"Oh Lads, make ready…" - An overview of Highland Regiments During the French and Indian Wars

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An Article by Lieutenant-Colonel Ian Macpherson McCulloch

"Oh Lads, make ready…"

O ghillean bithibh ullamh, le armaibh guineach,
Gu laidir, urranta, an onair an Rìgh;
Mun tig oirnne fada, bidh an Rìoghachd seo again.
Is theid sinn dhachaidh do Bhreatann a-rìs.

O Lads, make ready with death-dealing weapons,
Strong, intrepid, in honour of the King;
This country will be ours before too long,
And we will return to Britain again.

Corporal Iain Campbell, 78th Foot, c. 1759

During the French & Indian War (1755-1763), three proud Highland regiments comprising four battalions – a total of 4,200 kilted men from a total of 24,000 British regulars that served in North America - campaigned from the Forks of the Ohio to the fortress city of Quebec, to the Cherokee country of the Blue Ridge Mountain and the canefields and swamps of the Sugar Islands in the Caribbean.

The most famous of these regiments, The Black Watch or 42nd Foot, was told off for duty in North America in 1756, and subsequently in 1757, two newly authorized Highland battalions followed, the 77th Foot (Montgomery’s Highlanders) and the 78th Foot (Fraser’s Highlanders). Though the latter two regiments competed for recruits in the Highlands and set sail from Ireland together for the New World on the same summer day in 1757, they parted ways after one week, the 77th transports heading for the torrid heat of the Carolinas while the 78th convoy negotiated icebergs on their way to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Halifax, c. 1760, engraving by Richard Short. All three Highland regiments spent time in this city during the_Seven Years’ War 1756-1763. (Courtesy, National Archives of Canada)

The first division of the Black Watch arrived in New York City 16 June 1756 after a rough crossing of nine weeks and three days. As soon as they had dropped anchor in harbor, the citizens sent "a very Handsome Refreshment" down to the Officers and private Men consisting of Oxen, Sheep, Fowls, Strawberries, Cherries, Pease, etc. which proved a very acceptable Present." After their welcome, the Highlanders left for Albany on 26 June and arrived 28 June 1756 where, according to the Pennsylvania Gazette, they were housed with the residents "in twos, threes and fours", as they had brought no tents with them, the majority of their regimental baggage due to come over with the second division. One gentleman from New York who had accompanied them upriver reported to the Scot’s Magazine that upon their arrival at Albany "an incredible number of Indians flocked to them from all quarters", and interpreters were subsequently "chosen on either side" so they could effectively communicate.

"From the surprising resemblance in the manner of their dress and the great similitude of their language," a somewhat tongue-in-cheek Edinburgh editor wrote, "the Indians concluded they were anciently one and the same people, and most cordially received them as brethren, which may be productive of effects beneficial to the British interest."

They were joined in September by the second division of their regiment, some 600 new recruits with officers and NCOs, bringing the battalion up to a war establishment of 1060 all ranks. They spent the fall months between Herkimer’s on the Mohawk River where the Highlanders built the fort of the same name, and Fort Edward on the Hudson. They were ordered to garrison Schenectady, Schoharie and Canajoharie for the winter.

In early 1757, as the recruits of the 77th and 78th were being mustered in their various towns in Scotland to come over to North America, the Old Highland Regiment was still very much snowbound in the Mohawk River valley. Their uneventful winter came to an abrupt halt when incredible news reached them early Sunday morning, 20 March 1757. A large French force of colonial soldiers, Canadien militia and Indians had arrived on snowshoes in the dead of winter at Lake George two days before and had placed Fort William Henry under siege.

A northern vista of Lake George from the southern end in upstate New York. Map of Fort William Henry, c. 1757. (Courtesy, Library of Congress).

An Albany correspondent to the Pennsylvania Gazette described it thusly: "Sunday the 20th, the Alarm Drum beat here, when every Man capable of bearing Arms was ordered to prepare for a March which we did and rendez-voused at the Half-Moon where we waited all the next day in order that our whole force might be collected." For the Highlanders billeted in Schenectady and up the Mohawk, it took some time to pass the alert, but soon six companies were force-marching through the snow, some 500 men strong.

"We were soon joined by all the Regulars from [Albany] and Schenectady and the brave Highlanders, when we computed our numbers to be about 4000, including 25 Indians," wrote the unidentified correspondent. "We were to have been joined by another regiment [the 48th] at Fort Edward but upon our arrival there we were informed the Enemy, finding all their Schemes against the Fort proved Abortive were gone off, which chagrin’d us much, as we intended to have attacked them that Night."

The Highlanders had brought no camp baggage with them and were forced to make improvised field shelters Indian-style in the forest, as were soldiers of the 44th and 35th Foot. Lord Loudoun noted that when the troops had "marcht out on that Occasion and lay among the Snow for many Nights without Tents" it was discovered "that it was not so terrible a thing as they expected" and more surprisingly, "no Men disabled by it."

In the late spring 1757, the Black Watch was ordered to assemble on Staten Island for Lord Loudoun’s 1757 expedition against Louisbourg. They would only make it as far as Halifax, Nova Scotia before intelligence reports of French naval squadron’s prowling off Cape Breton would persuade the Commander-in-Chief to abort his mission. The Highlanders would return to winter quarters in New York city.

In 1758 each Highland regiment was fated to take part on a different campaign in 1758 due to William Pitt’s three-pronged strategy to take New France - three separate armies converging on the colony so as to spread out its limited French and Canadien defenders. In the west, the 77th were allocated to General John Forbes expedition to take Fort Duquesne (present-day Pittsburgh) on the Forks of the Ohio and were ordered north from Charleston, SC for that purpose. In the east, the 78th Foot who had spent the winter in various Connecticut towns were assigned to Major General Jeffery Amherst’s expedition to capture Louisbourg and left in April 1758 bound for Halifax, Nova Scotia.


Louisbourg from the Lighthouse Point batteries, 1758. Drawn by Capt. Charles Ince, 35th Foot. (Courtesy, National Archives of Canada).

In the centre, the 42nd formed part of General James Abercromby’s thrust northwards from Albany, New York to capture Forts Carillon (Ticonderoga) and St Frederic (Crown Point) by way of Lakes George and Champlain. The same year, a fourth Highland unit, the new-raising Second Battalion of the 42nd was authorized in July for service in North America and completed to seven companies by October 1758. They would see themselves diverted at the last moment to take part in Major General Peregrine Hopson’s expedition to seize the French island of Martinique in the Caribbean.

In July 1758, The Black Watch would suffer one of their most tragic defeats in the 281 years of its history at Fort Carillon (Ticonderoga), cut to pieces in several futile frontal assaults against General Montcalm’s entrenched regulars. They would spend the 1758/59 winter in New York recuperating and trying to rebuild their shattered ranks. Meanwhile, several regiments from Amherst’s victorious army at the successful siege of Louisbourg would march to New York colony in October 1758 to bolster Abercromby’s defeated army, including the 78th Fraser Highlanders who would provide the newly-built Fort Stanwix’s (Rome, NY) first winter garrison, some 400 men.


Map of Schenectady on the Mohawk River in upstate NY, c. 1750, where Fraser’s Highlanders spent their second winter in North America. (Courtesy, Library of Congress).

Six companies of Fraser’s Highlanders were additionally billeted on the townsfolk and the neighboring farms of Schenectady, each taking it in turns to mount the town guard. Two more companies were stationed mid-way at Fort Herkimer and another company was detached on garrison duties in Schoharie. Officers and men alike enjoyed weekly dances or frolics in the inhabitants’ homes, skated on the river and attended sleighing parties. One highlight of the winter was a contest to establish the champion swordsman of the Regiment. Their chaplain, Robert Macpherson, would write of the Mohawk Valley:

The Land [here] once clear’d is safely plowed by a horse and in a hundred years requires no manure. The finest Sown Clover you ever saw is not equal to that the Soil here produces naturally the very first year…Its clear’d for hundreds of miles, as plain as isle of Banchor, the mold finer than any garden, but now waste and uncultivated, this Mohoe River gliding Softly thro the Plain and by means of lazy Water Carriage backwards and forward for a 150 miles where it ends, an other begins another above at the head or the end or flows to this last, Hudsons River, navigable to New York…

In 1759, the 78th Fraser Highlanders would leave New York colony via New York, and march into the history books as part of General James Wolfe’s victory at the battle of the Plains of Abraham outside Quebec. At the same time they were leaving, the 77th Montgomery’s Highlanders from Pennsylvania were arriving at Albany, New York to soldier alongside the First Battalion of the "Old Highland Regiment" for the second attempt to capture Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point under the command of General Jeffery Amherst. The previously-mentioned Second Battalion of the 42nd raised the year before, would arrive too late to participate in this summer campaign, many of its men still wounded and sick from their arduous Caribbean detour. Instead, those men fit enough would march were dispatched westwards to Lake Ontario to work on the new fort being constructed at Oswego, then would return during the winter months of 1759/60 to garrison Albany while the First Battalion manned the Albany–Lake George communications. The 77th would spend the winter with the friendly farmers of Claverack, New York.

In 1760, the two battalions of Royal Highlanders, accompanied by eight companies of Montgomery’s Highlanders would launch from their final assembly point at Oswego as part of Amherst’s army expedition to capture Montreal, the last defended city of New France in August 1760. It would be in that captured French city that all three Highland regiments would meet for the first and last time during their existence. (Their former campground, now a large stadium for harness racing is appropriately named Blue Bonnets Raceway.) Six companies of the 77th Foot would miss the expedition having been detached to fight the Cherokees in South Carolina in spring 1760 under the overall command of their lieutenant-colonel commandant, the Honourable Archibald Montgomery (later the 11th Earl of Eglinton).

Left: "Warriors", a modern painting by Robert

Griffing of a Cherokee warrior and a private soldier of Montgomery’s Highlanders (77th Foot), c. 1757.

(Courtesy, Paramount Press).

The winter of 1760-61 soon dispersed all three regiments: the eight companies of the 77th that had remained with Amherst’s army for the capture of Montreal went to garrison Halifax, Nova Scotia; the 78th returned to Quebec City and its dependencies; while the two Black Watch battalions stayed put in Montreal.

In 1761, eight companies of the 77th set sail from Halifax to New York in April 1761 to join Lord Rollo’s expedition to take Dominica. The two battalions of the 42nd that remained in Montreal until mid-summer 1761, were soon ordered to New York city via the Lake Champlain-Hudson river corridor to participate in a pending expedition against the French and Spanish, arriving at Staten Island in the early fall. Their march included a six week stay at Crown Point on Lake Champlain.

The five companies of the 77th Montgomery’s Highlander that were left behind in NS in 1761, found themselves scrambling in August 1762 to assemble two fit companies to fight as part of William Amherst’s tiny force sent north to retake St John’s Newfoundland from the French. The latter had quietly seized it at the beginning of summer while the British were preoccupied with the Spanish at Havana. On the dawn of 13 September, a composite light infantry of recovered invalids from all three Highland regiments and some Royal Americans led by Captain Charles Macdonell, the brother of Glengarry, retook Signal Hill in a surprise attack alongside a provincial light infantry company. The capture of this vital ground saw the French garrison of St Johns surrender a few days later.

The 77th and 42nd Regiments fighting at Martinique and Havana would lose more men by disease than by shot or shell. On their return to Long Island in September 1762, after six months in the Caribbean, they were mere shadows of their former selves. By contrast, the Fraser Highlanders were fortunate enough to have enjoyed the relatively quiet garrison life of Quebec City during 1762, many taking up part-time trades and intermarrying with French-Canadian families.

"One Mile to Bushy Run" by Robert Griffing. Ohio Country Indians attack the Highlander column comprising soldiers of the 42nd and 77th Regiments of Foot under the command of Col. Henry Bouquet marching to Fort Pitt’s relief during Pontiac’s Uprising 1763. (Courtesy, Paramount Press).

In 1763, with the peace and the reduction of the 77th and 78th Regiments looming, the remnants of the 77th and 42nd Highlanders recovering from the 1762 siege of Havana on Long Island were brigaded together under the command of the famous Colonel Henry Bouquet and sent to the western frontiers where an Indian uprising was raging. They found themselves fighting for their lives at an obscure place named Bushy Run in the Pennsylvanian wilderness, then winning through to the besieged Fort Pitt. Almost immediately after this small sharp engagement, the 77th were finally ordered disbanded, as were the 78th in Quebec. As many as 80 sergeants, corporals and privates of Fraser’s Highlanders returned to the fertile Mohawk River valley were they had spent the winter of 1758/9 to take up land grants and settle down.

The remaining Highland regiment, the Black Watch, now reduced to one battalion of 700 men, would spend the rest of their stay in North America manning Fort Pitt and western Pennsylvania. The Royal Highlanders would assemble in Philadelphia in 1767 in order to take transports back to Ireland after ten years hard service in North America. Their exploits in the Americas during the "Great War for Empire" were a critical factor in transforming the overall image of Highlanders in the latter half of the 18th century from Jacobite rebels to Imperial heroes.

About the Author: Lieutenant-Colonel Ian Macpherson McCulloch is an active service Canadian army officer, a past commanding officer of The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada (1993-96) and a member of the Fort Ticonderoga Museum Association. A noted lecturer and military historian specializing in the French & Indian War, he is the author of several books and has acted as a military consultant for CBC’s A People’s History and A&E Channel. His latest book is entitled Sons of the Mountains: The Highland Regiments in the French & Indian War, 1756-67 and is co-published by Purple Mountain Press and the Fort Ticonderoga Museum, NY.


Canadian publisher: http://www.rbstudiobooks.com/sonsofmntns.pdf

US publisher: http://www.catskill.net/purple/sons.htm

The Old 78th Regiment of Foot: http://www.clanfraser.ca/78th.htm

Muster Rolls: http://www.clanfraser.ca/muster.htm

Officers: http://www.clanfraser.ca/78th1.htm

Uploaded: 2/28/2007 7:28:54 AM
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