By Robert A. McGeachy
Archibald Campbell was a professional soldier from Argyllshire, who was to become one of the British Empire’s most distinguished generals of the late eighteenth century. George III promoted Campbell to the rank of General, and also knighted him, in recognition of his military service to the Crown. For a man who was to receive these honours, and is buried at Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey it is perhaps surprising, therefore, that his military record, and his achievements in the civil administration of the Crown territories he governed, have been largely forgotten.
Campbell of Inverneill was to serve with distinction in the Seven Years War (1756 ñ 63) against France and her allies, and subsequently in India. It was in North America, however, during Britain’s war against her former colonies (1775 – 83) that Archibald Campbell was to earn his reputation as one of the finest British military commanders of the period. Indeed, Campbell of Inverneill won the distinction of being one of the few British generals whose reputation was actually enhanced by a conflict, which destroyed or seriously undermined the reputations of so many other British commanders, such as Gage, Howe, Clinton and Burgoyne.1 Archibald Campbell’s military achievements in the southern colonies, where his tactics and victories restored Georgia to the Crown, and his inspired governorship and defence of Jamaica which saw him play a key role in thwarting French attempts to capture the island, and in providing invaluable support to the British war effort in North America, were all the more remarkable for the fact that he had spent almost two years of the war as a prisoner of the American Patriots, in what proved to be the most harrowing circumstances.
Archibald Campbell of Inverneill: Background
Archibald Campbell was born at Dunderaive Castle near Inveraray on 21 August 1739, and was the second son of James Campbell, the 3rd of Tuerechan (1706 – 1760), who was a distant relation of the dukes of Argyll, and Elizabeth Campbell. His father practised as a lawyer at Inveraray, and also appears to have been involved in the timber trade. Archibald Campbell’s mother was the daughter of James Fisher of Durren, a merchant who periodically served as the Provost of Inveraray.2 Both of his parents were ambitious, and in tune with the new capitalist ethos which underpinned industrialisation, and agricultural `improvement’, in eighteenth century Scotland.
The key industry in Scotland during this period was the linen industry, and James and Elizabeth Campbell capitalised on its importance by establishing a spinning school at Inveraray in 1751, with the backing of their kinsman, the 3rd Duke of Argyll. This venture enjoyed considerable success, and in 1755 – 56, for example, the Trustees for the Manufactures, an early example of a Government economic development agency, awarded Mrs Campbell prizes of £5 and £10. These prizes were in recognition of the school’s success in instructing the most spinners, and for spinning the largest quantity of yarn, in Scotland.3 The spinning school’s success brought James and Elizabeth a degree of national recognition, as the school’s fame spread throughout Scotland. It also earned the couple the 3rd Duke’s trust and gratitude, a fact reflected in James Campbell’s appointment as the duke’s Chamberlain, and in his appointment as the Commissary for the Western Isles.
James Campbell’s important role in the administration of the 3rd Duke’s estate, brought his family into close contact with the duke and it appears that the young Archibald Campbell, or “Archy” as his family called him, became one of the duke’s favourites. Archibald Campbell grew up in the town of Inveraray, and it is likely that the duke took a keen interest in his young kinsman’s education and career. It is unclear if the 3rd Duke actually sponsored Archibald Campbell’s studies, or helped him to secure a commission in the Army when he decided to pursue a military career, but this is likely given the expense which studying and purchasing a commission in the army would have cost in those days. What is certain, however, is that the 3rd Duke recognized Archibald Campbell’s ability and talent at an early age, and was prepared to give him responsibility for important projects on the estate. In this respect, the 3rd Duke commissioned Archibald Campbell to produce a landscape plan of the Argyll Estate. Archibald Campbell completed this plan in 1757 when he was eighteen years old, possibly when he was on leave from, or just before he joined, the Army.4
Like most younger sons of the period, Archibald Campbell would have been acutely aware of the fact that in normal circumstances he could not expect to inherit the family’s modest wealth, and would have to choose a career to support himself through life. The dilemma facing younger sons was clearly outlined in a letter dated 1766 in the Barcaldine Estate Papers from Duncan Campbell to his cousin, Alexander Campbell of Barcaldine. In this letter Duncan Campbell contrasted his own fortune, with that of his cousin who had recently inherited the estate of Barcaldine in Argyll:
“I am to go next Christmas for the East Indies, I think you young Lairds are to be not a little envied who has fortunes made to your hands while we poor younger children are obliged to go to the most distant corners of the Globe in search of a precarious Livelyhood”.5
Before following Duncan Campbell’s example of seeking his fortune abroad, Archibald Campbell studied at Glasgow and Edinburgh Universities “where he greatly distinguished himself by his proficiency in the various branches of erudition to which he directed his attention”. Having made his mark at these universities, Archibald Campbell next attended the Royal (Military) Academy at Woolwich where he again enjoyed considerable success in his studies, and subsequently joined the British army as an engineer. With the outbreak of the Seven Years War, he participated in three raids on the French coast during 1757, and is reported to have “proved himself an able and gallant officer”.6 He also served in the expeditions to capture Guadeloupe, Dominique, Martinique and St Lucia and Grenada. As the war escalated, Archibald Campbell was posted to North America where he served as a captain with Fraser’s Highlanders, until seriously wounded during the capture of Quebec in 1759.7
At the end of the Seven Years War, Fraser’s Highlanders were disbanded, which left Archibald Campbell in need of a new posting. His talent as an engineer appears to have been widely recognized, and it was during this period that the Venetians approached him to be their army’s Chief Engineer. Archibald Campbell decided, however, to go to India, where he served with the 29th Regiment of Foot, and subsequently with the 42nd Highlanders (the Black Watch).8 In India, Campbell quickly proved himself to be an extremely capable and energetic officer, and one destined to reach the highest rank. On 5th February 1768, the East India Company appointed him as their Chief Engineer in Bengal, after receiving “ample testimonials” about his ability as an engineer. The young engineer, who was still only twenty-nine, quickly impressed his new employers, and the design he submitted for the defences of Fort George was much admired and earned him “fresh reputation”.9 Archibald Campbell further endeared himself to the East India Company’s Court of Directors by saving his employers large sums of money by his prudent construction of Fort George.10 Against this background, Archibald Campbell’s promotion was rapid, and in just over six months he had attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.11
Service in India earned Archibald Campbell considerable recognition, but the rigours of serving in that country’s harsh climate took its toll on his health. A dispatch dated 15 November 1771 from the East India Company’s agents at Bengal to its Court of Directors in London confirms that Archibald Campbell was forced to resign on the grounds of his rapidly declining health. The East India Company’s agents stated that they were loath to “lose a Man of his distinguished Abilities”, particularly when the mounting threat of war with France made it imperative to improve the defences at Bengal, and at other East India Company outposts. Archibald Campbell resigned in December 1772, and by October 1773 was back in Britain. He then spent some time advising the East India Company’s Court of Directors about how best to fortify its defences in India.12
Upon returning to Britain, Lt. Col. Archibald Campbell demonstrated that he was not just a career soldier, and that he had wider ambitions. It was at this time that Archibald Campbell took on commitments which indicate that he may have been ready to settle down in Scotland. After years of military service abroad, which had left his health seriously impaired, it is possible that his native country now held an irresistible attraction, especially as he was immensely proud of his Highland roots, and was a patriotic Scot who frequently described himself as a “Scotsman through and through”.13 Further evidence of his wish to settle down in Scotland is signposted by his election as an MP for the Burgh of Stirling in 1774. Archibald Campbell was to represent this constituency until 1780, and again in 1789. It is also possible that around this period he began his courtship of Amelia Ramsay, the daughter of the renowned painter Allan Ramsay of Kinkell (1713 – 84) and grand-daughter of Allan Ramsay the poet (1686 – 1758). Archibald Campbell and Amelia Ramsay were to be married on 7 July 1779.14
A Highland Laird
Nothing demonstrates more clearly Archibald Campbell’s commitment to settling down in Scotland than the use of the fortune he had amassed in India to set himself up as a Highland Laird (large landowner) in his native Argyllshire. Archibald Campbell’s six years of service in India had been lucrative and his younger brother, Duncan, confirmed that at the end of his brother’s first posting to India, he had “acquired additional marks of distinction from his Sovereign, and an independent fortune, with an unblemished reputation”.15 It was certainly a good time for Archibald Campbell to set himself up as a Laird, because economic conditions made it a buyer’s market for land in Highland areas such as mid-Argyll. The burden of inherited debts, poor investments, and low estate income had put tremendous pressure on many of the local Lairds, who were to lose their estates as a result. Lairds such as Sir James Campbell of Auchenbreck, for example, had his estate sequestrated in 1762, while Archibald Campbell of Danna was forced to sell his estate in 1773 to pay the family’s debts. The estates of Campbell of Ashfield, and of the MacNeills of Arichonan, were also in serious trouble by 1775, and with others such as the estate of Archibald Campbell’s cousin, Captain Neil Campbell of Duntroon and Oib, it was only a matter of time, with the latter going bankrupt in 1785.16
Campbell of Duntroon, in a vain attempt to save the family’s estate or “the Old Bark” as he described it17, subsequently took up a post with the Madras Presidency at the express invitation of Archibald Campbell, who was appointed governor of Madras in 1785. Duntroon was one of the lucky few able to secure such an appointment, because Archibald Campbell was inundated with applications from indigent kinsmen who wished to accompany him to India. This was referred to light-heartedly in a letter to Campbell of Inverneill from his friend Henry Dundas, who was a government minister and influential member of the Board of Control which had been set up in 1784 to oversee the management of the East India Company: “…the County of Argyll will be depopulated by the emigration of Campbells to be provided for by you”. The Directors of the East India Company refused to allow Archibald Campbell more staff than was absolutely necessary, and many applications were to prove unsuccessful.18 It would appear, however, that Archibald Campbell succeeded in appointing enough of his kinsmen to senior posts, including the appointment of his nephew James Campbell (son of his elder brother, Sir James Campbell) as aide-de-camp, to merit his administration passing into the history of the East India Company as the “Scottish Invasion”.
Large fortunes could be made in India and it is not surprising, therefore, that the opportunity to serve in the East India Company’s army or in its administration was so attractive to poverty stricken members of the Highland gentry. The change in Archibald Campbell’s own circumstances indicates the scale of the rewards which could be involved. Archibald Campbell used his new found wealth to take advantage of changing economic conditions, and the attendant changing patterns of land ownership, to become a major landowner in Argyll. Reflecting this, in 1773 – 74 he became the proprietor of the estates of Inverneill and of Danna, and consolidated his position as one of only two proprietors who held all of the land in North Knapdale (the other being Neill Malcolm, 11th of Poltalloch), with the subsequent purchases of the estates of Knap (1776), Taynish (July 1780) and Ulva (1784).19 Having apparently returned to Britain to settle down, Archibald Campbell was on the point of immersing himself in the life as the Laird of a large Highland estate and as an MP, when the deteriorating political situation in Britain’s North American colonies demanded his immediate return to the Army.
The American Patriots’ local protests in Boston and New York, principally against the British Government’s taxation policies, quickly erupted into a full-blown revolution. This, in turn, ignited a global conflict when France, Spain and Holland decided to back the Patriots. This war was to have a major impact on the Highlands, which proved itself to be a vital recruiting ground for the British Army and Navy. The war also impacted on the Highlands in other ways, as many of the Highland settlers in North America were drawn into the conflict on both sides. Some attempted to return to Britain, or went to Canada, to avoid the fighting. Contemporary estate correspondence from Argyll confirms, however, that this was not without its own risks. The Campbell of Barcaldine Estate Papers, for example, contains a letter dated 27 June 1784 from Mary Campbell to her uncle, Alexander Campbell of Barcaldine, Advocate, which highlights the losses suffered by her family as just one of the many thousands of Loyalist families driven into exile both during, and after, the conflict. Mary Campbell wrote to her lawyer uncle for advice about obtaining compensation from the British Government for the losses her family sustained in the course of the American Revolution. She enclosed a copy of the petition submitted by her family to the commissioners appointed to enquire into the losses and services of the Loyalists. In support of this petition Mary Campbell cited the facts that her husband had fought on the British side at Bunker’s Hill, and that she and her children had been captured on his sloop on their way from Boston to Halifax.20
Lt. Col., Second Battalion the 71st Highlanders
Archibald Campbell returned to the Army in 1775 as Lt. Col. of the second battalion of the 71st (Frasers) Highlanders, which was raised by General Simon Fraser, the Master of Lovat. Fraser’s father, Lord Lovat, had died on the scaffold for his part in the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 – 46, and his estate had been forfeited to the Crown. The young Master of Lovat fought relentlessly to get his family’s estate restored and when he finally succeeded, raised Highland troops (mainly from amongst his own clan) to fight for the Crown out of gratitude to the King. The original Frasers’ Highlanders (the 78th Regiment) played a heroic part in the bloody attempt to capture Fort Ticonderoga from the French during the Seven Years War, and served with distinction for the duration of that conflict. When war broke out in North America against the Patriots in 1775, General Fraser once again raised Highland troops “warmly assisted by his officers, of whom no less than six, beside himself, were chiefs of clans”. Two battalions of a combined strength of 2,340 men were raised, and assembled “first at Stirling, and afterwards at Glasgow, in April 1776″.21 When the two battalions reached Glasgow they joined the 42nd Highlanders (the Black Watch), and a combined force of nearly 6,000 Highlanders was stationed in the city. Contemporary accounts confirm that their appearance and model discipline made a distinctly favourable impression upon their officers, and the local civilian population.22
Before the impact of Clearance depopulated the Highlands, thousands of Highlanders joined, or were impressed into, the British Army and Navy. During the American Revolution, many Highlanders were tempted by the possibility of securing land in North America at the end of the hostilities. Serving with the 71st Highlanders was, therefore, an attractive option, and the muster for Frasers Highlanders was significantly over-subscribed, to the extent that some of the men became stowaways rather than face being left behind. The Regiment served with distinction in many of the war’s major engagements, such as the battles of Brooklyn Heights, Guildford Court House, Brandeywine Creek, and at Yorktown when Lord Cornwallis surrendered. It was during this war that the Regiment began to wear a red hackle in their hats, after General George Washington had written to an old acquaintance on the British side, Lieutenant Colonel Maitland, complimenting the latter on the conduct of the 71st Highlanders. In his reply, Lieutenant Colonel Maitland jocularly advised General Washington that the regiment would now wear a red hackle in their bonnets to ensure that the General did not overlook “doing justice to their exploits, in annoying his posts, and obstructing his convoys and detachments”, as the General “was too liberal not to acknowledge merit, even in an enemy”.23
Arrival in America and Capture
The 71st Highlanders sailed for North America with a full naval escort on seven transports which included the “George” and “Annabella”. The convoy faced fierce storms, and the passage was to last seven weeks. Lt. Col. Archibald Campbell sailed on the “George” along with Major Menzies, one hundred and eight soldiers from the first battalion, the Adjutant, the Quarter-Master, two Lieutenants and five gentleman volunteers, while Captain MacKenzie, two subalterns, two volunteers and eighty two men from the first battalion were aboard the “Annabella”.24 The severe weather scattered the convoy, and the two lightly armed transport arrived unescorted outside Boston harbour on 17th June 1776. They immediately fell victim to the incompetence which from the outset had marked Britain’s political and military response to the mounting crises in the Colonies.
Almost incredibly, when the British under General Howe hastily evacuated Boston on 17 March 1776, they failed to take the precaution of leaving behind a small naval force to patrol the local coastal waters and warn other British ships of the city’s evacuation. The result was that Campbell of Inverneil arrived outside Boston harbour on 17 June 1776, completely unaware that the city was now in enemy hands. Howe’s precipitous evacuation, without making any provision to warn British shipping, was condemned by amongst others Judge Thomas Jones in his History of New York during the Revolutionary War (1879). The Judge was a leading member of the Loyalist community in New York, and his views on the capture of Lt. Col. Campbell and the 71st Highlanders were fairly typical of his caustic account of the American Revolution written in exile between 1783 and 1788:
“Upon the evacuation of Boston (whether the fault of the Admiral or General, or both, is more than I know) no men-of-war were left to cruise in Boston Bay to acquaint such victuallers, transports, or merchantmen, who unacquainted with the evacuation, should attempt the harbour. This was a bad look out. It was (as it might naturally have been expected) attended with very serious consequences. A number of merchantmen from the West Indies, several victuallers, some store-ships, and two transports with 300 Highlanders on board, under the command of Col. Campbell and Major Menzies, not having the least knowledge of the evacuation, pushed for Boston, and were captured in the Bay by a few small privateers fitted out for the purpose. One or two frigates stationed in the Bay would have prevented all this mischief. But a fatality, a kind of absurdity, or rather stupidity, marked every action of the British Commanders-in-Chief during the whole of the American war”.
The Judge’s view of the Highlanders’ capture was re-echoed by other contemporaries such as Charles Stedman, a Loyalist “who served under Sir William Howe, Sir Henry Clinton, and the Marquis Cornwallis”, who referred to the “neglect” of the British commanders.25 Even the Patriots were a bit bemused by this turn of events which had led to the capture of a senior British officer and a significant proportion of his command. A letter dated 30 June 1776 from George Washington to John Hancock, the President of Congress, for example, confirms that the Patriots’ Commander in Chief shared Judge Jones’ incredulity regarding the British failure to warn its shipping about the evacuation of Boston. Archibald Campbell’s own account of his capture, later published in the Scots Magazine (1776) confirms that this oversight by the British military leadership also led to the capture of two further transports, “the Lord Howe” and the “Ann”, carrying detachments from the light infantry and Grenadier units of the 71st Highlanders.26
It is clear, however, that Campbell of Inverneill and his men were only captured after an intense naval battle in which their two lightly armed transports engaged a fleet of heavily armed Patriot vessels. The “George” and “Annabella” were armed with six cannons and two swivel guns respectively. The six Patriot privateers, on the other hand, had forty man crews and each carried eight cannons and twelve swivel guns. Despite such heavily uneven odds, the battle raged for most of the day, with the British transports successfully beating off successive Patriot attacks. This fierce naval battle turned decisively in the Patriots’ favour as light faded, and the Patriots were reinforced by a Brig (the “Defence”) armed with sixteen cannon, twenty swivel guns and a crew of 117 men, and by a schooner carrying eight cannon, twelve swivel guns and forty men.27 With the arrival of these reinforcements, the transports attempted to cut a dash for what they believed to be the sanctuary of Boston harbour. Indeed, according to Campbell of Inverneill’s account of the action, it was only when the transports came under fire from Patriot shore batteries that the British realised that control of Boston had somehow changed hands. Disorientated by this unexpected development, the transports anchored at St. George’s Island and awaited the resumption of hostilities. The conclusion of the battle was particularly intense, and Campbell of Inverneill’s calm leadership helped to steady his men in the face of the Patriots’ renewed onslaught, particularly as most of the sailors on board appear to have lost heart. Archibald Campbell described how the transports continued to fight until their ammunition was exhausted, and further resistance was deemed futile:
“About eleven o’clock, four of the schooners anchored right upon our bow, and one right astern of us. The armed brig took her station on our starboard side, at the distance of 200 yards, and hailed us to strike the British flag. Although the mate of our ship, and every sailor on board, the captain only excepted, refused positively to fight any longer, I have the pleasure to inform you, that there was not an officer, non-commissioned officer, or private man of the 71st, but what stood to their quarters, with a chearful obedience. On our refusing to strike the British flag, the action was renewed, with a good deal of warmth on both sides; and it was our misfortune, after the sharp combat of an hour and a half, to have expended every shot that we had for our artillery. Under such circumstances, hemmed in, as we were, with six privateers, in the middle of an enemy’s harbour, beset with a dead calm, without the power of escaping, or even the most distant hope of relief, I thought it became my duty not to sacrifice the lives of gallant men wantonly in the arduous attempt of an evident impossibility. In this unfortunate affair Maj. Menzies and seven private soldiers were killed; the quartermaster and twelve private soldiers wounded. The Major was buried, with the honours of war, at Boston”.
Campbell, recognizing that the transports were completely surrounded by the enemy, were out of ammunition and lay aground directly under the line of fire of one of the Patriot shore batteries, reluctantly agreed to surrender.28 His small force had fought valiantly against overwhelming odds, and his Highlanders, finding themselves deployed in the unfamiliar role of Marines, had acquitted themselves with honour.
The capture of Campbell, and detachments of the 71st Highlanders, was confirmed by Major General Artemas Ward in a letter to George Washington dated 20 June 1776, in which the former described Campbell of Inverneill “as a member of parliament, and a gentleman of fortune”.29 Archibald Campbell’s willingness to take on a superior Patriot force with the lightly armed transports fully illustrates the brave and bold leadership which characterised his military career. Campbell’s capture was a great loss to the British war effort, which lost the services of this talented and extremely capable battlefield commander. Archibald Campbell remained a prisoner of war for just under two years, and in captivity faced a challenge that was arguably as great as anything he had ever faced on the battlefield. In the event, the resolve and strength of character he showed both during, and after, his harsh captivity earned him the respect of both sides. Indeed, it won Archibald Campbell the personal regard of both his Sovereign, George III, and the Patriot Commander in Chief, General George Washington, in almost equal measure.
Prisoner of War
The war Between Britain and the Patriots rapidly became a brutal conflict of attrition, and there were bitter recriminations between the two sides about each other’s treatment of their respective prisoners. This is evident in the correspondence between the British military leadership and George Washington. Archibald Campbell became a victim of this controversy, and as a result was forced to endure a long and oppressive captivity. Although Campbell was initially treated humanely, he quickly became an unwitting pawn in the propaganda battle waged between the two sides, and was made a scapegoat by the Patriots. A key dimension of this political struggle was the thorny issue of prisoner exchange. Apart from political factors, the exchanges were blocked and delayed by a lack of resources and by administrative incompetence on both sides. The situation on the Patriot side, for example, was exacerbated by the need to reconcile the often conflicting views and objectives of Congress and the individual States in relation to responsibility for, and maintenance of, British prisoners. It was also adversely affected by the often contradictory instructions issued to those responsible for the prisoners at the local level by Congress, the Board of War and by the Board of Treasury.30 Another complicating factor was the status of the British prisoners, which included British regulars, Hessians (the German mercenaries hired by the British), Loyalists (Americans who supported the Crown) and Canadians.
Evidence of the Patriots’ abuse of prisoners is provided by a letter of October 1775 published in the Scots Magazine (1776) from one of the officers captured with Archibald Campbell. This alleged that his group of 170 soldiers from the 71st Highlanders were treated “almost too hard for men of spirit to put up with”. The anonymous writer described the forced march to their prison quarters, which left them in no doubt about the unpopularity of Highlanders fighting for the Crown:
“…but on our journey no slaves were ever served as we were: through every village, town and hamlet, that we passed, the women and children, and indeed some men amongst them, came out, and loaded us with the most rascally epithets, calling us “Rascally cut-throat dogs, Murderers, Blood-hounds,” & c.; but what vexed me most was, their continually slandering of our country (Scotland), on which they threw the most infamous invectives: to this abuse they added showers of dirt and filth, with now and then a stone. We complained to those who had us in charge: but it was needless; for though they saw, and said they were sorry for the ill treatment that we had received, it was not in their power to remedy it; for that if they took any measures to prevent it, even they themselves would not perhaps escape full as bad, if not worse usage than we had experienced; and also be considered as traitors to their country, for only defending and protecting us from the resentment of the populace: we therefore were obliged to submit to what they were pleased to say and do…”.31
Conversely, Britain’s often harsh treatment of Patriot prisoners, and initial refusal to sanction prisoner exchanges, can be attributed to the prevailing view in British Government circles that such exchanges would only serve to extend diplomatic recognition to the Patriot forces, which it viewed as `Rebels’ and traitors. Another development which increased the suffering of some Patriot prisoners was their relocation on prison hulks in Britain, or in North America. The regime for the prisoners on board these vessels appears to have been extremely brutal, and a constant source of complaint by Congress to the British Government throughout the conflict. Indeed, even when the Patriots resorted to reprisals against captured British sailors this apparently brought little, if any, improvement to the treatment of the Patriot prisoners held aboard British warships.32 These factors hampered prisoner exchanges, which resulted in thousands of prisoners from each side suffering a lengthy, harsh captivity, exacerbated by the lack of food and provisions. Admittedly, a few piecemeal exchanges did take place, but the residue of bad feeling existing between the two sides created a legacy of bitterness. This dogged negotiations over prisoner releases and prevented a general exchange of prisoners, which was only made possible with the signing of the Paris peace treaty of 1783.
The treatment of Officer prisoners was generally much better than that of their men. A much commented upon exception to this rule, however, was the Patriots’ oppressive treatment of Campbell of Inverneill. The latter was forced to endure a grim captivity as punishment for Britain’s alleged mistreatment of captured senior Patriot officers such as Ethan Allen who was captured in September 1775, and General Charles Lee, the former British officer captured on 13 December 1776 at Basking Ridge in New Jersey. Ethan Allen was the firebrand leader of the Green Mountain Boys, a guerrilla band originally formed in Vermont to expel the surveyors, commissioned by the Assembly of New York, to lay out plots of land in an area over which both New York and Vermont laid claim. The Green Mountain Boys also targeted settlers holding land grants under New York title. In October 1771, for example, they demolished the house of Charles Hutchison (a former corporal in Montgomery’s Highlanders) near New Perth, and cleared eight or nine other families out off their homes in this area.33 The Assembly of New York responded by declaring Ethan Allen an outlaw, and by placing a price of 300 sterling on his head. Even before the outbreak of the war, Allen had, therefore, achieved considerable notoriety in the Colonies.
Allen was one of the Patriot leaders, along with Col. Seth Warner and Lt. Col. Benedict Arnold, who captured Crown Point in May 1775.34 The capture of this post set in motion a train of events which inextricably linked Allen’s fate to that of Campbell of Inverneill’s for much of the conflict. Ironically, the Patriot forces besieging Boston used the cannons captured at Crown Point to force the British evacuation of that City which, in turn, led directly to Campbell of Inverneill’s capture in June 1776. Not long after his success at Crown Point, however, Allen’s own rashness led to his capture near Montreal in September 1775. This was a tremendous coup for the British, who had long demonised Allen for his leading role in the violent controversy over the Hampshire land grants. This background, and Allen’s uncompromising attitude towards his captors, made it almost inevitable that his captivity was likely to be both long and extremely unpleasant35, particularly as the British regarded him as an outlaw and a traitor, rather than as a duly commissioned military officer.
Prior to his capture, attitudes towards Allen had been extremely mixed on both sides, but his mistreatment as a prisoner of war and subsequent transfer to Britain in chains provoked considerable anger amongst the Patriots, and hardened their attitudes on the prisoner exchange issue. Upon capture, Allen and his men were treated by General Prescott with what Schuyler, the Commander of the Northern Department, described as “shameful brutality” in a letter dated 28 November 1775 to George Washington.36 This provoked the Patriots’ Commander in Chief to write to Major General Howe on 1 December 1775 protesting that Allen had been treated “without regard to decency, humanity, or the Rules of War; That he has been thrown into Irons and suffers all the Hardships inflicted upon common Felons”. Washington threatened to retaliate against General Prescott, who had himself now been captured, unless Allen’s treatment showed marked improvement. Washington’s request that Allen be exchanged was ignored, and the latter was shipped to England, where it was expected that he would stand trial for treason. Ultimately, this option became less realistic to the King’s Ministers, as the conflict escalated and more British officers and troops were captured. The British, fearful of reprisals if Ethan Allen was tried for treason, shipped the erstwhile leader of the Green Mountain Boys back to North America, but he was to remain a prisoner of war for nearly three years.
As news of Ethan Allen’s mistreatment, and later reports of the alleged abuse of the captured General Lee, filtered back to the Patriots’ political and military leadership, Congress took the view that reprisals should be taken against captured senior British officers in Patriot captivity. The fate of Lee appears to have been of particular concern to Congress. A letter dated 6 January 1777 from the President of Congress to Washington, for example, described Lee’s position as “extremely dangerous and critical”, and referred to George III’s determination that Lee (still technically an half pay officer in the British Army) should be returned to Britain to stand trial for desertion and treason.37 Indeed, it was only the threat of reprisals against Archibald Campbell and some captured Hessian officers, which finally dissuaded the British to drop this design, and to reluctantly recognize Lee as a prisoner of war eligible for exchange. Lee escaped the hangman, but the circulation of reports about his alleged brutal captivity and the harsh treatment of Ethan Allen, resulted in Archibald Campbell becoming the principal target of Congress’ counter-measures. Campbell of Inverneill explained in a letter dated 14 February 1777 to General Sir William Howe that his treatment by the Patriots, which had initially been humane, changed dramatically for the worse following news of these reports, and in response to Britain’s apparent refusal to exchange him for either Ethan Allen or Lee.38
These developments helped to fuel the hatred and suspicion which existed between the two sides, and Campbell of Inverneill became one of the main victims of the bitterness which blighted the negotiations over prisoner exchanges and condemned thousands of men to long periods of imprisonment, often in the most appalling conditions. In an account of his own imprisonment, Archibald Campbell confirmed that he was stripped of most of his private property, “the very necessaries of life”, and that the officers’ side arms were sold by Captain William Bradford, the Continental Agent for Prizes at Boston, “notwithstanding they were honourably restored to them by the captorsî. It would also appear that Campbell of Inverneill was transferred to Concord jail from as early as December 1776/January 1777. After receiving Archibald Campbell’s letter, Howe wrote to Washington on 27 February 1777 to complain about Campbell’s treatment, and to suggest an exchange.39 The nature of Archibald Campbell’s imprisonment also angered George Washington, who appears to have genuinely cared for the treatment of all prisoners of war. This was evident in a letter dated 2 March 1777 to Robert Morris, a successful merchant and member of Congress who found fame as the “Financier of the Revolution”, which also highlighted the large numbers of Patriots held prisoner:
“The Resolve to put in close confinement Lieutenant Colonel Campbell and the Hessian Field Officers, in order to retaliate General Lee’s punishment upon them, is, in my Opinion, injurious in every point of view, and must have been entered into without due attention to the consequences. does Congress know how much the Balance of Prisoners is against us? That the Enemy have, at least, 300 officers of ours in their possession, and we not fifty of theirs……..Do they imagine that these Officers will not share the Fate of Campbell & c.?…..”.40
In a further letter to John Hancock, the President of Congress, dated 6 March 1777 Washington referred to the “impolicy” of Congress’ treatment of Archibald Campbell. The Patriot Commander in Chief also wrote to Sir William Howe on 3 March 1777 confirming that he had written to the Council of the Massachusetts State, and expressing the hope that “his situation [Archibald Campbell’s] will be made more agreeable, it being my wish, that every reasonable indulgence and act of Humanity should be done to those whom the fortune of War has or may put into our hands”.41 Until the true circumstances of General Lee’s confinement emerged, Campbell of Inverneill’s treatment went from bad to worse, as Congress ordered that he should be held in the “common gaol” at Concord. In a letter to General Howe dated 14 February 1777 published in the Scots Magazine (1777), Campbell of Inverneill described the conditions in which he was being held:
“With respect to your Excellency’s treatment of General Lee, I can scarcely think it similar to mine; but that you may be able, with more precision, to decide on that point, I shall briefly state my present unmerited condition. I am lodged in a dungeon of twelve or thirteen feet square, whose sides are black with the grease and litter of successive criminals. Two doors with double locks and bolts shut me up from the yard, with an express prohibition to enter it, either for my health, or the necessary calls of nature.
“Two small windows, strongly grated with iron, introduce a gloomy light to the apartment, and these are at this hour without a single pane of glass, although the season for frost and snow is actually in the extreme. In the corner of the cell, boxed up with the partition, stands a necessary-house, which does not seem to have been emptied since its first appropriation to this convenience of malefactors. A loathsome black hole, decorated with a pair of fixed chains, is granted me for my inner apartment; from whence a felon was but the moment before removed, to make way for your humble servant, and in which his litter and his very excrement to this hour remains. The attendance of a single servant on my person is also denied me, and every visit from a friend positively refused. In short, Sir, was a fire to take place in any chamber of the gaol, which is all of wood, the chimney-stacks excepted, I might perish in the flames before the gaoler could go through the ceremony of unbolting the doors, although, to do him justice in his station, I really think him a man of attention and humanity. His house is so remote from the gaol, that any call from within, especially if the wind is high, might be long of reaching him effectually.
“Thus have I stated to your Excellency the particulars of my situation. How far I had a claim to expect it, reason and propriety will dictate”.42
These were the background developments underpinning the oppressive treatment of Campbell of Inverneill. The Patriots, angered by Ethan Allen’s treatment and convinced that General Lee was suffering a similar fate, resolved to make Archibald Campbell suffer. On 20 February 1777 Congress cancelled Archibald Campbell’s parole, and that of five Hessian officers, and ordered that these officers should be placed “into safe and close custody, it being the unalterable resolution of Congress to retaliate on them the same punishment as may be inflicted on the person of General Lee”.43 The balance of contemporary sources confirm, however, that this resolution simply backdated Congressional approval for Campbell of Inverneill’s imprisonment in Concord jail, which probably dated from December 1776/January 1777. Archibald Campbell’s treatment caused outrage on the British side, particularly as General Lee’s confinement was actually one of considerable comfort and freedom.
Judge Jones in his History of New York during the Revolutionary War (1879) outlined how the report of General Lee’s alleged mistreatment became common currency throughout North America. The Judge, much to his obvious disgust, blamed this on the failure of the British military leadership to effectively counter Patriot propaganda:
“It was industriously reported throughout the revolted Colonies from one end to the other, that he was treated with the utmost severity, received the most cruel usage, and was confined in a common prison. This report, scandalous, false, and infamous as it was, met with general belief in the rebel States. It was no wonder. The British General took no pains to convince the public to the contrary, though several British officers (then prisoners among the rebels) suffered severely from the report”.44
Judge Jones drew a stark contrast between the treatment meted out to General Lee and Campbell of Inverneill. According to the judge, General Lee was “living in genteel apartments [the Council Chamber in New York’s City Hall], supplied at the expense of the nation with all the luxuries that New York could afford, had his friends to dine with him, his servant to attend him, a good bed to sleep upon, into which he tumbled jovially mellow every night (for to do him justice he loved good fellowship, a long set, a good dinner, and a convivial glass, when he could enjoy them at any other expense than his own)”. Archibald Campbell, on the other hand, was “lodged in a dungeon, without a bed, allowed nothing but bread and water, denied the use of pen, ink, and paper, his servant refused admittance, and in this unhappy situation did he continue many months, while Lee was wallowing in luxury at the expense of the Crown”.45 Stedman, in his history of the war, also asserted that Archibald Campbell was “treated in a cruel and savage manner”.