Jeffery Amherst was born January 29, 1717, the second of four sons and third of five children of Jeffery Amherst and Elizabeth Kerril Amherst, of Riverhead, Sevenoaks Parish, Kent County, England. In 1735 he entered the army as an ensign in the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards. He rose rapidly through the service as an aide-de-camp to General John Ligonier during the War of the Austrian Succession and during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. In 1746 he was reassigned to the Netherlands and the following year became aide-de-camp to the Duke of Cumberland, in whose household he later resided.
On May 3, 1753, Amherst married Jane Dalyson, who died in November 1763. Four years later he married Elizabeth Cary. He had no children by either marriage. By 1756 Amherst had become a colonel, but his ascendancy truly began in January 1758 when William Pitt elevated him to the rank of major general and named him to command the British forces that took the French stronghold at Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island on June 27 of that year. In 1759 Amherst succeeded Ligonier as commander in chief in North America and directed the British and colonial forces that took control of the strategic forts at Ticonderoga, Niagara, and Quebec, and in 1760 brought about the collapse of New France by capturing Montreal. For these successes, Amherst was rewarded with the office of governor of Virginia on September 25, 1759, and in 1761 he was named a knight of the bath, but his unwillingness to provision Indians in the Northwest, one of many instances of his antipathy toward Native Americans, helped provoke Pontiac’s Uprising in 1763 and led to Amherst’s recall as commander in chief.
Amherst remained royal governor of Virginia, although he never visited the colony. He left the administration of the government to the lieutenant governor, Francis Fauquier. They corresponded frequently about military affairs but less often about other political matters in Virginia. During the war with France the General Assembly was reluctant to appropriate large sums of money to keep soldiers in the field, and following the Peace of Paris in 1763 Amherst and Fauquier tried without much success to maintain a large military force on the Virginia frontiers to prevent conflicts between settlers and Indians. In spite of Amherst’s efforts to stabilize Virginia’s western borders, officials in London found Virginia’s contributions to the military effort disappointing and, after the death of Francis Fauquier in the spring of 1768, the British ministry decided that the royal governor should reside in Williamsburg and no longer entrust the government of the colony to a lieutenant governor. As anticipated, Amherst refused to live in Virginia, and in July 1768 he was dismissed from office.
Amherst angrily resigned his commission in the army following his dismissal, but, as he was hugely popular with the public, he was soon persuaded to resume it. In 1770 he was appointed governor of Guernsey, in 1772 he became a member of the king’s Privy Council, and in 1776 he was created baron Amherst. He was appointed to the rank of full general in 1778 and given command of all British forces in England, but he saw no action during the American Revolution and the resultant conflict with France. In 1796awarded Amherst the rank of field marshal. Lord Amherst died on August 3, 1797, at Montreal, his estate in Kent County, England, and was buried in the family vault at Sevenoaks.