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Jeffery Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst

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Jeffery Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst

Field Marshal The Right Honourable
The Lord Amherst
Amherst by Joshua Reynolds
Crown Governor of Virginia
In office
Monarch George II
George III
Preceded by Earl of Loudoun
Succeeded by Lord Botetourt
Governor of the Province of Quebec
In office
Monarch George III
Preceded by Post created
Succeeded by James Murray
Personal details
Born 29 January 1717
Sevenoaks, Kent, England, Great Britain
Died 3 August 1797(1797-08-03) (aged 80)
Sevenoaks, Kent, England, Great Britain
Resting place Parish Church at Sevenoaks
Military service
Allegiance  Kingdom of Great Britain
Service/branch British Army
Years of service 1735–1795
Rank Field Marshal
Commands 15th Regiment of Foot
North America
62nd (Royal American) Regiment
3rd Regiment of Foot
Lieutenant-General of the Ordnance
Commander-in-Chief of the Forces
2nd Troop Horse Grenadier Guards
The Queen's Troop of Horse Guards
2nd Regiment of Life Guards
Battles/wars War of the Austrian Succession
Seven Years' War
Pontiac's Rebellion
American Revolutionary War
French Revolutionary Wars
Awards Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath

Field Marshal Jeffery Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst KCB (sometimes spelled Geoffrey, or Jeffrey, he himself spelled his name as Jeffery) (29 January 1717 – 3 August 1797) served as an officer in the British Army and as Commander-in-Chief of the Forces.

Amherst is best known as the architect of Britain's successful campaign to conquer the territory of New France during the French and Indian War. Under his command British forces captured the cities of Louisbourg, Quebec City and Montreal, as well as several major fortresses. He was also the first British Governor General in the territories that eventually became Canada. Numerous places and streets are named for him, both in Canada and the United States.

Early life

Born the son of Jeffrey Amherst (d. 1750), a Kentish lawyer,[1] and Elizabeth Amherst (née Kerrill),[2] Jeffery Amherst was born in Sevenoaks, England, on 29 January 1717.[3] His brothers included Admiral John Amherst and Lieutenant General William Amherst.[4] At an early age he became a page to the Duke of Dorset.[3] Amherst became an ensign in the Grenadier Guards in 1735.[5]

Amherst served in the War of the Austrian Succession becoming an aide to General John Ligonier and participating in the Battle of Dettingen in June 1743 and the Battle of Fontenoy in May 1745.[6] Promoted to lieutenant colonel on 25 December 1745, he also saw action at the Battle of Rocoux in October 1746.[7] He then became an aide to the Duke of Cumberland, the commander of the British forces, and saw further action at the Battle of Lauffeld in July 1747.[7]

Seven Years' War


In February 1756 Amherst was appointed commissar to the Hessian forces that had been assembled to defend Hanover as part of the Army of Observation: as it appeared likely a French invasion attempt against Britain itself was imminent, Amherst was ordered in April to arrange the transportation of thousands of the Germans to southern England to bolster Britain's defences.[8] He was made colonel of the 15th Regiment of Foot on 12 June 1756.[9] By 1757 as the immediate danger to Britain had passed the troops were moved back to Hanover to join a growing army under the Duke of Cumberland and Amherst fought with the Hessians under Cumberland's command at the Battle of Hastenbeck in July 1757:[7] the Allied defeat there forced the army into a steady retreat northwards to Stade on the North Sea coast.[10]

Amherst was left dispirited by the retreat and by the Convention of Klosterzeven by which Hanover agreed to withdraw from the war: he began to prepare to disband the Hessian troops under his command, only to receive word that the Convention had been repudiated and the Allied force was being reformed.[11]


Amherst gained fame during the Seven Years' War, particularly in the North American campaign known in the United States as the French and Indian War when he led the British attack on Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island in June 1758.[7]

In the wake of this he was appointed commander-in-chief of the British army in North America and colonel-in-chief of the 60th (Royal American) Regiment in September 1758.[7] Amherst then led an army against French troops on Lake Champlain, where he captured Fort Ticonderoga in July 1759, while another army under Sir William Johnson took Niagara also in July 1759 and James Wolfe besieged and eventually captured Quebec with a third army in September 1759.[7] Amherst served as the nominal Crown Governor of Virginia from 12 September 1759.[12]


On 8 September 1760, Amherst led an army down the Saint Lawrence River from Lake Ontario, and captured Montreal, ending French rule in North America.[7] He infuriated the French commanders by refusing them the "honours of war" (the ceremonial right of a defeated garrison to retain their flags); the Knight of Lévis burned the colours rather than surrendering them.[13]

In recognition of this victory, Amherst was appointed Governor-General of British North America in September 1760[7] and promoted to major-general on 29 November 1760.[14] He was appointed Knight of the Order of the Bath on 11 April 1761.[15]

From his base at New York, Amherst oversaw the dispatch of troops to take part in British expeditions in the West Indies that led to the British capturing Dominica in 1761 and Martinique and Cuba in 1762.[2]

Pontiac's Rebellion

Pontiac's War was a war that was launched in 1763 by a loose confederation of elements of Native American tribes primarily from the Great Lakes region, the Illinois Country, and Ohio Country who were dissatisfied with British postwar policies in the Great Lakes region after the British victory in the French and Indian War (1754–1763). During these hostilities, General Amherst is often criticized for his conduct. One of the most contentious and debated issues is the question over whether biological warfare was implemented by Colonel Henry Bouquet on orders from General Amherst. The suggestion was first posed by Amherst himself in a letter to Bouquet.[16] Bouquet addressed this suggestion in a postscript and responded to Amherst (in the summer of 1763):[17]

P.S. I will try to inocculate the Indians by means of Blankets that may fall in their hands, taking care however not to get the disease myself. As it is pity to oppose good men against them, I wish we could make use of the Spaniard's Method, and hunt them with English Dogs. Supported by Rangers, and some Light Horse, who would I think effectively extirpate or remove that Vermine.

In response, also in a postscript, Amherst replied:[17]

P.S. You will Do well to try to Innoculate the Indians by means of Blankets, as well as to try Every other method that can serve to Extirpate this Execrable Race. I should be very glad your Scheme for Hunting them Down by Dogs could take Effect, but England is at too great a Distance to think of that at present.

There has been some debate as to whether this plan was actually enacted with no consensus among historians.[18] The argument against the proposition that the plan was implemented on Bouquet's orders includes the fact that Bouquet had never had smallpox himself and was reluctant to enact the plan, as indicated by his postscript.[18] In addition, there exists no communication by Bouquet to Fort Pitt's commander of this plan.[18] However, as historians Elizabeth Fenn and Benedict Kiernan have shown, "Fort Pitt had anticipated these orders. Reporting on parleys with Delaware chiefs on June 24, a trader wrote: '[We] gave them two Blankets and an Handkerchief out of the Small Pox Hospital. I hope it will have the desired effect.' The military hospital records confirm that two blankets and handkerchiefs were 'taken from people in the Hospital to Convey the Smallpox to the Indians.' The fort commander paid for these items, which he certified 'were had for the uses above mentioned.' Historian Elizabeth Fenn has documented 'the eruption of epidemic smallpox' among Delaware and Shawnee Indians nearby, about the time the blankets were distributed."[19]

Amherst was summoned home, ostensibly so that he could be consulted on future military plans in North America, and expected to be praised for his conquest of Canada. However, instead, once in London, was asked to account for the recent rebellion.[20] He was forced to defend his conduct, and faced complaints made by Board of Trade, leading to Amherst's removal.[21] Nevertheless, he was promoted to lieutenant-general on 26 March 1765,[22] and became colonel of the 3rd Regiment of Foot in November 1768.[23]

On 26 March 1767 Jeffrey Amherst married Elizabeth, daughter of General George Cary (Joshua Reynolds, 1767)
Jeffrey Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst
1760 Canada Surrender by Thomas Foxcroft Boston

On 22 October 1772, Amherst was appointed Royal Family.[25] On 6 November 1772, he became a member of the Privy Council.[26]

American War of Independence

Amherst was raised to the peerage on 14 May 1776, as Baron Amherst of Holmesdale.[27] On 24 March 1778 he was promoted to full general[28] and, in April 1778, he became Commander-in-Chief of the Forces, which gave him a seat in the Cabinet.[23]

In 1778 when the British commander in North America, the King and Queen visited Amherst at his home, Montreal Park, in Kent[31] and on 24 April 1779 he became colonel of the 2nd Troop of Horse Grenadier Guards.[32]

Invasion scare

A long-standing plan of the French had been the concept of an invasion of Great Britain which they hoped would lead to a swift end to the war if it was successful: in 1779 Spain entered the war on the side of France, and the increasingly depleted state of British home forces made an invasion more appealing and Amherst organised Britain's land defences in anticipation of the invasion which never materialised.[2]

Gordon Riots

In June 1780 Amherst oversaw the British army as they suppressed the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots in London: after the outbreak of rioting Amherst deployed the small London garrison of Horse and Foot Guards as best as he could but was hindered by the reluctance of the civil magistrates to authorise decisive action against the rioters.[33] Line troops and militia were brought in from surrounding counties, swelling the forces at Amherst's disposal to over 15,000 many of whom were quartered in tents in Hyde Park and a form of Martial Law was declared, giving the troops the authority to fire on crowds if the Riot Act had first been read; although order was eventually restored, Amherst was personally alarmed by the failure of the authorities to suppress the riots.[34] In the wake of the Gordon Riots, Amherst was forced to resign as Commander-in-Chief in February 1782 and was replaced by Henry Conway.[23] On 23 March 1782 he became captain and colonel of the 2nd Troop of Horse Guards.[35]

French Revolutionary Wars

On 8 July 1788 he became colonel of the 2nd Regiment of Life Guards[36] and on 30 August 1788 he was created Baron Amherst of Montreal with a special provision that would allow this title to pass to his nephew (as Amherst was childless, the Holmesdale title became extinct upon his death).[37] With the advent of the French Revolutionary Wars, Amherst was recalled as Commander-in-Chief of the Forces in January 1793: however is generally criticised for allowing the armed forces to slide into acute decline, a direct cause of the failure of the early campaigns in the Low Countries: William Pitt said of him "his age, and perhaps his natural temper, are little suited to the activity and the energy which the present moment calls for".[38] Horace Walpole called him "that log of wood whose stupidity and incapacity are past belief".[39] "He allowed innumerable abuses to grow up in the army… He kept his command, though almost in his dotage, with a tenacity that cannot be too much censured".[40] He retired from that post in February 1795, to be replaced by the Duke of York, and was promoted to the rank of field marshal on 30 July 1796.[41] He retired to his home at Montreal Park[42] and died on 3 August 1797.[23] He was buried in the Parish Church at Sevenoaks.[2]


In 1753 he married Jane Dalison; following the death of his first wife he married Elizabeth Cary in 1767.[2] There were no children by either marriage.[2]


Several places are named for him: Amherstburg, Ontario (location of General Amherst High School),[43] Amherst, Massachusetts (location of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Hampshire College and Amherst College),[44] Amherst, New Hampshire,[45] Amherst, Nova Scotia,[46] Amherst, New York,[47] and Amherst County, Virginia.[48]

"The Un-Canadians", a 2007 article in Beaver Magazine, includes Jeffery Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst, Ezekiel Stone Wiggins, and Robert Monckton in a list of people in the history of Canada who were considered contemptible: "British North America Governor General Jeffrey Amherst supported plans of distributing smallpox-infested blankets to First Nations people."[49] In 2008, Mi'kmaq spiritual leader John Joe Sark called the name of Fort Amherst Park of Prince Edward Island a "terrible blotch on Canada" and said "To have a place named after General Amherst would be like having a city in Jerusalem named after Adolf's disgusting." Mi'kmaq historian Daniel N. Paul, who referred to Amherst as motivated by white supremacist beliefs, also supported a name change saying "in the future I don't think there should ever be anything named after people who committed what can be described as crimes against humanity."[50]

See also


  1. ^ Chartrand p.24
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Jeffery Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 28 April 2012. 
  3. ^ a b Heathcote p.23
  4. ^ "Jeffrey Amherst". Retrieved 1 December 2010. 
  5. ^ Mayo p.8
  6. ^ Mayo p.11-15
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Heathcote p.24
  8. ^ Mayo p.34-37
  9. ^ The London Gazette: no. 9590. p. 2. 8 June 1756. Retrieved 25 April 2012.
  10. ^ Mayo p.37-38
  11. ^ Mayo p.40-42
  12. ^ The London Gazette: no. 9930. p. 1. 11 September 1759. Retrieved 25 April 2012.
  13. ^ Hayes, p.77
  14. ^ The London Gazette: no. 10056. p. 11. 25 November 1760. Retrieved 25 April 2012.
  15. ^ The London Gazette: no. 10094. p. 2. 7 April 1761. Retrieved 25 April 2012.
  16. ^  
  17. ^ a b "Jeffrey Amherst and Smallpox Blankets". University of Massachusetts Amherst. Retrieved 29 August 2014. 
  18. ^ a b c Ranlet, Philip (2000). """The British, the Indians, and smallpox: what actually happened at Fort Pitt in 1763?. Pennsylvania history. p. 427-441. 
  19. ^ Kiernan, p. 245
  20. ^ Anderson p.552-553
  21. ^ O'Toole p.249
  22. ^ The London Gazette: no. 10507. p. 1. 23 March 1765. Retrieved 25 April 2012.
  23. ^ a b c d Heathcote p.25
  24. ^ The London Gazette: no. 11294. p. 1. 20 October 1772. Retrieved 25 April 2012.
  25. ^ Patterson p.93
  26. ^ The London Gazette: no. 11298. p. 1. 3 November 1772. Retrieved 25 April 2012.
  27. ^ The London Gazette: no. 11665. p. 2. 11 May 1776. Retrieved 25 April 2012.
  28. ^ The London Gazette: no. 11859. p. 1. 21 March 1788. Retrieved 25 April 2012.
  29. ^ Hibbert. Redcoats and Rebels p.211
  30. ^ Hibbert. Redcoats and Rebels. p209
  31. ^ The London Gazette: no. 11924. p. 1. 3 November 1778. Retrieved 25 April 2012.
  32. ^ The London Gazette: no. 11972. p. 2. 20 April 1779. Retrieved 25 April 2012.
  33. ^ Mansel, page 126
  34. ^ Hibbert King Mob. p.102
  35. ^ The London Gazette: no. 12280. p. 1. 19 March 1782. Retrieved 25 April 2012.
  36. ^ The London Gazette: no. 13005. p. 325. 5 July 1788. Retrieved 25 April 2012.
  37. ^ The London Gazette: no. 13020. p. 413. 26 August 1788. Retrieved 25 April 2012.
  38. ^ Burne p.209
  39. ^ Burne p.227
  40. ^ Burne p.228
  41. ^ The London Gazette: no. 13918. p. 743. 2 August 1796. Retrieved 25 April 2012.
  42. ^ Nunnerley, David. "A History of Montreal Park". Retrieved 22 April 2012. 
  43. ^ Jacobson p.17
  44. ^ Tucker p.14
  45. ^ Farmer p.70
  46. ^ Heim p.343
  47. ^ "A Brief History of the Town of Amherst". Amherst Museum. 1997. Retrieved 23 April 2012. 
  48. ^ Smith p.182
  49. ^ "The Un-Canadians". Beaver, Vol. 87 Issue 4, p. 30. August–September 2007. Retrieved 8 August 2012. 
  50. ^ Deborah Mensah-Bonsu,, "Native leader says P.E.I. park needs name changed" August 16, 2008 [1]


External links

Military offices
Preceded by
John Jordan
Colonel of the 15th Regiment of Foot
Succeeded by
Charles Hotham
Preceded by
James Abercrombie
Commander-in-Chief, North America
Succeeded by
Hon. Thomas Gage
Colonel-in-Chief of the 60th (Royal American) Regiment of Foot
Preceded by
Ralph Burton
Colonel of the 3rd Regiment of Foot
Succeeded by
William Style
Preceded by
Hon. Thomas Gage
Colonel-in-Chief of the 60th (Royal American) Regiment of Foot
Succeeded by
The Duke of York and Albany
Preceded by
Sir Richard Lyttelton
Governor of Guernsey
Succeeded by
Sir Charles Grey
Preceded by
Hon. Henry Seymour Conway
Lieutenant-General of the Ordnance
Succeeded by
Sir William Howe
Title last held by
Marquess of Granby
Commander-in-Chief of the Forces
Succeeded by
Hon. Henry Seymour Conway
Preceded by
The Earl of Harrington
Captain and Colonel of the
2nd Troop Horse Grenadier Guards

Succeeded by
Prince Frederick
Preceded by
Lord Robert Bertie
Captain and Colonel of
The Queen's Troop of Horse Guards

Became the 2nd Life Guards
New title Colonel of the 2nd Regiment of Life Guards
Succeeded by
The Earl Cathcart
Preceded by
Hon. Henry Seymour Conway
Commander-in-Chief of the Forces
Succeeded by
The Duke of York and Albany
Government offices
Preceded by
The Earl of Loudoun
Crown Governor of Virginia
Succeeded by
John Blair
Preceded by
New Office
Commander-in-Chief, North America
Governor of New France,
Pierre de Rigaud
Governor of the Province of Quebec
Succeeded by
Hon. James Murray
Peerage of Great Britain
New creation Baron Amherst of Holmesdale
Baron Amherst of Montreal
Succeeded by
William Pitt Amherst
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