Articles by Ian McCulloch
GORDON, 27TH FOOT (Enniskillen Regiment)
There was a soldier, a Scottish
For those green hills are not
Poplar Song sung to the traditional Scottish March, Green Hills of Tyrol.
The microfiche room in the National Archives of Canada is a dark, cavernous place, researchers hunkered down in their booths peering at old manuscripts that are backlit with bright yellow light. Some are viewing muster rolls or ancient genealogies, while others are attempting to read letters. Of the latter, their old copperscript handwriting loops and lopes across pages of various sizes, some of it languidly, some of it in ever-decreasing size as their authors ran out of space on what was an expensive commodity in the 18th century. General Louis Joseph de Montcalm’s handwriting would put any doctor’s to shame, a sure recipe for chronic eye strain.
I move out into the well-lit reading room which has large windows overlooking the Ottawa River, the purple Gatineau hills of Quebec striding their way northwards on the horizon. The portfolio I’m opening reveals a collection of letters by an author whose penmanship is quite pleasing and much easier to decipher than the Victor of Ticonderoga’s chicken scratchings. The last letter in the collection however is the most eye-catching. It’s by Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel Archibald Gordon, a Scotsman who fought at Ticonderoga on the opposing side under British commander, James Abercromby.
Scrawled in the margin are childish doodles: a soldier, a house, a tree. How did they get there, I wonder? Who is the artist? Certainly not the Colonel. The sketches are in pencil and look to be contemporary to the period. And so I start to peruse Gordon’s family correspondence and papers for the period 1740-1762, written by the Scottish soldier while serving in Scotland and Ireland and on campaign in North America and the West Indies during the Seven Years War.
After a day of reading through 107 page collection of documents, which include his attestation papers for Gooch’s Regiment (43rd Foot) specially raised for the 1740 Cartagena expedition, his will and testament made at Fort Edward prior to the Battle of Ticonderoga in 1758, and the Regimental Board of Inquiry conducted after his death in 1762 to settle his debts and effects, I discover who the only culprit can be: “Sweetie Sam” Auchmuty, his six year-old grandson. The chosen medium of the youngster is, in fact, the last letter ever written by Archibald Gordon before he died of yellow fever off Havana in 1762.
When Captain Archibald Gordon set sail from Cork, Ireland for America in 1757, he was saying goodbye to all the people in the world he held most dear: his wife “Nell”, his daughter “Bell” and his newly-born grandson, “little Sweetie Sam”. He would be gone for five years and would never see them again.
Most letters are addressed to his “Dearest Child” and daughter, Isabella (Bell) Auchmuty and his wife, “Nell” Gordon. Besides containing discussions of family news and financial matters, they also provide an excellent insight on the details of the inner working of an 18th century regiment in North America. Of additional interest is that Archibald Gordon’s son-in-law, whom he refers to in one letter as “the young squire” who married his daughter “without a groat”, but more commonly as “Poor Tom”, also served in the 27th Foot as its senior Lieutenant. And last but not least, his nephew, John Willcocks, accompanies him to North America as a “gentleman volunteer.” This practice was quite common in regiments and was a method whereby young gentlemen with no particular income could aspire to a promotion on the battlefield rather than purchasing a commission. Gordon, against his better judgement, indulged his sister in her desire to have her son become an officer in the Enniskillen Regiment and probably sponsored his candidacy in his own company as a common soldier.
Archibald Gordon first appears in the records of the British Army in 1740 as a captain in a newly-raised American regiment which is designated the 43rd Foot and destined for service in the West Indies. The first document in the collection is a hand-written attestation signed by the “Honbl George Thomas Esqr Lieut Governour and Commander in Chief of the Province of Pennsilvania.” It informs all and sundry that “Archibald Gordon Esqr, Captain in a Regiment of Foot to be raised in America and to be commanded by the Honble Collo William Gooch did this day compleat his Company consisting of One Hundred Men, including Four Sergeants, Four Corporals and Two Drummers.”
It was here that Archibald Gordon and his future commanding officer, William Haviland, also a Captain in Gooch’s regiment, would serve together. It is almost certain he met Colonel William Blakeney, Colonel of the 27th Foot who was sent out to the colonies in 1740 with the rank of Brigadier-General to assist in the raising, organizing and preparing of Gooch’s regiment for the expedition against Cartagena.
Blakeney’s instructions stated that all staff and field officers of the regiment were to be appointed by the Crown, company officers by the respective colonial governors, with the British regulars providing one lieutenant and a sergeant as a means of providing good trainers and instant discipline. It is most likely that a young Lieutenant Gordon, perhaps of the 27th Foot, as was Lieutenant Haviland, obtained his captaincy through the recruitment of 100 men, but we cannot be sure. Gordon is not shown on a 1737-38 roll of 27th Foot officers and may have very well owed his commission to the patronage of Governor Thomas.
The regiment was an unusual one, according to American historian Douglas Leach. “Much larger than the normal British regiment, it was subdivided for administrative purposes into four battalions,” he notes. “The thirty-six companies came from eleven different colonies. Each company clung to its own provincial identity, with the common soldiers exclusively loyal to their provincial officers, most of whom were from the large middle class, ambitious men on the make.”
There is strong circumstantial evidence to support a claim that Archibald Gordon was married in America. One of his sisters was a Mrs Philamena (nee Gordon) Taylor residing in Philadelphia (two of her letters are in the collection) and Gordon’s company was undoubtedly raised in “Pennsilvania”. Add to these the fact that 17 years later, his only daughter is married and has a young child. Therefore, Gordon had to be married before he joined Gooch’s Regiment and his wife may therefore have been American.
The 27th Foot, an Ulster regiment with a history going back to the Siege of Londonderry, 1689, was sent to Cartagena as a reinforcement battalion in February 1742 and the Regimental History notes that their stay was “hardly more than a roll of deaths from disease.” In just eight months, ten officers and 323 men of the Enniskillen Regiment were interred or committed to the deep. Gordon and Haviland both survived and transferred to the 27th Foot in 1742 when Gooch’s disbanded and the 27th Foot returned home to Ireland to recuperate.
From 1742 to 1748, the 27th Foot was quartered in various parts of England and Scotland. During the Jacobite Rebellion or “Forty-Five”, the Enniskillens were at the Battle of Falkirk, 1745, a humiliating defeat for the British and one in which the Regiment nearly lost its Colours to the Highlanders. As the 27th Foot stood to arms in the reserve, their battalion was swept away in a massive retreat by the regiments to the front. At Culloden, the following year, Captain Gordon and his company stood with rest of their regiment in the third or reserve line and saw little action. The regimental grenadiers under Lieutenant Eyre Massey, another Cartagena survivor, distinguished themselves however, and the Duke of Cumberland promoted Massey to Captain-Lieutenant of the 27th Foot. Massey would eventually be the well-liked second in command of the Regiment when it sailed for America in 1757.
Between 1748 and 1757, the 27th Foot remained quartered in various stations in Ireland, sometimes as a regiment, but more frequently in detachments. In 1752, one of the earliest of Gordon’s preserved letters is written from Banff in Scotland to his teenage daughter who is prepared to “come out” in Dublin society. With a wisdom reminiscent of Mr Bennett in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Gordon observed that “upon hearing of you going to Publick Places where all young People are subject to a Thousand Impertinences, out of my sincerely anxious Paternal affection I could not have excused myself had I not committed to writing my knowledge of the World and sentiments thereupon.”
His knowledge of the world included the facts of 18th century life that “many of your sex especially at your age are naturally vain and generally greedily wallow in all the fulsome flatteries that every coxcomb of our sex are pleased to offer.” He went on to warn her that “all these fine speeches only lend to corrupt Innocence, avoid them like the Plague and keep a constant watch upon your conduct.” He concluded that “I am not against a Persons entertaining a reasonable opinion of themselves as too great a diffidence often produces ill consequences whereas a tolerable good opinion of ourselves generally preserves us from doing a hundred mean things.”
In 1753, the 27th Foot were quartered at Kinsale in southern Ireland on the coast and paraded to receive new Colours from the King, each flag bearing their specially authorized device of a three-turretted castle. By 1756, Captain Archibald Gordon was the second most senior Captain in the Regiment and had been bypassed in promotion by Captain Eyre Massey who was promoted to Major 10 December 1755 and by Lieutenant-Colonel William Haviland who had become his commanding officer as of 16 December 1752.
In 1757, the Regiment was warned off for duty in the Americas, and thus started the many letters Gordon wrote to his daughter who had just married Lieutenant Thomas Auchmuty serving in the same regiment. It was not an auspicious marriage and one which was probably arranged to save the reputation of a young woman with child. Captain Gordon was now the senior company commander and regimental paymaster, and had to go with it to quarters in and around Cork. They had orders to recruit as they marched south and bring their strength up to an authorized establishment of 700 all- ranks.
Gordon’s letters are invariably filled with worries of leaving his wife, daughter and young grandson behind without adequate funds and some of his stress comes from having to deal with Auchmuty’s family to see what measures they intend to take to ensure their son’s wife is well looked after. In one letter dated 13 March 1757, he was very worried about his grandson and wrote, “I hope in God your dearest little boy will be over the Small pox.” Later in the month he wrote to her with news of her husband and cousin, Jack Willcocks, the gentleman volunteer, mentioning that both “are good boys, and Jack well liked that I dare say he will do.” He added some paternal advice to his daughter Bell in one dated 17 April 1757: “In all your letters to Tom preach up sobriety and Economy and put him in mind of your wants.”
On the 22 April, Gordon was all business and informed his daughter that he had asked her husband, Lieutenant Auchmuty, to ask his father to provide a yearly allowance of ten pounds for her while they were away. He added: “I propose [Tom] gives you a shilling a day out of his pay, however that will not commence ‘till three months after the date of our Embarkation….” Gordon concluded in his letter that if the in-laws were to show some inclination to support her that she was to “receive it with gentility but remember we cannot make a velvet purse out of a sow’s lug!”
Two days later, however, Gordon was in a rage, no doubt having learned the Auchmuty family was intransigent and unwilling to help their son’s small family. He wrote
I don’t doubt Tom Ahmuty [sic] being a good sort of young man, but the Whole Family of them look and enquire into out conduct, and of yours in particular….They are very bad People indeed. They will neither hear or say anything that can displease them. Perhaps my Behaviour when in Dublin might not be altogether insolent with their surly and vulgar way of thinking but I have not repented as of yet. If they imagined that either you, dear Mama or I are to truckle to them and beg alms of them, For God sake, they are really decieved [sic]. In short, I think their behaviour in general betrays very lose [sic] minds, however never heed, I hope God will help us all and render you independent of them, perhaps when we are gone, they will be more civil.
Archibald Gordon, his son-in-law Tom Auchmuty, and his nephew Jack Willcocks were gone with the tide to America as of 6 May 1757. Gordon wrote his last letter in Ireland from “on board The Amity Assistance” in Cork harbour. “We all embarked yesterday. Capts Jephson, Skene & myself with our Companies on board this ship,” he wrote. “We are present much crowded and in great clutter, however in a day or two I hope we shall be pretty well settled. It’s said we are to sail on Sunday or Monday at farthest, and we have a very good ship.”
His next letter home was written in Halifax, Nova Scotia where Lord Loudoun was gathering his forces for a strike against Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island. The 27th Foot were told on disembarkation that they were to be left behind as a garrison for Halifax. Gordon, obviously homesick, told his daughter that as her new in-laws “have not shown the least spark of Gentility” he was going to take every measure “to get your dear Mama, yourself & poor Sam who I hope is alive and well over to America next year.”
Two months later he wrote from Fort Edward situated on the Hudson River, north of Albany, New York. The 27th Foot had been shipped southwards after Loudoun’s failed attempt against Louisbourg and now found itself allocated to Major General James Abercromby’s forces gathering for a southern thrust up the line of the Lake Champlain- Richilieu River corridor to Montreal. Gordon was still entertaining the idea of bringing his family to America and wrote: “I will get you over as soon as possible to Philadelphia where you were strongly expected, or New York. I hope and believe dearie Sam is very well and very engaging. Tom goes on well as usual with a little advice. I am confident you would like the Country and the People. Nothing stirring here yet for Jack, but I hope ere long to get him something.”
Four days after Christmas he wrote morosely to his wife from Fort Edward stating “this place has fallen to our Lot for Winter Quarters where Colonel Haviland commands. Pringle, R[obert] Blakeney, Eagle, Tom, Jack, an Engineer and myself mess together very comfortably.”
Captain-Lieutenant Henry Pringle in one his own letters home describes their situation in a little more detail:
This post and the posts between this and Albany, fell to our lot, the garrison for this place was to be four Captains, 12 Subalterns and 500 men. We drew for quarters and out of a hat, I drew this, and tho’ the farthest from Albany, yet from the number together I think, the best quarters, & we live well…. I live quite sociable with six more (Gordon one) in a family way, & are very cheerfull, as you may think, when the first article we laid in for the Winter was Three popes of Madeira Wine, a Hogshead of Irish Claret, & Water Plates.
Captain-Lieutenant Pringle is also more helpful on exactly what the duties at Fort Edward entailed and in providing some background colour:
Our duty here is very easy, we mount a Captain’s Picquet – and a Subaltern’s Guard – I never saw finer weather in my life; within the last two days, the Frost, this irresistable Monarch of these Countries has at length appeared, & at once sealed up the River & almost every liquid. With the greatest care we scarcely protect our wine, but ale. Meat would keep until May without salt – Except books & writing of this Letter, my chief amusement is chopping & sawing Oak & Hickory that would bring gold in Ireland –
Writing to his wife after Christmas, Captain Gordon, is more concerned with his wife’s and daughter’s situation back in Ireland and gives free rein to his opinions of “Poor Tom’s” family.
In a separate letter dated the same day from Fort Edward he tells his daughter Bell that her husband and he have had a falling-out. “Poor Tom and I have been, of late, two…,” he reported, “the Occasion of our quarrel…owing to his making a little too free with some Rum and lime juice I had, and entertaining not the best company in his own tent, where consequently the Landlord was generally the first drunk in the Company by which pretty doings he fell extremely ill of a bloody flux and had like to have died, however with care he recover’d and was sent to Albany to reestablish his health.”
The only excitement around Fort Edward, other than cutting wood according to Pringle, or drinking in the case of Thomas Auchmuty, appears to have been the ranging service and their winter scouts under their leader, Major Robert Rogers. Pringle reports that he and Gordon entertained the famous ranger officer in their mess one day during the depths of winter, “a very resolute clever fellow” who “has several times, as he terms it, banged the French and Indians heartily.” Pringle went on to try and describe the Rangers for his brother back in Ireland: “They are created Indians & the only proper Troops to oppose to them – They are good Men, but badly disciplined – They dress & live like Indians, & are well acquainted with the Woods – There are many of them Irish…- They shoot amazingly well…, and mostly with riffled barrels.”
The “badly disciplined” Rangers mutinied on their island across from Fort Edward according to Lieutenant-Colonel William Haviland in December 1757 though in actual fact, they had chopped down a flogging post and set a few fires as a form of protest against flogging. Haviland wrote to General Abercromby seeking direction on what measures he should take. “I believe [Rogers] and most of his Officers would …be glad that I had not heard of it and suppose they would have patched it up for fear of their Men,” wrote Haviland breathing fire and brimstone. “Capt Rogers told me likewise that he apprehends most of his men will desert [if there is a court-martial] I answered it would be better they were all gone than have such a Riotous sort of people, but if he could Catch me one that Attempted it, I would endeavour to have him hanged as an Example.”
Haviland then went on to offer the services of his senior captain, Archibald Gordon, who “has often Acted as Judge Advocate” and if Appointed “will leave the trouble of sending one.” Rather than alienate the Rangers, Abercromby wisely let the incident die a quiet death as “the created Indians” were needed on the upcoming campaign for intelligence gathering purposes. Thus, Gordon was probably personally relieved that he was not to play the role of hanging judge.
At one of the convivial meals with Rogers, Gordon arranged for his nephew, John Willcocks, to join Roger’s special instructional company comprising junior officers and gentlemen volunteers. The scheme was one of lately-departed Lord Loudoun’s projects to insure that bushfighting techniques were passed on to his regular officers and Willcock’s name appears in Rogers’ Journals… as one of five candidates sent from the 27th Foot to Roger’s company. The British regulars were to be ““trained to the ranging, or wood service…in particular the ranging discipline, …methods of marching, retreating, ambushing, fighting, etc., that they might be better qualified for any future services against the enemy.”
In January 1758, Fort Edward was beset with snow, Pringle recording that “we have had prodigious Snows which has employed all the Garrison in clearing the Works & when the first is removed a second two feet comes in the night – Our intercourse with the French is stop’d by it, as we have not had a deserter since, nor have we sent another Scout there yet.”
On the 10 March 1758, Gordon wrote to his daughter, the same day his friend Henry Pringle marched out of the fort with Captain Rogers, a volunteer on the largest winter scout yet. Gordon was giving her another report on her errant husband’s ways as well as the fortunes of her cousin, Jack:
Some days later, Rogers’ Rangers straggled in having been soundly defeated by a French force roughly the same size and composed mostly of Indians. Only 54 survivors out of the original 180 that marched out returned and his friend Pringle, with another 27th Foot officer, Lieutenant Boyle Roche, were missing, presumed dead.
The 1st April 1758 saw Gordon and the three 27th Foot companies at Fort Edward relieved by the 42nd Highlanders, and they spent two months in Albany training and getting their sick seen to at the General Hospital. The Enniskillen Regiment received good news of Captain Pringle and Lieutenant Roche who went missing after the 13 March Battle on Snowshoes when a letter arrived in April written from Pringle in captivity at Fort Carillon. Thus Gordon wrote to his daughter in June and told her to tell one of Pringle’s relatives that “her worthy cousin H. Pringle will become a proper Frenchman.” His relief at his friend’s survival was shared by all 27th Foot officers. “I am happy at the thought of him having escaped as I sincerely regard him,” he wrote. “I now feel a great loss of him as he was my constant Chum, poor Roche is very safe too.” He added with some jocularity that Pringle “will be so much improved [by his captivity] that he will make more bows and French speeches to the Ladies than any Polite Maitre just arrived from Paris. I supply them both with money.”
This is the last letter that Gordon wrote before the Battle of Ticonderoga, 8 July 1758, though his last will and testament is in the collection, written at Fort Edward a few months prior to the campaign starting. It leaves all his worldly goods to his wife, a sum of money to his daughter, and his clothes to his batman. Captain Gordon’s company with the rest of the regiment marched to the south end of Lake George in June and camped alongside the ruins of Fort William Henry, razed the year before by Montcalm’s forces.
The 27th Foot, 650 men strong, were brigaded with the First and Fourth Battalions of the 60th Foot (Royal Americans) for the upcoming campaign and Haviland was named Brigadier. Major Eyre Massey was to command the battalion in battle, Captain Gordon acting as the second-in-command and to take over if Massey should fall. The grenadiers of the 27th were among the first British regulars of Major-General James Abercomby’s 16,000 man army to land on the morning of 6 July 1758.
The regiment under Massey headed one of the four columns that were formed to march on Fort Ticonderoga skirting the La Chute River to the west and thus avoiding the main French postions defending the approaches. Mid-afternoon they collided head-on with a 350 man advanced guard of Frenchmen trying to make their way back around the large British army. A sharp firefight ensued in which Lord Howe, Major General Abercromby’s able-bodied and dynamic second-in-command, was killed. Captain Gordon appears in the orders the following day as the officer who is in charge of rounding up all the French prisoners held by the various regiments and putting them on a small island under armed escort to await transportation back to Albany. The orderly books entry for 7 July 1758 include a paragraph instructing all regiments that “all the prisoners lately taken to be deliver’d to Captain Gordon of the 27th Regt. & to be sent by him to the island, & put under the direction of Capt. DuBois of the York Regt.”
Once his POW duties were completed on the evening of the 7 July, Gordon marched his company up to the entrenched camp north of the saw mills on the La Chute River, and prepared for the battle on the morrow. The 650 man regiment was now only 500 strong (less its grenadier company  and its picquet company  which had been brigaded into two composite assault forces.) His regiment was on the extreme British right during the attack on the French breastworks lining the heights of Carillon. Despite repeated attempts over six hours, the British regular infantry could not get at the French defenders because of an enormous number of trees that had been cut down in front of the French trenches to form a massive obstacle.
Almost every British commanding officer was killed or wounded, as was every field officer in the Army. Archibald Gordon was no exception. He went down with a musket ball through the shoulder and was carried off the field by his men. He took the first opportunity after his fortunate escape, some six weeks later, to write his wife from the hospital in Albany, a letter more concerned with promotion and preferment rather than his current health:
I was on the late attack at Ticonderoga and rec’d an ugly wound in the Shoulder which confin’d me ever since. I thank God I am recovering fast and hope soon to write long letters to you & dear Bell. The General has made you the Major’s Lady by having made me Major to the Regiment. Bell is the Captain’s Lady as Tom is Capt Lieut & Poor Jack Willcocks is my Ensn. H. Pringle is full Capt. Major Massey is Lieut Colo to the 46th which made the Vacancies. We soon expect Pringle to be released from his Captivity as an Excha[nge] of prisoners has been propos’d, keep up your Spirits, don’t Spoil little Sam. I pray God bless you all. I am My Dearest Souls
Your very sincerely affect. Husbd.
His friend Pringle learned all the details of the battle of Ticonderoga from his French captors second-hand and, in a letter to his mother, revealed that “during the Summer we always heard of the English Army, how Louisbourg was Besieged, how Mr Abercromby was most unfortunately defeated at Ticonderoga.” He added that news of the defeat for all officers in captivity “was a most mortifying Stroke to us who were witness of the French gasconade upon this occasion.”
By the time General Jeffery Amherst’s army sailed north to capture Fort Ticonderoga in the summer of 1759, Archibald Gordon was fully recovered and, for all intents and purposes, the battalion commander, as Lieutenant-Colonel Haviland commanded the vanguard of the army. A detailed letter sent by the newly-promoted Major Gordon from Crown Point Camp, adjacent to the ruined French Fort Frederic, neatly summarizes his own personal experiences as well as the British victories of 1759:
Crown Point Camp
My Dear Child
It has pleased God to bless his Majesties arms in America with so many different Conquests and little Blood shed this year that we are all in the highest spirits and hopes of reducing our most cruel and perfidious Enemies to such terms as must make every body easy at least in this part of the World.
Ticonderoga and the very strong lines are in our possession with the loss of 16 men killed and fifty one wounded by the Enemies Cannon & Shells. Tom and I narrowly escaped by getting behind a friendly stump of tree, when an eighteen pound Shot Struck the Stump and Almost buried us with Sand and dirt.
The place I now write from is deem’d an important pass on Lake Champlain, where the enemy had a small Stone Fort [which] was deserted by them on deserting Ticonderoga. Here I imagine we shall stay a week or two till we can be prepared for a long voyage of 100 miles down the Lake to St John’s or Montreal.
Niagara on Lake Ontario surrendered to our Army in that Quarter the 26th or 27th July commanded by Sir William Johnson. The enemy had marched a body of Men to raze the Siege when a Strong Party of ours gave them Battle and cut them all to pieces on which the Garrison surrendered, Prisoners of War counting in all near Eight hundred, including those taken in action. We are now in sanguine hopes of good news from Gen’l Wolfe. If he succeeds, I think matters here will be pretty quiet.
Now my dear, I write you all this news that you may communicate it with our friends but remember to tell them that we all love and admire our General. We are all very well, no Alterations in our Regiment except among the new Comers that neither dear Mama or you are acquainted with, vizt. Capt Skene is made Major of brigade, Mr Daly a Captain in the Royal Highlanders, Ens[ign] Elliot a Lieut. in the same Regiment. All others are well, tell the Denis’s we are going to give honest Pringle his Liberty, so much for news – Tom fags on, Jack Willcocks does very well. I live in hopes of rendering you and ourselves independent, especially you of your new allies….
Just over a week later, Gordon was responding to a letter he received from his daughter outlining the steps she had taken with her in-laws to secure money to purchase a captaincy for her husband in the regiment. Gordon replies:
Crown Point Camp
My Dear Child
…I hope you are perfectly recovered again and come to your beef Stomach as you know I never liked fine Ladies.
The Steps you took relative to Jephson’s Compy I perfectly approve of, but I declare for my part I expect nothing but insolence and obstinacy from that Quarter nor would I advise you. I am endeavouring to render you independent as far as possible and to put you on a respectable footing. Can any Parent justifie his not embracing so fine an Opportunity of providing for his son, when so great a bargain offered, vizt. A full Company in an Old Regiment for £300 when in fact the current price here is £600 difference.
The Old _________ has wrote to his son charging him with underhand measures, the contrary of which you must know and at the same time telling him If he did advance the money he expected Security from his son as his finannces were greatly contracted, and wants to know why his Father in Law [Major Gordon] does not advance the money as he is now Major and Paymaster (he is mistaken with regard to the latter employment). Now I say badershin [sic]. If his Father in Law can scrape a little money together, I promise him it is intended for a much better care vizt his own Good Child and not to throw away upon him or his worthless family. Just now the general sent me a letter he rec’d from My Lord Barrington Secretary of War where in he says the price of Jephson’s Compy is to be fifteen hundred Guineas and first offers it to the Regiment.
The purchase system of promotion has been frequently misunderstood and perceived as an unfair system which only favoured rich members of British gentry. In fact, was controlled with a finely-tuned series of checks and balances. From 1720 onwards, the sale of commissions was a closely regulated business. An officer wishing to sell his commission (an actual investment on his part, as officers received no pensions) did so at a regulated tariff price, and was obliged to offer it to the man with the most regimental seniority in the rank below him. If that officer was unable to buy, the commission was offered to the next most senior, and so on. The purchaser got the rank, but not the seniority of his predecessor, thus becoming the most junior captain, lieutenant or ensign in the regiment. When a senior officer or captain was killed in action, a chain reaction began which might reach down to the youngest “gentleman volunteer, serving in the ranks like Jack Willcocks until a vacancy occurred or, into civilian life where a young gentleman was waiting in line for an opportunity. Of course, preference was given to nobility or candidates who already had family members serving in the same regiment.
By November, General Amherst’s army was still at Crown Point, the momentum of his campaign stalled by his over-cautiousness, bad weather and fear of French shipping on Lake Champlain. On the 12th of the month Gordon reported to his daughter that he had “got poor Tom into some order again and he is to be in my mess.” He added: “I think he may leave America clear of debt, if he does not, it shall not be my fault. I have him in pretty good order, ‘tho sometimes he rebels.” A letter written to “Bell” on 23 December 1759 confirmed that General Amherst’s 1759 campaign was over. Gordon observed that the fort they are now building at Crown Point “is to be our destiny for the Winter. It is monstrously cold.” He also gave her directions as to his whereabouts on a map he enclosed: “If you look at the Map you will see the spot we are in,” he wrote, “as it is there called Fort Frederick on Lake Champlain. We are all in hopes of getting soon to Ireland. You will be first advertised of it.” He added the news that “Pringle and Roche are now with us and are very well as are all the Regiment.”
The next letter of interest in the collection is one written neither by Gordon nor by his daughter, but by his sister, Mrs Philamena (nee Gordon) Taylor to Bell Auchmuty relaying the news of the fall of Canada. It reads in whole:
Dear Bell Phila Sept 20th 1760
I rec’d yours by Capt Blair which gave me great pleasure to hear your good Mama & you were Weel and have taken the very first opportunity to answer your letter, and to let you know that we have had the Satesfaction of hering from My Brother since the Reduction of the Ile aux Noix, he was very tired, and he is always anxious about his Famely he desired I would let you know as soon as Possible that they had escaped Safe & Sound. I most Sincerely pity Every body who have Friends in the Army as I am sure they must suffer a great deal of Uneaseness at this time of War, but we must Comfort our Selves with the pleasing Prospect of Peace which I hope is not far of.
I hope you will have your Father & Husband Safe restored to you. We are very desirous of having My Brother’s Compy this Winter but Wither we shall be so happy is quite uncertain and before the next I hope he will be at home, as I am sure nothing would give him Equal Satesfaction. I beg you will let me here from you often which will be a great pleasure to, Dear Neice [sic] your
Since I wrot the foregoing we hav the agreable news on the Surrender of Montreal to the British troops without any opposition. I congratulate your Family as I think you may be quite Easey about your Friends on this Side of the Water, as all Canada is now in Possession of the English and a most Noble Conquest it is. I am dayly Expectation of hering from your Papa from thence, once more Dear Cousin, Adue.
By 16 May 1761, the strain of command and responsibilities finally began to weigh heavily on Major Gordon as he wrote from Crown Point to his wife Nell: “I am heartily tired of America and indeed, no wonder, as I have always been kept in the desarts [sic]”. He went on to reveal that he and his nominal commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Haviland, had not been on the best of terms over the winter months.
Pringle is in New York at present, Mr Moore the bearer of this goes to conduct Mrs Haviland to her dearly beloved….She is to be settled here, how she will like that I shall not presume to say. True, she will be the first lady at Crown Point and possibly the only one. The Gentleman and I have little or no correspondence together but I have at least got rid of him and we have got our old Acquaintance Colo Massey again with whom, I dare say, we shall be extreamly comfortable….
Five months later Gordon is at Fort Edward with the regiment en route to Staten Island, New York and writes to his wife that he “is most heartily tired of the Woods” adding that he has “been kept among them two years and a half without intermission.” He adds that “Now we have a prospect of getting away. If war, on some other service. If Peace, I hope, home.”
By the final conquest of Canada, a large proportion of British troops in North America were set free for service in other parts of the world and the British government decided to employ them in the West Indies against the French “Sugar Islands” of Martinique, Cuba and St. Lucia. In September 1761, eleven regiments, including the 27th Foot, and a few companies of American Rangers, were concentrated at Staten Island, New York under the command of General Robert Monckton. Not only was the war for Gordon to contunue, but he was to return to a unpleasant part of the world he already had experienced some 21 years earlier in his youth.
The regiment sailed in convoy at the end of October 1761 for Barbados and took part in the successful capture of Martinique. Major Archibald Gordon replaced Lieutenant-Colonel Massey in command of the elite grenadier battalion cobbled together from the British regiments present when the latter officer was seriously wounded in action. For his efforts, Archibald Gordon was made a Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel and given battalion command of his regiment.
His last letter, written off the coast of "Martinico"
on 6 April 1762, is upbeat and is full of optimism: “I give you Joy of Tom’s
being a full Captain in our Regiment and Father being a Lieu
I would write in french as I am become a Frenchman but you would not understand me – I talk like anything…How does Sally? Is she married yet? Pringle is our Paymaster in the room of Wrightson (who is now Major). My compliments to all that love Dear Mama, Bell & Sam. I pray God Bless you all. I am
My Dear Child
Twenty-six days later, after a bite from a single aedes aegypti mosquito, the hardy Scottish soldier was dead from yellow fever. A regimental court of inquiry was convened consisting of three officers, Gordon’s friend, Captain Henry Pringle, his son-in-law, Captain Tom Auchmuty, and Lieutenant Robert Blakeney, to settle his debts and dispose of his “possessions and effects”. His will, written before the 1758 Ticonderoga campaign at Fort Edward was discovered among his belongings. In it, he left everything to his wife Nell, a small amount of money to Bell and ten pounds and his clothes to his batman. His son-in-law, Tom would succumb to the yellow fever a few weeks later, leaving his daughter a widow and one would assume, penniless.
The regiment would spend another five years in North America, returning to Canada after the West Indies campaign to take up quarters in Canada, making a total of ten years the 27th Foot was away from their wives, children and families in Ireland. Whether Jack Willcocks got ahead in the British Army after his uncle’s death is unknown. However, the letters of a loving husband, father and grandfather were cherished and carefully preserved in his memory by his widowed daughter, Bell Auchmuty. The last letter’s margins are filled with child-like drawings of houses and soldiers in pencil, no doubt the artistic attempts of ‘little sweetie Sam” who would never meet his doting grandfather “who wandered far away and soldiered far away…from the green hills of home.”
A shorter, annotated version of this unpublished book chapter entitled “Men of the 27th Foot: Two Portraits”, first appeared in The Bulletin of the Fort Ticonderoga Museum, vol. XVI, no.2, (1999), 119-151.