Brigadier-General Simon Fraser [1729-77]

The Frasers of Balnain, like many Highland families, suffered heavily after Culloden, having their house destroyed and their estates confiscated. Alexander Fraser 2nd of Balnain [d. 1749] was survived by two of seven children by his first wife, Jean Fraser of Foyers [d. 1715], and seven of eight children by his second wife, Jean Mackintosh of Kyllachy [d. 1742].

Alexander’s eldest son by Jean Mackintosh was Dr Thomas [1726-1760] who settled in Antigua and whose eldest son, Dr William Mackinnon Fraser [1754-1807] succeeded as 5th of Balnain when his uncles Hugh and William died in 1735 and 1775 respectively, without surviving male issue. Having obtained his M.D. at Edinburgh University, he started his practice in Southampton where, in 1783, he married Isabella, a daughter of Cortland Skinner of Amboy, New Jersey. Skinner had been Attorney General and Speaker of New Jersey but, being an ardent Royalist, raising two battalions of militia and becoming a brigadier-general in the American War, he lost all of his property and in 1783 brought his family to England.

Dr William became physician to William IV when Prince Regent and later developed a large practice in London, becoming quite wealthy. By 1798 he had acquired a large estate in Stratherrick including Farraline and Balnain. These unentailed parts of the Lovat estates were sold, by an Act of Parliament passed in 1797, to pay off the debts of the late General Simon Fraser, Master of Lovat. Farraline was eventually sold but Dr William’s line continues to this day.

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Alexander’s second youngest son was Simon [1729-1777] who entered the Dutch service and was wounded during the siege and capture of Bergen-op-Zoom by the French in 1747. Simon Fraser’s name appears in the Staten van Oorlag (war budgets) of 1750-7 as a pensioned subaltern of the Earl of Drumlanrig’s regiment of the Scots Brigade in the service of Holland. Leaving the Dutch service, he joined the British army in 1755 as a captain lieutenant in the 62nd Royal American Regiment [renumbered the 60th in Jan. 1757]. In 1757 he transferred to the 63rd, renumbered the 78th Highland Regiment of Foot [Fraser’s Highlanders], under Colonel Simon Fraser, Master of Lovat [1726-1782]. He was known as Lieutenant Simon Fraser, junior, being the youngest subaltern of that name. He was at the siege and capture of Louisbourg in 1758 and, after being promoted to captain, was at Quebec in 1759.

According to The Fraser Highlanders by Colonel J.R. Harper: In the leading boat with General Wolfe sat Captain Simon Fraser and Captain Donald Macdonald of the Fraser Highlanders, both French-speaking officers, with other staff officers. Harper goes on to say that it was Captain Simon Fraser of Balnain who replied to the sentry. According to The Life and Letters of Wolfe, it was the younger Simon Fraser, who spoke excellent French who had the exchange with the sentry, before being permitted to pass.

After serving in Canada, Simon Fraser was transferred to Germany as a major in the army on the staff of Ferdinand of Brunswick, was commissioned a major in the 24th Regiment of Foot, and in 1768 became its lieutenant-colonel. Following a period of garrison duty in Gibraltar, the regiment returned to the British Isles. In Ireland Fraser was aide-de-camp to Jeffrey Townshend, the lord lieutenant, and in 1770 was appointed Irish quartermaster general. During this period he formed friendships with John Burgoyne and William Phillips.

The French Canadians had been expected to bring Canada in as a member of the half-formed American confederation but, as a result of the outbursts of anti-Catholic bigotry in the Northern Colonies provoked by the Quebec Act of 1774, few French inhabitants were inclined to change masters. General Richard Montgomery [1736-75], an Irishman and former British officer, captured Montreal on November 12, 1775. As the troops’ terms of enlistment expired on New Year’s Day 1776, Montgomery and Benedict Arnold [1741-1801] launched a premature assault on Quebec, in a blinding snowstorm on the last night of 1775. Montgomery was killed, Arnold wounded, the expeditionary force was forced to retreat, and Canada remained British. However, it alarmed the British government enough to dispatch almost half of its force of regulars to Quebec – veteran troops of British and European mercenaries.

Among the force of 7,000 were five German infantry regiments under Major-General Baron Friedrich Adolphus von Riedesel [1738-1800] and nine British line regiments, including six from Ireland under Simon Fraser. In the spring of 1776, Thomas Anburey, a young lieutenant in the British army sailed from Cork to Quebec on the « Howe » and was given a commission in the 24th Regiment. His observations over five years were recorded in letters which were published in two volumes in 1789 entitled Travels Through the Interior Parts of North America. In June 1776 General Sir Guy Carleton reorganized his army in Canada and appointed Fraser brigadier-general of the Advanced Corps.

John Burgoyne, who had served under Guy Carleton’s command, went to England in the winter of 1776 to present a proposal to Lord George Germain. The plan was to move a force south from Canada and recapture Ticonderoga, while another force was to move north up the Hudson to Albany, where the two armies would meet, thereby isolating New England. The plan was read by the King, who approved; and Burgoyne was appointed commander of the British and German troops, replacing Carleton, who remained in Canada as governor. Burgoyne landed at Quebec on May 6th, the troops were assembled at St. John’s, and on June 21st they started up Lake Champlain towards Ticonderoga, in the belief that the plan had the support of the Ministry and appropriate orders had been sent to New York to carry out the operation.

Burgoyne’s attempt to push through to New York in 1777 resulted in the most decisive American victory of the entire war. The fatal British mistake was to ignore the conditions of warfare in America. European tactics were useless against a countryside in arms. The Battle of Bennington on August 16th brought out the fighting population of northern New England, and Burgoyne’s delay at Fort Edward allowed General George Washington [1732-99] to dispatch regulars from the lower Hudson. The Northern army under Major-General Horatio Gates, an ex-British regular, with Benedict Arnold as his second in command, outnumbered Burgoyne’ forces two to one.

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At the Battle of Freeman’s Farm on September 19th, Burgoyne took command of the centre column; the left column was led by Baron von Riedesel, with Major-General William Phillips [1731-81] and the artillery in support; Simon Fraser, aided by Lieutenant-Colonel Heinrich Breymann’s reserve, commanded the right flank. General Burgoyne was everywhere, recorded Lieutenant William Digby of the Shropshire Regiment, and did everything that could be expected of a brave officer & Brigadier-General Fraser gained great honour by exposing himself to every danger. So did Riedesel and Phillips. By nightfall, when the action ended, Burgoyne remained in possession of the field; but it was a hollow victory since so many brave men had died and no great advantage, honour excepted, was gained by the day. Burgoyne’s position was becoming more perilous with each passing day. He sent urgent requests for help to General Sir Henry Clinton [c.1738-95] in New York, asking whether his forces could be supplied if they could get through to Albany. In the absence of any news from Clinton by October 4, Burgoyne called a Council of War. Both Riedesel and Fraser suggested a retreat to Fort Edward; but Burgoyne was reluctant to withdraw and, since Phillips did not commit himself either way, no firm decision was taken.

On October 7th, leaving 800 men to protect his camp, Burgoyne set out with 1,500 men and ten guns in the second battle of Saratoga, known as the Battle of Stillwater, or Bemis Heights. With Riedesel in the centre, Phillips on the left flank and Burgoyne on the right, the Indians and Loyalists made their way through the forest to create a diversion at the back of the American position. The Americans, under Colonel Daniel Morgan [1736-1802], fell heavily under their left column, then extended the attack to the centre, bringing 4,000 men into action. Fraser, while attempting to contain a simultaneous attack on the British right, withdrew the 24th Regiment and his light infantry to support the grenadiers. Seeing Fraser riding across the British lines, Arnold said to Morgan, That officer upon a gray horse is of himself a host and must be disposed of. Morgan passed the order on to Timothy Murphy, one of his riflemen, with the words, That gallant officer is General Fraser. I admite him, but it is necessary that he should die. Do your duty. An American militiaman recorded that the bullets began to fly around Fraser. One shot cut the crupper of his horse; another grazed its ears. An aide-de-camp urged Fraser to withdraw; but he rode on and the third bullet ripped through his stomach, mortally wounding him.

The Baroness Friederike von Riedesel [1746-1808], wife of the Hessian commander, who had been with the column throughout – as nurse and housekeeper, recorded the horrors of war in her journal, published as Letters and Journals Relating to the War of the American Independence [1827]:
About three o’clock in the afternoon… they brought in to me upon a litter poor General Fraser… Our dining table which was already spread was taken away and in its place they fixed up a bed for the general… I heard him often amidst his groans exclaim, ‘Oh, fatal ambition! Poor General Burgoyne! My poor wife!’ Prayers were read to him. Then he sent a message to General Burgoyne begging that he would have him buried the following day at six o’clock in the evening on the top of a hill which was a sort of redoubt.

Fraser died the next morning at eight o’clock and, even though the redoubt was now within full range of the advancing Americans, Burgoyne complied with the dying wish of his comrade.

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(6) Alexander Lindsay, 6th Earl of Balcarres [1752-1825]

According to Benson J. Lossing, Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution (1860), Vol. 1:

It was just at sunset that the corpse of General Fraser was carried up the hill to the place of burial within the ‘great redoubt’. It was attended only by the military members of his family and the chaplain, yet the eyes of hundreds of both armies followed the procession, while the Americans, ignorant of its true character, kept up a constant cannonade upon the redoubt. Suddenly, the irregular firing ceased and the solemn voice of a single cannon at measured intervals boomed along the valley and awakened the responses of the hills. It was a minute-gun fired by the Americans in honour of the gallant dead. The moment the information was given that the gathering at the redoubt was a funeral company, fulfilling, amid imminent perils, the last-breathed wishes of the noble Fraser, orders were issued [by General Gates] to withhold the cannonade with balls, and to render military homage to the fallen brave.

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View of West Bank of Hudson’s River 3 Miles above Still Water (Shewing General Frazer’s Funeral).
Illustration from Travels Through the Interior Parts of North America (1789), by Thomas Anburey.

More than 200 years later, members of The Old 78th Fraser Highlanders [created as an historical re-enactment group for Expo 67 in Montreal, to represent the regiment raised in 1757] served as honour guard at the unveiling of a monument to the memory of Brigadier-General Simon Fraser, at Saratoga.

Contrary to the Dictionary of National Biography, Simon Fraser of Balnain had no issue by Margarita Beck [c.1745-1823], the widow of Alexander Grant of Shewglie, who married thirdly, as his second wife, George Buchan-Hepburn of Smeaton, who became Baron of the Exchequer and a Baronet.

Two celebrated paintings by John Graham, depicting the General’s death, were presented to his widow – the one of his burial hung at Farraline House until the estate was sold. The portrait of General Simon Fraser hangs beside several other Balnain ancestors in the home of a direct descendant of Dr William Mackinnon Fraser, who is also in possession of the Family Bible recording that Dr William inoculated all of his children against smallpox, starting with his eldest son Thomas in 1784. [Dr Edward Jenner (1749-1823) who is credited as the originator of inoculation with cowpox virus to immunize against smallpox, demonstrated his procedure on James Phipps in 1796, twelve years later!]

Source: CFSC Canadian Explorer, March 1995
For Money, Gallantry and Love – Unraveling the mystery of Margarita Beck;
The Frasers of Balnain – A Highland Family, with chart of their descendants