CROFTON, JOHN FFOLLIOTT, soldier; b. 9 Oct. 1800 in Dublin (Republic of Ireland), eldest son of the Reverend Henry Crofton and Frances ffolliott; m. 15 Oct. 1845 Anne Agnes Addison, and they had four sons and one daughter; d. 17 July 1885 in London, England.
Born into a prominent Irish family, John ffolliott Crofton was educated privately and at Trinity College, Dublin, receiving a ba in 1824. Later that year he enlisted as an ensign in the 6th Foot, then stationed at the Cape of Good Hope and under orders for India. In 1832 he was appointed interpreter to a force operating against the desert tribes at Parkur (Nagar Parkar, Pakistan). In 1840–41 Crofton was employed in the defence of Aden against the Arabs. The regiment then returned to England and was quartered at Preston until it was moved to Mullingar (Republic of Ireland) in December 1844. Crofton had been promoted lieutenant in 1826, captain in 1835, and major in 1842.
In 1845 Crofton was assigned command of a detachment to be sent to the Red River Settlement (Man.). The Hudson’s Bay Company governor, Sir George Simpson*, had secured these troops for the settlement by stressing to the British government American threats arising from the Oregon boundary dispute, but in fact he wanted to use them to enforce measures protecting the HBC monopoly against free traders such as Andrew McDermot and James Sinclair*. These measures, which had been enacted by Alexander Christie*, governor of Assiniboia, included a proclamation requiring traders to declare that they would not use goods they imported for the illegal traffic in furs. Another proclamation “required authorized importers to bring their outgoing mail to Fort Garry, addressed but not sealed, for inspection of the company’s officers.” Simpson also refused space on company ships to traders. Such measures, however, increased the resentment against the company and, because it lacked a means of enforcement, did little to stop illicit trade.
Crofton’s detachment consisted of 307 officers and men of the 6th Foot, 28 officers and men of the Royal Artillery, one sergeant and 11 men of the Royal Sappers and Miners, and 15 women and 17 children. The party sailed from Cork on 26 June 1846, disembarking at York Factory (Man.) on 9 August and arriving at the settlement on 10 September. The detachment was divided between Lower Fort Garry and Upper Fort Garry (Winnipeg) where Crofton, now a lieutenant-colonel, made his headquarters. The Oregon dispute had been settled before the troops reached Red River but clearly they would stay over at least one winter. Crofton took steps to maintain discipline and morale among them. He purchased additional equipment and clothing, laid down rules to safeguard his men against the rigours of a severe season, and court-martialled deserters. He also encouraged sports and recreations, especially reading.
Although he undertook his duties assiduously, the recently married Crofton wished to leave the settlement at the first opportunity. He disliked the local society, recording in his diary that he was “much disgusted with the vulgar and ill-bred folk here,” and thought his posting of no value to his future career. The effect of the troops on the settlement was, however, dramatic. The illicit trade diminished and open defiance of the company abated. Perhaps more important, the troops provided a significant stimulus to the local economy. Alexander Ross* noted: “During their short stay, the circulation of money was increased by no less a sum than 15,000l. sterling; no wonder then that they left the colony deeply regretted.”
As commander, Crofton was appointed an ex-officio member of the Council of Assiniboia presided over by Governor Christie. He first attended on 15 Jan. 1847 and was present at two subsequent meetings. In fact, Simpson intended appointing Crofton governor of Assiniboia because many settlers objected to an HBC man in the position; though this appointment was not made, apparently because of Crofton’s unwillingness to remain in the colony, it set the conditions upon which the next governor, William Bletterman Caldwell, was selected.
Crofton formally handed over command to Major Thomas Griffiths (1798–1876) of the 6th Foot on 16 June 1847 and left for England via Montreal two weeks later. Griffiths did not impress Simpson, who decided that he was “altogether disqualified, as well from inaptitude for business as from temper” for the governorship. When the detachment was recalled, Griffiths returned with it to Great Britain in 1848.
Crofton was subsequently employed in the War Office but his involvement with the problems of Red River continued. Long-standing complaints by the Métis against HBC rule had led to a petition of grievance, presented by Alexander Kennedy Isbister to the colonial secretary, Lord Grey, on 17 Feb. 1847, calling for an inquiry into conditions at the settlement. Crofton’s views, which he had previously given in two meetings with Governor General Lord Elgin [Bruce*] in Montreal, were solicited by the Colonial Office. He maintained that “the government of the Hudson’s Bay Company is mild and protective, and admirably adapted, in my opinion, for the state of society existing in Prince Rupert’s Land,” and he disputed the petition’s specific charges of maladministration of justice. As he had by his own admission taken little interest in the society of the settlement, it is unlikely that Crofton had any real understanding of the views of the traders and Métis, but, on the basis of his and other evidence, the colonial secretary decided against a parliamentary inquiry.
In 1857, when the approaching expiry of the HBC trading monopoly caused the House of Commons to establish a select committee to consider the continuance of company rule and the suitability of the Red River area for settlement, Crofton gave evidence. He again supported HBC rule, which he characterized as “patriarchal”; he also favoured further settlement and improved communication with Canada.
Promoted colonel in 1854, Crofton was appointed major-general in 1861, lieutenant-general in 1870, and general in 1877. He retired from the army in 1881 to London where he later died.
PAM, HBCA, D.4/33, 24 Oct. 1845; D.5/18, 14 Dec. 1846; D.5/19, 20 March, 14 May 1847; D.5/21, 1 March 1848. PRO, WO 25/786. Winnipeg Public Library, “Winnipeg in 1846: copy of the diary of the late Colonel J. F. Crofton . . .” (typescript). Canadian North-West (Oliver), I: 48, 327–45. Elgin-Grey papers (Doughty), I: 65. G. B., Parl., House of Commons paper, 1849, XXXV, 227, pp.509–627, Hudson’s Bay Company (Red River Settlement) . . . ; 1857, Report from the select committee on the HBC. HBRS, XIX (Rich and A. M. Johnson). Mactavish, Letters of Letitia Hargrave (MacLeod), 230. A. Ross, Red River Settlement, 364–65. Hart’s army list, 1842, 1844, 1854, 1868, 1870, 1877, 1881. C. L. Kingsford, The story of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, formerly the Sixth Foot (London, ), 81–97. A. S. Morton, Sir George Simpson, overseas governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company; a pen picture of a man of action (Toronto and Vancouver, 1944), 194–99, 217–19. Morton, Manitoba (1957). W. D. Smith, “The despatch of troops to Red River, 1846, in relation to the Oregon question” (ma thesis, Univ. of Manitoba, Winnipeg, 1951), 114–20. Roy St G. Stubbs, Four recorders of Rupert’s Land; a brief survey of the Hudson’s Bay Company courts of Rupert’s Land (Winnipeg, 1967), 23–24. C. P. Stacey, “The Hudson’s Bay Company and Anglo-American military rivalries during the Oregon dispute,” CHR, 18 (1937): 281–300.