“A Vulgar, Rich, Independent People…” Letter from Lieutenant John Murray in New York to his father, 18th October 1757

Lieutenant John Murray was serving with the 78th (Highland) Regiment of Foot, otherwise known as the 78th Fraser Highlanders, in North America when he wrote this letter home. The regiment was raised in Scotland in 1757 to take part in the conflict that came to be known as the 7 Years War (or the French and Indian war in North America). The war began with a dispute over territory between the North American colonies of Britain and France, particularly relating to areas in western Pennsylvania and upstate New York but eventually escalated to involve every European great power at the time apart from the Ottoman Empire. Battles took place on land and sea across Europe and in the North American Colonies and involved various alliances with Native American peoples.

In his letter, John gives some indication of the dangers that faced the early settlers in the country:

‘now & then a back settler scalped by the Indians which we are so familiarized as to think nothing of it, I dare say not near so much as most people at home do.’

John is impressed by the country he finds himself in:

‘The lay of the Country In generall is woody but very Fertile when Clear’d, which is but every small proportion of the whole, Yet is for the most part very pleasing to the Eye’

His views on the settlers is rather more condemnatory:

‘The Inhabitants (I mean of the Country only) are A Vulgar, Ignorant, Rich, Independent, People And mostly all upon the same footing, Owing I believe to their wealth & the too great lenity of the Government to them… I believe they may make a very good figure in the Trading world, but I think never will in either the Polite or  Political (altho they all pretend to be Great statesmen) for their heads are so crammed with Profit & Lose, That they have left no Room for any thing else, The more refin’d sentiments of ffriendship & honour seldom enter their Brains I believe I might have even added honesty however I wou’d not Mean from this that the whole are so, As there are some extreame Good People amongst them, Altho there is too many of them in the Above style.’

John asks his father for news and sounds rather despondent at the lack of letters from home:

‘I beg you will write me by every Packet and let me hear how your affairs are & how you and Mama keep your health, with every thing else concerning You And my other Relations, As I assure you your long Silence has given me great uneasiness, I always, until I met my Uncle flatored myself with the hopes of your letters having been miscarried But he Informed neither you nor he had ever wrote any.’

This letter is held as part of the MacGregor of MacGregor collection of family papers as John and his family were connected to the MacGregors by marriage. Unfortunately, there are no other letters from John in the collection. It is known that John was killed in June 1758 at the Siege of Louisbourg, a decisive victory for the British forces during the 7 Years War.

The full text of the letter reads as follows: –

My Dearest Sir

About six weeks ago I wrote from Boston

By Capt. Noble bound for Clyde, I was sent from Halifax to boston

To provide Quarters for Coll: Frasers Regt. who I believe my Lord

Loudon intended should winter there, but he has since ordered them

Here where I expect them Dayly & I believe they will winter either at

Philadelphia or this place I long vastly to to see Coll: Fraser both

to thank him for his kindness in appointing me one of his officers

and in hopes of receiving letters from you by him, as I have not

had one single line from any of my friends since I arrived on

this Continent which I assure you my D[ea]r papa has given me very

great uneasiness often, I hope I shall not for the future for the same

Cause.

In my last by Capt. Noble I gave you my journal

since my arrival in this Country since which letter nothing re –

markable has happened me My uncle is very well & writes

you by this Packet, But of an older date than Mine, he is about

Forty miles Above this, on his way to Albany where I believe the

Regt. will Quarter this winter, As will likewise Lord John Murray’s

who are all well, And at present between Albany & Fort Edward

In short every body that I recollect & that you are Acquainted with

are in perfect good health, As for me I never was better in my life

than since I came to this Country(Except one touch of the Bloody

Flux), Altho I have gone thro’ some very Quick Transitions of climate

first from heat to coald & then from cold to heat And indeed every body

that I know are in the same way, for there never was such a Number

of troops together with so few deaths Amongst them, As there is here

As for News, I entirely refer you to the Publick Papers, indeed

there is none for every thing is in the greatest Tranquillity here At

present except now & then a back settler scalped by the Indians

which we are so familiarized as to think nothing of it, I dare say

not near so much as most people at home do.

It is very usuall for people

who come to a strange Country to make some remarks upon it

The inhabitants their Manners Customs & Trade &c &c But as

You have seen many much more distinct Accounts of all these

Things Than I could pretend to give As my unsettled way of life

And the Company I mostly keept have prevented my coming to

the thorough knowledge of them.

However that I may not seem entirely Ignorant of the

People Amongst whom I have lived above a Twelvemonth,

I will sett down a few things that must appear

Obvious to every person who comes here.

The lay of the Country In generall is woody but very

Fertile when Clear’d, which is but every small proportion of

the whole, Yet is for the most part very pleasing to the Eye

The produce I dare say you are thoroughly well Acquainted with

Therefore will not detain you on that head.

The Inhabitants (I mean of the Country only) are

A Vulgar, Ignorant, Rich, Independent, People And mostly all

upon the same footing, Owing I believe to their wealth & the too

great lenity of the Government to them which indeed they

seem to be very Insensible of, But I hope will soon.

To say any thing of their Towns (that at present

seem to be flourishing very fast wou’d lead me entirely out of

my design of Brevity Therefore I shall not touch on that subject.

As for the Inhabitants of them. I believe they may

make a very good figure in the Trading world, but I think never

will in either the Polite or Political (altho they all pretend to be

Great statesmen) for their heads are so crammed with Profit &

Lose, That they have left no Room for any thing else, The more

refin’d sentiments of ffriendship & honour seldom enter their

Brains I believe I might have even added honesty however I

wou’d not Mean from this that the whole are so, As there are

some extreame Good People amongst them, Altho there is

too many of them in the Above style.

As I dare say you are very much Tired with this long

Narration I will conclude it with giving you a hint that I don’t

intend to Publish my remarks at present I mean to put them

in the press, Therefore beg that you may not expose me by

shewing this Nonsense to any body, I hope you’l forgive this

freedom

Just now I rece[ive]d a letter from my Uncle he is Extreamly

Well In the list of Captains for Lord John Murray’s Additional

Company’s there is one James Murray which I think is very

Probably my Uncle as there is not a James Murray in the

Army, Some think it is Lord John’s Nephew, But a litle

Time will soon determine us.

It is reported here that there is another Highland

Regt. to be raised And the Command to be given to Lochiel

who I’me told is at London. If so I should Imagine it was

possible to procure me a Company in it, But of this And

the method how to apply for it, you are best Judge

Believe me my D[ea]r Sir the greatest pleasure it would give

me, wou’d be that I should be enabled to Assist you in your

Difficulties, I pray God you may have no need of it, But

I beg you may do me the Justice to believe that if it

shall be ever in my power I will perform with a greatefull

and Dutifull heart.

I hope this will find you reconciled to Mr

Drummond & Sir John Miln’s as I dare say it would extricate

you out of some of your Difficulties, I beg you will write me by every

Packet and let me hear how your affairs are & how you and

Mama keep your health, with every thing else concerning

You And my other Relations, As I assure you your long

Silence has given me great uneasiness, I always, until

I met my Uncle flatored myself with the hopes of your

letters having been miscarried But he Informed neither you

nor he had ever wrote any.

If it were convenient for you to get a letter of

Recommendation for me from Mr Hugh Forbes to his

Brother the Coll: who is adjutant Generall here I should be

greatly Obliged to you And I believe it might be of Service

to me, Not that I think I could procure me a step But it might

be of use in severall other cases, I am pretty well Acquainted

with him & go pretty often to see him, he is at present very

well. I have not heard one word from Mrs Brand since I came

here yet & very seldom of her – I beg you may remember

me to all my Relations, friends, and Acquaintances in the

proper Manner, And with my Duty to Mama Grandmama, Aunts

and Uncles, and love to my sister & her Children, her husband And

Brother in law are both well & I am

My Drlay yrs most affect & loving

Son John Murray

New York Octr 18th 1757

P.S. always send your letters by the Packet and direct for

Me To lieut John Murray of Collonal Frasers Ret at New York

North America, If they are so directed they must come to hand,

Provided you pay the postage to Falmouth & the freight from there

Here. This is my fourth letter – Since I wrote the rest of my

Letter, I’me ordered by Lord Loudon to go to Connecticut

Collony & take up Quarters for Col: Frasers Regt as they are

To be Cantoned in several different Villages in that Government

This winter, adieu once more my Drllays John Murray

Octr 20th.

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