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Samuel Vaughan (1720-1802) was an English merchant, plantation owner, and political radical.
Born in Ireland, Vaughan's parents were Benjamin Vaughan and Ann Wolf; he was the youngest of a family of 12. He was a merchant and plantation owner, living largely in Jamaica, from 1736 to 1752, when he set up business as a merchant banker at Dunster's Court, Mincing Lane, in the City of London.
The Vaughan family was part of the congregation of the dissenting minister Richard Price. Samuel Vaughan was a friend of the elder William Hazlitt, the Unitarian minister. Vaughan's religious views have been described as "free-thinking Unitarian".
Jamaica and bribery scandal
Vaughan purchased in 1765 the post of Clerk to the Supreme Court of Jamaica. In 1769 Vaughan then offered the Duke of Grafton, a government minister, a sum of £5000 to secure a reversion, to hold this official place in the family for three of his sons. Grafton brought a King's Bench case against Vaughan, which resulted in embarrassment to both parties. The prominence of the issue led the campaigning writer Junius to expose a previous sale of office by Grafton. This was the post of Collector of Customs in Exeter, to a Mr. Hine, for which Grafton took £3,500; and the implication was that the money went to a card-sharp.
Vaughan put his side of the case in 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; and Grafton dropped the prosecution. Even so, Vaughan's actions appeared to be a political gaffe to some of the political radicals, Vaughan's allies. Anna Barbauld, a family friend, wrote a poem complimenting his wife Sarah as a gesture of support.
Some of Vaughan's sons became involved in the plantation business, and its London end Vaughan & Co. Benjamin visited Jamaica in the early 1770s, and in parliament in the 1790s defended slavery on the island. William worked in the company, and became prominent in the London Society of West India Merchants. Vaughan himself visited Jamaica again in 1775. The Vaughan estates were Flamstead and Vaughansfield in Saint James Parish, Jamaica, slave-run sugar plantations. Vaughansfield was involved in the Second Maroon War in the neighbouring Trelawny Parish. Samuel Vaughan junior became proprietor of these estates.
In the United States
After the end of the American War of Independence Vaughan made several long stays in the United States. There were three separate visits. Vaughan was accompanied by his family, but sent them home in 1786. He wrote to Richard Price in 1785 of the American principles of government as being "the permanent security of the rights of mankind".
As Vaughan explained to Humphry Marshall, he planned to plant the State House Yard with a representative collection of American trees and shrubs. The ambition was a political statement, on the unity of the newly United States, and was shared by Washington and Thomas Jefferson as gardeners. In Philadelphia for the Constitutional Convention during the summer of 1787, Vaughan paid a visit in July to William Bartram's nursery, from which he ordered 55 species of plants. The State House project's greater scope was abandoned, but Vaughan saw to the publication of Marshall's Arbustum Americanum, in 1785. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1786.
In 1787 also, Vaughan visited Mount Vernon, and drew a plan of the garden. He gave Washington a marble mantelpiece for the house.
Philosophical Hall, Philadelphia today
Vaughan also spent time in Hallowell, Maine, meeting up with William Hazlitt there in the winter of 1784-5. Sarah Vaughan had inherited property on the Kennebec River, from her father, who was a "Kennebeck Proprietor", and also a congregationalist supporter of the Brattle Square Church. Two of the Vaughan sons (Benjamin and Charles) settled there, and another (John, a business partner of Robert Morris) at Philadelphia. Samuel Vaughan in fact intended a religious project in the area, which was put in the hands of Charles, who became a "Kennebeck Proprietor"; but the original aim became muted as Charles's lack of business acumen showed through.
In 1790 Vaughan attended the funeral of his friend Benjamin Franklin. Shortly afterwards he returned to London. In 1792 he went to Paris to attend debates of the National Assembly. In 1795 he bought the "Vaughan portrait", one of many portraits of Washington by Gilbert Stuart.
^Verner W. Crane, The Club of Honest Whigs: Friends of Science and Liberty, The William and Mary Quarterly Third Series, Vol. 23, No. 2 (Apr. 1966), pp. 210-233, at p. 228. Published by: Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture. Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/1922508
^John Clement Fitzpatrick, David Maydole Matteson (editors), The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799; prepared under the direction of the United States George Washington Bicentennial Commission and published by authority of Congress vol. 28 (1931), pp. 326-328; archive.org.
^ abArlington and Mount Vernon 1856. As Described in a Letter of Augusta Blanche Berard, The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography Vol. 57, No. 2 (Apr. 1949), pp. 140-175, at p. 169. Published by: Virginia Historical Society. Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/4245617