James Alexander, Earl of Caledon

On this day in 1800, James Alexander was created Earl of Caledon in the peerage of Ireland.

James was born at Londonderry in 1730. His great-great-great-grandfather, John Alexander, was an Ayrshire tenant farmer who followed his landlord, James Cunningham, to northern Ireland in the early 1600s. By his grandfather’s time the family had acquired land of its own, and his father became an alderman in Londonderry. James made his fortune with the Honourable East India Company, a relatively unusual path for an Irishman, holding several important positions in India before he returned to Ireland[1] with enough money to purchase the Caledon estate, as well as several other properties, in 1776. Caledon House was built in 1794.[2]

Although earlier genealogies claimed that the Caledon family descended from the Alexanders of Menstrie, no details of this descent were given, and as John Alexander’s parentage is not known, this connexion cannot be proved.[3] If they are related, then the Alexanders of Caledon, like the Menstrie family, belong to the Clann Alasdair. Regardless of their ancestry, however, the two Alexander kindreds are linked by history. James Cunningham, who obtained the Donegal lands on which John Alexander originally settled, had sold his family’s properties in Scotland to pay off his debts. The purchase of his Irish lands was made possible by means of two substantial loans: one from Robert Alexander, ‘a scion of the Menstry family’, and the other from Sir William Alexander himself. Several years later, when Cunningham’s creditors caught up with him, Sir William foreclosed on the loan. By doing so, he kept the property out of the creditors’ hands until Cunningham’s son was able to purchase it back in 1629, allowing the tenants, including the ancestors of the Earl of Caledon, to remain on the land.[4]

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

[1]Service with the HEIC was quite common for younger sons of landed families in Scotland and England, and more than a few family fortunes were established or restored in this way, but few Irish families followed this path (Introduction to the Caledon Papers, p. 5, Public Records Office of Northern Ireland).

[3]Sources for the information about James’s descent from John are given at The Peerage.

[4]C. Rogers, ed., Memorials of the Earl of Stirling and the House of Alexander (Edinburgh, 1885), pp. 59-63


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