Simcoe, John Graves (DNB00)

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SIMCOE, JOHN GRAVES (1752–1806), first governor of Upper Canada, eldest son of Captain John Simcoe (who was killed before Quebec in 1759) and of Katherine Stamford, was born at Cotterstock in Northamptonshire on 25 Feb. 1752. He was educated first at Exeter, and in 1766 was sent to Eton. On 4 Feb. 1769 he proceeded to Merton College, Oxford, and in 1771 entered the army as an ensign in the 35th regiment.

On the outbreak of the American war Simcoe went out to New England as adjutant to his regiment; in 1775 he became captain in the 40th foot, and was severely wounded at the Brandywine river. His offer at this time to raise a special corps of negroes for service at Boston was not accepted. On 15 Oct. 1777 he was nominated major commandant of a new provincial corps called the queen's rangers (hussars), which he brought to a high state of efficiency. Throughout the remainder of the war he bore an active part, receiving local rank as lieutenant-colonel in June 1778. He was taken prisoner, narrowly escaping with his life in 1779. He was released on 31 Dec. 1779, and went back to his regiment; and he was among the troops included in Cornwallis's surrender at Gloucester Point in 1781. Simcoe made his regiment conspicuous by the self-restraint exercised in victory. He strongly urged the adoption of the Indian (i.e. scouting) methods in the American war. He became colonel in the army on 19 Dec. 1781.

Simcoe returned to England invalided in December 1781, and settled down for a time on his own estates to the life of a country gentleman. In 1790 he entered parliament as member for St. Mawe's, Cornwall. In 1791, on the division of the Canadas, he became the first lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada, serving under Lord Dorchester as governor-in-chief [see Carleton, Guy, (1724–1808)]. Arriving on 8 July 1792, he selected Newark (now Niagara) as his capital. His first legislature mustered only seven members all told, but he addressed himself vigorously to business, and to the passage of those measures which were required for the settlement of a new country, as to the capacity of which he was sanguine. Particularly he devoted himself to the agricultural development and military defence of the province. The country was surveyed and laid out for immigrants; he attracted round him the loyalists from the revolted states, and he raised a new (Canadian) corps of queen's rangers. In 1793 he took the first steps towards moving the seat of government from Newark to Toronto, of which capital he was practically the founder. He also gave the river flowing through Canada West the name of Thames, and founded on its banks the town of London. Simcoe's administration in Canada has been generally commended, despite his displays of prejudice against the United States. His schemes for improving the province were ‘extremely wise and well arranged’ (Roger).

Simcoe became major-general on 3 Oct. 1794, and was appointed to be commandant of the recently captured San Domingo, with the local rank of lieutenant-general. In July 1797 he returned to England, and on 3 Oct. 1798 was promoted lieutenant-general in the army. He commanded at Plymouth in 1801, when the French invasion was expected. In 1806 he was appointed commander-in-chief in India, but was directed first to proceed with the Earl of Rosslyn to join Earl St. Vincent in the Tagus. He was taken ill on the voyage, and, at once returning home, with difficulty landed at Torbay, and died on 26 Oct. 1806 at Exeter. Simcoe married, on 30 Dec. 1782, Elizabeth Posthuma, daughter of Colonel Gwillim of Old Court, Hereford, and left two sons (one of whom, Henry Addington Simcoe [q. v.], is separately noticed) and seven daughters.

There are portraits of him at Wolford Lodge, his old seat, and there is a monument by Flaxman in Exeter Cathedral. A lake, town, and county in Ontario were all named after him.

[Lee's Memoir (Toronto); Morgan's Sketches of Celebrated Canadians; Gent. Mag. 1806, pt. ii. p. 1165; Roger's History of Canada, i. 83–5; Simcoe's Journal of the War in America; private information.]

C. A. H.