Churchtown's History

John Perceval, Second Earl of Egmont

More Than Just An Indigo Planter

Part One of Two
By Mary Beth Litrico

While the British occupied their fourteenth and fifteenth American colonies, East and West Florida, from 1763 to 1783, most of Amelia Island was granted to one man. He claimed 10,000 of the almost 12,000 acres that make up this island. Who was that man and how did he come by so much land? Did he have political connections? What would he do with "his island?"

This man was John Perceval (Note: some sources use the spelling Percival.), the second Earl of Egmont. His story begins in England where he was born in Westminster, on February 24, 1711. Young John was the eldest son of John Perceval, first Earl of Egmont and his wife, Catherine Parker, elder daughter of Sir Philip Parker à Morley, baronet, of Erwarton, Suffolk. Only two of six other siblings lived, but his parents had a happy marriage.

Though Perceval's father claimed to be of Norman French and Flemish roots., their legacy was established in Ireland. Prior to their presence in Ireland in the early 1600s (about the time the British were settling in South Carolina), ancestors began amassing the family fortune in medieval times. The Percevals' service to both the early Stuart monarchs and Cromwell in Ireland further enhanced their wealth.

John Perceval, Second Earl of Egmont.
Amelia Island Museum of History


The first Earl of Egmont was born July 12, 1683 in County Cork at a manor called Burton. Both parents died in his youth. Perceval's father became a ward of relatives, eventually receiving an education in Westminster and at Oxford. He left Oxford to tour England, and on this journey started a life-long habit of journal-keeping.

In 1704, Perceval's father returned to his Irish estates and began his political career. He served in the Irish House of Commons, Irish House of Lords and the British House of Commons. He had Whig inclinations but considered himself an independent. John Perceval was created the first Earl of Egmont in the peerage of Ireland in 1733. He wanted this earldom "in order that his children might marry better."(From Journal of the Earl of Egmont)

A significant contribution to his country and ours was his work with James Oglethorpe in founding the colony of Georgia that would provide asylum to insolvent debtors and persons fleeing religious persecution. Perceval's father helped to secure the charter for the colony through his connections at court and ability to obtain funds for the project. His detailed journal of the proceedings of meetings for the Trustees for the colonization of Georgia give insight into the struggles Oglethorpe and his partners endured to establish this colony.

The first earl's political career kept him from his Irish estates, but he endeavored to maintain communication with his Irish agents and be active in managing his holdings there. He died in London on May 1, 1748, aged 64, and was buried at Erwarton in Suffolk, his wife's homeland.
The first Earl of Egmont was ridiculed for his pomposity but was considered to possess ability and public spirit and be pious and charitable and was a patron of music. His contributions to politics left a legacy for the United States in the state of Georgia.

His son, John Perceval, was privately educated. He entered politics in 1731 when he was elected to the Irish House of Commons. In 1741 he was elected to the British House of Commons, representing Westminster. He received Irish peerage upon the death of his father in 1748 when he assumed the earldom as second Earl of Egmont.

Perceval's political record seems to indicate a Whig tendency to disapprove of war. Britain was frequently involved in war during the 18th century, and Perceval became a leader of the opposition. In 1743, he published a masterly pamphlet in defense of justifying the support of opposition politics entitled, "Faction detected by the Evidence of Facts" (Dublin, 1743). This pamphlet was published several times and considered one of the best political pamphlets ever written.

When forced to chose, he supported Frederick Lewes, the Prince of Wales (brother of Princess Amelia, namesake of Amelia Island) and the Leicester House faction over King George II. Though Frederick died before ascending the throne, Perceval's loyalty to him opened the door to Perceval's support of Frederick's son, the future George III. In March, 1748, Frederick appointed Perceval as a lord of the bed-chamber. Had Frederick lived to become king, it is likely that he would have appointed Perceval as prime minister. In June of 1748 he succeeded his father as the second Earl of Egmont.

Perceval became the most prominent leader of the opposition (supporting the Prince of Wales) in the House of Commons during the 1748-1749 session. This is where he "made as great a figure as was ever made in so short a time," according to his biographical entry in The Dictionary of National Biography. His opposition to the mutiny bill gave rise to the following epigram by Sir Charles Hamburg Williams:

Why has Lord Egmont 'gainst this bill
So much declaratory skill
So tediously exerted?
The reason's plain: but t'other day
He mutinied himself for pay,
And he has twice deserted

Throughout the 1750s, Perceval encouraged a reduction of the army.

His ambition for English peerage was finally attained on May 7, 1762 when he was created Baron Lovel and Holland of Enmore in the city of Somerset. He took a seat in the House of Lords three days later.

Next he was appointed joint paymaster-general with the Hon. Robert Hampden. Perceval resigned from this post when he was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty on September 10, 1763. (He resigned this post in 1766 because he disapproved of William Pitt's foreign policy and refused office as he wanted no part of an administration in which Pitt was a member. )
Also in 1763, Britain would gain two new colonies, East and West Florida. The crown granted land to able British investors in hopes of turning profits. Perceval acquired 65,000 acres in Florida, including 10,000 acres on Amelia Island. He would never set foot here, but, like his father he was an effective absentee landlord. Stephen Egan, an employee from Perceval's Irish estates used his talents to build a successful indigo plantation here.

Perceval was not considered to be of robust health so perhaps that is why he never traveled here. One last note on his political career appears in his biography from The Dictionary of National Biography. In November of 1768 it is recorded that our Lord Perceval "made a warm and able speech against riots, and on the licentiousness of the people." John Perceval, the second Earl of Egmont died at Pall Mall on December 4, 1770. He was 59. He was laid to rest at Charlton Kent one week later.

Gerard de Brahm's map of "Egmont Island"
surveyed just months before Perceval's death.

Perceval was considered "a talented and ambitious man with great powers of application and a large stock of learning. He was a successful pamphleteer, a fluent and plausible debater and a very able though not an agreeable orator." (The Dictionary of National Biography) He was a confidant of King George III. Sir Robert Walpole, said that Perceval was never known to laugh, though "he was indeed seen to smile, and that was at chess."

Perceval had a great affection for bygone times. This was reflected in the building of his residence at Enmore when he "mounted it round and prepared it to defend itself with crossbows and arrows, against the time in which the fabric and use of gunpowder shall be forgotten." (From Walpole's Memoirs of George II)

His name was not just given to lands in Florida. A settlement formed in the West Falkland by Commodore Byron's expedition in 1765 was named Port Egmont in his honor. Also, at the mouth of Tampa Bay is Egmont Key. This was named by his brother-in-law and fellow land grant receiver, Wills Hills, Earl of Hillsborough, also an Irish peer.

Perceval first married Lady Catherine Cecil, the second daughter of James, fifth Earl of Salisbury, in 1737. She bore him five sons and two daughters. The eldest son, John James, became the third Earl of Egmont. Their son Philip Tufton, was a captain in the royal navy and another son, Edward was a captain in the royal dragoon guards. Lady Catherine died in 1752.

Perceval remarried in 1756 to another Catherine, this one the third daughter of the Hon. Charles Compton. She survived her husband and was created Baroness Arden of Lohort Castle, County Cork on May 23, 1770. The title would be passed down through her male heirs. This Catherine bore Perceval three sons and six daughters. Their eldest son, Charles George, would succeed his mother to become Baron of Arden. Another son, Spencer, became prime minister. Lady Egmont died at Langley, Buckinghamshire on June 11, 1784, at the age of 53.

Perceval's children served their country as had their father and grandfather. Their grandfather left an imprint on our country through the colony of Georgia. In part two of this story, we will look at the second Earl of Egmont's indigo imprint on Amelia Island - an imprint he made without ever setting foot on her soil.

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