ACCOUNT OF THE CANADIAN CAMPAIGN OF 1776
from the perspective of a British naval officer, a narrative intending to prove that “the navy bore the principal share in all the operations which were undertaken this year in the province of Canada”, including character sketches of British commanders, analysis of British tactics, and culminating in the Battle of Valcour Island, 83 pages, folio, a fair copy with catchwords, written on the rectos of each leaf in brown ink, some later additions in a different hand in black ink, two successive sets of contemporary pagination, calf-backed marbled boards, c.1778, trimmed by binder with resultant loss to edges of pagination, one page apparently excised between pages 40 and 41, splitting at lower board.
a vivid and compelling first-hand account of a major campaign in the second year of the revolutionary wars. This detailed first-person account runs from February to October 1776: from the author’s departure from England on HMS Isis “on a forlorn hope to the relief of Quebec, which had been invested by the Rebels”, to the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Valcour Island which had ended the British advance towards New York. Written soon after the events it describes, the narrative attempts to justify the actions of the Royal Navy whilst at the same time explaining why the British failed to make a decisive breakthrough against the numerically inferior Continental forces. The author lays most of the blame for British failures firmly at the feet of the army.
The Isis reached the coast of Newfoundland in early April before the ice had broken up in the Gulf of St Lawrence, and was trapped in ice for ten days before being able to progress towards Quebec (“...We wrought up the river St Laurence with danger and labour, in snow-storms and gales of wind, which almost invariably opposed our passage...”) Meeting with two other ships, the Isis reached the besieged city of Quebec on 6 May, finding that the “batteries of the rebels were judiciously placed; commanding equally the towns upper and lower, as well as the harbour”. However, the Continental forces retreated without engaging the British reinforcements.
The narrative continues with a detailed account of the British advance, while the Continental forces engaged in a well-organised retreat. The narrator has great respect for his enemy, commenting, for example, on “that admirable sagacity which in many instances marked their conduct”, and although repeatedly emphasising the wise tactical decisions of his superior, Sir Charles Douglas, he has many criticisms of the British. Chief among these is complacency, which results in their “incomprehensible” failure, for example, to “obtain the necessary knowledge of [Canada’s] interior navigation”, and the army’s dream that, rather than fighting, they would simply be “gathering laurels in the provinces of New England”. Specific officers also come in for criticism: the commander of the army in Canada, Sir Guy Carleton, his third in command, Major General Phillips, who is accused of “partiality … to the rebels”, and Captain Thomas Pringle, a Naval commander who was later accused of mismanagement after he failed to engage the enemy at Valcour Island.
The latter part of the narrative focuses on the campaign at Lake Champlain, and continues to list a catalogue of intelligence failures and incompetence which resulted in long delays before action was taken against the enemy. The Isis had suffered damage during the course of the campaign so the narrator was not present at the Battle of Valcour Island, but an account of the battle is provided, as is an account of the follow-up operations in which the remaining American naval forces were captured or destroyed. Looking back from about 1778, the narrator sees stark consequences of the lacklustre performance of the army, and claims that had the navy had overall control:
...no opportunity would have been given to arm and discipline the Northern Militia, which ruined our affairs and produced the convention at Saratoga. A convention both fatal to the same and hostile to the interests of Great Britain...