previous next

Burgoyne, Sir John, 1723-1792

Military officer; born in England, Feb. 24, 1723; was liberally educated, and entered the army at an early age. While a subaltern he clandestinely married a daughter of the Earl of Derby, who subsequently aided him in acquiring military promotion and settled $1,500 a year upon him. He served with distinction in Portugal in 1762. The year before, he was elected to Parliament, and gained his seat as representative of another borough, in 1768, at an expense of about $50,000. In the famous Letters of Junius he was severely handled. Being appointed to command in America, he arrived at Boston May 25, 1775; and to Lord Stanley he wrote a letter, giving a graphic [448] account of the battle on Bunker (Breed's) Hill. In December, 1776, he returned to England, and was commissioned lieutenant-general.

Sir John Burgoyne.

Placed in command of the British forces in Canada, he arrived there early in 1777, and in June he began an invasion of the province of New York by way of Lake Champlain and the Hudson Valley.

He left St. Johns on the Sorel (June, 1777) with a brilliant and well-appointed army of 8,000 men, and ascended Lake Champlain in boats. At the falls of the Bouquet River, near the western shore of the lake, he met about 400 Indians in council, and after a feast (June 21, 1777) he made a stirring speech to them. On July 1 he appeared before Ticonderoga, which was inadequately garrisoned. General St. Clair, in command there, was compelled to evacuate the post, with Mount Independence opposite (July 5 and 6), and fly towards Fort Edward, on the upper Hudson, through a portion of Vermont. In a battle at Hubbardton (q. v.) the Americans were beaten and dispersed by the pursuing British and Germans. St. Clair had sent stores in boats to Skenesboro (afterwards Whitehall), at the head of the lake. These were overtaken and destroyed by the pursuing British. Burgoyne pressed forward almost unopposed, for the American forces were very weak. The latter retreated first to Fort Edward, and then gradually down the Hudson almost to Albany. The British advanced but slowly, for the Americans, under the command of Gen. Philip Schuyler, harassed them at every step. An expedition sent by Burgoyne to capture stores and cattle, and procure horses in this region and at Bennington, Vt., was defeated in a battle at Hoosick, N. Y. (Aug. 16), by a force hastily gathered under General Stark.

Already another invading force of British regulars, Canadians, Tories, and Indians, under Colonel St. Leger, which was sent by Burgoyne, by way of Oswego, to march down the Mohawk Valley and meet the latter at Albany, had been defeated in a battle at Oriskany (Aug. 6). Schuyler was superseded by Gates in command of the northern army. Gates formed a fortified camp on Bemis's Heights to oppose the

Burgoyne addressing the Indians.

onward march of Burgoyne down the Hudson Valley. There he was attacked (Sept. [449]

View of the encampment of the convention troops.

19) by the British; and, after a severe battle, the latter retired to their camp on the heights of Saratoga (afterwards Schuylerville) to await the approach of Sir Henry Clinton from New York. The latter captured forts on the Hudson Highlands, and sent marauding expeditions up the river that burned Kingston. Again Burgoyne advanced to attack Gates. He was defeated (Oct. 7), and again retired to his camp. Finding it impossible to retreat, go forward, or remain quiet, he surrendered his whole army, Oct. 17, 1777.

The vanquished troops made prisoners to the Americans by a convention for the surrender of them, made by Gates and Burgoyne, were marched through New England to Cambridge, near Boston, to be embarked for Europe. The Congress had ratified the agreement of Gates that they should depart, on giving their parole not to serve again in arms against the Americans. Circumstances soon occurred that convinced Washington that Burgoyne and his troops intended to violate the agreement at the first opportunity, and it was resolved by the Congress not to allow them to leave the country until the British government should ratify the terms of the capitulation. Here was a dilemma. That government would not recognize the authority of the Congress as a lawful body; so the troops were allowed to remain in idleness in America four or five years. Burgoyne, alone, was allowed to go home on his parole. The British ministry charged the Congress with absolute perfidy; the latter retorted, and justified their acts by charging the ministry with meditated perfidy. Owing to the difficulty of finding an adequate supply of food for the captive troops in New England, the Congress finally determined to send them to Virginia. Commissioners sent over, in the spring of 1778, to tender a scheme of reconciliation, offered a ratification of the convention, signed by themselves; but Congress would recognize no authority inferior to the British ministry for such an act. Finally, in pursuance of a resolution of Congress (Oct. 15, 1778), the whole body of the captives (4.000 in number), English and German, after the officers had signed a parole of honor respecting their conduct on the way, took up their line of march, early in November, for Charlottesville, Va., under the command of Major-General Phillips. Col. Theodoric Bland was appointed by Washington to superintend the march. It was a dreary winter's journey of 700 miles through New England, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Marlyland and Virginia. The routes of the two nationalities were sometimes distant from each other, and sometimes the same, until they reached Valley Forge, when they went in the same line until they had crossed the Potomac River. They remained in Virginia until October, 1780, when the danger that the captives might rise upon and overpower [450] their guard caused the British to be removed to Fort Frederick, in Maryland, and the Germans to Winchester, in the Shenandoah Valley. Deaths, desertion, and partial exchanges had then reduced their number to about 2,100. Afterwards they were removed to Lancaster, Pa., and some to East Windsor, Conn. In the course of 1782 they were all dispersed, either by exchange or desertion. Many of the Germans remained in America.

The disaster to Burgoyne's army produced a profound sensation in England. This was intensified by indications that France was disposed to acknowledge the independence of the colonies. Efforts were made to supply the place of the lost troops by fresh recruits. Liverpool and Manchester undertook to raise each 1,000 men, and efforts were made to induce London to follow the example. The new lord mayor worked zealously for that purpose, but failed, and the ministry had to be content with a subscription of $100,000 raised among their adherents. Nor did the plan succeed in the English counties. In Scotland it was more successful; Glasgow and Edinburgh both raised a regiment, and several more were enlisted in the Scotch Highlands by the great landholders of that region, to whom the appointment of the officers was conceded. The surrender created despondency among the English Tories, and Lord North, the Prime Minister, was alarmed.

Burgoyne returned to England, on his parole, May, 1778. Being blamed, he solicited in vain for a court-martial to try his case, but he ably vindicated himself on the floor of Parliament, and published (1780) a narrative of his campaign in America for the same purpose. He joined the opposition, and an ineffectual attempt was made in 1779 to exclude him from Parliament. Then he resigned all his appointments but in 1782 he was restored to his rank in the army, and appointed privy councillor and commander-in-chief in Ireland. He retired from public life in 1784, and died in London, Aug. 4, 1792. Burgoyne acquired a literary reputation as a dramatist. His plays and poems were published in a collection, in 2 volumes, in 1808.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)
hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: