Hugh Percy

1742–1817

Hugh Percy was a British officer who is most famous for leading the British expedition from Lexington to Boston during the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775.

Hugh Percy, British Officer, American Revolutionary War, NYPL

Hugh Percy. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Hugh Percy Facts

Hugh Percy (1742–1817) was a British officer during the American Revolutionary War. Percy was popular with his men and led troops during the New York and New Jersey Campaign (1776–1777) and in the occupation of Newport, Rhode Island (December 1777).

The following facts and details provide an overview of Percy’s role in the American Revolutionary War and his significance to American History.

Early Life and Education

  • Hugh Percy was born on August 14, 1742, in London, England.
  • Percy was the eldest son of Sir Hugh Smithson, who later became the Duke of Northumberland.
  • His family name was changed to Percy when his father inherited the Dukedom of Northumberland in 1750.
  • Percy received his education by attending Eton from 1753 to 1758.

Early Military Career

  • On May 1, 1759, Hugh Percy started his military career as an Ensign in the 24th Regiment of Foot.
  • During the Seven Years’ War, Percy served under Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick and was at the Battle of Minden (August 1, 1759).
  • On August 6, 1759, he was transferred to the 85th Regiment of Foot with the rank of Captain.
  • In 1760, Percy briefly returned to his education, studying at St. John’s College, Cambridge.
  • In 1762, he was appointed Lieutenant Colonel of the 11th Regiment of Foot and the Grenadier Guards, one of the oldest infantry regiments in the British Army.

Parliament and the Grenville Acts

Marriage to Lady Anne Stuart

  • On July 3, 1764, Hugh Percy married Lady Anne Stuart, the third daughter of Lord Bute.
  • Their marriage did not last and they divorced in 1779.
  • Percy married Frances Julia Eurrell on May 25, 1779.

Alignment with William Pitt

  • Hugh Percy voted against the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1765.
  • However, he changed his political stance in 1766, supporting William Pitt the Elder, the Earl of Chatham, who opposed Parliamentary taxation of the British Colonies in America.
  • Pitt became Prime Minister in 1766 and continued in that role until 1768.
  • In 1768, Percy was made Colonel of the 5th Regiment.
  • He continued to support Pitt after he was replaced as Prime Minister.
  • Percy was a political opponent of Frederick North (Lord North), who became Prime Minister in 1770.

Assignment to America

Percy’s March to Watertown

  • By March 1775, General Thomas Gage was planning to send an expedition to Concord to seize and destroy military supplies that had been hidden in Concord.
  • The Massachusetts Provincial Congress was on high alert, as it was in the process of organizing an army that would eventually become the New England Army.
  • On March 30, a column of 1,200 British troops marched out of Boston, toward Roxbury, led by Hugh Percy.
  • When the Patriots saw the column, they raised the Alarm.
  • By the time Percy reached Watertown, two cannons had been placed at the bridge, blocking his path. 
  • Although there was no one there manning the cannons, Percy decided not to risk a conflict with the Watertown Militia, so he turned the column around and marched back to Boston.
  • Later that day, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress issued resolutions that said the Alarm should be sound and the militia mustered when 500 or more troops marched out of Boston. Further, any militia that responded should “…act solely on the defensive…”

Lexington and Concord

  • On April 19, 1775, Hugh Percy led 1,400 infantry soldiers and two six-pound cannons from Boston to reinforce Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith and his expedition, which was under fire during its march back from Concord (see Battle of Lexington and Battle of Concord).
  • At Lexington, Percy organized his troops to provide cover for Smith’s men as they regrouped, before taking command of the expedition and leading it back to Boston under heavy fire from the Massachusetts Militia (see Percy’s Report to General Thomas Gage).
  • Percey was forced to make a critical decision as he approached Boston. He could return over Boston Neck, which was likely blocked by more militia, or go through Cambridge to Charlestown. He decided to go through Cambridge, which led to the Battle of Menotomy but also may have kept the British from being trapped and forced to surrender.
  • In July, Percy was rewarded for his leadership during the Battles of Lexington and Concord and promoted to the rank of Major General.
Lexington and Concord, 1775, Doolittle, Plate 4 Detail, NYPL
This engraving by Amos Doolittle depicts Percy meeting up with Smith in Lexington. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Northumberland Fusiliers

  • Hugh Percy gained a reputation for treating his men well and making sure they had the necessary food and clothing.
  • The men responded by calling themselves the “Northumberland Fusiliers.”
  • Some of his men were killed during the Battle of Bunker Hill (June 17, 1775). Percy showed his thanks by paying for the widows and families to return to England.

New York and New Jersey Campaign

Earl Hugh Percy

  • Hugh Percy gained the title of “Earl” on December 5, 1776, when his mother died.
  • Percy’s title was Earl because his father was a Duke.

Occupation of Newport, Rhode Island

  • In December 1777, Hugh Percy served under General Henry Clinton in an expedition that occupied Newport, Rhode Island.
  • After General Clinton left in January 1777, Percy remained and commanded the garrison.

Conflict with General William Howe

  • Despite his military success and popularity, Hugh Percy came into conflict with General William Howe, the Commander-in-Chief of British Forces in North America.
  • Soon after Percy took command of Newport, General Howe asked him to send supplies to New York. However, Percy took six weeks to reply, and when he did, he told Howe there were no supplies available.
  • Howe responds by criticizing Percy for mishandling the Rhode Island operation.
  • Percy was offended, because he was not in command of the operation, and submitted his resignation in March.
  • The resignation was accepted and Percy sailed to England on May 5, 1777.

Return to England and Later Years

  • Hugh Percy remained in the British Army but did not see action in the field.
  • On June 6, 1786, he succeeded his father as the Duke of Northumberland.
  • He remained involved in politics but opposed William Pitt the Younger.
  • Percy died on July 10, 1817. He was 74 years old.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title Hugh Percy
  • Date 1742–1817
  • Author
  • Keywords Hugh Percy, Duke of Northumberland, Battles of Lexington and Concord, Battle of Menotomy, Battle of Long Island, Battle of Fort Washington, Occupation of Newport
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date May 30, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update May 3, 2024

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