HINTON, WILLIAM, courtier and Newfoundland planter who campaigned for civil government and aspired to governorship; b. c. 1624–26; d. c. 1688.
William Hinton was born into a well-connected, propertied family in the West Country. His grandfather, Sir Thomas Hinton, owned extensive lands in Devon, was J.P. for the County of Wiltshire, and was able to exert considerable influence at the courts of James I and Charles I. His father, also named William Hinton, was a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber from about 1620 onwards. The younger William, therefore, was led directly into close contact with the Stuart court and, after the establishment of republican government in 1649, he and his father followed Prince Charles into exile on the Continent, almost as a matter of course.
It is possible, though by no means certain, that Hinton already had some connections, either direct or otherwise, with Newfoundland for in later life he repeatedly claimed that he was specifically promised the governorship of Newfoundland many times after 1654. Early in his stay in Flanders he married the daughter of Jacobus Boeve, a merchant at Middleburg in Zeeland and one of the many men who supported the royal exile and his retinue during the Interregnum. Boeve was later to ask that his son-in-law be made governor of Newfoundland as reward for his own financial help to the future Charles II; Hinton himself maintained that his family suffered a loss of several thousand pounds in the Civil War and the years of exile.
In 1659 the younger Hinton was back in England where he raised a troop of horse for the abortive Royalist rising led by Sir George Booth in Cheshire and North Wales. The rising, intended to cover the whole country, was confined to the northwest. It ended in utter rout at Nantwich but may well have had some effect in hastening the Restoration.
After 1660 the elder Hinton became tenant of Bradninch Manor and added the title of “Provider of the Queens Robes” to that of “Gentleman of the Privy Chamber.” He died eventually in 1669.
His son was involved in landowning disputes in Pembrokeshire in 1661 but was soon afterwards established as a planter in Newfoundland, apparently with the express purpose of furthering his claims to the promised governorship when a government should finally be established. By 1667 he had successfully achieved an unofficial position as spokesman for the inhabitants in the dispute over the Newfoundland trade and offshore fishery. In 1668 he went to England to press his case for civil government and his own plans to become the first governor. His forceful personality and boundless optimism were sufficiently impressive to cause a Mr Francis at Whitehall to write to Mr Saunders at Scarborough that “The ship with Mr Hinton, appointed Governor of Newfoundland, put into Weymouth Road” on 27 Aug. 1668. This is plainly impossible, as the first official governor was appointed in 1729, but it may well be an indication of Hinton’s faith in the promises he had received some ten or more years before.
This faith shows itself consistently in the frequent petitions made by Hinton between 1668 and 1681. His participation, on behalf of the inhabitants and himself, in that period of the long dispute between London and West Country merchant interests concerning the regulation of the trade and fishery is roughly contemporary with that of Capt. Robert Robinson*. Whereas Robinson, however, was an enthusiastic theorist, there can be little doubt that Hinton was far more concerned with personal advancement than with strategic or economic considerations. His view, apparently, was that he could hardly become governor unless civil government were brought about beforehand.
In spite of his ambitious motives, Hinton did achieve considerable success in presenting the planters’ case; and it seems that his vigorous campaigning, simultaneous with that of William Downing, had great significance among the pressures brought to bear on the Privy Council. Hinton’s petition played a large part in the investigation into the fishery made by the Committee of Trade and Plantations in 1675. Hinton was also prominent, together with John Berry, Thomas Oxford, and the Downings, in re-opening the question immediately after the 1675 decision had gone against them.
Even the passage of so many years and a long illness in 1677–78 did not deter him from further efforts to secure the governorship. In March 1679 he presented a further petition, hoping that “in consideration of his pains and cost in endeavouring to settle Newfoundland he may have the benefit of his Majesty’s promise.” In 1680 he presented a vast series of “Observations” on the island, running to 21 clauses, and a last desperate petition, backed by the Bishop of London, came forward in February 1680/81. The whole question by now, however, was obviously further than ever from resolution and a disappointed Hinton turned at last to other fields before his death some short time after 1686.
PRO, Acts of P.C., col. ser., 1613–80; new ser., 1621-23; 1629–30; CSP, Col., 1669–74, 1675–76, 1677–80, 1681–85; CSP, Dom., 1654, 1660–61, 1663–64, 1667-68, 1675–76, 1679–80. Hinton’s petitions are especially interesting for the light they throw upon his character.
C. B. Judah, The North American fisheries and British policy to 1713 (University of Illinois Studies in the Social Sciences, XVIII, nos. 3–4, 1933). Lounsbury, British fishery at Nfld, has the best history of the fishery dispute. Prowse, History of Nfld.