John Enys, 1757-1818

John Enys was born December 19, 1757, and attended Eton College with his elder brother, Francis. A commission, costing £600, was purchased for the youngest son of this generation of the Enys family so he could embark on a military career. Around the same time, hostilities began in America.

Ensign John Enys of the Twenty-ninth Regiment of Foot – one of the best regiments in the armed forces – aged 18, sailed from Plymouth early in 1776.  He kept journals throughout his time in America and Canada (CRO reference: EN/1799) which have been published (The American Journals of Lt John Enys, ed. Elizabeth Cometti, New York, 1976).

The journals tell of his experiences as part of a contingent sent to Canada to preserve British sovereignty there. He fought in the Battle of Valcour Island – in which the Americans were defeated – and in raids against the frontiers of Vermont and New York and, according to Cometti, ‘provides ‘vivid description[s] of the ravages inflicted by the invading Regulars, Loyalists, and Indians’ (p. xvii). Aged 20, he was promoted to Lieutenant before returning to England. In 1784, John was posted to Montreal and Ontario for garrison duty; in 1787 he had to accompany a party of replacements to Niagara, so took the opportunity to visit the Falls. 

After this he took the opportunity to visit the new United States, visiting many of the battle sites, returning to England in 1788, although not before spending the day with George Washington at Mount Vernon! He described America’s first president as:

“In speaking of this perfect whole of which George Washington furnishes the ideas I have not excluded the exterior form. His Stature is noble & lofty, he is well made, and exactly proportioned. His Physiognomy mild and agreeable, but such as to render it impossible to speak particularly of any of his features… In inspiring respect, he Inspires confidence, and his smile is always the smile of benevolence.”  (Cited in Cometti, p. 354)

John Enys was promoted to Major in 1794 and accompanied his troops to Jersey, Southampton and Worcester, among other places, before attaining the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in 1796. With fears of French invasion and Irish insurrection he accompanied his regiment to Cornwall and further east along the south coast. In June 1798, they embarked for Ireland and marched across the country in pursuit of Ireland’s French allies. Shortly after he was involved in the Anglo-Russian invasion of Holland. After a victory of sorts there, he returned to England in November 1799. Shortly afterwards, in March 1800, he retired from the army, aged 42. Upon retirement he presented a cup to his regiment with the inscription: In grateful Remembrance of Happiness enjoyed during a period of 25 yrs in the 29th Regt John Enys late Lieut Col presents this token of esteem and regard to his Brother Officers the 27th of August 1800.

Cup presented by John Enys to his regiment, 1800 (courtesy of Jane Wood)

He remained interested in army affairs and prepared a history of the Twenty-ninth regiment. He also became Inspecting Officer of the Cornwall Western Division Volunteers – the ‘Dad’s Army’ of its day – a group of local volunteers, who were highly organised and trained to safeguard Cornwall from the threat of French invasion. (CRO EN/2429)

Finally, he moved to Bath,  where he remained unmarried and died in 1818 from ‘a lingering illness’. (Bath Chronicle, August 6th 1818) A memorial in Bath Abbey reads: Next to his sisters is buried John Enys[,] Not long ago Lt Col of the 29th Regiment of Foot who died on 30th July 1818 approaching the age of 61[.] His brother Francis placed this for one who deserves it well[,] alas grieving yet again!

Memorial to John Enys and his sisters in Bath Abbey (courtesy of Jane Wood)



Back to top of page