Samuel Vaughan

1720 - 1802


Samuel Vaughan, West India merchant and political radical. The youngest of 12 children, Vaughan was born in Ireland to Benjamin Vaughan and Ann Wolf. He emigrated to Jamaica in 1737 and remained there until 1752. During this time he purchased considerable amounts of land and enslaved people around Montego Bay.

He returned to London in 1752 and established a banking house at Dunster's Court, Mincing Lane. At this time he also became involved in radical politics and a keen supporter of John Wilkes. He was a founding member of the Bill of Rights Society, intended to give financial support to Wilkes, and supported the Corsican cause in 1768. In 1769 Vaughan was involved in a controversial public bribery scandal when he was accused of trying to bribe the Duke of Grafton to secure a family hold over the position of Clerk to the Supreme Court of Jamaica. Grafton took the case to court but ceased the prosecution following revelations that he had previously accepted bribes and the publication of Vaughan's An Appeal to the Public on Behalf of Samuel Vaughan, Esq. in a fall and impartial Narrative of his Negotiation with the Duke of Grafton. Despite the accusations Vaughan received public support from prominent radicals and continued to grow his reputation within reformist circles. He socialized at the Whig coffee house at St Paul's and was on close terms with Benjamin Franklin, James Boswell, William Hazlitt, Christopher Wyvill as well as prominent Jamaican planter William Beckford (q.v.).

In the mid-1740s Samuel Vaughan visited Boston where he married Sarah Hallowell, daughter of merchant and shipbuilder Benjamin Hallowell, in 1747. This began a long association with the North American colonies and later United States. The couple had 11 children, born in Jamaica and London: Benjamin (1751-1835) (q.v.); William (1752-1850) (q.v.); Samuel (1754-1758); John (1756-1841); Ann (1757-1847); Charles (1759-1839) (q.v.); Sarah (1761-1818); Samuel (1762-1827) (q.v.); Barbara Eddy (1764-1820); Rebecca (1766-1851); and Hannah (1768-1770). Several of his sons joined the West India house, named Samuel Vaughan and Sons. Benjamin became a successful London merchant and M.P. (in which role he opposed abolition of the slave trade), whilst Samuel Jnr. managed the family estates in Jamaica and rose to become a prominent member of island society and Custos [magistrate] of Saint James.

Vaughan visited the newly independent United States several times in the 1780s an 1790s and purchased land in Pennsylvania. In Philadelphia Vaughan became a founding member of the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture, and an enthusiastic member of the American Philosophical Society (the leading American scientific organization of the period). First elected in 1784, he became a vice-president and donated substantial amounts for the construction of the Philosophical Hall, which began in 1785. Vaughan's interest in landscaping led him to designing the Pennsylvania State House Garden and Gray's Inn gardens, as well as drawing a plan of George Washington's Mount Vernon garden. Despite enthusiastically endorsing the political ideals of liberty behind the founding of the US, like many contemporaries, Vaughan found little contradiction in his support for political reform as well as the institution of slavery.

Vaughan died in London in 1802. In his will (written in January 1797) he placed all property owned in North America, Britain and Jamaica (including the enslaved on his sugar and coffee plantations) in trust for the benefit of his children. He appointed his wife Sarah, sons Benjamin, William and Charles and William Esdaile, banker of the City of London, as trustees and executors. They were instructed to sell all real and personal estate in Jamaica within 7 years of Samuel's death and liquidate all his other assets. These were to be used to pay the legacies with the remainder invested in government stocks and securities in Great Britain and America for the benefit of his heirs. His wife Sarah Vaughan received all household goods, furniture, jewels, linen, pictures etc. for her own absolute use. In addition, she received a legacy of £200 and an annuity for life of £400 to be paid from the trust. He left small annuities to his nieces Ann Benson and Elizabeth Hillier.

His trustees were instructed to invest £5000 of his capital in the purchase of government stocks in or securities for the benefit of his daughter and son-in-law, Ann and John Darby of Hackney, who would receive the yearly interest. The £5000 should then be divided equally between their children upon reaching the age of 21 or marriage. Samuel noted that he had already advanced the couple £2500 as part of their marriage settlement but that the legacy of £5000 should be taken in lieu of the second half of that settlement. £5000 each was to be laid down in stocks for the benefit of his daughters Sarah Vaughan, Barbara Eddy Vaughan and Rebecca Vaughan. Each would receive the annual interest as an annuity. The marriage settlements of his sons Benjamin and Charles were confirmed, which he stated covered their provision. He also Samuel noted that he had also already made provision for his sons William and John. Samuel Vaughan Jnr. received a legacy of £4000, as well as his father's library and mathematical and philosophical instruments, valued at £1000. Charles was left an additional £2000 legacy and William, John and Samuel were to receive an additional £1000 upon marriage and a further £1000 upon the birth of their first child. All younger children were given the option of keeping parcels of land previously purchased in their names in Pennsylvania but the value would be deducted from their legacies. After all legacies and annuities had been paid the residue of the estate was to be split equally between Sarah and all the children.

Samuel also stipulated that Benjamin Vaughan's share of the loss upon the adventurers shipped in the Europa and Bella Juditta bound to the West Indies had to be accounted for, whilst all of the sons outstanding debts owed to father or merchant house were to be deducted from legacies. He instructed that his 2 Jamaican sugar estates should be sold first on account that the land in Pennsylvania was rising in value more rapidly, whilst the value of his Jamaican Penn land and coffee estates has been badly hit by the Maroon War and should be given time to recover. He left a £50 legacy to friend, executor and trustee William Esdaile.

In a codicil written in April 1797, Samuel Vaughan noted that his son Samuel junior had made certain offers to purchase his Jamaican coffee plantation and woodland, which if pending upon his decease should be continued and that Samuel junior should be given preference over any other bidder. Most if not all of the plantations were still in family hands, and under the management of Samuel junior, at the time of his death in 1827. Despite Samuel senior's instructions to sell his estates, most if not all of the plantations were still in family hands, and under the management of his son Samuel, at the time of Samuel junior's death in 1827. Some, at least, remained in family hands until the fulfillment of emancipation proceedings, with a number of emancipated “apprentices” remaining on the property despite their nominal freedom.


Biography of Samuel Vaughan, The Cultural Landscape Foundation [accessed 14/7/2015].

Will of Samuel Vaughan, 16/02/1803, TNA/PROB 11/1387/167.

The plan of Mount Vernon, along with a second one which he drew in response to criticism of the first drawing by George Washington, is in the collection of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia. Note this was a map of what was already a well-established garden, rather than an original design.

We are grateful to Michael Baron and Ron Kley for their assistance with compiling this entry.

Further Information

Sarah Hallowell
A will but no further details

Associated Estates (6)

The dates listed below have different categories as denoted by the letters in the brackets following each date. Here is a key to explain those letter codes:

  • SD - Association Start Date
  • SY - Association Start Year
  • EA - Earliest Known Association
  • ED - Association End Date
  • EY - Association End Year
  • LA - Latest Known Association
1767 [EA] - 1802 [LA] → Owner
1809 [EA] - 1839 [LA] → Previous owner
1761 [EA] - 1764 [LA] → Joint owner
- 1804 [LA] → Previous owner
- 1802 [EY] → Owner
1809 [EA] - 1829 [LA] → Previous owner

Legacies Summary

Commercial (1)

Senior Partner
S.Vaughan & Sons
West India merchant  

Relationships (15)

Father → Son
Father → Son
Father → Son
Father → Son
Grandfather → Grandson
Grandfather → Grandson
Father → Son
Testator → Executor
Testator → Trustee
Testator → Executor
Testator → Trustee
Testator → Executor
Testator → Trustee
Testator → Executor
Testator → Trustee

Addresses (1)

Dunster Court, Mincing Lane, London, Middlesex, London, England