Roger Hale Sheaffe

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General Sir Roger Hale Sheaffe, 1st Bt.
Rogerhalesheaffe.jpg
Born 15 July 1763 (1763-07-15)
Boston, Massachusetts
Died 17 July 1851 (1851-07-18) (aged 88)
36 Melville Street, Edinburgh
Allegiance United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service/branch Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Years of service 1778–1835
Rank General
Battles/wars French Revolutionary Wars
War of 1812
Awards 1st Baronet Shaeffe, created 16 January 1813
Other work Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada

General Sir Roger Hale Sheaffe, 1st Baronet (15 July 1763 – 17 July 1851) was a Loyalist General in the British Army during the War of 1812. he was created a Baronet in 1813 and afterwards served as Commander and Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada.

Early life[edit]

Roger Hale Sheaffe was born at Boston, Massachusetts, the third son and eighth child of William Sheaffe (1705–1771), a graduate of Harvard University who became Deputy Collector of Customs at Boston.[1] His mother, Susannah Child (1730–1811), was the daughter of Thomas Child and Susannah Hatch. Her father was an Englishman of the same family as Richard Child, 1st Earl Tylney. He owned considerable property in his native Lincolnshire but emigrated to Boston where he co-founded Trinity Church, in 1733.

One of Roger's sisters, Margaret, married Robert Livingston, of Clermont Manor, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Another sister, Susanna, married Captain Ponsonby Molesworth, grandson of Robert Molesworth, 1st Viscount Molesworth. A third sister married Benjamin Clarke Cutler, brother of Mrs Samuel Ward.[2]

Shaeffe was educated at the Boston Latin School with his cousin Sir Isaac Coffin, 1st Bt.[3] His father died penniless in 1771 and his mother opened a boarding house to support her ten children. One of the residents there was Lord Percy, later the 2nd Duke of Northumberland, the leader of the British forces in Boston during the American War of Independence. Lord Percy greatly aided the family during the War and was so struck by the qualities and the leadership potential of Shaeffe that he sent him to a military academy in London. Lord Percy became Shaeffe's lifelong friend and benefactor, purchasing his first commission as Ensign in 1778 in the 5th Regiment of Foot. He later purchased a Lieutenancy.[4]

Military career[edit]

Sheaffe served with his regiment in Ireland from 1781 until 1787, when it was posted to Canada. In Detroit and at Fort Niagara, he served under Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe, who had a high opinion of him. He was commissioned Captain in 1795. He first served under Lieutenant-Colonel Isaac Brock in the 49th Regiment of Foot in 1798; they served together in the campaign against the Batavian Republic in 1799 and in the Baltic in 1801.

The 49th was posted to Canada in 1802. As Lieutenant-Colonel, Sheaffe commanded the garrison at Fort George, where he faced an attempted mutiny. Despite his own notable achievements, Sheaffe was often compared unfavourably with the popular and charismatic Brock. Sheaffe had been Brock's second in command prior to their time in Canada, and continued in that role upon their arrival. Shortly after arriving at their new station, a mutiny was attempted by some of Sheaffe's men. Brock hurriedly came to the aid of his subordinate, ended the mutiny without conflict, and arrested the perpetrators. They claimed they took their actions directly as a result of Sheaffe's belligerence, but were subsequently executed after a court-martial. Brock warned Sheaffe to stop working the men too hard and to stop punishing men harshly for small infractions.

Sheaffe nevertheless attained the rank of Colonel in 1808, and Major-General in 1811. This last promotion actually hurt Sheaffe financially, as he transferred from a full-pay commission as Colonel of the 49th to half pay as an unassigned general officer on the staff.

War of 1812[edit]

Sheaffe returned to Canada from a visit to England in July 1812. The next month, the War of 1812 broke out. Sir George Prevost, the Governor General of Canada and commander in chief of the forces there, appointed Sheaffe to command the troops at Fort George on the Niagara River. While Brock was absent, dealing with an American army at the Siege of Detroit, Sheaffe was required by Prevost to negotiate an armistice with the American forces on the opposite side of the river. Prevost may have believed that peace could be negotiated quickly, but by the time the armistice ended, the Americans had been substantially reinforced.

Early on 13 October the Americans began crossing the Niagara at Queenston, a few miles south of Fort George. Brock galloped from Fort George to Queenston, arriving just in time to see the Americans capture the commanding heights and a British heavy gun battery. He sent orders to Sheaffe to bring reinforcements, but before they could arrive he led two frontal assaults against the heights. During the second, he was shot dead. Sheaffe arrived on the battlefield at 2 p.m. In contrast to Brock's actions, he waited for reinforcements before leading his force on a wide detour to the top of the heights, so as to shield them from American artillery. He then meticulously drew up his force before attacking at 4 p.m. The Americans, terrified of the Mohawks who had also joined the battle, tried to flee but were trapped against the river, and surrendered. 1,000 prisoners were taken, for a cost of 50 casualties.

Sheaffe was appointed Lieutenant Governor and commander in Upper Canada in succession to Brock, but was unpopular with the people he was to defend, and often with his own soldiers. During the later months of 1812 he was unable to transact business with the Legislature due to illness and other military commitments, forcing Prevost to make a personal visit to Upper Canada in February 1813.

In April, Sheaffe was present in York, the provincial capital, to deal with the civil authorities. York was weakly defended and Sheaffe had only four companies of regulars, passing through en route to Fort George and other posts. On 27 April, an American force supported by gunboats and other armed vessels attacked. In the Battle of York, Sheaffe's outnumbered troops were driven back to the edge of the town. Sheaffe decided to preserve his regulars and ordered a retreat to Kingston, having destroyed the fort and a sloop of war under construction in the dockyard. The militia were left to be taken prisoner, while the town was looted by the Americans and several buildings were set on fire.

Many prominent citizens of Upper Canada denounced Sheaffe's conduct at York, and Sir George Prevost relieved Sheaffe of his military and civil appointments in Upper Canada, putting him in charge of the troops in Montreal.

Subsequent career[edit]

grave of Roger Hale Sheaffe in New Calton Cemetery

Later in the year, Sheaffe was recalled to Britain. Here he subsequently had a successful military career, being promoted to Lieutenant-General in 1821 and full General in 1835.

He and his family lived in Penzance and Worcester, and he retired to Edinburgh. He died at his home in 36 Melville Street on 17 July 1851, and is buried in New Calton Cemetery, beside his daughters Frances Julia and Agnes Emily.

He had been awarded a baronetcy in January 1813 as a reward for the victory at Queenston Heights, but as none of his children survived him, the title died with him.

Family[edit]

In 1810, at Quebec City, Roger Hale Sheaffe married Margaret, daughter of John Coffin (1729–1810) and Isabella Child, a relation of his mother's from Boston. Lady Sheaffe's sister was the mother of Mrs Benjamin Joseph Frobisher, half-sister of Mrs George Hamilton. They had six children, all of whom predeceased their parents:

  • Frances Julia Sheaffe, b. 1812 in Canada, d. 1834 in Edinburgh.
  • Agnes Isabella Sheaffe, b. 1814 in London, died in infancy.
  • Agnes Emily Sheaffe, b. 1817 in Worcester, d. 1832 in Edinburgh.
  • Percy Sheaffe, died as a young man.
  • Another son and daughter both died in infancy.

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
Sir Isaac Brock
Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada
1812–1813
Succeeded by
Francis de Rottenburg
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
New creation
Baronet
(of Boston, MA)
1813–1851
Succeeded by
Title extinct