CASS, John (1661-1718), Grove Street, Hackney, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. 28 Feb. 1661, s. of Thomas Cass, Carpenter, of St. Botolph without Aldgate, London, and Hackney, by his 1st w. Martha Johnson. m. 7 Jan. 1684, Elizabeth Franklyn (d. 1732), of Wapping, Mdx. d.v.p. suc. fa. 1699. Kntd. 16 June 1712.1
Freeman, Carpenters’ Co. 1687, asst. and master 1711, transferred to Skinners’ Co. 1713, master 1714; alderman, London 1711, sheriff 1711.
Asst. R. African Co. 1705–8.
Treasurer, Bethlehem and Bridewell Hosp. 1709–14.
Commr. building 50 new churches 1711, 1712.2
Although described by his parish priest as ‘a haughty, reserved man, neither loving nor beloved’, Cass gained much popularity as one of London’s High Church leaders. His father was a Hackney carpenter of possible French ancestry, who had built up a respectable fortune as a major building contractor to the Ordnance, which led to election in 1688 as master of the Carpenters’ Company, and appointment as an officer of the Tower Hamlets militia. Fellow Hackney resident Sir John Friend† was a close associate, and thus at the time of the Assassination Plot of 1696 the Cass household came under much suspicion. It was later claimed that the traitor Friend was actually apprehended at Cass’s house, and ‘Col. Cash’ was among the suspects rounded up following the discovery of the plot. Even though Thomas Cass was not prosecuted, the family subsequently faced a battle to recover a debt of £1,300 from Friend’s confiscated estate. A royal grant to this end was achieved in February 1700, by which time the future Member had also succeeded to his father’s fortune.3
As early as September 1701 Cass demonstrated his political ambition by mounting his first, albeit unsuccessful, campaign to become alderman for Portsoken, the ward of his birth. Nevertheless, in October 1702 he reportedly absented himself from the Lord Mayor’s Day celebrations on hearing that the Queen might knight him amid these festivities. He subsequently achieved greater prominence in City circles by becoming in 1705 an assistant in the Royal African Company, and his Tory outlook was confirmed by his votes in the Middlesex election of that year. After an unsuccessful candidacy at an aldermanic contest for Tower ward in December 1707, he concentrated his efforts on his native Portsoken, establishing his reputation there as one of the City’s leading philanthropists. Displaying a particular concern for the education of the poor, in May 1709 he drew up a will to provide for the founding of schools in Hackney and in the Portsoken parish of St. Botolph without Aldgate. Although his plans for Hackney were never realized, the Portsoken school was soon put into operation, thereby fulfilling Cass’s hopes that local children would be educated ‘in the knowledge of the Christian religion according to the principles of the Church of England’.4
The determination with which the Whig aldermen fought to block his election for Portsoken in October 1709 clearly indicated that Cass had emerged as an important Tory figure in the City. Although his name was returned to the court alongside fellow Tory William Andrew, it was rejected by the aldermen ‘after a long debate’, and he was then overlooked a second time after Andrew had declined to serve on grounds of insufficient estate. The aldermen even refused to call another election, causing a storm of protest which evidently raised Cass’s standing. In late September 1710 the City Tories put him forward as a parliamentary candidate, reportedly in place of (Sir) Charles Duncombe*. The subsequent poll proved very close, and Cass only gained the fourth seat by a 16-vote majority over the Whig, John Ward II*. Some observers predicted that Cass would lose the seat after the scrutiny, but his return was upheld, ‘to the great mortification of the Whig party’. However, his success failed to impress the Whig aldermen, who rejected him as alderman for Portsoken on two further occasions. Tory indignation at the arbitrary behaviour of the bench led to a campaign to reform the City constitution, and the agitation eventually prevailed in January 1711 so far as to secure Cass an alderman’s place.5
In the new Parliament Cass was lauded as a ‘worthy patriot’ for helping to discover in the first session the mismanagements of the previous ministry, and he was also cited as a ‘Tory patriot’ for opposing the continuation of the war, but proved an inactive Member. However, he achieved much publicity outside the House when his charity school was opened on 8 Mar. 1711, the anniversary of Anne’s accession. A large assembly of peers and Members attended a thanksgiving service conducted by Dr Sacheverell, and a subsequent dinner was attended by ‘a great number of the loyal true sons of the Church’. His support for the Anglican cause was further demonstrated that same year when he was appointed to the commission to build 50 new London churches.6
Despite recent Tory success in the capital, Cass and his allies were unable to make any gains at the elections for the Honorary Artillery Company in 1711 and 1712. In June 1711 he was elected sheriff ‘by a great majority’, but this victory was marred by reports suggesting that his success was welcomed by Jacobite supporters. Such slurs had evidently dogged his family ever since the time of the Assassination Plot, for a Tory pamphlet of 1710, London’s Happiness in Four Loyal Members, had depicted Cass proclaiming ‘No Perkin’, thereby indicating his sensitivity to charges of abetting the Pretender. However, there is no evidence to suggest that he bore any allegiance to the exiled Stuarts, and Abel Boyer dismissed such claims as ‘foolish presumption’.7
In the second session of the 1710 Parliament Cass was again inconspicuous, although he was nominated to two committees concerning bankruptcy legislation. He was identified in February 1712 as a Member of the October Club, and at the end of the session he received a knighthood when attending the presentation of the City’s address of thanks for the Queen’s promise to communicate the peace terms. Three months later he was one of the two Tories to be returned to the court of aldermen for the choice of mayor, but Sir Richard Hoare*, as the senior alderman, was chosen ahead of him. Though failing in this ambition, Cass was still an active party protagonist, leading a delegation of the Tower Hamlets lieutenancy to address the Queen on 27 Apr. with thanks for ‘an advantageous peace’. However, he was prepared to break with the ministry over the French commerce bill, presenting a petition to the House against the measure, and on 18 June 1713 voting against the bill. Later that month he was named to the drafting committee on a bill to protect the privileges of London freemen.8
At the City election of October 1713 Cass again achieved a narrow victory, finishing third, with only 70 votes more than the fifth-placed John Ward II. The poll reveals that he actually voted for Robert Heysham*, a Tory who at that contest stood on the Whig ‘merchant’ interest. In the ensuing Parliament he remained anonymous, although he was nominated to the drafting committee for a bill to prevent the covert importation of aliens’ goods, an issue of obvious metropolitan concern. He was still an active figure in civic affairs, and in December was awarded the colonelcy of a militia regiment. The same month he transferred from the Carpenters’ to the Skinners’ Company, probably with the design of gaining the mayoralty. However, despite becoming master of his new company, he never achieved the chair. Ill-health may have blocked his promotion, for in April 1714 he was reported to have travelled to Bristol ‘to drink the waters of St. Vincent’s Rock for the diabetes’.9
Identified as a Tory in the Worsley list, Cass found the Hanoverian succession a further impediment to advancement, losing his colonelcy and only managing fifth place at the City election of January 1715. However, in February 1716 the leaders of a Whig club testified to his continuing stature by proposing that he should retain his place on two City committees. He died at his Hackney home on 5 July 1718, ‘leaving his lady childless and most of his estates to charitable uses’. While he gave generously to the Carpenters’ Company and the Bethlehem Hospital, his charity school remained the principal beneficiary of his largesse. The board of trustees which he appointed to administer the school’s affairs confirmed his commitment to the Established Church, its officers including Francis Atterbury, bishop of Rochester, and the Tory MP Sir William Withers. However, although the school proved a lasting achievement, its early years were dominated by legal wrangling over Cass’s last, half-signed will. A bill to resolve the matter was rejected by the Commons in 1726, and not until 1748 was the school’s future secured.10
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Perry Gauci
- 1. D. A. Brunning, ‘Short Acct. of Sir John Cass and His Foundation’ (T/S in Guildhall Lib.), 3; IGI, London; Mar. Lic. Vicar-Gen. (Harl. Soc. xxx), 156; Gent. Mag. 1732, p. 876.
- 2. Guildhall Lib. ms 21742/1; Beaven, Aldermen, ii. 122; K. G. Davies, R. African Co. 379; London Rec. Soc. xxiii. 178.
- 3. Brunning, 3–4; Guildhall Lib. ms 21742/1; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 562; xv. 268; Add. 22187, f. 116; HMC Downshire, i. 658.
- 4. Beaven, i. 185; Strathmore mss at Glamis Castle, box 70, folder 2, bdle. 3, newsletter 31 Oct. 1702; Mdx. Poll of 1705; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 250; Brunning, 6; Post Boy, 3–6 Mar. 1711.
- 5. Luttrell, 506, 509, 634; BL, Trumbull Alphab. mss 54, Ralph Bridges to Sir William Trumbull*, 8, 13 Nov. 1710; Add. 70421, newsletters 16 Nov., 21 Dec. 1710; Beaven, i. 185.
- 6. Post Boy, 3–6 Mar. 1711; J. P. Malcolm, Londinium Redivivum, iv. 463.
- 7. G. S. De Krey, Fractured Soc. 263; Boyer, Pol. State, i. 450–1; Cat. of Prints and Drawings in BM: Pol. and Personal Satires ed. George, ii. 340–1.
- 8. Boyer, iii. 368; iv. 197; London Gazette, 28 Apr.–2 May 1713; Brunning, 4.
- 9. London Rec. Soc. xvii. 76; Post Boy, 22–24 Dec. 1713; HMC Portland, v. 411.
- 10. London Rec. Soc. xvii. 39; Brunning, 4, 7; PCC 210 Tenison.