John Graves Simcoe
and the Queen’s Rangers
On the left is a light infantryman, on the right a hussar.
Three historic illustrations of Queen’s Rangers in uniform
Military life was in the blood of John Graves Simcoe. His father was a naval officer who died when John was still a child. John had the sort of education that was typical of boys of his class, attending Eton College and Oxford University, although John left Oxford after only one year.
At the age of 18, John was given a commission in the army as an ensign, and five years later he went to war, shipping over to America to fight the revolutionaries.
His regiment arrived in Boston in 1775 only two days after the Battle of Bunker Hill. While taking part in the siege of Boston, Simcoe purchased a captaincy (purchasing a commission was common in those days—it was how wealthy people made sure they rose through the ranks). During 1776-1777 Simcoe received three wounds as he fought in the Long Island campaign, the capture of New York and the New Jersey campaign.
Earning a reputation during the war both as a commander and as a military theorist, Simcoe was promoted to lieutenant, then to lieutenant-colonel.
Simcoe Leads the Queen’s Rangers
O n October 15, 1777 Simcoe was promoted to major and made regimental commander of the Queen’s Rangers. Wallace Brown gives the following background to the unit in The Loyal Americans: The Military Rôle of the Loyalist Provincial Corps and Their Settlement in British North America, 1775-1784:
No Loyalist corps was more celebrated than the Queen’s Rangers. Colonel Robert Rogers, who commanded the famous Rogers’ Rangers during the Seven Years’ War, recruited the regiment in 1776 mainly in New York and Connecticut. Later the Queen’s Own Loyal Virginia Regiment joined the unit. Consisting of ten companies of loyalists, the Queen’s Rangers fought alongside the British Army throughout the American Revolution (1775-1781). In 1777, despite many casualties, the Queen’s Rangers helped defeat Washington at Brandywine Creek. After Brandywine, Lieutenant Colonel John Graves Simcoe assumed command, and the regiment distinguished itself throughout the southern campaigns in 1780 and 1781. Under the command of Simco the regiment never lost a battle.
The origins of the Queen’s Rangers lay in the Seven Years War (1756-1763), during which France and England fought for territories in the New World. At first, French-Canadian habitants and their Indian allies were quite effective by employing guerrilla tactics against the red-coated British regulars. To counter the French tactics, Robert Rogers raised companies for the British and trained them in woodcraft, scouting, and irregular warfare, sending them on raids along the frontiers of French Canada. The regiment was named in honour of Queen Charlotte the wife of King George the Third
When the American War of Independence broke out in 1775, about 50 Loyalist regiments were raised, including Butler’s Rangers, the King’s Royal Regiment, and the Maryland and Pennsylvania Loyalists. Robert Rogers again raised the Queen’s Rangers, this time in New York, mostly from Loyalists living in Westchester and Long Island. It first assembled on Staten Island in August 1776 and soon numbered some 300-400 hundred officers and men, organized into 11 companies of about 30 men each and including five troops of cavalry. In this war Rogers was not a successful commander and was replaced with a series of other officers. The regiment suffered serious losses at Mamaroneck, Brandywine and Germantown until, on October 15, 1777 Simcoe was given command.
Simcoe turned the badly mauled Queen’s Rangers into one of the most successful British regiments in the war. Fighting as reconnaisance and outpost troops, they were never defeated in battle. One advantage they had was the fact that they were the first British regiment to wear green uniforms, as more suitable for purposes of camouflage than red. They did escort and patrol duty around Philadelphia (1777-8), fought in the Pennsylvania campaign, served as rearguard during the British retreat to New York (1778), fought at Perth Amboy, New Jersey–where Simcoe was captured but freed in a prisoner exchange 3 months later(1779-80)–, at Charlestown, South Carolina (1780), in the raid on Richmond, Virginia with Benedict Arnold and in other raids in Virginia(1780-1), and in the Yorktown campaign (1781). A point of pride for the regiment is that when the British finally surrendered at Yorktown in 1781, the “colours” (banner) of the Queen’s Rangers were smuggled away, never to fall into enemy hands. Today those same colours are on display in Toronto in the officers’ mess of the Queen’s Rangers. As the finest Loyalist unit, they were awarded the title 1st American Regiment and enrolled in the British Army in 1782. In 1783, when the war was concluded by the Treaty of Versailles, the Queen’s Rangers left New York for Nova Scotia, where it was disbanded.
Read more on the history of the Queen’s Rangers at:
• The Department of National Defence (Canada)
• The Online Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies
Simcoe Saves the Life of George Washington
During the battle of Brandywine, one order from Simcoe changed the course of history, when he told his soldiers not to shoot three fleeing Americans in the back. One of those Americans was George Washington, first President of the United States.
Later History of the Queen’s Rangers
After 1791, when Simcoe was named Lieutenant Governor of the newly created Upper Canada, the Queen’s Rangers was revived to form the core of the defence forces. The leaders were mostly veterans of the American War of Independence.
1795 Lodgings of the Queen’s Rangers at Fort York
In addition to their military duties, the Rangers also helped build the new town of York (now Toronto), clearing the forests to create Yonge and Dundas streets and putting up the original Fort York. The modern Toronto streets known as Shaw, McGill and Jarvis are named after officers of the Queen’s Rangers.
This painting shows the construction of Yonge Street by a group of Germans known as the Berczy settlers. They helped the Queen’s Rangers extend the street 10 miles north of Toronto to their colony at Markham.
The Queen’s Rangers were disbanded in 1802, although many then joined the York Militia Regiments, defending Upper Canada during the War of 1812. During the Rebellion of 1837 Samuel Peters Jarvis raised troops to fight the rebels, calling his forces the Queen’s Rangers. Later in the 19th Century another Jarvis successfully commanded a company at Ridgeway during the Fenian Raids. And still another member of the Jarvises commanded the 12th York Battalion during the Riel Rebellion of 1870.
Simcoe’s Last Years
After nearly six years of fighting, Simcoe was invalided home to Britain in 1781.
After working hard to establish Upper Canada beginning in 1792, he requested leave in 1796 to return to England for health reasons. He never returned.
Simcoe founds Toronto
In 1797 he served as governor of Haiti, then known as St. Dominique or San Domingo, where—ironically, considering how much effort he put into abolishing slavery in Upper Canada—he attempted to crush a slave rebellion. After nine months poor health forced him to return to England.
In 1806 he was appointed commander-in-chief of India but became while traveling to his post, returned home and died.
John Graves Simcoe – Ontario’s First Lieutenant-Governor by the Ontario Heritage Foundation
John Graves Simcoe: a spectacular full-colour pinup portait.
Another View of Simcoe
In True Blue: the Loyalist Legend Walter Stewart paints a much less admirable picture of John Graves Simcoe. The title of one section in the book gives the general flavour: “A Few Words About Simcoe: He Was a Fathead.” According to Stewart, Simcoe was not at all admired by the people who knew him; indeed, he was actively disliked by many for his imperious ways. He was a flighty, impractical dreamer (“He would become entranced with one glittering idea, carry it about for a while and drop it to go on with something else” . . . “a man whose energy overmatched his judgment”) and a pompous, anti-democratic “snob of snobs” bent on installing an oppressive mini-aristocracy in Upper Canada with himself at the top.
The Queen’s York Rangers (1st American Regiment) R.C.A.C., The Oldest Regiment in North America.
The Simcoe Years, by J.M.S. Careless, Heirloom Series, Vol. 3, Chapter 5, Government of Canada.
More stories on the history of Jarvis Collegiate, Toronto and William and Samuel Jarvis.
Benn, Carl, Historic Fort York, 1793-1993, Natural Heritage/Natural History Inc., Toronto, 1993. ISBN 0-920474-79-9
The Toronto Star, August 7, 2000, p. 3.