James McGill

Biography of James McGill

James McGill
James McGill

James McGill, Principal Founder of McGill University (1821), was an Arts student at the University of Glasgow in 1756.

He was born at Glasgow on 6 October 1744, but went to Canada before the American Revolution after receiving his education at the University.

McGill was initially engaged in the north-west fur trade, a lucrative trade which took place on the indigenous territory of the Ojibwe, Cree, Oji-Cree, Haudenosaunee, Potawatomi, Delaware, Odawa and Algonquin peoples in what is now called Ontario and the Haudenosaunee and Anishinabeg nations in what is now called Quebec.

As a Montréal-based merchant, he traded in Caribbean tropical, slave produced, plantation goods. McGill also became a slave owner in Montréal, including purchasing an enslaved woman named Sally in 1788, and helped other wealthy individuals procure slaves.

He was a Member of the Lower Canadian Parliament for West Montreal, and afterwards a Member of the Legislative and Executive Councils. He served as Lieutenant-Colonel, subsequently Colonel, of the Montreal City Militia, and Brigadier-General in 1812.

McGill died at Montreal on 19 December 1813. In his will, he bequeathed £10,000 and his forty-six acre Burnside Place estate to the Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning with the condition that with his bequest a university was to be created in his name and established within ten years of his death.

McGill University is taking active steps to address and acknowledge all facets of McGill's legacy, and the impact of slavery on both of its institutional history.


James McGill
Born 6 October 1744.
Died 19 December 1813.
University Link: Student
GU Degree: Arts, 1756;
Occupation categories: merchants; politicians
Record last updated: 10th Jun 2020

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