After the Revolutionary War broke out in America in 1775, Douglas was given command of a squadron to relieve Quebec from the siege. When he arrived at the Gulf of St. Lawrence, he decided to ram the ice and successfully made his way up the river, surprising the Americans and putting them on the run. He was also in charge of creating a navy from scratch to fight on Lake Champlain, and that small fleet routed the Americans under Benedict Arnold. In 1777, he was made a baronet for his service in Quebec. As captain of HMS Stirling Castle, he took part in the Battle of Ushant.
In 1781, Sir Charles became Captain-of-the-Fleet for George Brydges Rodney, 1st Baron Rodney, and was with Rodney on his flagship, Formidable, at the Battle of the Saintes off Dominica, where on 12 April 1782, they defeated the Comte de Grasse by breaking the French line. Douglas is credited by many, including Sir Charles Dashwood (a midshipman present at the time who later became an admiral himself), for having the idea for the maneuver, but it is a subject of much debate.
Following the war, he was the Commander-in-Chief of North America at the Halifax, Nova Scotia Station, but resigned due to a conflict. In 1787 he became a rear-admiral, and in 1789 was once again made commander of the Nova Scotia station, but died of apoplexy before taking his post.
Douglas was married three times: first to a Dutch woman called Uranie Lidie Marteilhe, with whom he had a son and a daughter; second to Sarah Wood of Yorkshire, the mother of Sir Howard Douglas; and third to a woman named Jane, daughter of John Baillie. There is a great deal of confusion regarding the identity of Sir Charles' third wife, whose last name has been variously reported as Baillie, Grew, and Brisbane. It appears that some sources have mistaken his sister, Helena Baillie, for his third wife because she raised his younger children while he was at sea. The name Helen Brisbaine is also an error based on a mistake in The Scottish Nation (1862) where it says she was married to Admiral Sir Charles Douglas when, in fact, she was the wife of Admiral Sir James Douglas. When his eldest daughter, Lydia Mariana, married Rev. Richard Bingham against his wishes, he disinherited her. Following his death, Lydia and her husband sued for a share of his estate, and the case was appealed until finally being decided against them in the House of Lords in 1796. The case is made famous because of a letter Lydia had written to Adam Smith, a friend and distant relative of Sir Charles, requesting his assistance in reconciling the father and daughter.
Sir Charles was known as a mechanical genius , and many of his suggestions for improvements on naval vessels, including the substitution of flintlocks for matches, were adopted by the Admiralty for the entire Royal Navy.
He was succeeded as Baronet of Carr by his sons, Vice-Admiral Sir William Henry Douglas, 2nd Baronet, and General Sir Howard Douglas, 3rd Baronet, who became a General, lieutenant-governor of New Brunswick, MP for Liverpool, and Lord High Chancellor of the Ionian Islands.
Both Douglastown and Douglas, Nova Scotia, are named after him. The song “Caillich Odhar” was composed by Nathaniel Gow in his honor.
The History House; How One Couple Began to Uncover the Colourful Past of Their Old Rectory - Now a Lovely Family Home
Sep 05, 2004; Byline: MARK ANSTEAD When Jim and Judy Smith bought the southern wing of the Old Rectory in the Cotswolds village of Dumbleton,...