17th Regiment

Willie was a sweet-natured, compassionate and kindly lad. The second son of Lord Leven, and nephew of General Alexander Leslie, Will grew up in Melville House in Fife and at Nicolson Square in Edinburgh. He joined the Black Watch in his late teens, and served with them in Ireland. He then bought a Lieutenancy in the 17th Foot, and was sent to America, arriving at New Year 1776, rather skinny after a long sea voyage! He saw action for the first time at Long Island in August 1776, and was deeply distressed to see his friends getting killed, including Sir Alexander Hepburn-Murray. But the Earl's son - descended from a long line of soldiers - bore up, living out of doors, getting himself and his ammunition soaked to the skin, and writing home to his Mother on Christmas day...
It was his last letter.
Willie was killed on 3 January 1777, as part of the small British force which collided with the bulk of the Rebel army at Clark's Orchard just outside
Princeton (that's our friend GLENN's site!). He was among the first casualties, hit by 2 musket balls in the left breast and side while leading his company. He died in the arms of his servant, Peter Macdonald, who laid his body in a baggage wagon. Unfortunately, the wagon was then captured by the enemy, so Willie was a posthumous POW! They only realised he was in it when they looked in the back the next day, while en route to winter quarters in Morristown (luckily it was winter, or they might have noticed for other reasons...) A letter was found in his pocket, from Dr. Benjamin Rush, a prominent Rebel surgeon who had been a friend of the family (and had had a crush on Willie's sister Jean) when he was a medical student in Edinburgh. Rush had written to say that if Willie were taken prisoner, he should try to get paroled to his family home in Philadelphia. This lucky find ensured that the young Captain was buried in Pluckemin, with full military honours, by Generals Mifflin and Washington. Rush paid for his gravestone, erected after the war.

Pluckemin, NJ

Beside a white clapboard church in New Jersey rests a son of one of Scotland's great military families. Willie Leslie's gravestone was erected in 1784-5, by Dr. Rush. When Rush learned of his friend's death, he said he wept for the first time at a victory of his own side over British troops. Glenn, our kind photographer, has his own site on the New Jersey campaigns.

Grave of William Leslie, Pluckemin

In Memory of
the Hon.ble Captn WILL
of the 17th British Regiment
Son of the Earl of Leven
in Scotland
He fell Jan.y 3
d. 1777 Aged
26 Years at the battle of
His friend Benj
n. Rush M. D. of
hath Caused this Stone
to be erected as a mark
of his esteem for his worth
and of his respect for his noble family.

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