Andrew MacDonald of Rogart fights the French in Canada

Andrew MacDonald not only survived the severe injuries he sustained fighting the army of Siraj-ad-daula at Plassey under Clive of India, but he survived the long sea voyage back to Britain to recuperate. He recovered with his military and imperial ambitions undimmed. His employers, the East India Company, helped him to buy a commission in the Scottish Regimental Contingent which was being recruited to serve in North America. 

By the 1750s, Britain and France were at war. The two nations fought everywhere that they had political and economic interests: in West Africa, India, the Philippines, and in North America. The North American struggle broke out in 1754 over the allegiance of the aboriginal people of the Ohio. Defeat there prompted the British to take on the French in their Nova Scotian territories. The French had a major military and commercial fort on the coast of what is now Cape Breton. It had been captured ten years earlier by the British but returned in exchange for Madras in India. Early in 1758 Andrew MacDonald was sent to assist with besieging the Fort of Louisbourg. The French garrison resisted for just long enough to prevent the British from marching westwards to invade Quebec that year. However, British naval superiority prevented the French government from reinforcing the fort with men, munitions and supplies so it was not too long before MacDonald and his comrades captured Louisbourg. Following their victory he was moved south to Halifax where the British were building up their military presence. The man from Rogart was soon moved westwards to join the force which sailed from the fort he had helped capture, as J.M. Bumsted explains. The series of

British attempts to seize Quebec … did not prevent another major expedition under General James Wolfe … The largest and best-equipped military force that North America had ever known assembled at Louisbourg over the winter of 1758-9 while the frozen ice of the St Lawrence isolated the French.  The British force consisted of 8,600 troops, most of them regulars, and 13,500 sailors aboard 119 vessels, including 22 ships of the line and five frigates.  This great armada required six days simply to clear Louisbourg harbor in early June 1759.  On 27 June Wolfe landed his army on the Ile de Orleans without serious French opposition. There followed over two months of skirmishing.

Andrew MacDonald and his comrades knew time was running out – the massive British fleet could not overwinter in the St Lawrence. At the end of the summer troops found a path up the cliffs leading to the plain above. They sneaked past the French sentries and the rest of the British troops followed them. The French commander, Montcalm, made a tactical error. Rather than waiting for reinforcements he decided to attack the British who were in formation on the plain. The French ranks broke, but not before both Wolfe and Montcalm were killed. The British took Quebec. There were many months of negotiations, but it was the victory at Quebec which marked the British domination of North America and the decline of France as a superpower.

ImageThe Citadel (British fort) at Halifax, Nova Scotia, where MacDonald spent much time.

Permission to use this photo kindly given by Nova Scotia Tourism Agency: photographer R. Garnett

The capture of Quebec was also important to MacDonald personally. It earned him a promotion to Captain and a return to Halifax. His climb up the ranks continued and in 1766 he became a Major in the 59th Regiment. Rather than returning home when he retired on full pay in 1770, he remained in Halifax. He had settled there and had many friends among the Scottish merchants of the city. The year after his retirement he joined the North British Society and for the next quarter century he was an active and enthusiastic member of this philanthropic club. He is described rather formidably as having a ‘powerful and robust personality’! MacDonald worked to develop the burgeoning colonial town of Halifax. Despite having been settled in the colony of Nova Scotia for thirty years, in 1798 he decided to return to Scotland. For the final decade of his life, until his death in 1809, he lived where he had been born, in Rogart.


Annals, North British Society, Halifax, with portraits and biographical notes, 1768-1903 pps 20-21

J.M. Bumsted, A History of the Canadian Peoples (Oxford: OUP, 2007)

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