This is an original, rare and historically significant commissioning document signed by King George III, appointing Clement William Whitby, Esquire, as a Major in the Seventeenth or Leicestershire Regiment of Foot, on July 7, 1805, just three and one half months before the Battle of Trafalgar. Whitby would go down in history as the commander of the 1st West India Regiment during the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815 against General Andrew Jackson. The commission is also signed by Thomas Butts, who is recognized as the patron of the famous British poet and artist William Blake.
This commission is signed by King George in the upper left corner. The document reads as follows:
“George the Third by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith &c. To Our Trusty and Well beloved Clement William Whitby, Esquire Greeting. We reposing especial Trust and Confidence in Your Loyalty, Courage and good Conduct, do, by these Presents, Constitute and Appoint you to be Major in Our Seventeenth or Leicestershire Regiment of Foot Commanded by our Trusty and Well beloved General George Garth.
You are therefore to take said Regiment into your Care and Charge, and duly to Exercise as well the Officers and Soldiers thereof in Arms, and to use your best Endeavors to keep them in good Order and Discipline. And We do, hereby, Command Them to obey you as their Major and you are to observe and follow
such Orders and Direction from Time to Time, as you shall receive from US, Your Colonel or any other your Superior Officer according to the Rules and Discipline of War in pursuance of the Trust hereby reposed in You. Given at our Court at Saint James the Seventh Day of July 1805, In the Forty-fifth Year of Our Reign.
By His Majesty’s Command
Below the date of the Commission is handwritten, “Entered with the Commissary General of Musters / Tho. Butts.” The Commissary General of Musters was the department responsible for military pay. Thomas Butts is most famous as the great patron, correspondent, and friend of the famous artist and poet William Blake, having been described as “the only large buyer the artist ever had.” At the time Butts signed this Commission, he was the Joint Chief Clerk in the Office of the Commissary General of Musters.
Thomas Butts was born in 1857 to Thomas Butts and Hannah Witham. Butts married Elizabeth Mary Cooper, who was a schoolmistress and their great granddaughter was the modernist writer Mary Butts (1890-1937). Butts and William Blake first met in about 1799, and Butts regularly advanced money to Blake to pay for future work. Blake created a number of miniatures of the Butts family from 1801 to 1809 and these are now in the collection of the British Museum. Largely unknown during his life, hence the patronage by Butts, William Blake is not considered the seminal figure in the history of the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age.
Clement William Whitby is the subject of the attached profile painting by John Buncombe. It depicts then Captain Clement William Whitby, of the 17th Regiment, in profile to the right, in scarlet coat with silver lace and epaulette, a shoulder belt-plate with regimental insignia “17,” wearing a bicorn with tassel and a plum. Buncombe painted this image of Whitby on card, and it was dated June 1801.
Below King George III’s signature, in the upper left of the Commission, is the Kings Royal Seal, which remains fully intact. Below the royal seal is the Revenue Stamp embossed on blue paper with the original tin staple, which was used to tie the stamp to the Commission. This revenue stamp is for one pound, ten shillings. On the reverse of the Commission is the “Cyper” Lable, which was used to cover the ends of the staple. The Cypher bears the Coat of Arms of George III. Also on the back of the Commission is handwritten, “Clement Wm Whitby Esq., / Major / in the 17th or Leicestershire / Regiment of Foot.”
Clement William Whitby was born on December 30, 1776 in Creswell, Staffordshire, England to Thomas Whitby and Mabella Turton. Whitby matriculated to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1794 but did not graduate. Whitby married Frances Burgh Gray and he died on February 15, 1866 in Ottery St. Mary in Devon. Whitby retired from the Army as a Lieutenant Colonel. Whitby had the distinction of achieving his rank “without purchase,” meaning that he had risen in the ranks on merit and did not have to purchase his rank, as was common with most British officers at the time. He would eventually be commissioned as a Lieutenant Colonel in the 1st West India Regiment on July 11, 1811, this time by purchase.
The 17th Regiment of Foot, also known as the Leicestershire Regiment, was a line infantry regiment of the British Army that was originally formed in 1688. During its earliest years, as was common for all British regiments at that time, the name of the regiment was known by the name of its colonel. In 1751, a royal warrant assigned numbers to British regiments of the line and the unit became the 17th Regiment of Foot. In 1757, the regiment embarked for North America and service in the French and Indian War. The 17th Regiment was active in the colonies during the American Revolutionary War, fighting at Long Island, White Plains, Fort Washington, the Battle of Princeton, Brandywine, Germantown, Stony Point, the Battle of Guilford Court House and was present at the Siege of Yorktown.
A royal warrant dated August 31, 1782 bestowed county titles on all British regiments of foot “to cultivate a connection with the County which might at all times be useful towards recruiting.” The 17th then became known as the “17th “Leicestershire” Regiment of Foot. In 1804, a year before Whitby was commissioned Major of the regiment, the 17th was assigned to India and would remain there until 1823.
As noted previously, Whitby would be commissioned as Lieutenant Colonel of the 1st West India Regiment on July 11, 1811. It was while assigned to the 1st West Indian Regiment that Whitby would take part in one of the most famous battles in American History, the Battle of New Orleans. When Whitby was assigned to the 1st West Indian Regiment, he joined the unit in Trinidad, where the regiment had moved after fighting in Martinique and Guadaloupe in 1810. Whitby would stay in Trinidad with the regiment until it moved again in March 1814, with the headquarters and four companies in Martinique, four companies in St. Lucia, and two companies in Dominica. It was a short stay in Martinque for Whitby because the regiment moved again in July 1814 to Guadaloupe.
In June 1812, the United States declared war on Great Britain and Washington was captured on July 24, 1813. The war for the British was being carried with some success when, in October 1814, it was decided to mount an expedition to capture New Orleans. The invasion force was to rendezvous at Negril Bay, Jamaica and the 1st West Indian Regiment embarked on November 14, 1814 at Prene, Guadaloupe under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Whitby. News of the expedition soon passed to the Americans and, upon learning of the threat to New Orleans, American General Andrew Jackson, who commanded the United States Army of the South, marched towards New Orleans from Florida with a force of 13,000 men.
On November 26, 1814, the British fleet, under the command of Vice Admiral Sir A. Cochrane, having aboard a force of 5,000 soldiers under Major General Kean, including Whitby and his regiment, sailed from Negril Bay and arrived off the Chandeleur Islands near the entrance of Lake Borgne, on December 10, 1814. The British knew that reducing the forts that commanded navigation of the Mississippi River was too difficult a task to be accomplished. As a result, and still believing their expedition maintained the element of surprise, Admiral Cochrane and General Keane decided to make a landing somewhere on the banks of Lake Borgne and push on to take possession of New Orleans before efforts could be made to ready a defense. To accomplish this landing, the soldiers, including Whitby and his regiment, were moved into lighter landing vessels and began to enter Lake Borgne on December 13, 1814. The Americans, however, were aware of the British intentions and opposed the passage of the lake with five large cutters. It then took the British expeditionary force until December 15 to clear Lake Borgne. The troops were then embarked in boats to carry them up to Pine Island, a distance of thirty miles.
The British force then assembled on Pine Island, without any tents or shelter, in the midst of cold winter rain. The official history of the 1st West Indian Regiment makes much of the miserable conditions on Pine Island, when the temperature dropped below freezing and night and the rain-soaked clothes would freeze the clothes to the soldiers’ bodies.
By December 21, 1814, the entire British force was collected at Pine Island and it was formed into three brigades the next day, December 22nd. The 1st West Indian Regiment, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Clement Whitby, along with the 21st and 44th Regiments of Foot, formed the 2nd Brigade. On December 22nd, when the brigades were assembled, the 1st West Indian Regiment, which left Negril Bay with over 500 soldiers, now had barely 400 due to sickness and death.
The British 1st Brigade left Pine Island on December 22nd in boats to proceed to Bayou Catalan. The 2nd Brigade, with the 1st West Indians, embarked in boats about ten hours after the 1st Brigade, and arrived at the mouth of the Bayou Catalan at nightfall on December 23rd. As the 2nd Brigade arrived, they found their fellows in the 1st Brigade under attack by General Jackson’s Americans. The 2nd Brigade pushed on to the sound of the guns and arrived just in time to prevent the Americans from turning the British right flank. The 2nd Brigade then moved up to the canal bank and the attempted to turn the Americans’ flank. What resulted was a confusing night combat action involving hand-to-hand combat along the brigade’s front. Finally, at about 3 am on December 24th, the Americans retired from the field. The 1st West Indian Regiment was, however, in bad shape, mustering only 16 sergeants and 240 other ranks that morning.
The 3rd Brigade arrived at Bayou Catalan on the evening of December 24th, along with Major General Sir Edward Pakenham, who had been sent from England to assume command of the British forces. After destroying an armed American schooner that was bombarding the British forces, General Pakenham divided the army into two columns - the right column, under the command of Major General Gibbs, consisted of 4th, 21st, 44th, and 1st West Indian Regiments; and the left column under Major General Keane, which consisted of the 85th, 93rd, 95th and 5th West Indian Regiments. In the meantime, General Andrew Jackson and the American forces occupied a position facing the British with the Mississippi River on the American right and an impassable swamp on the left, blocking any British advance to New Orleans.
Andrew Jackson created a brilliant defense, about 1,000 yards wide, with three deep parallel ditches dug across the front. In the rear of these ditches Jackson had constructed a strong loop-holed palisade with several artillery batteries sighted so they could bring enfilade fire across the level plain across which the British would have to attack. An initial attack by the British on General Jackson’s line began on the morning of December 27th, but it was repulsed with heavy losses. General Pakenham then ordered up guns from the fleet, which arrived through the 28th, 29th and 30th. On the night of the 31st, six batteries comprising 30 heavy cannon, were positioned at a distance of 300 yards from the American lines and at down on the 1st of January 1815, an artillery duel began. The fire from American artillery increased throughout the duel as British fire eventually slackened as ammunition began to run low. Eventually, the British abandoned their works and removed their cannon that night.
General Pakenham then decided to send a portion of his force across the river to attack the American line on its flank but, to do this, a canal had to be cut from the Bayou to the river to permit boats to transport the troops and cannon. This was indescribably difficult work, in difficult conditions, by ill-equipped forces but it was completed by January 6th. In addition, the 7th and 43rd British Regiments arrived under Major General Lambert and these two battalions, each with 800 soldiers, joined Pakenham’s force on the evening of the 6th. Pakenham’s plan involved three prongs, with the 85th British Regiment, along with Royal Marines and a group of Royal Navy sailors, approximately 1,400 men, crossing the Mississippi after dark to seize the American batteries on its far right and, at daylight, firing along the American line in support of the main attack. On the main field of battle, Major General Kean with the 95th Regiment, the light battalion, and the 1st West Indian Regiment under Colonel Whitby, along with the 5th West Indians, would attack down the bank of the river to hit the American right flank, while Major General Gibbs, with the 4th, 21st, 44th and 93rd would attack the American left flank. Major General Lambert commanded the 7th and 43rd Regiments in reserve.
The river crossing force moved to the Mississippi, but no boats arrived. Eventually, and quite late, a small number of boats sufficient to transport only 350 men arrived and Colonel Thornton made the attempt, but the sun rose before the crossing could be completed, alerting the main American defensive line. Despite the late hour and the small number of men under his command, Colonel Thornton carried the American batteries by assault. Thornton’s occupation of the American battery positions now made an attack by Pakenham across the plain on the east side of the Mississippi River moot, as the British fleet could now sail up and land forces to General Jackson’s rear causing him to fall back on New Orleans. General Pakenham, however, ordered his original attack on the American defensive line to take place.
Lieutenant Colonel Whitby led his regiment in its attack on the British left but the left column did not have sufficient fascines to cross the ditches prepared by the Americans, nor did they have sufficient boarding ladders to mount the American works. The same was true on the British right and the result was a slaughter has British troops crossed the plain to be hung up at the ditches where they were shot down by the Americans. General Pakenham himself was shot down from his horse and killed at the head of the 44th Regiment and Generals Keane and Gibb were also severely wounded in the attack.
The British suffered significant casualties during the battle on January 8, 1815, with 285 killed in action, 1,265 wounded in action, and 484 captured. General Jackson’s forces only suffered 13 killed, 30 wounded, and 19 missing or captured. over 1,000 killed. Whitby’s Regiment, having already been reduced to half its original strength due to disease and exposure, suffered five other ranks killed, 2 sergeants and 16 other ranks wounded in action, and five officers wounded in action.
The British then had the difficult task of removing their wounded across unforgiving terrain without the benefit of any roads. The wounded were finally removed to ships, along with the baggage and stores, by January 17th. The remaining infantry then began its retreat on January 18th. The main body finally made it to the Chandeleur Islands. After an attack on Mobile, and the garrisoning of Fort Bowyer, the 1st West India Regiment under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Whitby returned to Barbados in early March. Unbeknownst to all of the participants, these actions, including the Battle of New Orleans in which the 1st West India Regiment distinguished itself, took place after the Treaty of Ghent was signed on December 24, 1814, ending hostilities. The participants, however, would have had no way of knowing that. And, as General Jackson said later in life, had the British been successful in taking New Orleans, they likely would have abrogated the Treaty of Ghent anyway.
Lieutenant Colonel Whitby would remain commander of the 1st West India Regiment until he retired on December 12, 1822, after which he returned to England. Whitby died in 1866.
This Commissioning document is historically significant because it contains the signature of King George III during the height of the Napoleonic Wars, the signature of the famous patron to world renowned British poet and artist William Blake, and is the commissioning document of one of the British commanders at the famous Battle of New Orleans. It is hard to find one document that contains so much history and so many different historical people and events.
The commission is vellum and is in very fine condition. The commission is mounted on glass with a blue border. The commission is mounted so that King George III’s Royal Cypher and then-Major Whitby’s name and unit can be seen on the reverse side. The vellum has been secured to the back with hot glue that can be reversed.