William Leslie (British Army officer)

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William Leslie
File:William Leslie Gravestone, Pluckemin, NJ.jpg
Leslie's Gravestone
Born (1751-08-08)8 August 1751
Fife, Scotland
Died 3 January 1777(1777-01-03) (aged 25)
Princeton, New Jersey, United States
Buried at St. Paul's Lutheran Church graveyard
Pluckemin, New Jersey, United States
Allegiance  Kingdom of Great Britain
Service/branch  British Army
Rank Captain
Battles/wars American War of Independence

The Honourable William Leslie (8 August 1751 – 3 January 1777), second son of the Earl of Leven and Melville from Scotland, was a Captain in the 17th Foot of the British Army during the American War of Independence. He was mortally wounded during the Battle of Princeton and buried with military honours by American General George Washington at Pluckemin, New Jersey.

Early life

He was born on 8 August 1751 to David Leslie, 6th Earl of Leven and Wilhelmina Nisbet.[1] He was the nephew of General Alexander Leslie.[2]

During the summer of 1767, he became a friend of Benjamin Rush, who was then studying medicine at University of Edinburgh and had visited the estate of the Earl of Leven.[2][3]

Military career

In 1771, he joined the 42nd Highlanders. He next switched to the 17th Foot and was promoted to lieutenant in 1773, and to captain in 1776.[1] Sent to America in 1776, he served in the Battle of Long Island and the Battle of Fort Washington.[1]

On 3 January 1777, during the Battle of Princeton, he was one of many who died.[4] The British put his body in a wagon, that was later taken by the Americans. The following day, Rush, while treating the wounded at Princeton, learned of Leslie's death from British Captain John McPherson.[5] On 5 January, at Pluckemin, when General George Washington learned that Leslie was a friend of Rush, he ordered military honours for the burial.[5][6] The gravestone is in the graveyard of the former St. Paul's Lutheran Church (built 1757), where the Pluckemin Presbyterian Church is now located.[7]


The Death of General Mercer at the Battle of Princeton, January 3, 1777 by John Trumbull, with Leslie, shown on the right, mortally wounded

In The Death of General Mercer at the Battle of Princeton, January 3, 1777 the painter John Trumbull displays several events of the battle. At the centre, General Hugh Mercer, with his dead horse beneath him, is mortally wounded. At the left, Captain Daniel Neil[8] is bayoneted against a cannon. At the right, Leslie is shown mortally wounded. In the background, Washington and Rush enter the scene.[9]

After the war, Dr. Benjamin Rush placed a gravestone in Leslie's memory at the Pluckemin graveyard. As the original had crumbled, a replacement with the same inscription was erected c. 1836 by Professor Ogilby of Rutgers University[10] at the request of David Leslie-Melville, 8th Earl of Leven.[1] His gravestone is honoured by both British and Scottish flags.

In Memory of the
Hon.ble Capt.n WILL.M LESLIE,
of the 17th British Regiment,
Son of the Earl of Leven,
in Scotland.
He fell Jan.y 3.d, 1777 Aged
26 years, at the battle of
His friend, Benj. Rush, M.D., of
hath caused this Stone
to be erected as a mark
of his esteem for his worth
and of his respect
for his noble family


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Fraser (1890), pp. 350–1.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Fischer (2006), p. 311.
  3. Hawke (1971), p. 51.
  4. Fischer (2006), p. 331.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Hawke (1971), p. 180.
  6. Rodney, Thomas (1776–1777). Diary of Captain Thomas Rodney. pp. 39–40.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Ashton, Charles H. (26 July 1982). "NRHP Nomination: Pluckemin Village Historic District" (PDF). National Park Service: 17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Fischer (2006), p. 333.
  9. "The Death of General Mercer at the Battle of Princeton, January 3, 1777 (Descriptive data)". Yale University Art Gallery.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Honeyman, A. Van Doren, ed. (1919). "The Leslie Tombstone at Pluckemin". Somerset County Historical Quarterly. 8. pp. 230–1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


External links