One of my sixth great grandfathers was a Scottish nobleman, James Duff, Earl Fife of Banffshire (1729–1809). He had at least three illegitimate children, my fifth great grandfather William Duff (1754–1795), his brother James, and a daughter called Jean.

James Duff acknowledged them as his own and all three received a good education at his expense.

William Duff was sent to the Royal Military Academy Woolwich in southeast London, a training college for officers of the Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers. On 11 December 1770, William graduated with a commission as Lieutenant in the 7th Royal Fusiliers.

On 15 April 1773, William Duff embarked with his regiment for Canada, the journey taking 11 weeks. He was still in Canada when the American Revolutionary War began in 1775.

When in that year American forces invaded Canada, most of Duff’s regiment was forced to surrender. He was taken prisoner in the capture of Fort Chambly by Rebels on 18 October, and though it was hoped that he might soon be returned in an exchange of prisoners he was not released until early 1777.

The King’s Color of the British Seventh Regiment of Foot. It was captured by American forces at Fort Chambly, Canada, in October of 1775. As the first flag captured by the new American Army it was sent to Congress as a trophy. It is now in the West Point Museum. (Photo from West Point Museum Facebook page).
Fort Chambly in the 1840s. Image from

In February 1777 he wrote to his father from Staten Island, New York, about the purchase of a company in a regiment. William left the 7th Regiment and on 9 April 1777 was promoted to captain in the 26th Regiment of Foot (the Cameronians). Men of the 7th and the 26th regiments had been together at Fort Chambly.

On 4 January 1786 Duff was promoted to Major; at that time the 26th Foot were stationed in Ireland.

On 9 April 1787 at Redmarshall, county Durham, Major Duff of the 26th Regiment married Dorothy Skelly (1768–1840), of Yarm a few miles south. She was the daughter of a naval Officer, the late Captain Gordon Skelly.

In May 1787 William and his new wife sailed for Quebec, where he was put in command of the regimental headquarters. In 1789 the regiment moved, first to Montreal, and then in 1790 to frontier posts along the Niagara River. In 1792 the regiment moved back to St. John’s (Fort Saint-Jean) in Quebec.

A view of St. John’s (Saint-Jean, Québec) upon the River Sorell (Rivière Richelieu), Taken in the Year 1776. Image from the Toronto Public Library.
A southwest view of St. John’s, Quebec about 1790. Image from Toronto Public Library.

In 1790 Dorothy gave birth to their daughter Sophia Duff. She was my fourth great grandmother.

William Duff retired from the army in March 1793. On 5 July 1795 he died aged 41 at Fulford, near York.


(I had relatives on the other side of the American Revolutionary war too: George III: my part in his downfall)

  • Carter, Thomas (1867). Historical Record of the Twenty-Sixth, or Cameronian Regiment. London: W.O. Mitchell. p. 84 and pages 94 ff.