By Robert Murray
It has been written by eminent Glasgow historians of the nineteenth century and others since - and seemingly accepted as fact that one, George Buchanan renamed the lands of Windyedge to Mount Vernon when he purchased them from Adam Fairholm, an Edinburgh merchant. I have no doubts whatsoever that Mount Vernon was named after Admiral Edward Vernon - a most famous member of parliament and sailor of the 1738-42 period - but I totally dispute the spurious claim that it was this George Buchanan that named it so. This I will prove beyond doubt in the latter parts of this article.
George Buchanan was the son of Andrew Buchanan of Drumpellier - provost of Glasgow in 1740 - and was a junior partner in the family tobacco syndicate that made most of its tobacco purchases in Virginia, where they also had stores who sold imports to the plantations that supplied the leaf.
It is said that Lawrence Washington, the older half brother of George Washington who became the first President of the United States - owned a plantation called Hunting Creek nearby a plantation owned by the Buchanan's. We are further informed that Laurence Washington, who had served under Admiral Edward Vernon in his famous naval campaign against the Spanish Main in 1739-42, renamed Hunting Creek to Mount Vernon in the admiral's honour and that George Buchanan on hearing about this decided to do likewise upon his purchase of Windyedge.
A nice story that added the touch of glamour in being associated with the legendary George Washington.
The truth I'm afraid is somewhat different.
The George Buchanan - George Washington – Mount Vernon myth seems to have first surfaced in the pages of the ‘Glasgow Daily Herald’ edition of 27 November, 1861 written under the by-line of “Glasguensis” – seemingly a popular column of the day. Here is a verbatim transcription of that article.
“Mount Vernon is about 3 miles to the eastward of Glasgow, and was so named after a great tobacco plantation in Virginia, on the banks of the Potomac river, which belonged to Lawrence Washington, elder brother of the celebrated George Washington, first president of the United States. This plantation was originally called ‘Hunting Creek’ but about 1743 the name was changed by Lawrence Washington to ‘Mount Vernon’, in compliment to Admiral Edward Vernon, who had been commander-in-chief on the West Indian Station, and under whom Lawrence Washington had served in the expedition against Carthagena in 1740, so graphically described by Smollet, in Roderick Random. The admiral was a great favourite of Washington, and was son of James Vernon, Secretary of State to William III . The house of Mount Vernon, in Virginia, is still standing, and was long the residence of George Washington, after the death of his brother Lawrence, to whose children George was guardian. Mr. Buchanan’s large importations of tobacco were from this plantation of Washington’s. Hence the name given to the property near Glasgow, and also Virginia Street”.
It could be that Glasguensis fabricated this idea on his own- using journalistic licence asthey say, or he may have been 'fed' the tale from the Buchanan family (by that time known as the Carrick -Buchanans) in order to enhance the ancestoral pedigree, that has yet to be established.
Other writings appeared in various publications in the years following that alluded to much the same story, albeit disguised slightly in order to avoid being accused of plagiarism.
Nine years later, Old Country Houses of the Old Glasgow Gentry, makes the following statements under a photo of the mansion;
"The estate of Mount Vernon is situated in the parish of Old Monkland, near the village of Baillieston, about five miles eastwards from Glasgow. The ancient name was "Windy-edge," which it retained till about 1756, in which year the lands were acquired by George Buchanan, merchant in Glasgow, who built the oldest portion of the existing mansion, and gave it, and the estate, the present appellation."
And alludes to the Virginia connection by adding;
"George Buchanan was the second son of Provost Andrew Buchanan of Drumpellier, one of the famous "Virginia Dons." The eldest son, James, was Provost of Glasgow twice, viz., in 1768 and 1774. These gentlemen had large plantations in Virginia, then under the British Crown, from which province came the greatest proportion of the tobacco so largely imported by the merchants of Glasgow, for continental, as well as British, consumption, and in which business many of them made princely fortunes."
Buchanan actually purchased the property in April 1758 when a minute of sale was drawn up between he and Adam Fairholm on the 3rd. day of that month.
In 1881, in Curiosities of Glasgow Citizenship, we read much the same type of claim;
“About 1758, George Buchanan, while he was yet under 30 years of age, was able to purchase the estate of Windyedge, in the parish of Old Monkland, upon which he erected a country house, planting and ornamenting the ground in the most tasteful manner, and in compliment to George Washington, whose Virginia estate of the same name stood neighbour to his own, he called the place Mount Vernon, a name which it still retains.”
Over 50 years later in History of Glasgow (Vol. 3) another variation of the same;
"Already, before he (George Buchanan) was thirty, its owner had purchased the estate of Windyedge in Old Monkland, east of Glasgow, had laid out its grounds there with great taste, and had given it the name of Mount Vernon - which it still bears - in honour of his friend, George Washington, whose estate of that name neighboured his own in Virginia."
The esteemed Professor Nicolaisen an eminent authority on etymology also followed this line in his book whereby he stated;
"The same English admiral (Vernon) also figured in the Lanarkshire name Mount Vernon in Old Monkland parish near Glasgow. although nobody disputes* that the Scottish name is ultimately derived from George Washington's estate in Virginia"
It is very doubtful whether Nicolaisen conducted any research on the matter apart from reading the already published - and quoted above - assertions. His book took twenty years to complete and contains thousands of palce-names.
This tale was perpepuated right up to recent times when in an article on the Buchanan family for the Scottish edition of Burkes Landed Gentry with two descendants of this George Buchanan, the following paragraph appeared;
“Meanwhile another estate in Lanarkshire had been named ‘Mount Vernon’ after the Virginian plantation home of George Washington, a neighbouring estate to that of the Buchanans who were part of the social circle of this founding father of the United States”
This assertion is difficult to fathom as it implies that the Buchanans lived in Virginia, they did not, and further there is no record of the said George ever having visited America, never mind meeting Washington. It should also be noted that George Washington was a British officer around this time and serving on the frontier in the French and Indian War.
Even a recent book about the history of the Baillieston district published in 1981 repeated in slightly different wording, and therefore perpetuated the myth into modern times - without checking the facts.
I first suspected there was something amiss about this story upon seeing the William Roy map with the name Mount Vernon emblazoned across it. The Roy survey of the Scottish Lowlands was completed by 1752 and this fact raised doubts about the Windyedge/Mount Vernon name change as a six year discrepancy on the name change seemed a bit much.
Extract from Roy's survey of 1752
In addition I also found this entry of a baptism in the Old Monkland parish records dated, 3rd.March 1750.
The highlighted part says: "March 3 William, natural son to James Buchanan late sert. to Mount Vernon". This is not a connection to the Buchanans who later became owners, it is merely a coincidence. "sert" means servant.
That was two independent - and unquestionable - sources that conflicted with and most definately underminded written accounts.
I then inspected the Cess Tax books and found this entry for 1742-43.
It is clearly written "Windyedge" with "Mount Vernon" added later by a different hand. The question was how later ? and why ? - the second image only refers to the payments on the opposite page but I have copied it in order to show the dates.
The book following for the year 1743-44 has the entry "MountVernon" - but I haven't copied the image as it was of poor quality, however the next book of 1744-45 was crystal clear and it is shown here and it is unmistakably "Mount Vernon".
As in the first Cess Tax image there are a few familiar places listed below Mount Vernon, but more identifiable in this 1744-45 entry. e.g. Hallhill, Heatheryknowe, Bartiebeath and Easterhouse.
I then found a document that totally confirmed my suspicions and revealed the truth. It is a legal history of the property between 1741 and 1749 that I have transcribed from the original document. All dictation and spelling are as per the original. A copy of the original is in my possession.
Inventory of the Progress of the Lands of Mount Vernon & others.
1. Principal Disposition dated 24th. Of November 1741 Granted by the Trustees for the Creditors of John Pitcairn of windyedge and him for himself and Interest with consent of Agnes Baird his mother In favour of Robert Boyd merchant in Glasgow of the said lands of mountvernon and others therin mentioned.
2. Instrument of Sasine following upon the foresaid Disposition in favour of of the said Robert Boyd dated and registrat at Glasgow the 4th.December 1741.
3. Principal Disposition by Joseph Ritchie merchant in Glasgow of part of the Lands of Barachnie In favour of the said Robert Boyd dated 21st.November 1748.
4. Instrument of Sasine following therin in favour of the said Robert Boyd dated the 18th. and Regt. at Glasgow the 21st. days of March 1749.
5. Principal Disposition by John Hamilton merchant in Glasgow with consent of Margaret Bogle his mother and Doctor Robert Hamilton his brother of the Lands of Broom and Cranns In favour of the said Robert Boyd dated the 10th. of May 1751.
6. Instrument of Sasine following therin in favours of the said Robert Boyd dated the 30th. May 1751 and Regt. at Glasgow the 2nd. of July said year.
7. Precept of Clareconstat granted by the said John Pitcairn to Robert Boyd merchant in Glasgow son of the before named Robert Boyd for infesting him in the Lands of windyedge and others dated 2 Nover 1749.
8. Instrument of Sasine in favour of the said Robert Boyd following upon the said Precept of Clareconstat dated & Registrat at Glasgow the 2nd. of November 1749.
9. Principal Disposition Charles Stewart & John and Arch. Morton in favours of the said Robert Boyd of part of the lands of Sandie hill dated the 2 of November 1752.
10. Inventory of the writes of the lands of Barachnie and Doiguet therunts subjoined.
(Signed by Joseph Ritchie merchant in Glasgow upon the 21 of November 1748.)