HAMILTON, OTHO, military officer, secretary and member of the Nova Scotia Council, lieutenant governor of Placentia, Newfoundland; b. c. 1690 in Edinburgh, Scotland, one of 12 children of Thomas and Grizel Hamilton; d. 26 Feb. 1770 at Waterford (Republic of Ireland).
The Edinburgh family of Otho Hamilton had a tradition of military service, which was probably a factor in his choice of a career. On 16 June 1710 he was commissioned an ensign in the Earl of Portmore’s (2nd Queen’s) Regiment of Foot, and the same year he was among the recruits arriving at Boston to serve in the planned attack on Port-Royal (Annapolis Royal, N.S.) under Francis Nicholson* and Samuel Vetch*. It is not known, however, whether Hamilton went to Port-Royal at this time. He next appears as an ensign in the garrison at Annapolis Royal in October 1714; by this time he had left Portmore’s regiment. In 1717 he was absorbed into the newly created regiment of Colonel Richard Philipps (later the 40th Regiment of Foot), which supplanted the independent companies serving in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Hamilton became a lieutenant on 9 Aug. 1718. In June 1729 Robert Wroth* resigned his commission as adjutant of Philipps’ regiment “in favour of Lt. Otho Hamilton.” The latter continued his career in this regiment, rising to captain on 3 Sept. 1739 and major in January 1745/46. There is limited evidence that on his retirement from the regiment in 1761 he received the rank of lieutenant-colonel.
Like other officers stationed in Nova Scotia during this period, Hamilton soon found himself involved in the government of the colony. When William Shirreff resigned as secretary of the Nova Scotia Council in July 1727, Lieutenant Governor Lawrence Armstrong* was “obliged . . . to employ a Lieut. of the Garrison who acts now in that office,” and thus Hamilton temporarily became provincial secretary. The departure of Paul Mascarene for Boston in 1731 necessitated a new appointment to the council to meet the required quorum, and in October Hamilton, whom Armstrong described as “a gentleman of an untainted charracter,” was chosen to fill the vacancy. For about 14 years he was an active member of the council. In 1736 he again accepted the job of secretary temporarily when Shirreff was on leave in England.
Hamilton received another civil role in 1737, when the Lords of Trade and Plantations appointed him, along with William Skene and Erasmus James Philipps, to a colonial commission to resolve the boundary difficulties between Massachusetts and New Hampshire. He was chosen again in 1740 as a Nova Scotia representative for a similar commission concerning the boundaries between Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
On 25 Dec. 1744 Hamilton’s diligent fulfilment of his various duties was rewarded by his appointment as lieutenant governor of Placentia, Newfoundland. He went to Newfoundland shortly afterwards and served first at St John’s, before moving on to Placentia in the summer of 1747. Hamilton apparently regarded this post as more than a sinecure, for on several occasions he made an honest attempt to improve the conditions of the colony. Charles Knowles, English governor of Louisbourg, Cape Breton Island, wrote to the Duke of Newcastle late in 1746 concerning the report he had received from Hamilton of “the miserable condition the Soldiers of that Garrison [Placentia] are in both for want of Bedding Pay and Cloathing. . . .” In the fall of 1747 Hamilton wrote to the Board of Trade and Plantations “complaining of the want of civil officers” at Placentia, particularly justices of the peace. He was also troubled that he had no authority over the justices, as they were responsible solely to the official governor of the island, the commodore of the Newfoundland squadron, who was resident there for only a few months each year. In general, Hamilton carried out his duties at Placentia capably and conscientiously. He may also have been involved in the fishery there as he vigorously defended the involvement of some of the men under his command.
Hamilton remained at Placentia until at least 1764. Little is known of his activities after 1760 and the fact that one of his sons bore the same name makes it difficult to pursue his career at this period. Otho Hamilton Jr followed his father in the 40th regiment, joining as an ensign in 1744 and purchasing the rank of major in 1761. The elder Hamilton had two other children, John and Grizel. By 1768 he had taken up permanent residence at Waterford, Ireland. There he drafted his will in August of that year, and there he died on 26 Feb. 1770.
PRO, CO 194/12, ff.51–52, 79v–91, 167–68; 194/13, ff.5, 32–33v, 135, 146–48v, 220, 240–41; 194/14, f.11; 194/15, ff.28–29v, 67; 194/16, f.28; WO 1/1. Documents relating to currency in Nova Scotia, 1675–1758 (Shortt), 64, 70, 78, 201, 202, 252. N.S. Archives, III; IV. PRO, Acts of P.C., Col., 1720–45, 439, 666; 1745–66, 55; CSP, Col., 1726–27, 396; 1728–29, 412; 1732, 146; JTP, 1734/35–1741, 262; 1741/42–1749, 271; 1759–1763, 242; 1764–1767, 388, 390, 392. Calnek, History of Annapolis (Savary). English army lists (Dalton), VI, 65–66. Dalton, George the first’s army, I, 240, 312–13. A. W .H. Eaton, Lt.-Col. Otho Hamilton of Olivestob: Lieutenant-governor of Placentia, lieutenant-colonel in the army, major of the 40th Regiment of Foot, member of the Nova Scotia Council from 1731 to 1744 (Halifax, 1899). Lounsbury, British fishery at Nfld. Murdoch, History of Nova-Scotia. Harry Piers, “The fortieth regiment, raised at Annapolis Royal in 1717; and five regiments subsequently raised in Nova Scotia,” N.S. Hist. Soc. Coll., XXI (1927), 120–21. Smythies, Historical records of 40th regiment.