Letter from Robert "King" Carter

Hugh Drysdale (1672 or 1673–1726)

Hugh Drysdale was lieutenant governor of Virginia, ruling the colony in the absence of Governor George Hamilton, first earl of Orkney, from 1722 until his death in 1726. Born in Ireland and educated in Dublin and at Oxford, Drysdale served in the English army and probably saw action in Portugal early in the War of Spanish Succession (1701–1714). He retired in 1722 and likely knew Orkney, a leading military man and a member of the official household of George I. Through this connection, Drysdale was appointed lieutenant governor of Virginia and impressed the Council of State with his "Courteous disposition." He called the General Assembly in 1723 and amid fears of an insurrection proposed reforms to laws related to crimes committed by slaves. Taking the side of planters, Drysdale also approved a bill aimed at raising the price of tobacco. He failed, however, at reforming land office practices that had allowed the former governor Alexander Spotswood to accumulate large quantities of land. Shortly after calling a second assembly in 1726, Drysdale died in Williamsburg. MORE...

 

Drysdale was born in County Kilkenny, Ireland, either in 1672 or in 1673, and was the son of an Anglican clergyman, Hugh Drysdale, and his second wife, Elizabeth Fox Drysdale. He matriculated at Trinity College, Dublin, on May 8, 1688, at age sixteen and entered Queen's College, University of Oxford, in February 1692. With the appellation gentleman, Drysdale was commissioned an ensign in 1694 and embarked on a career in the army. He served in Ireland from 1701 to 1703 and probably saw action in Portugal early in the War of the Spanish Succession. He likely participated in the major campaigns of that war and from 1709 to 1713 was a major and second in command of a marine regiment under a nephew of the duke of Marlborough. Drysdale had retired and married by 1722. His wife's name was Hester, but her maiden name is not known. An assertion made late in the nineteenth century that they had a daughter who married into the Herndon family of Virginia has not been documented, and inasmuch as neither Drysdale nor his widow mentioned children in their wills, it is unlikely that they had any who survived.

Drysdale undoubtedly knew the leading military men of his time, including George Hamilton, first earl of Orkney, one of Marlborough's ablest generals, who was appointed governor of Virginia in 1710 and became a member of the official household of George I in 1714. Drysdale was therefore a logical choice to be appointed lieutenant governor of Virginia on April 3, 1722, after the king's ministers decided to replace Alexander Spotswood with another experienced officer as deputy to the absentee Orkney. Drysdale took the oaths of office in Williamsburg on September 27, 1722, and with his wife took up residence in the governor's palace.

Council member Robert "King" Carter (ca. 1664–1732) praised Drysdale's "Mild Temperate & Courteous disposition" in 1723 and stated that "the Generallity of the Country think themselves very happy in him." John Custis (1678–1749), whom Drysdale recommended as a person qualified to sit on the governor's Council, wrote, "God Almighty can make such another man; but I sincerely beleive he never made a better" [sic]. Drysdale was fortunate to arrive in the colony when the population was rapidly expanding, new land was being opened to settlement in the West, and war was not a threat. Few serious controversies disturbed the political peace, and, in spite of low tobacco prices that resulted from overproduction, his administration was comparatively uneventful.

Drysdale cooperated in ecclesiastical matters with James Blair, Virginia representative of the bishop of London and a member of the Council, and joined him in urging increased support for the College of William and Mary. When Drysdale summoned the General Assembly in May 1723, he proposed reforms to the militia laws and the laws governing crimes committed by slaves, which helped calm fears following rumors of an insurrection. He signed a bill to tax imported alcohol and slaves in order to augment the colony's revenue, but slave traders successfully lobbied the Crown to disallow it. Drysdale also approved a bill that passed in 1723 to reduce tobacco production with a hope of raising its price. Taking the side of the planters earned him their respect and contributed to the spirit of harmony that prevailed during most of his administration. Drysdale was not successful, though, in reforming land office practices that had allowed Spotswood to engross large quantities of land, probably because he died before the issue was settled. Spotswood mounted a spirited defense of his earlier practices, and other Virginia planters may have feared that if Drysdale succeeded it would dash their own expectations of acquiring and selling or renting valuable western land.

Drysdale summoned the second assembly of his administration for the dispatch of largely routine business in May 1726. By then he had been in poor health for two years and had requested permission to return temporarily to England, but early in the summer of 1726 he postponed his departure when his health gave signs of improving. Having taken a sudden turn for the worse, Hugh Drysdale died in Williamsburg on July 22, 1726. He was buried in the yard of Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, although it is possible that his widow later had his remains transferred to a tomb she purchased for the purpose in the Parish of Saint George, Hanover Square, London.

Time Line

  • 1672–1673 - In one of these two years, Hugh Drysdale is born in County Kilkenny, Ireland, the son of an Anglican clergyman.
  • May 8, 1688 - Hugh Drysdale matriculates at Trinity College, Dublin.
  • February 1692 - Hugh Drysdale enters Queen's College, University of Oxford.
  • 1694 - With the appellation gentleman, Hugh Drysdale is commissioned an ensign and embarks on a career in the army.
  • 1701–1703 - Hugh Drysdale serves in the English army in Ireland.
  • 1709–1713 - Hugh Drysdale is a major in the English army and second in command of a marine regiment under a nephew of the duke of Marlborough.
  • 1722 - By this year, Hugh Drysdale is retired from the English army and married to a woman named Hester.
  • April 3, 1722 - Hugh Drysdale is appointed lieutenant governor of Virginia after the king's ministers decide to replace Alexander Spotswood.
  • September 27, 1722 - Hugh Drysdale takes the oaths of office as lieutenant governor of Virginia in Williamsburg, and with his wife Hester takes up residence in the governor's palace.
  • May 1723 - Lieutenant Governor Hugh Drysdale summons the General Assembly and proposes reforms to the militia laws and the laws governing crimes committed by slaves, which help calm fears following rumors of an insurrection.
  • May 1726 - Lieutenant Governor Hugh Drysdale summons the General Assembly for a second time for the dispatch of largely routine business.
  • July 22, 1726 - Lieutenant Governor Hugh Drysdale dies in Williamsburg. He is buried in the yard of Bruton Parish Church there.

References

Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Tarter, B., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Hugh Drysdale (1672 or 1673–1726). (2014, November 4). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Drysdale_Hugh_1672_or_1673-1726.

  • MLA Citation:

    Tarter, Brent and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Hugh Drysdale (1672 or 1673–1726)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 4 Nov. 2014. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: April 28, 2010 | Last modified: November 4, 2014


Contributed by Brent Tarter and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Brent Tarter is founding editor of the Dictionary of Virginia Biography