John Graves Simcoe Biography

(British Army General Who Founded the City of Toronto and Abolished Slavery in Canada)

Birthday: February 25, 1752 (Pisces)

Born In: Cotterstock, Oundle, England

John Graves Simcoe was a General of the British Army who later served as the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, which later became Ontario. He helped in the establishment of institutions such as courts of law, freehold land tenure, trial by jury, and English common law. He also contributed to the abolition of slavery in Canada. Born in Cotterstock, Oundle, England, he joined the British Army at the age of 18. He took part in the American Revolutionary War during the Siege of Boston as a young man. Shortly after that, he was promoted to the rank of Captain. A year later, he is believed to have commanded a massacre of Americans in their sleep. He entered politics as a Member of Parliament from St Mawes, Cornwall. After the Constitutional Act was passed in 1791, giving a representative government to Canada, Simcoe was appointed Upper Canada’s first lieutenant governor. In this post, he promoted immigration, agriculture, as well as road building. Later, he was also made Commander-in-Chief in India. However, he passed away before he could take up this post.

Quick Facts

British Celebrities Born In February

Died At Age: 54


Spouse/Ex-: Elizabeth Simcoe (m. 1782)

father: Captain John Simcoe

mother: Katherine Simcoe

children: Anne Simcoe, Caroline Simcoe, Charlotte Simcoe, Eliza Simcoe, Francis Gwillim Simcoe, Henrietta Maria Simcoe, Henry Addington Simcoe, John Cornwall Simcoe, Katherine Simcoe I, Katherine Simcoe II, Sophia Jemima Simcoe

Born Country: England

Military Leaders Political Leaders

Died on: October 26, 1806

place of death: Exeter, England

More Facts

education: Eton College, Merton College

Childhood & Early Life
John Graves Simcoe was born on 25th February 1752, in Cotterstock, Oundle, England. His parents were John and Katherine Simcoe. Though he had three siblings, all of them passed away at early ages.
His father, who was an officer in the Royal Navy, died of pneumonia when John was only seven. He then grew up in his mother’s paternal home. He studied at the Exeter Grammar School and Eton College. After spending a year at Merton College, Oxford, he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and joined the military in 1770.
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Military Career
A few years after John Graves Simcoe joined the British Army as an ensign, he was sent to serve in the American Revolutionary War during the Siege of Boston. He was soon promoted to the rank of Captain in the 40th Regiment of Foot. He commanded his unit at the Battle of Brandywine, where he suffered an injury.
In October 1777, he was put in command of the newly formed Queen’s Rangers, and was eventually promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. The unit launched a successful surprise attack at the Battle of Crooked Billet. Shortly after, Simcoe commanded a massacre of ten Americans in their sleep in 1778.
He led several British soldiers on an attack on Judge William Hancock’s house. Hancock was eventually killed along with eight other Americans.
Sometime around October 1779, Simcoe and his men launched an attack on central New Jersey from southern Staten Island. This attack, known as Simcoe’s Raid, resulted in the burning of Patriot supplies inside a Dutch Reformed House in Finderne; among the goods were surplus amounts of hay and grain.
Simcoe’s men also managed to free a multitude of Royalist prisoners held captive in the Somerset County Courthouse. Simcoe was eventually captured by Armand Tuffin de La Rouerie but was released by the end of 1779.
Following this attack, he was involved in a skirmish near Williamsburg and took active part in the infamous Siege of Yorktown. After these incidents, Simcoe was reposted back to England in December 1782.
Political Career
After his military escapades, John Graves Simcoe decided to enter politics in the year 1790. His became a Member of Parliament for the town of St Mawes in Cornwall. His immediate proposition as MP was to raise a militia force similar to that of Queen’s Rangers.
Furthermore, he proposed a plan to invade Spain. However, his plans didn’t come to fruition and he was instead made lieutenant colonel of a province in Upper Canada. Following this drastic change in his career, he resigned from the parliament in 1792.
Life in Canada
During that time, Canada was divided into Lower and Upper Provinces. Lower Canada consisted of mostly French speakers and was more towards the Eastern front. Upper Canada was comprised of English speakers and settlers but also included the Six Nations of the Iroquois.
In Canada, he renamed many islands with the names of victorious generals from the Battles of the Plains of Abraham. He also took active part in the fight to end slavery in Upper Canada.
There was a cold war going on between Britain and America at this point in time. The British Empire feared the Americans would ally with the French, who were Britain’s true enemies on their home front, and hence sought to help out the Indians with arms and supplies. But inevitably, the war ended with the Americans crushing the Indian army and forcing peace treaties and ceasefires to come from Britain against France on American soil.
Personal Life
John Graves Simcoe’s Godfather from the navy, Admiral Samuel Graves, had bequeathed Simcoe a home at Devon, where he resided. In 1782, following his reposting, he married Elizabeth Posthuma Gwillim, who was Admiral Graves’ ward.
Elizabeth was a wealthy woman, who was heir to a 5,000 acre estate at Honiton in Devon. She also built the Wolford Lodge which became the official seat of the Simcoe family up until 1923.
Simcoe had five daughters with Elizabeth in England, and a son who was born to them in Canada. They had another daughter in Canada who died in infancy in the town of York, Canada. His son proceeded to join the army in his adulthood but was killed in an infantry charge during the Peninsular Campaign in 1812.
Final Days & Death
John Graves Simcoe had been appointed to the high post of Major-General in the year 1794. However by the summer of 1796, he was overcome by disease and ill health and was forced to return to Britain. He never fully recovered and retired from his position in the year 1798.
After this, he briefly served as Commander of the Armed forces in Santo Domingo and was later appointed Commander-in-Chief in India in 1806. But on the way to India, he fell seriously ill and had to traverse back. He passed away in Exeter and was buried in Wolford Chapel in late 1806.

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