Conquering Canada on the plains of Germany
Much has been written about the officers and men of the 78th Fraser Highlanders (1757-63) but James Fraser of Belladrum [1732-1808] is one officer whose involvement has remained a mystery. In The Fraser Highlanders, Colonel J. R. Harper lists him as Major (p. 67) and later as Colonel, recruiting for the 15th Fraser Fencibles in 1794, having "previously served with distinction as a Major in the Old 78th Fraser Highlanders at Louisbourg and Quebec" (p. 161). Harper and the well-known historian and author, W. Stewart Wallace before him, have quoted extensively from Sketches of the Highlanders (1822) by General David Stewart of Garth [1772-1829] who wrote that Simon Fraser of Lovat [1726-82] "in a few weeks, found himself at the head of 800 men, recruited by himself. The gentlemen of the country and the officers of the regiment added more than 700, and a battalion was formed of 13 companies of 105 rank and file each, making in all 1,460 men including 65 sergeants and 30 pipers and drummers."
On January 5, 1757 Simon Fraser of Lovat was commissioned Lieutenant-Colonel Commandant of the 63rd Regiment of Foot [later renumbered the 78th Regiment or Fraser's Highlanders]. The Majors were James Clephane and John Campbell of Dunoon. James Clephane, who had been with the Scots Brigade in Holland, was commissioned Major January 4, 1757. He was present at Louisbourg in 1758 but was left with the sick at New York. In the fall of 1759 he returned to Kilravock Castle and, after protracted negotiations, sold out to Captain John Macpherson. John Campbell was commissioned Major January 6, 1757, but later recalled. On January 1, 1760 John Campbell of Dunoon was commissioned Lieutenant-Colonel Commandant of the 88th Regiment of Foot, or Highland Voluntiers (1759-63), raised to fight on the Continent in the Seven Years War, who greatly distinguished themselves in Germany.
During 1760 the following changes took place in the top ranks of Fraser's Highlanders:
John Macpherson, younger brother of Euan Macpherson of Cluny, had also been with the Scots Brigade and was wounded at Bergen-op-Zoom in 1747. Commissioned Captain in the 78th on January 5, 1757, Macpherson was promoted Major April 15, 1760. James Abercrombie, a Captain in the 42nd Regiment, who in 1759 was appointed aide-de-camp to Major-General Jeffery Amherst, transferred to the 78th and was commissioned Major July 25, 1760. Abercrombie commanded a company when the regiment was disbanded in 1763. John Campbell of Ballimore, commissioned Captain January 9, 1757, who commanded the 78th on the Plains of Abraham in lieu of the wounded Colonel Simon Fraser, was promoted Major October 5, 1760. Major Campbell assumed command of the 78th on the departure of Colonel Fraser in 1761, and commanded a company when the regiment was disbanded in 1763.
As noted, the officers were not all Frasers. It has been stated that of 12 Captains, 5 were Frasers; of 30 Lieutenants, 6 were Frasers; of 12 Ensigns, 5 were Frasers. The Adjutant and Quartermaster were Frasers. Among the objectives of Clan Fraser Society of Canada has been the ongoing research to identify the commissioned officers and non-commissioned officers in the 78th Regiment of Foot (Fraser's Highlanders) formed in Scotland in 1757 & 1758 to fight in the Seven Years War.
Alexander Fraser [1860-1936], a native of Inverness-shire, who was the first Archivist of Ontario (1903-35), was an acknowledged authority on Scottish history in general and Fraser history in particular. In 1934 he advised a descendant of Malcolm Fraser of Mount Murray that the Rev Dr Archibald MacDonald - then quite an old man - had written a short history of the Lords of Lovat. In The Old Lords of Lovat and Beaufort (1934), Dr MacDonald included the roll of 71 recruits raised in 1757 by James Fraser of Belladrum, as well as extracts of correspondence between Belladrum and Bailie James Fraser, merchant, Inverness, which shed some light on Belladrum's involvement with the Fraser Highlanders. Belladrum was appointed a Lieutenant in this detachment and, having been very active in recruiting, was naturally anxious to obtain a Captains rank. In a letter to Bailie Fraser, James Fraser of Belladrum writes from Newcastle on 23rd August, 1759:
On September 9th  Belladrum was still at Newcastle,
and in a letter of that date to Bailie Fraser, Inverness, he reports the arrival of one of
the transports with troops for the seat of war. Another transport and convoy carrying
Major Keith and a further detachment of Fraser Highlanders had got separated from its
neighbour, but on its arrival Belladrum with his contingent would embark. This embarkation
took place on September 14th and on October 2nd they landed at Geisendorff on the Weser.
After three days halt they began their march to Cassel, where they arrived on
October 24th. Two days later Belladrum writes Bailie Fraser:
Belladrum at the same time informs his correspondent that a Captain-Lieutenancy had been provided for him, this being a captains rank without a company, but he was sanguine that this would be his in due course. As to what transpired during the next four months we have not much information regarding this section of the Fraser Highlanders. However, another letter from Captain Fraser casts some light on their movements during the winter of 1759-60.
Neunkirchen, 22 February 1760
Captain Simon Fraser of Inverallochy [1732-59] died as a result of wounds suffered on the Plains of Abraham. His eldest brother Lt-Colonel Charles Fraser, who had been severely wounded while leading the Lovat Frasers at Culloden on 6th April 1746, was afterwards killed in cold blood.
Dr MacDonald makes reference to the prelude to the battle on the Plains of Abraham, where the challenge of the French sentry was answered by Simon Fraser of Balnain [1729-77], noting that Stewart in Sketches of the Highlanders gives the name as John Fraser of Balnain.
Further research has confirmed that James Fraser of
Belladrum transferred to the 87th Regt of Foot, or Highland Voluntiers [1759-63], formed
under Major Commandant (later Lt-Colonel Commandant) Robert Murray Keith, in which James
Fraser was promoted Captain-Lieutenant October 8, 1759 and Captain December 20, 1760,
retiring on half-pay in 1763. So, Captain James Fraser of Belladrums contingent of
Fraser Highlanders no doubt justified the words of William Pitt regarding his war policy :
"I am conquering Canada on the plains of Germany."
Of the Fraser Highlanders recruited for service abroad,
some 400 were left behind, being intended for service in Germany. On 17th April,
1757, Colonel Simon Fraser wrote to his great friend, Bailie James Fraser,
Inverness. The bailie evidently lived outside Inverness, from which the letter was
The main body of Fraser Highlanders left Glasgow for Ireland and marched some 400 miles to Cork, where they arrived in the latter part of June. From the Ann Transport in Cove Harbour, Colonel Fraser wrote on 28th June 1757:
My Dr Sir,
On 25th December 1757, he wrote to Bailie James Fraser at some length:
My Dear Sir,
Commenting on the casualties suffered during the attack on Louisbourg on 8th June 1758, Colonel Fraser wrote to his usual correspondent in Inverness, from the Camp near Louisbourg, 10th August 1758:
My Dear Sir,
Captain John Macpherson, who was the younger brother of Euan Macpherson of Cluny (of the 45), was married to Colonel Simon Frasers sister Janet, and was probably in line for the next Majority vacancy in the 78th.
In The Fraser Highlanders (p. 67) Colonel J. R. Harper lists Thomas Fraser of Struy as Major. In the History of the Frasers of Lovat (p. 653), Alexander Mackenzie notes that: "Thomas Fraser was appointed a Captain in the 78th Fraser Highlanders, raised in 1757 by General Simon Fraser of Lovat, and who in that distinguished corps took a part in the conquest of Canada during the Seven Years War." Thomas Fraser was commissioned Captain on 16th January 1757 and was on Army lists for 1757 and 1758, but not later. He probably died after 10th August, when Colonel Fraser "was reading Struy a lecture" at Louisbourg. According to Dr MacDonald: A letter from Robert Fraser, Esq., Muilzie, in the parish of Kilmorack, makes further reference to the severity of the losses, especially in officers, suffered by the Fraser Highlanders. It is dated 2nd November, and is written from New York, but as the end is lost, the writer cannot be identified, though the opening shows him to be related to the Belladrum family, of which Fraser of Muilzie was a cadet.
The 2000 figure has been quoted by many authors, but the Johnson Calender (p. 95) has an undated return of killed, wounded and missing in the attack of July 8th on the French works near Ticonderoga - Total 1947. Led by Major-General James Abercromby [1706-81], his force of 15,390 lost against Montcalms force, although the British outnumbered the French 4 to 1.
When news of the Carillon disaster reached Louisbourg, Amherst was ordered to send reinforcements to Abercromby, which included the 78th Regiment [then still numbered 63rd on battle maps] under Colonel Simon Fraser. On August 16th Amherst met the commanding officers of the Highland regiments and told them their destinations. On August 27th the Frasers embarked for Albany, to set up winter quarters in New England. A letter dated 15th September 1758 from his friend and mentor, Field Marshall Lord Ligonier, advised Jeffery Amherst that "His Majesty has been pleased to appoint you Commander-in-Chief of his forces in North America" in succession to Abercromby, who returned to England in early 1759. On April 14th Amherst records that the Frasers arrived from Albany and were quartered at Long Island. On April 23rd Amherst writes: I went to Jamaica [on Long Island] and reviewed Col. Frasers nine companys. In May they sailed from New York to Louisbourg and training in Halifax in preparation for the advance on Quebec.
Colonel Simon Fraser did not personally lead the 78th on the Plains of Abraham on Sept 13th 1759 as he had not recovered from wounds suffered at Montmorency (Beauport) in July. He was again wounded at Ste Foy (Sillery) in April 1760.
During March 1761, Lieutenant-Colonel Simon Fraser of Lovat [1726-1782], who in 1757 had raised the 78th Regiment of Foot [originally numbered the 63rd of Foot], visited his companies along the St. Lawrence River and in Nova Scotia to bid farewell to his loyal Highlanders. He left for London to take up his seat in the House of Commons, as an elected Member of Parliament for Inverness, for which constituency he was thrice re-elected. In 1762 he was a brigadier-general in the British force sent to Portugal to repel an invasion from Spain, and was one of the officers appointed to commands in the Portuguese Army, in which he held the temporary rank of major-general. In the Official Return of Lists of Members of Parliament, Fraser is shown in 1768 as a lieutenant-general in the Portuguese service, and in 1771 as a major-general in the British army. His attendance at the House of Commons could not have been very regular, as during a great part of the time he was resident at Lisbon.
In a letter from Lisbon to Bailie James Fraser, Inverness, dated 29th August 1767, he says:
I think I wrote you before I left Scotland that Mr Secretary Conway had promised me a pardon for my old and faithfull soldier John Grant & that Henry Davidson had promised to Sollicit it, I have since wrote three or four times to Davidson to put him in mind but altho I have heard from him frequently I have never been able to procure an answer to that point, I shall be very angry with him & what is more he will be very angry with himself, if thro any forgetfulness on his part the poor fellow has languished all this time in gaol, pray let me know what is become of him. If he should have been forced out of the country the pardon must be sent wherever he is that he may return in triumph.
In 1772 General Fraser petitioned the government for a restoration of the Lovat estates which, together with the Lovat title, had been forfeited to the Crown when his father was executed for supporting the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion. In 1774 an Act of Parliament was passed enabling the King to grant him his paternal lands, in recognition of his service to the Crown, subject to a payment of £20,983 0s 1d.
He petitioned the government for the restoration of his family estates (Gent. Mag. xliv. 137), and as it was held that his military services entitled him to some particular act of grace, all the forfeited lands, lordships, &c., were restored to him on the payment of a sum of £20,983 Sterling, by a special Act of Parliament (24 George III, c.37), ten years before the same grace was extended to any other family similarly circumstanced. However, the title of Lord Lovat, which had also been forfeited when his father, Simon 11th Lord Lovat was executed in 1747, was not restored. In December 1775 he was again called upon to raise, with the help of six clan chiefs, two battalions of the 71st Regiment of Foot [Frasers Highlanders] to fight in the American Revolution. Although commissioned as colonel, this time he did not accompany the regiment to America.
According to Dr MacDonald, General Frasers feelings on the subject are more or less indicated in a letter addressed to Fraser of Belladrum, who himself, as may be remembered, bore an honourable part in the Seven Years War. It was probably written from Glasgow, though this is not directly stated:
Argyll Street, Aprile 4th 1774
At the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775, General Fraser raised another regiment, known as the 71st or Frasers Highlanders, of two battalions consisting of 2,400 men but, compared with the regiment raised in 1757, the proportion of Frasers was relatively small. Among 30 or 40 officers of different grades, there were only three Frasers.
General Fraser died in London on 8th February 1782. Leaving no issue by his wife, Catherine Bristow, whom he had married in 1765, he was succeeded in the estates and the representation of Inverness in the House of Commons, by his half-brother, Archibald Campbell Fraser [1736-1815], M.P. for Inverness and colonel of the Inverness local militia. Some twenty years before his succession, while General Fraser was on service in Canada, Archibald Fraser was writing to Bailie James Fraser regarding the death of his half-brother Alexander, nicknamed the "Brigadier" by his father, 11th Lord Lovat [c1668-1747]. Alexander died at Dunmaglass, of which he was tenant, on 7th August, 1762. The letter was sent from London, dated 24th August, 1762:
Dear Baillie James,
In a letter to Fraser of Belladrum, dated 28th Febry 1782 from Downing Street, Archibald Fraser writes about the Generals death:
As noted by Dr MacDonald: In 1794 a Fraser Fencible
Regiment was raised and letters of service were issued to Colonel Fraser of Belladrum.
Belladrum resigned the command [in 1797], which was handed over to John Simon Frederick
Fraser, younger of Lovat. Archibald Fraser of Lovat died on 8th December 1815, predeceased
by all his children, and with him the main family of Lovat became extinct in the male
The identity of Bailie James Fraser is explained in the Clan Fraser Society of Canada newsletter, Canadian Explorer, September 1999 issue, with chart of the relationship between the Frasers of Belladrum and the Frasers of Achnagairn, from which this article has been extracted.
To clarify Dr MacDonalds statement, the Frasers of
Struy, Eskadale and Muilzie descended from a younger son of Hugh Fraser 3rd Lord Lovat
[1494-1544], whereas the Frasers of Guisachan, Culbokie, Belladrum, Achnagairn,etc.,
descended from a younger son of Thomas Fraser 2nd Lord Lovat [1460-1514]. The Frasers of
Strichen, Ardochy & Boblanie descended from Alexander Fraser 4th Lord Lovat
As noted by Col. J.R. Harper in The Fraser
Highlanders , with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on 10th February 1763, the
Seven Years War came to an end and peace ensued between France and Britain. In
December orders were received to disband the regiments and those officers and soldiers who
decided to stay in Canada received 14 days subsistence pay and a grant of land, depending
on their rank and length of service. The others were shipped back to Scotland and
paid off at Inverness [see Muster Rolls web page].
Some of these Fraser Highlanders turned to farming and raising a family in a strange land. It was inevitable that romances blossomed. However, these conquering heroes faced a more formidable opponent in the form of the local priest, and his bishop, who were unwilling to solemnize marriages involving a Protestant groom. In Quebec in the 1760s and 1770s, many of the Scottish soldiers and their Roman Catholic brides lived without benefit of clergy, although their children were baptized, albeit in many cases the entry by the local priest noted that the child was illegitimate. Also, there were very few Protestant clergy in the country, and the women and their families would probably have been very unhappy about marrying in a Protestant church. Those who could afford to do so, had a marriage contract drawn up by the local notary as a means of legalizing their union.
A descendant of these unrecorded unions pointed out philosophically that "none of those Fraser Highlanders were married". It is difficult for us to understand what it was like to live in a Quebec village as man and wife, without the Churchs blessing. Such couples were probably generally respected, or at least regarded with sympathy, and each time one of their children was baptized by the priest, the marriage would have become more acceptable to the community.
Professor Harry Duckworth has spent over 20 years
researching the fur trade and the influence of such empires as the NorthWest Company and
the Hudsons Bay Company on the lives of these early settlers. He notes that similar
difficulties were experienced in the fur trade, where many were contracted between
voyageurs and fur trade clerks or partners on the one hand acountry marriagesnd native or
Métis women on the other. These unions were established in the Upper Country, where there
were no clergy at all until the 1820s. In many cases these relationships were
stable, and even stood up in Canadian courts when challenged by relatives. Often a
voyageur who retired back to Canada brought his country wife and children with him, and in
many cases a regular marriage took place once a priest or clergyman was available. There
were also men who took advantage of the non-binding nature of the union to desert their
wives, but Professor Duckworth does not believe that this was ever regarded as respectable
Heritage of The Old 78th Fraser Highlanders
There is no doubt that Malcolm Fraser and other members of the 78th Fraser Highlanders who settled in Quebec after the regiment was disbanded in 1763, many of whom married into French families, had a profound impact on the development of Canada. We owe it to them to respect their memory, pay tribute to their perseverance and accomplishments, and understand their frontier way of life.
The descendants of these soldiers have spread far beyond the towns, villages and farms along the banks of the St. Lawrence River. Although many are now completely Francophone, their pride in their Scottish heritage is evident from their enthusiastic support of Clan Fraser, and they bring to the Society a unique blend of the cultures that built Canada. Several members of the Old 78th and their descendants have been profiled in the CFSC quarterly newsletter "Canadian Explorer", which regularly features articles on Fraser history and genealogy.
Information on how to order a copy of Colonel J.R. Harpers book The Fraser Highlanders  second edition, can be found on the Membership Page of the CFSC Web Site.