On this day in 1738, Henry Clinton, the future commander in chief of British forces charged with suppressing the rebellion in North America, is born in Newfoundland, Canada.
Henry Clinton’s father, George, was the royal governor of Newfoundland at the time of his birth. He was made the royal governor of New York in 1743, and Henry spent eight years in that colony before moving to England and taking a military commission in the Coldstream Guards in 1751. By 1758, Henry Clinton had earned the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Grenadier Guards. He continued to distinguish himself as a soldier during the Seven Years’ War and, in 1772, achieved two significant feats for a man born in the colonies–the rank of major general in the British army and a seat in Parliament.
Clinton’s part in the War of American Independence began auspiciously. He arrived with Major General William Howe and, after the draw at Bunker Hill, served in the successful capture of New York City and the Battle of Long Island, which earned him the rank of lieutenant general and membership in the Most Honourable Order of Bath as a KCB, or Knight Commander of the British Empire, which conferred to him the title of Sir.
After Howe performed poorly at Saratoga and was demoted, Clinton was promoted to commander in chief of Britain’s North American forces in 1778. Clinton oversaw the concentration of British troops in his former home state of New York and went on to successfully capture Charleston, South Carolina, in 1779. However, the persistent ineptitude of General Cornwallis, his second in command, caused him consternation and, ultimately, defeat at Yorktown in 1781.
As commander in chief, Clinton was blamed for the loss of the 13 colonies and was replaced by Sir Guy Carleton after the defeat at Yorktown. Afterward, Clinton attempted to rebuild his reputation by publishing his own account of the war. By the time of his death in 1795, he had managed to gain a seat in parliament, the title of general and an appointment as the governor of Gibraltar.