VINCENT, JOHN, army officer; b. 1764 in Ireland, the youngest of three sons of John Vincent and Catherine Love; d. unmarried 21 Jan. 1848 in London.
John Vincent entered the army as an ensign in the 66th Foot in July 1781 and was promoted lieutenant in August of the following year. On 15 Dec. 1783 he transferred to the 49th Foot, becoming a captain in October 1786. He served with this corps in the West Indies (he was present at the taking of Saint-Domingue (Haiti) in 1793), and also in the expeditions to north Holland in 1799 and to Copenhagen in 1801. Vincent had been promoted major in September 1795 and attained the brevet rank of lieutenant-colonel in January 1800.
In 1802 Vincent’s regiment embarked for Lower Canada. The following year it moved to Upper Canada, where it spent the next nine years in garrison duty at York (Toronto) and Fort George (Niagara-on-the-Lake). The declaration of war between Britain and the United States in June 1812 found the British forces in Upper Canada in need of reinforcement, and by August Vincent had moved to strengthen Kingston. with five companies of the 49th. With 31 years of service, he was considered a competent officer, albeit one with limited experience in combat. In November he had his first brush with the Americans when Commodore Isaac Chauncey chased the Royal George into Kingston Harbour. Vincent had been aware of the impending attack on the town, warned possibly by the volunteers who had flocked to Kingston to fight but whom Vincent could not supply with arms, not having sufficient in stock. Fortunately the attack was unsuccessful since shore artillery kept Chauncey at bay until the wind forced him to stand out. Vincent was commended by Lieutenant-General Sir George Prevost* for having inspired the defence of the town.
In February 1813 Prevost made Vincent brigadier general and transferred him to the Niagara frontier to replace Major-General Sir Roger Hale Sheaffe*, who was ill. Vincent took over command of about 1,900 men: many of them, he informed Prevost in May, were unenthusiastic militiamen whose “desertion beyond all conception continues to mark their indifference.” He apprised Prevost of the construction of American batteries opposite Fort George, his main garrison, which heralded a probable invasion. As part of his defensive preparations, he divided his force into three divisions: the right under Lieutenant-Colonel John Harvey*, the left under Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher Myers, and the centre under himself.
Late on 24 May, the American fleet began bombarding Fort George, supported by the newly constructed batteries across the Niagara River. On the 27th an American force of about 5,000 landed near by at Two Mile Creek. Aware of the limitations of his own force, Vincent ordered the fort evacuated, the guns spiked, and the ammunition destroyed. The British then retreated westward, taking up a defensive position along Burlington Heights (Hamilton). The Americans, who had successfully occupied the peninsula, sent a force of 3,500 infantry and 150 cavalry in pursuit of Vincent. On 4 June, while awaiting the Americans, he was promoted major-general.
The following day Harvey, who had made a reconnaissance of the American position at Stoney Creek, urged Vincent to make a forward movement against the enemy. Vincent agreed with his suggestion of a night attack to catch the enemy off guard, and in the early hours of 6 June Harvey, with about 700 regulars, fell upon the unsuspecting Americans. In less than three-quarters of an hour the British, despite heavy casualties, forced the Americans to abandon their positions, as well as their guns. Vincent, however, had not been in the battle. He had been thrown from his horse en route alone to the fight, got lost in the darkness, and found his way to the British lines only after the engagement was over, early on the morning of the 6th.
The American force retreated towards Forty Mile Creek, hoping to renew the attack after being re-supplied. But on the 7th, Sir James Lucas Yeo*’s squadron successfully shelled the American encampment and either destroyed or captured 16 boatloads of supplies. The invaders pulled back to Fort George. Vincent followed with his force to Forty Mile Creek to support Yeo’s actions and, Harvey wrote, “to give encouragement to the Militia and Yeomanry of the Country who are everywhere rising upon the fugitive Americans, making them Prisoners & withholding all Supplies.”
On the 23rd American major-general Henry Dearborn dispatched a force of some 570 men to attack Vincent’s advance post, under Lieutenant James FitzGibbon*, near Beaver Dams (Thorold). While travelling to their destination the American force was ambushed by Indians on the morning of 24 June. After an exchange of fire which lasted little more than three hours, they surrendered to FitzGibbon, in effect ending the American threat on the Niagara frontier for the remainder of the year.
Vincent remained on the Niagara peninsula until news of the British defeat at the battle of Moraviantown on 5 October [see Henry Procter*] caused him to abandon his position at Forty Mile Creek for fear of an American advance from the west on the stores at Burlington Heights. The advance never materialized, and in December Lieutenant-General Gordon Drummond* sent Vincent to command at Kingston, replacing him on the Niagara frontier with Major-General Phineas Riall. From Kingston Vincent moved in June 1814 to command the Montreal garrison until his departure for England on sick leave on 18 July.
In April Vincent had been given the sinecure of lieutenant-governor of Dunbarton Castle, Scotland. Promoted lieutenant-general in May 1825 and general in November 1841, he became colonel of the 69th Foot in February 1836. In 1848 Vincent died in London at the age of 83.
Annual reg. (London), 1848: 209. Doc. hist. of campaign upon Niagara frontier (Cruikshank). Gentleman’s Magazine, January–June 1848: 542–43. Select British docs. of War of 1812 (Wood). J. B. Burke, Genealogical and heraldic history of the landed gentry of Ireland, ed. L. G. Pine (4th ed., London, 1958). Hart’s army list, 1846. Officers of British forces in Canada (Irving). “State papers – L.C.,” PAC Report, 1893: 99–100. J. M. Hitsman, The incredible War of 1812: a military history (Toronto, 1965). J. K. Mahon, The War of 1812 (Gainesville, Fla., 1972). Frederick Myatt, The Royal Berkshire Regiment (the 49th/66th Regiment of Foot) (London, 1968).