John Perceval, Second
Earl of Egmont
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
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
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
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
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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