General John Burgoyne

February 24, 1722–June 4, 1792

John Burgoyne was a General in the British army during the American Revolutionary War. He is most well-known for leading a failed invasion of New England in 1777.

John Burgoyne, Portrait, Reynolds

General John Burgoyne led the British out of Canada and into New England in 1777 where the American forces stopped him and defeated him at Saratoga. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Biography of John Burgoyne

John Burgoyne was a British General who planned the 1777 invasion of New York, which is known as Burgoyne’s Campaign. He arrived in America during the Siege of Boston and sailed with the British to Halifax when the Continental Army forced them to evacuate in March 1776. Meanwhile, in Canada, American forces had failed to capture Quebec City on December 31, 1775, and held the city under siege. The British commander in charge of the city, Guy Carleton, waited for reinforcements, which were expected in the spring. Burgoyne was sent to help break the siege. When his force arrived, starting in May 1776, the Americans fled from Quebec. Carleton and Burgoyne chased them back to Fort Ticonderoga, ending the American Invasion of Quebec. However, the British were held up by Benedict Arnold at the Battle of Valcour Island, which kept them from attacking the fort and pushing into New York. Over the course of the winter, Burgoyne developed his plan to invade New York, take New York City, and cut New England off from the Southern Colonies. The British launched the invasion and took Fort Ticonderoga on July 6, 1777. However, it was not long before Burgoyne’s plan started to fall apart. His forces were dealt a significant strategic loss at the Battle of Bennington, which cut him off from his supplies from Canada. Still, he pushed on, only to be defeated by the American forces under the command of Horatio Gates at Saratoga in October.

Battles of Saratoga, Burgoyne's Surrender, Trumbull

This painting by John Trumbull depicts Burgoyne surrendering his sword to General Horatio Gates at Saratoga. Image Source: Wikipedia.

John Burgoyne Facts

5 Things to Know About John Burgoyne

  1. He was born on February 24, 1722, and died on June 4, 1792.
  2. He attended Westminster School, where he met Thomas Gage.
  3. He played a role in the introduction of the light cavalry into the British army.
  4. His nickname was “Gentleman Johnny.”
  5. His defeat at the end of the Saratoga Campaign is considered to be one of the most important turning points of the American Revolutionary War.

Early Life, Education, and Family

  • He was born on February 24, 1722, in Sutton, Bedfordshire, England.
  • Attended Westminster School, where he met Thomas Gage and his future brother-in-law, Lord James Strange.
  • He eloped with Lady Charlotte Stanley in 1751.
  • Her father was the Earl of Derby. He was not happy they eloped and gave Burgoyne money to end the marriage. Burgoyne used the money to buy a commission in the army.

Early Military Career

  • Burgoyne purchased a commission in the horse guards at the age of 15 in 1740.
  • Due to his gambling debt, he was forced to sell his commission in 1741.
  • He returned to the army when he purchased a cornet’s commission in the 1st Royal Dragoons. He was quickly promoted to lieutenant and then captain.
  • He used the money the Earl of Derby tried to bribe him with to purchase a captaincy in the 13th Light Dragoons.
  • Due to financial difficulties from his gambling habit, he was forced to sell his captaincy in 1741.
  • He moved to France, where he lived in exile for seven years.
  • He was forced to sell his commission again in 1751 due to his gambling debt and went to France to escape his creditors.
  • In 1755, his brother-in-law intervened and the Earl of Derby reconciled with Burgoyne.
  • Burgoyne and Lady Charlotte returned to England the Earl helped him purchase a captaincy in the 11th Dragoons in June 1756.

Seven Years’ War

  • Burgoyne erved with distinction in the Seven Years’ War.
  • He helped form the first two British light horse regiments and was put in command of one of them.
  • He earned the nickname “Gentleman Johnny” for the way he led his men.

Political and Professional Career

  • Burgoyne was elected to the House of Commons in 1761 and 1768.
  • He began a career as a playwright in 1775.

American Revolutionary War

  • Burgoyne was promoted to Major General in 1775 and was sent to Boston with William Howe and Henry Clinton to help Thomas Gage deal with the rebellion in the colonies.
  • He returned to England in November 1775.
  • He was assigned to Canada in 1776 and helped stop the American invasion of Quebec in May 1776.
  • In June, his wife died while he was still in Canada. The two of them never had any children together.
  • During the Battle of Valcour Island, he came up with an idea for an invasion of New York, which would become Britain’s campaign for 1777 and was meant to cut New England off from the other colonies.
  • He captured Fort Ticonderoga on July 6, 1777.
  • His forces fought the Americans to a standstill at the Hudson River. The Americans were led by General Philip Schuyler, General Horatio Gates, and Brigadier General Benedict Arnold.
  • He was forced to surrender near Saratoga Springs on October 17, 1777.
  • The British defeat at Saratoga was a major turning point in the war because the American victory convinced the French to join the war.

Life After the American Revolution

  • Due to his failure in America, Burgoyne fell out of favor in England. He defended his conduct but was not given a trial where he could defend himself. He lost his military command and political offices. However, in 1782, friends of his gained power in the government and restored his rank, and made him a privy councilor.
  • He was appointed commander-in-chief in Ireland in 1782-1783.
  • He retired to private life, where he was a leader of fashion and society in London.
  • His most famous play, The Heiress, was published in 1786. The play was a comedy and was translated into several languages.
  • He died on June 4, 1792, and was interred at Westminster Abbey.
  • Burgoyne was survived by several children he had with Susan Caulfield, an opera singer. One of those children was John Fox Burgoyne, who served as a British Field Marshal and fought the Americans during the War of 1812.


John Burgoyne is important in United States history because of his failed campaign, which ended in the defeat of his army at Saratoga. When the French learned about the American victory, it convinced them to recognize the United States as an independent nation and to provide military support against the British for the rest of the American Revolutionary War.