Alexander Wedderburn, 1st Earl of Rosslyn papers (1676-1801, bulk 1764-1800)

Collection processed and finding aid created by Meg Hixon, February 2011, and Cheney J. Schopieray, January 2012
Manuscripts Division, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan

Summary Information

Title: Alexander Wedderburn, 1st Earl of Rosslyn papers
Creator: Rosslyn, Alexander Wedderburn, Earl of, 1733-1805
Inclusive dates: 1676-1801
Bulk dates: 1764-1800
Extent: 0.75 linear feet
The Alexander Wedderburn papers contain correspondence, documents, notes, and writings pertaining to Anglo-American relations during the late 18th century. The papers include items about the Boston Tea Party, the American Revolution, and claims brought under the 1794 Treaty of Amity (Jay Treaty).
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

1928. M-85.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information

Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.

Preferred Citation

Alexander Wedderburn, 1st Earl of Rosslyn Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The Alexander Wedderburn, 1st Earl of Rosslyn papers are arranged in a three-level hierarchy that reflects document genre, chronological period, and series maintained from the collection's original order in the Clements Library.

The four main series are:

  • Correspondence
  • Documents
  • Notes and other writings
  • Printed items
The full hierarchy is as follows:
  • Correspondence
    • David Wedderburn correspondence
    • American Revolutionary War era correspondence
      • Boston correspondence
      • Wemyss correspondence
      • Woolwich Ship-wrights correspondence and report
      • George Germain correspondence
    • Anglo-American Relations (1790s) correspondence
      • West Indies correspondence report
      • Rufus King correspondence
      • Thomas Macdonald correspondence
  • Documents
    • Pre-American Revolutionary War era commissions and proclamations
    • Gaspée report and enclosures
    • American Revolutionary War era documents
      • State of Facts and Proceedings Respecting the Black Charibbs of St. Vincent
      • Statutes for Restoring Order in Massachusetts Bay
      • Draft of the Prohibitory Act
      • Draft of a Pardon for Laying Down Arms
      • Acts Proposing Negotiation with the Americans
      • Lists of Captured Ships
  • Notes and Other Writings
    • American Revolutionary War era notes and writings
      • Narrative of the Boston Riots
      • Notes on the Outbreak of the American Rebellion
      • Notes on Potential Peace Negotiations with America
      • Statement on American Loyalists
    • Notes on Claims Made Under the Treaty of Amity (Jay Treaty)
    • Notes on Land Grants in Nova Scotia
  • Printed items


Alexander Wedderburn was born in Scotland on February 13, 1733. He entered the University of Edinburgh in 1746, gained admittance to the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple in 1753, practiced on the Faculty of Advocates in Scotland beginning in 1754, worked as an advocate for the poor, helped found the Select Society, and assisted with the publication of the first Edinburgh Review. He also served in the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland as a representative from Inverkeithing (1754-1756) and Dunfermline (1756-1757). Following a quarrel with the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates Alexander Lockhart, Wedderburn quit the Scottish in favor of the English courts.

Wedderburn was called to the English Bar in 1757 and his political influence grew (partly on account of his acquaintance with John Stuart, Lord Bute). Wedderburn served in Parliament for Ayr Burghs in 1761, became king's counsel in 1763, and later traveled to London where he became active within the Court of Chancery. He married Betty Ann Dawson in December 1767, shortly before he entered Parliament for Richmond. Originally a Tory, Wedderburn gained notoriety for supporting the populism of John Wilkes in 1769 and he returned to Parliament (as a Whig) for Bishop's Castle in 1770. On December 26, 1770, Wedderburn became solicitor general and he publicly advocated a strong position against the demands of American colonists. His denunciation of Benjamin Franklin before the Privy Council in January 1774 accelerated the deterioration of Anglo-American relations. Wedderburn was appointed attorney general in June 1778. He obtained the title Baron of Loughborough and an appointment as chief justice of the Court of Common Pleas in 1780.

Alexander Wedderburn served in the Court of Common Pleas for 13 years. His position as first commissioner of the great seal under the coalition government of Lord North and Charles James Fox, April to December 1783, reflected his political prominence. Wedderburn became close to the Prince of Wales during the protracted illness of King George III and helped lead the Whig Party's opposition to the government of William Pitt. He accomplished what may be his most notable political triumph in January 1793, when he deserted the Whigs, pledged allegiance to the Tory administration of William Pitt, and received an appointment as lord chancellor. Although he held the office throughout Pitt's tenure, he was not offered a place in the new cabinet after 1801. Wedderburn received the earldom of Rosslyn and a secure pension, but continued to attend cabinet sessions until formally instructed to abstain. He died on January 2, 1805.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Alexander Wedderburn papers contain correspondence, documents, notes, and writings pertaining to Anglo-American relations during the late 18th century. The papers include items about the Boston Tea Party, the American Revolution, and claims brought under the 1794 Treaty of Amity (Jay Treaty). The collection is arranged in a three-level hierarchy that reflects document genre, chronological period, and series maintained from the collection's original order in the Clements Library.

The Correspondence series contains three subseries:

The David Wedderburn correspondence subseries (1764-1765) contains 5 manuscript letters written by David Wedderburn, a lieutenant colonel in the 22nd Regiment of Foot, to his brother, Alexander Wedderburn. David described the final leg of his journey from Great Britain to North America, including travel throughout the West Indies and his arrival at Mobile. In his final letter, David discussed the lasting impact of recent administrative conflicts between civil and military authorities in the Floridas.

The American Revolutionary War Era correspondence subseries contains four sub-subseries:

The Boston correspondence sub-subseries (1773-1775) contains 20 letters (primarily contemporary manuscript copies) and one newspaper extract regarding developments in Boston prior to the outbreak of the American Revolution; most of the letters include additional enclosures. Alexander Wedderburn, the intended recipient of a majority of these manuscript copies, numbered them in an ordered sequence. The content of the letters pertains to committees of correspondence, attempts to force recipients of tea from the East India Company to publicly resign their commissions, violence against consignees of East India Company tea, and the Boston Tea Party.

Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson wrote ten letters, mostly to William Legge, 2nd Earl of Dartmouth; Sir Frederick Haldimand wrote four letters, also to Lord Dartmouth; Rear Admiral John Montagu wrote two letters to Philip Stephens, each recorded as having been enclosed in letters from the Lord of the Admiralty (not present); and two letters were enclosures in a letter of William Barrington (not present). Additional enclosures include a broadside (in Hutchinson to Dartmouth, December 2, 1773) and a narrative, which describes an instance of mob violence on November 3, 1773 (in Hutchinson to Dartmouth, November 4, 1773). In the sub-subseries' three later letters, all written in 1775, Richard Clarke and James Putnam describe the lingering effects of the Boston Tea Party and the Battles of Lexington and Concord. An extract from the Massachusetts Gazette is also present in Wedderburn's numbered series.

The Wemyss correspondence sub-subseries (1773-1776) contains eight letters written to James and William Wemyss about British Parliamentary discussions (including those respecting measures against America), military activity in Quebec, and the New York and New Jersey campaign. Major General James Grant wrote six of seven letters to James Wemyss, from London, Halifax, and New York; Francis Anderson wrote the seventh letter from Edinburgh. The remaining letter in the sub-subseries, from Luke Fraser in Edinburgh to William Wemyss, includes a copy of letter from Grant to Fraser.

The Woolwich Shipwrights correspondence and report sub-subseries (1775) contains three items related to rebel recruitment tactics within Great Britain. Two letters, their enclosures, and a manuscript report describe efforts by supporters of the American rebellion to recruit the striking shipwrights of Woolwich and summon Alexander Wedderburn to an upcoming cabinet meeting on the issue. One enclosure contains several excerpts of acts of Parliament deemed relevant to the current North American situation.

The George Germain correspondence sub-subseries (1779) contains a letter written by George Germain to Alexander Wedderburn and James Wallace about the possibility of peace negotiations between British and American commissioners. An enclosed extract of a letter from the British commissioners to Germain describes the general mood in North America and proposes specific measures for restoring British rule over the colonies.

The Anglo-American Relations correspondence subseries (1794-1800) contains three sub-subseries:

The West Indies correspondence report sub-subseries (1794) is made up of a report and enclosed manuscript note, presented by the advocate, attorney, and solicitor generals of Great Britain to the Duke of Portland, concerning legal jurisdiction in the West Indies. They primarily relate to naval power and to the possible establishment of prize courts.

The Rufus King correspondence sub-subseries (1796-1799) includes two letters related to property disputes arising under the 1794 Treaty of Amity. The first letter, written by Rufus King in the third person, is accompanied by a printed form. The second, a short note written by George Hammond to Alexander Wedderburn, contains several copies of Rufus King's letters, which relate to shipping on the Atlantic Ocean and to the relative success of neutrality efforts between Great Britain and the United States.

The Thomas Macdonald correspondence sub-subseries (1799-1800) consists of eight letters written by British commissioner Thomas Macdonald to Alexander Wedderburn, concerning claims made under Article 6 of the 1794 Treaty of Amity. Enclosures within these letters include correspondence between Macdonald and George Grenville, contemporary manuscript copies of notes from American courts about disputed claims, and two printed sets of minutes related to specific court cases.

The Documents series consists of three subseries:

The Pre-American Revolutionary War Era commissions and proclamations subseries (1676-1772) contains four manuscript copies of British legal documents. Three of the documents are directly related to enclosures within John Pownall's report on the Gaspée Incident (see below). They include a 1676 commission for Herbert Jeffreys, Francis Morrison, and Sir John Berry, to investigate grievances in Virginia; a blank commission for enquiry into grievances in New Jersey (1752); and a 1772 royal proclamation for "Discovering and Apprehending the persons who plundered and burnt the Gaspée Schooner." The final item in the series is a manuscript copy of Queen Anne's 1705 "Act to prevent all Traitorous Correspondence with Her Majesty's Enemies," particularly the French.

The Gaspée report and enclosures subseries (1772) is John Pownall's short contemporary report on the "Gaspée incident," in which a group of Americans plundered and burned the schooner HMSGaspée . Pownall particularly addressed questions of legal jurisdiction and suggested locations where trials for conspirators might be held. Twenty-five of the report's original 26 appendices remain with the document; they relate to five specific precedents: a 1711 uprising in Antigua (mentioned in the absent enclosure), Bacon's Rebellion (1676), the Dominion of New England (1686-1689), David Creagh's correspondence with the Queen's enemies (1712), and the effects of piracy (beginning in the 1670s).

The American Revolutionary War Era documents subseries contains the following six sub-subseries:

The State of Facts and Proceedings Respecting the Black Charribs of St. Vincent sub-subseries [1773] is a 26-page report on the history of St. Vincent from 1627 to 1773. The report provides a justification for "the Expedition now carrying in for the reduction of the Charibbs" and regards property ownership and the historical relationship between British settlers and indigenous peoples on the island.

The Statues for Restoring Order in the Colony of Massachusetts Bay sub-subseries [1774] contains two draft versions of an act to reinforce Great Britain's authority over the North American colonies, accompanied by two sets of notes directly commenting on proposed changes to the document. Alexander Wedderburn's alterations and annotations on the first draft (which is written entirely in his hand) are reflected in a second draft, which he further annotated. Four pages of notes (some in Wedderburn's hand) suggest improvements to the bill and contain reflections on later drafts of the statute.

The Draft of the Prohibitory Act sub-subseries [1775] is a manuscript copy of the Prohibitory Act (forbidding trade with the American colonies), written in a neat, unknown hand and annotated extensively by Alexander Wedderburn.

The Draft of a Pardon for Laying Down Arms sub-subseries [1776] is in Alexander Wedderburn's hand and includes his notes and annotations. This document is similar to a proclamation released by William and Richard Howe during the early stages of the American Revolution, and offers a full pardon to any rebels who will lay down their arms and swear an oath of allegiance to King George III.

Two draft Acts Proposing Negotiations with the Americans (1778), annotated by Alexander Wedderburn, propose plans for negotiating an end to the rebellion in the American colonies. The first, an "Act for preventing the dangers which may arise from several acts and proceedings lately done and had in his Majesty's dominions in America &c. &c.," includes specific proposals for demands and concessions to be offered in potential peace talks, along with Alexander Wedderburn's frequent annotations. The second, a bill for sending commissioners to America, is entirely in Wedderburn's hand and pertains more specifically to the responsibilities of and restrictions upon a potential British peace commission.

The Lists of Captured Ships sub-subseries (1779-1780) contains five lists of vessels captured by various combatants during the American Revolution. Each list is organized geographically and identifies the number of vessels captured on specific trade routes, the number recaptured or otherwise returned, the number remaining in either British or enemy possession (as appropriate), and the tonnage of captured vessels. Lists in the series include: ships captured by the French (January 6, 1779), from and by the Spanish (January 10, 1779 and January 10, 1780, respectively), by the Americans (January 3, 1780), from the French (January 8, 1780), and from the Americans (January 3, 1780). The list of ships captured by the Americans (January 3, 1780) includes a short manuscript memorandum on the inevitable inaccuracy of the included data.

The Notes and Other Writings series contains two subseries:

The American Revolutionary War Era notes and writings subseries includes the following sub-subseries:

The Narrative of the Boston Riots (1774), a 28-page account of disturbances in Boston related to the importation of tea from the East India Company. The manuscript includes some short notes made by Alexander Wedderburn.

Alexander Wedderburn's Notes on the Outbreak of the American Rebellion [1775] provide his reflections on the first year of the American Revolution, regard upcoming speeches to be made in Parliament, and discuss the recent interruption of commerce in the North American colonies.

The Notes on Potential Peace Negotiations with America (1778) contain eight documents regarding the potential for negotiations between Great Britain and the American rebels. Three draft essays by Alexander Wedderburn include one subsequently sent to Lord Frederick North and two offering Wedderburn's defense of the idea of a treaty. The series also contains Wedderburn's notes on a speech given by Charles Fox in Parliament ("Heads of a speech on the Bills for a Treaty with America"), and notes on the failure of Pulteney's plan of negotiation. Two additional documents in the series are written in different, distinct hands, and include "Smith's thoughts on the state of the contest with America" and "Pulteney's Sketch of Resolutions."

A Statement on American Loyalists , written after 1781, is an anonymous 11-page reflection on the effect of Loyalists during the American Revolution, particularly in the Southern District.

The Notes on Claims Made Under the Treaty of Amity subseries [1790s] contains three items documenting and reflecting upon claims presented under the 6th Article of the 1794 Treaty of Amity. The first of these is a list of the number of claims presented between May 29, 1797, and December 4, 1798, broken down into smaller time periods. Accompanying this document are two sets of Alexander Wedderburn's notes discussing a number of specific claims made under the Treaty.

The undated Notes on Land Grants in Nova Scotia subseries present a brief history of lands in Acadia originally granted to William Alexander, later Lord Stirling, in 1621. The document traces relevant changes in ownership to 1668 and offers the anonymous author's conclusion that the lands in question, having never been fully part of the British Dominion, bear no relevance to a contemporary (likely late 18th century) legal case.

The Printed items series includes three items related to political and economic developments in the United States at the turn of the nineteenth century. The first is a 1795 printing of the 1794 Treaty of Amity, thought to have belonged to Alexander Wedderburn. A four-page copy of the Porcupine, dated March 20, 1801, includes the London newspaper's account of recent proceedings in Parliament as well as a mocking account of Thomas Jefferson's election to the United States presidency. The final item in the series is a short printed report on the growth of American tonnage between the conclusion of the American Revolution and 1801, including some statistical figures and accompanying analysis.

Subject Terms

  • American Loyalists.
  • Boston Committee of Correspondence.
  • Boston Tea Party, 1773.
  • Burgoyne, John, 1722-1792.
  • Carib Indians--Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
  • Clinton, Henry, Sir, 1738?-1795.
  • Gaspée (Schooner)
  • Great Britain. Commissioners to Treat, Consult, and Agree upon the Means of Quieting the Disorders Now Subsisting in Certain of the Colonies, Plantations, and Provinces in North-America.
  • Great Britain--Foreign relations--United States.
  • Great Britain--Politics and government--18th century.
  • Great Britain. Treaties, etc. United States, 1794 Nov. 19.
  • Howe, William Howe, Viscount, 1729-1814.
  • Long Island, Battle of, New York, N.Y., 1776.
  • Massachusetts--History--Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775.
  • Mobs--Massachusetts--Boston--History--18th century.
  • Nova Scotia--History--1603-1713.
  • Shipwrights--England--London.
  • Taxation.
  • United States--History, Naval.
  • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Causes.
  • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Prizes, etc.
  • West Indies--History.
  • White Plains, Battle of, White Plains, N.Y., 1776.
  • Board of Commissioners for Carrying into Effect the Sixth Article of the Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation Concluded between His Britannic Majesty and the United States of America.
  • Clarke, Richard, 1711-1795.
  • Haldimand, Frederick, Sir, 1718-1791.
  • Hammond, George, 1763-1853.
  • Hutchinson, Thomas, 1711-1780.
  • King, Rufus, 1755-1827.
  • Macdonald, Thomas.
  • Sandwich, John Montagu, Earl of, 1718-1792.
  • Pownall, John, 1720-1795.
  • Robinson, John.
  • Wedderburn, David, d. 1773.
Genre Terms:
  • Broadsides (notices)
  • Commissions (permissions)
  • Legislative Acts.
  • Letters (correspondence)
  • Lists.
  • Narratives.
  • Newspapers.
  • Notes.
  • Pamphlets.
  • Proclamations.
  • Reports.
  • Treaties.

Contents List (Request Materials)

Request materials for use in the Clements Library
Container / Location Title
Correspondence [series]
David Wedderburn correspondence [subseries]
Box   1 Folder   1
June 3, 1764-[January 1765]
Folder   2  
 January 29-April 14, 1765
American Revolutionary War Era correspondence [subseries]
Boston correspondence
Folder   3  
 November 3-4, 1773
Folder   4  
 November 6-15, 1773
Folder   5  
 November 26-December 2, 1773
Folder   6  
 December 8-17, 1773
Folder   7  
 December 20-24, 1773
Folder   8  
 December 28, 1773-January 5, 1774
Folder   9  
 January 28-February 2, 1774
Folder   10  
 April 18-May 15, 1775
Wemyss correspondence
Folder   11  
 June 14, 1773-June 4, 1776
Folder   12  
 October 18, 1776-July 12, 1777
Woolwich Shipwrights correspondence and report
Folder   13  
 August [18]-August 26, 1775
George Germain correspondence
Folder   14  
 March 16, 1779
Anglo-American Relations correspondence [subseries]
West Indies correspondence report
Folder   15  
 August 9, 1794
Rufus King correspondence
Folder   16  
 December 18, 1796-March 13, 1799
Thomas Macdonald correspondence
Folder   17  
 February 19-April 16, 1799
Folder   18  
 October 2, 1799-January 3, 1800
Folder   19  
 February 5-March 10, 1800
Folder   20  
 May 28, 1800
Documents [series]
Pre-Revolutionary Era Proclamations and Commissions [subseries]
Folder   21  
 October 3, 1676-May 20, 1705
Folder   22  
 [July 23], 1752-August 26, 1772
Gaspée report and enclosures [subseries]
Folder   23  
[August 1772]
Folder   24  
[August 1772] Appendices 2-5
Folder   25  
[August 1772] Appendices 6-9
Folder   26  
[August 1772] Appendices 10-12
Folder   27  
[August 1772] Appendices 13-14
Folder   28  
[August 1772] Appendices 15-16
Folder   29  
[August 1772] Appendices 17-20
Folder   30  
[August 1772] Appendices 21-23
Folder   31  
[August 1772] Appendices 24-26
American Revolutionary Era documents [subseries]
"State of Facts and Proceedings respecting the Black Charribs of St. Vincent"
Folder   32  
Statutes for restoring order in the Colony of Massachusetts Bay
Folder   33  
Folder   34  
Drafts, [1774]
Notes on Drafts
Draft of the Prohibitory Act
Box   2 Folder   1
Draft of a Pardon for Laying Down Arms
Folder   2  
Acts proposing negotiations with the Americans
Folder   3  
 February 1778
Lists of captured ships
Folder   4  
 January 6, 1779-January 10, 1780, and  undated
Notes and Other Writings [series]
American Revolutionary Era notes and writings [subseries]
Narrative of the Boston riots
Folder   5  
Notes on the outbreak of the American rebellion
Folder   6  
[1775] and  undated
Notes on potential peace negotiations in America
Folder   7  
 January 1778-[February 2], 1778
Folder   8  
 February 1778
Folder   9  
Folder   10  
Statement on American Loyalists
Folder   11  
Notes on claims made under the Treaty of Amity [subseries]
Folder   12  
Notes on Land Grants in Nova Scotia [subseries]
Folder   13  
Printed Items [series]
Folder   14  
 1794-1801 and  undated
Treaty of Amity,  1794
Porcupine newspaper,  1801
Report on growth of American tonnage, [ 1801?]

Additional Descriptive Data

Alternate Locations

The following two items are housed in the Clements Library Book Division:

Two printed items in the Alexander Wedderburn papers are catalogued in the University's online catalog:

Related Materials

Several documents from the collection are early drafts or copies of items that appear in: Stevens, Benjamin F. B.F. Stevens's Facsimiles of Manuscripts in European Archives relating to America, 1773-178... London: [Photographed and printed by Malby & sons], 1889-1895.

Additional items written by Thomas Hutchinson may be found in the following collections:

Additional items written by Alexander Wedderburn may be found in the following collections:

The following book provides background information on colonial commissions similar to those found in the collection's Pre-Revolutionary Era Proclamations and Commissions and appendices to the Gaspée report: Brodhead, John Romeyn. Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New-York…. Albany: Weed, Parsons and Company, printers, 1853-1887.

The 1773 British expedition to St. Vincent is discussed in the following volume: Authentic Papers Relative to the Expedition against the Charibbs, and the Sale of Lands in the Island of St. Vincent. London: Printed for J. Almon, 1773.

The British Library holds a large collection of Alexander Wedderburn manuscripts, primarily correspondence.


Murdoch, Alexander, "Wedderburn, Alexander, first earl of Rosslyn (1733--1805)," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004). doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/28954.

Campbell, John Lord. The Lives of the Lord Chancellors and the Keepers of the Great Seal of England, from the Earliest Times Till the Reign of King George IV . London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1850.