On this day in 1782, the British playwright and general, John Burgoyne, dies in England. His humiliating surrender to Patriot forces at Saratoga on October 17, 1777, left a black mark on his military career, but his successful play The Heiress, released in 1786, secured his literary reputation.
Burgoyne was born in London and educated at the prestigious Westminster School before entering the army as a teenager. After eloping with Charlotte Stanley, the daughter of Edward Stanley, the 11th Earl of Derby, Burgoyne had to sell his commission to cover his debts before fleeing to France in shame. The Seven Years’ War proved a boon to Burgoyne, whose father-in-law helped him return to the army. At the close of the war, Burgoyne served in Parliament and began his writing career. In 1775, his first dramatic play, The Maid of the Oaks, went into production. In 1777, Major General Burgoyne took command Britain’s efforts to invade their rebelling former colonies from Canada.
The expedition began with Burgoyne leading 3,300 Redcoats, 3,900 Hessian mercenaries and 650 Canadians, Loyalists and Indians to victory at Ticonderoga, New York, on July 5, 1777, which earned him a promotion to lieutenant general. However, as he extended his supply lines ever further south, he found himself trapped at Saratoga after General William Howe decided to take Philadelphia instead of meeting Burgoyne at Albany as planned. Following Patriot victories on September 19 at Freeman’s Farm and October 7 at Bemis Heights, Burgoyne’s troops were surrounded by Patriots under General Horatio Gates and forced to surrender on October 17. Burgoyne successfully negotiated that his surviving men would be returned to Britain with a pledge that they would never again serve in North America. The nearly 6,000-man army was kept in captivity at great expense to the Continental Congress until the end of the war.
The striking Patriot victory over Burgoyne is commonly thought to be the turning point in the War of Independence in the Patriots’ favor.