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John Campbell, 17th Clan Chief of Strachur, MacArthur Campbell of Strachur
Born 1727
Died August 28, 1806(1806-08-28) (aged 78 or 79)
Place of birth Argyll, Scotland
Place of death Argyll, Scotland
Allegiance  Kingdom of Great Britain
Service/branch  British Army
Rank General
Commands held Commander-in-Chief, North America
Battles/wars Jacobite Rising
War of the Austrian Succession
Seven Years' War
American War of Independence

General John Campbell, 17th Chief of MacArthur Campbells of Strachur (1727 – 28 August 1806) was a Scottish soldier and senior nobleman, who commanded the British forces at the Siege of Pensacola, and succeeded Guy Carleton, 1st Baron Dorchester as Commander-in-Chief in North America in 1783 following the end of the American War of Independence.

Early military career

He inherited the title (17th of Strachur) upon the death of his father Admiral John Campbell (16th of Strachur)[citation needed] and was a direct descendant of the Strachur branch of Clan Campbell. John Campbell was appointed lieutenant in John Campbell, 4th Earl of Loudoun's Highlanders in June 1745. The MacArthur Campbells of Strachur claim to be descended from King Arthur. The young Campbell showed his military prowess during the Jacobite Rising of 1745 and served in the British Army throughout the rising of 1745-1746 including the Battle of Culloden, in which he was wounded. He made the campaign in Flanders in 1747 during the War of the Austrian Succession, in which year he became a captain. At the peace of 1748 he went on half pay.

Seven Years War

In 1756, he was called into active service and joined the 42nd (Royal Highland) Regiment of Foot (also known as the Black Watch Regiment) and served under James Wolfe.

He was wounded in the Battle of Carillon in the French and Indian War and, on his recovery, was appointed major of the King's 17th Regiment of Foot, later the Royal Leicestershire Regiment, and now the Royal Anglian Regiment. In February 1762, he became a lieutenant colonel and commanded the 17th Foot in the expedition against Martinique and Havana. He became lieutenant colonel of the King's 57th Regiment of Foot on 1 May 1773, and returned to North America on the eve of the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War. Campbell was based in Boston under the command of Thomas Gage.

American War of Independence

Boston and New York

Although not directly involved in the march in April 1775 that sparked the Battles of Lexington and Concord, Campbell was part of Lord Percy's brigade sent to reinforce those troops. After the Pyrrhic victory in the Battle of Bunker Hill in June 1775 he was sent on the New York expedition with General William Howe. After the successful Battle of Long Island and capture of New York City, John Campbell was based in New York City until autumn of 1778. While living there he was stationed at Fort Clinton and recorded as attending St. Paul's Chapel.

Military command of West Florida

In October 1778 John Campbell, recently promoted to brigadier general, received a communication from Lord George Germain to proceed to Pensacola in the Province of West Florida and take command of His Majesty's troops there.

The expanded West Florida territory in 1767.

Upon his arrival in Pensacola, Campbell described the conditions there as the most disagreeable, the most irksome, the most distressing of all situations anyone in the British Army had ever encountered. In January 1779 Campbell sent a report back to London stating that he found himself, "without money or credit for Contingent Expenses, without Vessels proper for Navigation or even Batteaux . . . without artificers wherewith to carry on Works . . . without any Provisions or Materials to Work upon, without any Prospect of their being procured . . . but by the labour of the Troops, without Tools for accommodating the few Artificers that could be found among the army, without Engineers Stores, without even adequate Provisions." Campbell immediately set out to improve the situation and began to construct a fort on the Mississippi by September 1779.

Campbell brought a detachment of Royal Artillery, the 3rd Regiment of Waldeck and two Provincial North American Loyalist Corps (the Pennsylvania and the Maryland Loyalists) from New York to reinforce the garrison at Pensacola. In addition to the 16th and the 60th Regiments, Governor Peter Chester of West Florida had organised three independent companies of troops. Additional troops had been raised by Colonel John Stuart, Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the Southern District. Campbell also requested of General Sir Henry Clinton a company of Negroes which was under Clinton's command, and later urged his commander-in-chief to send English troops to West Florida. With the increasing number of troops came added difficulties: the problems of adequate quarters and sufficient provisions. Meeting these demands gave Campbell much concern. Payment of the troops was in arrears since October 1778 and only paper notes had been issued for money.

On 19 February 1779, Campbell was promoted Major General, and on 22 March 1779, he was given complete authority over all troops in the Province of West Florida.

No adequate defence of the province could be realised until the neglected harbours of Pensacola and Mobile were strengthened. Pensacola did not have the protection of even one frigate and there was not a single gun mounted to prevent an enemy force from entering the harbour. The harbour of Mobile was totally unprotected and a scene of ruin and desolation. Campbell estimated the cost of restoring Pensacola's fort at more than 50,000 pounds sterling.

The acuteness of conditions in West Florida prodded Lord Germain to action - supplies and provisions had left England in January 1779 in a convoy for Pensacola via Jamaica. Alexander Cameron had been appointed Superintendent of Indian affairs in the Southwest and was to be under the commander-in-chief, General Clinton. Cameron was to follow Campbell's orders. In April 1779 Campbell reported to Germain the progress of the numerous activities under his supervision.

On 21 June 1779, Spain declared war on Britain. On 25 June 1779, Campbell was ordered by secret letter to organise an attack on New Orleans, if he thought it possible. His preparations included: (1) secure from Vice-Admiral Sir Peter Parker as many armed vessels as could be spared from Jamaica, (2) collect all forces which could be drawn together in the province, (3) take as many faithful Indians as the Superintendent could supply, (4) draw on the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury for all expenses. Unfortunately for Campbell, Bernardo de Gálvez, the governor of Spanish Louisiana, also received an intercepted copy of the letter. On 11 September 1779, Gálvez led a Spanish force and their Indian allies marched against British forts on the lower Mississippi, capturing Fort Bute and Fort New Richmond at Baton Rouge. Because they successfully interfered with British communications, Gálvez secured the surrender of most of western West Florida before Campbell was aware of it.

On 14 September 1779 Campbell was ready to embark with five vessels and two flatboats and with five hundred men, ample provisions, and a large supply of gifts for the Indians. He was proceeding to the attack of New Orleans when news arrived of Gálvez's attack on the Mississippi. Governor Chester was indifferent in his conduct to Campbell for the defence of the Province of West Florida and would not proceed beyond the strict and most limited Construction of the Law to save West Florida. With the loss of the Mississippi area, General Campbell and Lord Germain, quite naturally, centred their attention on the defence of the eastern part of the province. The proper management of the Indians was of greater significance than ever. Efforts were made by General John Campbell to negotiate with the Chickasaws with the Cherokees and Creeks to act jointly on behalf of the English.

The very day in which Campbell informed Clinton of the latest developments in West Florida, the Spanish were approaching Fort Charlotte and Mobile. On 14 March 1780, Fort Charlotte and Mobile capitulated to Spanish forces. In immediate command of the English forces at Fort Charlotte was Captain Elias Durnford. Campbell had left Pensacola with reinforcements on 5 March 1780, but heavy rains, swollen streams and muddy roads retarded his progress. When his scouts reported the display of Spanish colours over the fort, Campbell turned back to Pensacola, returning on 18 March 1780. With the surrender of Mobile, West Florida was reduced to the District of Pensacola alone. Unless Pensacola was relieved by a naval reinforcement from Jamaica, Pensacola would be lost. Campbell complained to Germain that even a single frigate would have made a difference in the defence of Mobile.

While Governor Gálvez was preparing for his advance against Pensacola, the rivalry between Campbell and Governor Chester flared up again. The governor sought to restrict Campbell's authority over the troops. Campbell predicted a Spanish attack in early fall 1780 but it didn't come. Tired of waiting for the Spanish to assume the initiative, Campbell in January 1781, sent the colonel of the Waldeck Regiment, Johann von Hanxleden, with more than 500 men to seize Mobile. The attack was unsuccessful because Hanxleden was killed in battle for an outpost outside Mobile.

Siege of Pensacola

Early in March 1781 the long awaited Spanish attack on Pensacola began. On the afternoon of 11 March Gálvez' ships were at the entrance of Pensacola Bay, having already taken control of Santa Rosa Island. On 21 March 1781, Campbell made a humane proposal to Gálvez that the town and garrison of Pensacola should be spared. Unfortunately, in the night, before the Spanish commander replied, one of the British officers in charge of a fort burned several houses. Whether or not this act was committed with Campbell's knowledge is not known but it gave Gálvez grounds for accusing him of insincerity.

Spanish grenadiers and Havana militia pour into Fort George. Oil on canvas, United States Army Center of Military History

Detachments from Mobile and New Orleans arrived 28 March 1781, and on 19 April reinforcements, naval and army, Spanish and French, from Cuba led by General Jose Solano y Bote arrived. Campbell inspired his troops to defend Fort George. However, without naval protection nor adequate artillery to engage a counter assault, the Spanish artillery fire breached the ramparts on 8 May 1781, and struck a powder magazine. A powerful flotilla of warships neutralised outer British defences and began an amphibious siege of the town on 9 May 1781. John Campbell surrendered Fort George to the Spaniards on 10 May 1781. Under generous terms Governor Gálvez allowed the British troops, including Campbell, to return to New York.

Campbell was initially taken to Havana where he was paraded around the city, an act for which the Governor Juan de Cagigal was later imprisoned by the Spanish authories. Campbell was then repatriated to British territory. He remained in British-held New York City until the British left under the Treaty of Paris on Evacuation Day, 25 November 1783. Campbell lived just off Wall Street on the corner of Trinity Place and Thames Street.

Later life

In 1783, Campbell replaced Sir Guy Carleton as Commander-in-Chief, North America, a post he held until 1787. He returned to Scotland in 1787, where, as Clan Chief of the Campbells of Strachur he established Strachur House.

Later in life Campbell lamented his posting to West Florida with much feeling: "It has been my Misfortune . . . to be employed in an ill fated Corner of his Majesty's Dominions . . . My Endeavours have unremittingly been exerted for West Florida's preservation to the British Empire since I took upon me the military command, and if my Labours and Exertions to that End shall but find favour with my sovereign. I shall forget the Frowns of Fortune and be happy in the Royal Approbation."

Campbell died at Strachur House, Argyll, Scotland, on 28 August 1806.


  • Sketches of the Character, Manners and Present State of the Highlanders of Scotland; with details of The Military Service of The Highland Regiments by Major-General David Stewart, Vol I & II, (1825), Edinburgh
  • Don Jose Solano y Bote, Primer Marques del Socorro, Capitan General de la Armada, Instituto Hiostorico de Marina, Madrid, 1973 I.S.B.N.: 84-00-03891-6

External links

Military offices
Preceded by
Sir Guy Carleton
Commander-in-Chief, North America
Succeeded by
The Duke of Kent and Strathearn
Preceded by
Sir John Irwin
Colonel of the 57th (West Middlesex) Regiment of Foot
Succeeded by
The Lord Hutchinson

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