Doing research this week at the National Archive of Scotland, I had the pleasure of finding a very rare type of document: a letter written by a common soldier in the British army.
Duncan Grant was a soldier in the 21st Regiment of Foot, which was named the Royal North British Fusiliers. The regiment was among those that landed in Quebec in 1776; the following year it was part of the army that General John Burgoyne led south on a fateful campaign. Grant had experienced the successful part of the campaign, but then had a personal twist of fate: he was sent back to Canada to retrieve regimental baggage that had been left there. With the promise of the army reaching its ultimate objective, the intent was to begin the process of taking stores from the previous winter quarters at Montreal to the anticipated new ones in Albany. this duty gave Grant an opportunity to write a letter home, and spared him from being captured with his regiment at Saratoga.
Duncan Grant wrote the letter to his father, directing it to "Lachlan Grant, Farmer in Duthill, Strathspey, Inverness shire, North Britain." Most of the news he conveys relates to people from his area - Major Robert Grant of the 24th Regiment, killed at the battle of Hubbarton among others. He mentions several who had moved from Scotland to Canada before the war and were now serving in the Royal Highland Emmigrants commanded by Lt.-Colonel Allan McLean. Grant is careful to name the towns from which the various men came; because of the many common names in Scotland, this added context was important.
He told his father of his adoration for his wife Margaret, along with the news that they were expecting a child. His language suggests that his father had not yet met Margaret and perhaps had expressed misgivings about the marriage.
Grant's closing note of "Direct to..." tells his father how to address letters to him.
The transcript of the letter presented here has some punctuation added for readability; punctuation in period writing is highly inconsistent, often consisting of lines and squiggles rather than the uniform symbols that we're accustomed to today.
Canada, Montreal, North America, the 12 Septr 1777
You will Excuse me for not writing to you sooner as I could not inform you of our Transactions in this part of the world. We had several Engagements last Summer but this summer has been a bloody one on both sides and likely to continue for some time but I hope wit the assistance of god in time we will get the better of them although they are very numerous in proportion to our number. I am very sorry to let you know that Major Grant of the 24th Regiment was killed [illeg] ago Tullochgribans son and Peter mack Donald son in Tullochgribban was killed the same Engagement with major Robert Grant. Alexander Cameron is well and William Robertson when I left them but they had a smart engagement since I was sent to Montreal by General Hamilton to Bring some Bagage to the Regiment to Albeny. Peter Smith and Peter Smith William and David Smith, Sons that was in Duthil, they are in Colo MacLeans Regiment in Canada; Likeway Lewis Grant Capt Allan Grants son, James and Donald Grant sons to Donald Grant that was formerly on Desher is in the same Regiment. My step mothers Brothers son is in General Hows Army but for his sister I do not know what place she is in. Robert Grant is in Colo Mackleans Regiment in Canada that is married to James Cumings daughter that was in Avocmore who informed me when he left new York that serjt MacGrigor was an officer in a new raised Regiment there and before that I heard that he went home a Recruiting. There is so many of our Country people hear that it is too tedious for me to mention at present, my wife is Bigg with child at present expecting to ly in every day who desires to be Remembered to you all happy was the day that ever I got such a good wife for she keeps me more like a gentleman than a Soldier.
Dr. Father although I am at a Distance from you I hope you will not for get me in my proper rights and if you will have the pleasure to see my wife she will please you better than your son in Law although I Bless god for it I do not want both gold and silver and good Cloaths by her industry.
Remember our love to my step mother our Sisters ther husbands and Children and all Enquiring Friends. No more at present from your Dutifull son and Daughter
Duncan & Margaret Grant
Direct to Duncan Grant soldier In the 21st Regimt or Royal North British Fuziliers in North America
Duncan Grant's letter is yet another piece of evidence to defy the dogma that British soldiers were illiterate and vagrant characters. Here we find a farmer's son who had enough education to write a thoughtful letter, and enough compassion to be devoted to his father and to his bride.