General Simon Fraser

May 26, 1729–October 7, 1777

General Simon Fraser led British forces during the Saratoga Campaign of 1777. He played a key role in several battles before he was mortally wounded during the Second Battle of Saratoga.

General Simon Fraser of Balnain, Revolutionary War

British General Simon Fraser. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Simon Fraser Biography

Simon Fraser was an officer in the British Army during the French and Indian War and the American Revolutionary War. In 1755, he went to Canada where he fought in the Siege of Louisbourg. Afterward, he returned to England and served in Europe. When the American Revolutionary War started, he was sent to Canada with his regiment to help defend against the American Invasion of Quebec. On September 6, 1776, he was promoted to Brigadier General by Governor Guy Carleton. 

The following year, General John Burgoyne executed his plan to invade New York and cut the New England Colonies off from the other American Colonies. Fraser was given command of the advance force, which included British troops and Native American Indian warriors. 

As the British advanced into New York, Fraser’s men helped capture Fort Ticonderoga. The American forces abandoned Ticonderoga and split up. Fraser pursued the main force to Hubbardton, in present-day Vermont, where he attacked on July 7, 1777. Although he won the battle, his force suffered heavy casualties and he was unable to continue his pursuit of the Americans. Over the next two months, American and British troops converged on an area near Saratoga, New York. On September 19, Fraser engaged American forces led by General Daniel Morgan in the Battle of Freeman’s Farm. Again, the British suffered heavy losses but won the field.

Burgoyne received word that General Sir Henry Clinton might be able to march from New York City to reinforce him, so he camped two miles from the Continental Army and waited for three weeks. During that time, American reinforcements arrived and the size of the army grew.

On October 7, Burgoyne sent men out to scout the American positions to see if he could launch an attack on the American line. Another intense fight raged for hours before Benedict Arnold rode into the field of battle.  Legend has it that either Arnold or Morgan ordered one of the riflemen, Timothy Murphy, to target Fraser. Murphy did as he was ordered, fired three shots, and hit Fraser. Fraser was taken from the field of battle. Knowing he was mortally wounded, he asked to be buried on the battlefield. Fraser died the following day and was buried early in the evening.

Battle of Saratoga, Simon Fraser Funeral
This illustration depicts the burial of Simon Fraser. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Simon Fraser Quick Facts

  1. Simon Fraser was born on May 26, 1729, in Balnain, Scotland. His father was Hugh Fraser of Balnain and his mother was Jean Mackintosh.
  2. The name ‘Simon Fraser’ was widespread in 18th century England, so he is often referred to as ‘Simon Fraser of Balnain.’
  3. His last name is sometimes spelled ‘Frazer.’
  4. In 1747, Fraser started his military career and fought with the Dutch army at the Siege of Bergen-op-Zoom in the War of Austrian Succession.
  5. He joined the British army in 1755 as a Lieutenant.
Battles of Saratoga, Burgoyne's Surrender, Trumbull
This painting depicts the British surrender at Saratoga. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Facts About the Death of General Simon Fraser

  1. After Fraser was shot, he was taken to a block house where Frederika Charlotte Riedesel, the wife of General Friedrich Riedesel, stayed. She accompanied her husband, who commanded German troops during the war, and kept a detailed journal of the battle, including Fraser’s death.
  2. Fraser was carried into the block house around 2:00 in the afternoon on October 7.
  3. A doctor examined him, found a bullet had caused severe damage to his bowels and told him he would only live for a few hours at the most.
  4. When he heard the news, he cried out, “O, fatal ambition! Poor General Burgoyne! My poor wife!”
  5. At some point in the evening, he asked to be buried on the battlefield, near one of the redoubts.
  6. Fraser died the next morning around 8:00 a.m.
  7. His burial was attended by General Burgoyne, General Riedesel, General William Phillips, and members of Fraser’s staff.
  8. The burial service was performed by Reverend Edward Brunell.
  9. American forces continued to fire on the British positions, including the funeral procession and burial site.
  10. Baroness Riedesel witnessed the burial, and wrote down what she saw, “Many cannon balls sped through the air not far from me, but I had my eyes fixed on the hill where I distinctly saw my husband in the midst of the enemy’s fire.”

Significance of General Simon Fraser

Simon Fraser was important to the history of the United States for his leadership of British forces during the American Revolutionary War. He is best known for his role in the Saratoga Campaign, where he was mortally wounded at the Battle of Bemis Heights. After he was shot, the tide of the battle shifted in favor of the Americans, who overwhelmed the British forces.  Burgoyne decided to retreat and abandon his plan, however, American forces surrounded his army and he surrendered on October 17. Not only was it the end of the Saratoga Campaign, but it was a major turning point in the American Revolutionary War.

Citation Information

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

  • Article Title General Simon Fraser
  • Date May 26, 1729–October 7, 1777
  • Author
  • Keywords Simon Fraser, Burgoyne's Campaign, Saratoga Campaign
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 20, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update February 21, 2024