Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Robert Murphy, 3rd Regiment, finds Grassy Valley

The Arrival of Robert Murphy (1757-1850) in America
Guest Post by Charles Martin Ward, Jr.

There are two accounts relating how Robert Murphy (1757-1850) arrived in America:  

Version #1:  
“…Robert Murphy…came over with the British Army and served in the War of the Revolution under Gen. Tarleton in S.C.  He was captured in the Battle of the Cowpens by Gen. Daniel Morgan, 1781, and afterwards served in the Patriot Army.” 
(A Genealogy and Biography of the Family of Luttrell 1066-1893, by Elston Luttrell, 1893).

Version #2:  
“Robert Murphy was born in Londonderry County, Ireland in 1757.  The story is told that he and his sister just younger than he (when ten to twenty years old) were shanghaied by sailors and brought to America in the stow of a ship.  Nothing was ever heard of the sister, but Robert Murphy’s name next appears in the records of the war of the Revolution along with more than two hundred Murphys with the rank of private in a book by Lt. Charles Stockley listing accounts of cash paid to non-commissioned officers and privates of the Virginia Continental line of defenses for February, March and April 1783.  Robert Murphy was then twenty-six years old.” 
(The Robert Murphy Family, a typescript distributed among descendants, by Robert Marshall Murphy, Sr., b. 1886; d. 1969, a great-grandson of Robert Murphy).    

The Luttrell account is the earliest published account of Robert Murphy’s arrival in America.  The information contained in the Luttrell account was contributed by James Madison Murphy (b. 16 Oct 1814 in Knox Co., TN; d. 7 Jul 1902 in Knox Co., TN), son of John Murphy (b. 6 Jul 1786; d. 3 Aug 1855) and Martha Gilliam and grandson of Robert Murphy (b. 1757; d. 13 May 1850).  He knew his grandfather and was 35 years old at the time of his grandfather’s death.  James Madison Murphy married Mary K. Luttrell and was a leading figure in a joint Murphy and Luttrell family organization in which his sons were also involved.  As the earliest account of the arrival of Robert Murphy in America, originating with a grandson of Robert Murphy, it must be assessed as the most likely to be accurate.  

The Robert Marshall Murphy account is problematic.  It is unlikely sailors would have “shanghaied” a female between ten and twenty years old and brought her aboard a ship to America.  It doesn’t provide any information relating how Robert Murphy would have ended up serving in the American Army once the ship on which he sailed arrived in American waters, although his son, Robert M. Murphy, Jr., President of the Tennessee Society Sons of the Revolution (1978 term), indicated Robert Murphy “jumped ship.” It also has not been verified that Robert Murphy is included in the Stockley account of payments. The Robert Marshall Murphy account, recorded over fifty years after the Luttrell account by someone born 36 years after the death of Robert Murphy, doesn’t ring true.  One may surmise the omission of Robert Murphy’s service in the British Army and subsequent capture possibly may stem from misguided patriotic reasons.  

Assessing the Luttrell account, it is necessary to examine surviving British service records, records of captured British soldiers, etc., in order to verify Robert Murphy’s service in the British Army.  This was accomplished through the research of Don N. Hagist, editor of Journal of the American Revolution and the author of several books on the American Revolution.  He found Robert Murphy on the muster rolls of the 3rd Regiment of Foot (Muster rolls, 3rd Regiment of Foot, WO 12/2105 and WO 12/2106, British National Archives).  He enlisted on 9 Aug 1777 in Ireland while the regiment was stationed there, and an annotation on the roll indicates that he was indeed Irish.  The 3rd Regiment of Foot was sent to America near the close of the Revolutionary War, arriving in Charleston, South Carolina in March, 1781.  Robert Murphy was appointed a corporal before January, 1783 and became a prisoner of war before January, 1783, never returning to the British Army.

When, and under what circumstances, Murphy became a prisoner of war is not known; a gap in the muster rolls from the time the regiment embarked for America until 1783 make it impossible to know (from this source) when he was promoted and when he was captured. In 1781 the 3rd Regiment participated in the relief of Ninety-Six and later at the battle of Eutaw Springs; odds are that Murphy was captured at one of those two places. Murphy is listed as a prisoner of war on rolls prepared during the first half of 1783; he is not on the rolls covering August thru December 1783, indicating that he never returned from captivity. Many regiments explicitly wrote these men off as deserters on their muster rolls, but the rolls of the 3rd Regiment simply no long include several of the men who'd been prisoners of war.

With the exception of the specific battle at which he was captured, the muster roll information correlates with the Luttrell account of Murphy's arrival in America as a British soldier and his subsequent capture. It is known that he was born in Londonderry, Ireland in 1757 and had learned the trade of a weaver; both of these facts dovetail nicely with an army enlistment in 1777. 

Following his capture, Robert Murphy enlisted in the American Army.  He is listed as a private in the Virginia Militia. When hostilities ended, he married Martha McNeill, 10 Oct 1783, in Botetourt County, Virginia (Botetourt County Marriages 1770-1853 by Vogt & Kethley, Volume 1, p. 218). She was born in 1768 the daughter of Hugh and Martha McNeill and died 15 Jun 1847 in Knox Co., TN. She is identified as Martha Murphy in the will of her father, Hugh McNeill, a Scots-Irishman who had served as a constable in Botetourt County. 

Robert Murphy, his wife, and children, settled in Knox Co., TN in the mid-1790s.  Robert Murphy bought his first land in Knox County, TN on 24 May 1797, 115 acres on White’s Creek (Knox Co., TN Deed Bk B, pp. 191-2).  The following July he bought 50 more acres (Knox Co., TN Deed Bk B, pp. 204-5) and acquired 100 acres on Beaverdam Creek in 1810. He served during the War of 1812 as a sergeant under Col. Edwin Booth and Capt. Porter in the Drafted Militia (Tennesseans in the War of 1812, Sistler, p. 375).

Robert Murphy died 13 May 1850 "of old age." He is buried at the Murphy Family Cemetery in Knox Co., TN, off of Washington Pike, about seven miles from Knoxville, TN. The family farm has remained in the family and is now owned by a descendant. He left a will in which he identified his many children. 

The information that follows consists of individual sentences and paragraphs pertaining directly to Robert Murphy (1757-1850) that have been extracted from the aforementioned typescript by Robert Marshall Murphy (1886-1969), The Robert Murphy Family (pp. 1, 4-5, 8-10, 14, 26-27), in order to compose a coherent, abbreviated narrative.

“Robert Murphy and his family drove into Grassy Valley, in Knox County, Tennessee in a covered wagon.  The family had come all the way from Virginia…. Robert Murphy… was apprenticed to a weaver and learned the weaving trade [before joining the British Army, and]… brought with them into the valley their loom, spinning wheel, cords, and hackle.  [He] proceeded to search out and agree upon a tract extending across Grassy Valley…… with a number of free flowing springs, a matter of prime importance in that early day in choosing a home site.  Once located in Grassy Valley, the first big job facing Robert Murphy and his four young Virginia-born sons was making a clearing in the densely wooded area immediately surrounding the spring and the spot which had been decided upon for the location of their log cabin.  On a level prominence near and above one of the springs, they built the first log residence using logs hewn out of the surrounding forest.  This was the first home of the Robert Murphy family in East Tennessee.  The house served for about one hundred years with an occasional addition required to add to the comfort of the family which had increased to a total of eleven children.” 

“A few pages of [Robert Murphy’s] farm account book, with records beginning in 1801, reveal that corn was the product marketable in the largest volume.  It was surprising to find such a variety of produce sold:  corn, potatoes, hay, flax seed, flour, butter, honey, and chickens, in addition to yards and yards of cloth (woolen, cotton and linen) from their looms.  It is interesting to note that they used the English monetary unit of pounds, shillings, and pence in the account book.”

“Three of the five older children born in Virginia probably had started school before they moved to Tennessee, where they found that schools were practically non-existent.  Fortunately, their nearest neighbor, Samuel Crawford, had built a log school-house on his farm, having in mind primarily the importance of schooling for his own children; but evidently he permitted other children to attend according to entries in the Murphy account book kept by Robert Murphy.  One entry dated 1806 was for thirty-five dollars.  Another in 1816 listed 9 pounds for two years tuition for the Murphy children.”
  
“Family records do not reveal the interest and affiliation of the Robert Murphy family with a specific church group in the early years following his arrival in Grassy Valley, but future happenings make it a fair assumption that they attended camp meetings held in the region.  Robert and Martha Murphy may have been Methodists in Virginia.  In 1847 when Robert Murphy, along with his family, came home from Camp meeting, he must have been aroused to the need for a church nearer home.  It was at that time that he got together with his neighbors and offered to give a square plot off the north corner of his farm for a building site, where it joined the Crawford and Luttrell farms.  The site was a level elevation admirably suited for a church, and they set right to work building a small Methodist Church which they named Murphy’s Chapel, in Robert Murphy’s honor.  The gift was conditioned only by the clause, “so long as it shall be used for this purpose,” and the application was signed by the following trustees:  John Murphy, Barnes Crawford, Reuben White, Pleasant M. Monday, James M. Murphy, William Murphy, Samuel Briggs, William Brown, and Major W. Wilkerson.”  [Note that John and William Murphy were Robert Murphy’s sons and James M. Murphy was his grandson.]

“When Martha Murphy died in 1847…… it became necessary to pick out the site for the Murphy family graveyard and she became the first occupant.  Three years later, in 1850, Robert Murphy died at the age of 93 and was buried alongside her.  The location is on a level elevation across White’s Creek from the Hugh Murphy homestead.”

John Luttrell Murphy, in a letter to his father, James M. Murphy, dated 16 Oct 1895, wrote the following about Robert Murphy (1757-1850), his great-grandfather (The letter is transcribed in The Robert Murphy Family, pp. 16-21.): 

“…bluff, brave old Robert Murphy……. laid the foundation of the Tennessee branch of the strong and powerful Murphy clan from good ole Londonderry in the north of Ireland.”  

“Not being able to make his own conditions nor to surround himself with circumstances to his liking, he was wise and bold enough to appropriate and assimilate those he found round and about him, and to forcibly wring by rude efforts from rough elements, a support and competency for his worthy self and faithful wife, and a large and hearty family of some dozen children besides.” 

“The Daddy of all the Tennessee Murphys was a run of strong will and stern judgment, and commanded the confidence and enforced the respect of all he met.  Why, with his “blackthorn” or black Jacks, two foot club, he could knock out a whole “muster,” and with a single broad oath of the “Green Isle” put an entire Company of rangers to flight.  Everybody had a piece of land that he wanted at once to measure and hole to quickly find when Robert Murphy got his “Irish up.”  Honest to a fault, and generous to a defect, yet no man could rob him nor abuse him, and while his physical manhood held out, no man dare even undertake it.  And of the same solid sterling stuff were made his hale and hearty sons and daughters; who were veritable chips off the old block, tempered with the same hardness, rang with the same stroke, broken with the same blow and softened with the same influence.” 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Richard Cotton, 38th Regiment, is drafted twice

Some books and articles suggest that British soldiers were fiercely loyal to their regiments. If this was true during the 1770s and 1780s, there's no direct evidence of it. None of the handful of narratives by British soldiers make any particular mention of pride in their regiment, and many soldiers changed regiments for one reason or another at least once during their careers. Even officers changed regiments for the sake of career advancement, giving promotion or security priority over loyality to a specific corps.

One way that soldiers changed regiments was by being drafted. Unlike the modern parlance that uses the word to refer to civilians obliged to join the military, during the era of the American Revolution the British army used the term to refer to men drawn from one regiment to serve in another. There are a few highly-publicised cases where soldiers objected to this and even mutinied because of it, but the objection was generally to serving in a different location than promised, rather than in a different regiment. writers who focus on these incidents fail to consider the thousands of soldiers who were drafted, some more than once, during their careers. Drafting orders often directed that volunteers be taken first before ordering men into other regiments. The usual cause for a draft was to keep regiments on overseas deployments up to strength. In some cases men were drafted from regiments in Great Britain to serve in regiments bound for, or already on, overseas service; in other cases, regiments being sent home to Great Britain drafted their able-bodied men into other regiments remaining overseas.

Among the former was Richard Cotton. As war loomed in America, he was serving in the 3rd Regiment of Foot in Ireland. On 23 February 1775 a regimental court martial found him guilty of “stealing a silver table spoon from an inhabitant," for which he receive 250 lashes. Just two weeks later he was drafted to serve in the 59th Regiment of Foot, a regiment already in Boston. We could assume that the 3rd Regiment was trying to get rid of him, but it's more likely that he jumped at the opportunity to leave the officers who had just punished him. Drafting orders required that only men in good physical condition be sent to as drafts, with the receiving regiment allowed to reject any that did not measure up. How a man who'd just been subjected to 250 lashes could be considered fit for overseas service is a mystery.

Cotton, along with other drafts and recruits, arrived in Boston in May to learn that war had broken out. He joined his regiment and served until the end of the year. Then he was drafted again. The 59th Regiment had already been overseas for several years and was due to go home, but their able-bodied men were drafted; Richard Cotton joined the 38th Regiment of Foot. In March 1776 he was put into the regiment's light infantry company, meaning that he was a particularly active and capable soldier; his discipline must have been reasonably good. There's no evidence that these two changes of regiment in rapid succession were in any way objectionable to him, or to the hundreds of others who went through similar transfers.

The light infantry company of the 38th Regiment saw many years of hard service on the front lines of the war's famous campaigns. The battle of Long Island in August 1776, the rapid movements around New York and into New Jersey later that year and into 1777, the campaign that took Philadelphia in late 1777 and the abandonment of that city that culminated in the battle of Monmouth in 1778 - during all of these campaigns the 38th's light company was part of the 1st Battalion of Light Infantry, always on the forefront of the action. Immediately after returning to New York from Philadelphia, the company rejoined the 38th Regiment and sailed to Rhode Island where they reinforced the garrison and spent three weeks under siege, then fought in the battle of Rhode Island on 29 August. They remained in Rhode Island through August 1779 when that place was evactuated by British forces.

The 38th's light company rejoined the 1st Battalion of Light Infantry. They spent the beginning of 1780 on the expedition that laid siege to Charleston, South Carolina. After that city capitulated, they returned to the New York garrison. The summer of 1780 found them on the front lines again, this time in coastal Westchester County, New York on the border of Connecticut. This was a region characterized by raids, skirmishes and incursions as scouting parties clashed between fluid front lines. For reasons that aren't clear, discipline suffered in the British battalions, and there was a spate of desertions from these normally-reliable ranks. 

Early on Monday morning, 17 July 1780, two Loyalist refugees - soldiers who may not have been uniformed - were following a road from the area of Horse Neck, Connecticut towards the British encampment at Rye, New York. They saw someone coming towards them and climbed over a wall to let the man pass. As he went by, the refugees discerned him to be an unarmed British soldier, so they decided to question him. They called out to the man, who stopped, and asked him where he'd come from. The man, Richard Cotton, responded that he'd just left a British command of some 4000 soldiers. The two refugees suspected that he was a deserter and offered to take him to an American post; Cotton went with them. By odd mischance, they soon encountered an American flag of truce - an officer or a small party of American soldiers with official permission to visit British lines on some sort of official business, usually to discuss matters relating to prisoners of war. Richard Cotton begged the refugees to let him go with the flag, but they refused. Cotton tried to make a run for it, but they grabbed him and conveyed him back to the British camp. There, his welcome was not a warm one.

Having been caught on a Monday morning, Richard Cotton was put on trial for desertion on Thursday (for some reason the trial transcript calls him Benjamin rather than Richard, but muster rolls leave no doubt that it's him). The men who captured him testified, as well as a man from the 38th Regiment who gave some simple facts of Cotton's term of service in the regiment. Put on his defense, Cotton claimed he'd gotten drunk and "perplex’d in his mind" on Sunday afternoon, having not enough shirts, shoes and stockings and also believing he was going to be sent from the Light Infantry, where he'd served for so long, back to the regiment. He wandered away from camp, and claimed not to have known where he was until he met the two refugees. He asserted that when the refugees had asked where he belonged, he told them the British company he was from; he also denied mentioning the strength of the British force or having attempted to go with the flag of truce. But when he asked one of the refugees, "Did not you ask me that if I had my Choice whether I would go to the Continental Army or back to the British Troops and what Answer did I make?", he said Cotton's reply was "the Prisoner answer’d him, it does not signify your giving me the choice now as I know very well what you are going to do with me."

Cotton probably did know full well what would be done with him. There had been several desertions from the light infantry battalion already, so a clear message needed to be sent. Cotton was found guilty and sentenced to the maximum penalty for desertion. Regardless of whether he intended to desert, his dissatisfaction was not related to having been drafted twice some years before, but with the prospect of being transferred out of his regiment's light infantry company. Had he not strayed from camp, whatever his motive, this veteran of three regiments would've had the opportunity to see out the war with the 38th Regiment and return to Great Britain. Because of his transgression, on Sunday 23 July 1780, "that man of the 38th Light Infantry who was tried at East Chester for desertion was executed today after the troops came to their ground, hung on a tree at the road side."

Learn more about British soldiers in America

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

John Battin, 17th Light Dragoons, is Photographed

I don't post pictures on this blog because I write about common soldiers as individuals. There are many images of British soldiers dating from the era of the American Revolution, but they're "generic"; they show us typical soldiers, but not specific men. As such, it's not worth the extra effort to get the necessary permissions to use them, even though we all like pictures. For a common soldier to have been represented in a picture, there'd have to be something very special about him.

Looking at the military career of John Battin, a trooper in the 17th Light Dragoons, we don't find anything remarkable. He arrived in America in October 1776, one of many new men who expanded the 17th from a typical cavalry regiment to a legion with a contingent of foot soldiers to augment its dragoons. It's not clear whether the 24-year-old was among the mounted or dismounted men when he joined his regiment on the campaign that took him into New Jersey in the closing months of 1776. In fact, all we know about his service is what we can discern from the regiment's muster rolls, which do not distinguish between mounted and dismounted dragoons. As the war progressed, he is frequently listed on the rolls as "on duty" or "on command", nebulous terms that indicate that he did some sort of special duty. This was quite common among men of the 17th LD who were used as messagers, escorts, and all sorts of detached duties. But it could mean something as simple as that he was off cutting wood somewhere, too. The rolls give us no hints about the specific service he saw in America.

Perhaps Battin was one of the many well-educated middle-class Britons who joined the army in hopes of advancement, having the educational qualifications but not the connections or patronage to enter the army as an officer. But it's more likely that he had learned the trade of stocking-making in his native Bristol, England, and joined the army in pursuit of a more interesting life, just and many of his fellow soldiers had done.

As the war wound down, John Battin appears to have tired of his military career just as he may have tired of his pre-service trade. He deserted with two other men on 26 March 1782, one month and 24 days after his thirtieth birthday. He avoided capture and remained in New York after the British evacuated the place in November 1783. 

Battin had some entrepreneurial spirit. In May 1786 he opened a porter house and tavern "at the sign of the Blue Bell" in Sloat Lane, present-day Beaver Street. The following year he advertised that "he draws the best Porter at Nine-Pence per Quart, and makes no doubt but the excellence of his Porter (and having the advantage of a cool Cellar) will insure him the continuance of the customer of those who may honour him with their Company."

By the summer of 1788 he had moved up town a ways, to John Street. In late July or early August John Battin married "the agreeable Miss Margaret Amelia Frauncis, daughter to Mr. Samuel Frauncis, of said street." She was seventeen years younger than him. The following year he was offering pickled oysters for sale from 27 John Street, and in 1790 was advertising that "Parties of gentlemen can be accommodated with dinners and suppers in the genteelest manner, and at the shortest notice" in addition to preparing "Oysters and Lobsters for exportation, in pots and kegs."

His business apparently prospered; in 1796 he purchased a large house on five acres of land in Jamaica on Long Island, a dozen miles outside of the city. He opened a tavern in Jamaica. But apparently he'd overextended himself; three years later he was forced to sell the house at auction, although he continued business "in his well-known Tavern, where every exertion in his power shall be made to give satisfaction."

He had children. By 1810 he had moved his family back into the city, and in that year he sold off some property that he owned in partnership with others. The following year the family was living in a three-story brick house at 41 Nassau street; they advertised for boarders and operated a coffee house. His son John joined him in business, but apparently things went sour. For reasons unknown they disolved their business partnership in 1815; the elder Battin put the building up for lease and sold off the furniture. This may be the same building that he'd operated as a tavern years before; perhaps he'd never sold it.

It's not clear what happened next, except that Battin remained in the city. He may have opened a stocking shop in the Third Ward that he continued to operate for the rest of his life. And a long life it was. Locals recalled him walking along the Battery at Manhatten's south end every morning before breakfast, maintaining this routine for decades, clinging to his old conservative fashion of knee breeches and stockings. His turning 100 years old was noted in newspapers around the region, which reported that "He attributes his longevity and continued health to his frugal living and avoidance of all luxuries." But he died soon after, on 29 June 1852, having lived for just over 100 years. Besides making the bold move to join the army and sail to America, he had barely ventured beyond the bounds of New York City. But he did do one remarkable thing before he died. In 1845, at the age of 93, he joined a group of surviving veterans of the Revolutionary War. And, responding to a new trend of the times, he had his photograph taken.

The daguerreotype photograph was brought to my attention by its current owner, who gave permission for an image to be published here. This is a rare image of a man who served as a British private soldier in the American Revolution.

Richard Alan Wood collection

Battin came to the attention of Benson J. Lossing, a 19th-century historian of the American Revolution, who recorded this biography:

Mr. Battin came to America with the British army in 1776, and was engaged in the battles near Brooklyn, at White Plains, and Fort Washington. After the British went into winter quarters in New York, and Cornwallis’s division (to which he was attached), returned from Trenton and Princeton, he took lessons in horsemanship in the Middle Dutch church (now the city post-office), then converted into a circus for a riding-school. He then joined the cavalry regiment of Colonel Birch, in which he held the offices of orderly sergeant and cornet. He was in New York during the "hard winter" of 1779-80, and assisted in dragging British cannons over the frozen bay from Fort George to Staten Island. He was always averse to fighting the Americans, yet, as in duty bound, he was faithful to his king. While Prince William Henry, afterward William the Fourth, was here, he was one of his body-guard. Twice he was sent to England by Sir Henry Clinton with dispatches, and being one of the most active men in the corps, he was frequently employed by the commander-in-chief in important services. With hundreds more, he remained in New York when the British army departed in 1783, resolved to make America his future home. He married soon after the war, and at the time of his death had lived with his wife (now aged eighty-three) sixty-five years. For more than fifty years, he walked every morning upon first the old, and then the new, or present Battery, unmindful of inclement weather. He always enjoyed remarkable health. He continued exercise in the street near his dwelling until within a few days of his death, though with increasing feebleness of step. The gay young men of half a century ago (now gray-haired old men) remember his well-conducted house of refreshment, corner of John and Nassau Streets, where they enjoyed oyster suppers and good liquors. The preceding sketch of his person is from a daguerreotype by Insley, made a few months before his departure.

Much of this information correlates with what we know from muster rolls. "Colonel Birch" was Lt. Col. Samuel Birch of the 17th Light Dragoons. Cannon were dragged across New York harbor during one cold winter, and Prince William visited New York in 1781, probably receiving an escort of dragoons. But Battin never rose above the rank of private, and there's no evidence that he retruned to Great Britain, especially not carrying dispatches. These are the sort of fanciful tales that often creep into family lore. But we cannot deny that this man who ventured to enlist in the British army at the onset of the American Revolution, only to desert and pursue various business ventures, had a life that deserved to be recorded. Having a photographic image of him makes that record all the more remarkable.

Learn more about British soldiers in America

Friday, June 20, 2014

John Lawson, 22nd Regiment, advocates for veterans

When he stepped onto the wharf in Boston in June 1775, it was John Lawson's second visit to America. The 45 year old serjeant in the 22nd Regiment of Foot had joined the army in 1750 and served in America from the siege of Louisbourg in 1758 until the regiment finally headed back to Great Britain in 1764. He had served with the regiment in Nova Scotia, New York, Pensacola, New Orleans and other places. Now, after ten years in the British Isles, he was back in North America, greeted by a fresh new war, this time against the same colonists he'd fought alongside a dozen years earlier.

This time Lawson's visit would be short. The regiment remained in America until October 1783, but Lawson was called to a different duty. A few months after the 22nd Regiment disembarked, regiments in America were ordered to send a few officers and non-commissioned officers back to Great Britain for recruiting. Being among the oldest serjeants and longest-serving soldiers in the regiment, Lawson was among those chosen for this service. He and a few others, and their counterparts from all the regiments in Boston, sailed back to Great Britain in December 1775.

Lawson spent the next sixteen months working hard to raise men, men who were urgently needed to fulfill the increased size of regiments overseas as well as to make up for wartime attrition. In April 1777 he was discharged from the army and recommended for a pension because he was "worn out," having spent more than half his life in military service. He not only received a pension but was among the limited number of recipients of twelve pence per day rather than the usual five pence, "in consideration of his long and faithful services in the Army, & to keep him from Want." A native of the Glasgow suburb of Cathcart, he returned to his place of birth where he stood to live a reasonably comfortable retirement.

Within a few years, though, he took up a cause on behalf of his fellow pensioners. Army pensions were administered by Chelsea Hospital near London, but the money was distributed through local excise offices. The hospital sent a list of pensioners to each excise office. The excise office collected taxes, and then used the funds for local needs including payment of pensions. Each pensioner went to the excise office twice a year to receive his semi-annual payment; men who didn't show up and provided no accounting of themselves were presumed dead and struck from the rolls. It was a simple and elegant system that minimized overhead and money transfer.

In a fashion typical of public offices of the era, the law allowed excise offices to retain five percent of the pension payments as compensation for their services. Thus, each pensioner received a semi-annual payment of their daily allowance minus five percent. This was the established system, and no one took issue with it. But for pensioners in western Scotland there was a difference: they collected their pensions in Glasgow, but the designated place was in Edinburgh on the other side of the country. The excise collector in Glasgow, answerable to the office in Edinburgh rather than directly to Chelsea, withheld and additional shilling from each pension payment for his own serices, in addition to the five percent withheld in Edinburgh.

Although this had been going on for decades, in 1785 John Lawson made a stand against the practice. He filed a lawsuit on behalf of himself and other pensioners asserting that the extra shilling charge was unfair. The court agreed, and order Lawson and others to be paid the sums that had been withheld since they went onto the pension rolls. Eight years after he left active service, Lawson had won a victory for his fellow former soldiers.

But that wasn't the end of it. The excise office appealed. Lawson then escalated the matter, charging the excise officer directly with being in violation of a statute concerning fair distribution of funds. There may have been some self-interest here; if Lawson was right, he stood to collect a 100 pound reward as the informant against a corrupt official. He had a good case, though, and attorneys on both sides gave reasonable arguments. For Lawson and the pensioners, it was a matter of paying twice for the same service; for the excise collector, it was a matter of providing the benefit of relieving the pensioners from having to travel to Edinburgh. The case dragged on into 1788.

What was the final ruling? Unfortunately, we don't know. The above information comes from documents submitted to the court, but I've yet to find the outcome. What we can take away is that veteran's affairs were an active issue in the 18th century just as they are today, and that some long-serving soldiers soldiered on in the interest of their comrades even after their obligation to the army was done.

Learn more about British soldiers in America

Monday, June 2, 2014

John Cuthbertson, 40th Regiment, misses the war

We've seen many soldiers with very short careers, men who joined the army, came to America, and met their demise due to death or desertion. Other careers were short for much more benign reasons.

Regiments on service overseas required a steady stream of new recruits to make up for attrition. Each year in peace time, some men grew too old for active service and were sent home, a few deserted, a few died of illness, and a few were disabled by service-related injuries. Warfare accelerated this attrition, and the increased size of regiments on a war footing further added to the need for recruits. Each regiment had reruiting parties in Great Britain, and each year a convoy arrived in America carrying the men the recruiters had dilligently raised and trained. Depending upon when a man enlisted, he might spend a few months to a couple of years in Great Britain before embarking for America.

One regiment that particularly needed recruits was the 40th Regiment of Foot. They'd arrived in Boston shortly after the battle of Bunker Hill, and subsequently participated in the vigorous campaigns around New York in 1776, New Jersey and then Philadelphia in 1777, and the retreat from Philadelphia in 1778. Then they were sent to the West Indies to fight against the French and suffer the ravages of a hostile climate. In a particularly unusual move, the 40th was sent back to New York in 1781. In September of that year they fought in the savage action at Fort Griswold on the Connecticut coast. Keeping the regiment at fighting strength was a particular challenge.

By 1782, though, it was clear that the war would soon be over. Recruits for the 40th and other regiments embarked in May of that year but, rather than proceeding to New York, they were diverted to Halifax, Nova Scotia to reinforce the British garrison there. One of those recruits was named John Cuthbertson. Very little is known about him, including when he enlisted.

With the signing of a peace treaty in 1783 the army was reduced in size and the 40th Regiment was sent home from New York to Great Britain. Men who'd enlisted after 16 December 1775 were entitled to be discharged if they'd served at least three years. Those who wished to could be discharged in New York and sail to Nova Scotia where they'd receive a land grant.

John Cuthbertson was in Halifax when word came that he was eligible for discharge (indicating that he'd probably enlisted some time in 1780). He left the army and "immediately went up the country to work for an honest livelihood," a move that suggests he was a farm laborer by trade. He soon found that his plan was a poor one; "things being so dear & work very slack" caused him to return to the city. There he learned about the option of land grants.

In the summer of 1784, Cuthbertson wrote (in a good hand) a brief but well-stated petition requesting a grant of land. It was not acted on, however; the reasons aren't clearly stated, and no other document exists besides the petition itself. Because there were others in Nova Scotia with the same name, this short-time soldier becomes too difficult to trace with cursory research. All we know is that he enlisted with every intention of going to war but never made it to the region of hostilities. Perhaps that was his good fortune.

Learn more about British soldiers in America

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

John Winters, 59th Regiment, catches a woman's eye

During the winter of 1770-1771, a young man named John Winters enlisted in the 59th Regiment of Foot in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He started off as a drummer, but soon became a private soldier. He was so proficient in that capacity that he was put into the regiment's light infantry company, the fast-moving skirmishers recently embodied in each British infantry regiment. He was in this company when the 59th was sent to Boston in 1774 to reinforce the garrison there amid growing tensions.

Having enjoyed peacetime service in Nova Scotia, it was perhaps out of naivity that Winters strayed from his regiment's Boston Neck encampment on 5 October 1774. He went with a fellow soldier to Dedham, a town some miles southeast of Boston, where he was "seduced" by his comrade and a local resident to abscond from the army. He went to New York, where many deserters from Boston were sent, apparently aided by inhabitants who were keen to get former soldiers away from the British army. He found work as a servant for the keeper of a tavern in the city.

War broke out. The few British troops in New York abandoned the place by sea and joined the army in Boston, which was soon surrounded by a nascent American army. Although desertion put him in mortal danger, Winters was far away from any possibility of capture. To further improve his situation, in December 1775 his regiment was sent back to Great Britain. Whatever his intentions, it looked like Winters would spend the rest of his life in America.

Within six months, however, things changed dramatically. The British army evacuated Boston, regrouped in Halifax, and landed on Staten Island to threaten New York. In late August this powerful force won a devastating victory over American defenders on Long Island, and began preparations for an assault on Manhattan. The western end of Long Island was teeming with British soldiers.

On the evening of 7 September 1776, John Winters was out walking on Long Island when a couple overtook him. The woman recognized him immediately and addressed him by name; the man took hold of him. It was a soldier and his wife, former fellows from the 59th Regiment; when that corps left America, many of the men transferred into other regiments rather than going home. It was Winters's amazing luck to run into a man and woman he'd known since his enlistment, now in the 5th Regiment and part of the army that had just arrived in his neighborhood. They took him into custody.

Just two days later Winters was on trial for desertion. Two former comrades, both now serving in the 5th Regiment, testified against him. They verified his enlistment, his desertion, and that he didn't admit to being a deserter until after he was apprehended. This latter point was significant, because deserters who returned of their own volition were often treated with lenience.

Winters was not. Although he pleaded that he had come to Long Island explicitly to turn himself in, and had gone so far as to enlist with the then-raising 84th Regiment (which included many American prisoners of war in its ranks), he was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. The sentence was approved by the commander in chief and carried out on the morning of 11 September. As he may have supposed he would when he deserted, he spent the rest of his life in New York, but it was a shorter life than he'd expected.

Learn more about British soldiers in America

Sunday, May 11, 2014

James Annett, 7th Regiment of Foot, gets fired

Sometimes soldiers with short careers have something to teach us, like James Annett of the 7th Regiment of Foot, the Royal Fusiliers. He arrived in America in October 1781, among the last British army recruits to make the journey all the way from Great Britain to New York (recruits sent the following year were detained in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to reinforce that garrison). When Annett and other recruits arrived in New York, they found that their regiment was scattered about North America. Many were prisoners of war, having been captured in the south at Cowpens, Yorktown, or other smaller engagements. Some were in the garrison at Charleston, South Carolina; they soon would be sent on to Savannah, Georgia. But there were elements of the regiment in New York City, including Captain-Lieutenant Thomas Bibby, who took Annett as a servant.

Bibby had been an officer in the 24th Regiment of Foot on the campaign commanded by General Burgoyne in 1777. Captured and subsequently exchanged, he took a commission in the 7th Regiment in January 1781. The regiment was in South Carolina at the time, but Bibby was appointed Deputy Adjutant General in New York, a staff position that offered him safety and comfort, particularly compared to what his fellow Fusiliers were experiencing. He was promoted to Captain, and courted a local woman, Margaret McEvers; they married her in 1782.

After the close of hostilities, the 7th Regiment coalesced again in New York, composed of the men who'd evacuated Savannah, the repatriated prisoners of war, some recruits and transfers from other regiments, and whatever other individuals found themselves in the New York garrison after their diverse wartime experiences. James Annett, in the mean time, had spent two years in America serving Captain Bibby, drawing his soldier's pay plus a salary for his services.

British regiments in America were reduced in size and reorganized in preparation for departure. James Annett took his discharge in August 1783. Although he'd arrived in America in late 1781, he'd probably enlisted well before that, enough to have put in the three years of service required to be eligible for discharge at the end of hostilities (a wartime provision enacted in December 1775; British soldiers who enlisted in peace time had no fixed term of service). Although entitled to passage back to Great Britain, he chose to remain in New York. He had a job there: he was the servant to Thomas Bibby, who also chose to remain. Bibby retired from his post in the 7th Regiment but remained on half-pay, akin to being in the reserves today. He settled in New York with his wife, retaining his former soldier-servant in his employ.

The arrangement had worked for a while, but some time in 1784 things turned sour. On 9 September, this notice appeared in the New York Journal:

Notice,
I have discharged James Annitts, formerly a British soldier, (an hired servant) for insolence, impertinence and dishonesty.
T. Bibby, Cap. Royal Fusileers.

We lose sight of Annett after this. Perhaps he found work as a servant in another household, but the bad endorsement from his former master may have forced him to established himself in a new career in his new county.