Jeffery Amherst

1717–1797 — British Officer, French and Indian War

Jeffery Amherst was a prominent British officer during the French and Indian War. He is most famous for leading British forces to victory over New France, which helped Great Britain gain dominance in Colonial America.

Jeffrey Amherst, General, Britain, Painting Gainsborough

Jeffery Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst. Image Source: Wikimedia.

Who Was Jeffery Amherst?

Jeffery Amherst (1717–1797) was a British army officer known for his leadership during the French and Indian War in America. He commanded successful campaigns, including the capture of Louisbourg and Montreal. Amherst’s later career saw him rise to prominence in Britain, serving as commander-in-chief and organizing defenses against invasion. Despite controversy surrounding his handling of Native American relations and the use of biological warfare, which helped cause Pontiac’s Rebellion, Amherst’s contributions helped shape Colonial America.

Jeffery Amherst Facts

Interesting facts about the life and career of Jeffery Amherst, the 1st Baron Amherst.

Early Life and Military Career of Jeffery Amherst

  • Jeffery Amherst was born on January 29, 1717, in Kent, England, on the family estate of Brooks Place.
  • His military journey commenced in 1731 under the patronage of Lionel Cranfield Sackville, Duke of Dorset, who facilitated his commission in the 1st Foot Guards.
  • Amherst gained his first experience in active service during the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–1748) as an aide-de-camp to Sir John Ligonier.
  • By 1745, he attained the rank of lieutenant colonel.
  • During the initial phase of the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763), Amherst served under William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, the second surviving son of King George II, highlighting his involvement in major European conflicts.

Jeffery Amherst’s Accomplishments in the French and Indian War

  • In 1758, Jeffery Amherst’s career reached new heights when Prime Minister William Pitt entrusted him with commanding a joint Anglo-American expedition as part of the French and Indian War.
  • The mission was to seize the French fortress of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island in North America.
  • Amherst received the temporary rank of major general in America for this operation.
  • The expedition commenced with British and American forces landing on June 8, 1758, leading to the surrender of the French garrison on July 26, 1758.
  • Amherst’s leadership was instrumental in the success of the siege, effectively managing both the military operations and the dynamics among his subordinates, notably James Wolfe.
Siege of Louisbourg, 1758, Burning of French Ship, French and Indian War
This painting depicts the burning of the French ship Prudent, during the Siege of Louisbourg in 1758. Image Source: Wikimedia.

Amherst Led the Conquest of New France

  • In September 1758, Prime Minister Pitt elevated Jeffery Amherst to the position of overall command in North America.
  • Amherst led a strategic march from Albany, capturing Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point as part of his campaign objectives.
  • Despite criticism for what some perceived as slow progress, Amherst coordinated his advance with the movements of his subordinate, James Wolfe, down the St. Lawrence River towards Quebec.
  • Wolfe’s victory at Quebec led to the eventual surrender of Montreal in September 1760.
  • Amherst’s successful coordination of three expeditions was a significant achievement in military logistics and strategy.
  • His accomplishments were recognized with honors, including promotion to lieutenant general in January 1761.

Relationship with American Colonial Officials

  • Although Jeffery Amherst disliked American provincial troops, he recognized the importance of maintaining a functional working relationship with American colonial officials and military commanders.
  • This approach enabled him to effectively collaborate with colonial authorities, contributing to the success of British military efforts in North America during the French and Indian War.

Treaty of Paris and Native American Indians

  • The surrender of France significantly altered the balance of power in North America and affected the Native American Indian population.
  • In the 1763 Treaty of Paris, France ceded most of its territory in North America to Great Britain. Indians living in the territory came under British rule and were considered subjects of King George III.

Amherst’s Treatment of Indians Helped Cause Pontiac’s Rebellion

  • Jeffery Amherst lacked finesse when dealing with the Indians.
  • Amherst sought to end the British practice of providing “gifts” to Indians, which they viewed as essential for maintaining political alliances.
  • Despite warnings from experienced British officers familiar with Indian politics, Amherst persisted with his policy change, which contributed to the outbreak of Pontiac’s Rebellion in 1763.

Amherst and Smallpox Blankets During Pontiac’s Rebellion

  • Amherst responded forcefully to the rebellion, employing measures to suppress the uprising, including controversial tactics such as the use of biological weapons.
  • The British allegedly distributed blankets laced with smallpox during Pontiac’s Rebellion, a tactic approved by Amherst but likely implemented by subordinates without his direct order.
  • Amherst’s involvement in this contributed to his recall and subsequent departure for Britain on November 10, 1763.
Pontiac, Illustration
Illustration of Chief Pontiac by John Mix Stanley. Image Source: Wikimedia.

Later Career and Jeffery Amherst

  • Following his return to Britain, Jeffery Amherst did not receive the public recognition he had hoped for but received several promotions and prestigious appointments.
  • Despite declining offers to command British forces in America in 1774 and 1777, Amherst continued to rise through the ranks, eventually attaining the rank of general in 1778.
  • He assumed the role of commander-in-chief in Britain, where he organized the defense against the planned Franco-Spanish invasion of 1779.
  • In 1780, Amherst played a significant role in suppressing the Gordon Riots.
  • Despite being recalled as commander in chief in 1795, Amherst received further recognition with his promotion to field marshal that same year.

Jeffery Amherst’s Death and Legacy

  • He passed away on August 3, 1797, at Riverhead, Kent, leaving behind a legacy as one of the most prominent British soldiers of the 18th century.
  • In America, Amherst was honored by having several towns named after him.
  • Notably, Amherst, Massachusetts, became home to prestigious institutions such as the University of Massachusetts and Amherst College.

Amherst and the American Revolution

Many prominent figures of the American Revolution served under Amherst during the French and Indian War, including:

  1. Eliphalet Dyer
  2. Thomas Gage
  3. Richard Montgomery
  4. Israel Putnam
  5. Robert Rogers
  6. Arthur St. Clair
  7. Philip Schuyler
  8. John Stark
  9. David Wooster

Jeffery Amherst Significance

Jeffery Amherst is important to United States history for the role he played in helping Great Britain win the French and Indian War. The victory firmly established British control of North America and set the stage for the onset of the American Revolution.

Jeffery Amherst APUSH Review

Use the following links and videos to study the French and Indian War, the Pontiac’s Rebellion, and Colonial America for the AP US History Exam. Also, be sure to look at our Guide to the AP US History Exam.

Jeffery Amherst Definition APUSH

Jeffery Amherst was a British military commander and colonial administrator who played a significant role during the French and Indian War and Pontiac’s Rebellion. As commander-in-chief of British forces in North America, he implemented successful military strategies, including the capture of Louisbourg and Montreal. However, Amherst’s policies, such as distributing smallpox-infected blankets to Native Americans during Pontiac’s Rebellion, led to controversy and criticism.

Citation Information

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  • Article Title Jeffery Amherst
  • Date 1717–1797
  • Author
  • Keywords Jeffery Amherst, French and Indian War, Pontiac's Rebellion
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 20, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 23, 2024