Open main menu

Tatham, William (DNB00)


TATHAM, WILLIAM (1752–1819), soldier and engineer, born in 1752 at Hutton-in-the-Forest in Cumberland, was the eldest son of Sandford Tatham, rector of Hutton and vicar of Appleby, by his wife, a daughter of Henry Marsden of Gisborne Hall in Yorkshire. He was brought up in the house of his maternal grandmother until her death in 1760, and in 1769 was sent to America to seek his fortune. He obtained the post of clerk in the house of Carter & Trent, merchants on the James River, Virginia. Thence about 1775 he removed to Tennessee, and soon after, on the commencement of the revolutionary war, obtained a commission as adjutant of the military force in the new district of Washington. He took part in several campaigns on the south-western frontier against the Cherokees and Creeks, who were acting as allies of the English. In 1778 he was engaged in mercantile pursuits in Virginia, but in the following year he returned to a military life, and served under General Charles Scott. After taking part in the siege of Yorktown and acting as volunteer in the successful attack on the redoubts on 14 Oct. 1781, Tatham relinquished the military profession, and was admitted on 24 March 1784 to the bar of Virginia as an advocate. In 1786 he aided in the establishment of the settlement of Lamberton, near Fayetteville in North Carolina. In 1787 he was elected a member of the state legislature of North Carolina, and was soon after nominated lieutenant-colonel in the division of Fayette. In the following year he paid a visit to England; but, returning to America in 1789, he was employed in Virginia by the war office, to give them information regarding the south-western frontier. In this capacity he was assigned apartments at the public expense, and had uninterrupted access to the archives of state. In 1795 he was despatched to Spain as American envoy to settle some disputes that had arisen on the frontiers of Florida; but, having roused the jealousy of the Spanish government by frequent visits to the English ambassador, John Stuart, fourth earl (afterwards marquis) of Bute, he was ordered to leave Spain. In consequence he landed in England on 16 Aug. 1796. In 1801 he obtained the post of superintendent of the London Docks at Wapping, where he took charge of the office of works. During this period he published several books and contributed scientific papers to the ‘Monthly,’ ‘Philosophical,’ and ‘Commercial’ magazines. In 1805 he returned to America in poor circumstances, and received the post of military storekeeper at Richmond arsenal. He fell into intemperate habits, and committed suicide on 22 Feb. 1819 by stepping in front of a cannon at the moment of its discharge. He was unmarried.

Tatham was the author of: 1. ‘A Memorial on the Civil and Military Government of the Tennessee Country.’ 2. ‘A History of the Western Country.’ 3. ‘An Analysis of the State of Virginia,’ Philadelphia, 1790–1. 4. ‘Plan for Insulating the Metropolis by a Canal,’ London. 5. ‘Remarks on Inland Canals,’ London, 1798, 4to. 6. ‘Political Economy of Inland Navigation,’ London, 1799, 4to. 7. ‘Essay on the Culture and Commerce of Tobacco,’ London, 1800, 8vo. 8. ‘Advantages of Oxen for Tillage,’ London, 1801, 8vo. 9. ‘National Irrigation,’ London, 1801, 8vo, besides several smaller works. He edited ‘Communications on Agriculture and Commerce of the United States,’ London, 1800, 8vo.

[Annual Biography and Obituary, 1820, pp. 149–68; Gent. Mag. 1819, i. 376; A Collection of Sundry Casual Documents, by William Tatham, London, 1797, 8vo.]

E. I. C.