Andrew Sprowle, 1710-1776: "Lord of Gosport"

John G. M. Sharp

Introduction: Andrew Sprowle (1710-1776) in his time was a British naval agent, a Loyalist, a wealthy merchant, ship and shipyard owner, and a slaveholder. To his contemporaries, he was "a merchant of great reputation," "large landowner," one of the "richest men in the country," "the headman of Portsmouth," and "Lord of Gosport."1 During his long life "he was the most influential resident of the Norfolk region…"2 Today Andrew Sprowle is best remembered for establishing the Gosport Shipyard, now the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

1. Kranish, Michael, Flight from Monticello: Thomas Jefferson at War, 2011, (New York Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 69.

2. Kranish, Ibid.

This paper examines the life of Andrew Sprowle, a Scottish immigrant who made a swift ascent to vast wealth and power in colonial Virginia. Sprowle's business savvy and energy both dazzled and aggravated his contemporaries. However, in a dramatic reversal of fortune in the last year of his life, Andrew Sprowle and his family became refugees. In 1775 the Sprowles fled their home along with hundreds of fellow Loyalists and were forced to seek shelter with Lord Dunmore's fleet. There, a helpless and frail Sprowle could only watch as his homes, businesses and commercial empire were destroyed and consumed by fire.3

3. Gara, Donald J. "Loyal Subjects of the Crown: The Queens Own Loyal Virginia Regiment and Dunmore's Ethiopian Regiment, 1775-1776" Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, vol. 83, no. 333, 2005, pp. 30–42. JSTOR,, accessed 8 July 2021.

Sources: Modern historians examining Andrew Sprowle and his family are frequently left with large gaps in their narrative. The reason for this is Sprowle's personal and business correspondence was destroyed during the early years of the American Revolution. In the hope of filling in a few of the blanks spaces, I have relied extensively on primary source documents found in American Loyalist Claims, 1776-1835. These volumes contain evidence of claims, witness statements, petitions and testimony in support of loss claims filed by Andrew Sprowle's widow, Katherine Hunter Sprowle, his nephew John Hunter, Jr, and his business agent Thomas McCulloch.

Andrew Sprowle's last will dated 12 January 1774 is central to our knowledge for it brings together a great deal of valuable information related to his family, his business affairs and his overall perspective. Scholars wanting to learn more about Sprowle's business ventures owe a debt of gratitude to Jacob M. Price, author of "The Last Phase of the Virginia-London Consignment Trade: James Buchanan and Co., 1758-1768." Price found Sprowle did a considerable business with firms in both London and Glasgow and was able to locate and analyze the accounts of the London commission house of Buchanan and Co. Price's analysis provides our best indication of just how extensive and lucrative Sprowle's business had become. 

Extremely useful for the official views and perspectives of both sides of the American Revolution are the 13 volumes of Naval Documents of the American Revolution, American Theatre. Documentation for Andrew Sprowle and events in Norfolk are found in volumes 4 and 5, editor William James Morgan (Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1970). These are now online at Naval History and Heritage Command at
These documents contain diaries, letters, petitions and ships' logs as well as muster rolls, orders, official reports and newspaper accounts. The collection includes American, British, French and Spanish points of view and gives voice to common seamen, civilians, women and slaves as well as policy makers, political leaders and naval and military officers.

Long overlooked is the documentation of Andrew Sprowle's participation in the Intra-American slave trade. To my knowledge, no previous mention has been made of Sprowle and the firm Sprowle & Crooks, whose vessels delivered enslaved human cargo from the Caribbean to Virginia. His 1774 will and subsequent claims filed by his widow Katherine make it clear he was a prosperous slaveholder. However, it was not until I read Elizabeth Donnon's extensive 1935 Documents Illustrative of the Slave Trade to America, that I found the citations that Andrew Sproule, aka Sprowle, was indeed a slave ship owner. Recently much of this important information has been utilized on the website Slave Voyages, hosted by Rice and Emory Universities at

The best introduction to Andrew Sprowle's family and a window into his early life in Scotland is James Spreull's wonderful Eight Centuries of the Spreull and Sproule Families. Previously I imagined Andrew as a working class immigrant. My thanks to Mr. Spreull for a brilliant book and for setting me right.

Lastly, a few words about the Sprowle family surname, a source of some confusion. As James Sproule reminds us, during Andrew Sprowle's lifetime, his family surname was spelled variously, sometimes even in the same document. Among the different spellings were, Sproule, Spreulle, Sproul, Sproull, and Sprowle. For example, Andrew's father, John, spelled his name Spreull while Andrew spelled it Spreule and Sprowle. For the sake of consistency, I have chosen to spell the family surname as Sprowle, which is how Andrew signed his will on 12 January 1774.4

4. 1779 Sprowle Andrew, (Wills and testaments Reference CC8/8/124, Edinburgh Commissary Court) Image 1051-1062, National Records of Scotland "Andrew Sprowle formerly of Milton in North Britain but late of Gosport in the County of Norfolk and Colony of Virginia" Signed 12 February 1774

 John G. M. Sharp, 19 July 2021

Early Years in Scotland: Much of our biographical information on Andrew Sprowle is by way of his widow Katherine Hunter Sprowle. Katherine testified in 1783 that he was born in Scotland and that she had heard him say, "[he] went to America when he was 15 years of age; he was 65 years of age when he died in 1776.5 Andrew's will, dated 12 January 1774, also confirmed his place of birth as Milton, aka Miltoun, in Dunbartonshire, Scotland. Milton was and is a small village located almost 5 miles from Glasgow.6 Genealogist and researcher James Spreull, in his Eight Centuries of the Spreull and Sproule Families, found the Spreull (Sprowle) family had at least seven children. Andrew, who was born in 1710, was the third son of John Spreull I, (1665-1731), Laird of Milton.7

5. American Loyalist Claims, 1776-1835. AO 12–13, Katherine Sproule, aka Katherine Sprowle, AO13: American Loyalist Claims, Series, II, Piece ,033 B.T.W. and Miscellaneous Virginia, p. 144, hereafter Loyalist Claims, Katherine Sprowle The claim is dated 18 October 1783.
Also see Virginian-Pilot, Flanders, Alan, 11 January 1998, "Shipyard Founder's Identity Hidden by Mist of Time"

6. 1779 Sprowle, will, Ibid, "Andrew Sprowle formerly of Milton in North Britain but late of Gosport in the County of Norfolk and Colony of Virginia."

7. Sproule, James Richard, Eight Centuries of the Spreull and Sproule Families, (Create Space London, Independent Publishing, 2017) p. 202.

Scotland in the eighteen century was a strongly patriarchal society in which men had total authority over women but how it actually worked in practice remains a subject of debate among historians. Evidence of this patriarchal tradition is found in the baptismal certificates of old parish registers, where the mother's names in parts of eighteenth century Scotland are frequently excluded. Hence at Andrew's baptism, the name of his mother (despite James Spreull's best efforts) is still unknown.

In Scotland both law and custom, dictated primogeniture-governed inheritance. Thus John Spreull's first born son, John Spreull II, (1700 -1771), inherited both the family land and the title. How close Andrew was to his older brother is difficult to gauge,  but Andrew's 1778 will reflects that his younger sister Jane Spruill (1704 to after 1776) remained close to him.8

8. Ibid, p..203.

In Scotland the title Laird is a generic name for the owner of a large, long-established Scottish estate. In the Scottish order of precedence, a Laird ranks below a baron and above a gentleman.9 Andrew's father, John Spreull I, held a variety of important government posts such as Commissioner of Supply for Ayrshire and Dumbarton. As Commissioner of Supply, he ensured the collection and recording of "cess" or land tax to supply the financial needs of the sovereign. Land tax rolls were compiled by the Commissioners of Supply in each county to enable the collection of the land tax from 1667 onwards. The duties included listing the owners of landed estates and assessing the rental value of their lands. From 1718 the Commissioners of Supply became responsible, along with justices of the peace, for county roads and bridges; in many cases the commissioners appointed special constables for all or parts of their counties.10 During the serious Jacobite revolts in 1715 and 1719 which plagued Scotland, Andrew's father managed to stay above the political fray; he remained loyal to the English crown and continued in office.

9. Innes of Learney, T., Scots Heraldry (2nd ed.), (Edinburgh, R. & R. Clark Limited, 1956).

10. Highway (Scotland) Act 1718 (1718 c. 30) and Representation of the People (Scotland) Act 1832 (1832 c. 65, section 44).

Consequently John Spreull I, as a Laird and Commissioner of Supply, was a man of considerable importance, having both family and friends involved in a wide circle of commercial ventures in Glasgow and Edinburgh. As both Laird and Commissioner, John Spreull I controlled certain appointments and could dispense favors using state resources. Likewise, John I would expect political and social deference in return. Andrew's older brother John Spreull II was educated at Glasgow University. Andrew, however, was most likely educated in a local parish school. While we know little of Andrew Sprowle's youth, what evidence we have suggests he possessed enormous ambition. Given his family's close proximity to Glasgow, it is likely that Andrew spent a lot of time in that city which by 1720 was the second largest city in Scotland with a population  of 15,000. By comparison, the population of New York City did not reach 12,000 until 1750 and Norfolk, Virginia, would only reach 6,250 in 1775. Daniel Defoe described Glasgow as "The cleanest and best-built city in Britain." Andrew's keen mind would have observed the benefits to Glasgow from the transatlantic tobacco trade and supplying the colonies with manufactured goods. He also would have seen that merchants dealing in this lucrative business became wealthy and dominated the city. Andrew's determination to enter business likely developed while clerking for his father or with his father's business associates in their firms situated near the great harbor and the River Clyde. We may imagine that it was in Glasgow that Andrew initially absorbed the techniques of commercial shipping, recording keeping, commercial statements credit and loss and most importantly being seen in the new shipyards which would build the vessels that transformed Scottish business and industry.11

11. J. D. Mackie, B. Lenman and G. Parker, A History of Scotland (London: Penguin, 1991), p. 296.

In 1768, while in Williamsburg, merchant-planter William Nelson heard Andrew Sprowle speak and wrote his impression to his friend and fellow merchant John Norton.

The old Fellow wears his own Hair, as white as old Charles Hansford's was, with a Pig tail to it, but bald as the brave Lord Granby; and cuts as droll a Figure as you ever saw Him in a Silk coat & two or three holes in his stocking at the same Time he is a respectable Appearance, the oldest among the Trade, & acquitted himself well. Sprowle's address to the governor showed "plainness [sic] Elegance & Simplicity, and far out does the studied Performance of the P[rofessors] & Masters of the College."

Source: William Nelson to John Norton, 14 November, 1768, John Norton and Sons, Merchants of London and Virginia, Mason, Frances Norton, ed. 2nd ed, (Newton Abbot,. Devon, England, 1968), p. 76

We know Andrew had a portrait made prior to 1774 that he wanted preserved. He took great pains in his will to "recommend my picture being sent home to my sister [Jane Sprowle]. She orders the delivery of it and on her death to those relations of mine that will take great care of it."12, 13 This does not  appear to have survived.

12. Virginia Pilot, Flanders, Alan, 4 February 1996, A Walk in the Shipyard Founders' Footsteps, p. 11.

13. 1779, Sprowle will, Ibid p. 1060,"I recommend my picture being sent home to my sister. She orders the delivery of it and at her death to those relations of mine that will take good care of it."

Andrew's 1774 will provides clues as to his personality. Evident in the will is his keen sense of control; his business acumen, forethought and competitiveness all are on full display. In one paragraph he carefully instructs his heirs and executor that "his houses and lands in Portsmouth  shall be disposed of but not too suddenly as times are hard but when my Exec[utor] will find it most advantageous taking bonds with security for the money arising thereof."14

14. 1779 Sprowle, will, Ibid, p. 1056.

In another paragraph we see timing and prudence for Andrew are essential in all successful business transactions, even beyond the grave. He directs his executor, "… my plantation at Sewells Point be disposed of, but not too soon with the Negroes or without. I also order my wares, goods and merchandise now at Gosport be disposed of but not too soon from the hardness of the times."15

15. 1779 Sprowle, will, Ibid p. 1057.

Virginia: Like many Scotsmen who were the younger son of a minor Laird, Sprowle was drawn to business and went West.16 If his wife Katherine's recollection is accurate, Andrew came to Virginia circa 1725. However, I believe it is far more likely he came following the death of his father in 1731, perhaps after the reading of the will with both money and assistance from the estate. While we do not know his exact circumstances, we can safely surmise he was not without resources. His father John and older brother's business connections would have been valuable assets. Historian Thomas Costa makes a strong case that Andrew Sprowle arrived in Norfolk sometime before 1733. Costa found that by 1733 Sprowle was associated with the wealthy Scottish merchant Alexander Mackenzie as an apprentice clerk or partner, and by the 1740s he had become an independent merchant. From his Norfolk office, Mackenzie conducted a considerable business with the Wine Islands and Lisbon during the 1740s. Here Sprowle would have gained a practical knowledge of shipping local foodstuffs, including substantial quantities of wheat as well as lumber for return cargoes of wine.*

16. Price, Jacob M. "The Last Phase of the Virginia-London Consignment Trade: James Buchanan and Co., 1758-1768." The William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 43, no. 1, 1986, p. 89, JSTOR,, accessed 9 July 2021.

* Costa, Thomas, "Economic development and political authority: Norfolk, Virginia merchant-magistrates, 1736-1800" (1991),pp 68 and 110, Dissertations, Theses, and Masters Projects, Paper 1539623807,

According to Norfolk County Court records, Sprowle was listed as a merchant of Norfolk Borough in 1746, and in 1752 purchased Portsmouth lots (numbers 11, 12 and 24) from William Crawford, acquiring other town lots and extending his holdings within a few years across Crab Creek with several waterfront tracts in Gosport, including part of the site of what later became the Gosport Navy Yard, and he was still buying Gosport property as late as 1772.17 Sprowle's prominence as shipbuilder and merchant was such that he served for 36 years as President of the Court of Virginia Merchants.18

17. Flanders, Alan, 11 January 1998, Ibid.

18. Loyalist Claims, Katherine Sprowle, Ibid.

His new Gosport shipyard rapidly became a local wonder. The new yard included a large five-story warehouse which was then one of the largest buildings in North America. His shipyard was undoubtedly modeled on similar installations he saw as a young man on the banks of the River Clyde. His central warehouse was meant to be permanent. The massive structure was built with stone, 91 feet in length and 41 feet wide. Three of the stories were of stone and two of wood, the doors, windows and broad stairs hewn of stone mostly from Britain at great expense. The whole was of substantial materials and strong wood. In addition, Sprowle's property "included three other warehouses, an accounting house, smith's shop, a dwelling house and kitchen" and a "large iron crane with brass sheaves,'' which was brought from London.19, 20

19. Virginian-Pilot, Flanders, Alan, 4 February 1996, A Walk in the Shipyard Founders Footsteps, p. 1, quoting Andrew Sprowle's will.

20. 1779 Sprowle, will, Ibid.

A merchant ship, 1725
Artist unknown

Privateer: In the French and Indian War (1754-1763) which pitted the colonies of British America against those of New France, each side was supported by military units from the parent country and by Native American allies. Francis Fauquier (1703-1768) the lieutenant governor of Virginia Colony issued letters of marque and reprisal to Andrew Sprowle and many others. The following decade of the war brought opportunity for Sprowle to profit from privateering. All that he needed was to employ experienced and aggressive captains, then arm his merchant ships with gun carriages and swivel cannons. He quickly became one of the area’s most enterprising and successful dealers in captured cargoes.+ The letter of marque was a government license which authorized Sprowle’s vessels to attack and capture French vessels and the vessels of nations allied with France.   A number of these letters were issued by Governor Fauquier to Andrew Sprowle. During the war Sprowle vessels intercepted and captured French and Spanish vessels.  The British Admiralty procedure required Andrew Sprowle to bring the case of each captured ship or prize before the admiralty court in London for condemnation and transfer of ownership to the privateer. In the letter below Governor Fauquier expressed his anger and impatience with Sprowle’s reluctance to comply. The Governor was particularly upset because Britain was not technically at war with Spain until 1762 yet Sprowle had taken seized a ship, its cargo and crew. 

Francis Fauquier to the Lords of Trade etc., 15 December 1760 


I am informed by the Judge of the Admiralty Court here that he [Sprowle] has received directions from the Board to transmit an account of the proceeding on all captures of Spanish vessels brought under his jurisdiction; on a complaint from the Court of Spain now in London.  For I granted a letter of Marque to Mr. Sprowle, a Merchant of Norfolk, for a privateer, He has refused to make him any satisfaction although he [the Spanish Captain] fell sick and died in the country. His [Sprowle] conduct has appeared to me so scandalous … I have given order to his Majesty’s Attorney General in relation to the Prosecution of the owner of the Privateer [Sprowle] which took and brought in two Spanish vessels. He [Sprowle] promised me to make his report before the sailing of the fleet in September. ++  

Despite Fauquier‘s threat to initiate a suit for the bond Sprowle had given when granted his letter of marque, the outcome of the affair remains unknown.+++

+ Costa, Thomas, "Economic development and political authority: Norfolk, Virginia merchant-magistrates, 1736-1800" (1991),p.112 , Dissertations, Theses, and Masters Projects, Paper 1539623807,

++ Journal of the House of Burgesses of Virginia  1758-1761, Virginia General Assembly, House of Burgesses,editor H.R. McIlwaine, (Richmond, Virginia, 1908),pp 291-292, 295-296,Francis Fauquier to the Lords of Trade etc., 15 December 1760. of the_House_of_Burgesses_of_Vi/R_stAAAAYAAJ?hl=en#spf=1628187873497

+ + + Costa, Ibid

In May 1763, Portsmouth underwent its first annexation expanding the western boundary. The same year the governing body of town trustees was named, including Andrew Sprowle, George Veale, Thomas Veale, Charles Stuart, Humphrey Roberts, Francis Miller, James Rae, David Purcell and Amos Etheridge. 21

21. Butt, Marshall, Portsmouth under Four Flags, 1752-1970 (Portsmouth Historical Association & Friends of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum, Portsmouth, 1971), pp. 8–15.

The following is an extract from an Act passed in May 1763, eleven years after the institution of the town by which the first Board of Directors and Trustees were constituted and appointed and their powers defined. That Andrew Sprowle, George Veal, Thomas Veal, Charles Stuart, Humphrey Roberts, Francis Miller, James Rae, David Purcell, and Amos Etheridge, gentlemen, shall be, and they are hereby nominated, constituted, and appointed, directors and trustees of the said town; and they, or any five of them, shall and may, and they are hereby authorized and empowered to survey and lay off the said adjacent lands into lots and streets, and to make from time to time such orders, rules, and directions for the regular and orderly placing and building the houses.22

22. Fowler, William S., Historical and Descriptive Sketches of Norfolk and Vicinity (Lindsay and Blakiston, Philadelphia,1853), p. 431.

In April 1765, an anonymous French traveler visited Sprowle's home near Portsmouth Virginia where he recorded: "April the 19th, dined today with Andrew Sproul Esq., the head man of Portsmouth. He lives in a pleasant place separated by a creek from the town. His house goes by the name of Gosport. He has a very fine wharf, before his door, where the Kings ships generally heave down. This gentleman is a merchant of great repute."23

23. The American Historical Review, volume 26, p. 740. A French Traveler in the Colonies 1765."

On April 24, 1765, the same French traveler "set out for Williamsburg with Andrew Sprowle, Esq., and several other Gentlemen." The next day he recorded "In Williamsburg April the 25th on our arrival we had difficulty getting Lodging but thanks to Mr. Sprowle, I got a room at Mrs. Vaibes Tavern where all the best people reside."24

24. Ibid, pp 740-741.

In the eighteen century Scottish merchants exercised considerable control of the shipping and warehousing in the Chesapeake Bay area. Much of Andrew Sprowle's wealth came from acting as a consignment broker for wealthy Virginia planters and merchants. One firm that he dealt with extensively was James Buchanan and Company of London whose transaction records for years 1758-1768 survive. Their records show that during this period, Sprowle's business made up annually 30 to 60 % of everything James Buchanan owed Virginia. From these records we learn that in its best year, 1768, Buchanan and Company owed Sprowle £6,298.25 £100 in 1765 is equivalent in purchasing power to £18,124.23 in 2021.26

25. Price, Ibid, pp. 64-98.

26. Ian Webster, CPI Inflation Calculator, accessed 17 July 2021

The Norfolk Inoculation Riots 1768-1769. In 1768 a group of Norfolk Scottish merchants concerned about smallpox decided to employ a skilled physician Dr. Archibald Campbell to immunize their families by vaccination. Public feeling amongst the majority of the town’s inhabitants,however, was strongly anti-vaccination. The pro-inoculation group included Scots Alexander Gordon, and Andrew Sprowle.** Many in Norfolk believed a wide spread rumor that vaccination itself actually spread smallpox.  Fearful anti-vaccination mobs then attacked and threatened the homes and plantations of the Scottish merchants.  Not yet placated, the same mob drove the pro-inoculation families, by force, into the Norfolk pest house. In 1769 the pro-inoculation merchants in response, filed lawsuits against the mob leaders.  Order gradually was restored, yet suspicion of Scottish merchants and the issue of vaccination kept the antagonism front and center. Andrew Sprowle as the head of the merchants association tried to take no public position. Nonetheless, doubt and mistrust would linger regarding Sprowle and the Scottish merchants support of vaccination. In 1775-1776, the issue would be used effectively by the Patriots to smear both Lord Dunmore and Andrew Sprowle, as both were strongly identified in the public mind with smallpox and vaccination.*** Paul Loyal, Mayor of Norfolk and a leader of the anti-vaccination group, would later demand Sprowle turn himself over to the Norfolk Patriot Committee to explain his support for Lord Dunmore.****

** Costa, Thomas, "Economic development and political authority: Norfolk, Virginia merchant-magistrates, 1736-1800" (1991). Dissertations, Theses, and Masters Projects Paper 1539623807,

*** The Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg, Virginia), 15 June 1776, p. 4.
“We learn from Gloucester that Lord Dunmore has erected hospitals upon Gwynn’s Island; that his old friend Andrew Sprowle is dead, and that they are inoculating the blacks for smallpox. His Lordship, before departure of the fleet from Norfolk harbor, had those  wretches  inoculated and sent ashore in order to spread the infection, but it was happily prevented.” 

**** Patrick Henderson. “Smallpox and Patriotism: The Norfolk Riots, 1768-1769.” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 73, no. 4, 1965, pp. 413-424. JSTOR,, accessed 28 July 2021.

Slaveholder/Slave-trader: From his first years in Virginia, Andrew Sprowle showed no qualms about enslaved labor and in fact such labor became integral to his shipyard and businesses. In the 1740's, Sprowle entered the slave trade beginning with the charter of at least six privateers. Scholar Edward Frye found that during this period, one of Sprowle's warehouses was a slave market.27 Slave marketing seems to have been common in Norfolk during the late eighteenth century.28 Slave traders like Sprowle were vital gears in the machine of slavery, often working with others in the community such as bankers, merchants and lawyers.

27. Frye, John, Hampton Roads and Four Centuries as a World Seaport, (The Edward Mellen Press, New York, 1996), p. 48.

28. Palladino, Brian David, "From a Determined Resolution to Get Liberty: Slaves and the British in Revolutionary Norfolk County, Virginia, 1775-1781" (2000), Dissertations, Theses, and Masters Projects, Paper 1539626267, p. 16.  accessed 18 July 2021.

There is no indication that Andrew Sprowle ever suffered socially for working in the slave trade. In fact, Methodist preacher Francis Asbury, who was in Norfolk in 1775, "singled him out as a prominent Methodist convert…" 29, 30 Unlike John Newton, 1725-1807, author of "Amazing Grace" and a former investor and captain of slave ships, there is no indication that Andrew Sprowle ever renounced the slave trade or had any sympathy for the enslaved.

29. Smith, George Gilman, Life and Labors of Francis Asbury, Bishop of the Methodist Church in America, (Barbee and Smith, Nashville, Tn..

30. Biography and the Black Atlantic, editors Lisa A. Lindsey, John Wood Sweet, (University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 2013) p. 122, n 55.

Sometime in the 1740's, Sprowle went into business with Robert Crooks and together they formed the commercial firm of Sprowle & Crooks. Their ships traded mostly in the southern coastal cities and in the Caribbean. Two of Sprowle's vessels, the Saint Andrew and the sloop Providence, were involved in the Intra-American slave trade. Records from the years 1748 -1751 confirm Sprowle as the owner of both vessels. The documentation for Sprowle and the Intra-American slave trade relies heavily on that kept by British Naval Office officials. Most scholars believe these records are at best a glimpse of a larger enterprise now lost to time.31

31. Donnon, Elizabeth, Documents Illustrative of the Slave Trade to America, Volume IV, (Carnegie Institute, Washington D.C., 1935), pp 218-219, 221. accessed 12 July

Sprowle's ship captains, men like James Abercrombie, Thomas Langley and William Mclintock, transported enslaved men, women and children from Antigua and Barbados to the Chesapeake area for delivery and sales.32 Sprowle and Crooks, like many of the Intra-American slave traders, did so as an adjunct to their other commercial and ordinary business. They apparently handled a wide range of household items too. For example, George Washington was familiar with the firm and in his diary entered that he observed Sprowle's vessel, the Glasgow, on 18 October 1751.33 George Washington made purchases from the same firm, as recorded in his ledger for November 1771 "Sprowle & Crooks, Estate for Candles, £ 3.00" 34

32. Slave, Rice University, Emery University,  Intra American Slave Trade, 1748-1751, Andrew Sprowle, owned  three vessels, the ships, Saint Andrew , the Providence and the Glasgow  accessed 11 July 11, 2021

33. "The Manuscript," Founders Online, National Archives, [Original source: The Diaries of George Washington, vol. 1, 11 March 1748 to 3 November 1765, ed. Donald Jackson. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1976, pp. 34–37.] Sprowle & Crooks, a mercantile firm in Norfolk, was going out of business in the fall of 1771.

34. "Cash Accounts, November 1771," Founders Online, National Archives,, [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, vol. 8, 24 June 1767 to 25 December 1771, ed. W. W. Abbot and Dorothy Twohig. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993, pp. 530-533]

What databases we have for the transatlantic trade voyages reflect that the St. Andrew, Glasgow and the Providence in the 1740's and 1750 made transatlantic voyages; some of these ships carried several hundred enslaved Africans to the Caribbean. For many of these years no names are provided for the vessel owner on the manifest.35

35. Slave Voyages Transatlantic Slave Trade Database,

St Andrew, (Pennsylvania Gazette, Penn), 2 Nov 1749, p. 3.

Sprowle's increased prosperity is reflected in the 1766 Portsmouth, Virginia, "List of Tithtables," which enumerated Andrew Sprowle as a substantial landowner and slaveholder with at least twenty-three enslaved individuals.36 In his will, signed 12 January 1774, Sprowle listed thirty-four enslaved individuals making him one of the largest slaveholders in the area.37

36. Black Loyalist, University of Sidney Andrew Sproul aka Sprowle

37. Nicholls, Michael L., Aspects of the African American Experience in Eighteenth-Century Williamsburg and Norfolk, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library Research Report Series - 330 Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library (Williamsburg, Virginia 1991). p.12.

To John Hunter, Senior, the following negro slaves hereafter named unto him and the said John Hunter, Junior, and the heirs of his body lawfully begotten with these Negroes, Vizt Males, Portsmouth, Isaac, Joe, Lacy, Lavalt, Pero, Cuff, Nicholas, old Tom, Peter, Tango, Sam, young Tom, Daniel, Will and Sewells Point Sam and the following female slaves and their issue, Venus and her Children, Timothy, Jonathan, Venus, Bett and her Grandchild Jacob, Frank and her Grandchild Sarah, Jeany and her son Lewis, Doneh and Children Sucky, Selvy, Big Judy, little Judy, Winney, Nell and Children Moll and little Selvy, totaling about 34. In case of said John Hunter Senior should die without heirs male of his body lawfully begotten then I leave and give the said lands, houses and slaves to John Hunter Junior his nephew."

"I also order that after my matters are settled, that my Negro Andrew shall become the property of Thomas McCulloch, I also order that then my Negro boy Sam shall become the property of Andrew Hunter, the son of James. I also order that my negro boy Bob shall become the property of John Hunter Junior. I mean the boys Bob and Sam, Grandchildren of Frank. I also recommend being my earnest desire that there be an unanimity amongst my relations"

For comparison the 1774 "List of Tithtables" for Norfolk, Virginia, enumerated 758 white slaveholders, the vast majority of whom possessed fewer than five enslaved individuals.

One of Sprowle's enslaved workers took whatever opportunity he had to flee bondage. An enslaved man named "Solomon" fled servitude in September 1768. In a notice published in the Virginia Gazette, Sprowle described him as "a Negro man named Solomon, the property of Andrew Sprowle of Gosport. He is a young fellow about 18 years of age, talks much, will pretend to be a free man, and a blacksmith. Sprowle then notes that Solomon "served John Bell for some years."38 Sprowle offered a forty shilling reward. This notice suggests Sprowle rented young Solomon to John Bell on an annual basis. As early as May 1753, Sprowle's need for labor at the shipyard was such that he rented additional enslaved laborers from other slaveholders.39

38. Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg, Virginia), 22 September 1768, p. 3.

39. "Newton Family of Norfolk." The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 29, no. 4, 1921, pp. 516-519, JSTOR,, accessed 9 July 2021

This notice appeared on 1 January 1772:

RAN away on Thursday the 26th of December, a Negro fellow named Jack, about 26 years of age, 5 feet 6 or 7 inches high, and is a stout-made fellow, has a scar over his left eye, which may appear to a stranger blind, and another between his thumb and fore finger of the right hand. He carried with him, besides the usual clothing of laboring Negroes, a pair of buckskin breeches. The said fellow formerly belonged to Daniel Wolstenholme, Esq; of Maryland, and I bought him of Mr. Andrew Sprowle about two months ago. He is a very artful cunning fellow; and I do not doubt but will endeavor to make his escape towards Norfolk or to Maryland again. He was seen on the road to Williamsburg. I will give TWENTY SHILLINGS reward if taken up in the county, FIVE POUNDS if taken 50 miles from home, and TEN POUNDS if out of the colony, provided he is brought home. ROBERT WALKER.

Sprowle was called into court when his bondsmen were charged before a magistrate. On one occasion his enslaved man "Instance" was prosecuted for "threatening to poison sundry slaves" and found guilty and punished by whipping. No doubt Sprowle was in attendance not to plead for mercy but to defend his property.40 In the expanding economy Andrew Sprowle's need for labor was such that he rented other enslaved individuals. In the American Revolution, the government of Virginia employed Sprowle slaves at public lead mines.41

40. Nicholls, Ibid p. 121.

41. Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia ( Thomas W. White, Richmond, 1828), p.63
(see page 18).

Historian Michael L. Nicholls notes that by 1776 Andrew Sprowle had at least twenty-nine enslaved individuals.42

42. Ibid, p. 152.

40 shilling reward for Solomon 22 Sept 1768 

20 shilling reward for Tango, 4 Feb 1773

Thomas McCulloch, Sprowle's business agent and sole executor of his will and estate, contributed further details on Sprowle as slaveholder. He confirmed "Negro slaves 29 in number, all of whom here either were swept off by contagious distemper by being cooped up in small vessels in the place or seized and carried off by the Rebels." He further testified there were 37 enslaved individuals mentioned in Sprowle's last will, then added, "8 of the useless of them were carried to New York, where they turned to no account." As described by McCulloch, many of these men were skilled tradesmen with occupations including an "excellent Shipper and Pilot, 2 or 3 good Sailors and one Sawyer, three good Planters and several Jobbers." He then stated these enslaved individuals provided ready income to Sprowle: "Mr. Sprucely's Book of account will show the wages drawn for them when hired out." McCulloch then proceeded to describe "the women's occupations: Cooks, Laundry Maids, Seamstresses, House Maids, Spinners &c." Sprowle, like many wealthy men, had indentured servants. In 1755 he took out a notice for John Lewis Miller, a "white Servant Man, by trade a cooper..." Miller had run off with a servant woman, no name given. Miller as a cooper was important since he was a skilled tradesman who made the barrels and other containers used to store commodities like pork, beef and rum in one of Sprowle's merchant vessels or warehouses.43 However, the names enumerated in Sprowle's 1774 will tally 34.  I believe  the differing sums reflect both the dates they were made and vagaries of human memory. For instance, Thomas  McCulloch's account of Sprowle's  enslaved workforce was  made some years later  in his testimony for the Loyalist Commission. 

43. Maryland Gazette, Annapolis 18 September 1755, p. 3.

Andrew Sprowle took an active part in the religious life of his community as a member of the vestry of the Portsmouth Trinity Church. Trinity was founded in 1762 and many of that church's early leaders were prominent businessmen; a significant group were like Sprowle who "was a Tory during the Revolutionary War."44

44. Vache, C. Charles, A History of Trinity Church Parish, Portsmouth Virginia (University of Virginia, Williamsburg, 1962, p. 6.

Annabella McNeill: In 1774 Andrew Sprowle directed his executor that "I also order for myself a genteel funeral but not extravagant and to be buried in the Portsmouth Church yard alongside the funeral pile of Annabella McNeill, alias Sprowle, and such a tomb stone erected for my remains and to be covered in an Irish marble stone now lying at Gosport."45 Sadly this brief and singular mention of Annabella is all Andrew had to say. While he directs the cover for his grave, his reticence allows for no hint of his feeling toward her.

45. 1779 Sprowle, will, Ibid, p. 1056.

Lord Dunmore: John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore (1730-1809), known as Lord Dunmore, became colonial governor of Virginia on 25 September 1771. Lord Dunmore, a Scottish peer, had formerly been colonial governor of New York. In Virginia Dunmore quickly demonstrated that he lacked diplomatic skills as he tried to govern without consulting the House of Burgesses of the Colonial Assembly. Lord Dunmore was responsible for Andrew Sprowle's appointment as British naval agent. Naval agents typically were responsible with supplying crown vessels with provisions and supplies such as lumber, spars, canvas; other duties included victualing, that is purchasing the requisite pork, beef and flourr for the officers and crew.46

46. Pieczynski , Christopher, The Maritime War: The Revolutionary War in Princess Anne County p. 13. accessed 22 July 2021

On the eve of the Revolution, hardcore Loyalists in Norfolk were a distinct minority, never more than 25% of the population. Lord Dunmore quickly became comfortable and at ease with Sprowle and the large community of Scottish businessmen he found there. As governor Dunmore looked to them for support and Sprowle in turn to the crown for his patronage and protection. Sprowle was well aware that his lucrative and prestigious post as Naval Agent and access to vital British export markets depended on exhibiting loyalty, deference and support.47 Like many Loyalist Sprowle chose to ignore Lord Dunmore's misplaced enthusiasm, rashness and lack of judgment.48

47. Burrows, Edwin G. and Wallace, Mike, Gotham, A History of New York City to 1898 (Oxford University Press, New York, 1999), p. 219.

48. Moomaw, W. Hugh, "The British Leave Colonial Virginia." The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 66, no. 2, 1958, pp. 147–16, JSTOR,, accessed 8 July 2021.

As a slaveholder Andrew Sprowle must have had serious reservations about Lord Dunmore's 7 November 1775 Proclamation known as "Lord Dunmore's Offer of Emancipation." This proclamation formally offered freedom to enslaved individuals and indentured servants who would abandon their Patriot masters and join the British. Dunmore's decree was not born of benevolence, for he too was a slaveholder, but was instead a desperate effort to raise sufficient manpower to effectively counter the American militias. Nonetheless, his decree quickly alarmed both white Patriots and British Loyalists.

Early in the War the Elizabeth River was occupied by the ships of Lord Dunmore. Dunmore and his officers took over Sprowle's residence and ate up his larder and drank his wine. At the same time his lordship's troops were quartered in his shipyard and town warehouse. Sprowle had little choice, for he was seen by the Patriots as a Tory and an enemy. In sum, Sprowle and his family needed protection. For the Patriots, however, his residence became "virtually the Royal capital of Virginia."49

49. Butt, Marshall, Portsmouth Under Four Flags, 1752-1970, (Portsmouth Historical Association & the Friends of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum, Portsmouth, 1971), pp. 8-15.

Based on the number of enslaved individuals appearing in the Virginian damage claims filed by Norfolk Loyalist as claims after the war, it appears that approximately one thousand enslaved individuals from Norfolk County were lost to the British over the course of the war.50 The exact number of Andrew Sprowle's slaves who escaped to British lines is difficult to quantify. We have specific documentation only for a few individuals like Venus Profit, James Knapp and Dorothy Bush, who escaped Andrew Sprowle and were evacuated by the British from New York City in April 1783.51 This information from the "Book of Negroes" was a list compiled by commissioners appointed by the British Commander in Chief, Sir Guy Carleton, as the Loyalists were evacuating New York between April and November 1783. It contains the names and identifying information of African Americans departing with the Loyalists. This information was to be the basis for any future compensation claims from Patriot slave owners.52

50. Pallaldino, Ibid, p. 4.

51. Black Loyalists, accessed 19 July 2021

52. Ibid.

Evacuation of the British Loyalists

"Venus Profit left with husband Richard Prophet or Dick Profit. She claimed to have been owned by Mr. Knapp of Gosport, but for most of her life she was owned by Knapp's business partner Andrew Sprowle". Venus and her husband Richard traveled with 12-year old James Knapp, possibly their child or grandchild. Venus was described as 51 years of age and an "ordinary wench" and enslaved to Andrew Sprowle since at least 1752. James Knapp, 12, a fine boy formerly the property of Andrew Sprowle, Portsmouth, Virginia, left him 7 years ago.

On 29 October 1775 Andrew Sprowle married Katherine Leslie Hunter, a widow at his home in Gosport. While not much is known of Katherine's background, Andrew Sprowle would have seen her often in Gosport and Portsmouth. She was clearly part of his extensive circle of family and friends. In Gosport, Katherine hosted regular balls at the barracks during which servicemen and loyalist civilians mingled freely.53 From her claim, we know Katherine was from Glasgow and on 22 June 1754 had married James Hunter, a merchant in that city. James was the eldest son of John Hunter, a Glasgow merchant. Andrew Sprowle was James Hunter's uncle.54Together the Hunters had seven children. James Hunter died on 12 February 1774.55 Like the vast majority of Scottish merchants and their factors in Virginia and Maryland, Andrew and Katherine Sprowle were supporters of the crown.56 Katherine and Andrew would retain ties to their mother country to the end of their lives.57

53. David, James Corbett, "Dunmore's New World: Political Culture in the British Empire, 1745--1796" (2010). Dissertations, Theses, and Masters Projects Paper 1539623561. accessed 19 July 2021.

54. The Papers of Benjamin Franklin: Volume 41: September 16, 1783, through February 29, 1784, Ellen R. Cohn, editor, (Yale University Press, New Haven), pp. 230-231, n. 7.

55. Loyalist Claims, p.508, a document attesting James Hunter's date of death, as 24 December 1774, signed by Katherine Hunter Sprowle, 24 December 1776.

56. Dobson, David, Scottish Emigration to Colonial America: 1607 to 1785 (University of Georgia, Athens, Ga, 1994), 148.

57. Kranish, Ibid, p. 68.

Sprowle's growing anxiety regarding the Revolution, which began on 19 April 1775, became more marked especially as the tide shifted against the Loyalists in the Norfolk area. In his letter of 1 November 1775 to George Brown this is on full display:

"Removing into the Country" and "putting their effects at Gosport aboard Ships all on account & fear of the Proventil forces," he observed, "the Virginians" were "all against the Scotsmen," often threatening "to Extirpate them."58

58. Andrew Sprowle to George Brown, 1 November 1775, Rev. Va., Vol. 4, 313.

As James Corbett David reminds us, Scotsmen like Sprowle "were maligned as interlopers throughout the British Empire, but they were particularly despised in Virginia where Scottish credit had facilitated a consumer revolution that left many planters with enormous debts. Because of their prosperity, the Virginians saw them as too well connected, too close to power."59

59. David, James Corbett, "Dunmore's new world: Political culture in the British Empire, 1745--1796" (2010), Dissertations, Theses, and Masters Projects, Paper 1539623561. 2

In early January 1776, Lord Dunmore directed his naval vessels to shell the city of Norfolk. A Patriot observer wrote to the Virginia Gazette a widely published letter denouncing the destruction of the once prosperous city.

"The large distillery down the river was set on fire the night of the cannonade, and [Andrew] Sprowle's houses two or three nights after. In short, desolation and ruin have overspread the face of the country, and the once populous town of Norfolk now resembles, "in miniature the ruins of Palmyra!"60

60. Naval Documents of the American Revolution, American Theatre, volume 3, editor, William James Morgan, (Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.,1970),p. 673.

Sprowle fears of retaliation were justified as this letter from Virginia, dated 22 February 1776 recounts:

On the 4th day of January last, about sunset, a party of armed men from the rebel army stationed in the town of Norfolk went to Gosport where they broke open all the warehouses and plundered them and that night set fire to all the buildings on the place and burnt them to the ground. The destruction of that place is a very heavy loss to Mr. Andrew Sprowle, a firm friend of the Government, who is the sole proprietor. The warehouses were valuable. Besides all the dwelling houses there was in his store many heavy and bulky goods of considerable value, so that his losses cannot be less than many thousands of pounds sterling. He also had two houses burnt in Norfolk.61

61. Naval Documents of the American Revolution, American Theatre, volume 4, editor William James Morgan, (Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1970). p.38.

Death: After their marriage, Sprowle subsequently made out a new will in which he appointed as executor Thomas McCulloch a fellow Scotsman of Gosport, Virginia. Sprowle then added two codicils (both undated) proclaiming Katherine as his wife and heir, along with her son John Hunter Jr.

Where did Andrew Sprowle die? Though some have claimed he died on Gwynn's Island, Katherine later stated Andrew Sprowle breathed his last on a vessel anchored near Gwynn's Island. She dated his death precisely, as 29 May 1776, but made no mention of a cause except frailty. Many have speculated the closely packed conditions in the ships of Dunmore's fleet of Loyalist refugees, former slaves, soldiers and sailors made these vessels floating vectors for disease.62, 63 The smallpox epidemic which raged in Dunmore's fleet was reported as particularly hard with at least five hundred dead. Many perhaps the majority, were African Americans who had no acquired immunity to the disease. Twenty-nine of Andrew Sprowle's slaves are reported to have died on these vessels.64 From Katherine's later testimony, it seems Andrew died on the HMS Roebuck. For reasons of health and sanitation, it is likely his and other bodies were quickly removed from the ship and hastily buried on Gwynn Island.

62. Loyalist Claims, Ibid, p. 142.

63. Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg, Virginia), 15 June 1776, pp..4 -.5, which recounts that a Mr. Robinson, a patriot who escaped the Island, confirmed Andrew Sprowle's death.

64. Nicholls, Ibid p. 152.

Andrew Sprowle's will:

In Scotland, the Commissary courts recorded the wills and testaments in registers. There was no legal requirement for individuals to make wills. Sprowle, having both a large estate and property in both land and slaves, made specific direction for their distribution rather than leave anything to chance. Most people died intestate (without a will), hence there was no obligation for any distribution beyond what family members or the court could amicably sort-out amongst themselves.

Andrew Sprowle's 12 January 1774 will begins with a formulaic prayer. "In the name of the most omnipotent being by whose divine providence I have existed long Amen." 

In the preface there is an inventory or "sum of debts owed", this probably compiled by Thomas McCulloch, Andrew Sprowle's executor.  Andrew's older brother John Sprowle of Milton was a debtor but he had died in 1771. Noticeable too in the column of Sprowle's borrowers, are prominent businessmen in both Glasgow and London. Like many Scottish merchants, Sprowle kept up a regular correspondence with compatriots in Glasgow, Edinburgh and London.

Sprowle directs his executor Thomas McCulloch to do all in his power to secure any debts owed. He makes it clear he wants to forestall "disputes relative to my worldly affairs" and  makes plain the position of  executor Thomas McCulloch for he, McCulloch, is also sole business manager of the estate and is to have salary of £150 sterling annually for his troubles. He makes provisions for James Hunter and daughter to proceed to Scotland, but later events overtook such plans. He directs that he be buried at Portsmouth Trinity Church next to his former wife Annabella McNeill and specified Irish marble for the gravestone. He  urges "a genteel funeral but not extravagant." He mentioned "the hardness of the times" and the need for patience in disposing of his property including his enslaved workforce. The enslaved  are simply noted by their first or familiar names, e.g. "Big Judy, Little Judy, etc." For Andrew Sprowle's listing  and  directed disposition of all enslaved individuals as of 12 January 1774, please see Andrew Sprowle's will, pp. 1558 and 1060. As was typical of the era, no surnames are ever accorded the enslaved, nor does he  specify any legacies or manumissions.  For Sprowle, who directed their sale, these thirty-four individuals are simply property. They are something of value, but no special thought is given  to them more than any other property or household goods. He offers no advice or direction as to the breakup and separation of families or any concern for them.

Andrew Sprowle died on 29 May 1776. His will was proved on 17 June 1776 on the ship Dunmore and witnessed by Lord Dunmore himself. Though Katherine Leslie Hunter Sprowle is not listed in the main body of the 1774 will, she was specifically named in codicils published later and witnessed by Lord Dumore, hence she was entitled to one third of the estate.  

Terms frequently used in Scottish wills:

Testator  Someone who makes a will/testament: Andrew Sprowle
Executor Someone who is appointed to carry out the terms of the will: Thomas McCulloch
Testament A testament in which an executor is named
Heritable property reference to all of Andrew Sprowles land and buildings
Inventory: listed the movable goods. If there were any debts owing to or by the deceased, these would normally be listed as well.
Widows Part under Scottish Law Katherine Leslie Hunter Sprowle was entitled to a third of the value of the Andrew's estate

First Row: 1051-1056 & Second Row: 1057-1062
Click images below to enlarge in browser, then click to enlarge again

Burial: In his will Andrew Sprowle stated that he wished to be buried in Trinity Church grounds, Portsmouth, Virginia, "alongside the funeral pile of Anabella McNeill, alias Sprowle."65 Trinity Church has records for the burial of Andrew Sprowle, age 56.66 Though not documented, this possibly occurred as a reburial at a later date.

65. 1778 Sprowle Will, Ibid p. 1056.

66. Trinity Church, Portsmouth, Virginia

The following account, written by an anonymous Virginia officer, corroborates Sprowle's burial on the island and the appalling conditions left by the vast small pox epidemic. The officer noted the grave of Andrew Sprowle, "Lord of Gosport."67 The total loss of life throughout the conflict is largely unknown. However, as was typical in wars of the era, diseases such as smallpox claimed far more lives than battle. Between 1775 and 1782, a smallpox epidemic broke out throughout North America, killing an estimated 130,000 among all its populations during those years.68

67. Kranish, Ibid, p. 90.

68. Clodfelter, Michael (2017). Warfare and Armed Conflicts: A Statistical Encyclopedia of Casualty and Other Figures, 1492–2015 (4th edition)

The following is a particular account of the attack and rout of Lord Dunmore, with his piratical crew, from Gwynn's-Island…

On arrival we found the enemy had evacuated the place with the greatest precipitation and were struck with horror, the number of dead bodies in a state of putrefaction, strewed all the way from their battery to Cherry Point about two miles in length, without a shovelful of earth upon them; others gasping for life and some crawled to the water's edge, who could only make known their distress by beckoning to us. By the smallpox and other malignant disorders which raged on board the fleet for many months past, it is clear they have since their arrival at Gwynn's Island lost near 500 souls. I myself counted 130 graves (or rather a hole, loosely covered with earth) close together, large enough to contain a corporal guard. One in the middle was neatly done up with turf, and is supposed to contain the remains of the late Lord of Gosport. Many were burnt alive in brush huts, which in their confusion, had got on fire. In short, such a scene of misery, distress and cruelty my eyes never beheld; for which the authors, one may reasonably conclude can never make amends in this world. The enemy left behind them, in their battery, a double fortified nine pounder, great part of their baggage, with several tents and marquees, besides the three tenders, with their cannon, small arms, &c. also the anchors and cables of the Dunmore, Otter, and many others, to the amount, it supposed, of twelve or fifteen hundred pounds. On their leaving the island, they burnt some valuable vessels, which had got aground. Mr. John Grymes's effects on the island have fallen into our hands, consisting of thirty-five Negroes, horses, cattle and furniture.69

69. Naval Documents of the American Revolution, American Theatre, volume 5, editor, William James Morgan, (Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1970), p. 1150.

A British officer with the 14th Regiment of Foot left the following account of Andrew Sprowle, after stating he was well acquainted with the late Mr. Andrew Sprowle. He testified:

"[his] Loyalty and attachment to the Government was conspicuous. On the arrival of the Troops in the Colony he voluntarily gave up houses for their accommodation and on all occasions endeavored to make our situation as comfortable as possible. This conduct made him exceedingly obnoxious to the Rebels after the unfortunate affair of the Great Bridge. He notwithstanding his age and infirmities was obligated to take refuge on Board of ship where he had the mortification to see his own property destroyed by fire. It is impossible for me to Estimate the loss sustained by Mr. Sprowle with respect to his property on account of his Loyalty, but as he was considered as one of the principal merchants, was possessed of several Houses and I have understood of property of Land in different parts of the Province, I conceive his losses must have been considerable.70

70. Loyalist Claims, John Hunter, Ibid, certificate of Captain John Bayut 81st Infantry Regiment, 25 July 1785, pp. 267-268.Word of Sprowle's demise spread quickly. Writing to Georgia Washington on 6 March 1776 his brother-in-law, Fielding Lewis, informed him, "Norfolk is totally destroyed, not one House remaining in Gosport. Mr. Sprowle's seat has shared the same fate.71 Portsmouth is safe; we have men at the great Bridge & Kemps Landing, little for them to do."

71. Fielding Lewis (July 7, 1725 to December 7, 1781) brother-in-law of George Washington, was an American merchant and a Colonel during the American Revolutionary War. He lived in Fredericksburg, Virginia where he had a plantation, which later became known as Kenmore.

72. To George Washington from Fielding Lewis, 6 March 1776," Founders Online, National Archives, [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 3, 1 January 1776 to 31 March 1776, ed. Philander D. Chase. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1988, pp. 418-420. Accessed 17 July 2021.

Katherine's Quest: Katherine was determined to obtain her 1/3rd share of her husband's estate. She began, almost immediately following his death, working with her husband's executor, Thomas McCulloch.73 Katherine apparently had been plagued by accusations that she had not been legally married and had been a spy. Consequently, on her return to London, she quickly gathered documents and vigorously petitioned the Crown that her marriage was legal and witnessed by Lord Dunmore She then pressed for her claim herself and her son, John Hunter Jr, for their inheritance, pensions and loss of property.

73. The Papers of Benjamin Franklin: Volume 41: September 16, 1783, through February 29 1784. Ellen R. Cohn, editor (Yale University Press, New Haven) pp. 230-231, n. 7.

On examination of the Loyalist Claim filed by Elizabeth McCaw, a friend of Katherine Sprowle and filed by Thomas McCulloch, Andrew's executor, was found a printed copy of the claim for Andrew Sprowle's losses.  This oversight may have occurred when these papers were bound up with the claim for Ms McCaw's, since McCulloch represented both parties.

Loyalist Claim of Katherine Sprowle
Click images below to enlarge in browser, then click to enlarge again

Katherine was formidable, outspoken and an educated woman in an age when ladies were expected to be humble and differential; she was neither. One correspondent alerted Benjamin Franklin, "She herself is a very bad Woman, with, I am assured, no Mean talents of Insinuation & address."74

74. To Benjamin Franklin from William Alexander, 6 November 1783," Founders Online, National Archives, [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 41, September 16, 1783, through February 29, 1784, ed. Ellen R. Cohn. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2014, pp. 180–181.] accessed 15 July 2021.

All her correspondence with Lord Dummore, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson reflect an intelligent and capable advocate (see below).


75. Naval Documents of the American Revolution, American Theatre, volume 5, editor, William James Morgan, (Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1970), pp 776 -777 accessed 10 July 2021.

"On Board His Majesty's Ship the Roebuck, the petition of Catherine Sproule, Widow of the deceased Andrew Sproule Esq. of Gosport in Virginia.

That whereas the memorialist did upon the 17th Current apply to Andrew Snape Hammond, Commander of his Majesty's Ship the Roebuck for a flag of truce to go see her son John Hunter Jnr then and now prisoner at Halifax North Carolina.76

76. HMS Roebuck was a 44-gun fifth rate two-decker launched in 1774 and converted to a hospital ship in 1790. In 1799 she was converted to a troopship, and four years later to a guard ship.

The said Capt. Hammond gave her leave to go on board the [HMS] Otter's tender to carry her, the said Catherine Sproule, on Board the Otter sloop of war. Matthew Squire Esqr Commander with a flag of truce recommending her to the Commanding Officer there to permit her to go see her said son John Hunter at Halifax: agreeable thereto Maj. [James] Hendrick of the sixth Regiment of Continental troops recommended the said Catherine Sproule to Brigadier [Andrew] Lewis Commander at Williamsburg who recommended her to the Committee of safety who allowed her to write to her son but returned her to Maj. Hendrick to return her to the Fleet immediately as a person dangerous for the Committee of safety. Pursuant to the said order Maj. Hendrick returned the said Catherine Sproule on board the Fleet with a flag of truce where she was met by an Officer from Lord Dunmore with express orders that she was not again to return to the Fleet but be sent back to the Committee of safety.77

77. HMS Otter, Facebook, ibid.

Upon which the said Catherine Sproule apply'd to Capt Hammond to redress her grievances who informs her that he has no right to do so; therefore the said Catherine Sproule must take the Liberty of a free born British subject to conjure you as one of his Majesty's Notary Publicks to protest against the said Lord Dunmore so as he may be liable for all the bad Consequences that may attend your petitioner and her property in Virginia. That whereas also the above mentioned Catherine Sproule intends immediately for her native Country, and did apply through James Ingram Esqr one of the appointed Commissioners for Prizes to apply to Lord Dunmore to prove the will & Codicil of her deceased Husband Andrew Sproule Esqr & furnished him with Copies thereof & that the said Lord Dunmore has neglected to comply she the said Catherine Sproule also protests against such injustice that she may appeal to a more able Court. Signed & delivered in the usual form & fees to Mr. Thomas McCullock one of his Majesty's Notary Publicks for the Colony of Virginia. Before these witnessed, B. Phillips acting Lieut., of the [HMS] Roebuck, Phillips Clark, Ditto That Capt. Hammond did not send the said Catherine Sproule with a Rebel flag of truce, but put her on Board a Schooner then ready to sail for Glasgow under his convoy."

In the end, the rewards for Andrew and Katherine Sprowle's Loyalism were rather meager. The Loyalist board did rule in her favor on March 6, 1783, confirmed her marriage and praised her husband's efforts on behalf of the British government, but she was only granted a small pension - much smaller than she expected.

She then petitioned Parliament for compensation for Sprowle's Virginia holdings. She later married Francis Douglas, and by 28 November, 1783, was petitioning the state of Virginia for permission to return and for her losses.

 Memorial of Katherine Douglas late Widow of Andrew Sprowle, Esq., of Gosport. Virginia.

Praying for permission to return to Virginia with her son and husband Francis Douglas, stating that in the year 1775 Lord Dunmore with his whole retinue and effects had seized upon her late husband's house, provisions and effects at Gosport and rioted in them for five months, having forced her husband, son and herself to repair on board his fleet; having practiced all manner of barbarous treatment to intimidate them  and finally persuade her youthful inexperienced son to go off with them &c &c The memorial of great length narrates  the successive trials, troubles and final death of Andrew Sprowle, her subsequent marriage to Francis Douglas, of the noble Queensbury family. She now desires to return to her native state, to whose fortunes, she has been ever attached &c, &c.78

78. Calendar of Virginia State Papers and other Manuscripts  January 1, 1782 to December 31, 1784, William P. Palmer editor, (James D Good, Richmond, 1883),, Volume III, p.542
accessed 10 July 2012.

On 28 November 1783, she wrote to Benjamin Franklin seeking his aid.79

79. "To Benjamin Franklin from Katherine Sproule Douglas, 28 November 1783," Founders Online, National Archives, [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 41, September 16, 1783, through February 29, 1784, ed. Ellen R. Cohn. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2014, pp. 230-231.] accessed 10 July 2012.

George Street No., 3 Adelphi, London, Novr 28th 1783

May it please your Excellency, to accept my unbounded thanks for the Honor you did my friend Miss Maxwell when in Paris which I Sincerely Charge to my acct of Gratitude! & thanks to almighty God, for putting in my Heart to presume on such an application; which I again most gratefully embrace on the Permission graciously & bountifully granted by your Excellency to Miss Maxwell! which I humbly flatter myself will under almighty God Reinstate me & my Seven poor indigent Children in their Just Claims of Virginia Property; which the Herewith sent Copies of Correspondence will authenticate to us all your Excellency's Gracious & Humane answerer will Lay an Everlasting obligation on your Devoted & obliged humble Sert

Kath Sproule, now Douglas

Miss Maxwell begs to be humbly remembered to your Excellency your Son Govr. Franklin is well Pays His Duty Sorry to hear you are Indisposed Hopes in God to hear you are better

His Excellency / Doctor Franklin / Paris

In London on 30 July 1785, she wrote Thomas Jefferson pleading for his intercession on her and her son John's behalf. 80 "For her son she claimed "My poor Infatuated Son had neither merit, nor Demerit" To make her case Katherine's view of loyalty became elastic, so that she herself pleaded she never did the Patriot cause "no harm" and thanked God her son [John Jr.],was taken prisoner." She related with approval her son was "Solicited by Dunmore to go with him when He went in 1781 on His more than Quixote scheme of Retaking Possession of the government of Virginia, which he refus'd"

80. "To Thomas Jefferson from Katherine Sprowle Douglas, 30 July 1785," Founders Online, National Archives, [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 8, 25 February–31 October 1785, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953, pp. 329–330.] accessed 10 July 2012.

I was Honor'd with your obliging favor of the 5th. the Contents of which truly Animates me! The enlivening Hopes of Restitution of that property I am Conscious we have not in your Just Discrimination forfeited. Mr. Sproule never took any active or Sinister Part against the American Interest. On the Contra He was their most sincere friend which the Copies of the Letters I troubled you with will evince, and the Sacrifice of His Life, a melancholy Confirmation! My poor Infatuated Son had neither merit, nor Demerit at this unthinking time of Life! Under Sixteen He had a Commission Cram'd down His Throat by the Lawless Govr. Dunmore. The fatal Night before the Mad attempt of the great Bridge, Totally unknown to Mr. Sproule or me, He was, thank God, taken prisoner, kept for two years upon Parole which I flatter myself he did no Discredit to till He was Exchanged. When he came here He was offer'd a Company of Foot by Lord George Germain which he Nobly Refus'd, and said He had one fatal Night Carried arms against the Americans but never would again. He was also Solicited by Dunmore to go with him when He went in 1781 on His more than Quixote scheme of Retaking Possession of the government of Virginia, which he refus'd and went to Scotland where he has since Lived frugally and Peaceably Longing for the Now Happy æra of being again united with the American States to Rejoin them. As for myself, I shall leave to the Virginians to witness the Resolute Part I acted, tho surrounded by the Fleet and army Headed by the mad, Blood Thirsty Governor who at Last sent me Here as an Enemy to the British Government. I never doubted being Honord with an apartment in the Tower as the reward of my Demerites. When an old friend of mine Procur'd me a Pension of £150 per annum for the support of my seven small Children, he manfully struck me off the List as a Traitor to my Country. How they and I have struggled on since Heaven only knows as we have never yet been able to Touch a farthing of the scattered Remains of Mr. Sproule's mangled fortune. But now I flatter myself the Justice and Clemency of the States will Restore the Price of the Lands sold which [by] the Enclose Advertisement from the April Virginia Newspaper you'll see your Conjectures were well founded. I therefore worthy Sir Entreat your Influence with the assembly you once so wisely Govern'd for that urgently wished for Retribution. If you think my Personal Presence in Virginia would in any measure Facilitate that desirable End I am willing and ready to Encounters every Danger which past the meridian of Life may be Judg'd Terribble By the weak Timid Defenseless Sex: But where Justice to, and the Interest of my Dear Helpless Children is Concern'd I will Brave all Difficulties By again Returning to a place ever Rever'd as the Land of Promise to Sir your most obedt. Sert.,

K. Sproule

If you honor me with answer through the medium of Mr. Adams, I will esteem as a Particular favor.

In her letters to both Franklin and Jefferson, Katherine denied that her husband and her son had been loyal to the crown.81 Jefferson was initially opposed to returning Loyalists. Her son, John Hunter Jr., writing on 11 January 1778 to the Loyalist Board related that when he had "arrived in the colonies in December 1769, he lived under the care and direction of his uncle, till the beginning of the late troubles. When influenced by the examples of his relations and at some time conscientiously attached to the Government and Constitution of Great Britain he cordially hazarded life and his future prospects endeavoring to support its interest and authority. At the earliest part of the dispute your memorialist accepted from the Earl of Dunmore, the commission of Captain and Lieutenant in his uncle John Hunter's company of the Queens Loyal Virginia Regiment that is now called the Queens Rangers and was engaged with the 14th R, at the Great Bridge and continued doing duty till April 1776 when an expedition took place from the fleet then lying in Orincoe, North Carolina, where your memorialist was unfortunately drove ashore upon that coast on board one of the prizes where he narrowly escaped with his life. He was held prisoner until January 1778 when he was exchanged.82

81. To Thomas Jefferson from Katherine Sprowle Douglas, 21 June 1785, Founders Online, National Archives, [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 8, 25 February to 31 October 1785, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953, pp. 243-244.] Accessed 10 July 2012.

82. UK Loyalist Claims 1776 to 1835 for John Hunter A O 13: American Loyalist Claims, Series II, Piece 031, H.M. Virginia, pp. 264-265 signed John Hunter, London, 1781 accessed 10 July 2012.

Lord Dunmore, to his credit, did write in support of the Katherine's 'claims, he certified:

Andrew Sproule Esquire late of Gosport in Virginia, John Hunter of the same place and John Hunter junior, Esquire and Mr. Thomas McCulloch the entire same place, manifested the warmest attachment to his Majesty's Government during the Late Rebellion in America. That Mr. Hunter served as officer in the Troops raised by me in Virginia and Mr. Sproule and Mr. Mc Culloch were equally zealous and active in promoting his Majesty's interest and Service in that Country. Dunmore 23rd July 1785.83

83. Loyalist Claims, John Hunter junior, ibid p. 266.

Thomas Jefferson, writing to Katherine from London, replied on 5 July 1785.84

84. "From Thomas Jefferson to Katherine Sprowle Douglas, 5 July 1785," Founders Online, National Archives, [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 8, 25 February–31 October 1785, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953, pp. 259–260.] accessed 10 July 2012

Your letter of the 21st. of June has come safely to hand. That which you had done me the honour of writing before has not yet been received. Having gone by Dr. Witherspoon to America, which I had left before his return to it, the delay is easily accounted for.

I wish you may be rightly informed that the property of Mr. Sprowle is yet unsold. It was advertised for sale so long ago as to found a presumption that the sale has taken place. In any event you may go safely to Virginia. It is in the London newspapers only that exist those mobs and riots which are fabricated to deter strangers from going to America. Your person will be sacredly safe, and free from insult. You can best judge from the character and qualities of your son whether he may be a useful coadjutor to you there. I suppose him to have taken side with the British before our declaration of independence; and if this was the case, I respect the candor of the measure, tho I do not its wisdom. A right to take the side which every man's conscience approves in a civil contest is too precious a right and too favorable to the preservation of liberty not to be protected by all it's well informed friends. The assembly of Virginia has given sanction to this right in several of their laws, discriminating honorably those who took side against us before the declaration of independence, from those who remained among us and strove to injure us by their treacheries. I sincerely wish that you and every other to whom this distinction applies favorably, may find in the assembly of Virginia the good effects of that justice and generosity which have dictated to them this discrimination. It is a sentiment, which will gain strength in their breasts in proportion as they can forget the savage cruelties committed on them, and will I hope in the end induce them to restore the property itself wherever it is unsold, and the price received for it where it has been actually sold. I am Madam, Your very humble servt.,

[Signed] Thomas Jefferson.

On 10 August 1785, Jefferson in Paris again replied to her questions, if her son might return safely to Virginia.85

85. "From Thomas Jefferson to Katherine Sprowle Douglas, 10 August 1785," Founders Online, National Archives, [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 8, 25 February–31 October 1785, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953, p. 364.] accessed 10 July 2012

Paris, Aug. 10,1785

In your letter of June 21, you asked 'my opinion whether yourself or your son might venture to go to Virginia to claim your possessions there'? I had the honor of writing you on the 5th of July that you might safely go there, that your person would be sacredly safe and free from insult. I expressed my hopes too that they would in the end adopt the just and useful measure of restoring property unsold and the price of that actually sold. In yours of July 30, you 'entreat my influence with the assembly for retribution and that if I think your personal presence in Virginia would facilitate that end you were willing and ready to go.'

This seems to propose to me to take on myself the solicitation of your cause, and that you will go if I think your personal presence will be auxiliary to my applications. I feel myself obliged to inform you frankly that it is improper for me to solicit your case with the assembly of Virginia. The application can only go with propriety from yourself or the minister of your court to America whenever there shall be one. If you think the sentiments expressed in my former letter will serve you, you are free to exhibit it to members individually, but I wish the letter not to be offered to the assembly as a body, or referred to in any petition or memorial to them as a body I am with much respect Madam,

Your most obedient humble servant, Th. Jefferson