Lauding Lord Loudoun
The recent news that most of western Loudoun has been
proposed as a "Mosby Heritage Area" stirred to life an old
curiosity of mine about the origins of the name of our county.
Lord Loudoun, so it turns out, never even visited Virginia though
he had been named our governor. But that was the least of his sins.
Despite being in America for only two short years, from 1756 when
he was appointed military commander of all the British troops in
North America to 1758 when he was fired, he managed to leave quite
a trail of debris behind him. And because our county was formed in
1757, we got stuck with his name.
John Campbell, a wealthy scots aristocrat, became the fourth
Earl of Loudoun and thus "Lord Loudoun" upon the death of his
father. The young earl showed his military prowess during the
royalist uprising of 1745 when according to one historian he "had
demonstrated his professionalism by marching undauntedly from one
defeat to another." After losing almost all the men of his
regiment, he received another regiment and lost again at Inverness.
At a third battle he was "throne into a panic by the bluffing of a
blacksmith and other four," and then in a move which would become
his trademark and motto bided his time sitting out the war till
after the Battle of Culloden. He was described by Massachusetts
Governor Shirley as "a pen and ink man whose greatest energies were
put forth in getting ready to begin."
Ten years later, after Braddock's army was destroyed during the
French and Indian War, due to his social standing and his attention
to bureaucratic niceties, this "master of army paper work, this
general of the pen" was appointed to save British America from the
French. To list all of his military disasters and stupid decisions
would be enough to make you wonder how the British ever won any
war. Only the superior incompetence of their enemy, the French,
made victory even a remote possibility.
Loudoun's arrival in North America was characteristically
delayed but quickly followed by his first blunder. Ignoring the
advice of the local colonials like George Washington, who had
accompanied Braddock and seen what the French and Indians could do
to British regulars, Loudoun did nothing to fortify the remaining
western forts. Warned that Oswego was in danger of falling, Loudoun
went to Albany, as near as he could get to the war front, and
promptly got bogged down in a dispute over the purchase of
provisions. While he haggled, Oswego fell to the French. While
encamped at Albany, Loudoun's most notable act was to issue an
order putting the colonial militias under British commanders
despite explicit agreements that the colonial troops would fight
under their own leaders. This lead to a long period of political
wrangling during which no fighting could take place.
Loudoun's one strategic move, again against local advice, was
to abandon the face off in the western frontier and to gather his
troops instead to take the French seaport fort of Louisbourg in
Nova Scotia, far from the scene of the actual fighting.
Preparations for this were long and difficult and delayed.
"Bumblingly true to form," as one historian noted, "Loudoun
dithered while the French concentrated a fleet at Louisbourg
superior to theirs." Instead of attacking the fort when he could,
Loudoun had his men exercise and plant cabbage in preparation for
a long siege. Eventually, he was forced to abandon the entire
effort and return to New York without firing a shot. Meanwhile, the
French, seeing their opportunity, attacked the weakened British
forts on the Western frontier. As predicted by the colonials, Fort
William Henry was overrun and taken.
After Loudoun was recalled, Benjamin Franklin himself declared
his campaigns to have been "frivolous, expensive, and disgraceful
to our nation beyond conception." He was, said Franklin, always
busy but accomplishing nothing: "He was like St. George on a tavern
sign, always on horseback and never riding on."
Loudoun and American Independence
We can proud, in a backward sort of way, that the man after
whom our fair county is named, whatever his military mishaps, had
a very important hand in forming some of the principles of the
Declaration of Independence.
John Campbell, the Scottish aristocrat and officer who held the
title Lord Loudoun, became titular Governor of Virginia and supreme
commander of all the British forces in North America after the
disastrous defeat of Braddock in the French and Indian Wars. He
was, by all historical accounts, not only the most inept, the most
incompetent, the most arrogant, and the most sluggish, but also the
most tyrannical agent of the British crown that American colonials
ever suffered under.
Among his many crimes was Loudoun's insistence that the colonial
governments quarter his troops, that is put them up in their
taverns and barracks, and if no room was available there to force
them upon private citizens in their homes. Loudoun's insistence on
this was an early warning to many that the King's subjects in the
colonies did not have the rights of of other Englishmen.
In those days, the British army was made up the scum of society.
Soldiers were often "recruited" from jails, poorhouses, or from the
cities' streets. They were known for their barbarity and brutality,
and were rightly feared by the populace. One historian described
the Americans' horror at quartering these "lewd and viscious
outcasts of society," by asking, "How could a respectable
churchgoing head of family expose his wife and daughters to
depraved men in such intimacy that intercourse daily might result
in intercourse nightly?"
Nevertheless, to every colonial assembly's refusal to allow
such quartering in their communities, Loudoun bullied and
threatened until he got his way. The Quakers of Pennsylvania tried
to resist without success. In New York, when the colonial
government refused to allow him to quarter his troops, he responded
"G_D D__n my blood! If you do not billet my officers upon free
quarters this day, I'll order here all the troops in North America
under my command, and billet them myself upon this city."
This threat worked so well that he then used it in Boston.
There, the government, more willing to spend money to avoid
disaster, had built barracks. But Loudoun wanted his officers to
live in comfort in town. When the Bostonians insisted that there
was adeqate space in the barracks they had built, Loudoun wrote,
"If on return I find things not settled, I will instantly order
into Boston the three battalions from New York, Long Island, and
Connecticut. If more are wanted I have two in the Jerseys, at hand
besides those in Pennsylvania."
Such behavior was bad enough, but in order to find soldiers,
Loudoun kidnapped unwilling citizens right off the cities' streets.
In one notorious impressment campaign, he sent in his troops at
midnight and dragged 800 men at random, almost a fourth of the male
population, out of their homes and off the streets of New York to
fight in his Louisbourg Campaign. And then, of course, he bided his
time for so long that he never got around to using them.
Twenty years later, 1n 1776, such tyrannical behavior as that
represented by these and other "quartering acts" was still a
painful memory. It was because of the highhinded behavior of Brits
like Lord Loudoun that the colonials were driven to rebel. And they
remembered him when the Declaration was written. According to one
eminent historian of the era, "When they published their
Declaration of Independence in 1776, some of their grievances had
arisen relatively recently, but others can be traced back to Earl
Loudoun's mission and behavior."
Loudoun the man
Lord Loudoun can best be understood as a representative of the
British aristocratic class of the 1700s. He lived in an age when
ones family name and title were the guarantees of power and
privilege. No amount of stupidity, venality, or licentiousness
could reduce the benefits of having been born into a noble family.
Thus, when John Campbell became Lord Loudoun, his military
career was set, no matter that he proved himself incompetent. Money
also helped, choice positions in the army being for sale to the
highest aristocratic bidder. So his title, his family money, and
his connections, not his ability or brains, shaped his career.
Most historians have noted his attention to detail. Indeed, it
was this slow and deliberate approach to every problem which made
him so often late to so many battles. But there was a fun-loving
side to Lord Loudoun too. Like most of the members of his social
class, he enjoyed the creature comforts.
When he finally set sail for North America in 1756, already
months overdue, he took with him wine, silverware, dinner plate and
other essentials such as two secretaries, a surgeon, seventeen
personal servants, including, according to his doting biographer,
Stanley Pargellis, "a 'matter de hotel,'a 'vallet de chamber', a
cook, a groom, a coachman, a postilon, a footmen, helpers, and two
women, one of them, Jean Masson, his mistress." He also remembered
to bring his own nineteen horses "with their housings of green
velvet and of black and gold, his travelling coach, his chariot,
his street coach."
Every evening, when he wasn't travelling, Loudoun hosted a full
dinner table. At his first Christmas in the colonies, they consumed
in one week nineteen dozen bottles of claret, thirty-one dozen of
Madeira, a dozen of Burgundy, four bottles of Port, and eight of
Rhinewine. According to the usually protective Pargellis, the
conversation of these military leaders "abounded in the application
of such military terms as scaling ladders, approaches, and stolen
marches, to the conquest of colonial beauties. Of these the
loveliest was charming Polly Philipse, heiress to Philipse Manor,
in whose 'Dependent Company' no British officer with a spark of
manhood in him failed at one time or another to enlist. Even
Loudoun 'muster'd occasionally.'"
Such behavior disgusted the sober Puritans and Quakers,
irritated the practical and parsimonious politicians like Ben
Franklin, and outraged many other church-going colonials. Loudoun
didn't care. He ridiculed the colonials as "enthusiastic saints"
and demonstrated his respect for religion by seizing one Dutch
church, removing the pews, and using it for a powder magazine. The
ever-forgiving Pargellis notes that though Loudoun and his aides
might consider it diplomatic to attend church on occasion, "the
army in general reflected the spiritual apathy of some parts of the
eighteenth-century Church of England."
That, of course, is putting it mildly. When the colonials
revolted, they were, according to our foremost Revolutionary War
historian Gordon Wood, rejecting the whole aristocratic world of
corrupt privilege of which Loudoun was so excellent an example.
After the revolution, the few remnants of that world slowly
disappeared in the North. The South, still loyal to the likes of
Lord Loudoun, tried to maintain a shadow feudalism, a kind of
bumpkin aristocracy based on slavery. But even that was finally
conquered in the Civil War.
Today, in Loudoun County, there remains of that world only a few
proud aging Virginia Gentlemen, would-be lords sitting on the
surviving acres of their family estates in solitary glory. When the
developers turn their farms into malls and townhouses, only the
name of Loudoun will remain to remind us of the not-so-glorious
-Dr. Dave Williams
(this originally appeared in "The Blue Ridge Leader"