Capt. John Macpherson, Sr.

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Capt. John Macpherson, Sr.

Birthplace: Skinner's Close, Edinburgh, Scotland (United Kingdom)
Death: September 06, 1792 (65-66)
Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, United States
Place of Burial: Old Saint Pauls Episcopal Church Cemetery, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, USA
Immediate Family:

Son of William Macpherson, writer in Edinburgh and Jean Adamson
Husband of Margaret Macpherson and Mary Ann Macpherson
Father of Gen. William Macpherson; Margaret Berrien; John Macpherson, Jr. and Robert Hector Macpherson
Brother of Helen Macpherson and Angus Macpherson in Edinburgh

Occupation: Privateer, publisher; ship merchant; land broker
Managed by: Faustine Darsey
Last Updated:

About Capt. John Macpherson, Sr.

DAR Ancestor #: A132551 Patriotic service


John Macpherson was born 1726 at Skinner's Close, Edinburgh, the nephew of the 11th Chief of Clan Macpherson. He went to sea at an early age and by 1750 was a ship's captain engaged in trade between Philadelphia and Barbados. From 1757, during the French & Indian War he was given the command of the 20-gun Britannia and a writ from the King George III granting him permission to attack and capture any enemy boats. In 1758, the Britannia did battle with a French 36-gunner and came off considerably the worse: Macpherson's right arm was blown off by a cannonball and the surgeon became the only officer in command after all the others were wounded. When the French boarded, they found the deck strewn with 70 of the crew either dead or dying: "The action of the Frenchmen was inhuman. They carried the first and second officers on board their own vessel, cut down the masts and rigging, threw the cannon and ammunition overboard, and then set the vessel adrift. The crew managed to get up jury-masts, and navigated the ship into Jamaica, where it was found that 270-shots had passed (through) the Britannia".

In 1759, Macpherson made up for his losses and took 18-prizes that year including two French sloops laden with plate and valuables besides £18,000 in cash. In 1760-61, Macpherson took 9-prizes worth £15,000, and by strength of superior sailing managed to escape a French 60-gun Man-of-War. After carrying two 10-gun French privateers into Antigua and two Spanish vessels laden with indigo and sugar, the Antiguan government awarded him a sword of honor. In just three years (1757 to 1760) Macpherson amassed a fortune through privateering in the Caribbean between Martinique, St. Eustache, and Antigua. That fortune allowed him to build Mount Pleasant in Philadelphia. He resigned his commission in July, 1762, having been seriously injured nine times which included having his arm shot off twice, and a shot through the leg. Though no longer a naval officer, he continued to trade in the West Indies after the war.

He was as erudite as he was swashbuckling: He published America's first trade paper, Price Current, in which merchants and traders could list prices on their stock. In 1785, he also published the first directory of numbered houses in Philadelphia. He gave lectures on astronomy and natural philosophy that covered topics such the nature of air, magnetism, electricity, and mechanics. He married twice and had nine surviving children. 

John died on 6 Sep 1792 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


  • Father: William Macpherson (b.c.1690)
  • Mother: Jane Adamson (b.c.1695)


  1. Margaret (Rogers) Macpherson (1732-1770)
  2. Mary Ann (MacNeal) Macpherson (1747-1828)

Children with first wife

  1. John Macpherson (1754-1775)
  2. William Macpherson (1756-1813)
  3. Margaret (Macpherson) Berrien (1763-1785)
  4. Mary (Macpherson) Berrien (1765-1832)

Children with second wife

  1. Charles Macpherson MacNeal (1774-1840)
  2. Amelia (Macpherson) Adams (1776-1831)
  3. Mary Ann (Macpherson) Allison (1778-1829)
  4. John Montgomery Macpherson (1780-1844)
  5. Robert Hector Macpherson (1784-1817)

Captain John Macpherson seems to have had a vendetta against Samuel Garrigues. They had a very public disagreement, which was published in the Philadelphia (and New Jersey) newspapers. See the story: -

Macpherson was a Privateer, or perhaps a pirate, gaining a fortune in this endeavor. According to John Adams, MacPherson had "an arm twice shot off". Macpherson was one of the ‘wealthy colonial elite’ of Philadelphia and his home, 'Mount Pleasant', reflected that wealth. John Adams called the mansion "the most elegant seat in Pennsylvania." Mount Pleasant was built on the cliffs overlooking the Schuylkill River. It was built about 1761-62 in what was then the countryside outside of the city. There was an accompanying farm. MacPherson was also a slave owner.

Due to increasing debt, including unpaid taxes, Mount Pleasant was advertised for sale in the Philadelphia Gazette. Also advertised for sale were three of MacPherson’s slaves. The Captain was imprisoned for 100 days, in a shepherd’s cottage at Mount Pleasant. He believed his wife, Margaret, was involved in his imprisonment and his being labeled a madman. When he eventually gained his freedom MacPherson demanded from Margaret all the keys to Mount Pleasant and their separation as man and wife. By April 1770, Margaret was locked out of Mount Pleasant and suffering from what she called “my disorder” which she wrote, “every day increases”. Margaret MacPherson died two months later age 38.

To read more about John MacPherson and his dislike for Samuel Garrigues Sr. see

1726 John MacPherson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was the nephew of Clunie MacPherson – from an old clan dating back to the twelfth century, and noted for their war-like behavior. John was the second son of the chief of the clan at Clunie.

1746 Came to America, was about 20 years old.
1751 Member of St Andrews Episcopal Society (Scottish) in Philadelphia.
1751 Commander of 20 gun British privateer Britannia at 25 years old.
1752 Married 1st wife, Margaret Rogers (1732 – 1770) and had:

  • 1. Major John MacPherson (1754 – 1775)
  • 2. General William MacPherson (1755 – 1813
  • 3. Margaret MacPherson (1763 – 1785) m. John Berrien.
  • 4. Mary MacPherson (1765 – 1832) m. 1 Prior 2. Dr William Berrien

1757 King George II gave MacPherson a "writ of marsque" , French and Indian Wars. Commander of British Privateer Britannia. Title ‘Privateer" applies to both the commander and the vessel.
1757-60 Sailed the Caribbean (Martinique, St. Eustache, Antigua). Amassed a fortune From his privateering.
1762 Resigned his command of the Britannia.
1763 "Treaty of Paris" meant no more privateering.
1769 Confined to home, arrested in straight jacket.
1770 First wife died.
1772, Oct. 29 Married Mary Ann MacNeal and had:

  • 1. Charles MacPherson (1774 – 1840)
  • 2. Amelia Sophia MacPherson (1776 – 1831)
  • 3. Mary Ann MacPherson (1778 – 1829)
  • 4. John Montgomery MacPherson (1780 – 1844)
  • 5. Eliza Gates MacPherson (1782 – 1787) [??]
  • 6. Colonel Robert Hector MacPherson (1784 – 1817)

1775, Dec. 31 Son, John, killed in Battle of Quebec
1775 Offered his services to command Navy for Colonies, was refused.
1778 Leased Mount Pleasant to Spanish Minister, Don Juan de Mirailles
1792, Sept. 6 John MacPherson died. Buried in Philadelphia at St Paul's Church

There aren't many mansions that don't cost "an arm and a leg" but there must be very few that mean it quite so literally: Captain John Macpherson came to America from Edinburgh in 1746 and four years later was given command of the 20-gun "Britannia" and granted a license ("a writ of marque") by King George III to attack and capture any ship belonging to a country with whom Britain was at war. In just three years between 1757 and 1760, Macpherson amassed the fortune that allowed him to build this house through privateering in the Caribbean. Despite the fortune he won, it cost him his right arm - blown off by a cannonball, twice - and a gun shot that went clean through his leg!

His mansion home near Philadelphia from the book Some colonial mansions and those who lived in them, with genealogies of the various families mentioned, 1900


  • Reference: Find A Grave Memorial - SmartCopy: Dec 1 2020, 4:56:43 UTC
  • MacDonell, Alexander R. “JOHN MACPHERSON BERRIEN.” The Georgia Historical Quarterly 17, no. 1 (1933): 1–12.
  • Keen, Gregory Bernard. "The Descendants of Jöran Kyn of New Sweden" Jan 1913, Swedish colonial society. Page 149. <GoogleBooks>
  • Colonial Families of the USA, 1607-1775 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2016. This collection was indexed by Ancestry World Archives Project contributors. “Macpherson-Hornor Family.” Page 365. <AncestryImage>
  • Glenn, Thomas Allen, Some colonial mansions and those who lived in them Philadelphia : H. T. Coates & company, 1900.Electronic reproduction. New York, N.Y. : Columbia University Libraries, 2006. JPEG use copy available via the World Wide Web. Master copy stored locally on [4] DVDs#: ldpd_5767552_000 01,02,03,04.. Columbia University Libraries Electronic Books. 2006. <Link>
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Capt. John Macpherson, Sr.'s Timeline

Skinner's Close, Edinburgh, Scotland (United Kingdom)
Mount Pleasant, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
November 9, 1784
Philadelphia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, United States
September 6, 1792
Age 66
Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, United States
Old Saint Pauls Episcopal Church Cemetery, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, USA