloch.[16]


Blair died less than a month after his defeat in the 1841 election at about age fifty-three.[3] His will ran to 46 pages and made many bequests,[3] to a total value of £300,000[1] (equivalent to £19.6 million in 2018[7]).

The bulk of his wealth, including the Penninghame estate, was bequeathed to his brother-in-law William Henry Stopford, a Colonel in the Royal Artillery.[16] In 1842, Colonel Stopford changed his name to Stopford-Blair, and incorporated the Blair coat of arms in his own.[16][17]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 "James Blair: Profile & Legacies Summary". Legacies of British Slave-ownership. UCL Department of History 2014. 2014. Retrieved 27 June 2014. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Thorne, R. G. (1986). R. Thorne, ed. "BLAIR, James (?1788–1841), of 12 Devonshire Place, Mdx. and Penninghame House, Wigtown". The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790–1820. Boydell and Brewer. Retrieved 26 June 2014. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 Escott, Margaret (2009). D.R. Fisher, ed. "BLAIR, James (?1788–1841), of 12 Devonshire Place, Mdx. and Penninghame House, Wigtown". The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820–1832. Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 26 June 2014. 
  4. Hollett, Dave (1999). Passage from India to El Dorado: Guyana and the Great Migration. Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press. p. 30. ISBN 978-0838638194. 
  5. Alston, David. "Lambert Blair". Slaves and Highlanders. Retrieved 26 June 2014. 
  6. Taylor, Lawrence (1986). R. Thorne, ed. "WALKER, Samuel (1779–1851), of Masbrough Hall and Aldwark Hall, nr. Rotherham, Yorks". The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790–1820. Boydell and Brewer. Retrieved 26 June 2014. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 UK CPI inflation numbers based on data available from Gregory Clark (2015), "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)" MeasuringWorth.
  8. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=TCg7AQAAMAAJ&pg=PT588 |chapter-url= missing title (help). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 16 March 1824. col. 1183–1184. 
  9. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=xPdAAQAAMAAJ&pg=PT531 |chapter-url= missing title (help). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 18 March 1825. col. 1085–. 
  10. Ryden D. (2015) The Society of West India Planters and Merchants in the Age of Emancipation, c.1816-35, Economic History Society Annual Conference, University of Wolverhampton, accessed 5 January 2016
  11. Kidner, Frank L. (2013). Making Europe: The Story of the West, Since 1300. Cengage Learning. p. 617. ISBN 978-1111841324. 
  12. Trebilcock, Michael J. (2014). Dealing with Losers: The Political Economy of Policy Transitions. Oxford University Press. p. 1. ISBN 978-0199370658. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 Manning, Sanchez (24 February 2013). "Britain's colonial shame: Slave-owners given huge payouts after abolition". Independent on Sunday. London. Retrieved 26 June 2014. 
  14. "John Gladstone: Profile & Legacies Summary". Legacies of British Slave-ownership. UCL Department of History 2014. 2014. Retrieved 27 June 2014. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Craig, F. W. S. (1989) [1977]. British parliamentary election results 1832–1885 (2nd ed.). Chichester: Parliamentary Research Services. p. 607. ISBN 0-900178-26-4. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 M'Kerlie, Peter Handyside (1870). History of the Lands and Their Owners in Galloway. vol 1. Edinburgh: William Paterson. p. 309. 
  17. The London Gazette: no. 20100. p. 1333. 17 May 1842. Retrieved 28 June 2014.

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Matthew Russell
Michael George Prendergast
Member of Parliament for Saltash
With: Matthew Russell
Succeeded by
Matthew Russell
Michael George Prendergast
Preceded by
Joshua Walker
Samuel Walker
Member of Parliament for Aldeburgh
With: Joshua Walker
Succeeded by
Joshua Walker
John Wilson Croker
Preceded by
John Douglas
John Fownes Luttrell, junior
Member of Parliament for Minehead
With: John Fownes Luttrell, junior
Succeeded by
William Edward Tomline
John Fownes Luttrell, junior
Preceded by
Sir Andrew Agnew, Bt
Member of Parliament for Wigtownshire
Succeeded by
John Dalrymple