Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Cornelius Killegrew, 34th Regiment, a man of the sincerest integrity

Many men spent their entire military careers as private soldiers, but intelligent, literate men could advance quickly. The army needed capable non-commissioned officers, and was quick to recognize those who had the skills and capacity. Cornelius Killegrew was one such man.

Born in Edgeware just north of London, Killegrew learned to be a comb maker. Instead of pursuing this trade, however, he enlisted in the army when he was seventeen years old in 1765. What drew him to the army is not known, given that he had a trade that was probably in some demand in a metropolitan area, but he soon proved to be capable of leadership.

After just three and a half years, the 5-foot 9-inch tall soldier was appointed corporal, a significant step up in responsibility that also brought higher base pay and more opportunities for extra earnings. In 1775 he was appointed sergeant, the pinnacle of advancement for most enlistees.

His regiment, the 34th Regiment of Foot, sailed to Quebec in 1776 as part of the expanded British commitment to the American war. During the famous 1777 campaigns that attempted to split the colonies, Killegrew was among 100 men of the 34th with the detachment under his own regiment’s lieutenant colonel, Barrimore St. Leger, who held the local rank of brigadier general. They made their way to Lake Ontario, then along the Oswego River, and over land to Fort Stanwix.

Sergeant Killegrew was “appointed provost Martial at 2s-6d pr day for the Expedition and to be obeyed as such,” meaning that it was his job to receive and provide guards over all prisoners. This included enemy prisoners of war and soldiers on the expedition who had committed disciplinary infractions, including apprehended deserters. He probably had to pay expenses of his duty out of this stipend, which was in addition to his regular pay as a sergeant, but he nonetheless stood to profit from this posting. It was one of the myriad ways that British soldiers and non-commissioned officers earned more than their base pay, allowing them to live better than the subsistence-level base pay would allow. This extra earning potential that was pervasive in military duty may have been a factor in so many men choosing the army as a career.

And Killegrew had a long career. He spent thirteen years as a sergeant, and another six years as the 34th Regiment’s sergeant-major. He finally took his discharge in April of 1792 when the regiment was posted on the Isle of Guernsey.

Rather than return to his native London, Killegrew went to Ireland. In 1793, when the City of Limerick Militia was formed, he was appointed sergeant-major, bringing his twenty-seven years of experience in the regular army to the job.

The City of Limerick Militia had its moment of glory in the 1798 rebellion.  They were sent north to help repel a French invasion. On September 5, a force consisting primarily of some 200 infantry from the militia, supported by a few cavalry and others, was posted at the village of Colooney five miles from Sligo. Orders had come to abandon the village, but the militia instead took post at a critical defile. They held the position against an attack by five times their number, repelling French forces supported by Irish rebel militia in a four-hour engagement. So important was their stand that a silver medal was struck and awarded to each of the participants, bearing the inscription “to the Heroes of Colooney.”

At this writing, it is not known whether Sergeant-Major Killegrew was at the battle. He may have been in the thick of the fight, or he may have been back in Limerick handling administrative tasks. Either way, he soldiered on for another twenty years. He is one of very few soldiers to have an obituary posted, in the 16 September 1818 edition of the Limerick Chronicle:

Died - This morning, in Mary-street, aged 74, of gangrene in the leg, which baffled professional skill, Mr. Cornelius Killegrew, Serjeant-Major of the City of Limerick Militia since its first formation, and formerly of the 34th regiment; a man of the sincerest integrity. His remains will be interred with military honors to-morrow, at four o’clock afternoon.



Learn more about British soldiers in America!

Monday, March 4, 2019

Cavalrymen in the 17th Regiment of Foot

The British army sent only two cavalry regiments, the 16th and 17th Light Dragoons, from Great Britain to fight in the American Revolution. Some Loyalist cavalry regiments and legions (regiments that included both infantry and cavalry) were formed in America, but only two cavalry corps were sent from the British Isles. Many horse soldiers, however, left other British cavalry regiments to serve in the American War as infantry.

Throughout 1775, when regiments were ordered to America - initially for a military buildup that was intended to prevent war, later because war had broken out - they were brought up to full strength with approximately equal numbers of recruits and drafts. Drafts were soldiers already in the army, serving in regiments that were not deploying overseas; they were "drawn" from one regiment to another. In this way, the regiments going on foreign service did not have too many inexperienced men in their ranks.

The infantry regiments that came to America in the first half of 1775 received drafts only from infantry regiments. But in the second half of the year five more regiments received orders to embark, and a call went out for volunteers from cavalry regiments to join the infantry. Due to logistical problems, only the 17th, 27th and 55th Regiments sailed in late 1776, and all included a few drafted cavalry troopers in their ranks. Ten were in the 17th Regiment of Foot.[i] When more regiments were sent to America in 1776, more cavalry drafts filled their ranks, over two hundred in all.

None of the troopers who "went volunteer for America" (to use the terminology on some of the cavalry muster rolls) left an account of his reasons for volunteering. It was quite a career change. The difference in pay between the cavalry and the infantry was significant. The army's adjutant general at the War Office wrote, “What is this Mystery of the willingness of Troopers, to serve as private Grenadiers? I can’t Decypher it: however it’s done.”[ii] The best guess is that overseas service in a war was preferable to the usual duties of the cavalry, policing the English and Irish countryside, occasionally battling smugglers and ruffians.

Not all of the cavalry men who joined the 17th Regiment are explicitly denoted as such on the muster rolls, but because a few are, the others can be determined by comparing names on the 17th's rolls with the names of drafts on the cavalry rolls. Five of them joined the 17th's grenadier company, an apt assignment because grenadiers needed to be experienced soldiers and the cavalry generally recruited taller men than the infantry. John Campbell was thirty-one years old with eight years of service when he left the 5th Dragoons to join the grenadier company of the 17th Regiment. The native of county Sligo in Ireland was discharged in April 1779 because he had been wounded in the leg; he received a pension, a useful benefit because he had never learned a trade.[iii] A fellow trooper from the 5th Dragoons, Bartholomew Reynolds, joined him in the grenadier company, but deserted in New Jersey on 19 June 1777.

Also in the grenadiers were James Lorimer, a twenty-eight year old Irish weaver from county Antrim who had joined the army when he was only fifteen years old. A trooper in the 2nd Horse Regiment, he joined the 17th Foot and served the entire war, taking his discharge in December 1783 and receiving a pension because he had been wounded in the left arm during the war.[iv] James Carlisle, a trooper in the 3rd Horse from county Tyrone, went into the 17th's grenadiers at the age of twenty-nine after five years in the army, and continued to serve until 1799 when he was discharged and pensioned because he was “superannuated & rheumatic;” although a "labourer" with no trade, he was able to sign his own name, and was granted a pension.[v] And Patrick Cunningham of the 9th Dragoons initially joined the 17th's grenadier company, but soon after was transferred to the battalion; he was wounded at Stony Point in 1779, and his subsequent fate is not known.[vi]

William Armstrong was a private trooper in the 14th Light Dragoons, but was appointed corporal a year after joining a battalion company in the 17th Regiment. In 1782 he was appointed sergeant, but he didn't get to enjoy that elevated post for long; he died on 25 April 1783. Also from the 14th Light Dragoons came Robert Quin, who was appointed corporal in June 1778. He was among the unfortunate men of the 17th who was captured at Stony Point, released, and captured again at Yorktown; when prisoners were repatriated at the close of hostilities in 1783, he did not return and was written off the rolls.

From the 5th Dragoons came John Shorthal, whose career with the 17th was cut short when he died of unknown causes on 20 March 1777. John Guthrey volunteered from the 3rd Horse Regiment and served in the 17th Foot for the entire war, but there is no record of him receiving a pension after his discharge in 1783. Thomas Newenham of the 5th Dragoons was taken prisoner soon after joining the regiment; his name appears on a list of prisoners with the rebels dated 29 December 1776. He was released, only to be captured once again at Yorktown. He appears to have been an officer’s servant, as he was given leave to return to Great Britain rather than remaining in captivity. He was discharged in September of 1783.

And there were others. In October of 1778, the 16th Light Dragoons, one of the two cavalry regiments sent as a whole to America, was sent back home. Following the usual practice, men who were fit for service were drafted into other regiments remaining in America. Most of these dragoons went to the 17th Light Dragoons and to Loyalist cavalry regiments, but eleven of them were drafted into the 17th Regiment of Foot. It’s possible that these men had served as dismounted troopers in the 17th Light Dragoons; the muster rolls do not distinguish between mounted and dismounted men. Their careers in the infantry could be traced through the muster rolls of the 17th Foot, but we’ll leave that for another day.

When men were drafted, they typically retained their uniforms from their old regiments, which they owned, having paid for them through pay stoppages. But they received new uniforms with their new regiment’s next clothing issue, if not sooner. It is possible that among the men in the 17th Regiment at Princeton in January 1777 were a few private soldiers in cavalry uniforms, but by the summer of 1777 they had surely been replaced. A few old garments and buttons may have continued to be seen here and there. The more important takeaway is in understanding that many of the “new” soldiers in the regiment were in fact quite experienced, and knew more of the army than just the infantry.

Learn more about British soldiers in America!



[i] Muster rolls, 17th Regiment of Foot, WO 12/3406, and muster rolls of other infantry and cavalry regiments in the WO 12 series, The National Archives of Great Britain (TNA). Unless otherwise noted, all subsequent information about individual soldiers in this article is drawn from this collection.
[ii] Edward Harvey to Lt. Col. Smith, 7 September 1775, WO 3/5 f41, TNA.
[iii] Pension admission books, WO 116/7, TNA.
[iv] Pension admission books, WO 116/8, TNA.
[v] Discharge of James Carlisle, WO 121/35/153, TNA.
[vi] "List of the Wounded Prisoners left at the Kakial on their March from Stoney Point and who were wounded in attempting to make their Escape from the Guard on the night of the 16th July 1779," http://cdn.loc.gov/master/mss/mgw/mgw4/060/0400/0450.jpg.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Francis Padlow, 37th Regiment, doesn't write to his Wife

Francis Padlow was a miller from the town of Kettlethorp in Lincolnshire. At the age of twenty-five, in 1762, he chose a new career by enlisting in the army. By the early 1770s he was in the 37th Regiment of Foot, and at the beginning of 1776 he went with that corps to join the war in America.

He left a wife behind, in the town of East Retford in Nottinghamshire. Where they met and when they married is not known; in fact, we don't even know her name. But in March of 1778 she sent a letter to the War Office asking whether her husband was still alive; she had "not heard from him since the year 1773." The office reviewed the regiment's muster rolls and was able to confirm that he was still serving in the 37th as recently as May of 1777 in Bonham Town, New Jersey, although he was "absent by leave" at that time. That was all they could offer, not bad, really, considering the challenges of communication.
The muster rolls used by the War Office in 1778 to confirm Padlow's service survive to this day in the British National Archives, and there are further volumes after those recorded in May 1777. From them we see that Francis Padlow continued for most of the remainder of the war, albeit listed as "sick" most of the time. He was discharged in early 1782 because he was "rheumatic"; he was recommended for a pension.


With other "invalided" soldiers, he sailed from New York to Great Britain, then went to Chelsea Hospital outside of London where he appeared before the pension examining board on 8 March 1783. Having served twenty-one years as a soldier, he was granted the pension. But there is no record of whether he returned to the wife he'd left behind ten years before.

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

John Young, 5th Regiment, Sees a Shot Fired in Boston

A shot was fired in Boston at the British soldiers garrisoned there. It was not the celebrated "shot heard 'round the world" fired in Concord, Massachusetts on 19 April 1775, but a pointed show of disdain towards the military force that had been sent to enforce the Coercive Acts, the punitive measures imposed upon the Massachusetts colony after the Boston Tea Party.

Several British regiments arrived in Boston in the early summer of 1774 and encamped on the common, the largest military force that had been assembled in America since the French and Indian War. Citizens of Boston and neighboring towns took umbrage at this martial imposition, as military posts were established and guards marched regularly through the town. They found ways to harass the soldiers, inveigled them to desert, sometimes plying them with cheap liquor and spiriting them out of town. On 18 July, a shot was fired.

The incident was recorded by a young officer of the 43rd Regiment, Lieutenant Alexander Robertson. He was in command of the guard on Boston Neck that night, the narrow stretch of land that connected peninsular Boston to the mainland. He wrote a report about what happened:

On the 18th July 1774, having the Command of the Guard posted at the Neck, and at sun sett after examining the arms &c of the Guard as usual, the Men were standing in a group upon the Neck about Ten or Twelve paces from the Guard room, when they heard the Report of a Gun, and imediatly called out that it was a Ball that was fired, for they distinctly heard it whiz, and observed it fired from a Boat loitring off the Neck with three People in it, and the Centinel ( - Young of the 5th Regt and in Earl Percy's Company) who was posted upon the Wall call'd out, that he saw the Ball strike the Water about Twenty yards from where the Group of Soldiers were standing and in a direct line with them, and about Ten yards from the Wall where he was posted.

I was at the time looking at the Boat, saw the smoke & heard the Report and firmly believe it was in a direct line with the Soldiers who were talking together, and after the gun was fired I observ'd the Boat row off, with the utmost expidition towards the Town, and imediatly sent a soldier to watch its motions, who return'd & told me he saw it row towards the centre of the Town. A. Robertson Lieut. 43d. Regt. Boston Camp 19th July 1774

Nothing came of the incident. No investigation, no arrests; most importantly, no further gunshots. If Lt. Robertson had not put it in writing, there would probably be no record of the event at all.

As for the soldier who saw the bullet splash, John Young would see more gunfire in the coming years. He served with his regiment throughout the occupation of Boston including the outbreak of war on 19 April 1775 and the battle of Bunker Hill the following June. He took part in the rapid campaign that drove American forces out of the New York City area and across New Jersey in 1776, and that tried unsuccessfully to bring about a pivotal battle in New Jersey in 1777. Later that year he sailed up Chesapeake Bay, then marched and fought through Delaware and Pennsylvania to Philadelphia.


Not long after that city was seized by the British army, John Young saw his last shots fired. He was killed in the battle of Germantown on 4 October 1777.


Learn more about British soldiers in America!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Elizabeth Morrison, Royal Artillery, has her pocket picked

In May of 1777, at the Presbyterian Church of New York, Elizabeth Driscoll married George Morrison, a matross in the Royal Regiment of Artillery. She was the widow of a soldier in an infantry regiment. The marriage record as published by the New York Historical Society in 1881 calls her a widow of the 57th Regiment, but the muster rolls of the 57th Regiment show no man of that name having died or even belonging to the regiment between 1775 and 1777; perhaps the number of the regiment was recorded incorrectly in the original record, or transcribed incorrectly in the publication.

That September, Elizabeth, now Elizabeth Morrison, was at the house of another Royal Artillery wife, Mrs. Connor. Several other men and women from the artillery were there, including a soldier named Edward Bullin. Morrison felt a hand in her pocket, and saw that it was Bullin's; he withdrew his hand, causing a guinea - a gold coin worth twenty-one shillings - to fall from her pocket to the floor. This clearly distracted her, and she picked up the coin rather than immediately question Bullin's motives.

A woman's pocket was usually a sort of pouch tied around the waist, not unlike a modern pocket except that it was a separate garment unto itself. It could be worn outside of or underneath petticoats. In this case, we assume it was underneath, for Morrison "imagined he was taking a freedom with her" rather than thinking he was trying to steal. The next morning when she counted her money, she found that she was missing a substantial sum: "six Guineas, three half Johannes’s, two Dollars, six English Shillings & an English half Crown." Six guineas was more than half a year's typical wages for a soldier's wife's job like working as a hospital nurse. We don't know Morrison's profession, but this was a lot of money for anyone of her station. That her pocket contain Portuguese Johannes, and dollar coins from an unspecified nation in addition to English coinage, shows the diverse currency in circulation in New York at a time when the value of these coins was based on the quantity of precious metal they contained. Also gone was her handkerchief.

Within the next few days, though, several people noticed that Edward Bullin seemed to have more money that was usual for him. When he bought some liquor from a woman (apparently another Royal Artillery wife), she happened to ask him if he knew whether Mrs. Morrison had gone to Staten Island, to which he gave the cryptic response, "if you see Mrs. Morrison do not tell her you saw me or know any thing of me." As word of the crime and Bullin's behavior got around, he was arrested and taken to the guard house.

Ultimately, it was the handkerchief that proved his undoing. When Elizabeth Morrison went to the guard house (presumably because she learned that Bullin was held there), she saw that Bullin had her handkerchief, the one stolen item that could be identified unequivocally. Bullin was brought before a general court martial and charged with "picking Elizabeth Morrison’s Pockets of six guineas three half Johannes and some silver;" the stolen handkerchief was not included in the charge.

At the trial, Morrison related the incident at Mrs. Connor's house and other witness told of Bullin's behavior and unexplained wealth. Bullin questioned why Morrison didn't accuse him immediately; that's when she deposed that "she imagined he was taking a freedom with her, & did not suspect him of picking her pocket until she recollected the Circumstances of his hand having been in her pocket, when she missed the money next morning." Bullin then asked "What was your reason for accusing me of picking your Pocket, more than any one else in Company?" Her reply was simple enough: "Because I found your hand in my pocket."

Edward Bullin was found guilty and sentenced to receive 600 lashes as well as being confined until the money was paid back. If he didn't still have some of the money, or other savings, it would take quite some time for him to earn this much money solely through his base pay - and, being confined, he would not be able to do any other work as soldiers often did to earn additional sums. We have no information about how long he was confined.

And we have no other information about Elizabeth Morrison. She is unusual, in fact, that we know so much about her - he marriage date, from a church record, and the events recorded in the trial proceedings. For most of the several thousand wives who accompanied British soldiers in America, we know nothing at all about them as individuals.

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Arthur Petty, 53rd Regiment, Incorrigible Thief,

When war broke out in America, Arthur Petty was a soldier in the 13th Regiment of Foot. The regiment was in Minorca, having been there since 1769; in September of 1775 they were sent back to Great Britain. The regiment would not be sent to America, instead remaining in England where their exposure to rebellious colonists came from guarding captured American mariners held in British prisons. Some soldiers of the 13th, however, were drafted into regiments sent to America. Arthur Petty was among them.

Petty joined the 20th Regiment of Foot as that regiment prepared for embarkation in early 1776. The 20th was among the regiments that sailed up the St. Lawrence River and landed in Quebec, relieving a siege that Americans had maintained for several months. The 20th was part of the force that drove American forces out of Canada and up Lake Champlain before the onset of winter stalled their advance. After enduring the winter in posts along the Richelieu river, the 20th Regiment set off on the 1777 expedition under General Burgoyne that ultimately resulted in their capture at Saratoga. Petty, however, was not among the soldiers who endured years in captivity; instead, he was part of the small detachment of each regiment left behind in Canada.

How men were selected to remain behind is not known. Those who were not fit enough to endure the campaign certainly stayed behind, and perhaps that was the case with Petty. By July of 1778 he was fit enough to do duty again, as he and others from the 20th Regiment, seventy men altogether, were drafted into the 53rd Regiment of Foot. Although the 53rd had been on Burgoyne's expedition, they had not been at Saratoga, instead having been posted at Fort Ticonderoga and other posts along the supply lines. A portion of the regiment was captured in September of 1777 in an action called Brown's raid. The drafts from the 20th Regiment helped bring the 53rd back up to fighting strength.

No regimental records survive to tell us about Arthur Petty's character in the 13th and 20th Regiments, but in the 53rd he ran into trouble. After four years in the regiment, Major John Nairne sent a letter from the 53rd's current post at Isle aux Noix on the Richelieu River to the adjutant general for British forces in Canada, at headquarters in Quebec. Nairne's letter, dated 3 September 1782, read in part:

Give me leave also to represent to you that a Soldier of the Regt. named A: P: being such an incorrigible Thief, after repeated punishments in the severest manner to no purpose, is now under the Sentence of a Regimental Court Martial to be Drummed out of the Regiment, and his Captain (Scott) joins me in requesting leave to discharge him accordingly; he has been a Draft from the 20th Regt: is about forty five years of age, not a very Stout man, however he might perhaps be of some use to His Majesty’s Service as a marine, or, in Africa.

Given that most British soldiers enlisted in their early twenties, Petty's age in 1782 suggests that he had been in the army for quite some time, and it's difficult to image that his behavior had been consistently bad throughout. He may, however, have been an exception, either in terms of when he enlisted or how well he endured punishment. Drumming out was the period equivalent of a dishonorable discharge, reserved for cases where the army decided that a man simply wasn't worth the effort of further attempts at discipline. Sometimes men like this, who were able-bodied but incorrigible, were handed over to the navy, presumably because that service offered fewer ways for a man to get into trouble. Men whose lives were not valued might be sent to British posts on the disease-ridden west coast of Africa.

A month later, on 1 October, Major Nairne sent an update to the adjutant general. This time he reported that the regimental court martial's sentence of 500 lashes had been carried out in part. Petty had endured 250 lashes, after which he was given a break. It was common practice to administer large numbers of lashes in several groups, with a few weeks in between for the man to recover somewhat; the goal of lashes, after all, was to punish but not to disable or kill the man. Major Nairne reported that Petty's behavior had improved, so the remaining 250 lashes were forgiven, and that he would be spared the humiliation of a drumming out ceremony.

In spite of this improvement, Major Nairne must not have believed that Arthur Petty would become a good and trustworthy soldier. He was discharged from the regiment that same month.

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Benjamin Noble, 14th Regiment, three times wounded

Benjamin Noble had not learned a trade in his teen years, putting him into the broad category of "laborers" who worked England’s farms and fields, or at whatever other work they could find. He'd had enough of that by the time he was twenty years old, and joined the army. He enlisted in 1765 in the 14th Regiment of Foot, on service at Windsor, west of London and about 45 miles south of his native Bedford; whether he enlisted with a recruiting officer in his home town or elsewhere is not known.

If he enlisted out of a thirst for change, he didn't have to wait long. In 1766 the 14th Regiment left England for Halifax Nova Scotia. By 1769 they had moved to Boston, where soldiers of the regiment, as well as men of the 29th Regiment, were involved in some of the unrest that led to the Boston Massacre the following year. Following that incident, the 14th stayed at Castle William in Boston harbor until 1772, when a new crisis required them.

On the island of St. Vincent in the Caribbean, Carib tribesmen inhabiting the island had been fighting British attempts to survey and acquire land since 1769. The British government decided to try a big military push, and sent the 14th and several other regiments to the island in late 1772. The ensuing fighting led only to a stalemate, and a peace treaty was signed in 1773. Benjamin Noble was wounded in the campaign.

The ten companies were sent to other places, some to St. Augustine in Florida and others to the Bahamas. As tensions rose in the colonies, in 1775 part of the 14th Regiment was sent to Virginia to serve under Lord Dunmore. Benjamin Noble was now thirty years old, a combat veteran in the regiment's grenadier company. He saw combat again on 9 December when the grenadiers attempted to drive rebellious colonists from a strategic position overlooking a critical bridge in Virginia's tidewater region. The battle of Great Bridge was short, and disastrous for the 14th's grenadiers. All of their officers were dead or wounded. Fourteen other ranks were also killed, and most of the rest wounded, including Noble; unlike fifteen of his wounded comrades, he avoided capture and was able to rejoin Dunmore's little army.

British military efforts in Virginia soon collapsed, and the 14th Regiment, severely under strength after ten years and two wars in North America, sailed to New York to join the British army there. At the end of 1776, they were drafted - that is, the private soldiers who were fit for service were put into other regiments, the unfit soldiers were discharged, and the officers, non-commissioned officers and drummers returned to Great Britain. Benjamin Noble, despite having received two wounds, was still deemed fit for service and drafted into the grenadier company of the 44th Regiment of Foot.

The 44th's grenadier company was detached from the regiment, serving as part of the 2nd Battalion of Grenadiers in New Jersey. This battalion was among the troops involved in the battle of Princeton on 3 January 1777. Benjamin Noble had wasted no time getting to his new company, for he was in this battle - and for the third time, he was wounded. And for the third time, his wound did not prevent him from continuing in the ranks. He remained in the 44th Regiment during its service in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and then sailed with it to Quebec in 1779.

The 44th Regiment stayed in Canada for over five years, finally returning to Great Britain in 1786. Benjamin Noble and many others in its ranks had been in North America for twenty years. Noble nonetheless continued to serve until 1790, finally taking his discharge on 25 November after 25 years as a private soldier. He went before the examining board at Chelsea and was awarded a well-deserved pension in recognition of his wounds and being "worn out with long service."

Learn more about British soldiers in America!