Jeffery Amherst

Jeffery Amherst, Baron Amherst (1717-1797), was commanding general of the British forces in North America and then governor general of British North America.

Born on Jan. 29, 1717, at Riverhead, Kent County, England, Jeffery, or Jeffrey, Amherst became a page to the 1st Duke of Dorset. Entering the army in 1731, he served as an aide to Gen. John Ligonier in the War of the Austrian Succession and participated in the battles of Dettingen, Roucoux, and Fontenoy. On Dec. 25, 1745, he became lieutenant colonel of the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards, and as an aide to the Duke of Cumberland he was present at the Battle of Laffeldt in 1747. Promoted to the colonelcy of the 15th Regiment of Foot, he accompanied Cumberland as commissary at the Battle of Hastenbeck.

Amherst was recalled to England in January 1758 and was given the rank of major general and command of an army of 14,000 men. His mission was to take the French fort of Louisbourg in Canada, which had been besieged since June 1, 1758; the garrison surrendered on July 26, giving the British their first important victory in the Seven Years War. After securing the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Amherst moved to Albany as commanding general in North America. His task was to drive the French from Lake George and Lake Champlain prior to joining forces with James Wolfe to besiege Quebec.

Ticonderoga fell to Amherst on July 27, 1759, and Crown Point on August 4. After he reached the northern limits of Lake Champlain, he learned of the fall of Quebec and closed his campaign. In recognition of his services, George III appointed him to the sinecure governorship of Virginia. In 1760 Amherst drove down the St. Lawrence from Oswego, meeting British forces from Quebec and from Lake Champlain, to take Montreal, which fell September 8. His conduct of operations during the Indian uprising led by Pontiac in 1763 has usually been criticized as inept. Amherst returned to England during the winter of 1763-1764.

In 1768, when George III decided that all governors should reside in the Colonies, Amherst resigned as governor of Virginia, giving up his military commissions as well. Several months later he was given additional military commissions and 20,000 acres in New York and was appointed to the sinecure governorship of the island of Guernsey. He declined to command the British forces in New England during the American Revolution. In 1776 Amherst served as military adviser to the Cabinet and was made Baron Amherst. After France entered the war in 1778, he was appointed commander of the military forces in England and was active in the suppression of the Gordon riots. After the war he retired; in view of the approaching war with France in 1792, he was recalled to active duty. He left the army in 1795. A year later he was made a field marshal, the highest rank in the British army. He died on Aug. 31, 1797.


Further Reading on Jeffery Amherst

The best biography of Amherst is John Cuthbert Long, Lord Jeffery Amherst: A Soldier of the King (1933). An earlier study is Lawrence Shaw Mayo, Jeffery Amherst: A Biography (1916). Important background studies include Jack M. Sosin, Whitehall and the Wilderness: The Middle West in British Colonial Policy, 1760-1775 (1961); Edward P. Hamilton, The French and Indian Wars: The Story of Battles and Forts in the Wilderness (1962); and David Hawke, The Colonial Experience (1966).