Monday, March 15, 2010

Died in America: David Stuart, 22nd Regiment of Foot

Much of the personal information that we have on British soldiers - age, place of birth, trade and similar details - comes from data recorded when they received pensions. If a man died while still in the army, he clearly did not receive a pension, and unfortunately we often know nothing more about him than his name and the dates of his service reported on muster rolls.

We are fortunate that one soldier of the 22nd Regiment left a document that reveals more about him and his situation. David Stuart joined the regiment on 1 April 1766. The fact that he joined as a serjeant indicates that he had prior military service about which we have no information. He served in several companies, joining the grenadier company on June 1776 just in time for the spectacular American campaigns under General Howe that put the grenadier and light infantry battalions in the forefront of numerous famous actions. Stuart seems to have come through all of these unscathed, from Brooklyn and the subsequent fighting in 1776, engagements in New Jersey in early 1777, Brandywine and Germantown later that year, the 1778 battle of Monmouth which saw eight men of his company killed, and the siege of Charleston early 1780.

In Autumn of 1780 fate caught up with David Stuart, not from battle but from illness. He died in New York on 14 October 1780, but he must have known the end was near because he prepared a will four days beforehand. His simple testament reads:

In the name of God Amen. I, David Stuart, Serjeant in the Grenadier Company of His Majesty’s 22d Regiment, and acting Quartermaster in the second Batalion of British Grenadiers. I leave my wife, Mary Stuart, otherwise Smith, all my estate, real and personal, and all arrears of pay, and she is to pay all debts. And she shall pay to my only son, James Stuart, aged nine years, one half of what I shall die possessed of. I make my wife executor.

We do not know the value of Stuart's "estate, real and personal", but it could have been significant. Although much is made of poor pay in the British army, a non-commissioned rank offered not only higher pay but also opportunities for additional earning in staff appointments. Stuart was serving as quarter master for the pro tem grenadier battalion, and may have had a number of similar appointments during his 14 years as a serjeant in the 22nd Regiment.

The will tells us that he had married a woman named Mary Smith. We assume that they had a son James together but it is possible that James was David Stuart's son by a previous marriage, as suggested by the will's direction that she pay half of the estate to James.

The will was witnessed by three other serjeants of grenadier companies - Alexander Stuart of the 22nd Regiment (who may have been a relative of David), George Thompson of the 63rd and David White of the 64th. The will was proved on 6 November 1780.

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