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Caithness Field Club

Caithness Field Club Bulletin

Sir Patrick Sinclair of Lybster (1736 – 1820); the Army Years (by Dr George Reeves)

George Reeves, who now lives in the General’s house at Lybster, has kindly summarised a large article on Patrick Sinclair.

Most schoolboys of my generation would have regarded Wolf’s gallant capture of Quebec in 1760 as the end of fighting in Canada, and the 1777 American revolution as a different era. For British Officers in North America the events were linked and the Indians and the French were never far away.

Patrick Sinclair's Army career spanned these events and has been recorded by the Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research , 1978, held in the British Library- "The world's knowledge" www.bl.uk  Here are some highlights from the account.

In 1758 Ensign Patrick in the 2nd Battalion of the Black Watch with three other related Sinclair officers sailed for the French sugar islands and fought at Guadeloupe. In 1759 they moved to New York and rested at Albany, up the Hudson. This was a river and lake war, impossible in winter, against the French in Canada and the Commander in Chief, General Amherst, ordered a three pronged attack, General Wolf up the St Lawrence, Niagara, and west across the Great Lakes. Patrick was briefly on Lake Ontario before withdrawing to Albany for the winter. By May 1760 they were back on Lake Ontario, the Naval ships chased two Frenchmen to the "thousand islands" at the entrance to the St Lawrence, and later escorted the army in 800 small boats. The Navy ships failed to pass the maze of islands so the small craft filtered through and captured a French brig. Patrick, now a Lieutenant, was put in command of the brig and soon was investing Fort Levis, and was joined by two Naval vessels. The fort's guns beat in a plank of one ship and forced it to flee, cut the anchor cable of Patrick's brig, and drove the other Naval ship ashore. The land attack did better so the French Commandant surrendered and the fort was renamed Fort William Augustus. Patrick stayed here with his brig, so did not accompany the small boats on the successful attack on Montreal which caused the French surrender of Canada. Patrick later rejoined his regiment.

New lake ships were built to open the West to trade and establish trading posts amongst distant Indian nations. These were regarded as independent countries like Belgium, and in 1763, disappointed by the lack of gifts, the chieftain Pontiac mustered other Nations and swept away eight western posts. Detroit was sustained by the brigs on Lake Erie on which Patrick probably served.

A new Commander in Chief was appointed, General Sir Thomas Gage, who organised the re-conquest of the west and ordered the punishment of the Indians. In 1764 Patrick commanded one of the 20 vessels carrying 1200 troops with 10 field guns under Colonel Bradstreet who concluded the war by unauthorised treaties.

Patrick constructed Fort Sinclair on the river Huron with facilities for careening vessels, and was still in charge in 1768 when the Indians freely gave Patrick a deed for the land of the fort. His relations with the Indians was generally good but his servant was murdered, the culprits caught but, to Patrick's annoyance, escaped justice.

The regiment returned to England in 1768 leaving Patrick commanding one of HM's Vessels on the Great Lakes. In 1769 he was requesting reimbursement for the cost earlier incurred constructing Fort Sinclair. He returned to the regiment in England and was recruiting, also petitioning for the post of Superintendent of Navigation on the Great Lakes. In 1772 he had inherited Lybster and been promoted Captain but by 1773 was reduced to the half pay list and seeking employment in Canada and also repayment for his earlier outlay there.

By 1775 the American colony was becoming agitated, the UK government alarmed, and Patrick was given the job of Lieutenant Governor and Superintendent of the Post of Michilimackinac on the Great Lakes, and from Glasgow he sailed on the first available vessel, and pretended to be an Indian Trader. In New York he was arrested by the Provincial Congress, and next year allowed to return to England, and sailed to Philadelphia which was in British hands, and wintered there, travelling to Halifax in 1778, and overland to Quebec in 1779. Another half pay officer had been surprised by rebel forces and forced to surrender, so General Haldimand wished only serving officers to command military posts, and held up Patrick at Quebec. Patrick immediately complained that the division of civil and military command would not work, but was overridden, and he asked to return to England! This threat did not work so he arrived in Michilimackinac in October 1779. The fort was unchanged from when Pontiac's Indians took it in 1763, so Patrick sought to fortify the nearby island of Mackinac instead. This was much easier to defend and had a good harbour.

In early 1780 an attack on Spanish and French in St Louis on the Mississippi was ordered. Local traders and trustworthy Indians were recruited to assist the army, 750 in all, travelled down Lake Michigan and the Illinois River to the Mississippi. At the Dubuque lead mines 17 prisoners were taken. The force, increased to 1,200, attacked St Louis but were repulsed and the Indians scattered, and returned to Michilmackinac. Here Patrick, with the General's approval, was working on the island fort. The bad news from St Louis made him uneasy but the island fort was unready so he restored the stockade of the old fort and asked for armed vessels, materials and men. Another officer retired sick so Patrick was restored to full pay and military command. Patrick was then involved in various disputes over who was in command. The vast distances delayed the resolution of these disputes by General Haldimand. Patrick suggested that the new Mackinac fort should be named Haldimand !

In 1781 General Cornwallis was forced to surrender in Virginia. Patrick was promoted to Brevet Major, but the fort expenses rose to £60,000 in July, so a board of inquiry required Patrick to return to Quebec to explain to the Treasury. Confused legal cases followed, with Patrick in Newgate debtor's prison at one stage, but he finally won and in 1793 retired to Lybster to "live in gentile poverty".

In 1783 the UK and USA signed a treaty in Paris. The French had assisted the Revolution but by 1789 revolutionary ideas led to the storming of the Bastille and the beheading of Louis XVI in 1793.

In 1796 Michilimackinac was given to the USA under the Jay Treaty.

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