CLINTON, GEORGE, officer in the Royal Navy, governor of Newfoundland and New York; b. c. 1686 in Oxfordshire, England, second son of Francis Fiennes Clinton, 6th Earl of Lincoln, and Susan Penniston; m. Anne Carle and had six children, of whom three survived infancy; d. 10 July 1761 in England.
George Clinton entered the navy in 1707 and was promoted captain in 1716. His first significant command came in 1731, when he was appointed governor of Newfoundland and commodore of the ships sent there, the first officer to hold both positions. Clinton was instructed to look into the conduct of the recently appointed local magistrates [see William Keen], and in general he supported them in their jurisdictional disputes with the fishing admirals. He was careful, however, to ensure that they did not exceed their authority, for instance in their attempt to tax the wages of local labourers to help pay for the jail constructed at St John’s. Though the admirals opposed his authority, Clinton showed himself a diligent and efficient administrator of the civil government established by his predecessors, Lord Vere Beauclerk and Henry Osborne*. In 1732 he was succeeded as governor by Edward Falkingham.
In 1737, while still a captain, he was made commodore of the Mediterranean fleet. He held a command in the squadron being assembled in 1740 for service in the West Indies, but successfully petitioned to be relieved of the undesirable post. By this time Clinton was seriously in debt. He appealed to the Duke of Newcastle for more remunerative employment, and in 1741 was appointed governor of New York, though he did not arrive there until September 1743.
Following the declaration of war between England and France the next year, Governor Clinton took steps to protect New York’s northern frontier and to participate in the conflict with the French. He strongly supported expeditions against the French garrison at Fort Saint-Frédéric (Crown Point, N.Y.) and urged that New York send troops for the siege of Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island) in 1745. His assembly, however, refused to raise troops for any offensive action, and in the end only artillery was sent to Louisbourg. Many assemblymen who were merchants wanted to protect their profitable trade with the French at Montreal and with the Indians under French influence. Thus Clinton also met opposition for his proposal to send aid to the Six Nations Indians to obtain their help against the French, for their neutrality was necessary to protect the trade. He and his representatives, however, held various meetings with the Six Nations, and from 1746 on Colonel William Johnson* worked diligently as Clinton’s representative to encourage these Indians in the war.
In 1746 Clinton and the other colonial governors received instructions from England to raise volunteers for an expedition against Canada. About 1,400 men were raised in New York, and in 1746–47 the assembly approved funds to defray the initial costs of the expedition. Many assemblymen still opposed Clinton’s support of the war, however, and his position became unenviable when the large and costly expedition was not carried through. Clinton’s most serious opposition came from a faction led by James DeLancey. Clinton had early allied himself with DeLancey and had appointed him chief justice of the Supreme Court, but after 1746 DeLancey became his vehement foe. DeLancey’s position was strengthened in 1747 when he was named lieutenant governor of New York. In a search for new allies Clinton gave control of Indian affairs to William Johnson and sought political advice from Cadwallader Colden, a veteran councillor. After the war he attempted to regain his authority and harden his dealings with the assembly, on the advice of Governor William Shirley of Massachusetts, but the DeLancey forces maintained the upper hand. Clinton begged the Board of Trade for assistance and asked to be relieved as his health was beginning to deteriorate. He also advised the board that in future the salaries of royal governors should be made independent of colonial legislatures. In 1753 he was finally replaced by Sir Danvers Osborn.
Clinton seems to have been generally unfit by temperament, experienced, and political skill to manage the astute politicans of New York with their factional alignments. He worked diligently to carry out his instructions, but was largely unaided by the Board of Trade in his efforts to maintain the royal prerogative against the opposition of his assembly. His one success was in the area of Indian affairs, where his securing of an alliance with the Six Nations laid the basis of a permanent Anglo-Iroquois accord which survived the American War of Independence.
Clinton received various promotions in the Royal Navy while governor of New York, and rose to the rank of admiral in 1747, though he never served at sea again. His fortune upon returning to England seems to have been modest and he had financial problems for the rest of his life. In 1754 he was elected to parliament for Saltash, Cornwall, and became admiral of the fleet in 1757. He applied unsuccessfully to Newcastle for a pension, and died at age 75 in July 1761.
Clinton’s daughter, Lucy Mary, married Captain, later Admiral, Robert Roddam; his son, Sir Henry Clinton, was commander of British forces in North America during part of the American Revolution.
Many original letters of George Clinton are in the Clements Library. See: Guide to the manuscript collections in the William L. Clements Library, comp. H. H. Peckham (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1942); 2nd ed., comp. W. S. Ewing (Ann Arbor, 1953).
BM, Add. mss, 32856, f.225. Johnson papers (Sullivan et al.), I, IX. NYCD (O’Callaghan and Fernow). PRO, Acts of P.C., Col., 1720–45; CSP, Col., 1731; JTP, 1728/29–1731, 1741/42–1749, 1749/50–1753. William Smith, The history of the late province of New-York, from its discovery, to the appointment of Governor Colden, in 1762 (2v., New York, 1830), II, 82–181. Peter Wraxall, An abridgement of the Indian affairs contained in four folio volumes, transacted in the colony of New York, from the year 1678 to the year 1751, ed. C. H. McIlwain (Harvard historical studies, XXI, Cambridge, Mass., 1915), 231–51. Charnock, Biographia navalis, IV. Arthur Collins, The peerage of England (5th ed., 8v., London, 1779), II, 275–78. DAB. The history of parliament: the House of Commons 1754–1790, ed. Lewis Namier and John Brooke (3v., London, 1964), II, 222. P. U. Bonomi, A factious people; politics and society in colonial New York (New York, 1971), 150–51, 153–57. S. N. Katz, Newcastle’s New York; Anglo-American politics, 1732–1753 (Cambridge, Mass., 1968), 33–35, 179. M. M. Klein, “William Livingston’s A review of the military operations in North-America,” The colonial legacy, ed. L. H. Leder (2v., Ne York, 1971), II, 109–13. L. W. Labaree, Royal government in America: a study of the British colonial system before 1783 (New Haven, Conn., 1930), 286–93. Lounsbury, British fishery in Nfld. W. B. Willcox, Portrait of a general: Sir Henry Clinton in the War of Independence (New York, 1964), 3–13.