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William Duff (1754 - 1795)

Major William Duff aka Duffe
Born in Fordyce, Banffshire, Scotlandmap
Ancestors ancestors
Son of and [mother unknown]
Brother of and
Husband of — married 9 Apr 1787 in Redmarshall, Durham, Englandmap
Descendants descendants
Died at about age 41 in Fulford, Yorkshire, Englandmap
Profile manager: Anne Young private message [send private message]
Profile last modified | Created 2 Jun 2015
This page has been accessed 410 times.



The son of James Duff was baptised on 16 March 1754 at Fordyce, Banff, Scotland,[1] William was the second natural son of James, Lord Fife. He was always acknowledged by his father and received a good education.[2]

William was educated at the Royal Military Academy (RMA) at Woolwich, in south-east London, a British Army military academy for the training of commissioned officers of the Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers. There is a letter from William in 1770 when he would have been about 16 years old describing his course of studies: ' Rise at 6 and go for a walk. Breakfast 7.30. Study from 8 to 12. After dinner, military exercises. 3 to 6 study.'[2]

On 11 December 11 1770, William obtained a commission as Lieutenant in the 7th Royal Fusiliers, and in September 1771 he wrote from Chatham Barracks to his father at Duff House :

' Since I wrote your Lordship last I have been detailed, with twenty men, for a week, to Upnor Castle, a place about four miles from here. This is a duty we take by turns. All this marching about of late has been very expensive to me, and within these two months (during which time I have never been settled in one place) it has cost me upwards of eighteen pounds. Our regiment, I believe, will remain as it is for the winter, but it is generally thought we shall march some other way before February next. My brother sets off for Scotland, with the first ship. I wanted to get to London, for a day or so, to see him before he went, but I really could not get leave. We are now so thin, that I have the Sash every other day almost. I understand your Lordship is killing the Deer just now, and I dare say you will have good diversion. I have just got another step in the Regt., so that there is now five under me.'[3]

In 1773 he went to Canada, embarking 15 April, the journey took 11 weeks.[3] He was still in Canada when the American War of Independence broke out in 1775 and wrote to his brother, Sir James Duff of Kinstair, on 21 May 1775 from Quebec.[4] The 7th Royal Fusiliers were stationed with the 26th Foot in Lower Canada; the two regiments were loosely scattered among frontier posts, and both were at a very low strength, mustering around seven hundred men between them.[5]

William was taken prisoner during the war in Canada and was a prisoner in 1776 when there was some hope he might be part of an exchange of prisoners.[6] He was released by February 1777 and wrote to his father about the purchase of a company in the Regiment. [6]

William was promoted to captain in the 26th Foot on 9 April 1777.[7][8]

The years 1783-7 were spent by the 26th Foot in Ireland.[9]In June 1783 William was at Musselburgh in Scotland and in December 1783 he wrote to his father from Dublin, Ireland.[7]

Captain William Duff of the 26th Regiment of Foot was promoted Major on 4 January 1786.[10] Commission signed by His Majesty for the Army in Ireland.[11]

On 9 April 1787 at Redmarshall, Durham, Major Duff of the 26th Regiment married Miss Skelly, of Yarm, daughter of the late Gordon Skelly esq, Captain in the Navy.[12] The book of the Duffs describes Dorothy as niece of Lord Adam Gordon, and the third Duke of Gordon; noting in 1769 ' died Lady Betty Skelly, sister to the late Cosmo, Duke of Gordon, and aunt to the present Duke ' (Aberdeen Journal). Lord Adam Gordon was commander-in-chief of the forces in Scotland.[10]

In May 1787 William wrote to his friend William Rose from Cork :

' We expect to sail to-morrow for Quebec. After various delays we reached this place a fortnight since. I am, as you often told me I should be, happier than ever in possession of a real, confidential friend. Everyone likes her. Were we richer it would be better.'[10]

The headquarters of the regiment in July 1787 at Quebec were under the command of Major William Duff.[13]

William took his wife to Canada and was still there in 1791.[14]

William and Dorothy Duff had one daughter, Sophia Henrietta, born about 1790. It seems likely she was born in Canada.

William Duff retired from the army in March 1793;[8][15] his name does not appear on 1794 Army List.[14]

William Duff, major in the 26th foot, died on 5 July 1795 at Fulford near York.[16] He has a memorial in the Duff House Mausoleum at Banff, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. The inscription reads:

Major WILLIAM DUFF, 26th Regiment,
son of James, second Earl of Fife.
Died 1795, aged 41.[17]

An earlier transcription of the inscription reads:

'Sacred to the memory of William Duff of the 26th Regiment, a meritorious officer, a most sincere friend, an affectionate husband, an indulgent parent. He lived esteemed and respected. He died regretted and lamented in the 41st year of his age in the year of the Lord 1795.'[18]

William's father stayed in touch with his daughter-in-law Dorothy, and in 1801 he visited his granddaughter Sophia at her school at Doncaster.[14]

Research notes

The Book of the Duffs

Starting page 516: born in 1756, second natural son of James, Lord Fife.[2]

p 517: There is a portrait (by Russell), in the possession of the Princess Royal, which shows him to have been a remarkably good-looking young man.[3] [I have not yet been able to locate an image online Champion de Crespigny-8 09:48, 3 September 2021 (UTC)]

26th (Cameronian) Regiment of Foot

During the years 1749 to 1767 they were stationed first in Ireland and then in Scotland. In 1767 the regiment embarked for the American Colonies to protect them from French Canadians and Spanish from the south. 1772: were moved up to Montreal in 1772. War of American Independence 1775-78: At the outbreak of the war in May 1775 the two forts of Ticonderoga and Crown Point were held by small detachments of the 26th who were unable to withstand attacks by superior numbers of colonists. The more important Fort St John's was held by a mixed garrison of 500 soldiers, of whom half were Cameronians. The remainder of the regiment were dispersed in detachments elsewhere in Canada. When an invasion of Canada took place, St John's was besieged and cut off. With the surrender of nearby Fort Chambly and the failure of a relief expedition, St John's also had to be surrendered.

New York 1777: It was 18 months before the regiment consolidated and reformed in New York as garrison troops. After the defeat of the British at Saratoga on 17th Oct 1777, the 26th were sent temporarily to defend Philadelphia, but later returned to New York.

The years 1783-7 were spent by the 26th in Ireland.[19]


  1. "Scotland Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950", database, FamilySearch ( : 12 February 2020), Duff, 1754.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Alistair Tayler & Tayler, Helen Agnes Henrietta, 1869-1951, joint author (1914). The book of the Duffs. Edinburgh W. Brown. Volume 2 page 516 retrieved through
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 The book of the Duffs. Volume 2 page 517 retrieved through
  4. The book of the Duffs. Volume 2 page 519 through
  5. Carter, Thomas (1867). Historical Record of the Twenty-Sixth, or Cameronian Regiment. London: W.O. Mitchell. page 84 retrieved through
  6. 6.0 6.1 The book of the Duffs. Volume 2 page 520 retrieved through
  7. 7.0 7.1 The book of the Duffs. Volume 2 page 521 retrieved through
  8. 8.0 8.1 Historical Record of the Twenty-Sixth, or Cameronian Regiment. page 244 retrieved through
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 The book of the Duffs. Volume 2 page 522 retrieved through
  11. From the London Gazette Feb 14 in Caledonian Mercury 18 February 1786 page 2retrieved through FindMyPast
  12. Name William Duff Marriage Date 09 Apr 1787 Marriage Place Redmarshall, Durham, England Spouse Dorothy Skelly FHL Film Number91109 retrieved through
  13. Historical Record of the Twenty-Sixth, or Cameronian Regiment. page 94 retrieved through
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 The book of the Duffs. Volume 2 page 523 retrieved through
  15. Brown, Steve. "British Regiments and the Men Who Led Them 1793-1815: 26th Regiment of Foot." The Napoleon Series, 2010,
  16. Leeds Intelligencer 13 July 1795 page 3; similar notice in many other newspapers
  17. Find A Grave: Memorial #150038487
  18. Cramond, William (editor). "The Annals of Banff." New Spalding Club, 1893, Issue 10, page 369. Retrieved through Google Books The Annals of Banff is quoting from a manuscript of notes of inscriptions within the Mausoleum compiled by Mr Jervise: citation on page 309 as MS Antiquarian Museum, Edinburgh.

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Categories: 26th (Cameronian) Regiment of Foot