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Sketches of The Character, Manners, and Present State of the Highlanders of Scotland

Military Annals of the Highland Regiments

Royal Highland Emigrant Regiment
two battalions, originally embodied in 1775, but not regimented or numbered till 1778

This corps was to consist of two battalions. Lieutenant-Colonel Alan Maclean (son of Torloish), of the late 104th Highland Regiment, was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel-Commandant of the first battalion, which was to be raised and embodied from the Highland Emigrants in Canada, and the discharged men of the 42d, of Fraser's, and of Montgomerie's Highlanders, who had settled in that country after the peace of 1763.

Captain John Small, formerly of the 42d, and then of the 21st, regiment, was appointed Major-Commandant of the second battalion, which was to be completed in Nova Scotia from emigrant and discharged Highland soldiers. The establishment of both was 750 men, with officers in proportion. The commissions were dated the 14th of June 1775.

Officers sent to the back settlements to recruit, found the discharged soldiers and emigrants loyal and ready to serve his Majesty. The emigrations from the Highlands, previous to this period, had been very limited. With many the change of abode was voluntary, and consequently their minds, neither irritated nor discontented, retained their former attachment to their native country and its government. But there was much difficulty in conveying the parties, who had enlisted, to their respective destinations. One of these detachments from Carolina, had to force its way through a dangerous and narrow pass, and to cross a bridge defended by cannon, and a strong detachment of the rebels; "but aware that the Americans entertained a dread of the broadsword, from experience of its effects in the last war, with more bravery than prudence, and forgetting they had only a few swords and fowling-pieces, used in their settlements, they determined to attempt the post sword in hand, and pushed forward to the attack." But they found the enemy too strong, and the difficulties insurmountable. They were forced to relinquish the attempt with the loss of Captain Mcleod, and a number of men killed. Those who escaped made their way by different routes to their destination. Colonel Maclean's battalion was stationed in Quebec, when Canada was threatened with invasion by the American General Arnold, at the head of 3000 men. Colonel Maclean, who had been detached up the river St Lawrence, returned by forced marches, and entered Quebec on the evening of the 13th November 1776, without being noticed by Arnold. He had previously crossed the river, and on the night of the 14th made a smart attack, with a view of getting possession of their outworks, but was repulsed with loss, and forced to retire to Point au Tremble. The fortifications of the city had been greatly neglected, and were now in a ruinous state. The garrison consisted of 50 men of the Fusileers, 350 of Maclean's newly raised emigrants, and about 700 militia and seamen. General Guy Carleton, the Commander in Chief, being occupied with preparations for the general defence of the colony, the defence of the town was intrusted to Colonel Maclean, an able and intelligent officer.

Arnold having been reinforced by a body of troops under General Montgomery, determined to attempt the town by assault. On the morning of the 31st December, both commanders, leading separate points of attack, advanced with great boldness, but were completely repulsed at all points, with the loss of General Montgomery, killed, and General Arnold, wounded. The Highland Emigrants, though so recently embodied, contained a number of old soldiers, who, in this affair, did honour to the character of the corps in which they had formerly served.

General Arnold, disappointed in this attempt, established himself on the Heights of Abraham, with the intention of intercepting all supplies, and blockading the town. In this situation, he reduced the garrison to great straits, all communication with the country being entirely cut off. This blockade he soon turned into an active siege; he erected batteries, and made several attempts to get possession of the lower town, but was foiled at every point, by the vigilant and intelligent defender, Colonel Maclean. [It was of Colonel Maclean, when a subaltern in the Scotch Brigade in Holland, that Count Lowendahl took such distinuguished notice, for his conduct in the storming of Bergen-op-zoom in 1747.] On the approach of spring, Arnold, despairing of success, raised the siege, and evacuated the whole of Canada.

After this service, the battalion remained in the province during the war, and was principally employed in small, hut harassing enterprises. In one of these, Captain Donald Robertson, Lieutenant Lachlan (now Lieutenant-General) Maclean, and Ensign Grant, with the Grenadier company marched twenty days through the woods with no other direction than the compass, and an Indian guide. The object to be accomplished was to surprise and dislodge the enemy from a small post which they occupied in the interior. This service was accomplished without loss. By long practice in marching through the woods, the men had become very intelligent and serviceable in this kind of warfare.

With every opportunity, and much temptation to desert, in consequence of offers of land, and other incitements held out by the Americans, it is but justice to the memory of these brave and loyal men to state, on the most unquestionable authority, that not one native Highlander deserted; and only one Highlander was brought to the halberts during the time they were embodied.


The second battalion was very quickly embodied in Nova Scotia, and was composed of the same description of men as the first, but with a greater proportion of Highlanders, among whom Major Small was held in high esteem. No chief of former days ever more firmly secured the attachment of his clan, and no chief, certainly, ever deserved it better. With an enthusiastic, and almost romantic love of his country and countrymen, it seemed as if the principal object of his life had been to serve them, and promote their prosperity. Equally brave in leading them in the field, and kind, just, and conciliating in quarters, they would have indeed been ungrateful, if they had regarded him otherwise than as they did. [Major Small was a native of Strathardle in Athole. His first commission was in the Scotch Brigade. In 1747 he obtained an ensigncy in the old Highland regiment, and served in it till the peace of 1763, when he was reduced as captain. I have already noticed the number of accomplished and respectable gentlemen whose characters as officers were so honourable to the 42d regiment at that period. Captain Small was one of them. He died Major-General, and Governor of Guernsey, in 1796.] There was not an instance of desertion in this battalion. Five companies remained in Nova Scotia, and the neighbouring settlements, during the war. The other five joined General Clinton and Lord Cornwallis's armies to the southward. The flank companies were in the battalion of that description. At Eataw Springs the Grenadier company was in the battalion, which, as Colonel Alexander Stewart, of the 3d regiment, states in his dispatches, "drove all before them."

It was not till 1778 that this regiment was numbered the 84th. The battalions which were previously known only as the Royal Highland Emigrants, were now ordered to be augmented to 1000 men each, Sir Henry Clinton being appointed Colonel-in-chief, and the two commandants remaining as before. The uniform was the full Highland garb, with purses made of racoons' instead of badgers' skins. The officers wore the broad sword and dirk, and the men a half basket sword. [On St Andrew's day a ball was given by the officers of the garrison in which they were quartered, to the ladies in the vicinity. When one of the ladies entered the ball-room, and saw officers in the Highland garb, her sensitive delicacy revolted at what she thought an indecency, declaring she would quit the room if these were to be her company. This occasioned some little embarrassment. An Indian lady, sister of the Chief Joseph Brandt, who was present with her daughters, observing the bustle, inquired what was the matter, and being informed, she cried out, " This must be a very indelicate lady to think of such a thing. She shows her own arms and elbows to all the men, and she pretends she cannot look at these officers' bare legs, although she will look at my husband's bare thighs for hours together: she must think of other things, or she would see no more shame in a man showing his legs, than she does in showing her own neck and breast." These remarks turned the laugh against the lady's squeamish delicacy, and the ball was permitted to proceed without the officers being obliged to retire.] At the conclusion of the war both were reduced, and grants of land given to the officers and men, in the proportion of 5000 acres to a field officer, 3000 to a captain, 500 to a subaltern, 200 to a sergeant, and 100 to each soldier. All those who had been settled in America previously to the war, remained and took possession of their lands, but many of the others returned home.

The men of Colonel Maclean's battalion settled in Canada, and of Colonel Small's in Nova Scotia, where they formed a settlement or township, as it was called, and gave it the name of Douglas.

The transports with the flank companies from the southern army were ordered to Halifax, where the men were to be discharged; but, owing to the violence of the weather in the first instance, and a consequent loss of reckoning, they made the islands of Nevis and St Kitt's instead of Halifax. This delayed the final reduction till 1784.

It would appear, that the first battalion was entirely forgot in their distant quarters. By their agreement they ought to have been discharged in April 1783, immediately after the conclusion of the war. This circumstance was forgotten or overlooked; and it was not till a representation by the officer commanding, Major (now General) J. Adolphus Harris, that orders were sent in July 1784 to discharge the men.

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