Alexander McDougall was born on the Scottish Hebridean island of Islay (known as The Queen of the Hebrides and pronounced ‘eye-la’) in 1732, emigrated to America with his family when he was six years old. His father had likely decided that life was so grim on Islay that it was worth the risk of a voyage to start a new life.
McDougall used to help his father selling pails of milk around Manhattan until he joined the merchant navy at age fourteen.
By the time he reached twenty-five he was a sea captain and rose through the ranks of the American army to the rank of Major-General to become George Washington’s right-hand man during the War of Independence.
McDougall was appointed the first president of the Bank of New York the country’s oldest bank in 1784. The Bank of New York is one of the earliest companies to be registered on the New York Stock Exchange.
Memorials have been erected in New York to Major General McDougall but there were none on the beautiful island of Islay. And this week, 225 years after his death, Lord Robertson accompanied by representatives of the Bank of New York Mellon, stood with islanders both young and old, unveiled a memorial cairn to the greatest of Ileachs—(Ileachs were “the first people to arrive on Islay were Mesolithic folk who moved in from the mainland as the ice receded at the end of the last Ice Age, around 8,300 BC”).
“He was also a politician, an elected member of the first US Congress and was selected by that Congress to be the first US Minister of the Marine and was lastly a financier, first president of New York’s oldest Bank – the Bank of New York.” McDougall remained as the bank’s president for a year then quit the post, stating it was “too confining a life for me”. He returned to being a member of the New York Senate.
Another plaque in McDougall’s honour sits below one for George Washington, in the old chapel of West Point Military Academy, the premier leadership training institution of the US army. Lord Robertson said: “He died at only 53 years of age in 1786. After his death President George Washington called him a “pillar of the revolution”.
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