Document of the Month - November

“A Vulgar, Rich, Independent People...” Letter from Lieutenant John Murray in New York to his father, 18th October 1757

Lieutenant John Murray was serving with the 78th (Highland) Regiment of Foot, otherwise known as the 78th Fraser Highlanders, in North America when he wrote this letter home. The regiment was raised in Scotland in 1757 to take part in the conflict that came to be known as the 7 Years War (or the French and Indian war in North America). The war began with a dispute over territory between the North American colonies of Britain and France, particularly relating to areas in western Pennsylvania and upstate New York but eventually escalated to involve every European great power at the time apart from the Ottoman Empire. Battles took place on land and sea across Europe and in the North American Colonies and involved various alliances with Native American peoples.

In his letter, John gives some indication of the dangers that faced the early settlers in the country:

‘now & then a back settler scalped by the Indians which we are so familiarized as to think nothing of it, I dare say not near so much as most people at home do.’

John is impressed by the country he finds himself in:

‘The lay of the Country In general is woody but very Fertile when Clear’d, which is but every small proportion of the whole, Yet is for the most part very pleasing to the Eye’

His views on the settlers is rather more condemnatory:

‘The Inhabitants (I mean of the Country only) are A Vulgar, Ignorant, Rich, Independent, People And mostly all upon the same footing, Owing I believe to their wealth & the too great lenity of the Government to them… I believe they may make a very good figure in the Trading world, but I think never will in either the Polite or Political (altho they all pretend to be Great statesmen) for their heads are so crammed with Profit & Lose, That they have left no Room for any thing else, The more refin’d sentiments of friendship & honour seldom enter their Brains I believe I might have even added honesty however I wou’d not Mean from this that the whole are so, As there are some extreme Good People amongst them, Altho there is too many of them in the Above style.’

John asks his father for news and sounds rather despondent at the lack of letters from home:

‘I beg you will write me by every Packet and let me hear how your affairs are & how you and

Mama keep your health, with every thing else concerning You And my other Relations, As I assure you your long Silence has given me great uneasiness, I always, until I met my Uncle flatored myself with the hopes of your letters having been miscarried But he Informed neither you nor he had ever wrote any.’

This letter is held as part of the MacGregor of MacGregor collection of family papers as John and his family were connected to the MacGregors by marriage. Unfortunately, there are no other letters from John in the collection. It is known that John was killed in June 1758 at the Siege of Louisbourg, a decisive victory for the British forces during the 7 Years War.