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.