The son of James Duff was baptised on 16 March 1754 at Fordyce, Banff, Scotland, William was the second natural son of James, Lord Fife. He was always acknowledged by his father and received a good education.
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.'
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 :
In 1773 he went to Canada, embarking 15 April, the journey took 11 weeks. 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. 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.
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. He was released by February 1777 and wrote to his father about the purchase of a company in the Regiment. 
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. 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.
In May 1787 William wrote to his friend William Rose from Cork :
The headquarters of the regiment in July 1787 at Quebec were under the command of Major William Duff.
William took his wife to Canada and was still there in 1791.
William and Dorothy Duff had one daughter, Sophia Henrietta, born about 1790. It seems likely she was born in Canada.
William Duff, major in the 26th foot, died on 5 July 1795 at Fulford near York. He has a memorial in the Duff House Mausoleum at Banff, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. The inscription reads:
An earlier transcription of the inscription reads:
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.
Starting page 516: born in 1756, second natural son of James, Lord Fife.
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. [I have not yet been able to locate an image online Champion de Crespigny-8 09:48, 3 September 2021 (UTC)]
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.
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