James Grahame

An idealistic Whig, Grahame faced a moral dilemma when, marrying for love, he found himself the beneficiary of several thousand pounds of income from slave plantations. He became a fervant puritan, so his connection with Charlotte Chapel may not have continued beyond the baptism of his first daughter, when an Episcopal chapel may have been the choice of his English wife. His fervent, enlightened piety is, however, reminiscent of Daniel Sandford's preaching so the connection may be deeper.

21 December 1790 - 3 July 1842
Whitehill, Glasgow
Eldest son of Robert Grahame of Whitehill, writer, Glasgow, b.1758. In 1797 he bought Whitehill from John Gordon. Robert was one of the principal lawyers in Glasgow, and lived to the age of ninety-three, dying in 1851 after residing at Whitehill for nearly half a century. He was chosen first Provost of Glasgow after the Reform Bill of 1832, and died in 1851, at the age of ninety-three. (3) James' uncle was James Grahame author of The Sabbath
Helen Geddes
29 Northumberland Street
Studied at Glasgow (under Playfair) then John's College Cambridge, where he only spent a year because on one of his vacations he fell in love with Matilda and left Cambridge to study for the Scottish Bar, so he would be able to marry her. He became an advocate in June 1812 (5 p.4)
Political views
Whig. His 'Inquiry into the Principle of Population' (1816) argued that 'old families of coniderable estate... are prolific and ... permanent in proportion to the barbarism of a country', whereas in a well-governed country population increase takes place amongst the poor, so always have opportunities to rise: 'the lower orders mutiply and the vacancies in the higher ranks increase in proportion to the progress of improvement and civilization.' He had high hopes of whig institutions like the Lancastrian Schools, Society for the Suppression of Begging and Commercial Bank, supported extensively by Charlotte Chapel members, which 'to reduce mendicity and unnecessary poverty within its narrowest limits.' In conclusion, he proposed that Malthus' theory of population was easily used as an excuse for preventable poverty by illiberal governments:
'Under a bad government, redundance of population, or an excess of numbers beyond actual produce, occurs and presents itself long before the country has been peopled to the full extent of its resources; and this redundance is frequently confounded with positive magnitude of population. In a well-governed country, the population, though numerically greater, is relatively less redundant; the resources for supporting increasing population being more successfully and extensively cultivated, and the means of relieving its tendencies to excess less obstructed and impaired.
In 1814 he published a pamphlet on the controversial Union Canal. His major work was a history of America (1836), a celebration of Puritanism. Through his wife he acquired a share in a West Indian estate, which troubled his conscience greatly. He wrote in 1827,
'My children are proprietors of a ninth share of a West India estate and I have a life-rent in it. Were my children of age, I coud not make one of the negroes free, and could do nothing but appropriate or forego the share of produe the estate yielded. Often I have wished it were in my power to make the slaves free, and thought this barren wish a sufficient tribute to duty. My conscience was quite laid asleep. Like many others, I did not do what I could, because I could not do what I wished. For years past, something more than a fifth part of my income has been derived from the labour of slaves. God forgive me for having so long tainted my store! ... Never more shall the price of blood enter my pocket, or help to sustain the lives or augment the enjoyment of those dear children. They sympathize with me cordially. Till we can legally divest ourselves of every share, every shilling of the produce of it is to be devoted to the use of some part of the unhappy race from whose suffering it is derived.'
When his children came of age, they agreed to give it up. (5 p.35)
Religious views
Grahame became strongly religious soon after his marriage, which his friends expected would be temporary, but which he retained all his life. Quincey describes them as 'those professed by the early Puritans and the Scotch Covenanters; but... sober, elevated, expansive, and free from narrowness and bigotry.' In 1817 he wrote an animated defence of Scottish Presbyterianism in opposition to the author of The Tales of my Landlord (Walter Scott) which he said subjected them to 'contempt and ridicule'. The death of his daughter in 1817 and wife in 1818 made him more deeply religious. (5 p.5-7)
Chapel connection
1814 (baptism)
October 1813
1. Matilda Robley, (2) Jean Adelaide Williamson d.1850, da. of Rev John Williamson of Nantes
Anne (1814-1817), Robert, Matilda

Whitehill (4)


  1. Registers of Charlotte Chapel (NAS CH12/3)
  2. Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1818
  3. H.J.C. Grierson, Letters of Sir Walter Scott (London, Constable and Co. 1932) vol.5 p.212
  4. 'Whitehill House' in The old country houses of the old Glasgow gentry', online accessed 21 June 2011
  5. Joseph Quincey, 'Memoir of James Grahame' in Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, series 3 vol.9 (Boston: Little and Brown 1846)

Back to index