William Paterson (banker)

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Sir William Paterson (April 1658 - 22 January 1719) was a Scottish trader and banker. He was one of the founders of the Bank of England and was one of the main proponents of the catastrophic Darien scheme. Later he became an advocate of Union with England.


Early life

William Paterson was born in his parents' farmhouse at Tinwald in Dumfriesshire, Scotland, and lived with them until he was seventeen, when he emigrated first (briefly) to Bristol and then to the Bahamas. It was here that he first conceived the Darién scheme, his plan to create a colony on the isthmus of Panama, facilitating trade with the Far East. He was a co-founder of the Bank of England, and it is said that the project originated with him in 1691. On the foundation of the bank in 1694 he became a director. In 1695, owing to a disagreement with his colleagues, he withdrew from the board and devoted himself to the colony of Darien, unsuccessfully planted in 1698.


Paterson returned to Europe, and attempted to convince the English government under James II to undertake the Darién scheme. When they refused, he tried again to persuade the governments of the Holy Roman Empire and the Dutch Republic to establish a colony in Panama, but failed in both cases.

Paterson returned to London and made his fortune with foreign trade (primarily through the slave trade with the West Indies) in the Merchant Taylors' Company. In 1694, he founded the Bank of England, described in his pamphlet A Brief Account of the Intended Bank of England, to act as the English government's banker. He proposed a loan of £1.2m to the government; in return the subscribers would be incorporated as The Governor and Company of the Bank of England with banking privileges including the issue of notes. The Royal Charter was granted on 27 July 1694.

Darien scheme

Paterson relocated to Edinburgh, where he was able to convince the Scottish government to undertake the Darién scheme, a failed attempt to found an independent Scottish Empire in what is today Panama. Paterson personally accompanied the disastrous Scottish expedition to Panama in 1698, where his wife and child died while he himself became seriously ill.[1][2] On his return to Scotland in December 1699, he became instrumental in the movement for the Union of Scotland and England, culminating in his support of the Act of Union 1707. He spent the last years of his life in Westminster, and died in January 1719. A mystery still surrounds the burial site of Paterson. Many (including officials at the Bank of England), believe he is buried in Sweetheart Abbey, New Abbey, Dumfries and Galloway.


  • Proposals and Reasons for Constitulating a Council of Trade (1701), a plan to create a Scottish council of Trade which would stimulate the Scottish economy and trade, partly by abolishing export duties.
  • A Proposal to plant a Colony in Darién to protect the Indians against Spain, and to open the Trade of South America to all Nations (1701), a broader version of the Darién scheme intended to bring free trade to all of Central and South America.
  • Wednesday Club Dialogues upon the Union (1706), a series of imaginary dialogues in which Paterson expressed his beliefs that Scotland had to be guaranteed equal taxation, freedom of trade and proportionate representation in Parliament if union with England was to succeed.

See also


  1. Hidalgo, Dennis R. To Get Rich for Our Homeland: The Company of Scotland and the Colonization of the Darien, Colonial Latin American Historical Review, 10:3 (Summer/Verano 2001): 156.
  2. Orr, Julie (2018), Scotland, Darien and the Atlantic World, 1698 - 1700, Edinburgh University Press, ISBN 978-1-4744-2754-8

External links