Drysdale, Hugh (d. 1726), army officer and colonial governor, was born in Ireland, the son of an archdeacon of Ossory. In 1688 he matriculated at Queen's College, Oxford, where he was a classmate of Edmund Gibson, later bishop of London. Nothing is known of his years at Oxford or until June 1701, when he settled on a career in the army, enlisting as an ensign in Thomas Brudnell's regiment of foot. Drysdale was promoted to captain and brevet major in Charles Churchill's marine regiment in 1709, and in 1715 he became a major in Churchill's dragoons. He was appointed lieutenant-governor of Virginia on 3 April 1722 by Sir Robert Walpole, though the reason for his choosing Drysdale is not clear. It is possible that his name was recommended by Bishop Gibson, a close friend of Walpole. Drysdale's military service, especially under the earl of Orkney, the non-resident governor of Virginia, may have also played a role.
Drysdale arrived in Virginia on 25 September 1722 to replace Alexander Spotswood, whose administration was characterized in its later years by dispute with the colony's leadership. Drysdale met with the council of state on 27 September and was sworn into office. The governor reported a few months later that there is a universall sign of contentment on the change made in the government here (CSP col., 32.304). Councillor Robert Carter confirmed this estimate when he wrote that all found Drysdale of a mild Temperate & courteous disposition and that the generality were happy in him (Carter's letter-book, 2 July 1723). From an early date Drysdale took positions that endeared him to a wide spectrum of the population. He urged the Board of Trade to press for the remittance of quitrents in the new frontier counties of Spotsylvania and Brunswick, and that there be no limitation on the amount of land one could patent (CSP col., 33.140). He also approved two much desired laws, one which provided for a tax on liquor and slaves, and another limiting the amount of tobacco that could be planteda response to poor revenues and low tobacco prices. The tax on liquor and slaves was disallowed.
Drysdale's popularity remained high. He was sensitive to Virginia's political world and developed good relations with most of the leadership. Only against Alexander Spotswood did he exhibit hostility, pointing to the former governor's land-grabbing as well as his manufacture of iron products, which, he implied, was against the spirit of British economic regulation. This animosity may well have been fuelled by councillor and commissary James Blair, an inveterate enemy of Spotswood. In general, however, Drysdale's approach was cautious and his governorship contributed to political harmony. By September 1725 it was reported that he had been in poor health for some considerable time. By the following spring he had determined to return to England to recover his health. In early July he appeared to improve and decided against the trip home, but he died at Williamsburg of a pleurisie on 22 July 1726 (Carter's diary). He was survived by his wife, Hester, about whom no further details are known. Councillor John Custis wrote, probably in 1726 or 1727, that the irreperable loss … of the colony … of upright Mr. Drisdals is beyond all expression (Custis's letter-book). Drysdale was buried at Bruton parish church in Williamsburg on 2 August.
Emory G. Evans
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