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The Rising Burgh: 1560 to 1770s


Alexander Speirs

By Michael Moss

Alexander Speirs Alexander Speirs was one of Glasgow's leading tobacco lords. The son of an Edinburgh merchant, he began his career in Virginia where he owned a plantation and married his first wife in 1741. Before becoming a partner in Buchanan Murdoch & Co in 1745, he had been connected with several shipments from Virginia.

Mary Speirs He had returned to Glasgow by the early 1750s and played a part in the town council. During the next twenty years he became fabulously rich. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Glasgow Arms Bank in 1763 and was not above dealing with the Jacobite smugglers and slave traders in the Isle of Man. He cemented his relations with the powerful Buchanan family, who included George Washington's wife Martha, by marrying Mary Buchanan in 1755.

Virginia Mansion In 1767 he bought the Elderslie estate in Renfrewshire from Helen Wallace, the direct descendent of William Wallace. He shipped 6,000 hogsheads of tobacco in both 1773 and 1774, investing his huge profits in more property in Renfrewshire and Stirlingshire. By then through "his industry and success at trade" he was reputed to be worth over £153,000, a colossal fortune. His town house in Glasgow cost him £3,800 to build in 1778 and he spent over £12,000 on improvements to his Renfrewshire property including a massive flood prevention scheme.

Archibald Speirs He died before the end of the American War of Independence with much of his fortune intact. His descendant still owns his estates in Renfrewshire around the attractive village of Houston.

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