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John Graves Simcoe
Chapter II - The Simcoe Family


THE member for St. Maw's, John Graves Simcoe, who brought to the discussion of the Canada Act no ordinary experience of colonial conditions and affairs, was, under the provisions of the Act, appointed governor of the newly-created province of Upper Canada. He was the son of a naval captain, John Simcoe, and of Katherine Stamford, his wife. He was born at Cotterstoc. in the county of Northumberland, on February 25th, 1752. He was named John after his father, and Graves after his godfather, Admiral Samuel Graves, who was his father's contemporary and friend. At the early age of forty-five, in the year 1759, John Simcoe ended his career. His qualities had already made him prominent among naval officers, and had he lived they would have carried him far upon the path of usefulness. His son, who inherited many of his commanding talents, also left his life at a point where the way seemed to broaden, and both men are greater in their promise of future accomplishment than in their actual performance. John Simcoe was promoted to the rank of captain in the year 1743 at the age of twenty-nine. In 1756-7 he was a member of the court-martial that found Admiral Byng guilty of neglect of duty. In 1759 he sailed under Admiral Saunders in the famous fleet which played such an important part in the conquest of Canada. But lie was destined to take no part in the active operations. On board his ship., the Pembroke, he died dining the passage from Halifax to the river St. Lawrence.

John Graves Simcoe firmly believed that his father urged the attack on Quebec and was the principal means of the assault having taken place. It is stated that he was enabled to supply Wolfe with a chart of the river and with valuable information collected during an imprisonment at Quebec. No details of this capture and imprisonment are anywhere given and the story begins in shadow and does not close in the light. Wolfe and Saunders obtained their information as to the currents and soundings of the river from sources which are known. The prototype of this tale is that of Major Stobo, whose capture, detention in Quebec, and subsequent presence with Wolfe before the beleaguered city are authenticated.

Had Captain Simcoe lived, his ability and service would have gained him honour and advancement greater than the bestowal of the crest of the sea lion, which had been granted him on account of important services, and which seems to be the sole barren recognition which they called forth. He is everywhere mentioned as an officer of rare ability. His mind was alert and his judgment sound; witness this opinion of the importance of Quebec and Montreal given at a time when they were mere outposts in a wilderness: "Such is the happy situation of Quebec, or rather of Montreal, to which Quebec is the citadel, that with the assistance of a few sluices it will become the centre of communication between the Gulf of Mexico and Hudson Bay, between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, by an interior navigation ; formed for drawing to itself the wealth and strength of the vast interjacent countries so advantageously placed, if not destined to lay the foundation of the most potent and best connected empire that ever awed the world."

Before Captain Simcoe's death the family resided in Northumberland but shortly after that event the widow and her two sons moved to Exeter. The younger of the boys was drowned while yet a child, and John Graves was left his mother's sole charge. He received his early education at the Free Grammar School at Exeter. In 1766, at the age of fourteen, he was sent to Eton, and on February 4th, 1769, he entered at Merton College, Oxford. As a student lie was successful, and although he did not take Ins degree at Oxford (t was owing to no lack of ability or application. He was essentially a man of action and he lived in times when the rumour of deeds of daring by land and sea were common in all men's mouths. Moreover, he had his father's career to emulate, and his reading and study had fostered that military ardour which was his predominant characteristic. It was against nature that such a lad could remain at his books while the field of deeds lay broad before his vision, and while the gathering trouble in America invited to service upon shores which his father had visited before him.

As the captain had left a considerable fortune it was easy for young Simcoe to obtain a commission as ensign in the 35th Regiment. His father had been a sailor, but he had also a strong predilection for the army and left a treatise on military tactics which was considered of value in his day. Young John Graves undoubtedly inherited this talent, chose with his heart the army before the navy, and developed naturally until he became a type of all that is excellent in his profession.

Thus he entered upon his military career in the year 1771, at the early age of nineteen. He did not at once see active service, and when his regiment was drafted for America he remained behind, and reached Boston only on June 17th, 1775, in time to hear the roar of guns on Bunker Hill and see the town streets filled with wounded and dying. This was his first experience of war, and for the next six years he knew no rest in the service of his king ; he gave his body in wounds and his estate in gold to the cause, and he did not desist until his last desperate offers were rejected by his chiefs, and until with bitterness he became but a unit m a defeated army, and sheathed his sword at Yorkton upon that memorable nineteenth day of October.

At this early period of his service Simcoe had a definite ambition; that was, to be in command of a corps of light troops, as he conceived this to be "the best mode of instruction for those who aim at higher stations." He was content to learn by the most arduous practice, that he might excel in his profession. But he was not content to adopt the manners and morals which had made such troops loathed and execrated as pillagers and marauders. His equal ambition was to change this reputation, to organize and perfect a corps which would be ever on the alert, which would always be the forlorn hope of the army, but which would leave in its marches unharried fields and homesteads respected. He compassed his ambitions. He commanded the Queen's Rangers; he gave his enemy no rest and took none himself, but his progress is nowhere marked by rapine or wanton destruction.

In the earliest days of his service he gave evidence of his energy, his resourcefulness, and his persistence. He experienced for his first plan the check which was so often applied by generals in this war, the indifference which must have been galling to men who saw opportunities let slip and knowledge wasted. Through Admiral Graves, who in 1775 commanded the naval force at Boston, he proposed to General Gage to enlist the Boston negroes and lead them, under Sir James Wallace, in Rhode Island. Gage brushed the plan aside, saying that he had other employment for the Boston negroes. So for months he lay pent with his regiment m the besieged town, and when the fourth of March saw Washington on the Dorchester Heights, he and his comrades could only use their energies to secure an orderly embarkation.

Upon March 17th, he took his last view of Boston harbour and sailed with the rest of Howe's army for Halifax. The passage was speedy, favoured by good weather. After an interval of ten or twelve weeks the army left Halifax for Sandy Hook on June 11th, and arrived on the twenty-ninth of the month. The expected reinforcements had not arrived, and as General Howe was apprised by Major-General Tryon, the governor of New Vork, that the Americans were preparing a stubborn resistance to any attack upon the city, he decided to proceed to Staten Island which the rebel forces relinquished when his ships anchored. The army disembarked on July 3rd. Amongst the troops was the 40th Regiment, to the grenadier company of which Simcoe had, during the sojourn at Halifax, been appointed captain. During the summer of 1776 he took part in the operations upon Long Island and in the Jerseys.

When Washington, on December 26th, pierced the British lines at Trenton, Simcoe with the 40th lay at New Brunswick, New Jersey. His regiment was left to cover that post when Colonel Mawhood marched on January 3rd with the 17th and 55th to occupy the little village of Maidenhead between Trenton and Princeton. Mawhood's detachment had hardly begun its march when it encountered Washington's forces. In the engagement which ensued Simcoe must have commanded his company of the 40th. Mawhood's force retreated to New Brunswick and soon the whole of Cornwallis's men were pouring back from Trenton into the post, while Washington marched north to Morristown.

These disastrous occurrences, furthered as they were by want of promptitude and foresight, gave Simcoe cause for reflection. During the winter, while the army lay at New Brunswick, he went to New York to ask from Sir William Howe the command of the Queen's Rangers, which was then vacant. His boat was detained by contrary winds and he arrived a few hours too late. But he placed his request upon record, and used what influence he had for the first vacancy of the kind which might occur. He was rapidly gaining experience, and the operations about New Brunswick in the early summer, during the eighteen days when Howe endeavoured to cross the Delaware and shake off the persistent Washington, gave him additional insight into the art of moving men quickly. At the end of June the plan was abandoned and the army crossed to Staten Island. When the army embarked for the Chesapeake Simcoe wrote General Grant urging his claims to a command should any opportunity offer. On July 5th, 1777, he sailed with his regiment for the Delaware, and was detained upon shipboard by southerly winds and bad weather until the latter part of August, when the army landed at the head of the Elk River. Amongst the troops transported to the scene of the campaign against Philadelphia was the Queen's Rangers, upon the chief command of which Simcoe had set his heart. The corps had been raised in Connecticut and about New York by Colonel Rogers and had already seen service.

On September 11th the armies clashed at Brandywine River, and Simcoe took part for the first time in an engagement of serious importance. It is probable that his regiment was attached to Knyphausen's division and fought at Chadd's Ford. General Grant served under the Hessian commander that day, and it is likely with the same regiments that had been under his control at New Brunswick, amongst which was the 40th. It is certain that at this point the Queen's Rangers were engaged, for their service was such as to merit special mention in General Knyphausen's report of the action, and to be rewarded by record in the general orders and the promise that all promotions should go in the regiment. At Chadd's Ford there was stern fighting and Simcoe was wounded before the action was won. His hurt could not have been severe for he was able to resume his duties on October 16th, and when he again mined the army it was as major in command of the Queen's Rangers.


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