James Hamilton, the eighth earl of Abercorn, preferred to live in a fine classical house built for him in Edinburgh in the 1760s by the eminent architect, Sir William Chambers, although he had considerable property about London and in Ireland. The Irish estates in the counties of Tyrone and Donegal had been accumulated by his ancestors during and after the plantation of Ulster in the early seventeenth century and when he succeeded his father in 1744 they covered almost one hundred square miles. Although Aborcorn was an absentee, the scale, the range and the substance of the correspondence he maintained with his Irish agents, reveals the extent and depth of his knowledge of life on the estates. Several agents kept him well informed and in the years between 1757 and the earl's death in 1789, one of them, also named James Hamilton, wrote very detailed letters that enabled the earl to make decisions on a wide variety of matters. They cover changing relationships with tenants and undertenants, efforts to promote the economic and social development of the estate, and the problems of his agents in coping with food crises and natural disasters.
W H Crawford received his MA in Irish Local History from NUI, Maynooth upon which this book is based. He is a well-known author of scholarly books in Irish History.