Balfour, Nisbet (DNB00)

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BALFOUR, NISBET (1743–1823), a most distinguished officer under Lord Cornwallis in the American war of independence, was not (as Draper's 'American Biography' asserts) of a small bookseller in Edinburgh, but the last representative of the Balfours of Dunbog in the county of Fife. Harry Balfour, the first laird of Dunbog, was the third son of John, third Lord Balfour of Burleigh [q. v.], and in the middle of the last century officers had very little chance of rising to higher rank who were not of good family. He was born at Dunbog in 1743, and entered the army as ensign in the 4th regiment in 1761. He was promoted lieutenant in 1765, and captain in 1770, but did not see service till the outbreak of the American war. He distinguished himself at the battle of Bunker's Hill, where he was severely wounded, and at Long Island and Brooklyn. In August 1776 his services were so conspicuous at the taking of New York, that he was sent home with the despatches announcing the success, and was promoted major by brevet. He at once returned to America, and struck up a warm friendship with many of the younger officers, including Lord Cornwallis and Lord Rawdon. He was present at the battles of Elizabethtown, Brandywine, and Germantown, and, after being appointed lieutenant-colonel of the 23rd regiment in 1778, accompanied Cornwallis to Charleston. After the capture of the city he was appointed commandant at Ninety-Six, and there 'by his attention and diligence,' says Cornwallis, succeeded in raising 4,000 militia among the loyal colonists. In the following year he accepted the difficult and invidious post of commandant at Charleston, and there acquitted himself to the complete satisfaction of Cornwallis. He obeyed to the letter the rigorous orders of Cornwallis against the colonists, and incurred much odium for carrying out the execution of a planter named Isaac Hayne, which Lord Rawdon had ordered. 'You have done what few officers in our service are capable of doing,' wrote Cornwallis to Balfour on 12 Nov. 1780, 'and have voluntarily taken responsibility on yourself to serve your country and your friend' (Cornwallis Despatches, Cornwallis to Balfour, i. 46). When the war was over, Balfour was rewarded for his services with the rank of colonel and the appointment of aide-de-camp to the king. He was also appointed, with a lawyer named Spranger, on a commission to award the money granted by parliament to those loyal colonists who had suffered in the war. He now enjoyed high reputation, and moved in the best military society, and in 1790 Mr. Stewart, of Castle Stewart in Wigtonfhire, who had married his only sister, returned him to parliament for the Wigton Burghs. In 1793, on the outbreak of the war with France, he was promoted major-general, and received the command of a brigade in the force which his old comrade, Lord Rawdon, now Lord Moira, was to take to the west coast of France. With the rest of Lord Moira's army, Balfour joined the Duke of York in Flanders in 1794. Though Lord Moira returned home, Balfour volunteered to continue his services in any capacity in which he could be useful, and assisted General Ralph Abercromby in commanding the reserve till December 1794. He never again saw active service, but continued to sit in parliament, first for Wigton Burghs and then for Arundel, till 1802. He was made colonel of the 39th regiment in 1794, and promoted lieutenant-general in 1798, and general in 1803. He retired to his family seat, Dunbog, and there died at the advanced age of eighty, in October 1823, being then sixth general in seniority after sixty-two years' service. He bequeathed Dunbog to his nephew William Stewart, who took the name of Balfour. His reputation was made in the American war, and the friendship of such generals as Hastings and Cornwallis seems to justify it.

[For Balfour's services see the Royal Military Calendar. For his services in America consult Bancroft's History of the United States, passim, and the contemporary accounts of the war in South Carolina; see also the Cornwallis Despatches, edited by Ross, 1859. For the campaign in Flanders, see the Journals and Letters of Sir Harry Calvert.]

H. M. S.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.14
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
57 ii 13 Balfour, Nesbit: after Burghs insert from 1790 to 1796
after Arundel insert from 1797
after made insert colonel of the 93rd regiment in 1793 and