Sunday, May 17, 2015

William Coleman, 22nd Regiment, proves to be incorrigible

Studies of the British military in the 1770s and 1780s usually make mention of harsh discipline but fail to point out that harsh measures were reserved for men who required them, not the generality of soldiers. Like most societies, each British regiment was composed largely of dutiful men but included a few difficult ones. An example of the latter was William Coleman, who came to be described by an officer of the 22nd Regiment of Foot as "very incorrigible & such a poor looking soldier at the same time."

Coleman joined the 22nd Regiment in January 1766. We have no information on his early career besides his name on the muster rolls. The first remarkable event that we know of is his desertion on 27 July 1778. The 22nd Regiment was in Rhode Island at the time, and under immediate threat from an approaching French fleet and an American army poised to attack the British garrison. Perhaps Coleman knew of the impending danger, but it is just as likely that he wander off for some other reason. Two weeks after he absconded, French ships surrounded the island and American soldiers descended upon it, forcing the British garrison into defensive lines. A three week siege followed, after which the assailants withdrew.

In the aftermath of the siege, a prisoner exchange was negotiated. A cartel ship from Providence arrived in Newport on 8 September carrying British prisoners including William Coleman. But Coleman had been missing since before the siege, so the British did not consider him an exchanged prisoner. He was brought back to his regiment, placed in confinement, and charged with desertion.

Coleman used an interesting defense, one that had been used frequently by deserters from Boston in 1774, 1775 and 1776. He claimed that, while sleeping in a barn some distance from his regiment's encampment, he had been kidnapped "by some Rebel Privateer's Men." Those men, he claimed, carried him across the bay to East Greenwich and then to Providence. There the American commander ordered him sent back to Rhode Island for exchange as a prisoner of war.

The court was not convinced by this somewhat far-fetched story. Even if it was plausible, the chain of events was started by Coleman being absent when he shouldn't have been, an punishable offense in itself. Because desertion had been a problem in Rhode Island, Coleman's sentence was harsh - the court sentenced him to death.

But he was pardoned, and continued on as a soldier. One would think such a brush with death would change a man's ways, but it was not so with Coleman. On 19 December 1779, shortly after the regiment left Rhode Island and took up quarters in barracks on Long Island, New York, he deserted again. He was posted sentry at seven in the evening, but appeared to be a bit tipsy at the time. When the corporal of the guard made the rounds an hour later, Coleman was gone, having left his firelock and cartridge pouch at his post. Notices were circulated to regiments in the area to be on the lookout for him.

Three days later he wandered into the guard room of the 76th Regiment of Foot, a Scottish regiment quartered in Brooklyn. He was drunk. The Scottish soldiers recognized him, and asked if he was William Coleman of the 22nd Regiment. He said he was. They asked if he intended to return to his regiment. He said he didn't know. They decided to insure that he did, detaining him and returning to the 22nd Regiment the next morning.

Coleman was tried once again for desertion. He said in his defense that he was very much in liquor when posted sentry, but that he had no intention of deserting. The fact that he was still in uniform, including wearing his bayonet, when he showed up at the guard room of the 76th Regiment, supported his claim. He was found guilty once again, and this time sentenced to 800 lashes, a typical punishment for men who left their posts but didn't appear to intend to leave the army altogether.

The extent to which this punishment was inflicted is not known. It was common enough for some portion of a corporal punishment to be remitted, but since this was Coleman's second offense it's likely that he received at least part of it. Regardless, it didn't keep him out of trouble. By September 1780 he was in prison yet again for desertion.

This time a special circumstance worked in his favor. There was a backlog of court cases to be heard, and the army was looking for a way to reduce the case load. The adjutant general asked regimental commanders if some of the men, including Coleman, could be tried by regimental courts instead of general courts, even though their crimes warranted the latter. In response to this, the major commanding the 22nd Regiment at the time requested permission to turn Coleman over to a Loyalist regiment because he was "so very incorrigible & such a poor looking soldier at the same time." The request was granted, and Coleman was discharged from the 22nd Regiment on 13 September 1780.

He was supposed to join the Loyal American Rangers, a Loyalist regiment that was about to be sent to Jamaica, a place where the climate was often fatal to British soldiers. Whether or not he actually joined the regiment has not been determined.

My new book is available now!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

George Peacock, 52nd Regiment, carries St. George

Conventional wisdom holds that British soldiers earn only a meager income, and deductions from their pay for food and clothing left them destitute of any disposable income. While this perspective is based on some truth, it is a highly distorted and incomplete view of the soldier's finances. The 8 pence per day guaranteed to a soldier, from which his food and clothing were purchased through deductions, was indeed a low wage even for the era, but if well-managed it was sufficient. The notion of using this money to pay for food and clothing was no different than the lot of any other profession where workers had to purchase food and clothing; the fact that this budget was managed by the army rather than by the soldier himself was a simple way to insure that the money was, in fact, spent on necessities rather than squandered.

More important, 8 pence a day was a base pay, a minimum, and soldiers enjoyed many opportunities to earn additional money. The army employed soldiers to build roads, fortifications and other infrastructure, work for which soldiers were paid additional wages. Men with skills such as tailoring, shoemaking, carpentry, gunsmithing, baking, and a host of others could work at their trades for the army, in addition to their normal duties as soldiers, and earn extra money for their efforts. Men with free time could even hold part-time jobs outside of the army, as long as those jobs didn't interfere with their military duties in any way.

Another military job available to soldiers was being a servant to an officer. A commissioned regimental officer was entitled to take one servant from among the soldiers in his regiment (the highest ranking officers could have two), provided that the soldier remained fully capable of doing duty in the ranks when necessary. The soldier-servant had a great deal of responsibility, performing not only menial chores like caring for his master's clothing and baggage, but also tasks that required great trust such as shopping and delivering messages. In return for his efforts the soldier enjoyed a measure of relative freedom, heightened responsibility, and sometimes better food and clothing provided by his master. Most important, he received additional pay, more per diem than his base wage as a soldier that already covered his basic necessities, making a lucrative position. A soldier who forged a good relationship with an officer might follow his master through his entire military career and remain in his service after being discharged, insuring a secure living for the rest of his life.

Writings of officers frequently mention servants, occasionally by name, and provide us with anecdotal glimpses into their lives. My book British Soldiers, American War includes a chapter on these men with a detailed study of one of them. Another was George Peacock of the 52nd Regiment of Foot.  

Peacock joined the army at an early age, enlisting in 1763 when he was just 16 years old. The soldier from Sutton, Yorkshire spent most of his career with the 52nd Regiment of Foot, but also served for a time in the 78th Regiment. The 78th was disbanded in December 1763, raised and disbanded again during the American Revolution, and raised once more in the 1790s; we do not know whether Peacock served in it briefly at the beginning or at the end of his career.

What we do know is that Peacock was with the 52nd Regiment of Foot while that corps was in Canada in the early 1770s. The 52nd was due to return to Great Britain in 1774, but instead was sent to Boston in response to the mounting tensions there. The regiment served in Boston through March 1776, then in the campaigns around New York city in the second half of that year. By late summer of 1777 they were part of the campaign that captured the city of Philadelphia.

By this time George Peacock was a corporal, and spent some of his time attending to one of the 52nd Regiment's more colorful officers, Lt. Richard St. George Mansergh St. George. Wealthier than most officers, Lt. St. George retained personal servants in addition to a soldier. It is not clear whether Peacock was retained by St. George as a servant per se, or attended him instead as an orderly or in some other capacity. What we know about the relationship was written by a fellow officer, Lt. Martin Hunter, who concluded a long description of one of St. George's private servants with:

On a shot being fired at any of the advanced posts, master and man set off immediately, the master attended by a man of the Company named Peacock, who had been a great deal with the Indians in Canada, and a famous good soldier. I have often been surprised that they were not killed.

The impetuous St. George and "famous good soldier" Peacock almost did meet their demise in the Battle of Germantown outside of Philadelphia in early October 1777. Having secured the city, the British army encamped some distance away in a defensive line covering the most likely approach. The 2nd Battalion of Light Infantry camped in Germantown, along with other elements of the army. A complex surprise attack by an overwhelming force of Washington's army appeared out of the fog on the morning of 4 October and descended upon the British camp. The light infantry battalion formed and fought bravely, but was unable to stand against vastly superior numbers.

The story of the battle is told elsewhere. What matters for this tale is that, as Lt. Hunter wrote, "It was in the first volley that poor St. George was so badly wounded in the head... he was carried off the field by Peacock, who behaved like himself, otherwise St. George must certainly have been taken prisoner.”

Lt. St. George survived the wound and had a metal plate put in his head. Later in the war, when he was promoted to Captain in the 44th Regiment, Corporal Peacock did not follow him but remained with the 52nd Regiment. The grateful St. George asked Lt. Hunter “to take good care of Peacock, and gave him fifty guineas.”

Fifty guineas was about seven years' pay for a private soldier, at the base pay rate of 8 pence per day. As a corporal, Peacock was earning more than that, and probably had additional income from various duties over the years. He probably could have sought his discharge when the regiment returned to Great Britain in late 1778; being only 36 years old, with a nest egg, he was in a good position to go into some other enterprise. But he remained in the army for 21 more years, finally taking his discharge in 1799 at the age of 52, after having served 36 years as a soldier. He received a pension, which probably allowed him to live more comfortably than most when combined with his other earnings if he'd managed his money prudently.

Lt. St. George immortalized Peacock in another way. An avid caricaturist, St. George sketched many scenes during his American service. A few survive, but none are know to depict Peacock. But an artist made an illustration of the Battle of Germantown that is almost certainly based on St. George's work. In the center foreground is a soldier carrying a wounded officer off the field. This is surely a representation of Corporal George Peacock dutifully carrying Lt. Richard St. George, one of the only depictions of a British common soldier to which we can attach a specific individual.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Spring Lecture Schedule for my New Book!

Want to catch a talk about my new book, The Revolution's Last Men: The Soldiers behind the Photographs? of course you do! Below is the current schedule - and, I'm looking to add more, if you have a venue and need a speaker! Of course, I'm always happy to give a talk about British Soldiers in the American Revolution, which is my favorite subject, but for the time being I'll be spending some time promoting this new one that I took on even though it's out of my usual genre.
(But - I am starting work on the NEXT new book, which will be back on topic - stay tuned...)


Upcoming talks on The Revolution's Last Men: The Soldiers behind the Photographs:

21-22 March: America's History conference on the American Revolution, Williamsburg, VA
27 March: Old Barracks Museum, Trenton, NJ:
http://www.barracks.org/CalendarofEvents.htm
28 March: Hale Byrnes House, Newark, DE:
http://www.halebyrnes.org/calendar.html
29 March: David Library of the American Revolution, Washington Crossing, PA:
http://dlar.org/events.htm
13 April: Varnum Armory, East Greenwich, RI:
http://www.varnumcontinentals.org/index.html
11 April: Association of Rhode Island Authors meet & greet, Warwick, RI (no lecture):
https://www.facebook.com/events/380137835501218/
2 May: Fort Plain Conference on the American Revolution, Fort Plain, NY:
http://www.fortplainmuseum.org/20150301%20Conference%20Flye…
3 May: Bergen County Historical Society Author's Day, River Edge, NJ:
http://www.bergencountyhistory.org/Pages/events.html
24 May: Saratoga National Historical Park, Stillwater, NY:
http://www.nps.gov/sara/planyourvisit/events.htm

Monday, March 2, 2015

Ludwig Rose, 23rd Regiment, a German drummer

In 1786, the ranks of the 23rd Regiment of Foot, the Royal Welch Fusiliers, included a sixteen-year-old drummer named Ludwig Rose. He was born in Hanover, Germany, and the Germanic pronunciation of his name resulted in it being recorded on the muster rolls as "Rosie." In spite of his youth, this young man had already seen considerable service; he had been a drummer for five years.

While not all drummers started as young as Ludwig Rose, many did, usually because their fathers' were in this army. Such was the case with Rose. His father, Johann Rose, was a soldier in Hanover and was recruited for British service in early 1776. He was one of some 2000 men recruited in Europe to serve in the ranks of British regiments in America, part of the ambitious recruiting efforts required to support the new war in the colonies. Johann Rose, born in the city of Paderborn, was thirty-four years old when he enlisted, and brought his wife and three children with him into the army. Ludwig was six years old when his family embarked at Stade on the Elbe River in May 1776.

Unlike British soldiers who were recruited by individual regiments, the German recruits were assigned to regiments after enlisting. Rose and thirty-four others were put into the 23rd Regiment of Foot, a corps that had been in America since 1773. The recruits arrived in New York in late October and joined up with their new regiments some time after that.

We don't know whether Mrs. Rose and the children stayed in the garrison in New York or followed the 23rd Regiment into the field during the campaigns of the next five years. They may have done both, depending on the campaign. The 23rd was involved in the campaigns around New York in 1776 and in New Jersey in 1777, and on the campaigns to Philadelphia and back in 1777 and 1778. 1779 saw a variety of movement in the New York area. When the regiment moved south for the campaign that took Charleston, South Carolina in 1780, some of its soldiers and dependents remained behind in New York.

The rigorous southern campaign that culminated in the British defeat at Yorktown in October 1781 saw the 23rd fragmented; while a substantial portion of it surrendered with Cornwallis's army at Yorktown, there were some soldiers still in the garrisons of New York and Charleston. There is no evidence that Johann Rose was among the Yorktown prisoners, but his actual whereabouts are not known, nor is the action at which he was wounded during the war.

Ludwig Rose appears on the rolls as a drummer beginning in 1781. With no evidence that he became a prisoner, we can assume that he was in either New York or Charleston, working with recruits for the regiment who had arrived in early 1781 who were unable to join the regiment on campaign. Ludwig's brother John (probably anglicized from Johann) also joined the regiment around this time as a private soldier; this suggests that John was older than Ludwig.

Having no rolls that tell us which women and children were with British regiments, only their numbers, we don't know whether Mrs. Rose or all of the children survived the war. The muster rolls show us that Johann Rose and his children John and Ludwig returned to Great Britain with the regiment, among the last British troops to leave New York in 1783 and arriving in Europe in early 1784. In February, Johann Rose took his discharge, having served eight years with the British army and fifteen years in Hanover before that. He was awarded a British pension for his long service and his wound.

But his children, John and Ludwig, soldiered on. How long John remained in the British army has not been determined. Ludwig was still in the regiment in 1786, but his subsequent career has not been traced. He may be the Ludwig Rose from Hanover who was discharged from the 60th Regiment of Foot in 1818 at the age of 48.

A new book, available now!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

John Edwards, 38th Regiment, has the knee buckles

Muster rolls, ideally prepared every six months for British regiments, provide a lot of information about each soldier's career. Looking at one roll after another, we can see when a man joined a regiment, which companies he served in, and when he left. For some changes, a specific reason is given; for example, when a man left a regiment the rolls usually included an annotation of "discharged," "died," "drafted," "deserted" or what have you. But these are reasons only in a high-level administrative sense; that is, they tell us that a man was discharged (for example), but not whether it was due to long service, infirmity, reduction of forces, or some other reason.

As we've seen in other cases, it is risky to make assumptions about reasons behind changes. A frequent occurrence was for private soldiers to be appointed as corporals, and later being "reduced" back to private soldiers. For some men this happened several times. When I mention this to people, they often wryly respond that the soldier must have run afoul of military discipline, but there are many other plausible explanations. The man might have been incapacitated by injury or illness, and reduced temporarily so that an able man could fill his place; or he himself may have been a temporary replacement. He may have proven unsuited to the job - there are even examples of soldiers requesting to resign from non-commissioned roles. An overall force reduction could change the number of corporalcies available. The man have had a trade that was valuable to the army, and given up his corporalcy to fill some other role.

But, were cases where disciplinary action was, in fact, the cause. Because very few regimental orderly books or regimental court martial records survive, we seldom know the reason behind a reduction in rank. But occasionally information surfaces in other places that provide answers. Such is the case with John Edwards of the 38th Regiment of Foot.

The 38th Regiment arrived in Boston from Ireland in the summer of 1774 with the 27-year-old Edwards in its ranks as a private soldier in the light infantry company. He may have been wounded either during the expedition to Concord on 19 April 1775, or at Bunker Hill on 17 June; muster rolls seldom indicate wounded men, but Edwards was transferred out of the light infantry on 15 September, usually an indication that he was no longer capable of the rigorous service of the light infantry.

The regiment left Boston with the rest of the army in March 1776, and after a sojourn in Halifax, Nova Scotia, landed on Staten Island in June. It was here that Edwards, after ten years in the army, was appointed corporal on 4 August. The 38th was active in the campaigns around New York and in New Jersey in 1776 and 1777, and on the campaign to Philadelphia in 1777. After Philadelphia was evacuated in 1778, the 38th Regiment was sent to reinforce the British garrison in Rhode Island, arriving just before the place was besieged for three weeks in August.

After the siege was lifted, life in the Rhode Island garrison calmed down a bit, but within months a cold winter set in and both provisions and firewood were in short supply. Rations were cut severely in the struggle to apportion limited supplies of food and fuel to the military and civilian inhabitants of the island.

The harsh conditions led to some desperate behavior. Depredations by soldiers against inhabitants were a persistent problem any time an army encamped - no matter what army it was - but times of deprivation generally made things worse. On 22 February 1779, a prominent Newport merchant and distiller made an entry in his memorandum book. Cooke had already suffered a great deal of losses to the war as soldiers helped themselves to produce, livestock, fowls and fence rails from his farm - soldiers from both sides, as the rural parts of the island changed hands during the 1778 siege. Now, though, for the first time, his own home in Newport was robbed. He wrote:

Feb. 22, 1779 at ye Neight of ye above day I had my house Robed, I suppose by ye 38 Ridgement, of vize - 1 Silver Tankard Marked ScR; 1 Silver Cann Marked only with ye Makers Name on ye Bottom, S. Casey; 1 Silver Porrager ScR; 1 Silver Pepper Box Marked R. W. or ScR; 1 Silver Tabel Spoon; 1 Silver Tea Spoon; 1 pr Silver Sugar Tongues; 1 pr Silver Shooe Buckels; 1 pr Silver Neay Buckels; 1 Blew Cloke; 1 Surtute; 2 Beaver Hatts; 1 Tea Chist with 10 or 12 Dollars in it; Several Hanchifers, aprons, Stockings &c.
N. B. their was a Coart Marshel held to Enquire Concerning this Theft - my Neay Buckels was found upon one Jack Edwards of ye 38. I have all the Reason in ye World to Suspect very foul play in ye affaire.

The "Jack Edwards" who had Cooke's knee buckles was none other than corporal John Edwards of the 38th Regiment. Cooke's statements are borne out by the fact that Edwards was reduced to private soldier on 11 March 1779, a typical result of a non-commissioned officer being found guilty of a crime. We have no record of the charges brought against Cooke or the trial itself. He may not have participated in the robbery, but the Articles of War forbade soldiers from taking or purchasing items from other soldiers; a non-commissioned officer in particular was expected to recognize the possibility that goods were stolen. Whether other soldiers in the regiment were implicated is not known.

This disciplinary action did not, however, derail Edwards's career. On 19 August 1780 he was appointed serjeant, clear acknowledgement that he was in general a good soldier and had not been a ringleader in the previous year's crime. Soon after he was appointed to the grenadier company, where he spent the remainder of the war in the New York area. Early in 1783, before the peace was finalized and an overall force reduction occurred, he was discharged and returned to Great Britain. On 8 March 1783 he appeared before the pension board in Chelsea outside of London, where he was granted a pension because he had been wounded during the war; the action in which he was wounded, however, is not stated in the pension records.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Evan Davis, 23rd Regiment, spends a while in Ipswich

Among the soldiers who marched from Boston towards Concord on 19 April 1775 was Evan Davis, a grenadier in the 23rd Regiment of Foot. A ten-year army veteran, he was may have been expecting this to be another routine march into the countryside similar to others that his regiment had undertaken in recent months. All-day marches kept the soldiers fit and active, especially important during the largely-dormant winter months. Davis and his fellow soldiers probably knew, however, that this was something different. Instead of an individual regiment marching out, this time it was the grenadier company and light infantry company from each regiment, companies that hadn't routinely operated together during the gradual military build-up that had been taking place in Boston over the previous year. The troops also didn't carry their knapsacks and blankets, burdens that were usually carried on fitness marches but not on operational missions. We don't know if the rank and file soldiers were aware of their mission to seize military stores, and they certainly weren't expecting to marching into battle that day.

But battle they did, as is well known. The British grenadiers suffered many casualties that day, both killed and wounded. Among the men who didn't return to Boston was Evan Davis. The muster rolls list him as "died" on 23 April.

But he wasn't dead. He was taken prisoner, perhaps wounded. On 17 May word of his suvival reached his regiment in Boston, and he was restored to the muster rolls; as a formality, he was transferred to another company in early 1776 so that another man could be put into the grenadier company in his place.

By that time Davis was being held in Ipswich, a coastal town some distance north of Boston. He was in good company. A number of other prisoners had been taken under various circumstances; in October 1776 there were sixteen British soldiers being held in Ipswich, along with of three their wives and four children. But good company invites collusion. At dusk on 7 May 1777, after two years as a prisoner of war, Davis escaped with two fellow prisoners. It was almost three full weeks before they were advertised in the newspapers:

Deserted from the town of Ipswich, on Wednesday the 7th inst. between day light and dark, three prisoners of war, viz. Donnel McBean, a highland volunteer, of a sprightly make, dark hair, and ruddy countenance, about 21 years of age, 5 feet 8 inches high. Ewen Davis, of slim stature, has lost the sight of one of his eyes, about 5 feet 10 inches high. And one Lile, a Highlander, a shoemaker, dark complexion, about 5 feet 6 inches high. Whoever shall take up said prisoners, and convey them to any goal within this State, shall have Five Dollars reward for each of them, and all necessary charges paid by Michael Farley, Sheriff.
[Boston Gazette, 26 May 1777]

Somehow, Evan Davis made his way back to his regiment. Most likely he was able to get to the British garrison in Rhode Island and from there sail to New York, but we have no details on his journey. On 24 August he was placed back into the grenadier company, just in time for British campaign to Philadelphia. The muster rolls have no annotations to suggest that he wasn't present on that campaign, in spite of his apparent lack of sight in one eye.

The rigors of campaigning, however, apparently caught up with this soldier who'd endured captivity and made his escape. He died in Philadelphia on 27 February 1778.

A new book, coming in March 2015!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Benjamin Nevil is drafted into the 17th Light Dragoons

Those familiar with the British army know that only two cavalry regiments were sent to serve in the American Revolution, the 16th (Queen's) Light Dragoons and the 17th Light Dragoons. Seldom discussed is how those regiments were changed for American service, and the diversity of individual soldiers who served in them.

Compared to an infantry regiment, a dragoon regiment was small; infantry regiments consisted of ten companies each with three officers and 44 serjeants, corporals, drummers and private soldiers, while dragoon regiments consisted of six troops each composed of three officers and 36 serjeants, corporals, trumpeters and private soldiers. When the 17th Light Dragoons was ordered to America in early 1775, each troop had only about 24 of that number on its actual strength. Besides having to add the men to meet its normal establishment, a serjeant and 17 private men were added to the desired size of each troop. But later in 1775 when it became clear that this would be a long war requiring a stronger army, even more changes were ordered.

For infantry regiments, the size of each company was increased by half, adding a serjeant, a drummer and 18 private soldiers to each company. The 16th Light Dragoons was ordered to America, and both the 16th and 17th were increased substantially in size. The number of troops remained the same, but the size of each troop was increased by one officer and thirty private men - in addition to the increase that had been made the previous year. These new men were dismounted, that is, they were to fight on foot rather than on horseback (although the term "dragoon" originally described soldiers equipped to travel on horseback but fight on foot, by the time of the American Revolution dragoons were, in general, the same as other cavalry and configured to fight on horseback).

All these men had to come from somewhere, and filling the ranks with new recruits would be counterproductive; the purpose of the size increase, after all, was to make the regiments more effective on campaign. For both the infantry and cavalry regiments, men were drafted (that is, transferred) from other regiments to fill the ranks of those going to war; for the two cavalry regiments bound for America, almost all of the required men were drafts rather than recruits. One man drafted into the 17th Light Dragoons was a trooper from the 1st (Royal) Dragoons, Benjamin Nevil.

When Nevil joined the army has not been determined. It is our good fortune to have a detailed description of him, because at the beginning of 1774 he was advertised as a deserter:

Deserted, on the 2d of January, 1774, from a Party of his Majesty’s First (or Royal Regiment of Dragoons) commanded by the Earl of Pembroke, quartered at Boston, Lincolnshire,
                Benjamin Nevil, five Feet eight Inches high, thirty-one Years old, long brown Hair, grey Eyes, dark Complexion, gloomy Countenance, marked with the Small-Pox, strait and well-made, has lost the first Joint of his Left Thumb; born at or near Arlington, in Berkshire, by Occupation a Labourer. Went off in his Regimental white Jacket, laced Hat, and Leather Breeches, and has a Woman with him who passes for his Wife.
                Whoever secures the above Deserter, shall receive Twenty Shillings Reward above the Allowance by Act of Parliament, for apprehending Deserters, on Application to the commanding Officer of the Regiment; or to Mr. Lamb, in Golden-Square, London.
[St. James’s Chronicle (London), 29 January 1774]

The circumstances of this disciplinary digression are not known. What is clear is that Nevil was back with his regiment in time to be drafted into the 17th Light Dragoons in March 1776. He probably arrived in America six months later, when a large convoy carrying recruits and reinforcements arrived in New York in late October. Whether he fought on horseback or on foot is not known, but he appears to have gone quickly into the fight. His regiment was very active in the campaign across New Jersey in late 1776 and the many skirmishes there throughout the early months of 1777.

Service in New Jersey in the first few months of 1777 was very hard on British troops. Quartered in a number of small towns stretching from Fort Lee to Trenton, they spent nights in barns and outbuildings; days were occupied with procurement of desperately-needed forage from the countryside, and protecting the fragile string of outposts from attack by American troops. Soldiers succumbed to illness and wounds, including Benjamin Nevil. He died on 11 March 1777, but the cause of his demise is not known.

A new book, coming in March 2015!