Baker, William 1770

Merchant, MP, Company Director, and Mortgagee; Sir William Baker was a man of his time and clearly knew how to achieve his goals. His memorial in Bath Abbey is symbolic of his life, showing how he was viewed and when his interests lay.

Baker was first elected as Alderman in January 1738 to the Bassishaw Ward (near Cheapside, London) and from the first is described as a Merchant and gentleman by the Derby Mercury, with the Newcastle Courant calling him a Factor of Blackwell-Hall (the centre of cloth trading in London).1 Baker continued to rise, becoming MP for Plympton Erle, Devon, in 1747 and was regularly involved in debates in the house, particularly on topics involving America and Canada.

Alongside his work as an MP, Sir William Baker was a Director of the East India Company (1741-1753) and Governor of the Hudson Bay Company (1760-1770).2 He oversaw two of the most powerful companies which helped to establish the British Empire’s colonies in India and Canada in the 1700s. His monument shows a female representing London (Baker’s birthplace) at the very centre of the empire. She holds a cornucopia (a horn overflowing with exotic fruits and flowers) and stands above the others, receiving textiles, ivory, and incense from a turbaned man (representing his involvement with the East India Company) and a beaver (representing the fur trade) from a naked, indigenous Canadian. The monument’s text praises Baker as “the father of his country.” 3

The UCL database states that Baker’s will is ‘silent on West India property, mortgages and enslaved people’.4 However, prior to his death he was listed as mortgage holder on several estates in Barbados one of which was owned by the Dottin Family; this estate included Mount Edge, The Spring and Baxter’ plantations, with a total 221 enslaved people to their names. Baker’s executors are known to have taken possession of the Maynard’s plantation in Barbados, which had had be mortgaged to him in 1759 for £3,000. In today’s money Baker had paid £481,309.91 for the estate and the 194 enslaved people who were forced to work there.5 The executors subsequently sold Maynard’s estate to Samuel Hinds in 1771 and by 1913 the estate, had only grown, with a total of 234 enslaved people. Baker was also co-proprietor of the Hobcaw Barony in South Caroline (Which were sold to become smaller plantations).6

William Baker’s connections to the aforementioned estates aided him both professionally and financially.

  1. Derby Mercury, 11 Jan 1738 page 2 of 4.  https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000189/17380111/008/0002

    Newcastle Courant 1738/9 page 1 of 4, column 3 https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000085/17390113/008/0001

  2. Ipswich Journal, Sat 15 April 1749 p 1 of 4 https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000071/17490415/005/0001

  3. Taylor, Oliver. Monuments, Empire and Slavery exhibition, 2021.

  4. ‘Sir William Baker Alderman of City of London’, Legacies of British Slavery database, http://wwwdepts-live.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/2146650157 [accessed 31st July 2023].

  5. ‘Maynard’s [ Barbados | St Peter ]’, Legacies of British Slavery database, http://wwwdepts-live.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/estate/view/561 [accessed 31st July 2023].

  6. ‘Sir William Baker Alderman of City of London’, Legacies of British Slavery database, http://wwwdepts-live.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/2146650157 [accessed 31st July 2023].

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