John Bolton

1756 - 24th Feb 1837

Claimant or beneficiary


Liverpool merchant, slave-trader and slave-owner, leaving £180,000 derived from the slave-economy in 1837. Subject of George Baillie's Interesting letters addressed to John Bolton Esq. Of Liverpool, merchant, and Colonel of a regiment of volunteers (London, J. Gold 1809). He has an entry in the ODNB as 'West India and South American merchant, slave trader, and slave owner.'

  1. According to George Baillie, Bolton arrived in St Vincent 1773 as apprentice to Messrs Rawlinson & Chorley: 'You carried a bag of potatoes on your back and a cheese under your arm'; then he served as shop assistant in Mr Drinkall's store, which he took over on Drinkall's death shortly afterwards [pp. 5-6]. Bolton became agent for Rawlinson & Chorley, then went to St Lucia 1778 and Barbados 1779. George Baillie took care of Bolton when the latter was sick in Barbados. Bolton returned to Liverpool c. 1782-3 with £10000 and set up with Thomas Gudgeon, Bolton's 'principal correspondent in the West Indies'. Bolton operated as a slave-trader in Liverpool [p. 10]. His business was hit by the collapse of Caldwell & Smyth c. 1793 [p. 12] but he recovered; it was made known that his profits in Liverpool [p. 14] were running at £38,000-40,000 p.a. Baillie and Bolton were intimate in business 1793-1803 [p.15], and George Baillie acted as a trustee to John Bolton's marriage settlement. Baillie himself ran into difficulty from Dec. 1803 onwards, at which point Bolton and Case and [J.B.] Aspinall set up a committee of billholders in Liverpool. George Baillie cleared £500,000 of debt 01/01/1804- 01/01/1805. A pamphlet hostile to George Baillie by Simon Cock circulated in West Indies and led to a libel suit. George Baillie's partner was John Jaffray. Wolfert Katz (q.v.) paid one of the acceptances drawn on George Baillie [p. 24].

  2. In a gossipy look back at Liverpool society by James Aspinall, published in 1853, Bolton was "a man who worked his own way up from poverty to riches, and then lived in the most magnificent way, and in so becoming a manner that he might have been born to the magnificence in which he lived. No one knew the value of silence better than p. 34Mr. Bolton. He had not received much education, but he saved appearances by making it an invariable rule never to open his mouth on a subject he did not understand."

  3. Obituary in the Gentleman's Magazine, 1837. 'Liverpool has lost by the demise of Mr. Bolton one of its most honourable merchants and bountiful benefactors, one who was the ornament of society, a gentleman in mind and manners, who was held in the highest estimation by his friends, whom the poor blessed, and whose memory will long be cherished by all who appreciate worth and benevolence. Mr. Bolton was a native of Ulverston, in the same county. He entered early in life into commercial pursuits, resided for some time in the West Indies, and finally settled in Liverpool where he acquired an almost princely fortune. In 1803, when England was menaced with foreign invasion, Mr. Bolton raised and clothed a corps in Liverpool at his own expense, consisting of 10 companies and 600 men. Mr. Bolton was not less distinguished for his devoted attachment to Conservative principles, than for the goodness of his heart and the extend of his philanthropy. He had a beautiful villa at Storrs, near the Lakes, in Westmorland, where he resided during the summer, and which was the resort of the most distinguished literary and political characters. Mr. Bolton has left numerous legacies; the bulk of his property goes to his widow, and will revert on her death to the Rev. Thomas Staniforth, son of S. Staniforth, esq. of Liverpool. Mr. Bolton presented 2000l. to various charities of Liverpool shortly before his death.'

  4. John Bolton Esquire of Liverpool, bachelor, married Elizabeth Littledale, spinster, in St Marylebone, London, 31/05/1797. Witnesses were Johnson Wilkinson, Mary Littledale, Joseph Littledale and Margaret Osborn. Elizabeth Bolton nee Littledale was an awardee with John Bolton's other executors of part of the compensation for the enslaved people on Bostock Park estate in St Vincent.

  5. A merchant of Liverpool, 'heavily involved in the slave-trade', who left £180,000. The Transatlantic Slave Trade Database shows him as participating in 69 slave voyages between 1788 and 1807. Initially (1788-1791) Bolton was one of a dozen or so partners in the voyages but subsequently he appears as the sole owner in the vast majority of them. His activity peaked between 1798 and 1805, in each year of which he sent at least five ships from Liverpool.

  6. In his will, proved 12/05/1837, he left a series of annuities to family and employees, including £200 p.a. each to his sister Sarah Smith and niece Ellen Ruddle, and £200 p.a. also to Mrs Thwaites, widow of John Thwaites late of Topsham in Devon. In a codicil he added monetary legacies of several thousand pounds to his great-nephews George Ruddle and John Thwaites and to members of the family of Edmund Thornton among others. In a second codicil dated 31/01/1837 he made the Rev. Thomas Staniforth heir to Storrs Hall and his residual estate. The will refers to property in 'Demerary, St Vincent, St Croix, British Guiana.'

  7. John Bolton and Bolton & Littledale were among the largest players in the Liverpool cotton trade with British Guiana.

  8. John Bolton of Duke Street, Liverpool was listed as a subscriber to Charles Shephard's An Historical Account of the Island of Saint Vincent, published in 1832.

  9. Click here for medals awarded by Bolton to enslaved people on Caribbean estates.


T71/887 British Guiana claim nos. 2273 (Waterloo) and 2478. The Transatlantic Slave-Trade Database shows 69 voyages for John Bolton between 1788-1807, many without partners, and several on ships named 'Bolton' and 'John'; Pope, David. 2016 "Bolton, John (1756–1837), West India and South American merchant, slave trader, and slave owner." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 12 Jul. 2019.

  1. George Baillie, Interesting letters addressed to John Bolton Esq. Of Liverpool, merchant, and Colonel of a regiment of volunteers (London, J. Gold 1809).

  2. James Aspinall, Liverpool a few years since, by an old Stager (1853) pp. 34-35.

  3. Gentleman's Magazine Vol. 161 (April 1837) p. 431.

  4., London, England, Marriages and Banns, 1754-1921 [database online].

  5. W. D. Rubinstein, Who were the rich? A biographical dictionary of British wealth-holders Vol. 1 1809-1839 (2009), 'John Bolton' 1837/47; Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database [accessed 14/05/2014]. David Pope, 'The wealth and social aspirations of Liverpool's slave merchants of the second half of the eighteenth century', in D. Richardson et al (eds.) Liverpool and Transatlantic Slavery (2007) shows 30 voyages for John Bolton between 1787-1799.

  6. Will of John Bolton of merchant of Liverpool [and of Storrs Hall Westmorland], PROB 11/1877/341.

  7. Alexey Krichtal, 'Liverpool and the Raw Cotton Trade: a Study of the Port and its Merchant Community, 1770-1815' (MA thesis, Victoria University of Wellington, 2013), copy available here, accessed 15 February 2015.

  8. Charles Shephard, An Historical Account of the Island of Saint Vincent (1832) pp. vii-xii.

We are grateful to Jim Brennan and Maggy Jordan for their assistance with compiling this entry.

Further Information

Elizabeth Littledale
Wealth at death
Oxford DNB Entry

Associated Claims (4)

£15,391 17s 11d
£7,306 6s 7d
Unsuccessful claimant (Mortgagee)
£8,723 12s 8d
Awardee (Mortgagee)
£3,720 6s 6d

Associated Estates (7)

The dates listed below have different categories as denoted by the letters in the brackets following each date. Here is a key to explain those letter codes:

  • SD - Association Start Date
  • SY - Association Start Year
  • EA - Earliest Known Association
  • ED - Association End Date
  • EY - Association End Year
  • LA - Latest Known Association
1826 [EA] - 1826 [LA] → Mortgagee-in-Possession

Shown as 'in lawful possession' of John Bolton in 1826 for his late firm of Bolton & Littledale: he was possibly simply the owner rather than mortgagee-in-possession by that time, although he had begun as mortgagee.

1817 [EA] - 1817 [LA] → Owner
1817 [EA] - 1834 [LA] → Joint owner
1826 [EA] - 1826 [LA] → Other

In the possession of John Bolton, for the late firm of Bolton & Littledale

1815 [EA] - 1834 [LA] → Mortgage Holder
1826 [EA] - 1826 [LA] → Owner

In the lawful possession of John Bolton of Littledale and Bolton. Cf Bachelors Adventure in 1826.

1832 [EA] - 1834 [LA] → Owner

Legacies Summary

Commercial (1)

Senior partner
Bolton & Littledale
West India merchant  

Physical (1)

Country house
Storrs Hall [Purchased] 
description →
Classical villa built 1790s for Sir John Legard. Remodelled 1808-1809 for John Bolton....

Relationships (8)

Testator → Legatee
Deceased Husband → Widow
Brother-in-law → Sister-in-law
Testator → Executor
Other relatives
Notes →
Described in the History of Parliament entry for Ralph Benson as brothers-in-law. LBS has not yet traced this relationship...
Business partners
Notes →
The two men were also almost certainly partners in Bolton &...

Addresses (2)

Duke Street, Liverpool, Lancashire, North-west England, England
Storrs Hall, Bowness, Westmorland, Northern England, England