Major Patrick Ferguson lived from 25 May 1744 to 7 October 1780. He was an infantry officer in the British Army who fought in the American War of Independence and invented the Ferguson Rifle. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Patrick Ferguson was born in Edinburgh. He was the second son and fourth child of the advocated and judge James Ferguson of Pitfour and his wife Anne Murray. Edinburgh was in the throes of the Scottish Enlightenment at the time and through his parents the young Patrick Ferguson met many of the key figures including David Hume.
Ferguson joined the army at the age of 15 in 1759 as an ensign in the Royal Scots Greys. He served with the regiment for eleven years, during which time he saw active service in Europe during the Seven Years' War despite problems with a leg ailment. 1768 Ferguson purchased a command of a company in 70th Regiment of Foot, under the Colonelcy of his cousin Alexander Johnstone, and served with them in the West Indies until his leg again began to trouble him.
He returned to Britain in 1772 and went on to introduce new light infantry tactics into the army. During the same period he developed the Ferguson rifle, a breech-loading flintlock weapon based on an earlier French design.
In 1777 Ferguson was appointed as commander of what became known as Ferguson's Rifle Corps in the American War of Independence. He was wounded in the arm at the Battle of Brandywine on 11 September 1777, a battle during which Ferguson declined to shoot a distant American officer because he had his back turned: it is possible that this was George Washington. In 1779 Ferguson became a Major in the 71st Regiment of Foot. He was killed at the Battle of Kings Mountain on 7 October 1780 when it was said he had been shot eight times after being cut off by advancing Americans. His grave was marked by the US Government in the 1920s and it today stands in part of the Kings Mountain National Military Park.