Biography of Lieutenant Andrew Playfair

Andrew PlayfairLieutenant Andrew William Playfair, born in 1790 in Paris, France, “son of William, the eminent author and inventor, was a distinguished soldier, writer, and Empire-builder.” 1 His father, William Playfair, “invented three fundamental forms of the statistical graph-the time-series line graph, the bar chart and the pie chart” 2 and a prolific author of political economy.

Lt. Andrew Playfair “was educated in Edinburgh under the supervision of his uncle Professor John Playfair and in 1806 joined the Volunteers” 3 defending England during the Napoleonic Wars. Playfair “became an ensign with the 32nd Regiment and in 1810 received a commission in the 104th Regiment after inventing a firearm which was greatly admired by the Commander-in-Chief, the Duke of York.” 4

In 1812, at the age of 23, Playfair left the United Kingdom for active duty in the Canadas (Upper and Lower) during the War of 1812-1815, arriving at Saint John, New Brunswick, early in 1813, as a First Lieutenant with the 104th (New Brunswick) Regiment of Foot. 5

On February 16th, 1813, the 104th Regiment of Foot was ordered to march to Quebec City, due to a “threat of an early American offensive.” 6 Approximately 575 soldiers and officers, 7 departed from Fredericton, New Brunswick, on a 55 day overland journey to Kingston, Ontario. During the winter of 1813, the 104th made one of the most epic marches “unparalleled in the annals of British and Commonwealth military history” 8 following the approximated route:

Fredericton to Presqu’Ile Military Post, to Fort Carleton (Grand Falls); onto Cabano and the Grand Portage to Rivière-des-Caps; along the St. Lawrence to Quebec City, staying for almost two weeks before ordered to Kingston via Montreal 9

They “marched on the rivers and lakes, the country being in a state of nature” 10 along the St. John and St. Lawrence Rivers. 11 According to Playfair, they walked single file on snowshoes, with toboggans to carry their provisions, through one of the coldest and snowiest winters enduring near -30° C temperatures: “the 104th set out…on snow-shoes, without a track, or mark on a tree, for a march of some hundred miles, with from four to six feet of snow under their feet, a dense forest in front, and naught but the canopy of Heaven over their heads.” 12 Most nights they had to build their own shelters from boughs of branches after walking over 20 kilometres each day. 13 “Their only barrier against the cold was a fire and a threadbare woolen blanket.” 14

Playfair and the 104th arrived in Kingston, Upper Canada (Ontario) around April 12th, 1813, hungry, sick, and frostbitten with at least one man dying along the way. 15 In May 1813, they fought the Americans at Sackets Harbor (New York), which suffered many casualties “with 21 killed and 65 wounded.” 16 On June 24, 1813, Playfair, an officer with the Grenadier and Light companies of the 104th Regiment of Foot, was present for the surrender of 500 Americans at Beaver Dams on the Niagara Frontier, after the British were warned by Laura Secord of a surprise attack. 17 According to Playfair in writing about the American surrender at Beaver Dams:

I had fourteen officers and 150 men given to my charge, which afforded me the gratifying duty of standing between the uplifted tomahawk of the infuriated savage with his trophied scalps reeking with gore, and the disarmed prisoners of war. We may admire, but none can fully appreciate to its utmost extent without experience, the sentiment of the immortal Nelson [referring to Vice Admiral Lord Nelson]. The moment a man becomes a prisoner, ‘I become his protector’. 18

The 104th (New Brunswick) Regiment of Foot was disbanded in 1817 at Montreal on 24 May 1817. 19

Playfair “became a major in the 2nd Battalion, the Lanark and Carleton Militia. He volunteered for service at the Front during the Rebellion of 1837, but his service was not required. Soon after he became Lieutenant-Colonel commanding the Lanark Rifles, an office he held until his death.” 20 He also authored military articles such as: Suggestions on the Defence of Canadas and the Most Economical Principals of Blood and Treasure (December 9, 1861); Suggestions on the Defence of Canada by the Formation of Flank Companies from the Sedentary Militia (June 1, 1865); and A Letter from a Volunteer of 1806 to the Volunteers of 1860 (1860).

For his military service, Playfair received approximately 300 acres of Crown land in the Perth Military Settlement in Bathurst Township. He established Playfairville, where he raised his nine children with his wife Sophia Cherry and built saw, grist and carding mills. 21 “Throughout the 1850s to 1860s, he was prominent in local and national affairs.” 22 As a Magistrate for several years, he was elected as a Member of the Legislative Assembly in 1857 representing the riding of South Lanark, 23 a four year term in the 6th Parliament of the Province of Canada (Old Parliament) from 1858-1861 under the joint premiership of George-Etienne Cartier (Canada West) and John A. Macdonald (Canada East).

Playfair wrote a Letter to the Editor of the British Standard dated January 20, 1862, entitled Comparison between the March of the 43rd Light Infantry in 1837 and that of the Late 104th Regiment in 1813, from New Brunswick to Quebec. Also: Remarks on the Best Winter Route for Troops from the British Isles to Canada, in the Depth of Winter, forty-nine years after the 104th Regiment’s historic walk from Fredericton to Kingston. In his letter he compares the 104th’s route during their march in 1813, with the 43rd Infantry’s 1837 overland journey writing:

The 104th had to halt every day about half-past two, to prepare for night. The first thing we attended to was to hang up everything for fear of a snow storm, then dig out the snow with our snow-shoes, which excavations looked like so many oblong cellars; we then stuck up brush at the sides and ends, cutting steps in the snow for our open door. The men cut down hard-wood and conveyed the same on hand-spikes, some of the timber ten inches at the butt, requiring 12 to 14 men on snow-shoes to carry the logs from the stump to the camp. We then laid a thick coating of fine cedar of hemlock brush to lie on; then lit the fires; the camp kettles were then hung on, some for pork, and some for tea, coffee, or chocolate; and as soon as ready, a voracious charge was made on the pork and biscuit. The evenings were spent in cheerful conversation; and bursts laughter were frequently heard from camp to camp – all good humour, happen what would – although it may be the brush which had overhung too much would take fire, and leave only the naked walls for the rest of the night, as was the case in the officers’ camp, the colours of the regiment having a very narrow escape. The bugle sounded two hours before day, to cook and eat (which towards the last was very ample time); and we moved off as soon as it was light enough to see that we did not leave anything behind. 24

Lt. Col. Andrew Playfair died in Playfairville, September 1, 1868. 25 The Playfair Monument with the War of 1812 Veterans plaque is located at Elmwood Cemetery in Perth, Ontario (GPS coordinates 44.91462N, 76.26151W [-76.26151]). Click here to read about the monument and here to open Elmwood’s historical walking tour brochure.


  1. Arthur Grace Playfair, The Playfair Book or Notes on the Scottish Family of Playfair, (Tunbridge Wells, Kent [England]: C. Baldwin, 1932), 77.
  2. Ian Spence, “Playfair, William (1759-1823),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, accessed April 16, 2013,
  3. Hugh Playfair, The Playfair Family, (Blackford, England: Hugh Playfair, 1999), 118.
  4. Ibid., 118.
  5. Ibid., 118.
  6. W. E. (Gary) Campbell, “The St. John River Society Commemorate Canada Grant Mapping the March of the 104th (New Brunswick) Regiment of Foot,” (St. John: St. John River Society, June 21, 2011), 30, accessed April 16, 2013,
  7. Ibid., 3.
  8. Ibid., 30.
  9. Ibid., 10-17.
  10. Andrew William Playfair, “Comparison between the March of the 43rd Light Infantry in 1837 and that of the Late 104th Regiment in 1813, from New Brunswick to Quebec. Also: Remarks on the Best Winter Route for Troops from the British Isles to Canada, in the Depth of Winter,” (British Standard, January 20, 1862): 3. Library of Archives Canada, AMICUS 8900046.
  11. Donald E. Graves, ed., Merry Hearts Make Light Days (2nd ed.), (Montreal: Robin Brass Studio, 2012), 94 Map.
  12. A. W. Playfair, 2.
  13. Ibid., 2.
  14. St. John River Society. “A Very Canadian Story—New Brunswick’s 104th Regiment of Foot,” accessed April 16, 2013,
  15. Campbell, 24-25.
  16. Ibid., 4.
  17. Heritage Canada, “Laura Secord, Heroine of Beaver Dams,” last modified July 7, 2013, accessed February 9, 2014,
  18. Andrew William Playfair, “Letter from a Volunteer of 1806 to the Volunteers of 1860, with suggestions on the Defence of England, her weakness and her strength.” (John Lovell, Canada Directory Office, 1860): 16. Library of Archives Canada, AMICUS 7068160.
  19. Campbell, 5.
  20. H. Playfair, 118.
  21. A. G. Playfair, 79.
  22. H. Playfair, 120.
  23. A. G. Playfair, 79.
  24. A. W. Playfair, 3.
  25. A. G. Playfair, 79.