A dirty, trifling, piece of business: Vol. 1: The Revolutionary War as Waged from Canada in 1781


504 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-1-55488-420-9
DDC 971.02'4





Reviewed by Dave Bennett

David Bennett is the national director of the Department of Workplace Health, Safety and Environment at the Canadian Labour Congress in Ottawa.


Gavin K. Watt is a founder of the Museum of Applied Military History in King City, Ontario, and the author of several books on the relationship between Canada and America in the Revolutionary War. His latest work covers operations in the northern U.S. in the year of 1781.

The aim of the British in Canada was to prevent the recruitment of New Yorkers into the American Continental Army and to divert American line regiments from major operations in the south to the defence of the northern states. The British, with their Native allies, raided deep and wide, but principally from Montreal and what is now southern Ontario and Quebec into New York. The main American defence line was a chain of forts, settlements, and blockhouses along the Mohawk and Schoharie rivers in mideastern New York.

And a dirty business it was, too: the British attacked civilians and settlements, destroying houses, farms, crops, provisions, and livestock. The killings, mutilations, and abductions were tempered only by the need to keep indigenous loyalists and dissidents on the British side. Rape, however, was rare and executions for treason, desertion, and spying on both sides the exception rather than the rule.

Gavin Watt has done a tremendous amount of original research in the documentary sources. The resulting narrative is a dense chronicle, week by week and down to the single day. With a plethora of colourful characters and places, some not shown on the maps, the story is often hard to follow. It would have been helpful to have seen the action from a single point of view, and who better than the able and enterprising governor of Canada, Frederick Haldimand.

The only exception to Watt’s voluminous primary research is over the most intriguing aspect of the struggle: the negotiations between Haldimand and the representatives of the Republic of Vermont (1777–179l). The paucity of research in the Vermont archives means that there is relatively little about the exploits of the wily Allen brothers and their army, the Regiment of Green Mountain Rangers, better known as the Green Mountain Boys.


Watt, Gavin K., “A dirty, trifling, piece of business: Vol. 1: The Revolutionary War as Waged from Canada in 1781,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 30, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/26904.