Samson Gideon: Eighteenth Century Jewish Financier

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Samson Gideon,2 the most noteworthy financier, Jew or Christian, of mid eighteenth century England, was born in 1699, entered business in 1719 and died in 1762. His active career covered the period in which England, freed from internal political turmoil (though still threatened from time to time, as in 1745, by dynastic revolt) and successful in foreign war, was expanding in wealth and enterprise and was lay? ing the groundwork of her nineteenth century predominance. He gained his prominence despite, not because of, the circumstances of his birth and upbringing, and his position when gained was not one to which the age awarded social recognition. It was gained by mastery in a new, and to his contemporaries a somewhat sinster craft, that of a jobber in the rising market in stocks and shares, and by qualities of mind and character that made him supreme in it. In consequence he appears fitfully in the memoirs, letters and pamphlets of the time as a powerful but somewhat equivocal figure, and we should willingly exchange much of the surviving material about respectable but mediocre peers and minor politicians for that which would enable us to reconstruct fully the career of Samson Gideon. For it epitomizes a very important aspect of the rising forces of finance and of that strange, autonomous organisation the London money market, an institution which, as much as anything, enabled England to survive the eighteenth century wars and ensured her nineteenth century hegemony.

Unfortunately the main source of such information is sealed to us. At the beginning of the nineteenth century John Eardley Wilmot wrote a short memoir entitled A Memoir of the Life of Samson Gideon Esq. of Spalding Co. Lincoln and Belvedere, Kent, published in J. Nichols Illustrations of the Literary History of the Eighteenth Century, 1817-58.3 It was based on papers then in the possession of Gideon's son. Lord Eardley, and makes it clear that a great deal of his correspondence and business papers then survived. But with the extinction of the male line they seem to have disappeared, and all attempts *o trace them have so far failed. The short memoir based on them, a personal letter in private possession4 and some correspondence with ministers and others in various collections5 is all we can call on to support the references in public records, pamphlets,6 and the casual allusions in contemporary Press and memoirs.

The main events of his life are, however, known. He was a member of the far flung and distinguished Portuguese Jewish family of Abudiente. His father Rehuel

1 Paper read before the Jewish Historical Society of England on 25th April, 1949.

2 He spelt his own name thus ; though others frequently wrote of him as Sampson, the spelling which he favoured for his son.

3 Vol. VI, pp. 277-84.

4 See below p. 88. This letter is among a small number of family papers preserved at Bedwell Park, Hatfield, Herts., where they came by inheritance with Samson Gideon's collection of pictures from Belvedere in 1847 to Sir Culhng

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