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William Burnet (March 1688 - September 7, 1729) was a Britishmarker civil servant and colonial administrator who served as governor of New Yorkmarker and New Jerseymarker (1720-1728) and Massachusettsmarker (1728).

Early life

Burnet was the son of Gilbert Burnet, the Bishop of Salisbury, and Mary Scott. He was born at the Haguemarker in the Netherlandsmarker in March 1688. He was the godson of William, Prince of Orange (later William III of England) and his wife Mary. He was an excellent but undisciplined scholar who entered Oxfordmarker at the age of 13, but was dismissed for disciplinary reasons. His later education came from private tutoring (including Isaac Newton as a tutor), and he was ultimately admitted to the bar.

His curiosity for intellect led him to write An Essay on Scripture Prophecy, Wherein it is Endeavoured to Explain the three periods Contain'd in the Xii Chapter of the Prophet Daniel With some Arguments to make it Probable that the FIRST of the PERIODS did Expire in the Year 1715, published anonymously in 1724.

With friends in the government, he was appointed the Comptroller of Customs in Englandmarker before his terms as a colonial governor. He was married twice. His first wife was the daughter of Dean Stanhope and she died in 1717. He married again in New York to Anna Maria Van Horne, the daughter of Abraham and Mary Van Horne.


Burnet managed to obtain his position of governorship by trading his job as comptroller of the customs with Robert Hunter through strong Whig connections. As governor, he followed the advice of Lewis Morris and James Alexander, two advisors of Hunter.

Antiproprietary men in the New Jersey Assembly did not openly criticize Burnet, but attempted to remove Morris from his position and failed. As a result, in 1722 Burnet created a second assembly, which would later pass the Loan Act in 1723.

In 1720, following a depression caused by the fluctuating currencies of New York and Pennsylvania, James Alexander and the many of the assemblymen called for a new paper currency. In 1726, Burnet took a census of New Jersey, totaling 32,442 people.

Burnet was married to Mary Van Horn in 1722, and had 3 children.

Governor of New York

Burnet was a capable administrator and better than the average colonial governor, although his tenure was not without disputes. He was appointed governor of New York and New Jersey in the spring of 1720, and arrived in New York Citymarker on September 16, 1720. His most important accomplishment as governor was to strengthen the colony's position on the frontier.Governor Burnet encourage direct trade with Indian tribes to reduce the influence of French traders. Along with this initiative, he strengthened outposts like Fort Oswegomarker. This was an effective strategy. Many of the goods bartered with the Indians for furs were produced locally, while the French imported theirs so the colonists could undercut French prices.He convened a meeting at Albanymarker in 1722 of representatives from several colonies, that resulted in peace with Indian tribes for several years.

But, the costs of actions earned opposition from establishment forces, like the DeLancey family. (It also interfered with their profits from selling good to French fur traders). He also established the Courts of Chancery in 1727 and was censured by the assembly. The crown replaced him in 1728, not for this dispute but to make room for John Montgomerie who was favored by King George II He was reassigned as governor of Massachusetts and New Hampshiremarker and left New York on April 15, 1728, when his replacement arrived.

Governor of Massachusetts

He continued a dispute with the assembly over the issue of the governor's salary since he lived on this income. Shortly into his administration, he died from a stroke in Bostonmarker on September 7, 1729.

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