foreword | Historical Narratives | Resources | Links | Contact



History is knowledge of the individual.

The year 1794 opened with a full plate of problems for Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe. He faced a number of crises, one of which was personal and a perennial preoccupation of Simcoe the soldier: his military rank.

Yes, Sir!

While Simcoe was obsessed with the subject, he endeavoured to treat the matter with seeming serenity and aplomb, persistent but never pressing his case too intensely.

Simcoe was aghast, therefore, or at least he professed to be, when he learned from his superior, Lord Dundas, about the latest dilemma regarding his military status. Simcoe had sent a friend, Captain Stevenson, to London with a list of "requisitions and statements for the Province of Upper Canada to be submitted to Mr. Dundas for his approbation by desire of Colonel Simcoe." Whether it had actually been included by Simcoe himself, or added later by Stevenson, is not clear, but among the long list of 21 articles was the following request.

Number 11
"The Rank of Brigadier for Col. Simcoe will be necessary for his Command. It will not interfere with His Royal Highness who now leaves the country." When Lord Dundas subsequently questioned Simcoe about this rather irregular request for an immediate promotion to a higher rank, a mortified and discomfited Simcoe hurriedly wrote to assure Dundas that he was "most perfectly astonished at this request, for I neither desire nor expect the rank." Not much he didn't.

Simcoe was a man of action, and his whole life revolved around the military. He was by nature martially inclined, always seeking to emulate his father's fighting career. Like any ambitious soldier, Simcoe was keenly interested in rank, particularly his own. When informed that his salary as lieutenant governor would be 2000 pounds, he proudly proclaimed, "Promotion not emoluments is more important to me." Simcoe commenced his military career as an ensign and served with distinction throughout the American Revolution, being wounded three times. He rose through the ranks quickly and in 1781 returned home a lieutenant colonel, the rank he held when he was appointed lieutenant governor of Upper Canada.

Never short of proposals nor shy about promoting them, Simcoe, before agreeing to accept the position, haughtily informed Henry Dundas, the long-suffering Secretary of State for Home Affairs and War, that unless several of Simcoe's proposals were acted upon promptly, he might "feel himself under the very severe mortification" of declining the position in Upper Canada. One of these requests concerned his rank. To this rather pretentious pronouncement, Dundas responded sardonically "that he would be extremely sorry if circumstances deprived the public of the benefits of Simcoe's service."

Although Simcoe never allowed rank to interfere with service to his king and country, his concern regarding rank was never far from his mind and he subtly sought confirmation of promotion to a higher rank in his correspondence with Dundas. Following his appointment as lieutenant governor, Simcoe proposed that while he was in Upper Canada, he be placed in command of a corps of 12 companies comprising 1200 men. This would be a force, he candidly confided to Dundas,"of which I am most anxious to be the Chief."

While Simcoe reluctantly accepted Lord Dorchester's overall military authority in British North America, he insisted on having the final say in Upper Canada, a responsibility, he claimed, that necessitated at least the rank of brigadier general. Before departing for Canada, Simcoe disclosed to Dundas that he was "under great difficulties." He knew that his counterpart in Lower Canada, Sir Alured Clarke, held the rank of major general, and that Sir John Johnson, the Superintendent of Indian Affairs and the man whom Lord Dorchester had recommended for Simcoe's position, held the rank of brigadier general. With the rank of lieutenant colonel Simcoe felt he would not have clear authority over the total scene. He wanted the substance, not the shadow of command, and requested that he be given the same rank as his counterparts in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, that is, brigadier general. Simcoe felt he should also command the "water forces" by which he meant all naval vessels on the upper Great Lakes. He concluded his correspondence by saying he had been promised the rank of brigadier general with all "the power, station and responsibility of that office."

High military promotions required the approval of the king, and Simcoe mistakenly believed that the sovereign had refused to grant him the rank he wanted because of the King's fourth son, Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent, who was stationed in Quebec. Prince Edward held the same rank as Simcoe, that is, colonel, but the Prince's colonelcy was senior to Simcoe's. Simcoe falsely assumed that he was being denied a promotion because it would create a serious breech of royal etiquette for him to outrank Prince Edward as a brigadier general. In fact, the king gave "his negative to the rank of Brigadier General" for Simcoe purely on military grounds. In other words the king did not believe Simcoe merited or was eligible for the rank he was requesting.

When Simcoe began to realize that perhaps his persistent appeals for a new rank were beginning to grate on the king and that he was not going to get the promotion no matter what he said, he ended his entreaties with the poignant admission that while he continued to suffer "severe uneasiness" regarding his failure to receive an appropriate rank, he did not wish to offend his sovereign and urged Henry Dundas

In His Own Words
"with all humble Reverence & duty to present me to his Majesty as not hesitating a moment in declining all Thoughts of further Rank."

Despite this obsequious surrender, Simcoe still felt obliged to try one more time, naturally, of course, "with all deference." The irrepressible Simcoe thought he had the solution. He wondered while he was serving in Upper Canada, whether it "might be more proper" for him to hold the rank of major general - the rank above brigadier general - so that as Governor and military officer, he would clearly outrank the Prince, should the latter ever pay Simcoe a visit in Upper Canada.

Simcoe's supposed solution was ignored by London, and so was his earlier request for 12 companies comprising 1200 men in the Queen's Rangers. Officialdom finally decided that only two companies of Queen's Rangers totalling 426 men would be sent to Upper Canada, and that Simcoe would command them with the rank of colonel without pay, since he was already being paid as lieutenant governor. Furthemore, Simcoe was advised that in the absence of Lord Dorchester, Major General Clarke, the lieutenant governor of Lower Canada, would be commander-in-chief. Simcoe was also cautioned that should any other corps having its own officers ever be stationed in Upper Canada, Simcoe was "not to interfere in any respect with their regimental duty or discipline." Only in Clarke's absence would Simcoe exercise overall command, providing no other officer was present with the rank of brigadier general or higher.

To add insult to injury, Simcoe was told that he could not assume the rank of colonel until his corps or some part of it was actually on service with him in Upper Canada. No regiment, no rank. Simcoe vainly protested that this imposed a limitation on his ability to "exercise my due rank as colonel in America," but his protests fell on deaf ears. Despite Simcoe's military successes in the field during the revolution, the king and his officials were reluctant for some reason to put too much military power into the hands of Upper Canada's lieutenant governor.

By now poor Simcoe was totally confused as to just what military authority he did have, and he plaintively pleaded with Lord Dorchester, who was then in London, to explain to him just what, in fact,"is the extent of my military power?"

A frustrated and disappointed Simcoe stoically put a good face on the situation and concluded the discussion by abjectly assuring his superiors that no matter what the ultimate outcome, he would "cheerfully and readily" acquiesce in any decision they might think proper. He dutifully assured the king that he would not hesitate in "declining all thoughts of further rank" should that be necessary.

It all worked out well in the end. In October 1794, Simcoe was assigned the rank of major general. Some thought Simcoe deserved a title too, but that always depended on "which way the political wind was blowing." As far as Simcoe was concerned, it was blowing the wrong way because he never received a title for carrying out a task that gave Upper Canada a good start on the road to its development. It is interesting that Simcoe, who provided yeoman service to his sovereign as lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, failed to receive the honours others received whose service was far less important and effective than Simcoe's.

Simcoe asked a friend in London to order his major general's regimentals, that is, his uniform, from his tailor, Mr. Cannon. They cost 91 pounds or 88 with a discount for prompt payment. After serving in St. Domingo (Haiti), Simcoe was promoted to lieutenant general, the high rank he took to his rest in 1806.

Previous / Review / Next

Copyright © 2013 Website Administrator