The 78th Fraser Highlanders

soldierc.jpg (187938 bytes)

On January 4, 1757 Simon Fraser Esq., received orders

signed by Barrington, Secretary of War, “to Raise

a Highland Battalion of Foot, under your command,

which is to Consist of Ten Companies of Four Serjeants,

Four Corporals, Two Drummers, and One Hundred

soldierb.jpg (31258 bytes)Effective Private Men in each Company, besides

Commission Officers..."   [SRO, GD125/22/16 (3)].  



The commission to Simon Fraser Esq., Lt.Col. Commandant of the 2nd Highland Battalion of Foot, was confirmed by Royal Warrant, “the 5th Day of January 1757 in the 30th Year of our Reign.   By His Majesty’s Command, Holdernesse”  [PRO, SP44/189, p. 342/46].

The Highlands of Scotland were considered a dangerous, violent and undesirable place to be during the 18th century, and many people in Britain thought it the height of foolishness to put weapons into the hands of Highland Jacobites.  James Wolfe (1727-59), while serving with the 20th Regiment in Scotland, in a letter to Captain William Rickson, dated June 9, 1751, revealed his reasons for considering the formation of new Highland regiments, which are not wholly flattering to the Highlanders. "I should imagine,” wrote Wolfe, referring to Rickson’s duties in Nova Scotia, “that two or three independent Highland companies might be of use; they are hardy, intrepid, accustomed to a rough country, and no great mischief if they fall.   How can you better employ a secret enemy than by making his end conducive to the common good?   If this sentiment should take wind," he justly concludes, “what an execrable and bloody being should I be considered here in the midst of Popery and Jacobitism!"    [James Wolfe: Man and Soldier by W.T. Waugh, M.A., Kingsford Professor of History, McGill University (Montreal, New York: Louis Carrier & Co., 1928) p. 101]

The Highland officers received their initial commissions free but, in return, they were responsible for raising the men.   The commissions could later be sold to the officer next in line for promotion.   A major’s commission, for example, could fetch a thousand pounds, which was a lot of money at that time.   It could also prove complicated and time consuming, because it involved the transfer of money in Scotland, which had to be arranged from the country in which the fighting took place.   In addition, the subordinate officers in the chain of command had to be recommended for promotion and receive money for their own commissions, to apply against the cost of the next step up the military ladder.

The influential Duke of Argyll, writing to the Duke of Atholl in 1757 about the Highland officers, noted that Gaelic “is a rule laid down in these levies” and encouraged the recruitment of officers who had served with the Protestant Scots Brigade in Holland, in all likelihood, having regard for their professionalism, as well as their perceived political loyalty.   [Chronicles of the Families of Atholl and Tullibardine, 6th January 1757, The Manuscripts of the Duke of Atholl, K.T. and of Earl of Home (London: Printed for Her Majesty’s Stationery Office by Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1891) p. 416]. 

On January 13, 1757 Major Clephane, who had retired from Dutch service in 1756, was directed by Lieut. Colonel Simon Fraser Commanding a Battalion of Highlanders, by virtue of a Beating Order “to raise One Hundred able bodied Men, with the Assistance of the three Officers appointed to your Company.   You are to take Men of any Size who are fit for Service and of any Age from Eighteen to Forty.   When you have Twenty Men or upwards raised for your Company, You are directed to send them either to Inverness Maryburgh or Dunkeld which are the places appointed for quartering the Regiment.    You are to give the Subaltern Officers appointed to your Company, what Money you think proper to carry on the Service: and you are to be accountable to the Regiment for the different Sums

which shall be drawn for upon Account of your Company when it is compleated.   For each Man sent and approved of at head Quarters You shall receive Three Pounds Sterling with Pay from the date of his Attestation."    [SRO, GD125/2216 (6)].   After the amnesty for Jacobites, Donald MacDonald, when he realized which way the wind was blowing, in 1756 resigned his commission in the French army, and recruited his quota of men to fight for the British, against his recent employer. 

One of the greatest myths surrounding the raising of the Fraser Highlanders, and one which was no doubt promoted by their colonel, was that the men recruited had volunteered to serve and came from the Lovat estate and surrounding estates.   In reality, and contrary to the statement made by that romantic Highland historian, Major-General David Stewart of Garth (1772-1829) in his  Sketches of the Character, Manners, and Present State of the Highlanders of Scotland, etc. (1822), research has disclosed that Lieutenant-Colonel Simon Fraser raised about 125 men from the forfeited estates of his family; not the 800 or so attributed to him.   Major James Clephane raised 136 men, and wrote in April 1757 that “I have at last sent for Glasgow 124 recruits along with Colonel Fraser’s company (our two companies making the first division of the battalion)…"   [A Genealogical Deduction of the Family of Rose of Kilravock (Edinburgh: T. Constable, 1898), p. 463-4.] 

By April 1757, the regiment known as the 2nd Highland Battalion had 41 officers, 40 sergeants, 20 pipers and drummers, and 987 other ranks, for a total of 1,088, plus 130 supernumerays, some of whom were soldiers’ wives, who would do the washing, cooking and cleaning.  A second group was sent out to the regiment in May 1758, increasing the numbers to 82 officers, 65 sergeants, 30 pipers and drummers, and 1,365 other ranks, for a total of 1,542 officers and men, including approximately 60 women    [J. R. Harper, The Fraser Highlanders (1979) p. 16].   Harper also states (p. 58): On 15 September 1758, Royal Warrants were issued to raise a further company of Fraser Highlanders.   This fourteenth company under the Command of Captain Alexander Fraser of Culduthel arrived in Halifax in July 1759 and was sent to Albany in error.   General Amherst ordered them moved by transport to Quebec, where they eventually arrived 4 September 1759, to take part in the battle of the Plains of Abraham on September 13, 1759. 

According to letters found in the Balladrum papers, some 400 Fraser Highlanders were left behind, and sent to Germany to serve with the 87th or 88th Highland Volunteers (1759-63) for the duration of the Seven Years War.   Lieutenant James Fraser and his 71 recruits were among those who were sent to Germany with the 87th Regt of Foot, or Highland Volunteers, formed under Major Commandant (later Lt.-Colonel Commandant) Robert Murray Keith.  The main body of Fraser’s Highlanders left Glasgow for Ireland and marched some 400 miles to Cork, where they arrived in the latter part of June, 1757.   On  25th December 1757, Colonel Simon Fraser wrote to Bailie James Fraser in Inverness:  “After a halt of Five days at Cork to recover the fatigues of a march of 400 miles the Battalion Embark’d, consisting of 1000 fine fellows besides 170 Supernumerarys, being 40 more than the Secretary at War desired me to bring, those 40 men were intended to answer any deficiency that might arise by death or Desertion, but I did not lose a man by either from the day we left Glasgow and but 7 before…"   [see separate page on the 78th]

Major-General Stewart and subsequent authors have referred to the number of pipers and drummers in the 2nd Highland Battalion (Fraser’s Highlanders).   According to Lieutenant Colonel Angus Fairrie [A History of the Queen’s Own Highlanders (Seaforth and Camerons), 1983], there may well have been soldiers who were paid privately by the officers to play the pipes, but only drummers were given a separate category in the British Army during the 18th century. 

It may be appropriate to note here that a natural rivalry existed between the officers of the 1st Highland Battalion [62nd Regiment, renumbesoldierc.jpg (187938 bytes)red 77th Regiment of Foot, Montgomerie’s Highlanders] and the 2nd Highland Battalion [63rd Regiment, renumbered 78th Regiment of Foot, Fraser’s Highlanders] who were competing for recruits in Scotland.    Furthermore, the Hon. Archibald Montgomerie (1726-1796), gazetted lieutenant-colonel commandant on January 4, 1757, eventually succeeded as 12th Earl of Eglinton on the death (1769) of his older brother Alexander, unmarried.   Simon Fraser, of Lovat (1726-1782), gazetted lieutenant-colonel commandant on January 5, 1757, on the other hand, had lost his hereditary status as Master of Lovat when his father, the 11th Lord Lovat, was executed for treason in 1747.   Even though Fraser successfully petitioned, and in 1774, by then a major-general, he was granted some of the Lovat lands in recognition of his military service to the British Crown, and the payment of some 20,000 pounds sterling, the title of Lord Lovat remained attainted, and he became known as General Simon Fraser of Lovat, or General the Hon. Simon Fraser of Lovat, the Hon., in reference to his status as a Member of Parliament for Inverness. 

In fact, like Montgomerie’s Highlanders, Fraser’s Highlanders were recruited from a wide area:  from Dundee around the east coast to Nairn and Elgin; down the Great Glen (Fraser), past Glengarry (MacDonell) to Lochaber (Cameron, MacDonald), over the sea to Skye (MacDonald), Tain (Ross, MacKay), Lewis (MacLeod) and Barra (MacNeil); all the way down to the west coast to Kintyre (MacAlister of Loupe) and Dunoon (Campbell). 

James Clephane had previously recruited in Scotland for the Scots Brigade in Holland, and hired a professional recruiter (John Strachen) for the 100 men required of him by Colonel Fraser, but his most ardent supporter was his sister Betty, wife of Hugh Rose of Kilravock, who recruited as far away as Perthshire and Angus, with the assistance of several women around Nairnshire.  It may also explain the good discipline of Fraser’s Highlanders, because the young men who were encouraged to sign up by their mothers, did not want to disgrace them.   As a result, Major Clephane had more recruits than he needed, despite the competition from Montgomerie’s Highlanders and the Black Watch.

In one of her letters to her brother in London, Mrs. Rose lamented the difficulties facing  Colonel Fraser:  “…I think [he] has got the most difficult to act for Montgomery’s people is just planted round them, for except Mr. Baillie in Rosshire, and Mr. Rose in Murray [Moray];  I see no other help that poor Fraser has got…  Colonel Fraser is in want of some proper people about him; I was this day up very early giveing him a motherly breakfast and setting him off about his business."   [SRO, FXGD 125/22/2]

The 53rd Languedoc Regiment of French grenadiers arrived in 1755, just before the Seven Years War - and were among the troops that bore the brunt of the defence of New France.    Montcalm praised the Languedocs in despatches.   They held the left wing at Carillon (later Ticonderoga) and fought in great numbers at Ste-Foy.  Around 1763 the Languedocs returned to France.   This sketch is one of several given to me by Mr. Frank M. Rolph of Rolph-Clark-Stone Limited, who was a good friend of a former employer in Montreal in the late 1960s.


Commissioned Officers

The following information has been compiled from various sources and is intended to give a brief profile of the commissioned officers in the 2nd Highland Battalion (Fraser’s Highlanders), gazetted in 1757, some of whom may not appear on the list of officers when the regiment was disbanded in 1763.   The list is based on Colonel J.R. Harper’s   The Fighting Frasers, A Short History of the Old 78th Regiment or Fraser’s Highlanders  (1966) and subsequent research of Army lists, other military records and private family papers.  Several of the Frasers in Fraser’s Highlanders have been profiled in  Canadian Explorer.   I would like to acknowledge the cooperation of Professor Harry Duckworth, whose free exchange of mutually beneficial information has helped both of us to better understand the background of these officers.   Lt-Col. Ian McCulloch, former Commanding Officer of the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada [1993-96], has kindly shared his research to date (November 2004).  The officers are listed in order of their highest ranking in the regiment, rather than alphabetically, or by the date of their original commission in the regiment. 

Captain Sir Henry Seton, of Abercorn and Culberg - gazetted a captain in one of three Additional Companies on July 17, 1757 - bringing the total companies in the 78th's establishment up to thirteen.  Ian McCulloch notes that Captain Seton's company went to Halifax but remained there in garrison on guard duty as they were considered not to be sufficiently trained for the Louisbourg expedition.  Seton's company rejoined the battalion on its way back to Boston and marched across Massachusetts to spend the winter in Schenectady in the Mohawk River Valley.  In the spring of 1759, Sir Henry transferred [22 April 1759] out of the 78th into the 17th Foot (Monckton's) which formed part of Amherst's successful expedition against Ticonderoga and Crown Point, while the 78th went via Halifax and Louisbourg to join Wolfe's expedition against Quebec.  The following year, Sir Henry's new regiment went north to Montreal via Crown Point with Havilland's expedition to take Montreal.  In 1761 his company of the 17th was one of two assigned to Lt Col James Grant's 1761 expedition against the Cherokee which was successful.  Sir Henry then subsequently fought in the Caribbean at Havana and left on half-pay in 1763 at the end of the war.  He married Margaret Hay of Drummelzier (1770) and died in June 1788.  Golfers might like to know that Sir Henry was the Captain of the Royal Edinburgh Company of Golfers for 1756.