Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bernard, Francis (1711?-1779)

BERNARD, Sir FRANCIS (1711?–1779), governor of Massachusetts Bay, belonged to the younger branch of a family who traced their descent to Godfrey Bernard of Wansford, Yorkshire, in the reign of Henry III. He was the eldest son of Francis Bernard, rector of Brightwell, Oxfordshire by Margaret, daughter and coheiress of Richard Winlowe, of Notley and Lewknor, Oxfordshire (pedigree in Lipscombe's Buckinghamshire, i. 522). After attending Westminster School, where, in 1725, he was elected in the college, he, in 1729, became a student of Christ Church, Oxford, and in 1736 graduated M.A. He was called to the bar at the Middle Temple, of which he afterwards became a bencher. For some time he practised on the midland circuit, and he was elected steward of the city of Lincoln, as well as recorder of Boston. In 1741 he married Amelia, daughter of Stephen Offley, of Norton Hall, Derbyshire. In 1752 he edited the 'Latin Odes' of Anthony Alsop [q. v.] At the bar he acquired sufficient eminence to secure his appointment in 1758 as governor of the province of New Jersey, North America, whence, after two years successful rule, he was transferred, in 1760, to Massachusetts Bay. For some time he enjoyed the confidence and goodwill of all classes in the province, as is evidenced by the fact that the assembly, besides voting to him at their first session a grant of Mount Desert Island, presented to him on more than one occasion addresses expressive of acknowledgment and goodwill. It was impossible, however, that the policy he was required to carry out could be accepted with satisfaction by the colonists; and not only did it have his complete approval, but he succeeded in giving to its harsher features unnecessary prominence. Indeed, the line of action pursued by the home government was, to some extent, traceable to his unfavourable representations of the original designs and motives of the colonists, and his fatal deficiency in political tact and insight undoubtedly assisted to hasten the war. In addition to this he manifested an unhappy facility for wounding the amour propre of the colonists. On the repeal of the Stamp Act he delivered a speech fitted completely to counteract the loyal sentiments awakened by the concessions. In February 1768 the assembly, not withstanding his most earnest representations, addressed a letter to the assemblies of the other provinces, inviting co-operation against the new duties then despatched to Boston, an greatly excited the population, and gave an enormous impetus to disaffection. The new assembly requested the removal of the king's ships and troops, and, this being refused, declined to transact any business. The conduct of Bernard had, as it undoubtedly deserved, so far as firmness and administrative ability were concerned, meanwhile secured the high approval of the home government, and in April 1769 he was created a baronet as of Nettleham in the county of Lincoln. Notwithstanding this it was deemed advisable to recall him, on the plea of consulting with him personally on the circumstances of the province. He continued nominally governor for two years longer, but he never returned to America. For some time after his arrival in England he resided at Nether Winchendon, which he inherited in 1771 from his cousin-german Jane, widow of William Beresford; but afterwards he took up his residence at Aylesbury. In 1772 he received the degree of D.C.L. from the university of Oxford. He died at Aylesbury 16 June 1779, at the age of sixty-seven, and was interred in the chancel of the church. His portrait, painted by Copley, of Boston, is in the hall of Christ Church. He left six sons and four daughters.

Bernard's 'Case before the Privy Council' was published in 1770; 'Letters to the Ministry,' 1769; 'Letters to the Earl of Hillsborough,' 1769; and 'Select Letters on the Trade and Government of America, and the Principles of Law and Polity applied to the American Colonies,' 2nd edition, 1774. While resident in America he took a special interest in Harvard University, and, when the library was destroyed by fire, exerted himself in the raising of funds on its behalf. He was a good classical scholar, and edited in 1752 'Antonii Alsopi Ædis Christi olim Alumni Odarum libri duo.' Governor Bernard's ' Letter Books' were bought by Dr. Jared Sparks in 1848 for six hundred dollars (Mass. Hist. Soc. Proceedings, 1835-66, p. 384), and by his will were bequeathed to the library of Harvard College (Proceedings, 1867-69, p. 297).

[Scots Mag. xli. 341; Nichols's Literary Anecdotes, ii. 235-7; Lipscombe's History of Buckinghamshire, i. 519-22; Allen's American Biog. Dict. pp. 87-8; the various Histories of the period.]

T. F. H.