Saturday, October 1, 2016
It's fun to be surprised by data. Even more fun is to be surprised twice. Marriage records for soldiers of the 26th Regiment of Foot held as prisoners of war in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, provide just such an interesting double surprise.
In 1775, the 26th Regiment of Foot garrisoned the British post at St. Johns, a key post on the Richelieu River that lay on the passage between Montreal and Lake Champlain. In November, the garrison was overpowered by an American force sweeping northward that would also take Chambly, Montreal, and then lay siege to Quebec. Most of the 26th Regiment was captured at St. Johns or along the river. These prisoners, along with prisoners from the 7th Regiment of Foot, were sent to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, some 400 miles away and far from any of the war's front lines.
The prisoners began to arrive in Lancaster in early December, about a month after they were captured. They soon began to get married in the town's St. James church. Comparing the maiden names of the brides to names on muster rolls and prisoner lists, we surmise that the prisoners met most, if not all, of the brides after arriving in Lancaster; the names don't indicate that they were daughters or widows from within the regiment.
It was no surprise that British prisoners of war married local women; in fact, that was completely expected. What is surprising was the number of marriages: sixteen in a one-year period from December 1775 through December 1776 (the marriage records inexplicably list one man as belonging to the 47th Regiment, but he is on the muster rolls of the 26th Regiment). An additional seven marriages involved men listed simply as "a soldier;" none of these can be correlated with certainty to men of the 26th Regiment.
There were about 300 prisoners from the 26th Regiment held in Lancaster (an exact number is not known). A list of 247 of these soldiers, take in the middle of 1776, gives the names of sixty-six wives with them. Most were probably with the regiment when it was captured, but the list includes four of the women who married in Lancaster (and, oddly, does not include some of the others who married into the regiment before the list was made). Given that many of the men were already married when captured, not all were eligible to marry local women. With this imprecise information we can estimate that between five and ten percent of the prisoners got married while in Lancaster.
Among the maiden names of the brides are a few that match up with names of other prisoners. Possibly some of these brides were daughters of couples in the regiment. We don't have enough information to know how many, if any, of the brides were already in British military families. One new bride's last name matches that of a prisoner who enlisted in the American army; did he abandon his wife, prompting her to marry another soldier of the 26th Regiment, or is it just by chance that they had the same last name?
From other sources, we know that British soldiers who married local women were liable to desert from the army when an opportunity arose, in order to stay with their wives. Also, whenever British prisoners of war were exchanged or released, some of them deserted instead of returning to the army; detailed figures have not been determined, but we estimate that about ten percent of prisoners did not return to the army. This expectation led to the second surprise about marriages in the 26th Regiment.
The prisoners from the 26th Regiment of Foot were exchanged in early 1777, after over a year in captivity. The regiment's muster rolls allow us to trace the careers of the soldiers. Several of them did not return, and are written off of the muster rolls as deserters, all on the same day. Surprisingly, though, only two of the sixteen men known to have married in Lancaster did not return to the army. Thirteen of the newlyweds duly returned to New York and continued their military duties. One man disappears from the muster rolls with no annotation, so his fate is not known.
Four of the newly married men died within a year or two of rejoining the British army in New York. One was discharged in America in 1780. Six served in the 26th regiment through September 1780 when the regiment ordered home; two of them were drafted into the 44th Regiment and were still in that corps in Canada in 1785, while the other four were probably also transferred into other regiments (a gap in the muster rolls makes it impossible to follow their careers after September). Two of the married men returned to Great Britain with the regiment, one of them serving until 1792.
But what about their wives? Wives of British soldiers had the option of following their husbands, and these American women who wed British prisoners of war were entitled to stay with the men who were exchanged and went to New York. That doesn't mean, though, that they did. Documents giving names of soldiers' wives, or even enumerating which soldiers were married, are very rare, and none are known to exist for the 26th Regiment after the 1777 exchange. Perhaps all of these women remained in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and eventually established new lives. Or perhaps they followed their husbands, taking on the roles typical of army wives in garrison and on campaign. Either way, their lives were profoundly changed by the temporary presence in their home town of British prisoners of war.
Below are the marriages of soldiers from the 26th Regiment recorded at St. James Church, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
March 5, 1776: Jonathan Haywood (of 47th Regiment) married Bridget McGuire at St. James Church in Lancaster today. (Haywood, actually in the 26th Regiment, was drafted into the 44th Regiment in 1779 and went to Canada; he was still in the 44th Regiment in 1785)
March 14, 1776: married today at St. James Church. Daniel Allen (of the 26th Regiment) and Catharine McElroy. (Allen remained in the regiment through 1779)
March 27, 1776: John Andrew Walker of the 26th Regiment married Ann Aritage at St. James Church today. (Walker rejoined the regiment but died in late 1777 or early 1778)
May 10, 1776: Joseph Abbott of the 26th Regiment and Isabella Hunter were married at St. James today. (Abbot returned to Great Britain with the 26th Regiment in 1780)
May 16, 1776: Married today at St. James Church were John Mason of the 26th Regiment and Ann Burns. (Mason deserted from captivity, presumably to remain in the Lancaster area)
May 24, 1776: At St. James Church, James Culbert (of the 26th Regiment) and Mary Justice were married. (Culbert returned to the regiment, and died on 24 October 1777)
May 28, 1776, 1776: Married at St. James Church today were: James McCarty of the 26th Regt. and Elizabeth Glover. (James McCadie remained in the regiment through 1779)
June 8, 1776: William Boddle of the 25th Regiment and Mary Hellens exchanged marriage vows at St. James Church today.(William Bodie returned to the regiment and was discharged in New York in April 1780)
June 11, 1776: Simon McKinzy of the 26th Regt. married Elizabeth Unger at St. James Church. (Simon McKenzie, a shoemaker from Logie, County Ross, Scotland, returned to Great Britain with the 26th Regiment and was discharged in 1792 at the age of 41; he was granted a pension)
June 23, 1776: Samuel Doxey of the 26th British Regiment married Sarah Drummond at St. James.(Doxey deserted from captivity and joined the American army)
June 30, 1776: Married at St. James Church today were John Walker of the 26th Regiment to Mary Hargy (Walker rejoined the regiment but died in late 1777 or early 1778)
July 1, 1776: Married at St. James Church today were John Lloyd (a Corporal in the 26th Regiment) to Eleanor Reade. (Loyd returned to the regiment, and died on 8 February 1778)
October 27, 1776: George Hider of the British 26th Regiment married Rebecca Smith. (George Hides returned to the regiment, was drafted into the 44th Regiment in 1779 and went to Canada;he was still in the 44th Regiment in 1785)
November 30, 1776: John Smith of the British 26th Regiment and Jane Herrot were married today at St. James (Smith remained in the regiment through 1779)
December 4, 1776: Joseph Williams of the 26th Regiment of British prisoners married Eleanor ? at St. James today. (Williams remained in the regiment through 1779)
December 7, 1776: James Lindsay (26th Regt.) and Mary Myer (Lindsay disappears from the muster rolls after returning from captivity)
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
When fighting broke out in Massachusetts in 1775, British soldier William Marchant was in the colonies but far from the war zone. With other soldiers of the 7th Regiment of Foot, called the Royal Fusiliers, he was in the garrison at St. Johns, a post along the Richelieu River between Quebec and Lake Champlain. These men may have expected the conflict to remain confined to the Boston area, but American ambitions dashed any such expectations.
Marchant was no stranger to war. Hailing from the Bath suburb of Walcot in Somersetshire, he had joined the army during the Seven Years War. While serving in the 103rd Regiment of Foot, a newly-raised regiment, he participated in the British attack on the French island of Belle Isle off the Brittany Peninsula in 1761. He was wounded in the neck during that action. His regiment was disbanded at the end of the war in 1763, and he was discharged. With no trade to fall back on, however, the twenty-five-year-old enlisted a second time, this time in the 7th Regiment.
By November 1775 the Royal Fusiliers had been serving in the Quebec area for over two years. That month, an American force besieged St. John; the garrison, heavily outnumbered, was forced to surrender. The prisoners were marched off to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. With no idea of how long this imprisonment might last, Marchant and a few others chose a different path: they enlisted in the American army. Marchant may have been disheartened with his prospects as a prisoner, but his third enlistment, this time into the enemy army, may have been a clever ruse, for serving in the American army meant that they would be sent closer to British forces than the hinterlands of Pennsylvania.
In the autumn of 1776, American forces lost one fight after another around New York City. Large numbers of American soldiers deserted or were taken prisoner. William Marchant’s own circumstances aren’t known at this writing, but on October 17 he joined the British army again. He enlisted in the 63rd Regiment of Foot and spent several months in their ranks. In 1777, prisoners from his old regiment were exchanged and the 7th Regiment was reconstituted from those men, recruits from Great Britain, and drafts from other regiments. Marchant was a Royal Fusilier once again.
The 7th Regiment served in several subsequent campaigns. Portions were captured at the battle of Cowpens and the surrender at Yorktown in 1781, but Marchant was not among them. He served out the war, and continued with his regiment when they returned to Great Britain in 1783. He did not take his discharge until five years later, when he was fifty years old, after twenty-seven years as a soldier. On 24 June 1788 he was discharged at Edinburgh Castle. He scratched a X on his discharge in lieu of a signature, and was given twenty-eight days pay with which to make the journey to London to stand before the army's pension board He was recommended for a pension, “having been wounded in the Neck at Belleisle, suffered much by long confinement when prisoner of war in America, & being much afflicted with the Rheumatism, is unfit for further service.” No mention was made of his brief stint as an American soldier.
Tuesday, August 30, 2016
British policy during the third quarter of the eighteenth century was to maintain a small, well-trained professional army during times of peace, which could be augmented and increased rapidly if war demanded it. The war that broke out in America brought just such demands; in the middle of 1775, recognizing that the conflict might become a protracted one and would require significant military force, the British military began the process of military buildup. One of the measures was the authorization of a new regiment, the 71st Regiment of Foot, to consist of two battalions totaling some 2000 men, for service in America as soon as it was up to strength and fit for service.
It would be impossible to raise such a regiment and make it ready for foreign service by relying solely on raw young recruits. But in the highlands of Scotland where the 71st Regiment was raised, there was no shortage of veterans who had been discharged after the previous war that ended in 1763, who were willing and able to return enlist again. One such man was forty-four-year-old Donald McPhee, an illiterate farm laborer from Kilmallie, near Fort William in Inverness Shire.
Born in 1731, McPhee had enlisted in the 88th Regiment of Foot when it was raised in 1760 to fight in the Seven Years War. He went with his regiment to Germany, where a splinter from an exploding mortar bomb wounded him severely in the head. He recovered sufficiently to continue as a soldier until the end of the war, when the regiment was disbanded and he was discharged.
When the 71st Regiment was raised for the American war, the experience of men like McPhee insured that it was ready for service by the summer of 1776. A portion of the regiment was captured at sea near Boston, but the majority served in the campaigns in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania in 1776, 1777 and 1778. No muster rolls have survived for the these years, making it impossible to know specifics of Donald McPhee's service. The next we know about him is that he was at the siege of Charleston, South Carolina in 1780. It was here that he was wounded again, this time in the thigh.
McPhee convalesced for a time, but did not recover sufficiently to return to service. Some time before the war ended, he was discharged and sent home. Although he had a total of only ten years in the army, not a very long career compared to other full-time soldiers, his two wounds made him a likely object for an army pension. He did not, however, avail himself of this prospect by going to London and standing before the pension examining board; instead, he returned to his native Inverness and life as a laborer.
The rigors of his hard life rapidly caught up to him. He was unable to support his wife and six children, and soon became too infirm to work at all. The family was supported by the parish until, in 1791, an army officer who’d served with him in America intervened on his behalf. The officer helped McPhee make a claim for a pension, writing to the pension board “that from the Testimony of several Gentlemen of first veracity & Honor on behalf of the Bearer Donald McPhee, and having a recollection myself of the poor man’s services in America, I am enabled not only to renew his Discharge (on account of his having lost the Original) but to Certify that he has been confined to his Bed and supported by his Parish for some years Past, which prevented his being able to come up in due time to solicit His Majesty’s Bounty of Chelsea Pension.” The deserving veteran, now sixty years old, was added to the pension rolls.
Wednesday, August 17, 2016
When Great Britain committed to powerful offensive operations to suppress the American rebellion, among the regiments ordered to America were two composed primarily of Scottish highlanders, the 42nd and 71st Regiments of Foot. The 42nd was part of the regular army, while the 71st was raised specifically for the American war. While most British regiments were composed of men from all over the British isles, the 42nd was composed almost exclusively of highlanders. The 42nd was stationed in Glasgow in late 1775, having recently returned from duty in Ireland. For American service they were authorized a strength nearly twice that of most other British regiments, and set about recruiting at a feverous pace through the closing months of the year.
One of the new recruits was Andrew Elder. He enlisted on 19 September 1775 and was put directly into the regiment's elite light infantry company in spite of being only about twenty years old, somewhat young for a British soldier. The regiment landed on Staten Island in the summer of 1776, and their light infantry was in the thick of fighting in New York and across New Jersey in 1776 and 1777, and again on the campaign that seized Philadelphia later in 1777. Somewhere during the retreat from that city in June of 1778, however, Andrew Elder went missing.
The muster rolls of the 42nd Regiment denote Elder as a prisoner of war, an indication that the circumstances of his disappearance were known. Somewhere along the line, however, Elder managed to outfox his captors. As a fugitive, he convinced people that he was a deserter rather than an escaped prisoner of war, a tactic that would engender trust. By May of 1779 he was staying at the home of Neal McCarty in Sadsbury Township, Pennsylvania, about forty miles west of Philadelphia. From there he ran away, taking enough clothing with him to prompt McCarty to place an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Packet on 5 June:
Fifty Dollars Reward.
Ran away on the twenty-seventh of May, from the house of the subscriber in Sadsbury township, Chester county, a certain Andrew Elder, who said he deserted from the British army about twelve months ago: He is about twenty three years of age, and about five feet seven inches high, fair complexion, curly hair tied behind; had on an old snuff jacket. He also stole and took with him four good shirts, three pairs of trowsers, a pair of gold knee buckles, one of which he wore in a ribband round his hat. Whoever secures said Elder in any gaol, shall be entitled to the above reward, paid by Neal McCarty.
Elder stayed on the lam for another year before he turned up at the British post of Paulus Hook, on the front lines of British-held territory in Bergen County, New Jersey (today, Jersey City in Hudson County). He had traveled from Lancaster, Pennsylvania with a sutler (a merchant who sold provisions to the army) to the American post a New Bridge on the Hackensack River. Knowing this American post was a key river crossing, Elder carefully observed the condition of the troops there, making particular note of a large artillery park. He then made his way back to his British comrades whom he had left just over two years before. He was sent to British headquarters in New York where he gave an intelligence report, which included news of the battle of Camden in South Carolina:
Andrew Elder of the 42nd Regiment taken in Pensilvania came with a Sutler from Lancaster about four weeks ago, came into Paulers Hook. Washington's Army the other side of New Bridge very ill off for provisions they got five days Meat for Nine days. They have about Thirty Guns Brigaded. 5 eighteen, 2 Six pounders and two Howitzers in the park.
Soldiers not Satisfied they way they are Sold; Gates defeated his escape was with his Aid De Camp and Some Waggoners they rode two Hundred Miles for fear of Being taken up by the Tories. They dislike they French More than they English.
Andrew Elder was sent back to his regiment. During his time as a prisoner, he was administratively transferred out of the light infantry so that that company could be brought up to full strength. He joined his new company, and continued to serve through the end of the war. In late 1783, the 42nd Regiment of Foot, with the now-seasoned veteran Andrew Elder in its ranks, was sent to Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Learn more about British soldiers in America!
Thursday, July 14, 2016
There's a common misconception that during the American Revolution the ranks of British regiments were filled with "the scum of the earth." That's certainly not true as a generality; the majority of British regulars were career soldiers who volunteered for the job and served dutifully, faithfully and well. But any large population is bound to have a few bad eggs. In spite of the efforts of recruiting officers, incorrigible men did make it into the ranks.
The 54th Regiment of Foot sailed from Ireland to America at the beginning of 1776, serving first on the abortive expedition to establish a foothold in the southern colonies, then joining the army in New York. At the end of the year they were part of the force that landed in Rhode Island, where they settled into a garrison routine that was frequently interrupted by alarms and incursions from nearby American forces.
Like all British regiments in America, the 54th had several officers and men in Great Britain recruiting to make up for the inevitable attrition of a wartime deployment. In the spring of 1777, recruits raised during the previous year embarked for New York. Upon arrival there, those of the 22nd, 43rd and 54th Regiments were sent up Long Island Sound to join their regiments in Rhode Island. They arrived on 20 June and were quickly integrated into their corps. They had already been trained in the basic aspects of soldiering while with their recruiting parties in Britain, but had much more to learn. Just days after landing, the recruits were practicing with live ammunition.
The island called Rhode Island, now referred to as Aquidneck Island, was a front line, separated from the mainland by only narrow channels in a few places. Because parts of the shoreline were within easy cannon shot of the mainland, the British established lines that were in many places well back from the shore. By day, the land between the lines and the shore were well protected by British positions. At night the area became a no-man's land, where marauders from the mainland could land to attack sentries or raid houses and farms, island inhabitants could meet agents from the mainland to provide intelligence, mischievous British soldiers could attempt to sneak off of the island, and other illicit activity could occur.
Encounters between British sentries and people lurking outside the lines took place almost daily, or nightly, in Rhode Island. One instance occurred on 2 September, when sentries noticed two men between them and the waterside. One quickly returned and was taken by the sentries; he proved to be a soldier of the 54th Regiment. The sentries saw the other man crawling on hands and knees towards them. They challenged the intruder, but got no response. Following their training, they fired. The crawling man was struck twice in the body and died almost instantly.
The man was William Wood, a soldier in the 54th Regiment. A very new soldier, in fact: he was one of the recruits who had arrived in June. After 74 days with the regiment, he was dead. But an officer of the garrison indicated that Wood had earned no sympathy during his short career: "The man who was shot, was of a very bad Character, and if he had no intention of deserting, of which however there is little doubt, deserved his fate, as he had no business in front of the advanced posts at night, and should have answered when challenged.”
Thursday, July 7, 2016
A popular bit of mythology concerning British army wives is that they were required to remarry within a few days (24 hours, 48 hours, 72 hours, or other durations depending upon who retells the story) or they would be abandoned by the army. Not only is this illogical given the important roles that army wives held in the military infrastructure, working as nurses, washer women and sutlers, but we've shown several examples of widows who stayed with the army for months or years after their husbands died. In those cases, we used information from marriage licenses combined with information from regimental muster rolls. We have several instances where a marriage license denotes the bride-to-be as "widow" belonging to a regiment, and found on the regiment's muster rolls a man with the same last name who had died anywhere from a few months to a few years before. Although British general orders in America frequently mention opportunities for soldiers' widows to return home on ships bound for Great Britain, these marriage licenses demonstrate that some did not.
Another source of evidence has come to light. In late 1782 or early 1783 there was an opportunity for people associated with the army to sail from New York to Great Britain. This was quite common, but in this instance a list survives, found by researcher Todd W. Braisted, of the people who applied for passage. The list includes a number of army widows, each one with the regiment listed alongside the woman's name. Comparing these names to muster rolls we can determine when the husband died.
Some of them are indeterminate, such as three widows of the 76th Regiment, Margaret Hay, Ann McDonald and Ann Bissett. Only a few muster rolls for this regiment survive, leaving no way to know whether their husband's died in garrison in New York, on campaign in Virginia, or as prisoners of war after the capitulation at Yorktown. We also have no way of knowing whether these women accompanied the regiment on campaign. Similar is the case of Eleanor ("Elinor") Paget of the 24th Regiment, who sought passage to Ireland for herself and one child; not enough information has been found to reveal whether her husband died on Burgoyne's 1777 campaign, or in prison during the subsequent years. And no man corresponding to Rachel Molloy of the 27th Regiment, who sought to go to England, has been found on the muster rolls.
A few, however, can be traced, and the results are surprising. Anne Carr of the 35th Regiment was the widow of William Carr, who had died on 28 October 1776. This was the date of the battle of White Plains, in which the 35th Regiment was heavily engaged, and we can assume that Carr was killed in that battle. The 35th Regiment was sent to the West Indies in late 1778 and was still there when Anne Carr applied for passage to England in late 1782.
Widow Huston, whose first name is not given, belonged to the 10th Regiment of Foot. She was the widow of William Huston, who died on 10 September 1776 when the regiment was on Long Island preparing for the assault on Manhattan. In 1778 the fit men of the 10th Regiment were drafted into regiments bound for the West Indies, the unfit men were discharged, and the officers and non-commissioned officers were sent home. But Widow Huston remained in New York, and applied for passage to Ireland with six children.
Another widow from the 10th Regiment was Mary Smith. There were two men named Smith in the 10th Regiment who died during that regiment's service in America between 1774 and 1778. Thomas Smith died on 2 February 1777, and Joseph Smith on 30 December 1777. We don't know to which one Mary Smith was married, but we do know that she was still in New York in late 1782 when she applied for passage to England.
What were these women doing all this time? Lacking specific information, we can only guess that they were gainfully employed, perhaps supporting the army as hospital nurses or sutlers. While don't know the reasons why they stayed in America, they do provide further proof that army widows were neither abandoned nor required to remarry.
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
When the 7th Regiment of Foot, the Royal Fusiliers, landed in Quebec in 1773, its ranks included two brothers, Thomas and Nathaniel Taylor. The Englishmen were both serjeants and were the children of a soldier; they'd spent their entire lives, from birth, in the 7th Regiment. Nathaniel, born in 1745 and serving in the grenadier company, may have been the younger of the two, but this is not certain.
When war broke out in Boston in 1775, the soldiers of the 7th Regiment, manning posts along the Richelieu River between Quebec and Lake Champlain, may not have been too concerned. It seemed like a local conflict, far away from them. The fall of Fort Ticonderoga, garrisoned by a detachment of the 26th Regiment, changed that, and the troops of the 7th and 26th prepared their positions at Chambly, Montreal and other key locations for possible attack.
That attack came in the Autumn when American forces surged down the lake and down the river, pushing northward towards Quebec in an attempt to claim Canada. In spite of determined defense, most of the 7th and 26th Regiments were captured piecemeal as each post along the Richelieu was overwhelmed. The prisoners were sent to a barracks in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the first of many who would pass through that town during what became a long war. They may have had some consolation in learning that Quebec did not fall, and a large reinforcement from Great Britain in the spring regained all of the ground that had been lost in the fall.
The prisoners of the 7th Regiment were marched to Lancaster, ennsylvania, and held there for over a year. They were exchanged and joined the British army in New York in 1777. The regiment, after regrouping and recieving some reinforcements to replace men who had deserted or been rendered unfit by the hardships of captivity, participated in the storming of Forts Clinton and Montgomery on the Hudson River in October 1777. They were then sent to Philadelphia to winter with the British army that had just taken that city. On 29 November 1777, Thomas Taylor took the opportunity for advancement that wartime often offered, obtaining the Quartermaster's commission in the 7th Regiment when the previous holder of that position retired.
Of causes that are not known, Thomas Taylor died on 22 September 1781. The 7th Regiment was in the south at that time, having had many of its number captured at the battle of Cowpens in January, and having lost other men in other actions. As Quartermaster, Thomas Taylor may have been at a garrison post when the regiment was fighting. Regardless, he was born, lived and died in the 7th Regiment.
Needing a successor, the officer commanding the 7th Regiment in the field, Lt. Col. Alured Clark, wrote a letter to General Charles, Lord Cornwallis on 5 October offering his recommendation:
I have on my own behalf and that of the regiment to recommend Serjeant Nathaniel Taylor to succeed to the quartermastership vacated by the death of his brother, the success of which I feel much interested in, as he is a very honest, deserving man and greatly attached to the corps from having been born in it.
This request was approved, and Nathaniel Taylor took on his fallen brother's role. He continued in this capacity through the end of the war and beyond, when the regiment returned to Great Britain. By 1788 they were in Edinburgh, and it was here that he caught the eye of a local artist named John Kay. Kay sketched images of many of Edinburgh's personalities in the 1780s and 1790s; his rendering of the corpulent quartermaster of the Royal Fusiliers is a rare image of a man who had served in the British ranks, not as an officer, during the American Revolution. It is difficult to image that he'd had such a rotund physique while on active service in America.
It is fortunate that the artist caught Quartermaster Taylor's likeness when he did. Nathaniel Taylor died on 13 October 1790, only 45 years old, having like his brother spent his entire life in the 7th Regiment of Foot.