A Blupete Biography Page


Samuel Vetch 1
(1668-1732).

Vetch came from a respected Edinburgh family, the second son of William Vetch, a leading Presbyterian minister. He and his older brother William gained military experience against the French in the fields of Flanders. With the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697 the brothers came to North America in order to fulfill the dream of a Scottish financier by the name of William Paterson (1658-1719); the "Darien Scheme." Paterson had made a name for himself in financial circles and had founded the Bank of England being one of its first directors in 1694. The supporters of the Darien Scheme, with the golden Spanish example on their minds, called initially for an English settlement in Central America and turning it into an entrepot of trade between the eastern and western parts of the world which short of the isthmus connecting North and South America was effectively cut off by a unimaginably huge and uncrossable land mass of the Americas. The tale of these enthusiastic adventure seekers in the jungles of Central America is separate from the one we tell at this place, but sufficient here to say that the tropical elements defeated the expedition. For the Vetch brothers it had to be a miserable and disappointing experience, indeed the older Vetch brother died in the effort.2

We pick up with Samuel Vetch in the year 1699, seeing him sailing into New York harbour with the starving survivors of the failed expedition. Vetch was much refreshed by what he found in New England especially after his wretched experience in the tropics. This young and viral Scottish officer was not to be kept down and soon he and the high society of New York were sufficiently impressed with one another, such that Vetch stayed on; and, in 1700, he married Margaret Livingston a member of a successful merchant family, a family of Scottish origins.3

Sam got himself involved in the family's business and soon found that the most profitable trading was to be had by dealing with the French at Quebec -- never mind that this constituted trading with the enemy.

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The authorities knew how friendly Vetch was with the French and so it was determined that Vetch might prove to be very valuable if he was to be part of a delegation that was sent to Quebec in 1705; he was to take note of the defences and condition of Quebec and report back. (Both English and French traders were quick to go to one another's capitals ostensibly to negotiate for the trade of prisoners when their prime object (on a personal basis) was to establish trade contacts.) Well, Vetch did what he was suppose to do (though the French were niggardly in respect to the number of prisoners they were willing to release) and, at the same time, he managed to combine business with espionage. While in Quebec Vetch made valuable French connections. Once home, business picked up considerably; but the British authorities drew the line when rumor had it that Vetch was shipping guns. He was tried and convicted in a Massachusetts court. He went to England and successfully argued that the Massachusetts court acted without jurisdiction. It is entirely possible that Vetch retorted, in a discussion with one of his betters regards the advisability of selling guns to the enemy, that frontiersmen needed guns for animals and Indians and that if the English had trouble with the French, their neighbors in North America, then maybe it was high time the British got a suitable force together and delivered a blow to Quebec sufficient to put that place and, effectively, the whole of North America under a British flag: And Vetch unabashedly asserted that he was just the man that could do it. He submitted a sweeping paper "Canada Suryed'd," in July 1708. Vetch, being the charmer that he was, before long, had the court of Queen Ann under his sway. "Supported by friends he had made among the Whig lords and by letters from several colonial governors, Vetch won the Queen's approval for the 'Glorious Enterprise,' a commission as colonel, and the promise of the governorship of Canada after it was taken."4

Returning to Boston in April of 1709, Vetch laid his plan before the colonial leaders. A great force was going to capture Quebec and by so doing cut the heart out of New France. Times passed and all waited for the promised ships, troops, guns and supplies. Weeks went by, and then months; the invasion planners were to be disappointed, for Britain, as it turned out, needed all her resources for the European theatre. Vetch went back to England to rescue the plan best he could. In the spring of 1710, he returned to New England with all the necessary authorities and resources necessary to mount an immediate attack on the French possession of Port Royal.

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This attack, as we may see from our narrative went well for the British, but Vetch still wanted to have a run at Quebec and continued to press the authorities for the necessary support so that he might do so. In the following year, a large British force under Admiral Walker and Brigadier-General John Hill -- Vetch was one of the commanders -- sailed up the St Lawrence, but returned without arriving before Quebec, as nine ships of the armada went up on rocks somewhere in the River; Walker who apparently had little stomach for the campaign used the lost of his ships as an excuse to retire without firing a shot -- a big disappointment for Vetch.

Vetch was described by Parkman as being "impetuous, sanguine, energetic, and headstrong, astute withal, and full of ambition."5 Whatever his personality, it was not one that suited Nicholson, Vetch's comrade-in-arms during the capture of Port Royal in 1710. Nicholson, for whatever reason, grew to despise Vetch and became a political enemy. Nicholson was named in 1713 to replace Vetch. Vetch sailed for England in April of the following year to see if he might retrieve his fortunes. He succeeded in getting his good name back, and, in 1715, became, once again, Nova Scotia's governor. Though involved, for a number of years, in advising the government on its associations with North America, he never returned to North America. During these times he pressed the government for compensation for all the money that he had personally spent on the maintenance of Annapolis Royal during its first years. During August of 1715, likely because of his continuing and pestering demands for reimbursement, he was replaced by Colonel Richard Philipps. And that was it for Vetch. A sad note: as was the case for those who owed money and couldn't pay in those days, Vetch was thrown into debtor's prison, there to die in 1732. He is buried at St George's church, in Southwark. His wife lived on, likely in the states for 30 more years. They had one daughter who married a Samuel Bayard of New York. There was grandson by the name of Samuel Vetch Bayard who came as a loyalist and settled in Nova Scotia; he died at Wilmot, Annapolis County in 1832; doubtlessly Vetch's line continues in Nova Scotia.6

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FOOTNOTES:


[1] We have scanned in an additional portrait of Vetch.

[2] For more complete particulars of Darien Scheme, its reasons for its failure and the involvement of the Vetch brothers: see NSHS, vol. 4, pp. 11-112; and more generally see Trevelyan's England Under Queen Anne, vol. 2, chapts. 12 &13.

[3] Margaret's brother, John, incidentally, was an accomplished Indian fighter; he was with Vetch in 1710 at the siege of Port Royal.

[4] DCB; and see Steele's Politics of Colonial Policy ..., p. 116, where we see that Vetch presented his plans to the Board of Trade during August of 1708.

[5] A Half Century of Conflict (vol. 1), p. 134.

[6] I see that there is a work apparently devoted to Vetch, Samuel Vetch, Colonial Enterpriser (Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1960) by G. M. Waller.

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Peter Landry
(1997)