John Grave Simcoe’s Journal
The contemporary, calf-backed marbled boards of John Grave Simcoe’s ‘Journal...’, the spine label lettered in gilt ‘Operations of Ye Queen’s Rangers’. Privately printed in Exeter in 1787, it sold for $130,000 (£106,910) at Bonhams New York.

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Simcoe’s 184pp ‘Journal...’ is a rare first-hand account of events of the American revolutionary war and in this instance was a copy given to a curiously named local cleric, the Reverend Nutcombe Nutcombe, Chancellor of the Diocese of Exeter.

It achieved a treble estimate and record bid of $130,000 (£106,910) at the Bonhams auction on March 9.

The price exceeded the $55,000 paid in 2000 at Sotheby’s New York for the copy in Laird U Park’s Americana library, and the $95,000 given in 2010, once more at Bonhams New York, for that in Bruce McKinney’s ‘American Experience 1630-1890’ collection.

Loyalist ‘legion’

Simcoe had arrived in Boston in the summer of 1775 and, having purchased a captaincy in the 40th Foot, served in the New York and Philadelphia campaigns and was wounded in September 1777, when General Sir William Howe’s forces defeated Washington’s army at the Battle of Brandywine Creek.

Simcoe’s request for permission to raise a corps from the free black inhabitants of Boston had been refused, but in the following month he took command of the Queen’s Rangers, a loyalist ‘legion’ of mixed light horse and foot.

Making his name not in grand battles, but in reconnaissance and outpost skirmishing, Simcoe was said to be as contemptuous of the military capacity of his adversaries as he was of their republican ambitions, and under his leadership the Queen’s Rangers became the most successful of the American loyalist corps. 

In 1779, however, Simcoe was captured and after spending six months as a prisoner he returned home to England and Exeter in 1781.

John Grave Simcoe's Journal

The title-page, inscribed “From the author to N.N.”, from John Grave Simcoe’s ‘Journal...’. Sold for $130,000 (£106,910) at Bonhams New York.

The ‘Journal...’ remained largely unknown outside of his family circle for many decades, but a second edition was published in 1844 – apparently prompted by the appearance at auction of a copy of the rare and then all but forgotten first.

The original Exeter edition seen in New York is illustrated with 10 folding battle plans, all bar one of which were specially engraved for this work.

John Grave Simcoe’s Journal

The ‘Affair at Quintin’s Bridge’, one of the battle pans that illustrate John Graves Simcoe’s ‘Journal of the Operations of the Queen’s Rangers...’

The example reproduced here relates to an action that took place on March 18, 1778 – the ‘Affair at Quintin’s Bridge’ – and the lettered key details the progress of various detachments of the Queen’s Rangers and others leading to the ‘Flight of the Enemy’. Coloured highlights mark troop positions.