Adam Smith: Part VII

Friendship with James Oswald, friendship No.3

James Oswald (1715 – 24 March 1769)



The Oswald’s were a highly successful family and their wealth seems to have had three sources: trade, farming and coal. They also distinguished themselves in a number of other areas, particularly politics and military service.

Captain James Oswald was the grandfather of this James Oswald who was the friend of Adam Smith. Thanks to him the Oswald family were wealthy. He had been a successful master mariner (his father, in turn, had been a Kirkcaldy skipper) and merchant. He owned ships with the St.Clair family. He established something of a family tradition by being a politician and was a member of the last Scottish Parliament before its abolition in the Union with England in 1707. He voted against the Union in 1703. 

He purchased land which had been the Dunfermline Abbey run by Benedictine Monks in the 12th century. The Oswald land (named Dunnikier) was passed down through the family for 250 years.

Adam Smith knew James Oswald who was 8 years his senior at school. The school was established in 1582 as Kirkcaldy Burgh School, and seems to have been responsible for a quality education for those who attended. 

Aged 26, Oswald became a major force in Kircaldy politics who sat in the House of Commons from 1741 to 1768.
The Right Honourable James Oswald was also a scholar who made an important contribution to the Scottish Enlightenment by acting as an adviser to David Hume and to Adam Smith.

The Oswald family remained a dominant force in Kirkcaldy politics in the 18th century and Dysart, the second largest burgh was controlled by the St. Clair interest. The combined Oswald and St. Clair influence often decided who was to be elected. Oswald was elected Member of Parliament for Dysart Burghs in 1741[3] and was a Commissioner of the Navy in 1745, the year of the final Jacobite Rebellion.

In 1747 he exchanged the seat with James St Clair and was elected MP for Fife until 1754. In 1752 he was Commissioner for trade and plantations. Oswald exchanged seats with James St Clair again in 1754 and was elected MP for Dysart Burghs. Oswald was Lord Commissioner of the Treasury in 1760 and Vice Treasurer of Ireland in 1763. He retired in 1768 when his son James Townsend Oswald took over the seat.

Oswald died at the age of 52, greatly missed by his good friends.

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About borderslynn

Retired, living in the Scottish Borders after living most of my life in cities in England. I can now indulge my interest in all aspects of living close to nature in a wild landscape. I live on what was once the Iapetus Ocean which took millions of years to travel from the Southern Hemisphere to here in the Northern Hemisphere. That set me thinking and questioning and seeking answers.
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