William Shirley 
Colonial Massachusetts Governor 
1741-1749, 1753-1757

"William Shirley (1694-1770), Governor of Massachusetts, was an English gentleman who practiced law, in Boston. At the time he was appointed, his lady-[friend] was in England. She had been soliciting a post of profit for Mr. Shirley in the province, and by the assistance of her own friends, and the intrigues of Belcher's enemies, obtained the government.

He was a man of address, knew how to manage the several parties, and conducted so well as to gain the affection of the people, and continue on the side of the prerogative. The court did more for him than they were willing to do for any of his predecessors; for they advanced the governor's salary to 1000 pounds sterling per annum.

The principal events in his administration were these. In 1745, the expedition to Louisburg. Of this he was not the projector, nor as some have supposed, even an adviser, though after the success of it, he was desirous of being considered as the main spring of the whole business. Mr. Auchmuty laid the plan in his study, says Smollet. Neither Hutchinson, nor Belknap mention Auchmuty's name. The plan is given by Vaughan, and pressed upon Shirley, who was gratified with the enterprise, but was afraid to be responsible, and therefore contrived to have the General Court patronize it; so that if it had not succeeded, he should be free from blame. Hence he always [said]: ‘your expedition gentlemen,’ till the capture, and then it was ‘our expedition.’

[In 1746,] the year succeeding the capture of Cape Breton, the famous expedition against the colonies was frustrated. The duke d'Anville's fleet was completely destroyed. A body of provincials stationed at Minas, was surprised by a party of French and Indians, and the whole number, amounting to about 160, slain or, made prisoners.

In 1747, an uncommon tumult happened at Boston, in which the Governor was accidentally involved. Commodore Knowles [deputized] a number of men from the vessels and wharves. The Governor's house was surrounded by the enraged multitude, and he fled to the castle, which was considered by many, the high Sons of Liberty, as an abdication of the government.

In 1749, an act was passed calling in the bills of credit [paper currency], and exchanging them for silver, and the Province was enabled to do it, by the reimbursement for the Louisburg Expedition.

In 1754, the Governor [rejected] the excise bill, [and] became very popular. It is to be reckoned among the strange events of our political assembly, that the excise bill, so unfriendly to the liberties of the people, was supported in the house by men who had been Whigs [supporter of the revolution] hitherto. And that it met its death low by those who have ever been styled the Tory administration. Hutchinson opposed it. Shirley [vetoed] it. From this period the Governor left the management of civil affairs, for which he was very capable, for the military department, which he knew very little about. Upon the conquest of Louisburgh, he was appointed to be the colonel of a regiment on the British establishment to be raised in America. Afterwards he had a higher military command, and went to dispossess the French of Niagara in which he was unsuccessful.

When Governor Shirley was in Europe, with a commission, to settle an important business, for which he was supposed to be qualified, as it related to the French claims in America, he there formed a matrimonial connection with a lady of the Catholic religion. This was disgusting to the province, as the people at that time detested the French, and all [Papal] connections. It had such an effect upon his administration, that he felt the weight of the opposition, and soon lost his place.

He was superseded in his government by Thomas Pownal, esq., without losing the favor of the crown. He afterwards received an appointment as Governor of the Bahama Islands. In 1770, he returned to Boston, and for the short space he lived [there], he resided in his house at Roxbury, which had been kept in the family. It was indeed a spacious mansion, well situated, and capable of great improvement around it. This house was made a barrack for our soldiers in 1775, and much injured.

William Shirley died in April, 1771, a poor man, but was honorably interred. He was buried at King's Chapel Burying Ground, tomb 18, under the chapel.


— Biographical Dictionary...of New England, by John Eliot, 1808 (edited)

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