MACPHERSON, DONALD, army officer; b. c. 1755 in Inverness-shire, Scotland; he may have married Elspeth Macpherson, and they had at least one child, Allan, “Laird of Napanee”; m. 23 Jan. 1795 Ann Shaw in the parish of Laggan, Inverness-shire, and they had three sons and six daughters; d. 25 Feb. 1829 in Kingston, Upper Canada.
Donald Macpherson’s parentage and early life are surrounded by a haze of uncertainty, but the details of his military career are clear enough. In 1775, with the American revolution, Macpherson joined the 71st Foot. After receiving his first commission on 15 Jan. 1777 as a lieutenant with the 4th battalion of the New Jersey Volunteers, Macpherson served with this loyalist corps at Staten Island, N.Y., during 1777 and most of 1778. However, he spent the greater part of the war with the 71st Foot, from August 1778 as an ensign with the 2nd battalion, and then from 19 Oct. 1779 as a lieutenant with the 1st battalion.
After returning to Scotland in 1783, Macpherson refused to lapse into half-pay obscurity. He seldom lost an opportunity to resume his career of soldiering. In 1794 he recruited at “considerable expense” a company for the Loyal Cheshire Regiment and in 1798 he assembled a company of clansmen called the Cluny Volunteers. On 9 July 1803 he received the rank of captain in the 92nd Foot, and on 1 Jan. 1805 that of major in the army. In January 1806 he was transferred to an old soldier battalion, the 9th Royal Veterans.
It was as a major of the 10th Royal Veteran Battalion that Macpherson was introduced to Canada. He arrived in Quebec with his family in 1807, and in 1809 was “honered with the Command” of the post at Kingston. Macpherson’s pre-1812 administration at Kingston was uneventful, being characterized largely by a prodigious output of estimates for pointing, whitewashing, and carpentry, designed more to fortify the town against the weather than to repulse an enemy.
At the outbreak of the War of 1812, Macpherson decried the “critical” shortage of small ordnance and the disrepair of the barracks and public buildings at Kingston. The following year a line of fortified blockhouses and pickets changed the town’s military face. Their construction was testimony not only to an emergency building program, but also to Macpherson’s supervision and resolve to use “every exertion in my power . . . for the defence of this post.”
Although it is generally believed that Macpherson spent the War of 1812 as commanding officer at Kingston, documentation proves otherwise. His daughter’s recollections of bullets penetrating “the wooden walls of the pretty white cottage that then did duty as the commandant’s residence” places Macpherson there during Commodore Isaac Chauncey’s abortive attack of November 1812. However, by May 1813 Macpherson had transferred to Quebec, where he assumed command of the 10th. He was promoted lieutenant-colonel on 18 Nov. 1813. Although one of his children referred giddily to life in Quebec as “very gay, balls every other night,” Macpherson’s duties were seldom glamorous. His was the dull, desk-bound task of commanding a body of aged and infirm soldiers, certifying widows’ pensions, recommending officers for promotion, and compiling returns of claims. He remained in Quebec until December 1816 to supervise the final departure of several detachments of his disbanded battalion for Europe.
When Macpherson, now reduced on full pay, returned to Kingston in 1817, he appeared to have all the props and pretensions of a prosperous, well-settled man. The “old Veteran officer,” stocky in appearance and ruddy in complexion, had an air of substance about him. The government responded generously to his memorials for land, and he had ample grants situated in Kingston itself and in the townships of Eramosa, Nassagaweya, and Melbourne.
By 1820 Macpherson had retired to a property he nostalgically called Cluny, located in Pittsburgh Township near Kingston. But retirement was not synonymous with retreat. As part of a group of socially prominent Kingstonians, Macpherson lent his arm and pocket-book to a variety of civic and moral causes. He subscribed to the Kingston Compassionate Society (1817) and the Cataraqui Bridge Company (1826), acted as a director of the Kingston Boarding and Day School for Young Ladies (1826-28), and served as a representative for Pittsburgh and Wolfe Island in the agricultural society for the Midland District (1819-20). In 1822 he was ordained one of the founding elders of St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Kingston, by the Reverend John Barclay.
Macpherson’s devotion to clan and kinship was no less noteworthy. It was to his door and his patronage that his in-laws the Macdonalds came from Glasgow in the summer of 1820. The half-sister relationship between the colonel’s wife, Ann Shaw, and Hugh Macdonald’s wife, Helen Shaw, drew the families together. Tradition holds that as a schoolboy John A. Macdonald* was a frequent visitor to the Macpherson household, where he sampled his uncle’s library and the “slices of pudding” set aside by Macpherson’s youngest daughter.
Macpherson’s civic activity waned during the last years of his life. As early as 1820, sobered by the “Certainty of Death,” he prepared his will, outlining the disposition of his lands, army pension, and “Household furniture Plate Bed and Table Linen.” By 1826 the local newspaper was advertising the sale of his “fine farm.” Recurring bouts of “Fever and Ague” and rheumatism kept him convalescent. Macpherson died on 25 Feb. 1829, aged 74. “A large concourse of Inhabitants” witnessed his burial with military honours. In their silent prayers they acknowledged the passing of an “Officer and a Gentleman” who had spent 54 years “in the Service of His King and Country.”
[The author acknowledges the generous assistance of Professor Alan G. Macpherson and the Honourable George F. G. Stanley. In addition, private papers in the possession of Mrs Jean and Mrs Lisa Macpherson (Toronto) and Major J. P. C. Macpherson (Kingston, Ont.) were consulted in the preparation of this biography. l.c.c.s.]
ACC, Diocese of Ont. Arch. (Kingston), St George’s Cathedral (Kingston), reg. of baptisms, 1812: 80. Allan Macpherson House (Napanee, Ont.), Dress sword inscription. AO, RG 1, A-I-6, 6; C-I-3, 20, 109; C-I-4, 4; C-IV, Kingston (town), pp.2531-33: Pittsburgh Township, lot C front, pp.20–22; RG 22, ser.155; RG 53, ser.55, 4–16. Cataraqui Cemetery Company (Kingston), Reg. of burials, 1834–1940 (mfm. at Kingston Public Library); Tombstone inscription. General Reg. Office (Edinburgh), Laggan, reg. of baptisms, marriages, and burials. PAC, MG 26, A. 549: 258896–928; RG 1,L1, 14: 247–48; 28: 264, 317; L3. 273: K15/54n–q; 335A: M10/2–2a; 337A: M11/177–77a; 338: M11/237–37b; L3L: 1585, 2167, 2387, 67053–80; RG 5, A1: 4891–92, 5699, 5701, 27325–26; RG 8, I (C ser.), 1–4, 6, 275, 548–49, 551–52, 554, 676, 688A, 789–90, 1168, 1203 1/2H, 1218, 1707, 1858, 1860. PRO, W013/4376; WO 31, bundle 219. QUA, Frontenac County land reg. copy books, book C, F-145, instrument 315: 15–16; book J, F-249, instrument 146: 214. St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church (Kingston), Memorial wall plaque; Reg. of baptisms, 1821–59; Reg. of marriages, 1822–57 (mfm. at QUA). St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church (Quebec), Reg. of baptisms, marriages, and burials, 1770–1816 (mfm. at PAC). Kingston before War of 1812 (Preston). David Stewart, Sketches of the character, manners, and present stare of the Highlanders of Scotland; with details of the military service of the Highland regiments (2v., Edinburgh, 1822), 2. Kingston Chronicle, 1819–20, 1826–29. Kingston Gazette, 9 Dec. 1817. Loyalist (York [Toronto]), 14 March 1829. Quebec Gazette, 17 Sept. 1807, 9 March 1829. Quebec Mercury, 7 March 1829. Star and Commercial Advertiser (Quebec), 7 March 1829. G.B., WO, Army list, 1779–1817. D. [G.] Creighton, John A. Macdonald, the young politician (Toronto, 1952; repr. 1965). W. S. Herrington, History of the country of Lennox and Addington (Toronto, 1913; repr. Belleville, Ont., 1972). Mary Jukes, New life in old houses (Don Mills [Toronto], 1966). J. P. Macpherson, Life of the Right Hon. Sir John A. Macdonald (2v., Saint John, N.B., 1891); with reproduction of miniature of Donald Macpherson. A. G. Macpherson, “An old Highland parish register: survivals of clanship and social change in Laggan, Inverness-shire, 1775–1854, [part] II,” Scottish Studies (Edinburgh), 12 (1968): 81–111. G. F. G. Stanley, “The Macpherson–Shaw–Macdonald connection in Kingston,” Historic Kingston, no.13 (1965): 3–20. R. L. Way, “Soldiering at Fort Henry,” Canadian Geographical Journal (Ottawa), 48 (January–June 1954): 178–99.
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