The regiment was created in 1758 by Colonel Thomas Gage, and was known as Gage's Light Infantry or "leathercaps". The purpose of this unit was to provide a formal regiment that could combat France and its Native American allies during the French and Indian War, while adopting such tactics and equipment that had been proven by Roger's Rangers. Viewing the rangers as often unreliable and ill-disciplined, Lord Loudoun, commander-in-chief in North America following the advice of the Duke of Cumberland; "till Regular Officers with men that they can trust, learn to beat the woods, & act as Irregulars, you will never gain any certain Intelligence of the Enemy...." Lord Loudoun sought to fill the void by creating two light infantry companies in every British regiment. The men Loudoun would have had lead those companies were sent to Robert Rogers. He formed them into the Cadet Company in the fall of 1757, in which he was charged by Lord Loudoun the task of teaching them the methods of the rangers. Lord Loudoun scrapped his plan when Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gage proposed raising and clothing a regiment of 500 "rangers" at his own expense, though to be reimbursed if his proposal received royal approval. Some of the newly commissioned ensigns of the 80th in 1758, were veterans of Rogers' Cadet Company. Many contemporaries and historians believe that Gage's real intent in the creation of the 80th was to advance him to the rank of colonel, not to mention his dislike of the colonial rangers and want to replace them with less expensive and more disciplined troops. The men of Gage's were recruited from throughout the colonies. Some were drafted into the regiment from other corps. Many who enlisted into the regiment were dismayed when they learned that they were not signing on for the higher pay rangers, and were to be paid the same as a British redcoat. The officers who led the regiment were like Gage seeking advancement; men such as Hugh Arnot and Quintin Kennedy were promoted from lieutenant to captain upon joining the 80th.
The uniform of the 80th consisted of a short, brown regimental coat, brown waistcoat, brown breeches, and black or brown full length gaiters, though there are deserter descriptions with men of Gage's described as wearing blue woolen leggings. The facings on the coat were the same as the main color. The coat buttons may have been plain pewter painted black or japanned, but might also have been made of black horn. The hat was made from jacked leather and an ostrich plume, giving rise to the nickname of "leathercaps". It resembled a jockey's cap.
In 1758, "Gage's" saw action in the opening skirmish of the attack on Fort Ticonderoga. Though it routed the French in the skirmish, Lord Howe (the army's energetic and charismatic second-in-command) was killed, effectively crushing the spirit of the army, for he was the heart of soul of it. Later that summer, the 80th was involved in the battle of old Fort Anne. The following year, the 80th again was part of the army, now under the command of General Jeffrey Amherst, assigned to attack Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point. Later in the year several men of "Gage's" were sent on reconnaissance missions, as well as a mission to travel via the Ausable Chasm to La Gallette (present day Ogdensburg) to pass communications to General Gage from General Amherst. In the fall, a number of the light infantrymen accompanied Robert Rogers on his raid of the Abenaki village of St. Francis, a daunting task with disastrous results for many in the detachment; however the raid effectively ended Abenaki attacks on New England. In 1760, the 80th Regiment was again part of General Amherst's army, this time with Montreal as its objective. The army first defeated the French at La Gallette, and then Fort Levis. Montreal surrendered in September after being surrounded by three British armies. After the surrender of Canada, "Gage's" was ordered to garrison the French Fort Levis which was renamed Fort William Augustus, as well as several other western forts. In 1761 Captain Henry Balfour led an expedition of men from the 80th and 60th Royal American Regiment, to garrison the posts of Fort Michilimackinac (Mackinaw City, MI), Fort Edward Augustus (Green Bay, WI) and Fort St. Joseph (Niles, MI).
During Pontiac's Rebellion the men of the 80th were involved in the Battle of Bloody Run and the Devil's Hole Massacre, in which two companies of men were ambushed by the Seneca on the Niagara Portage.
Though the regiment was supposed to replace the American rangers, it never did and British commanders continued to rely on Rogers as well as other Colonials to lead the many ranger companies. As far as being more disciplined than the rangers, the men of Gage's Light Infantry are frequently mentioned in court martial proceedings and desertion advertisements.
Some of the officers of Gage's Light Infantry:
Major Henry Gladwin - During Pontiac's Rebellion was responsible for the successful defence of Fort Detroit.
Captain Hugh Arnot - Commanded a company in Gage's Light Infantry from 1758-1760 when he transferred to a more senior regiment, the 46th. His journal from 1758 is reprinted in The Bulletin of the Fort Ticonderoga Museum.
Captain Henry Balfour - Led an expedition to garrison the posts of Fort Michilimackinac, Fort Edward Augustus, and Fort St. Joseph's.
Captain James Dalyell - Was involved in the Battle of Old Fort Anne, but is most famous for his defeat and death at the Battle of Bloody Bridge in 1763.
Captain Quintin Kennedy - Veteran of Braddock's defeat as an ensign in the 44th Regiment, as early as 1756 he was leading long range raids into French territory. In 1759, he was captured by the Abenaki trying to deliver intelligence to General Wolfe at Quebec. His capture led to Robert Rogers' famous Raid on St. Francis. Afterwards he commanded a force of Mohawks and Mohicans against the Cherokees, then went on to fight in the Caribbean.
Lieut. Hugh Meredith - Was sent by General Amherst to explore parts of the New York frontier.
- Alden, p. 48
- Alden, John R (1948). General Gage in America. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press. ISBN 978-0-8371-2264-9. OCLC 181362.
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