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commander of British forces in Canada during the American Revolution
John Burgoyne was born in London on February 24, 1723. He studied at the Westminster School, and entered the army in 1740. In 1743 he eloped with a daughter of the Earl of Derby, but soon had to sell his military commission and leave England to avoid debts. He and his wife lived in France for seven years until the Earl agreed to help Burgoyne pay his debts.
Upon outbreak of the Seven Years' War in 1758, the Earl secured Burgoyne a military commission as Captain, then Lieutenant-General, in the foot guards. Burgoyne served in expeditions against the French coast, and in 1759 was instrumental in introducing light cavalry units into the British army. He was elected to Parliament from Midhurst in 1761, and served there until 1762, when he served with distinction as a Brigadier-General in 1762, capturing Valencia d'Alcantara and Villa Velha. In 1768, Burgoyne gained a seat in Parliament as a representative from Preston, and soon became known for being very outspoken. In 1772 he successfully called for an investigation into the East India Company; he was made a Major-General that same year.
In 1775, Burgoyne was appointed to a command position in America, and he arrived in Boston on May 25, 1775. On June 17 he witnessed the Battle of Bunker Hill, and subsequently reported on the battle to Parliament. He returned to England in December 1776 to lobby for an invasion of New York from Canada, with himself in charge. He was subsequently commissed Lieutenant-General and placed in command of British forces in Canada, and arrived in Canada in early 1777. Burgoyne set his plans into motion in June, and had succeeded in capturing forts Ticonderoga and Edward on Lake Champlain by July. He was unable to capitalize on those successes, however, as American troops continually harassed his army and impeded his progress. On October 17 his army met a much larger Continental force at Saratoga, New York, and he was ultimately forced to surrender his army to General Horatio Gates.
Burgoyne was allowed to return to England after his surrender, where he attempted to explain his defeat; he was never given the opportunity to do so, however, and surrendered his commission. His rank was restored when political friends gained office in 1782, and Burgoyne was made Commander-in-Chief of Ireland. He withdrew into private life upon the fall of the Rockingham government in 1783, with his last public act being participation in the impeachment of Warren Hastings.
When Burgoyne wasn't busy with political or military matters he was a writer of plays, including The Maid of the Oaks (1775) and The Heiress (1786).
John Burgoyne died in London on June 4, 1792, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
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This page was last updated on April 11, 2017.