In May of 1768, six years before a column of their peers would march out for Concord, a British Army regiment embarked for North America to relieve the 15th Regiment on duty in Canada. These soldiers crossing the Atlantic would not see home again for the next seventeen years, many never would at all. In their nearly two decades abroad, these soldiers would participate in raids and expeditions ranging from the Mohawk Valley to present-day St. Louis; center-stage in the political and military game on the frontier of the American Revolution. These soldiers were the men of the 8th, or King’s, Regiment of Foot.
The 8th was one of the British Army’s most senior regiments, being formed in 1685 as the “Princess Anne of Denmark’s Regiment of Foot” during the Monmouth Rebellion. The regiment went on to serve illustriously during the first Jacobite Rising. Winning the favor of King George I, they earned his namesake and were granted “royal” status in 1716. The regiment saw combat in the War of Austrian Succession, and also played a crucial part in the 1746 Battle of Culloden in another Jacobite rebellion.
In 1751, the army numbered its regiments by seniority, thus the King’s also became known as the 8th. The newly-named 8th Regiment again saw action, this time during the Seven Years’ War. After enjoying a dignified service record for almost a century in Europe, the regiment was on its way to honor itself for the first time on another continent – North America.
The regiment arrived in the summer of 1768 in the St. Lawrence River, landing at the Isle of Orleans. The regiment then deployed to Quebec, Montreal, St. John’s, Fort Chambly, and the surrounding posts. After six years of duty in Canada, the regiment was reassigned. This time, the regiment was to relieve the 10th Regiment deployed to the “Upper Posts,” a string of fortifications and outposts from Oswego to Detroit that protected the interior of the continent.
The 10th, probably eager to leave the frontier and return to England, was rerouted to Boston where tensions were rising. Although nobody knew it yet, the 10th would soon take part in the march to Lexington and Concord on that fateful April morning. While the 10th sailed toward their destiny, the 8th settled into their new home in the wilderness.
The companies of the King’s were spread out much like the order of the “line of battle,” the traditional model for organizing companies on the European battlefield. However, instead of companies packed tightly together on one field, the companies were dispersed over some 400 miles. One of the regiment’s two flank companies, the light infantry company, garrisoned Oswegatchie on the banks of the St. Lawrence. The other flank company, the grenadier company, and one of the eight battalion companies garrisoned the westernmost post at Fort Michilimackinac where British civilization ended and the wilderness began. The remaining seven battalion companies garrisoned the major hubs of British trade on the Great Lakes, Fort Niagara (four) and Detroit (three).
As the winter of 1774/75 slowly passed, the men of the King’s most likely made every attempt to escape the harsh winters on the Great Lakes by their fires, unknowing of the blaze that would come in the spring and engulf their world for the next eight years.