Lieutenant-Colonel John Anstruther, 62nd Regiment of Foot, ca.1782
by David Martin (1737-1797)
private collection. Photo courtesy of Andrew Cormack

 

John Anstruther, Lieut. Colonel, his signature from the "Return of the Officers Present &
Absent of His Majesty's 62d Regt. of Foot Commanded by M: G: Edwd Mathew 14th July 1781"
photo courtesy of Will Tatum

 

Nationality: Scottish
Born: 13 May 1736
Regimental commission dates:
Lieutenant-Colonel 21 October 1773
Wounded: Battle of Freeman's Farm, 19 September 1777
Captured: Saratoga, New York, 17 October 1777 (Convention Army)
Retired: 30 December 1782
Died: 10 February 1815

 

John Anstruther of Balcaskie came from an ancient Scottish family, directly descended from William de Candela, lord of Anstruther (ca.1100-1153). By the 18th century, the Anstruthers were of a prominent family which held two baronetcies (of Anstruther and of Balcaskie). John Anstruther was the second son born of Sir Philip Anstruther, 2nd Baronet of Balcaskie (1688-1763) and Catharine Hay of Spott (died 11 February 1759). At the age of 14, John became an ensign in the 26th Regiment with a commission dated 2 May 1751. On 28 August 1756 he became a lieutenant in the 8th, or King's Regiment. Transferred to the 63rd Regiment when that corps was formed from the 8th 's second battalion in 1758, he became the 63rd Regiment's captain-lieutenant on 25 September 1761, captain on 23 July 1762, and major of the regiment on 5 November 1766. Perhaps either due to missing his early regiment-hopping days or desiring to be part of a more senior regiment, John Anstruther became lieutenant-colonel of the 62nd Regiment on 21 October 1773. As such, John Anstruther had the honor of commanding the regiment in the field either at home or abroad, in quarters or on campaign, due to the continued absence of the colonel of the regiment.

On 3 April 1776, Lieutenant-Colonel Anstruther oversaw the regiment's embarkation upon transports at Monkstown, Ireland. Destined for the relief of Canada, the regiment arrived by the beginning of June, and served throughout the Northern Campaign of 1776 under Anstruther's leadership. Lieutenant-Colonel Anstruther led the regiment throughout the entirety of the Northern Campaign of 1777, commanding his men personally during the Battle of Freeman's Farm on 19 September 1777, in which battle he was wounded. Anstruther surrendered the regiment with the rest of Lieutenant-General John Burgoyne's Army from Canada at Saratoga on 7 October 1777.

In an 8 December 1777 letter, Anstruther petitioned rebel General Horatio Gates for the release of his servant, Private Samuel McKinzie, who was at that time “a Prisoner in Albany.” Like some other British officers of the prisoner Convention Army, Anstruther lost no time seeking a parole or outright exchange for himself as soon as possible due to family concerns. According to his 9 February 1778 application letter, written to rebel Major General William Heath:

 

Sir—

The Congress having made some objections to the immediate Departure of the Troops under the Convention, I must beg leave to observe to you, that it lays me in Particular under very disagreable Circumstances. The State of my Case is as follows. Upon my leaving Scotland two years ago, I left Mrs Anstruther with her Father, a man advancd in years and very infirm. Since I left Home Mrs Anstruther hath honor'd me with a Son. My wife is the old gentlemans sole surviving Daughter, and the Boy [h]is only Grandson The Estate is Fifteen Hundred Pound Sterling a year; and it is very natural to imagine He will make my Son his Heir; but the Caprice of age, may some times subvert the customary Rules of Expectation. In this Case it is my Duty as a Father to settle matters upon a sure Foundation before the Grandfather departs, who is now tottering under a Load of years. I believe, Sir, that amongst Gentlemen and civilisd People, Public Rupture was never meant intentionally to inpair Individuals. Upon this ground, I lay the Foundation of this Plea, and the subject needs no further matter to illustrate its Importance to me an Individual. To you Sir therefore do I make my application for your Interest to get me exchangd if that is impracticable—to obtain Permission for my going Home upon my Parole of Honor whatever Channell this must pass thro this Letter will evince the Necessity of the application.

I shall esteem your Interest upon this Occasion as a Favor, & am Sir,

your very Humble Servant,
John Anstruther
Lt Col 62d Regt

 

His plea letter was submitted to Congress on 25 February 1778. According to a letter written by George Washington to Heath dated 27 February 1778:

 

If they [congress] consent to the Exchange of Colo. Anstruther and Lord Napier [lieutenant in the 31st Regiment], I have not the least objection. I only desire that the Exchange may not be carried into execution, until Mr. Boudinot the Commissary General of Prisoners informs you, what Officers you are to demand in return for them. If the matter takes place be pleased to mention Lord Napier's rank.

 

Congress was quick to pass a proposal for Anstruther's exchange in a resolution dated 2 March 1778:

 

That General Heath be directed to permit Lieutenant Colonel Anstruther, of the 62 British regiment, and Lord Napier, lieutenant of the 31 regiment to go on his parole to Rhode Island, in order to negotiate an exchange for himself; provided, that if Colonel Ethan Allen shall not have been exchanged for Lieutenant Colonel Campbell, no exchange but Colonel Ethan Allen shall be accepted for Colonel Anstruther.

 

The “Lieutenant Colonel Campbell” referred to was Lieutenant-Colonel Archibald Campbell of the second battalion, 71st Regiment, another British officer prisoner (not from Burgoyne's army). Upon hearing of congress's 2 March 1778 resolution, Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell immediately wrote to Heath in a letter dated Concord, Massachusetts, 28 March 1778, expressing his concern with the situation (William Heath Papers; our thanks to Donald Londahl-Smidt for the following transcript):

 

Sir

Having learnt that the Honble: Congress have directed that Lieut. Colol: Anstruther of the 62d. Regiment, should be permitted to go on Parole to Rhode Island, in order to negotiate his exchange for Colol: Ethan Allen, provided that Colol: Allen shall not have been exchanged for Lieut. Col: Campbell; I am led once more to trespass on your indulgence by the following request.

The nature of that Resolve of Congress seems evidently to imply that an endeavour should first be exerted by me for Colol: Allen's exchange; and it would indicate the highest impropriety to suppose, that the Honble: Congress having actually consented to my exchange prior to that of Lieut. Colol: Anstruther, meant at the same time to refuse me the indulgence they have granted to him of going also on Parole for the purpose of negotiating that exchange.

Reasoning from such premises and my Seniority aas a Prisoner of War, encourage me to hope that the same candour, justice, and kindness, which I have at all times experienced from you, will on this occasion secure your permission to retire on parole to New York for a couple of months, when I doubt not but I shall be able to settle the business of Colol: Allen's exchange agreeable to the intention of Congress–

Considering Sir that I have been the first British Officer who have ever endeavoured at Colol: Allen's exchange, and by a tedious state of Captivity have suffered exceedingly in matters of the most interesting concerns to my family; I would hope, that the liberality of your Sentiments will complete your former acts of kindness, by granting me the honour of your compliance to this request; a favour, which shall at all times be acknowledged with every proper sentiment by

Sir
Your most Obedient and
Very humble Servant
ARCHD: CAMPBELL
Lieut: Colol: 71st: Regt.

 

John Anstruther desired to get to Rhode Island quickly, but in order to do so, he needed a pass in order to safely travel through American lines. William Heath, the rebel general charged with pass-granting power in the Eastern Department, offered an acknowledgement of Anstruther's need in a letter dated Boston, 26 March 1778 (Ch.C.2.38; courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Rare Books Department; our thanks to Donald Londahl-Smidt for the following transcript):

 

Sir

Your favor of the 23d. Came Safe to Hand, am much obliged by your Polite expressions of Friendship.

Your Passport shall be granted the moment I am ascertained How long Time you desire for Negotiating your Exchange, as by the resolve it is restricted to Colo. Ethan Allen if He should not have been Exchanged for Lt Colo. Campbell, as Some Stipulated Time is necessary least you should be Unsuccessfull, - If Colo. Allen should be already exchanged for Lt Colo Campbell, I will write you if you should stay at Rhode Island, what other Officer I would wish to have Exchanged for you, or should you

I am &c

William H[eath]

 

Anstruther's much-desired pass was prepared the next day (William Heath Papers; our thanks to Donald Londahl-Smidt for the following transcript):

 

I John Anstruther Lieutenant Colonel of the 62nd. British Regiment, having permission from the Honorable Congress to go to Rhode Island in order to negotiate an Exchange for myself, do pledge my Faith & Honor not to give an information or do or say any thing on my journey, or during the time of my being absent (until I am exchanged) injurious to the Interest of the United States of America, or either of them, that I will not convey any letter or papers but such as are submitted to inspection and permitted by Major General Heath; that I will endeavour to effect my exchange strictly conformable to the Resolve of Congress, viz, for Colonel Ethan Allen, unless he should have been exchanged for Lieutenant Colonel Campbell That if such Exchange cannot be effected I will return to Cambridge on or before the Tenth Day of May next; That if I effect an Exchange for myself I will obtain and send out two American Soldiers in Exchange for John Skirvin and Robert Allen, my two Servants, or if I am not exchanged will bring back the said John Skirvin and Robert Allen to Cambridge.

Given under my Hand at Cambridge this Twenty seventh Day of March A.D. 1778. –

JOHN ANSTRUTHER
Lieut. Colonel 62d Regt.

 

Interestingly, although Campbell had the permission prior to Anstruther to attempt an exchange with Allen (as he was captured much earlier than anstruther), Campbell remained in Concord, Massachusetts, apparently content with managing the proposed exchange from afar. Upon hearing of Anstruther's quick actions and move to Rhode Island, Campbell's concerns mounted, and he again wrote to Heath in a letter dated Concord, Massachusetts, 30 March 1778 (William Heath Papers; our thanks to Donald Londahl-Smidt for the following transcript):

 

Sir

I consider myself very much indebted for your obliging favour of Saturday, inclosing the resolves of Congress relative to Colol: Anstruther, and Lord Napier.

I am perfectly satisfied that the last of those Resolves is an express prohibition to British Officers being permitted to go in upon Parole in future; but as the Honble: Congress had given their consent to my being the first who should negotiate an exchange for Colol: Allen, and that consent prior to Colol: Anstruther, I do not hold myself in the description of those to which the Honble: Congress have that reference.

It is evident by the resolve of Congress relative to Colol: Anstruther that a permission for my going in upon parole to negotiate my exchange could not be matter of inconsistency; because he who was to make the attempt in case my exertions failed, has that permission granted him.

May I take the liberty Sir to request the favour of you to inform me, when it was that you received the order or approbation of Congress for my being exchanged for Colol: Allen? – If this Resolve relative to Colol: Anstruther, was the first intimation of it, may it not be readily supposed, that there certainly was an order, and that as you did not receive it, it had actually been miscarried. To this conclusion I have many reasons to form an opinion. And as you have done me the honour to express your obliging disposition to serve me in terms so handsome, I think it a justice owe to so much goodness to offer them to your consideration. Mr: Boudinot's letter to Heman Allen which I have sent for your reperusual, is proof that I might be exchanged for Colol: Allen whenever I could accomplish the matter at New York; The President of the Congress in his obliging epistle of the 14th: of Janry: last, The original of which I also inclose by this occasion, assures me, that the earliest notice should be sent me on the determination of Congress relative to my exchange; and a Letter from Mr Boudinot bearing date 27th: of January offers his endeavours to get me sent in upon parole to New York agreeable to my request. The only kind of satisfaction I could learn relative to that business was what Major Mercereau was pleased to communicate, which was that an Officer from the Southd: had brought a letter for him from Mr. Boudinot containing an order for my being sent into New York; That as Mr. Mercereau was at Rutland, this Officer put the letter into the Post=Office at Boston, and that it has since been never heard of. –

This Sir is all I could learn of the Resolve, or Order of Congress for my Exchange. When the Order was framed, permission to go in to New York, must have also existed; As both took place prior to the Resolves, which you did me the honour to inclose, your acquiescence at this juncture, can be looked upon in no other light, than a natural consequence of the approbation of Congress, and what ought to have been granted me at least four weeks ago. However Sir to the liberality of your Sentiments, I submit the decision. –

Colol: Anstruther is my oldest friend and acquaintance on this Continent; I am under no manner of concern of injury from him; we have acted as brothers, and I am convinced no state of adversity will ever alter our Sentiments in point of Friendship. I shall wait my fate with patience perswaded that from you Sir I shall certainly receive immediate relief, if possible. –

I have the honour to be with great respect

Sir Your much obliged and
very humble Servant
ARCHD: CAMPBELL\
Lieut. Colol: 71st : Regt. –

 

Had Campbell been aware of a subsequent resolution passed by congress that same day, his paranoia would no doubt have been confirmed: "That it be proposed to exchange Lieutenant Colonel Ethan Allen for Lieutenant Colonel Campbell, or Lieutenant Colonel Anstruther, and, if not acceded to, that Lieutenant Colonel Campbell be sent back to the State of Massachusetts bay…." But all was well, and no doubt the Anstruther-Campbell friendship alluded to remained strong; Campbell was able to arrange his exchange for Allen. Undeterred, Anstruther continued his quest for an exchange. According to Captain Frederick MacKenzie's journal entry, dated 2 April 1778, Anstruther "came down yesterday Evening in a flag of truce from Providence. He came here to endeavor to get exchanged for a Rebel Officer of equal rank; but as there are no Rebel troops prisoners here, he will be obliged to go to New York to effect his purpose." After little more than a month, on 8 May 1778, Anstruther was able to secure his exchange for a rebel lieutenant colonel POW.

Although freed and sailing for Falmouth aboard the 14-gun Snow Eagle packet, Anstruther and six other British officers were captured after a brief engagement on 21 September 1778 against the 20-gun rebel privateer brig Vengeance (Wingate Newton, commander); they were taken to Coruña, Spain. A letter dated 1 October 1778, written by a Consul Herman Katenkanp to the Lords of the British Admiralty, stated that the seven officers (and their three servants) were recently released and in process of returning home. It was Anstruther who signed a certificate which testified that they had all been “treated with great politeness” by their captors.

John Anstruther was made a colonel in the army on 17 November 1780.

Anstruther's early exchange allowed him to personally oversee the reformation of the repatriated 62nd Regiment in England by the summer of 1781. He didn't stay long, however, as he and his nephew Ensign Philip Anstruther were absent from the regiment by that August; Anstruther appears never to have rejoined the regiment, and he sold his commission to a former captain of the regiment, Alexander Campbell.

Lieutenant-Colonel John Anstruther married Grizel Maria Thomson of Charleton (died 5 July 1795) in December 1774, herself from a very prominent family and in fact heiress to its great fortunes, as alluded to in Anstruther's 9 February letter. Their first child, John Anstruther (1776-1833), had a son, John Anstruther Thomson (1818-1904) who published a book titled Eighty Years' Reminiscences by Colonel Anstruther Thomson (Longman's, Green, and Co., London: 1904). This record of John Anstruther's grandson's lifetime memories and extensive Thomson/Anstruther family history provides interesting information regarding its fun familial relations, including an explanation as to why Anstruther was so concerned about his son and primogeniture:

 

They [John Thomson of Charleton, Fifeshire and wife Margaret] had one son…who died at the age of eighteen, and two daughters—Rachel…who died young without children, and Grizel, who married Colonel John Anstruther (my grandfather). Colonel Anstruther joined Wolfe's Regiment in 1756. He was afterwards Major of the 63rd Regiment and Colonel in the 62nd Regiment. He served in the American War in General Burgoyne's division in 1777, was taken prisoner and twice wounded [sic: once]. When he retired from the army he sold his commission for £8,000, and bought the farm of Coates, near Charleton, and during the later part of his life lived at Coates House with his two daughters, Margaret and Catherine. Margaret married General [James] Durham of Largo.

John Thomson of Charleton, not having given his consent to his daughter's marriage, took care that Colonel Anstruther should have no benefit, and left the Charleton property to his grandson, my father. He also put into his will that anyone succeeding to Balcaskie should forfeit Charleton, and that in case of my father dying without an heir, Charleton should go to the second son of John Spottiswoode of Spottiswoode.

My father was the eldest son of [Lieutenant-Colonel] John Anstruther, second son of Sir Robert [sic: Philip] Anstruther of Balcaskie, and took the name of Thomson on succeeding to the estate of Charleton on the death of his mother. He was born in 1776, and succeeded to Charlton in 1797. He raised a troop of the Fife Fencible Cavalry, of which regiment his father was Colonel. When they were disbanded the colours were sent to Charleton, where they now are [in 1904].

 

Of related interest is a contemporary annotation to the 2 March 1782 paylist of Lieutenant-Colonel John Anstruther's company: listed as the lieutenant-colonel was “ Lt Col John Thompson *” with the note “* changed his name from Anstruther.” It was perhaps an attempt by John himself to assume his wife's maiden name in order to gain his father-in-law's favor; this was a practice not unheard of. During the rest of his time with the regiment (through 1782), he was consistently returned as "John Thompson."

It is often said or written that John Anstruther was wounded twice during the Northern Campaign of 1777, during each battle of Saratoga. This was not the case, however. The campaign's enumerated officer casualty lists transmitted to the British government, deposited in the Colonial Office, lists Lieutenant-Colonel Anstruther in the wounded column, near the additional text “wounded in two different actions,” which, at first glance, appears to apply to him. However, that addition was meant only to apply to Major John Dyke Acland, 20th Regiment, and not to any other field officer.

 

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