Glen, James

1701–July 18, 1777

Indian affairs were one of the most critical issues of Glen’s administration. He not only visited distant white settlements of the colony more than any other governor, but he was also willing to face frontier hazards to confer directly with Indian leaders.

Governor. Glen was born in Linlithgow, Scotland, sometime in 1701, the eldest son of Alexander Glen and Marion Graham. He studied law at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands and then devoted his career to public service. Following the tradition of his father and two grandfathers, he served on the council of Linlithgow and served as provost (the chief magistrate of a Scottish burgh) from 1724 to 1726 and again from 1730 to 1736. In his quest for imperial office, he secured the support of several influential Scots and was named royal governor of South Carolina in 1738 by prime minister Sir Robert Walpole. Burke’s Peerage states that Elizabeth Wilson, granddaughter of Sir William Wilson, was the wife of Glen. However, surviving records provide little information about Glen’s marriage.

Glen did not arrive in South Carolina until December 1743. The primary reason for his delay in leaving England was inadequate provision for the governor’s salary. The Lords of the Treasury finally agreed to provide £800 and left the governor to negotiate housing and other benefits with the South Carolina assembly. This proved difficult as Glen arrived in South Carolina to find “the whole frame of Government unhinged.” There was an intense struggle for power in the colony among the governor, the Royal Council, and the Commons House of Assembly, in which the Commons sought to encroach upon royal prerogative at the expense of royal governors.

As governor, Glen remained ever mindful of his royal instructions while attempting to work with both houses of the assembly. He was able to exert influence with his veto and by proroguing the assembly when it proved uncooperative. Glen quickly discovered that many colonial precedents conflicted with imperial orders. The Commons House, for example, selected the public treasurer, issued paper money without required provisions for redemption by a sinking bill, denied the governor’s power to make Anglican religious appointments, and ignored English precedents governing elections for the assembly. There were other issues, such as who controlled the commissions for fortifications and the administration of Indian affairs. Selection of agents to represent the colony in England evoked a three-way struggle, but eventually Glen attempted to mediate the more bitter conflict between the two houses of the assembly over this prerogative. When two members of the Commons proposed that the governor sign a tax bill without passage by the council as upper house, he refused the ploy as unconstitutional.

The appointment of the Earl of Halifax as the new president of the Board of Trade in 1748 intensified British supervision of colonial governors and heightened demands for protecting the royal prerogative. This not only made Glen more vulnerable to criticism in England for his conciliatory actions as governor, but also in the colony as the Commons House threatened to complain to imperial officials about his decisions. Yet Glen’s position improved in the 1750s. In pragmatic fashion, Glen realigned his political allies by forming connections with the prominent Bull family and other leading planters. He worked more effectively with Lieutenant Governor William Bull, Jr., and provided a fitting climax to cooperation with his eloquent eulogy on the death of William Bull, Sr., in 1755. The marriage of Glen’s sister, Margaret, to John Drayton of Drayton Hall in 1752 was also a factor in these new relationships. During his last two years in office, the governor received commendations from the Commons House as its struggle for power turned toward the Council. Glen became a compromiser between the two houses, and he had to defend the right of the council to serve as the upper house of the assembly. Still, imperial officials did not view Glen’s handling of the constitutional stalemate in South Carolina with satisfaction, which led to Glen’s recall in 1756.

Indian affairs were one of the most critical issues of Glen’s administration. He not only visited distant white settlements of the colony more than any other governor, but he was also willing to face frontier hazards to confer directly with Indian leaders. In 1746, for example, Glen met the Cherokees at Saluda near Ninety Six and the Creeks and Chickasaws at Fort Moore on the Savannah River. He arranged land cessions from the Cherokees in 1747, 1753, and 1755. He prevented the Catawbas from taking the traditional blood revenge on the Natchez (Notchees) for murders. In response to a Cherokee request for forts, Glen personally directed the building of Fort Prince George among the lower Cherokees at Keowee in 1753. Glen was en route to build a fort among the upper Cherokees when recalled as governor. However, he was not successful in winning the Choctaws away from French influence due to the failure of the Choctaw revolt of the 1740s.

Governor Glen developed a great love for South Carolina. In 1749 he wrote his Description of South Carolina, which was published in 1761. It ranks as the most valuable contemporary account of the colony and compares favorably with any other similar description of American colonies. He vigorously upheld the role of South Carolina against both Virginia and Georgia in Indian affairs, and he objected to Virginia’s efforts in seeking Cherokee and Catawba allies for General Edward Braddock’s campaign in 1755 against Fort Duquesne. The governor also championed the colony’s influence over the Catawbas in contests with North Carolina and advocated a favorable boundary line between the two Carolinas.

Governor Glen’s term in South Carolina was the longest of any colonial governor. His administration was marked by success in management of Indian affairs (despite the failure of the Choctaw revolt) and a conscientious effort to uphold the royal prerogative. Having been recalled in 1756, Glen and his wife remained in South Carolina until 1761 and made a modest investment in slaves and a rice plantation near Charleston. On returning to England, Glen arranged for John Drayton to supervise the plantation. He also assisted in the education of Drayton’s four sons in England and Scotland. He made loans to Drayton, but the cordial familial relations declined when Drayton did not make regular interest payments on the loan. Glen died on July 18, 1777, and was buried at St. Michael’s Church in Linlithgow.

Bulloch, Joseph G. B. A History of the Glen Family of South Carolina and Georgia. Washington, D.C., 1923.

Robinson, W. Stitt. James Glen: From Scottish Provost to Royal Governor of South Carolina. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1996.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Glen, James
  • Coverage 1701–July 18, 1777
  • Author
  • Keywords Governor, named royal governor of South Carolina in 1738 by prime minister Sir Robert Walpole, Commons House, Lieutenant Governor William Bull, Jr., personally directed the building of Fort Prince George,
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date February 27, 2024
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 4, 2022
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