John was still in Quebec when war broke out between Britain and revolutionary America in April 1775. He remained there for most of the first year of the war, but it gradually became clear that his presence so close to the theatre of war was undesirable on political grounds. Lord Chatham was a prominent political figure and there was some fear that John might be captured and used as a pawn to extract concessions from Britain—a fear that was nearly realised when John and General Carleton narrowly escaped capture by Canadian sympathisers with the Americans in the autumn of 1775. John’s presence in Canada was certainly well known to the American military commanders: General Washington wrote in Benedict Arnold’s instructions for invading Canada that “if Lord Chatham’s son should [still] be in Canada, and in any way should fall into your power, you are enjoined to treat him with all possible deference and respect.”
With an American invasion of Canada imminent, the decision was made to withdraw John from Canada. John seems not to have had any say in the decision: it was his mother, Hester, Countess of Chatham, who came to the conclusion that John was better out of the army. Lord Chatham was at the time suffering from one of his periodic fits of depression complicated by gout.
The following letters on the subject were written by Hester to her husband’s cousin, Lord Camelford, and are in the British Library (BL Add Mss 59490).
Hayes, 7 February 1776
“I am just come from having put the question to my Lord on what his opinion was as to his Sons continuance or not in the Army. This touch’d so many tender strings that it was impossible it shou’d not agitate Him. However he gave me his decided opinion that his quitting was indispensable, and that in the present circumstances an Exchange was not a desirable Thing, as there were strong objections to his remaining in the Army, and declining to serve.” Lady Chatham therefore asks Thomas Pitt to tell Lord Barrington of “Pitt’s Resignation, in the following Words, `That the continuance of the Unhappy War in America makes it necessary humbly to request Permission of HM for Lord Pitt to resign his Commission’”.
Hayes, 8 February 1776
Lady Chatham is not pleased that “our Son shou’d sacrifice a Profession that is agreeable to Him, and in which we might flatter ourselves He might have some success”. The decision was “very unpleasant”, but she is “compensated only by the Persuasion that there is a Propriety and Fitness in the doing it”.
Poor John, who was never really able to pursue a career of his own independently from his father or brother…