HEATH, WILLIAM (1737-1814), American soldier, was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, on the 2nd of March 1737 (old style). He was brought up as a farmer and had a passion for military exercises. In 1 765 he entered the Ancient and Honourable Artillery Company of Boston, of which he became commander in 1770. In the same year he wrote to the Boston Gazette letters signed " A Military Countryman, " urging the necessity of military training. He was a member of the Massachusetts General Court from 1770 to 1774, of the provincial committee of safety, and in 1774-1775 of the provincial congress. He was commissioned a provincial brig. -general in December 1774, directed the pursuit of the British from Concord (April 19, 1775), was promoted to be provincial major-general on the 20th of June 1775, and two days later was commissioned fourth brig.-general in the Continental Army. He became major-general on the pth of August 1776, and was in active service around New York until early the next year. In January 1777 he attempted to take Fort Independence, near Spuyten Duyvil, then garrisoned by about 2000 Hessians, but at the first sally of the garrison his troops became panic-stricken and a few days later he withdrew. Washington reprimanded him and never again entrusted to him any important operation in the field. Throughout the war, however, Heath was very efficient in muster service and in the barracks. From March 1777 to October 1778 he was in command of the Eastern Department with headquarters at Boston, and had charge (Nov. 1777~Oct. 1778) of the prisoners of war from Burgoyne's army held at Cambridge, Massachusetts. In May 1779 he was appointed a commissioner of the Board of War. He was placed in command of the troops on the E. side of the Hudson in June 1779, and of other troops and posts on the Hudson in November of the same year. In July 1780 he met the French allies under Rochambeau on their arrival in Rhode Island; in October of the same year he succeeded Arnold in command of West Point and its dependencies; and in August 1781, when Washington went south to meet Cornwallis, Heath was left in command of the Army of the Hudson to watch Clinton. After the war he retired to his farm at Roxbury, was a member of the state House of Representatives in 1788, of the Massachusetts convention which ratified the Federal Constitution in the same year, and of the governor's council in 1780-1790, was a state senator (1791-1793), and in 1806 was elected lieutenant-governor of Massachusetts but declined to serve. He died at Roxbury on the 24th of January 1814, the last of the major-generals of the War of American Independence.
See Memoirs of Major-General Heath, containing Anecdotes, Details of Skirmishes, Battles and other Military Events during the American War, written by Himself (Boston, 1798; frequently reprinted, perhaps the best edition being that published in New York in 1901 by William Abbatt), particularly valuable for the descriptions of Lexington and Bunker Hill, of the fighting around New York, of the controversies with Burgoyne and his officers during their stay in Boston, and of relations with Rochambeau; and his correspondence, iThe Heath Papers, vols. iv.-v., seventh series, Massachusetts Historical Society Collections (Boston, 1904-1905).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)