Dundas, Thomas

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Dundas, Thomas

DUNDAS, THOMAS. (1750–1794). British army officer and politician. Dundas was born on 30 June 1750 into an old family of minor Scottish gentry. His father was a businessman and the member of Parliament for Orkney and Shetland. Educated at Edinburgh high school, Dundas obtained a cornetcy in the First Dragoon Guards on 25 April 1766. On 26 May 1769 he bought a captaincy in the Sixty-third Foot and in 1771, in absentia, succeeded to his father's parliamentary constituency. He continued to serve in Ireland with the Sixty-third until it sailed from Cork in April 1775 as part of the first reinforcement for the army in Boston.

On 20 January 1776 Dundas purchased a majority in the Sixty-fifth Foot in Halifax. Soon after, part of the regiment was drafted to other units, and the remainder, including Dundas, was sent home to recruit. On 27 December 1777 his influential uncle obtained for him the lieutenant colonelcy of a new regiment, the Eightieth, being raised by the corporation of Edinburgh. He sailed for America with the Eightieth in March 1779, in a convoy escorted by Marriot Arbuthnot's squadron, and won praise for undertaking menial tasks when typhus swept through his ship, decimating the troops and crew. Dundas himself was taken ashore desperately ill in New York on 25 August. Recovering, he embarked on Clinton's 1780 Charleston expedition. He was at Charleston when the city surrendered in May 1780 and subsequently served under General Charles Cornwallis. At the beginning of 1781 he joined John Simcoe on Benedict Arnold's Chesapeake expedition, both officers carrying secret dormant commissions empowering them to take command should Arnold fall. On 6 July, at Green Spring, South Carolina, where Cornwallis narrowly failed to trap Anthony Wayne and Marquis de Lafayette, Dundas led the brigade that formed the British left wing. At Yorktown he commanded the detachment at Gloucester, across the river, and was one of the two commissioners who arranged the terms of surrender.

On 20 November 1782 he was breveted colonel and on 5 April 1784, when the Eightieth was disbanded at Edinburgh, Dundas went on half-pay. On 9 May he married. He was in Canada dealing with Loyalist compensation claims from 1785 to 1788. He lost his seat in Parliament in 1790, and in 1793, promoted major general, he sailed with Charles Grey's expedition to the West Indies. In Barbados he trained six elite battalions in the light infantry tactics he had learned in America. He played a key role in Grey's operations in the French Windward Islands in from February to April 1794 and was appointed governor of Guadeloupe. He died there of yellow fever on 3 June, not knowing that he had already been awarded his long-coveted colonelcy of the Sixty-eighth foot.

SEE ALSO Arbuthnot, Marriot; Arnold, Benedict; Charleston Expedition of Clinton in 1780; Cornwallis, Charles; Green (or Greene's) Spring, South Carolina; Simcoe, John Graves; Yorktown, Siege of.

                              revised by John Oliphant