Vetch, Samuel (DNB00)

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VETCH, SAMUEL (1668–1732), colonel, first governor of Nova Scotia, born in December 1668, was second son and third child (in a family of ten) of William Veitch [q. v.], the covenanter, and of his wife, Marion Fairlie of the house of Braid, near Edinburgh, Midlothian. His father fled to Holland, and Samuel and his brother William were educated at Utrecht. Both entered the army of the Prince of Orange, accompanied him to Torbay in 1688, and, when the Cameronians or 26th regiment of foot was raised, obtained commissions in it. They both fought at the affair of Dunkeld (21 Aug. 1689), and afterwards in Flanders at the battle of Steinkirk (3 Aug. 1692), where William was severely wounded, and at the battle of Landen or Neerwinden on 29 July 1693. After the peace of Ryswick in 1697 they joined their father at Dumfries, where he was then minister.

Vetch and his brother both volunteered for the expedition to Panama under William Paterson's Darien company. They were given the rank of captain, and appointed members of the council of seven which was to govern the colony. Samuel Vetch sailed from Leith on 17 July 1698 with twelve hundred men, and landed between Portobello and Carthagena on 3 Nov. Fort St. Andrew was constructed and the settlement named ‘New Edinburgh.’ The new colony, however, met with great opposition from the other British colonies in the West Indies and North America, the Spaniards commenced hostilities, and internal disorder prevailed. After vainly struggling against these difficulties for some months, the place was evacuated on 23 June 1699, Paterson, Vetch, and others proceeding to New York. William Vetch died at sea off Port Royal, Jamaica, on his passage home.

Samuel Vetch resided at Albany, where he took part on 26 Aug. 1700 and following days in a conference between Lord Bellamont, governor of New York, whose confidence he had gained, and the Sachems of ‘the Five Nations.’ In July 1702 (about which time he removed from Albany to Boston) he attended another conference with the Indians of the Five Nations. In 1705 he was sent by Governor Dudley of Massachusetts to Quebec as one of the commissioners to negotiate a treaty of neutrality with M. de Vaudreuil, the French governor-general of Canada, and to arrange for the exchange of prisoners. He made it his particular business to gain all the information he could about the French colony, noting the weak points of its defence and taking soundings of some of the most difficult passages of the St. Lawrence River; he boasted that he knew the river better than the Canadians themselves.

In 1708 Vetch visited his parents in Scotland, and thence went to London and laid before the British government a plan which he had formed for the conquest of Canada and Acadia. His proposals were approved by the government, who agreed to send a powerful fleet and three thousand regular troops. He was despatched in a man-of-war with instructions to the several colonial governments to provide their respective quota of provincial troops.

Vetch arrived in Boston on 28 April 1709, and was so successful in his negotiations with the colonial governments that by June 1709 the transports and New England troops were ready at Boston, where the troops were drilled by officers brought by Vetch from England for the purpose, and were in daily waiting for the British fleet; but on 11 Oct. intelligence arrived that the promised forces had been diverted to Portugal. The expedition consequently fell through, and the colonial levies returned to their homes.

This fiasco was a bitter disappointment to Vetch and to the colonists, as their resources had been severely taxed for no purpose. A congress of governors and delegates from the several colonies held in November sent Vetch, now raised to the rank of colonel, and Colonel (afterwards Sir) Francis Nicholson [q. v.] to London to urge the government to undertake a fresh expedition. The ministry deemed the conquest of Canada too great an undertaking, but agreed to send next year an expedition against Nova Scotia. Nicholson was appointed to the chief command, and Vetch adjutant-general. They arrived on 15 July 1710 at Boston in the Falmouth, accompanied by several transports containing four hundred British marines, and on 18 Sept. sailed with fifteen hundred additional colonial troops, arriving at Port Royal, Nova Scotia, on the 24th.

Vetch landed with two battalions the next day on the north side of the river, and Nicholson, with the remainder, on the south side. On the 26th the troops entrenched themselves, and after some days' bombardment, De Subercasse, the French commander, capitulated, and the French garrison marched out. On 16 Oct. the British took possession, and Vetch was presented with the keys, in accordance with the queen's instructions, as the first governor of the fort of Annapolis Royal, as Port Royal was renamed, and of the country of Acadia and Nova Scotia, with the appointment of adjutant-general of British troops and general and commander-in-chief of colonial troops in those parts.

Vetch's garrison consisted of only two hundred marines and 250 New England volunteers. He dealt with the conquered inhabitants in a spirit of justice and kindness, and, while protecting them from the extortion of the soldiers, showed firmness and determination in maintaining his authority. An attack by a body of Indians upon an expedition sent by Vetch to procure wood fuel in the spring of 1711 was the signal for a general rising and for the blockade of Annapolis. Vetch was not discouraged. ‘I must say,’ is his observation, ‘I would not wish to survive the loss of this place while I have the honour to command it.’

While matters were in this state, news arrived of a formidable British expedition against Canada, which at once raised the blockade. The expedition consisted of seven veteran regiments and a train of engineers and artillery, under the incompetent Brigadier-general John Hill [q. v.], and of a fleet under Rear-admiral Sir Hovenden Walker [q. v.] It arrived at Boston on 24 June 1711, and on 6 July Vetch sailed for Boston, leaving Sir Charles Hobby in command at Annapolis, and took over the command of the Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island levies which were to proceed with the regular troops under Hill to the St. Lawrence, while Nicholson commanded the remainder of the provincial troops for the attack of Montreal by way of Lake Champlain, as arranged for the attack proposed in the previous year.

The expedition sailed on 30 July, Vetch being on board the Despatch, arrived at Gaspé Harbour on 18 Aug., and left again on the 21st in a thick fog. On the night of the 22nd the flagship, the Edgar, was leading when she found herself among the breakers of the Egg Islands. She narrowly escaped, but eight transports were wrecked, and over nine hundred lives were lost. Vetch, well astern in the Despatch, was extremely uneasy at the course steered by the flag, and expressed his surprise to Captain Perkins and Colonel Dudley, but it was not until the 25th that he learned the full extent of the disaster. On that day a council of war was held on board the flagship to determine whether the expedition should be abandoned. Vetch insisted, and the other colonels agreed with him, that there was still an ample force for the purpose of the expedition, and urged its prosecution; it was, nevertheless, decided to abandon the expedition. As soon as Vetch returned to his ship he sent a strongly worded remonstrance to the admiral, pointing out the serious consequences to the interests of the crown and of the British North American colonies.

The failure of his grand scheme greatly mortified Vetch, but he had done his part and had the confidence of all, even the admiral testifying to his skill and energy. He returned to Annapolis with reliefs detached from each of the seven regiments which had returned to England. On 20 Oct. 1711 he visited Boston, leaving Thomas Caulfield as his deputy at Annapolis. He remained until the spring of the following year, settling matters in connection with the recent expedition and with his Acadian government. During his stay his nephew, Major Livingstone, raised for him a valuable body of Iroquois Indians, which he sent to Annapolis in March to act against the Indians in French employment. On his return to Annapolis, Vetch expressed his satisfaction with them and confidence in his ability to keep the French and their Indians quiet with the garrison at his disposal.

Vetch's chief difficulty was want of money. Late in 1712 he writes that ‘the wants of the garrison keep me nightly in suspense,’ and Captain Armstrong was sent express to England to represent the critical state of affairs, since mutiny and starvation were imminent. With the greatest difficulty, after pledging all his own and the agents' credit, he obtained supplies for the winter. His recommendations of policy met with no better reception from the home government than his applications for money, and on 20 Oct. 1712 Nicholson was appointed to supersede him. No intimation of his supersession reached Annapolis until the summer of 1713. In the autumn Vetch left for Boston to meet the new governor, and soon ascertained that it was to Nicholson his troubles were due. Nicholson came armed with authority to inquire into the conduct of all the colonial governors. Vetch, however, ignored his summons to justify his conduct, and sailed for England in April 1714.

Vetch laid his case before the home government, and so completely did he gain their confidence that he was consulted in various matters connected with the American colonies, and on 20 Jan. 1715 Nicholson was recalled, and Vetch again commissioned as governor of Nova Scotia. The secret of Vetch's ill-treatment and supersession, as also of his reinstatement, was no doubt political. Vetch was an ardent whig, Nicholson was a tory.

Vetch held his second term of government for over two years, and was succeeded on 17 Aug. 1717 by Colonel Richard Philipps. Vetch was in England in 1719 pressing his numerous claims for pay, &c., on the government. He was selected to accompany Colonel Bladon to France as commissioner in connection with matters left unsettled by the treaty of Utrecht, particularly the boundary between the French and British colonies in America. Later he was still seeking relief, the Earl of Sunderland's promise to find him ‘some government abroad’ remaining unfulfilled. At length Vetch begged that he might have even a captain's half-pay, ‘being reduced to the last extremity of necessity.’ He died on 30 April 1732, a prisoner for debt, in the king's bench. He was buried at St. George's Church, Southwark.

Vetch married, at Albany, on 20 Dec. 1700, Margaret (died about 1763), daughter of Robert Livingstone, secretary for Indian affairs, and of his wife, Alida Schuyler, who was a granddaughter of John Livingstone, one of the commissioners sent to Breda by the church of Scotland to treat with Charles II in regard to his restoration. Vetch's only child, a daughter Alida, born on 25 Dec. 1701, married Samuel Bayard of New York, grandson of Colonel Nicholas Bayard, who was nephew and secretary of Peter Stuyvesant, last Dutch governor of the New Netherlands. Their descendants are numerous.

Vetch's portrait was painted by Sir Peter Lely. It became the property of Mr. James Speyers of New York, with a manuscript journal by Vetch covering the ‘Port Royal period.’ The picture was engraved for the first time as an illustration to Appleton's ‘Cyclopædia of American Biography.’

[Collections of the Nova Scotia Historical Society for 1884, vol. iv., Halifax, Nova Scotia, 8vo, 1885, contains a Memoir of Samuel Vetch by the Rev. George Patterson, D.D., of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, and also copies of papers connected with Samuel Vetch from the British Museum and Record Office, London; article entitled ‘An Acadian Governor,’ in the International Review for November 1881, by General James Grant Wilson of New York; Gent. Mag. 1732; Journal of the Voyage of the Sloop Mary in 1701, new edit., with introduction and notes by Edmund B. O'Callaghan, Albany, New York, 1866; An Historical and Statistical Account of Nova Scotia, by Thomas C. Haliburton, Halifax, 1829; History and General Description of New France, by Pierre-François Xavier de Charlevoix, translated with notes by John G. Shea, New York, 1866–72; Parkman's Half-century of Conflict, vol. i.; Archives of Massachusetts, vol. lxxi.; Nicholson's Journal, published originally by authority in the Boston News-letter of November 1710, and reprinted in Collections of the Nova Scotia Historical Society, vol. i.; Report of a Consultation of Sea Officers belonging to the Squadron under the Command of Sir Hovenden Walker, Knt., 25 Aug. 1711 (Record Office); Walker's Journal, London, 1720; Kingsford's History of Canada, vol. ii.; Swift's Journal to Stella; Boyer's History of Queen Anne; Vetch's Journall of a Voyage designed to Quebeck from Boston in New England in July 1711 (Record Office); Calendar of Treasury Papers, vols. 103–227 (1707–20); Nova Scotia Archives; Bradford's New York Gazette, No. 353; Sabine's Lives of the Loyalists.]

R. H. V.