John Alston autobiography (1789-1932, bulk 1789, 1811)

Collection processed and finding aid created by Richard C. Bates, December 2007, and Meg Hixon, November 2012
Manuscripts Division, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan

Summary Information

Title: John Alston autobiography
Creator: Alston, John, 1743-1818
Inclusive dates: 1789-1932
Bulk dates: 1789, 1811
Extent: 1 volume
This volume contains autobiographical sketches composed by John Alston of Glasgow, Scotland, for his children in 1789 and 1811. A descendant later used the volume to record genealogical information about three additional generations of the Alston family.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use

Acquisition Information

2004. M-4351.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information

Cataloging funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). This collection has been processed according to minimal processing procedures and may be revised, expanded, or updated in the future.

Preferred Citation

John Alston Autobiography, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


John Alston was born in Scotland on November 10, 1743, the son of George and Isabella Alston. After attending grammar school in Lanark, he moved to Glasgow, where he was an apprentice in a warehouse. In 1759, he sailed to North America, and he lived in Maryland and Virginia until returning to Scotland in 1768. He formed a business partnership with his uncle, also named John Alston, and invested in North American trade before the American Revolution. On June 11, 1772, he married Patrick Craigie ("Patie") of Edinburgh, Scotland (1744-1786). Their children were Anne Hay (b. October 9, 1773), George (May 4, 1775-August 1850), Isabella (b. January 16, 1777), Robert Douglas (October 2, 1778-December 15, 1846), John Thomas (b. April 26, 1780), and Patrick Craigie (May 21, 1782-November 4, 1782). John Alston died on October 31, 1818.

Collection Scope and Content Note

This volume contains autobiographical sketches that John Alston of Glasgow, Scotland, composed for his children in 1789 (25 pages) and 1811 (5 pages). A descendant later used the volume to record genealogical information about three additional generations of the Alston family (6 pages).

Alston wrote a brief preface to his autobiography, which he signed "John Alston, Junr." The following 25 pages concern his life until 1789, with a focus on his early life and family. He wrote about his failed trip to North America in early 1759 and his journey through Spain after his ship, the Rebecca , was seized by a French privateer and subsequently stranded on the Spanish coast. Alston made his way back home and successfully sailed to Maryland later that year. When remembering his time in North America, he felt guilty about his perceived self-indulgence, and he vowed to prevent his children from leaving home until the age of 20 or 21. After recording his marriage to Patrick Craigie ("Patie") in 1772, he listed the names and birthdates of their children, including one who died after a smallpox inoculation (pp. 7-9). Alston later commented on the effect that the deaths of his wife and parents had on him, and he also discussed the dispersion of his father's estate. The second part of his autobiography, which he added on January 1, 1811, primarily pertains to his family history and genealogy. Genealogical notes concern John Alston's descendants to the generation of his great-grandchildren.

Subject Terms

  • Alston family.
  • Glasgow (Scotland)
  • Privateering.
  • Scots--United States.
  • Spain--Description and travel--Early works to 1800.
Genre Terms:
  • Autobiographies.
  • Genealogies.
  • Notes.

Contents List (Request Materials)

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Container / Location Title
Volume   1  
John Alston autobiography,  1789,  1811 [series]