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James Swan

Also Known As: "swann"
Birthdate: (77)
Birthplace: Fifeshire, Scotland, United Kingdom
Death: March 18, 1831 (77)
Paris, Île-de-France, France
Immediate Family:

Son of NN Swan
Husband of Hepsibah Swan
Father of Hepsibah Clarke Howard; Christiana Keadie Sargent; Sarah "Sally" Webb Sullivan; James Keadie Swan; Judge Joseph Swan and 1 other
Brother of Margaret Swan and Cowper Swan

Managed by: Private User
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About James Swan

A Patriot of the American Revolution for MASSACHUSETTS with the rank of MAJOR. DAR Ancestor #: A111519

Born in Scotland, came to New England in 1765, settled in Boston, MA. Fought at Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill. Member of the Sons of Liberty and of the Boston Tea Party. Captain in Col's Craft's Artillery Regiment 10/9/1776, major of artillery in the defense of Boston 11/27/1776, Secretary of the Board of War 11/19/1776-11/26/1776. Swan was member of the Legislature and Adjutant General of the State, and at the close of the war was a major of Cavalry.

At age nineteen, he joined other young clerks and became a Son of Liberty. He was also a Freemason and a member of the Scots Charitable Society, just the sort fo thing a young man on the make would do. Come the revolution, he fought on Bunker hill and was made a captain of artillery.

But it was in the ledger books that he made is greatest contribution, finding ways to keep the military as well provided as possible on what little money there was, and even covering shortfalls out of his own pocket. (Or possibly that of his wife, heiress Hepzibah Clarke whom he married in 1776.) He was able to act as surety on several privateers, and advised various states on how to finance their parts of the revolution.

He was well rewarded for his troubles, in the way of some high appointments and the title of colonel. He moved into properties seized from notorious Tories and sold for the benefit of the Commonwealth. He hobnobbed with and was well regarded by such men as Generals Washington, Lafayette, Knox.

Paris during and after the revolution was a time for dubious types. American envoy James Monroe had serious doubts about the fellow, as evidenced by the subtitle. Ever the patriot, in 1795 Swan, again seriously rich, assumed all the debts owed by America to France, thus freeing the young republic from that particular foreign entanglement. These he re-sold for a profit. He also acted as middleman for the cash strapped French by taking Fine French Furniture confiscated from guillotined aristocrats and selling it abroad.

He came home in triumph in 1795 and like a good plutocrat had the Gilbert Stuart portrait seen above, and an estate in Dorchester, Massachusetts (on land previously confiscated from a Loyalist Nathaniel Hatch). He continued wheeling and dealing, and for high stakes. He was, when it came time to settle accounts with France for the Louisiana Purchase (1803), the largest creditor against French money.

It would have been as well to leave France alone at this point, but he didn’t. He returned in 1798 to bolster the business. In 1808, a French business partner charged him with a debt of 2,000,000 francs. He denied the charge. The government threw him in debtor’s prison in St. Pelegie. He continued to deny the charge, and did so for the next twenty two years. (While he would not pay his own alleged debts, he did pay of those of some fellow prisoners.)

It could have been worse. His wife sent him enough money to set up a house arrest in rooms on the Rue de la Clef. Just the basics – servants, stables, cooks, female company (he had long not been the most faithful of husbands, and this was France, after all). His stand on principle kept him in this situation for the next twenty two years until King Louis Phillipe opened his reign by cancelling all debts. Swan was by now seventy six and ailing.

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James Swan's Timeline

Fifeshire, Scotland, United Kingdom
Age 13
From Scotland
October 14, 1777
Age 23
October 26, 1777
Age 23
Boston, Boston, Massachusetts
April 10, 1778
Age 24
Boston, MA, USA
May 19, 1782
Age 28
Boston, Suffolk, MA, USA
October 23, 1783
Age 29
March 18, 1831
Age 77
Paris, Île-de-France, France