Sir William Douglas (1745-1809)

1st Bt., America Merchant, of Castle Douglas, Kirckcudbrightshire

He was the son of a Scottish tenant farmer and started life as a pedlar. As the Highland Clearances picked up pace he went to Virginia in America presumably enticed by the buoyant tobacco trade. Followed by his brothers, they made a fortune operating an import-export business between New York and London where goods arriving in America were sold almost as soon as they entered the warehouse. Returning to Britain, the brothers entered into partnership with Sir James Shaw, another self-made Scotsman who was Lord Mayor of London. They traded as Douglas & Shaw from No. 1 America Square, London, with their brother George managing the business in New York.

In 1792, William built the model town of Castle Douglas in Kirkcudbrightshire with cotton mills, a brewery, woollen mill, soap works and a tannery. It was laid out in a grid system similar to Edinburgh's New Town. He was created a Baronet in 1801 and in 1805 built Gelston Castle (see images) designed by Robert Crichton near Castle Douglas. An obelisk in the village of Gelston stands to his memory. He died unmarried and his Baronetcy became extinct. His estate was divided up between his nieces and nephews. His niece, Mrs William Maitland, succeeded to Gelston Castle and lived there from 1813 to 1887.
Contributed by Mark Meredith on 17/02/2024 and last updated on 17/02/2024.