Lieutenant-Colonel Andrew William Playfair (1790-1868) of the 104th (New Brunswick) Regiment of Foot Epic Winter Military March during the War of 1812-1814
Lieutenant-Colonel Andrew William Playfair, born in 1790 in Paris, France, son of William the eminent author and inventor, was a distinguished soldier, writer, and Empire-builder.1 His father, William Playfair, invented three fundamental forms of the statistical graph the time-series line graph, the bar chart and the pie chart2 and a prolific author of political economy writing in both English and French.
Lt.-Col. Andrew Playfair was educated in Edinburgh under the supervision of his uncle Professor John Playfair and in 1806 joined the Volunteers3 defending England during the Napoleonic Wars.
Playfair became an ensign with the 32nd Regiment and in 1810 received a commission in the 104th Regiment after inventing a firearm which was greatly admired by the Commander-in-Chief, the Duke of York.4
In 1812, at the age of 23, Playfair left the United Kingdom for active duty in the Canadas (Upper and Lower) during the War of 1812-1814, arriving at Saint John, New Brunswick, early in 1813, as a First Lieutenant with the 104th (New Brunswick) Regiment of Foot.5
On 16 Feb 1813 the 104th New Brunswick Regiment of Foot was ordered to march to Quebec City, due to a threat of an early American offensive.6
Approximately 575 soldiers and officers,7 departed from Fredericton, New Brunswick, on a 55 day overland journey to Kingston, Ontario.
During the winter of 1813, the 104th made one of the most epic marches unparalleled in the annals of British and Commonwealth military history8 following the approximated route: Fredericton to Presqu’Ile Military Post, to Fort Carleton (Grand Falls); onto Cabano and the Grand Portage to Riviere-des-Caps; across the St. Lawrence to Quebec City, staying for almost two weeks before ordered to Montreal (Lachine) and Kingston.9
They marched on the rivers and lakes, the country being in a state of nature10 along the St. John and St. Lawrence Rivers.11
According to Playfair, they walked single file on snowshoes, with toboggans to carry their provisions, through one of the coldest and snowiest winters enduring near -30° C temperatures:
“the 104th set out on snow-shoes, without a track, or mark on a tree, for a march of some hundred miles, with from four to six feet of snow under their feet, a dense forest in front, and naught but the canopy of Heaven over their heads.”12
Most nights they had to build their own shelters from boughs of branches after walking over 20 kilometres each day.13 Their only barrier against the cold was a fire and a threadbare woolen blanket.14
Playfair and the 104th arrived in Kingston, Upper Canada (Ontario) around 12 Apr 1813 hungry, sick, and frostbitten with at least one man dying along the way.15
In May 1813 they fought the Americans at Sacket’s Harbor (New York), which suffered many casualties with 21 killed and 65 wounded.16
The 104th travelled by boat to the Niagara Frontier. On June 24, 1813, Playfair, an officer with the Grenadier and Light companies of the 104th Regiment of Foot was present for the surrender of 500 Americans at Beaver Dams on the Niagara Frontier after the British were warned by Laura Secord of a surprise attack.17
According to Playfair in writing about the American surrender at Beaver Dams (as cited by Hugh Playfair):
“had fourteen officers and 150 men given to my charge, which afforded me the gratifying duty of standing between the uplifted tomahawk of the infuriated savage with his trophied scalps reeking with gore, and the disarmed prisoners of war. We may admire, but none can fully appreciate to its utmost extent without experience, the sentiment of the immortal Nelson (referring to Vice Admiral Lord Nelson). The moment a man becomes a prisoner, ‘I become his protector'”18
The 104th (New Brunswick) Regiment of Foot was disbanded in 1817 at Montreal on 24 May 1817.19
Playfair became a major in the 2nd Battalion, the Lanark and Carleton Militia. He volunteered for service at the Front during the Rebellion of 1837, but his service was not required. Soon after he became Lieutenant-Colonel commanding the Lanark Rifles, an office he held until his death.20
He wrote a number of articles on military matters for the Atlantic Monthly:
- Suggestions on the Defence of Canadas and the Most Economical Principals of Blood and Treasure
- A Letter from a Volunteer of 1806 to Volunteers of 1860
- The Defence of England
- Her Weakness and Strength
- Suggestions on the Defence of Canada by the Formation of Flank Companies from the Sedentary Militia
- A Comparison between the March of the Light Infantry of 1857 and that of the 104th Regiment in 1813 from New Brunswick to Quebec
- The Desirability of Rifling the Guns.21
For his military service, he eventually received a total of 900 acres of land in adjacent Dalhousie and Bathurst Townships establishing Playfairville, building saw, grist and carding mills22 and raising his nine children. Throughout the 1850s to 1860s, he was prominent in local and national affairs.23
For many years Playfair was a Magistrate, and in 1857 was elected a Member of the Legislative Assembly for the South Riding of Lanark, which position he held for four years.24
Lt. Col. Andrew Playfair died at Playfairville on 1 Sept 1868.25
- Arthur Grace Playfair, The Playfair Book or Notes on the Scottish Family of Playfair, (Tunbridge Wells, Kent [England]: C. Baldwin, 1932), 77.
- Ian Spence, Playfair, William (1759-1823), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, accessed April 16, 2013.
- Hugh Playfair, The Playfair Family, (Blackford, England: Hugh Playfair, 1999), 118.
- Ibid., 118.
- W. E. (Gary) Cambell, The St. John River Society Commemorate Canada Grant Mapping the March of the 104th (New Brunswick) Regiment of Foot, (St. John: St. John River Society, June 21, 2011), 30, accessed April 16, 2013.
- Ibid., 3.
- Ibid., 30.
- Ibid., 10-17.
- Andrew William Playfair, Comparison between the March of the 43rd Light Infantry in 1837 and that of the Late 104th Regiment in 1813, from New Brunswick to Quebec. Also: Remarks on the Best Winter Route for Troops from the British Isles to Canada, in the Depth of Winter, (British Standard, January 20, 1862): 3. Retrieved from Library of Archives Canada, AMICUS 8900046.
- Donald E. Graves, ed., Merry Hearts Make Light Days (2nd ed.), (Montreal: Robin Brass Studio, 2012), 94 Map.
- A. W. Playfair, 2.
- Ibid., 2.
- St. John River Society. A Very Canadian Story New Brunswick’s 104th Regiment of Foot, accessed April 16, 2013,
- Campbell, 24-25
- Ibid., 4.
- Heritage Canada, Laura Secord, Heroine of Beaver Dams, last modified July 7, 2013. Accessed February 9, 2014.
- H. Playfair, 118.
- Campbell, 5.
- H. Playfair, 118.
- Ibid., 120.
- A. G. Playfair, 79.
- H. Playfair, 120.
- A. G. Playfair, 79.
- Ibid., 79.
Veteran SummaryAndrew William Playfair
Lieutenant Colonel, 104th Regiment of Foot
Place of Birth
Paris, Île-de-France, FRA
Place of Death
Playfairville, ON, CAN
Died on: 01 SEP 1868
Reason: Likely Old Age
Location of Grave
Elmwood Cemetery, 34-38 Dufferin Road
Perth, ON, CAN
Latitude: 44.912205N Longitude: -76.261613