“The Hardships he labours under… in that severe Climate:” Environment, Seasonality, and British Military Operations in Northern Temperate North America 1756–1814

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Papers in Canadian History and Environment, no. 5 (March 2024): 1-45


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On August 5, 1791, the Admiralty granted Mr. John McEvoy, the Dispenser of Halifax Naval Hospital, an increased allowance for “Coals and Candles” on account of the “Hardships he labours under for want of an Allowance of Fuel in that severe Climate.”1 Admiralty perceptions of Halifax’s climate as “severe” aligned with perceptions that English colonists had had of the territory of the Wabanaki Confederacy (encompassing the colonial District of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Nova Scotia) since the seventeenth century. In this region, winter was seen as the defining feature and colonists relied on local Indigenous peoples for their knowledge and assistance to survive in the snow and cold.2 Settlers’ perceptions, and the places where they believed overwintering possible, influenced how the British Army and the Royal Navy viewed the region of the Greater Gulf of St. Lawrence and New England.3 Eighteenth-century reports of naval ships’ masters to the British Admiralty on Newfoundland and the Maritimes frequently mentioned “No Inhabitants remain here in Winter,” illustrating the continued seasonal occupation of territory by European settlers, especially those engaged in the fishing trade.4

Figure 1. Henry Popple, Composite: British Empire in America (London: William Henry Toms and R. W. Seale, 1733), with square indicating region under consideration in this paper. Map courtesy of David Rumsey Map Collection. Source: David Rumsey Map Center, Stanford Libraries.

I argue in this paper that winter cold—with its accompanying diseases, treatments, and logistical concerns—was the central challenge to British army and navy medical officers operating north of the Chesapeake from the mid-eighteenth century to the end of the War of 1812 (1812–1814). The temperature spreads in temperate North America were extreme even for the temperately acclimatized British, Irish, and Hessian troops who fought for the British Crown.5 Although such quantifications for the region would not have been generally available to eighteenth-century medical practitioners, research by historical climatologists suggests that Quebec temperatures between the mid-eighteenth century and the twentieth century were comparable, and that “Quebec experience[d] its lowest temperatures, and its coldest winters, during the early nineteenth century.”6 These swings from winter lows to summer highs do not account for variations in humidity, wind, precipitation, and other factors that characterize the human experience with cold and heat. Additionally, the temperatures and these other factors varied throughout the climatically non-homogenous space delineated above in figure 1.7 Familiar diseases of summer heat, especially falciparum malaria, were part of medical practice in these northern army and naval spaces.8 However, unlike their southern counterparts, the north was dominated by the threat of winter and its material necessities of warm clothes, extra blankets, nutritious food, and an increased demand for fuel for heating and light. Nor was the cold seen in a completely negative light. During the War of 1812, surgeon William Dent believed that the severity of the winter weather would completely destroy the malaria that had been prevalent among the troops in Kingston.9 To illustrate this contrast between northern and southern climates in army and navy medical practice, I will examine material, structural, and logistical responses to cold, as well as medical responses to frostbite and other diseases attributed to cold climates.

This paper addresses J. F. M. Clark’s 2014 call for historians to examine temperate zones of the British imperium by considering how army and naval hospitals and other military installations north of the Chesapeake responded to cold weather, especially the dangers of seasonality in contemporary medical thinking.10 Like others involved in settler colonialism and the imperial project, the army traditionally viewed different regions of the world as separate and distinct climates and attempted to ensure that their medical officers “have served in all Climates in every Station.”11 The Army Medical Board designed this practice to help facilitate knowledge acquisition in different parts of the empire so that medical practitioners could be sent to where there was greatest need.12 This practice contributed to the delineation of climatic zones and the differences between them regardless of seasonality.13 Therefore, despite warm summers, the climates of the northern colonies of British North America were defined by winter cold and the problems winter presented.

Winter, normally a welcome respite from the summer campaigning season for officers, medical practitioners, and troops,14 instead loomed as a threat in the North American theatre of war. For medical practitioners and military commanders, a lack of preparedness for winter could mean death and suffering for their troops. As such, in August 1778, military medical practitioner on site A. Mabane drew up plans for a special winter hospital in Montreal to house “120 or 130 sick” in a building rather than a tent.15 Mabane’s concern for winter continued the following year. Writing in correspondence about an outbreak of dysentery on transport ships in October 1779, he hoped that the outbreak would not spread “especially as the frosty weather has begun.”16 The winter weather, and in certain cases the accompanying freeze up, also forced medical practitioners to remain in place until spring even if they were ordered to go elsewhere.17 This was the case for regimental surgeon Mr. Menzies, who had been dispatched to care for sailors at Detroit but was called to rejoin his regiment in Trois-Rivières in February 1781. Surgeon William Barr wrote to the Adjunct General of the forces in Canada to state that it would be impossible for him to leave “at this Season of the Year.”18

The constraints and demands of winter medical practice experienced by Mabane and Barr in the temperate zones of North America deserve to be included as part of the wider narrative of British imperial medicine and understandings of climate. The torrid zone, a region between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, has long been the primary focus of scholars of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century medicine.19 The torrid zone was both the factory of imperial wealth and home of the deadliest diseases for European bodies.20 It was here where malaria and yellow fever could fell thousands of soldiers and impact the outcome of victory in battles between the French and British for imperial control.21 In 1979, historian Gary Puckrien called for an examination of the “climate-race-health nexus” that emerged in the eighteenth-century Caribbean.22 The intersection of climate, disease, and European perceptions of racialized and enslaved bodies in colonial discourses has continued to inform scholarship to the present day.23 While valuable, the full implication of the intersection between climate, understandings of health, and medical practice in the long eighteenth century will remain fragmented without a counterpoint in the temperate zones of the northern colonies, as shown in work by medical and environmental historians like Mary Dobson and Anya Zilberstein.24

By the Victorian period, British North America had become a locus of imperial science.25 By examining the work of medical practitioners in army and naval settings from the Seven Years’ War (1754–1763) to the War of 1812, this work joins other scholarship which acts as a bridge for historiographical understandings of imperial medicine between the early modern period and the formalization of scientific disciplines in the Victorian Era.26 Knowledge about climatic and health conditions that flowed between army and naval medical officers, their commanders, and officials in London formed the basis for understanding Canada during a pivotal point in the colonial imaginary.27 As Victoria Slonosky has demonstrated, British understandings of the Canadian climate before the Victorian period relied on “unpaid amateurs: individuals who funded their interest in science either through personal means or through their earnings in another profession, such as law, medicine, or the clergy.”28 The medical men of the British Army and Royal Navy thus formed a part of a wider imperial observational network.29

British Army and Naval Medicine in Northern British North America

The overarching framework for British naval medicine was the same in North America as it was in other parts of the Atlantic World. Ship-board injuries and illnesses were first handled by the ship’s surgeon. Only in cases where the ship’s surgeon did not believe cure or recovery possible under his care, when facing large numbers of casualties, or in cases of epidemics were the sick on ships of the line transferred to hospitals.30

The Sick and Hurt Board operated three primary hospitals in northern British North America. The first was in St. John’s Newfoundland, which had been established by the Sick and Hurt Board in 1725 to serve the Newfoundland squadron.31 This hospital was rebuilt by the Navy Board in 1778 during the American Revolution, as the original building was by that time “in so bad a state as to be incapable of Repair.”32 The new building was made of timber “cut in the Country” and cost £576 10s.33 It was quite a small institution, with only enough beds for 52 patients.34 The second Sick and Hurt Board hospital was in Halifax, where sick men had been landed for reception into private sick quarters since 1750, one year after the founding of the city.35 Increased need during the American Revolution led to the conversion of an army barracks on George’s Island into a temporary hospital in 1776.36 The importance of local commanders in hospital development can also be seen with the construction of the first purpose-built naval hospital in Halifax under the influence of Sir Andrew Snape Hammond, the Commissioner of the Halifax naval yard from 1780.37 Hammond pre-empted the navy’s Sick and Hurt Board’s decision to construct a hospital in Halifax and did so according to his own plan rather than that of the Board. This new hospital had the capacity to treat two hundred patients.38

Figure 2. James S. Meres, “The Hospital and entrance of Bedford Basin,” from “The Log Book of His Majesty’s Ship Pegasus,” 5–25 October 1786. Source: Library and Archives Canada, R5434.

With the commencement of the French Revolutionary Wars in the 1790s, the naval hospital at Halifax was once again put on a “War establishment” with a full complement of hospital staff.39 The final naval hospital was constructed in Kingston, Ontario, at the headquarters of the Provincial Marine. Sick and injured seamen had been treated in the army hospital built here by the Loyalists in 1783, with a purpose-built naval hospital opening in 1799. However, this structure was quickly abandoned in 1805, and by 1812, the Duke of Kent was pressed into service as a hospital ship at the beginning of the War of 1812.40 Plans for a second purpose-built hospital at Kingston were delayed in 1813 by the negative progress of the war in favour of the British, and patients were not received into the new hospital at Point Frederick until June 1814.41

In the case of the army, care for the sick and injured was divided between regimental and general hospitals. During the Seven Years’ War, army medical officers recognized that the current medical system was inadequate to handle the requirements of large-scale imperial warfare. Army regimental hospitals were designed to be small, movable, and able to deliver essential medical care. They were not necessarily equipped to handle the complex realities of massive battle casualties, amputations, and severe disease outbreaks. Serious wounds or epidemics might initially be assessed by a regimental surgeon, but casualties were then meant to be transported back up the line to general hospitals.42 Although for reasons of ventilation and familiarity of regimental troops with medical staff, most army medical practitioners still privileged the regimental hospital as the ideal medical arrangement. However, the decision of the Army Medical Board to construct standing general hospitals increased the capacity of the medical system to treat large numbers of sick and injured.43 General hospitals for the British Army were designed to be stationary institutions either within the British Isles or abroad while the army was on campaign. They could handle the influx of patients from larger battles that had overwhelmed the regimental hospital system.44 Under the direction of the staff branch of the army medical system, general hospitals were typically staffed by more experienced medical officers.45 General hospitals were spaces that, at least temporarily, resembled fixed hospital structures. While such permanence was possible in British North America, it was more common when operating in the British Isles.

Medical Views on Cold and Climate

Medical practitioners perceived the environment of North America as frequently inhospitable, even if it did not instill fear in British and colonial populations like that of the West Indies.46 Yet the climate of northern British colonies did generate concerns for medical practitioners.47 The primary concerns in this region, and the main hindrances to medical practice, lay in climatic extremes. In this way, army medical practitioners echoed the experiences of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century colonists.48 Historian Sam White explains that Henry Hudson’s voyages at the beginning of the seventeenth century brought back “new descriptions of extreme Arctic cold” to Europe.49 While these comparisons were countered by seasonal experiences with temperate New England summers, colonists needed to experience the hardships of winter in order to more accurately describe the climate of the region.50 In assessing the failure of the Popham colony in northern Maine, for example, White concluded that “the freezing winter was … a crucial factor behind so much that went wrong during the Popham colony’s brief existence.”51 As the severity of winter became ingrained in the climatic perceptions of the region, it became increasingly difficult to attract colonists.52

Such negative climate perceptions lingered even when warmer winters intervened between the series of cold winters in regions like Quebec between the early seventeenth and early nineteenth centuries.53 Some eighteenth-century settlers attributed patterns of warmer winter weather to the deforestation and hydrological change associated with European farming practices.54 Naturalist Samuel Williams argued that “from Nova Scotia to Florida, colonial farmers changed the weather, reducing the length and intensity of the North’s bitterly cold winters and the South’s sweltering summers.”55 Based on local weather and temperature measurements, Williams and other naturalists believed that the American Northeast had become more hospitable as the eighteenth century progressed.56 However, twenty-first century climate scientists relying on ice core samples and tree rings have developed computer models which show how throughout the eighteenth century “the Northern Hemisphere was subject to protracted winters and abbreviated, cool, and wet summers characteristic of the ‘Little Ice Age’.”57 Throughout the second half of the eighteenth century, British imperial agents “described the weather in New England and Nova Scotia as comparatively harsh, excessive, extreme, intense, rigorous, bitter and severe.”58 Indeed, Nova Scotia was often compared with Georgia as representative of British colonies with “extreme climates.”59

For army and naval medical practitioners, winter brought numbing and dangerous cold, while summer in the same regions could be oppressively and debilitatingly hot, especially for those practitioners stationed inland away from sea breezes. It was only in the climate of northern British North America that hospitals needed to be constructed to withstand harsh winter temperatures while still offering sufficient ventilation for the heat of summer. This was a great concern when the most vulnerable to climatic extremes were sick and wounded personnel.

Within eighteenth-century medicine, both environment and climate played a role in either helping or hindering medical recovery. Both medical practitioners and lay people Europeans believed that all bodies had a constitution. This constitution was based on the environment and climate in which the body developed. By the eighteenth century, the concept of bodily constitution had taken on aspects of a national identity, albeit one that was not as formally developed as in the nineteenth century. For instance, medical practitioners and colonists believed certain general characteristics made up the English constitution, the Scottish constitution, and so on, while bodies could also be influenced by an urban or rural environment.60 For those colonists born in northern temperate North America, the climate as a whole was seen as beneficial by both colonists and medical practitioners; however, that did not change the danger such a region presented to strangers.61 Belief in constitutional climatic acclimatization was one reason why a Georgian Loyalist feared being “frozen to death” once arriving in Halifax.62 Writing during the War of Spanish Succession, physician John Polus Lecaan detailed the influence of climate on the constitutions of British soldiers fighting in Spain and Portugal:

As in other Countries the Differences of Seasons produce different Effects in our Bodies; for by the more or less open, the Air more or less pure, Food more or less spirituous; so without doubt great Difference of Climate, or of Heat and Cold, is very prejudicial to all Strangers, and the Cause of numerous Distempers, especially to the English, who are very Irregular and Careless in their way of Living.63

Although the direct means of influence on the body changed from the pores of the body to other factors during the course of the eighteenth century, the general influence of climate remained unchanged.

By the time of the American Revolution in the late 1770s, commentators on health treated the differences between cold and hot climates as common knowledge. For example, William Fordyce noted in his 1773 A New Inquiry into the Causes, Symptoms, and Cure, of Putrid and Inflammatory Fevers that “in this commercial country every one has heard of the difference between hot and cold climates, of the unwholesomeness of some of our East and West India settlements, of the difference effects of heat and cold on our bodies.”64 At the same time, the British expected their army and naval forces to be able to operate in each of the extremes of climate that Fordyce described. Writing in 1798, William Blair suggested that experience with various climates allowed soldiers to move more easily from one climate to another: “the employment of a soldier obliges him to be abroad at all seasons. Habit therefore inures him to many changes which to others would be fatal.” Yet Blair cautioned, “precautions [needed] to be taken against un-healthy seasons, or situations, of which it behoves [soldiers] not to be ignorant. The effects produced by the weather on living bodies, principally depend on its degree of heat or cold.”65 However, awareness of climate extremes did not necessarily supply adequate preparation for those extremes, or lessen the challenges to army and naval medical practitioners and their medical installations in confronting different forms of ill-health in each.

Diseases of Cold and Their Treatments

Diseases of cold can be divided into two categories. First, those diseases that were a direct result of the cold weather. Second, those diseases which were exacerbated either by cold weather or the logistical challenges that cold temperatures presented. Frostbite was the only true aliment that fell into the first category in eighteenth-century medical thought. The second category was much broader and included scurvy, inflammatory fevers, and the worsening of the spread of infectious diseases such as smallpox due to overcrowding in indoor conditions during the winter months.

Frostbite was a common concern of army and naval medical practitioners in eighteenth-century British North America. Writing in 1806, John Pinkerton described the medical condition and its connection to the climate of Upper Canada: “The snow begins in November; and in January the frost is so intense that it is impossible to be out of doors for any time without the risk of what is called a frost bite, which endangers the limb: and the warm intervals only increase the sensation and the jeopardy.”66 If soldiers and European settlers were to survive with their limbs intact then precautions needed to be taken.

Preventative measures to keep soldiers and sailors warm were the first order of defence by medical officers. Army physician Donald Monro (1728–1802) recommended the use of fires for this purpose:

In North America, when the men were in the field in very hard frosty weather, fires were lighted at the ends of the tents, and centinels [sic] set over them to prevent their doing mischief; and both in Germany and North America, when the troops were in the field without tents, they cut down wood and made large fires, and the soldiers lay down and slept round these fires, with their feet next to them.67

Other army medical practitioners prioritized logistical concerns such as adequate winter clothing, blankets, and shelter. These everyday items were necessary to both life and the framework of preventative environmental medicine that characterized medical practice in the long eighteenth century.68

However, even with fuel and clothing frostbite still occurred in army life. The key to treatment was to slowly rewarm the affected area. Blair underscored the dangers of a fast transition: “if a man, or any part of his body, be benumbed or frost-bitten by extreme cold, it is highly dangerous to expose him suddenly to the heat of a fire: the certain consequence of such indiscretion, is general or partial death. Life is either extinguished by the sudden transition, or some part becomes livid and mortifies.” To preserve the limb and gradually warm the body, Blair recommend gently rubbing frost bitten areas with snow or immersion in “water so cold as to nearly freeze.” During this process, Blair prescribed, “small cupfulls [sic] of strong nourishing soup, but not very hot, may be given from time to time,” to encourage the body to warm from within.69

Frostbite could also impact men on board ships in northern British North America. Two men on board the HMS Shannon, Able Seamen William Smith and Marine Private William James, were put on the ship’s sick list for frostbite between February and March 1813 when the ship was anchored in Halifax harbour.70 Writing in 1808, American naval surgeon Edward Cutbush recommended a similar treatment: “The soldier, when he feels his hands or feet benumbed by frost, ought not to approach a fire except by degrees; they should be rubbed with snow or put into cold water, but never in hot.”71 Interestingly, with the exception of the advice to rub with snow, the sort of treatment advocated by Blair and Cutbush would not have been out of place with more modern first aid techniques.72

By the War of 1812 army and naval medical practitioners were familiar with the requirements of treating their patients in the cold climate of Canada and of preventing such ailments. Empirical observation was the first step in categorizing and ameliorating effects of cold. However, as within other branches of eighteenth-century medicine, prevention of the effects of disease where possible were just as important as medical treatment after the fact. Frostbite, as with many other diseases of cold, could be prevented through logistical channels that ensured adequate clothing, shelter, and fuel for heating.

Logistical concerns also framed the medical treatment of scurvy in northern winters.73 Although the mechanism that caused scurvy was debated in army and navy practitioner circles in the eighteenth century, the treatment for the disease – fresh fruit and vegetables – had been convincingly demonstrated in James Lind’s scurvy trials in the 1740s and through the success of the Royal Navy’s Victualling Office during the Seven Years’ War.74 For Lind (1716–1794) and army physician John Pringle (1707–1782), cold could also worsen scurvy. Lind believed that “cold damp lodgings contributed greatly towards its production; that its virulence was always increased by cold and raw exhalations from the wet and damp walls of houses; whereas people living in drier apartments were not equally subject to it.”75 By contrast, Pringle separated his analysis of scurvy into those worsened by weather on land and “marine scurvy,” which was not affected by moist cold sea air.76

Cold conditions could also be the indirect source of medical ailments. Army medical practitioners saw cold climates as the means through which inflammatory disorders began.77 For Monro, it was in “military hospitals, [that] fluxes were liable to be complicated with other disorders, as well as with the malignant fever, especially with coughs, and pleuritic and peripneumonic symptoms, when the weather begins to be cold, in October and November.”78 These sorts of inflammatory fevers would be much the same as inflammatory fevers in other temperate climates like Britain, but as with scurvy the cold would worsen the symptoms of soldiers.79

In conditions such as these it might seem that medical practitioners would be happy for their regiments to enter winter quarters. Yet this was not always the case. Quarters meant close proximity which, according to army surgeon Robert Hamilton (1749–1830), almost always accompanied another onset of disease: “In winter, and in quarters, we were more sickly; and I am certain that all inflammatory diseases are oftener [sic] found in quarters than in the field. This is a matter well deserving mature deliberation.”80 Epidemic diseases also spread more rapidly in close quarters as in the case of the smallpox epidemic across North America during the American Revolution.81

Even winter garrison and hospital spaces needed to be ventilated in order to ensure an environment free of contagion. Monro recounted how he had ensured that the army hospital in Bremen, Germany was properly ventilated: “In very cold weather, the opening of the small windows was sufficient; but in mild weather, and in summer, it was necessary to keep both open.”82 Naval medical practitioners like Gilbert Blane (1749–1834) believed that both nurses and patients wanted to avoid cold draughts.83 Blane, the former physician to the Channel Fleet, claimed that “the main principle of ventilation consists in admitting the fresh air somewhere near to the ceiling.”84 Allowing windows to open from the top, and a cross breeze to circulate at the ceiling “will be perfect; for the sick are thereby sheltered from direct streams of cold air, and the recent and vitiated exhalations from the living body having, by their warmth, a tendency to ascend, are effectually dissipated.”85 James Lind noted in his observations on ventilation that sick patients, especially in fever wards, did not complain about fresh air and wide open windows “as long as they had sufficient bedding.”86 Regardless of one’s preferences, medical practitioners saw fresh air and ventilation as key to preventative medicine and speedy recoveries.

Winter quarters illustrate the great paradox of eighteenth-century medicine in northern British North America; how to limit the effects of cold through logistical measures, warm shelter, clothes, and supplies, while privileging ventilation and the free movement of the same cold air that could cause deadly conditions.

Winter Hospitals

Winter hospitals demonstrate this tension of northern medical practice well. The need for adequate shelter and fuel alongside proper ventilation also illustrates another complication of army and navy medical life, the need to do everything as economically as possible. Oeconomy was not just economy or frugality in the eighteenth century but encompassed the proper moral management of finances and resources of households or organizations.87 The management of Quebec’s winter hospital illustrates this intersection of financial concerns, climatic understandings, and eighteenth-century medical practice. In a 1778 letter to General Guy Carleton (1724–1808), the commander of British forces in Canada, British army surgeon and hospital purveyor William Barr detailed the importance of establishing a winterized hospital in Quebec City:

Some few disbursements will be necessary to make [the building] a good Winter Hospital; but when Your Excellency considers that the expense is for the comfort & happiness of the poor Sick Soldier, I am persuaded the money will be no longer an object with you; besides I have to inform you that by having this house fitted up for a winter Hospital, you will save to the Public the following Rents which I formerly Paid.88

Barr believed that without proper winter facilities, the threat of exposure would hamper the recovery of the sick and wounded. Exposure could also cause further illness and debility. Recognizing these dangers, General Carleton dispensed £200 for the provisioning of a winter hospital at Quebec.89

In response to the same cold weather threats, a general hospital was established in Halifax in October 1778.90 By March of the following year, however, this general hospital had been replaced with a regimental hospital deemed “more Oeconomical, and equally beneficial.”91 This opinion was representative of the debate over the ideal way to offer medical treatment, but it also represented a change in how fuel, blankets, and other winter necessities were to be supplied. The British Government financed the provision of medical necessities to general hospitals as they did to garrisons abroad through a complex contract and logistical system.92 But the shift from general to regimental hospitals meant that these winter medical supplies would be sourced and supplied through the regimental supply system, not those of the garrison.

The inclusion of regimental hospitals within the regimental supply system can be seen in figure 3 below, from April 20, 1778. According to the estimate:

A Regiment Consisting of 612 Men, with the Compliment [sic] of Officers, will according to the present Establishment in America require 75 Rooms – Candles will therefore be wanted for 4900 Rooms which at a pound a Week for each Room, will amount to 127,400 pounds – 24,000 pounds will be wanted for Guards, Hospitals and General Officers, making in all 151,400 pounds, one third part of which to be mould Candles for the use of the Officers, the remainder to be dipt Candles, 10 to the pound.93

As can be seen here, regimental hospitals were clearly part of the regimental supply system for candles, just as they were for other necessities. Additionally, the estimate stated that these candles were to be sent from Ireland for the 1778–1779 winter season. George Clark, the Brigadier Master General, based in New York, sought to make up three-quarters of the candle supply needed by the regiments through purchase orders in America, as the supplies from Ireland might arrive too late in October.94 Thus even though regimental hospitals had access to the stores of the regiment they served, adequate supplies in these stores were not guaranteed through traditional means of transport from Britain.

Figure 3. “Estimate of the quantity of Candles necessary for 40,000 men for the 26 Winter Weeks,” TNA, PRO 30/55/20/57. Source: Author’s photograph.

Logistical considerations and complications represented one side of effective medical treatment in northern British North America. One of the primary needs in winter hospitals was adequate fuel for heating. In the Instructions for Naval Hospitals on Foreign Stations, under which all naval hospitals outside the British Isles fell, all hospital expenses were to be approved by the Admiralty, or commanding officer abroad, before a contract was signed.95 It is unsurprising that such bureaucratic procedures existed in the Royal Navy, an organization with global reach and strict economic oversight. Nor was the provision to require prior approval for financial expenditure merely bureaucratic. In many instances, surgeons, agents, and commissioners for the Sick and Hurt Board did not have enough cash on hand to pay for those items they had contracted for, and would need to rely on a treasury bill granted by the Admiralty or the commanding officer in port. Yet such procedures did not adapt well to rapid changes in weather that might necessitate increased spending.

One such case when increased supplies were needed occurred during the 1816 “year without summer.”96 According to climate historian Gillen D’Arcy Wood, the “Canadian subpolar region…, witnessed its coldest temperatures and greatest ice extent in 120 years of record keeping,” in the years 1816 and 1817.97 Environmental historians Liza Piper and Alan MacEachern have both described how Tambora’s impacts were particularly severe on the “less-developed British North American colonies.”98 It was during this time that Thomas Lewis, the surgeon to Kingston Naval Hospital, advertised in the Kingston Gazette for “Two hundred Cords of Fire Wood” to be delivered to the hospital in January and February 1816.99 Supplies for firewood or coal would normally have been laid on in the fall, before winter set in. The request for an additional two hundred cords of wood suggests that the naval hospital may have been close to burning through their entire winter supply of firewood by the beginning of January. Lewis’ instructions did not give a specific amount of money or fuel permitted for naval hospitals to use to heat the institutions over the duration of the winter. However, the Instructions for the Royal Naval Hospitals at Haslar and Plymouth allowed medical practitioners to request allowances for “the quantity of coals and candles, which you think requisite for the health and comfort of the Patients, according to the season of the year, and the state of the weather.”100 The request for more wood to heat the hospital indicates that Lewis’ estimates were insufficient.

Figure 4. John Lambert, “An Officer of the British Army and Merchant of Quebec in their Winter Dress” (1810). Library and Archives Canada.

It was not just the medical institutions that required special considerations in winter. Ordinary soldiers needed adequate winter uniforms in order to preserve their health in harsh climates. Donald Monro, who served during the Seven Years’ War at an army hospital in Germany, recommended that commanding officers ensure that all their men “be well provided with good strong shoes and stockings” and that extra socks and shoes “would be of great use to the service.” In more extreme and severe winters, Monro recounted that “it has been found of the greatest service to provide the men with fur or flannel caps with wings, which can be brought down to cover the ears and neck in very cold weather, and at night.”He further suggested that extra blankets be carried by regimental wagons for use in camp, and that “Both during this and in the late war the troops on the North American service have had a pair of trousers, or breeches with legs, which reach to their shoes … defending them against cold in winter, and against bites of flies, insects, and of serpents, in summer.”101 All of these provisions necessitated an increased expenditure by the state.

Monro’s recommendations also illustrate what had become the clear defining figure of army medicine in the Canadian climate: cold and how to deal with it. Soldiers would not die without long pants in summer, though they did of course provide a benefit, but without warm clothes, sturdy shoes, and minimized exposure to the ravages of winter, death was a real possibility. Surgeon of the First Regiment of Foot, Thomas Dickson Reide, recounts the onset of winter and the changes that brought to the troops in 1777: “The baggage of the regiment was sent round by the way of Sorel in bateaux. A very severe frost came on. Many of the men employed in this service were seized with coughs and inflammatory fevers, or had their extremities nipped by the frost.”102 It was only after the frost of winter set in that the health of the troops started to deteriorate.

Given the scarcity of new supplies of blankets and fuel, army hospitals were given priority in receiving necessary goods when such goods arrived. Captain Robert Mackenzie, writing in March 1778 about damaged rugs and blankets that had been received from on board the Nautilus transport ship, described how to best make use of the supplies:

The General approves of the Damaged Blankets being distributed during the Winter among the Refugees, Soldiers Wives, Children &c. taking for granted that you acted by the Order or with the Approbation of Sir Henry Clinton. But as to those remaining, he desires you may use every means to make them Answer for Barrack or Hospital Use at New York.103

Even when supplies were not in the best condition, the need for such items in hospital and barrack was so great that nothing which could be salvaged would be turned away. As Mackenzie’s account indicates, the needs of civilian Loyalists and the wider campaign community also bore consideration in the hierarchy of army needs.104

Fuel, Clothing, and Logistical Preparation for Winter

The best course of action for army commanders during the winter was to provide garrisoned accommodation for their troops. However, such accommodation was costly to construct and to heat. When General Carleton arrived in Nova Scotia in October 1782, he “found the works at Halifax in so bad order as to be prevented putting them in a proper condition before the setting in of the inclement season.”105 Carleton had hoped to be able to send coal to Major General Paterson’s forces based at Penobscot, but his transport ships had been attacked by the French while under convoy.106

Figure 5. Detail of Robert Sayer and John Bennett, “A General Map of Northern British Colonies in America” (London, 1776). Map courtesy of David Rumsey Map Collection. Source: David Rumsey Map Center, Stanford Libraries.

Since the start of the war the British had been attempting to extract coal from Spanish River [Sydney], Nova Scotia in the hopes of augmenting the scant supply of coal that was shipped from Britain.107 Wood, though plentiful, was contracted for at extortive prices.108 Then Commander-in-Chief of the war in North America, Henry Clinton (1730–1795), wrote to Major General William Howe (1729–1814) of the scarcity of fuel for the troops at Halifax in October 1778:

It is my duty to inform your Excellency of the extreme difficulty we labour under here in procuring a sufficiency of Fuel for the Winter, the quantity at present in Store will not be sufficient for the supply of the Troops (should the two Regiments your Excellency mentions your Intentions of sending Come) till the middle of January, And it will be hardly possible to lay in any Quantity of Wood, both from its extreme scarcity and its being risen to the enormous price of forty shillings the Chord.109

Predicting the impending fuel shortage, one hundred rank-and-file soldiers and their commanding officers had been sent to Spanish River with ten transport ships to bring coal back to Halifax. General Eyre Massey (1719–1804) had informed Clinton in September that the Halifax Deputy Quartermaster General “has pushed on the Coal business with Vigour,” in an attempt to secure adequate fuel supplies.110 Yet at the time of Clinton’s letter, “the Vessels are not returned, but when they do, I am afraid the assistance they will bring will be much short of what was expected.”111

The uncertainty of extracting coal from the Spanish River in sufficient quantity and expediency had a knock-on effect for New York. In March 1778, General Massey, “of Opinion that New York and Its Dependencies may be fully supplied with Wood for Fuel, by taking proper Steps,” ordered the garrisoned forces of New York to “lay in a sufficient Quantity during the Summer and Autumn for at least 10,000 Men.” Any supplies that could be had over and above this number “should be procured and may prove to be wanted for the Winter.”112

Massey’s decision may have been prescient, for at the same time that Clinton’s coal-laden transports were to be returning, a detachment of men ordered from Spanish River to Charlottetown was shipwrecked on Sable Island, “on which they have pass’d a most distressfull, and uncomfortable Winter.” When the weather improved a small boat departed for Spanish River in order to request a rescue ship. When the army commander “immediately hired a Vessel for their relief,” the ship “return’d with them in a few days, as also with the Crew of another Vessel who had met with the same Accident, the whole amounting to forty eight souls.”113 As this case demonstrates, shipping in the autumn months, the last opportunity to lay in supplies before winter freeze-up, was very dangerous due to storms. Meanwhile, the waters off the coast of Nova Scotia were filled with American privateers. With such a risk of capture and loss of cargo, commanders of hired transports could charge upward of £150 for the short voyage from Spanish River to Halifax.114

Yet despite the difficulty in mining and transporting the coal, the British Army’s venture at Spanish River was successful. By May 1779, 1,200 chaldrons of coal had been mined at Sydney, with the commanding officer at Spanish River predicting that 3,000 chaldrons would be available to be shipped by August.115 This was more than triple the amount of coal sent from England to British Army Headquarters in New York in 1778.116 However, it was far below the needs of headquarters, who also attempted to procure the additional fuel supplies needed from Halifax via Spanish River. Clinton directed Major General Massey at Halifax, to supply “as much Coal to be sent us from Spanish River as can be had.”117

Army preoccupation with the colder climate was not solely due to the health issues that the climate posed. Correspondence between military commanders and the headquarters of Major General Howe are filled with discussions of transportation issues of men and supplies during the winter months. William Legge, Lord Dartmouth (1731–1801) the secretary of state for the American colonies,118 wrote to Howe on September 5, 1775, both complaining about the “the great Risque [sic] & little advantage that are to be expected from the Army’s continuing at Boston during the Winter Season,” and expressing the desire to send twenty thousand men to Quebec “as early as possible in the Spring.”119 With winter travel extremely difficult, troop movements in anticipation of the coming campaign season needed to be completed before the first snows set in. Concern surrounding transportation to Quebec in the fall and winter months, when the St. Lawrence River could become impassable, also resulted in alternative arrangements to house troops in Halifax. A dispatch to army commanders in Halifax stated that:

if the 17th 46th & 55th Regiments should find the Passage to Quebec impracticable, & put into Halifax, & the 28th 46th & 55th Regiments should be obliged to remain there without being able to join the Army under your Command, it is intended that these four Regiments, together with the 27th, ordered directly to that Place should all go to Quebec as early as possible in the Spring…120

Similar recommendations for delay of troop movements are found in letters from 1777, 1778, and 1779 with the use of Halifax as a muster point for spring convoys to Quebec.121 During the winter of 1778–1779 both British and Brunswick (Hessian) troops had been quartered in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia and were still waiting in May 1779 to travel to Quebec.122 The reliance upon sea transport for troops and the inaccessibility of the St. Lawrence in the winter was therefore a significant issue for the British in the Northern theatre of war during the American Revolution.

Overland transportation of men and communications was near impossible during the winter and when it did occur it was hampered by heavy snow and large distances. John Campbell (1705–1782), the fourth Earl of Loudoun and colonel-in-chief of the Royal American regiment during the Seven Years’ War, reported to his superiors that he had been unable to file the regimental returns during the winter as “we are dispersed at such a distance, and the Snow is so deep, the Communication goes on very Slowly; and I have not been able to collect the returns.”123 The commander of troops stationed in Charlottetown in 1780, Simeon Hierlihy, petitioned for permission to attend to the affairs of his family in New York during the winter. In evidence to support his request he noted that he had not heard from his family since the start of the Revolution, and that “as this Island is surrounded with Ice in the winter to Prevent any Attempts from the Enemy, I think my absence cannot be prejudicial to the Service.”124 In February 1781, Barr the hospital surgeon and purveyor at Trois Rivieres, wrote to Captain Richard B. Lernoult, the army adjutant general, concerning the difficulty of Mr. Menzies to join his regiment. “As to Mr. Menzies who has the care of the Sailors at Detroit, it will be impossible for him to join His Regt. At this Season of the Year … I should hope the [Surgeon’s] Mate will be able to do the Duty of the Regt. Till the Spring, when a Mate from the Hospital can be sent to relieve Mr. Menzies.”125 Although the transportation issues described here may seem minor, they significantly hampered the day-to-day operation of the army and army medical care. The difficulty of transportation of men, supplies, and communications in winter coloured the view of northern British North America in the eyes of army commanders and medical practitioners. Canada in particular was inhospitable and difficult to endure in the winter months.

Preparations for the coming winter often began while the snow from the previous winter was still on the ground.  In March 1777, the War Office sought from army commanders “a List of such Articles as they think will be wanted in the Course of the Campaign, or during the Winter,” which was to be transmitted to “their Agents by the earliest Opportunity.”126 Such advance planning was necessary to get the supplies on to ships heading to North America in the late spring and early summer in order to ensure that they reached the men who needed them. Supplies that arrived in the autumn were of little use to troops stationed outside port towns and winter supply issues were rampant during the American Revolution. Brigadier General James Inglis Hamilton (1728–1803) as well as the commanders of seven regiments of foot and one regiment of royal artillery petitioned Major General William Phillips (c.1731–1781) in September 1778 for supplies that had not arrived yet the costs for which had been docked from their men’s pay: “That, as the men have not received from Government for three years past any Blankets or Caps, one Blanket and one Woolen Cap for each Man is now Absolutely requisite.”127 In the view of these commanders not only were their men well overdue for such supplies, but that the current clothing the men possessed would not be sufficient for winter in Cambridge, Massachusetts: “To supply the want of Cloathing [sic], we are also of Opinion that a thick double breasted Flannel Waistcoat with Sleeves, and a Blanket Coat of a good quality, for each man will be sufficient Cloathing for the Winter.”128 To add insult to injury, the supplies requested had been dispatched from England, but had been sent to Quebec, where they remained, while the troops such supplies had been destined for had been redeployed to Massachusetts.129

The winter clothing supply situation was even more dire for the Hessian regiments as the British were unwilling to finance requests for supplies without assurances that they would be covered for such costs by the Allied Princes. Hessian commander, Brigadier General Johann Friedrich Specht (1715–1787),130 described the difficulty of the supply situation, how the German troops had come to receive their winter blankets from the British, and petitioned for similar supplies to be granted again:

When the Troops went to America in the year 1776 (which is not upwards of two years & a half ago) as they passed by England, they received a Blanket & a Cap each man, as a very necessary Article in America. There [sic] Blankets have been used all the last Winter & Summer, were constantly carried upon the Soldiers backs, upon all marches, & by their being so often folded & unfolded, & by a long use, are become almost useless. As the Blanket is absolutely necessary to the Soldier, & as it is not possible that he can purchase it at his own expence nor can it be expected that the Duke of Brunswick will allow it to the Troops, & as his Majesty was so gracious as to give it, the first time to the men, we dare flatter ourselves, that through your means, Sir Henry Clinton will be induced to grant new Blankets & Caps to the Troops.131

Faced with such supply shortages, being forced to travel overland during the winter was a worst-case scenario. As in the case of the retreat, troops were exposed to the harshness of the winter weather without adequate clothing and supplies.


The effects of the interaction between the European bodies of British soldiers and sailors with the cold realities of the northern British North American winter were well understood within the eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century medical model. Drastic changes in temperature required the constitution of the individual body to adapt, a process that was required even if that body had come in contact with such a particular climate before. These northern regions had one defining characteristic—the potential for extreme cold—as southern regions had the potential for extreme heat. Both climatic extremes impacted British imperial aspirations and created significant challenges. Yet the cold of North America could only be combatted through sustained, constant attention to military logistics. In this sense logistical preparation and adequate supply lines were part of healthcare and medical provisions. 

With enough fuel, clothing, shelter, and blankets, the cold alone would not cause death. The truisms of this reality could give rise to the categorization of diseases of cold as merely logistical and diseases of heat as requiring medical intervention. Yet classifying the hardships of the eighteenth-century Canadian climate as logistical hurdles for the army and navy to overcome simplifies how medical officers conceived of the dangers of both hot and cold extremes. For British army and naval medical practitioners, logistics were just as important in the yellow fever-ravaged torrid zone as they were in the frost-bitten north; both were two sides of the same preventative medicine coin. Those soldiers and sailors who fell sick during the summer heat of the temperate zone also needed to be fed, clothed, and tended to with surgery and medical treatments. Winter’s dangers from cold temperatures meant special medical and preventative items, such as clothing, fuel, and medicine had to be laid in to help the sick, injured, and ordinary healthy soldiers make it through the long harsh season. This paper demonstrates the importance of putting the realities of medical practice in northern temperate climates in conversation with the situation in other parts of the growing British empire. Medical officers were expected to be fluent in the climatic characteristics of all potential theatres of war. Although British military and naval medical practitioners did not discuss the seasoning of the body that must take place in the Canadian climate in the same way that they did elsewhere, this does not mean that the climatic framework of eighteenth-century imperial medicine did not apply in North America. The cold brought its own distinct diseases, such as frostbite and inflammatory fevers, and exacerbated contagious epidemics like smallpox, all of which had distinct medical treatments. Meanwhile, hospitals and other military installations had to be constructed with capabilities to withstand the winter weather, while maintaining a ventilated environment crucial to perceptions of an eighteenth-century healthy, healing environments—even if snow could drift through open windows.

[1] Admiralty to Commissioners for Taking Care of Sick and Hurt Seamen, 5 August 1791, “Sick and Hurt Board In-Letters and Orders 1784–1793,” National Maritime Museum (NMM), ADM/E/44A.
[2] Thomas Wickman, Snowshoe Country: An Environmental and Cultural History of Winter in the Early American Northwest (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 13–15; Jack Bouchard, “‘Gens sauvages et etranges’: Amerindians and the Early Fishery in the Sixteenth-Century Gulf of St. Lawrence,” in The Greater Gulf: Essays on the Environmental History of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, eds. Claire E. Campbell, Edward MacDonald, and Brian Payne (Montreal and Kingston: McGill Queen’s University Press, 2019), 54. Unfortunately, a detailed discussion of the interaction between military personnel and Indigenous peoples is out of the scope of this paper. For more on this important subject, see Chad Anderson, “Rediscovering Native North America,” Early American Studies 14, no. 3 (2016): 478–505; M. C. Ward, “‘The European Method of Warring is Not Practiced Here’: The Failure of British Military Policy in the Ohio Valley, 1755–1759,” War in History 4, no. 3 (1997): 247–63; Robert Allen, His Majesty’s Indian Allies: British Indian Policy in the Defence of Canada, 17741815 (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1992).
[3] The concept of the “Greater Gulf of St. Lawrence” ties together geography, marine environments, ecologies, and economic and political relationships in the region. See Claire E. Campbell, Edward MacDonald, and Brian Payne, “Introduction: Environmental History in the Greater Gulf,” in Campbell, MacDonald, and Payne, The Greater Gulf, 4–5.
[4] For a description of Harbour Breton, Newfoundland, see “HMS Pearl: assigned ‘Charles Saxton, Captain’, ‘George Callender, Master’ and ‘Innes & Co [Attorneys]’; Newfoundland and Gulf of St Lawrence to England,” 1 January 1764 to 31 December 1764, The National Archives of the UK (TNA), ADM 346/21/8. Writing from Port Aux Basques: “There is a Good fishery carried on here but very small not above one Vessel loaded in a year. The Merchant that has the fishery returns to Europe every year, not above two families live here in the Winter,” TNA, ADM 346/21/8. See also “HMS Guernsey: assigned ‘James Chads Esq Commander’ and ‘Joseph Gilbert’; North America, NE Coast,” 29 March 1766 to 1 May 1767, TNA, ADM 346/11/28; “HMS Guernsey: assigned ‘James Chads Esq Commander’, ‘Joseph Gilbert’ and ‘F. Cooke’; North America, NE Coast to England, S Coast,” 6 May 1767 to May 1768, TNA, ADM 346/11/29; “HMS Glasgow: assigned ‘William Allen Esq Commander’ and ‘Thomas Grason’; England, S Coast to United States, E Coast, Gulf of St Lawrence including Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island,” May 1767 to 31 July 1768, TNA, ADM 346/11/31.
[5] Jan Golinski, British Weather and the Climate of Enlightenment (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007),57–58.
[6] Sam White, A Cold Welcome: The Little Ice Age and Europe’s Encounter with North America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017), 186.
[7] For simplicity, I refer to this region as northern British North America throughout the paper.
[8] F. Ellis McKenzie et al., “Seasonality, parasite diversity, and local extinctions in Plasmodium Falciparum malaria,” Ecology 82, no. 10 (2001): 2677–78; Gabrielle McLaren, “‘Not so very fine and healthy as has been reported’: Settlers, Malaria, and the Construction of the Rideau Canal (1826–1832)” (master’s thesis, University of Concordia, 2022), 35; Darrett B. Rutman and Anita H. Rutman, “Of agues and fevers: malaria in the early Chesapeake,” in Biological Consequences of the European Expansion, 14501800, vol. 26,eds. Kenneth Kiple and Stephen Beck (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1997), 203–32; Mary Dobson, “Mortality Gradients and Disease Exchanges: Comparisons from Old England and Colonial America,” Social History of Medicine 2, no. 3 (1989): 259–97.
[9] William Dent to Mother, 10 October 1814. Wellcome Library, RAMC/536.
[10] J. F. M. Clark, “The Landscape of Canadian Environmental History: Canada and the British Empire; From the Other Side of the Ocean: Environment and Empire,” Canadian Historical Review 95, no. 4 (2014): 576.
[11] War Office to Lord Amherst, 29 August 1793, “War Office and Predecessors: Various Departmental Out-Letters. Medical Department General 1793,” TNA, WO 7/98, 30.
[12] War Office to Matthew Lewis Esq, 4 January 1782, “War Office and Predecessors Out-Letters Medical Department Jan 1781–Dec 1789,” TNA, WO 7/96.
[13] Suman Seth characterizes this process as “the medical mapping of empire,” in Difference and Disease: Medicine, Race, and the Eighteenth-Century British Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 11. Seasons are also used to characterize Assistant Surgeon John Douglas’ understanding of Upper Canada. John Douglas, The Medical Topography of Upper Canada (London: Burgess and Hill, 1819),25–34.
[14] Azar Gat, “What Constituted the Military Revolution of the Early Modern Period?” in War in an Age of Revolution, 17751815, eds. Roger Chickering and Stig Förster (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010),45.
[15] William Barr to Captain Le Masstre, 27 August 1778, “War Office Headquarters Records: America 1775–1785,” University of New Brunswick (UNB) Libraries, WO 28/6, MIC-Loyalist FC LMR.G7 W3 A4 H4.
[16] A. Mabane to Headquarters, 11 October 1778, UNB Libraries, MIC-Loyalist FC LMR.G7 W3 A4 H4.
[17] Wickman speaks of how many colonial settlers also thought of the first frost as the end of the traveling season. See Wickman, Snowshoe Country, 1.
[18] William Barr to Captain Lernoult, 9 February 1781, UNB Libraries, MIC-Loyalist FC LMR.G7 W3 A4 H4.
[19] For discussion of the torrid zone in British thought from the Enlightenment to the Victorian period, see Dustin Valen, “Imperial Atmospheres: Race and Climate Control on the Niger,” ABE Journal: Architecture Beyond Europe 17 (2020): para. 2–3. https://doi.org/10.4000/abe.8106.
[20] Mark Harrison, “‘The Tender Frame of Man’: Disease, Climate, and Racial Difference in India and the West Indies, 1760–1860,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 70, no. 1 (1996): 68–71; Philip Curtin, “‘The White Man’s Grave’: Image and Reality, 1780–1850,” The Journal of British Studies 1, no. 1 (1961): 94. On the tension between profitability and vulnerability of European bodies to tropical diseases, see Mark Harrison, Medicine in an Age of Commerce and Empire: Britain and Its Tropical Colonies 1660–1830 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 89–115; Kathryn Olivarius, Necropolis: Disease, Power, and Capitalism in the Cotton Kingdom (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2022), 11–15.
[21] Erin Spinney, “Environment,” in A Cultural History of Medicine in the Enlightenment, ed. Lisa Smith (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2021), 13–28; Erica Charters, Disease, War, and the Imperial State: The Welfare of the British Armed Forces during the Seven Years’ War (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2014), 53–86; Karen Ordahl Kupperman, “Fear of Hot Climates in the Anglo-American Colonial Experience,” in Biological Consequences of European Expansion, 1450–1800,eds. Kenneth F. Kiple and Stephen V. Beck (Aldershot: Variorum Expanding World Series, 1997), 175–202. For perceived differences between European and non-European bodies in army and navy settings, see Wendy Churchill, “Efficient, Efficacious and Humane Responses to Non-European Bodies in British Military Medicine, 1780–1815,” The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 40, no. 2 (2012): 137–58; R. Norman Buckley, Slaves in Red Coats: The British West Indian Regiments, 17951815 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), 2; R. Norman Buckley, The British Army in the West Indies: Society and the Military in the Revolutionary Age(Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press), 99; Peter Voelz, Slave and Soldier: The Military Impact of Blacks in the Colonial Americas (New York: Garland Publishing, 1993), vi. On ideas of immunity for European and non-European bodies in army and navy settings, see Todd Braisted, “The Black Pioneers and Others: The Military Role of Black Loyalists in the American War for Independence,” in Moving On: Black Loyalists in the Afro-Atlantic World, ed. John Pullis (New York: Garland Publishing, 1999), 8–11; Jeffrey Bolster, Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 58–59. Norris Saakwa-Mante “Western Medicine and Racial Constitutions: Surgeon John Atkins’ theory of polygenism and sleepy distemper in the 1730s” in Race, Science and Medicine, 17001960, eds. Wlatranld Ernst and Bernard Harris (London and New York: Routledge, 1999), 29–30.
[22] Gary Puckrein, “Climate, Health, and Black Labor in the English Americas,” Journal of American Studies 13, no. 2 (1979): 180.
[23] Richard Sheridan, Doctors and Slaves: A Medical and Demographic History of Slavery in the British West Indies, 16801834 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985); Kenneth Kiple, The Caribbean Slave: A Biological History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984); Roxanne Wheeler, The Complexion of Race: Categories of Difference in Eighteenth Century British Culture (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000); Kathleen Wilson, The Island Race: Englishness, Empire and Gender in the Eighteenth Century (New York: Routledge, 2003), 6–15. Sean Morey Smith and Christopher D. E. Willoughby, “Introduction: Healing and the History of Medicine in the Atlantic World,” in Medicine and Healing in the Age of Slavery, eds. Sean Morey Smith and Christopher D. E. Willoughby (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2021), 1–20; Suman Seth, Difference and Disease; Katherine Johnston, The Nature of Slavery: Environment and Plantation Labor in the Anglo-American World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2022).
[24] Anya Zilberstein, A Temperate Empire: Making Climate Change in Early America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016) esp. 91–117.For the importance of comparison between temperate regions in North America and the West Indies, see Mary Dobson, “Mortality Gradients,” 260–62.
[25] Suzanne Zeller, Inventing Canada: Early Victorian Science and the Idea of a Transcontinental Nation (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989), 5–9; Suzanne Zeller, “The Colonial World as a Geological Metaphor: Strata(gems) of Empire in Victorian Canada,” in Nature and Empire: Science and the Colonial Enterprise, ed. Roy MacLeod (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 87–93; Roy MacLeod, “Introduction,” in MacLeod, Nature and Empire, 5–6.
[26] Victoria C. Slonosky, Climate in the Age of Empire: Weather Observers in Colonial Canada (Boston: American Meteorological Society, 2018); Jan Golinski, “American Climate and the Civilization of Nature,” in Science and Empire in the Atlantic World,eds. James Delbourgo and Nicholas Dew (New York and London: Routledge, 2008) 153–76; Christopher L. Pastore, Between Land and Sea: The Atlantic Coast and the Transformation of New England (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014), esp. 161–95. For connections between colonial medical practitioners and geographers, see David Livingstone, “Human Acclimatization: Perspectives on a Contested Field of Inquiry in Science, Medicine, and Geography,” History of Science 25, no. 4 (1987): 360–61.
[27] The colonial imaginary of a place could also have conflicting accounts. See discussion of Nova Scotia as either a temperate paradise for agriculture or an icy nightmare: Alexandra L. Montgomery, “Barren Icy Rocks or a Nursery of Seamen? Debating Nova Scotia and Ideologies of Empire in the Era of the American Revolution,” in Reappraisals of British Colonisation in Atlantic Canada, 17001930, eds. S. Karly Kehoe and Michael E. Vance (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020), 25–26; Zilberstein, A Temperate Empire, 123–28.
[28] Victoria C. Slonosky, Climate in the Age of Empire: Weather Observers in Colonial Canada (Boston: American Meteorological Society, 2018), 6.
[29] Slonosky, 5–6; For how this network evolves into the nineteenth century, see Kristen A. Greer, Red Coats and Wild Birds: How Military Ornithologists and Migrant Birds Shaped Empire (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2020).
[30] Brian Vale and Griffith Edwards, Physician to the Fleet: The Life and Ties of Thomas Trotter 17601832 (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 2011), 24–29.
[31] Tricia Munkittrick, “A Nursery for Seamen: Life Histories from the St. John’s Royal Naval Hospital Cemetery, Newfoundland” (master’s thesis, Memorial University, 2015), 41.
[32] Admiralty to the Commissioners for taking care of Sick and Hurt Seamen, 4 March 1778, “Sick and Hurt Board, In-Letters and Orders Jan 1 1775–Dec 31 1780,” NMM, ADM/E/42.
[33] Admiralty to the Commissioners for taking care of Sick and Hurt Seamen, 4 March 1778, NMM, ADM/E/42.
[34] Admiralty to the Commissioners for taking care of Sick and Hurt Seamen, 21 March 1778, NMM, ADM/E/42.
[35] Julian Gwyn, Ashore and Afloat: The British Navy and the Halifax Naval Yard Before 1820 (Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2004), 43. For more on the practice of private sick quarters, see Matthew Neufeld and Blaine Wickham, “The State, the People, and the Care of Sick and Injured Sailors in Stuart England,” Social History Medicine 28, no. 1 (2015): 45–63.
[36] Gwyn, Ashore and Afloat, 43.
[37] Gwyn, 44. J. K Laughton and Nicholas Tracy, “Digby, Robert,” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/7632.
[38] Gwyn, Ashore and Afloat, 43.
[39] Rear Admiral Murray to Mr. Stephens [Secretary to the Admiralty], 27 September 1794, “Sick and Hurt Board, In-Letters and Orders 1794–1796,” NMM, ADM/E/45.
[40] Gareth Newfield, “Naval Medical Operations at Kingston during the War of 1812,” Canadian Military History 18, no. 1 (2009): 37–38.
[41] Newfield, “Naval Medical Operations at Kingston,” 38; “Hospital Muster Books, Kingston,” TNA, ADM 102/466.
[42] Martin Howard, Wellington’s Doctors: The British Army Medical Services in the Napoleonic Wars (Stroud, Gloucestershire: The History Press, 2008), 113. Paul E. Kopperman, “The British Army in North America and the West Indies, 1755–83: A Medical Perspective,” in British Military and Naval Medicine, 16001830, ed. Geoffrey L. Hudson (Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2007), 52–54.
[43] James McGrigor, “Sketch of the Medical History of the British Armies in the Peninsula of Spain and Portugal, During the Late Campaigns,” Medico-Chirurgical Transactions (1815), 465.
[44] This practice did not always work as many general hospitals became just as overwhelmed with casualties as the regimental system. In July 1809, both the General Hospital at Lisbon and the regimental hospitals were swamped with patients from a malaria outbreak, wherein three thousand men were hospitalized, and the battle of Talavera, which had wounded fifteen hundred men. As a result, six thousand sick and wounded were sent to the general hospital and three thousand were cared for within the regimental system. By November 1809, James McGrigor urgently wrote to the secretary of state and the commander-in-chief decrying the lack of surgeon’s mates to dress the wounded and staff regimental hospitals, as the regimental surgeons and their assistants had been pulled into duty at the general hospital. See Matthew Kaufman, Surgeons at War: Medical Arrangements for the Treatment of the Sick and Wounded in the British Army during the Late 18th and 19th Centuries (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2001), 64–65.
[45] Richard L. Blanco, “The development of British military medicine,” Military Affairs 38 (1974), 5.
[46] “It was commonly believed that the English could thrive only in moderate circumstances, at the mean of heat and cold, high land and low … At the worst, English people might die, even at 40 degrees of latitude.” See Karen Ordahl Kupperman, “The Puzzle of the American Climate in the Early Colonial Period,” American Historical Review 87, no. 5 (1982): 1266.
[47] Karen Ordahl Kupperman, “Fear of Hot Climates in the Anglo-American Colonial Experience,” William and Mary Quarterly 41, no. 2 (1984): 215. This included an increased tendency to drink spirituous liquors for their warming effects. See Renée Lafferty, “’The Vice of a Cold Climate’: Drink and Soldiering on Niagara’s Wartime Frontier (1812–14),” Social History of Alcohol and Drugs 27, no. 1 (2013): 5–6.
[48] Wickman, Snowshoe Country, 238–39.
[49] Sam White, A Cold Welcome: The Little Ice Age and Europe’s Encounter with North America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017), 135.
[50] White, A Cold Welcome, 140; Karen Ordahl Kupperman, “The beehive as a model for colonial design,” in America in European Consciousness, 14931750, ed. Karen Ordahl Kupperman (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995), 282.
[51] White, A Cold Welcome, 145–46.
[52] White, 146, 200–1, 207.
[53] White, 187.
[54] Slonosky, Climate in the Age of Empire, 27; Wickman, Snowshoe Country, 90, 237.
[55] Cited in Zilberstein, A Temperate Empire, 1.
[56] Zilberstein, 2. This belief could have been influenced by what Michael Munger described as the “local layer” of environmental consciousness. “The environmental consciousness of the early 19th century envisioned the world existing in two distinct layers: a local layer representing peoples’ immediate surroundings and their everyday experience of climate and weather, and a broader layer encompassing everything beyond the local, up to and including the heavens and the cosmos.” Michael Munger, “Ten Years of Winter: The Cold Decade and Environmental Consciousness in the Early 19th Century” (PhD Diss., University of Oregon, 2017), 5.
[57] Zilberstein, A Temperate Empire, 3; For more information of the tension between the “natural archive” and the “human archive,” see Geoffrey Parker, Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century, rev. ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017), xiv.
[58] Zilberstein, A Temperate Empire, 6.
[59] Zilberstein, 94.
[60] Andrew Wear, “The Prospective Colonist and Strange Environments: Advice on Health and Prosperity,” in Cultivating the Colonies: Colonial States and Their Environmental Legacies,eds. Christina Folke Ax et al. (Columbus, OH: Ohio University Press, 2011), 20–22.
[61] Parker, Global Crisis,332; Dobson, “Mortality Gradients,” 261–62.
[62] As quoted in Zilberstein, A Temperate Empire, 94.
[63] John Polus Lecaan, Advice to the gentlemen in the army of Her Majesty’s forces in Spain and Portugal: with a short method how to preserve their health (London, 1708), 4.
[64] William Fordyce, A New Inquiry into the Causes, Symptoms, and Cure, of Putrid and Inflammatory Fevers (London, 1773), 21–22; G. T. Bettany and Caroline Overy, “Fordyce, Sir William,” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/9880.
[65] William Blair, The Soldier’s Friend: or, The Means of Preserving the Health of Military Men; Addressed to the Officers of the British Army (London, 1798), 53; Thompson Cooper, “Blair, William,” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/2574.
[66] John Pinkerton, Modern Geography: A Description of the Empire, Kingdoms, States, and Colonies, 2nd ed.(London: T. Cadell and W. Davies, 1806), 550.
[67] Donald Monro, Observations on the Means of Preserving the Health of Soldiers, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (London, 1780), 11; Claire E. J. Herrick, “Monro, Donald,” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/18969.
[68] James Kennaway and Rina Knoeff, “‘The most valuable part of medicine’: The six non-naturals in the long eighteenth-century,” in Lifestyle and Medicine in the Enlightenment: The Six Non-Naturals in the Long Eighteenth Century, eds. James Kennaway and Rina Knoeff (London and New York: Routledge, 2020), 1–16.
[69] Blair, The Soldier’s Friend, 57–58.
[70] “Medical and surgical journal of HMS Shannon by Alexander Jack,” 30 July 1812 to 29 July 1813, TNA, ADM 101/120/3A/2. This was the same HMS Shannon that famously captured the USS Chesapeakeon June 1, 1813. Gene Allen Smith, “The Naval War of 1812 and the Confirmation of Independence, 1807–1815,” in American Sea Power and the World, 2nd ed., eds. James C. Bradford and John F. Bradford (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2023),49.
[71] Emphasis in original. Edward Cutbush, Observations on the Means of Preserving the Health of Soldiers and Sailors: And on the Duties of the Medical Department of the Army and Navy (Philadelphia: Thomas Dobson, 1808), 74.
[72] “Frostbite and Hypothermia,” American Red Cross (March 2007), https://www.redcross.org/content/dam/redcross/atg/PDF_s/Preparedness___Disaster_Recovery/Disaster_Preparedness/Winter_Storm/Frostbite_and_Hypothermia.pdf
[73] Erica Charters, “Disease, Wilderness Warfare, and Imperial Relations: The Battle for Quebec, 1759–1760,” War in History 16, no. 1 (2009): 7; Charters, Disease, War, and the Imperial State, 120–41.
[74] Charters, Disease, War, and the Imperial State, 22–24; Michael Bartholomew, “Lind, James,” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/16669; James Lind, A Treatise of the Scurvy: In Three Parts (London, 1753), 272–73.
[75] Lind, Treatise of the Scurvy, 112.
[76] John Pringle, Observations on the Diseases of the Army, 7th ed. (London, 1774), 8–9; J. S. G. Blair, “Pringle, Sir John, first baronet,” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/22805.
[77] Monro, Observations on the Means of Preserving the Health of Soldiers, 6.
[78] Monro, 368.
[79] Pringle, Observations on the Diseases of the Army, 125–26.
[80] Robert Hamilton, The Duties of a Regimental Surgeon Considered, vol. 1 (London, 1794), 277; Charles Creighton and Paul E. Kopperman, “Hamilton, Robert,” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/12122.
[81] Elizabeth Fenn, Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 177582 (New York: Hill and Wang, 2001), 78.
[82] Monro, Observations on the Means of Preserving the Health of Soldiers, 109.
[83] J. Wallace, “Blane, Sir Gilbert, first baronet,” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/2621. Historian Kevin Brown characterized Gilbert Blane and Thomas Trotter as “Lind’s most prominent followers” in both his views on ventilation and the causes of scurvy. See Kevin Brown, Poxed and Scurvied: The Story of Sickness and Health at Sea (Barnsley, UK: Seaforth Publishing, 2011), 67.
[84] Gilbert Blane, Select dissertations on several subjects of medical science (London: Thomas and George Underwood, 1822), 137.
[85] Blane, Select dissertations on several subjects, 137–38.
[86] Lind, Most Effectual Means of Preserving the Health of Seamen, 334–35.
[87] Karen Harvey, The Little Republic: Masculinity & Domestic Authority in Eighteenth-Century Britain, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012),22.
[88] William Barr to Guy Carleton, 25 August 1778, UNB Libraries, MIC-Loyalist FC LMR.G7 W3 A4 H4; James Sturgis, “Carleton, Guy, first Baron Dorchester,” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/4674.  
[89] William Barr to Captain Le Masstre, 27 August 1778, UNB Libraries, MIC-Loyalist FC LMR.G7 W3 A4 H4.
[90] Francis McLean to Henry Clinton, 24 October 1778, TNA, PRO 30/55/88/15.
[91] Francis McLean to Henry Clinton, 7 March 1779, TNA, PRO 30/55/88/37.  
[92] John Brewer, The Sinews of Power: War, Money, and the English State, 16881783 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990), 208.
[93] “Estimate of the quantity of Candles necessary for 40,000 men for the 26 Winter Weeks,” 20 April 1778, TNA, PRO 30/55/10/57.
[94] TNA, PRO 30/55/10/57.
[95] Instructions for the Naval Hospitals on Foreign Stations (London: Philanthropic Society, St. George’s Fields, 1809), 35–36. TNA, ADM 106/3092.
[96] Alan MacEachern, “The Big Chill: The ‘Year Without a Summer’ in Canada,” Canada’s History (Aug–Sept 2016): 52–55; J. Luterbacher and C. Pfister, “The year without a summer,” Nature Geoscience 8 (2015): 246.
[97] Gillen D’Arcy Wood, Tambora: The Eruption That Change the World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014), 140.
[98] Quotation Liza Piper, “Backward Seasons and Remarkable Cold: The Weather over Long Reach, New Brunswick, 1812–1821,” Acadiensis 34, no. 1 (2004): 33. MacEachern, “The Big Chill.”
[99] “Naval Hospital, Kingston 8th January, 1816,” Kingston Gazette.Accessed 14 May 2020: http://vitacollections.ca/digital-kingston/96919/page/3?n=
[100] Instructions for the Naval Hospitals at Haslar & Plymouth (London: The Philanthropic Society, 1808), TNA, ADM 106/3091, 59.
[101] Monro, Observations on the Means of Preserving the Health of Soldiers, 8.   
[102] Thomas Dickson Reide, A View of the Diseases of the Army in Great Britain, America, the West Indies, and on Board of King’s Ships and Transports (London: J. Johnson, 1793), 13.
[103] Robert Mackenzie to Lieut. Col. Clerk, 1 March 1778, TNA, PRO 30/55/9/1.
[104] For discussion of the campaign community, see John A. Lynn, “Essential Women, Necessary Wives and Exemplary Soldiers: The Military Reality and Cultural Representation of Women’s Military Participation (1600–1815),” in A Companion to Women’s Military History,eds. Barton C. Hacker and Margaret Vining (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2012), 95.
[105] Enclosures in “Carleton to James Patterson,” 20 October 1782, TNA, PRO 30/55/52/45.
[106] John Campbell to Clinton, 18 August 1781, TNA, PRO 30/55/32/15.
[107] Examining the use of Cape Breton coal here addresses Tina Loo’s 2014 call to trace the “afterlives” exports as part of “transnational networks of power,” in “Missed Connections: Why Canadian Environmental History Could Use More of the World, and Vice Versa,” Canadian Historical Review 95, no. 4 (2014): 623. For more on logistics, see Brewer, The Sinews of Power.
[108] Wood was the dominant fuel in Canada well into the twentieth century, but the labour required for cutting and transporting, especially during times with an influx of population as with soldiers in wartime, prices and supply could fluctuate. Joshua MacFadyen “Hewers of Wood: A History of Wood Energy in Canada,” in Powering Up Canada: The History of Power, Fuel, and Energy From 1600, ed. R. W. Sandwell (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2016),129–30.
[109] Ira D. Gruber, “Clinton, Sir Henry,” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/5681; “Howe, William, fifth Viscount Howe,” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/13966; Francis McLean to Henry Clinton, 24 October 1778, TNA, PRO 30/55/88/15.
[110] H. M. Chichester and Roger T. Stearn, “Massey, Eyre, first Baron Clarina,” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/18298; Eyre Massey to Henry Clinton, 22 September 1778, TNA, PRO 30/55/12/67.
[111] Francis McLean to Henry Clinton, 24 October 1778, TNA, PRO 30/55/88/15.
[112] Robert Mackenzie to Lieut. Col. Clerk, 1 March 1778, TNA, PRO 30/55/9/1.
[113] Francis McLean to Henry Clinton, 17 May 1779, TNA, PRO 30/55/16/136.
[114] Francis McLean to Henry Clinton, 17 May 1779, TNA, PRO 30/55/16/136.
[115] Francis McLean to Henry Clinton, 17 May 1779, TNA, PRO 30/55/16/136. One Newcastle chaldron was fifty-three cwt. while a London chaldron was thirty-six bushels of coal or about half a Newcastle chaldron. It is unclear whether the London or Newcastle measure is being used here. J. U. Nef, The Rise of the British Coal Industry (Oxford: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd., 1966), 368–70.
[116] John Robinson to Samuel Martin (Treasury Chambers), 29 August 1778, TNA, PRO 30/55/11/117.
[117] Henry Clinton to Eyre Massey, 9 October 1778, TNA, PRO 30/55/12/130.
[118] Peter Marshall, “Legge, William, second early of Dartmouth,” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/16360.
[119] William Legge (Dartmouth) to William Howe, 5 September 1775, TNA, Guy Carleton, 1st Baron Dorchester: Papers, PRO 30/55/1/32.
[120] John Pownall to Howe, 25 September 1775, TNA, PRO 30/55/1/52.
[121] Barrington to Howe, 26 March 1777, TNA, PRO 30/55/4/111; Robert Mackenzie to Lieut. Col. Clerk, 1 March 1778, TNA, PRO 30/55/9/1; Frances McLean to Clinton, 17 May 1779, TNA, PRO 30/55/16/136.
[122] McLean to Clinton, 17 May 1779, TNA, PRO 30/55/16/136.
[123] Stephen Brumwell, “Campbell, John, fourth earl of Loudoun,” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/4516; Loudoun to Barrington, 6 January 1757, “War Office In Letters, Commanders-in-Chief,” North America, TNA, WO 1/1.
[124] Simeon Hierlihy to General McLean, 26 September 1780, TNA, PRO 30/55/25/84.
[125] William Barr to Capt. Lernoult, 9 February 1781, WO 28/6, UNB Libraries, Loyalist Collection, MIC-Loyalist FC LMR.G7 W3 A4 H4.
[126] Barrington to Howe, 26 March 1777, TNA, PRO 30/55/4/111.
[127] James Hamilton et al. to General Phillips, 14 September 1778, TNA, PRO 30/55/12/34. See Paul E. Kopperman, “Phillips, William,” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/22178; Helga Doblin trans., The American Revolution, Garrison Life in French Canada and New York: Journal of an officer in the Prinz Friedrich Regiment, 1766-1783 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1993),100.
[128] James Hamilton et al. to General Phillips, 14 September 1778, TNA, PRO 30/55/12/34.
[129] James Hamilton et al. to General Phillips, 14 September 1778, TNA, PRO 30/55/12/34.
[130] Helga Doblin trans., The Specht Journal: A Military Journal of the Burgoyne Campaign (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995).
[131] Specht to Clinton, 18 September 1778, TNA, PRO 30/55/12/51.
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Dr. Erin Spinney is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History and Politics at the University of New Brunswick’s Saint John campus. Her research examines late-eighteenth and nineteenth-century British military and naval systems of care focusing on nurses and other women labourers. She frequently considers the intersections of environment and health and how medical officers’ perceptions of landscape, climate, and ‘healthiness’ influenced their decisions. She is now a co-applicant on the SSHRC-funded “Ecologies, knowledge, and power in the Gulf of St. Lawrence region c. 1500-present.”

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