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d. 20 June 1835 in Saint-Hyacinthe, Lower Canada


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DeGAUGREBEN (Gaugreben, Gaugräbe), FRIEDRICH (Frederick), army officer and military engineer; b. c. 1777, apparently in Germany; d. 6 Jan. 1822 in Kassel (Federal Republic of Germany).

Apart from his military service with the British army, little is known of Friedrich DeGaugreben’s life. A Roman Catholic, he became a second lieutenant in the engineer corps of the King’s German Legion on 14 Nov. 1809, no doubt after receiving a grounding in the principles of military engineering. On 22 Feb. 1811 he was promoted lieutenant, and spent that year on the island of Jersey. In mid October of the following year he arrived at Quebec as part of the reinforcements for the troops in the Canadas, an unusual assignment since the King’s German Legion itself served in Europe. DeGaugreben was soon on his way to Upper Canada, and early in 1813 was at Prescott, where Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Henry Bruyeres*, commanding engineer in the Canadas, had directed him to erect a blockhouse. When Christopher Alexander Hagerman* passed by in November he noted that Fort Wellington, as the work had become known, was “a very deep mound of Earth thrown up enclosing a strong blockhouse said to be bomb proof,” but claimed that since the fort had been “very badly constructed” by DeGaugreben, it was “falling to pieces very fast.” DeGaugreben’s duties were not, however, confined to construction. His commanding officer, the aggressive Lieutenant-Colonel George Richard John Macdonell*, mounted an attack on Ogdensburg, N.Y., on 22 Feb. 1813, and DeGaugreben took charge of a field piece, receiving Macdonell’s commendation for his conduct.

By the end of that year DeGaugreben found himself on the Niagara frontier, where on 19 December he accompanied the troops in the successful assault on Fort Niagara (near Youngstown), N.Y. He remained at the fort improving the defences, but by March 1814 Major-General Phineas Riall*, commanding on the frontier, was complaining to Lieutenant-General Gordon Drummond*, “I shall get nothing done if [DeGaugreben] is to continue the head of the [engineer] Department here.” DeGaugreben’s inactivity seems to have been caused by an attack of ophthalmia, and in April Drummond sent him back to the less demanding post of Prescott. There DeGaugreben remained for the rest of the war. He seems to have been no favourite with the local inhabitants, who remembered with displeasure his allegedly severe treatment of farmers when martial law had been proclaimed by Major-General Francis de Rottenburg in November 1813 to enable the army to purchase food forcibly.

By mid 1815 DeGaugreben was in Lower Canada as commanding engineer of the Montreal district. At this time he penned two memoirs on the defence of the Canadas for the inspector general of fortifications of the Board of Ordnance, Lieutenant-General Gother Mann. In one he made the suggestion that a canal be constructed to link the Ottawa River and Lake Ontario. It seems likely, however, that the first person to hit upon this idea had been Macdonell, who saw it as a more permanent means of ensuring Upper Canada’s military communications. DeGaugreben appears to have given technical advice about routes and designs, but there is no evidence to support a case that the canal idea was his, and he did not accompany Macdonell and Reuben Sherwood, a captain in the intelligence department, on the initial surveys.

Nevertheless, when the military authorities sought to implement Macdonell’s scheme, DeGaugreben, now a second captain (from 5 March 1814), was ordered by Rottenburg in January 1815 to make preliminary surveys for a canal at Lachine which would be the first part of a military water-way to Lake Ontario. Although the general complained that DeGaugreben was doing too little, by May he had produced and submitted the first detailed plans of part of what became the Ottawa-Rideau canal system [see John By*]. If DeGaugreben did less than hoped for, it was perhaps because he saw no real military need for the Lachine canal, and also because the few engineers in the Canadas were overburdened by their duties in other departments, as DeGaugreben and captains Samuel Romilly and Matthew Charles Dixon pointed out to Mann in June. Their complaints helped persuade the Duke of Wellington, master general of the Ordnance, to reorganize the board, and the improved department’s officers subsequently carried out many projects and services of great value to colonists in the Canadas.

DeGaugreben himself left Quebec late in 1815. The King’s German Legion was ordered disbanded in December, and in April 1817 it was recorded that he had reached Hanover (Federal Republic of Germany) and had been placed on half pay. Unlike many of his fellows, DeGaugreben did not enter the newly constituted Hanoverian army. His career until his death is unknown.

G. K. Raudzens

PAC, RG 8, I (C ser.), 38. PRO, WO 17/1516–19; WO 55/ 860. Select British docs. of War of 1812 (Wood), 2: 64; 3, pt.i: 98. Montreal Gazette, extra, 26 Feb. 1813. N. L. Beamish, History of the Kings German Legion (2v., London, 1832–37), 2: 531. G. [K.] Raudzens, The British Ordnance Department and Canadas canals, 1815–1855 (Waterloo, Ont., 1979), 20–25. B. H. Schwertfeger, Geschichte der Königlich Deutschen Legion, 1803–1816 (2v., Hanover, [Federal Republic of Germany], 1907). G. [K.] Raudzens, “‘Red George’ Macdonell, military saviour of Upper Canada?” OH, 62 (1970): 199–212.

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Cite This Article

G. K. Raudzens, “DeGAUGREBEN, FRIEDRICH,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 20, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/degaugreben_friedrich_6E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/degaugreben_friedrich_6E.html
Author of Article:   G. K. Raudzens
Title of Article:   DeGAUGREBEN, FRIEDRICH
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1987
Year of revision:   1987
Access Date:   June 20, 2024