Nisbet Balfour

Quick Facts
British Army officer
Place of Birth:
Dunbog, Scotland
Date of Birth:
Place of Death:
Dunbog, Scotland
Date of Death:
October 10, 1823

The third son of John, third Lord Balfour, Nisbet Balfour was born in Dunbog in County Fife, Scotland in 1743. He entered the service of the British Army as an ensign in 1761, rising to lieutenant in 1765, and a captain in 1770. His first combat experience came at the Battle of Bunker's Hill where he was seriously wounded. He also distinguished himself at the battles at Long Island and Brooklyn. In August 1776 his service in the capture of New York was honored with the assignment to return to Great Britain with the dispatches announcing the success, and was promoted major by brevet. He soon returned to America, and struck up a warm friendship with many fellow officers, including Charles Lord Cornwallis and Francis Lord Rawdon. He was present at the battles of Brandywine and Germantown, and, after being appointed lieutenant colonel of the 23rd regiment in 1778, accompanied Cornwallis to Charleston. 

As the British occupation of South Carolina’s interior began, he was placed in command of the garrison at Ninety Six but did not remain there for long. He assisted Major Patrick Ferguson in the recruitment of loyalist militia. Cornwallis then appointed Balfour Commandant of Charleston in place of Brig. Gen. James Paterson. Arriving in Charleston at the beginning of August, Balfour applied himself efficiently to the job, which involved managing the complex civil affairs of the town and country but also military support of British forces in the area. 

Balfour soon began to draw the anger of revolutionary Charlestonians. For his part Brig. Gen. William Moultrie, who represented the American POWs, accused Balfour of “violent and arbitrary administration,” asserting that “Balfour, a proud, haughty Scot, carried his authority with a very high hand. His tyrannical, insolent disposition treated the people as the most abject slaves.” As British commandant, Balfour was unyielding toward the revolutionaries. He carried out the commands of his superiors in regard to policies in Charleston and wisely deferred to the Board of Police in civil matters. Balfour's depiction as the villain of the occupation of Charleston can be credited to the writings and memories of Americans like Ramsay and Moultrie as well as his actions. Balfour promoted the transportation of leading patriots to St. Augustine and confirmed the sentence of death on Col. Isaac Hayne for espionage and treason. His indifferent and cruel treatment of closely confining Continental and militia captives on prison ships led many POWs to die of smallpox or fevers. 

After the war, Balfour was promoted to full colonel and appointed as an aide-de-camp to King George III. He became a member of Parliament and saw service as a major general in Flanders. Unmarried, he died a full general at Dunbog in 1823.

Boston National Historical Park, Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park, Ninety Six National Historic Site

Last updated: July 3, 2020