The Grenadiers’ “Mutiny” of 1780

The summer of 1780 was not a happy time at Michilimackinac. Patrick Sinclair, the lieutenant governor since October 1779, found himself at odds with most of the community he nominally governed. Much of the discord seems to have been of Sinclair’s own making (he was quick to take offense and vain about his prerogatives as lieutenant governor), but in mid-summer he faced a new problem: the grenadier company of the 8th Regiment, which made up half of Michilimackinac’s garrison, refused one officer’s order and started submitting petitions with grievances to another.
Sufficient pay lay at the heart of the problem. Two companies of the 8th Regiment, including the grenadiers (the fittest and best soldiers in the regiment) had served at Michilimackinac since 1774. However, for several months in 1780, Lt. George Clowes, the acting commander at Michilimackinac, declined to pay the grenadier company. The other half of the garrison, the “general’s” company, were paid with paper money by their officer, Lt. R.B. Brooke. Without pay, the grenadiers were unable to buy necessary supplies. They specifically complained about their inability to buy flour with which to powder their hair, even though Clowes expected them to “appear as clean for duty as when we lay at Quebec [1768-74]- dressed everyway the same and powdered.” The grenadiers could not even take on additional work outside of their military duties to earn money on the side, as they “cannot work to earn any, having Roll calling twice a day.” Furthermore, Clowes refused to pay the men working on government constructions projects, for which soldiers typically earned additional wages. Instead, Clowes offered soldiers laboring at the “King’s Works” additional tobacco or rum, which the men rejected. The grenadiers voiced their displeasure to Clowes, who said nothing could be done, as well as to Sinclair, who responded angrily, yelling “damn you for a pack of Villains and Scoundrels.” So, on June 24, when Clowes assembled the garrison to settle the soldiers’ wages, the grenadiers refused to sign the account book without receiving hard money.

This silhouette is the only known image of Patrick Sinclair. The star on his coat may be the badge of the 15th Regiment, in which he served from 1761 to 1773.

Angered by this insubordination, Clowes ordered the grenadiers confined to the barracks for about an hour and a half. He eventually released them, but not before some of the soldiers were forced “to make great humbling to Mr. Clowes.” Still seeking redress, the men drafted a petition outlining their grievances, which they sent to Maj. Arent DePeyster at Detroit. DePeyster had commanded Michilimackinac until Sinclair’s arrival in 1779 and was popular with the soldiers and civilians. In the petition, the men urged DePeyster to investigate their claims, but vowed to behave professionally in the meantime, as they believed that “our bad usage is principally given to provoke us to do some thing that may bring a Scandal on the Regiment.” DePeyster forwarded the petition to General Frederick Haldimand, governor of Quebec, and urged the grenadiers to be patient while higher authorities investigated their claims. He also promised that “whilst they continue to behave with Becoming decency the Major [DePeyster] as far as concerns him to interfere will Always maintain there Rights.” In the end, DePeyster determined the most expedient way to ease the tensions between Clowes, the grenadiers, and Sinclair was simply to remove the aggrieved soldiers from Michilimackinac. In late August he dispatched Capt. John Mompesson and another company of the 8th Regiment from Detroit to relieve the grenadiers. Mompesson arrived on August 21, and on August 22 he supervised an informal inquiry into the grenadiers’ conduct. In front of the assembled garrison, Lt. Brooke read out a series of questions posed to the grenadiers by Lt. Clowes. Nothing apparently came of the inquiry, and none of the men were punished beyond their brief confinement to the barracks. In any case, the grenadiers’ grievances were quickly forgotten as the company left for Detroit. Almost immediately, a new dispute arose between Sinclair and Mompesson concerning who held military authority over the garrison, ensnaring Clowes and the other junior officers in the process.

Arent DePeyster

The grenadiers’ grievances are an intriguing look at the complexities of Michilimackinac during the American Revolution. Visitors to Colonial Michilimackinac can interact with interpreters representing members of the 8th Regiment and learn more about these soldiers’ roles in the community. In August 2020, we will also be presenting a special event program about the “Grenadiers’ Mutiny” as part of our 125th anniversary celebrations.

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