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CAMPBELL, DONALD, army officer; d. 4 July 1763 near Detroit.

Nothing definite is known of Donald Campbell’s birth or early life, but he seems to have been a Scot. He had already had experience as an officer when in March 1756 he was commissioned lieutenant in the Royal American regiment. A few months later he was made quartermaster; he became captain-lieutenant on 17 April 1758 and captain on 29 Aug. 1759. Late in the fall of 1760, while at Fort Pitt (Pittsburgh, Pa.), he received orders to join Major Robert Rogers* on an expedition to receive the surrender of Detroit. Towards the end of December, Campbell became the second British commander of Detroit and the Upper Lakes posts, most of which the British had not yet occupied.

By modern standards Campbell would not have been considered fit for service, since he had poor eyesight and was “fat and unwieldy.” Nonetheless he made a favourable impression on the ladies of Detroit, and they on him. “The Women surpasses our expectations,” he reported. Every Sunday evening a convivial group of 20 gentlemen and ladies gathered at his house to play cards, and special occasions were celebrated with a grand ball.

Relations with the Indians, however, were a serious problem. Campbell mistrusted the native people and felt ineffective in his dealings with them. In the summer of 1761 a Seneca delegation led by Kayashoton* and Tahahaiadoris (a son of one of the Joncaires) arrived at Detroit apparently intending to make trouble. Their plan received a serious set-back when it was rebuffed by the local Hurons, Ottawas, Ojibwas, and Potawatomis and disclosed to Campbell. In September Sir William Johnson*, the superintendent of northern Indians, arrived to hold his first grand council with the western tribes. He promised better prices for furs and assured the Indians that their lands would not be seized. In an attempt to strengthen the British presence in the west troops were sent to occupy some of the former French posts on the Upper Lakes, but the garrisons they established were too small for self-defence and the supply problem was critical. Two sailing vessels were being constructed on the Niagara River under the supervision of Charles Robertson; they finally reached Detroit in the summer of 1762, but could not get past the sand bars in Lake St Clair. So the upper posts remained undermanned and short of provisions.

Having made many friends among the local traders, Campbell disapproved of building sailing vessels to supply the posts; he claimed the task could be accomplished more efficiently and economically by hiring civilians to transport goods by bateau. To him the idea of sending troops to the still-abandoned posts on Lake Superior simply meant “more Banishment for some unlucky fellows.” There was at the same time a growing estrangement between Campbell and some of the French community, perhaps because they were becoming involved in Pontiac’s plans. “I begin to know the people too well,” Campbell said in July 1762. “I do not think they improve on a long acquaintance.” Being out of sympathy with the turn events were taking, he was pleased to surrender his command to Major Henry Gladwin* in August. He remained as second in command.

During this time the Indians were growing increasingly resentful of the British, who forbade the sale of rum and who were much less generous than the French. In May 1763 Detroit came under siege from Pontiac and his allies. Having failed to seize the fort by treachery, Pontiac invited the British to a council outside its gates on 10 May. Campbell and Lieutenant George McDougall volunteered to go and were almost immediately made hostage by the wily Ottawa chief, who probably told Gladwin they would be held until the fort and all its ordnance were surrendered. The easygoing Campbell seems to have had no fear for his own safety. One dark night, after being forced to ride in a fleet of canoes attempting to surprise and capture the sloop Michigan, he called a warning to the vessel’s captain and thus thwarted Pontiac’s plan. When McDougall escaped on 2 July, Campbell refused to go along, fearing that he could not run fast enough or see well enough to get away.

On 4 July 1763 a nephew of Ojibwa chief Wasson* was killed in a brief skirmish near the fort. On hearing the news, the enraged uncle seized Campbell, stripped him naked, and bludgeoned him to death with a tomahawk. The body was then scalped and cut to pieces; Wasson tore out the heart and ate it. Later Campbell’s remains were thrown into the river; they floated down to the fort where they were recovered and buried.

Harry Kelsey

PRO, WO 34/49, Amherst to Campbell, 27 May, 18 June 1761; Campbell to Amherst, 1 June 1762; Amherst to Gladwin, 24 Oct. 1762; Gladwin to Amherst, 26 Oct. 1762, 21 Feb. 1763; WO 34/71, pt.ii, Barrington to Loudoun, 13 May 1757. “Bouquet papers,” Michigan Pioneer Coll., XIX (1891), 27–295, contains a report by James Macdonald to Bouquet, 12 July 1763, which appears in slightly altered form in PRO, WO 34/49, as “Journal of the siege of Detroit.” Diary of the siege of Detroit . . . , ed. F. B. Hough (Albany, 1860), 129, 134–35. Early western travels, 1748–1846 . . ., ed. R. G. Thwaites (32v., Cleveland, Ohio, 1904–7), I, 100–25. Johnson papers (Sullivan et al.), III, 757–59; X, 743. London Gazette, 16–30 March 1756. [John Rutherford], “Rutherford’s narrative – an episode in the Pontiac War, 1763 – an unpublished manuscript by Lieut. Rutherford of the ‘Black Watch,’ “ Canadian Institute Trans. (Toronto), III, (1891–92), 229–52. British officers serving in America, 1754–1774, comp. W. C. Ford (Boston, 1894), 4, 23. L. W. G. Butler and R. W. Hare, The annals of the King’s Royal Rife Corps . . . (5v., London, 1913–32), I, 20, 134–39. Thomas Mante, The history of the late war in North America and the islands of the West Indies, including the campaigns of MDCCLXIII and MDCCLXIV against his majesty’s Indian enemies (London, 1772), 482–83, 514. Peckham, Pontiac. “An account of the disturbances in North America,” Gentleman’s Magazine, 1763, 455–56.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Harry Kelsey, “CAMPBELL, DONALD,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 2, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/campbell_donald_3E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/campbell_donald_3E.html
Author of Article: Harry Kelsey
Title of Article: CAMPBELL, DONALD
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1974
Year of revision: 1974
Access Date: October 2, 2014