The office of Commander-in-Chief, North America was a military position of the British Army. Established in 1755 in the early years of the Seven Years' War, holders of the post were generally responsible for land-based military personnel and activities in and around those parts of North America that Great Britain either controlled or contested. The post continued to exist until 1775, when Lieutenant-General Thomas Gage, the last holder of the post, was replaced early in the American War of Independence. The post's responsibilities were then divided: Major-General William Howe became Commander-in-Chief, America, responsible for British troops from West Florida to Newfoundland, and General Guy Carleton became Commander-in-Chief, Quebec, responsible for the defence of the Province of Quebec.
This division of responsibility persisted after American independence and the loss of East and West Florida in the Treaty of Paris (1783). One officer was given the posting for Quebec, which later became the Commander-in-Chief of The Canadas when Quebec was divided into Upper and Lower Canada, while another officer was posted to Halifax with responsibility for military matters in the maritime provinces.
Shirley, who was also the royal governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, assumed command upon Braddock's death, and had limited military experience. His tenure was marked by failed expeditions on the New York-New France frontier and disagreements with Indian agent William Johnson.
Abercrombie served as Loudon's second in command in 1757, and was appointed in part for political reasons. Troops and militia numbering more than 45,000 were under his overall command, with three ambitious campaigns planned. Although the British captured Fort Duquesne and Fortress Louisbourg during his tenure, his spectacular failure in the Battle of Carillon led to his recall.
Gage served under Braddock and Abercrombie during the Seven Years' War. He oversaw the military response to Pontiac's Rebellion, and was responsible for implementing official responses to the rising unrest of the American Revolution in the Thirteen Colonies. He returned to England on leave in 1773 without relinquishing the post.
Haldimand, a professional officer originally from Switzerland, carefully avoided involving British troops in civil unrest unless specifically requested by local authorities. He also resisted entanglement in the territorial disputes of the New Hampshire Grants, although during his later term as governor of Quebec (1778–1786) he was involved in controversial negotiations over the status of what later became the state of Vermont.
Clinton, who had served as second in command to Howe, personally led the withdrawal of British troops from Philadelphia, including the Battle of Monmouth fought en route. He directed the disposition of military troops along all of the frontiers between rebel and Loyal colonies, from West Florida to Nova Scotia. He conducted the successful Siege of Charleston before leaving Major-General Charles, Earl Cornwallis in command of the south. Miscommunication and disagreement between Clinton and both Cornwallis and Admiral Marriot Arbuthnot contributed to British failures that culminated in the 1781 Siege of Yorktown, in which Cornwallis surrendered his army.
Carleton, who had served as Governor of Quebec early in the war, oversaw the withdrawal of British troops from the United States, and assisted in the relocation of thousands of Loyalists to other parts of the British Empire. Although he indicated a desire to resign in August 1782, his appointed successor, Earl Grey, was withdrawn before his departure when the government in London collapsed.
continued in 1791 as Commander-in-Chief of The Canadas
The second tenure of General Carleton (named Baron Dorchester in August 1786, after his appointment as commander-in-chief and as the first Governor General of The Canadas) was marked by the ongoing consequences of the arrival of needy Loyalist settlers in the provinces. He oversaw the division of Quebec into Upper and Lower Canada and the creation of New Brunswick from Nova Scotian territory, and engaged in prolonged wrangling with the Americans over the continued occupation of frontier forts in the Northwest Territory, whose transfer Carleton oversaw in 1796 after the signing of the Jay Treaty.
Carleton during this time engaged in prolonged wrangling with the Americans over the continued occupation of frontier forts in the Northwest Territory, whose transfer Carleton oversaw in 1796 after the signing of the Jay Treaty.
Prescott's tenure in North America, which began in April 1796 with appointment as Governor General of The Canadas, was militarily uneventful; in addition to ongoing issues surrounding land grants, he was concerned with intrigues (real and perceived) against British rule by French agitators.
Prévost oversaw the British conduct of the War of 1812 in British North America, for which he was much criticised. Sent to London to defend his conduct, he died in 1816 before the court martial was convened.
During Jackson's tenure, there was tension with the United States over a variety of border disputes, with significant tensions on the disputed Maine-New Brunswick frontier. This led to a rise in troop strength in North America to about 12,000; the disputes were peacefully resolved with the Webster-Ashburton Treaty in 1842. He died quite unexpectedly shortly before the arrival of his replacement, Earl Cathcart.
Cathcart was appointed first as commander-in-chief and later also governor-general amid tensions between Britain and the United States over the Oregon Country. These were resolved peacefully with the signing in 1846 of the Oregon Treaty. When a new governor-general was appointed, Cathcart resigned both his positions.
Rowan, who had served as an aide to Colborne during his tenure in the post, had a largely uneventful time in office. The only major incident was rioting in Montreal that led to the burning of the Parliament buildings there.
Appointed to the post when North-South tensions rose in the United States, Williams oversaw defensive arrangements to prevent the American Civil War from spilling into British territories. A diplomatic incident known as the Trent Affair in 1861 led to an increased in the troop strength in the British provinces, and Williams made vigorous preparations for war before the crisis subsided.
Kent's tenure was short. The fourth son of King George III, he had been given command of the Halifax station in 1794, at which time he embarked on a major program to upgrade the city's defences. He was appointed commander-in-chief upon Prescott's recall, but illness cut short his tenure.