Soldiers, as we know, were also often employed by the army for duties other than the usual routine of carrying a musket. One such man was John Hopwood of the 54th Regiment of Foot. The native of Hutton, Yorkshire was born in 1743; he was discharged from the army in 1792 after 21 years of service, but we do not know whether this service was continuous; we do know that he joined the 54th Regiment before 1775 and served in it for the remainder of his career. If his entire career was in the 54th Regiment and was continuous, then he joined the army at the age of 28 - older than usual, but by no means unprecedented.
In an era where employment often began very young but military service did not usually begin until a young man had finished growing, some time in the late teens, most men had worked at some trade or another before becoming soldiers. John Hopwood was a butcher by profession. A statement on his discharge reveals that he worked in this capacity for the army and also reveals one of the many hazards that a career soldier faced. Hopwood had
lost the use of the two first fingers of his right hand occasioned by an accident when killing cattle for the use of the army in Septr 1778
This accident most likely occurred a few years later than the date written on the discharge. The muster rolls of the 54th Regiment show that James Hopwood was in the light infantry company of the regiment in 1778. The regiment was in Rhode Island from December 1776 through the middle of 1779, and unlike most regiments the light infantry and grenadier companies of the 54th remained with their regiment and were also in Rhode Island (operationally they were detached from the 54th, but they remained part of the Rhode Island garrison). Nothing in the muster rolls suggests that Hopwood was away from his company during this time.
The regiment served in the New York area for the remainder of the war, participating in the storming of Fort Griswold in Connecticut in September 1781, before removing to Canada in late 1783. Hopwood may have lost his fingers at any time during this garrison period. He was transferred from the light infantry into a battalion company in 1782, a common practice when a man was no longer in suitable physical condition to serve in a flank company; perhaps this transfer was the result of his accident. It is also possible that the discharge has the incorrect place, rather than date, of the accident.
John Hopwood put an X mark on his discharge rather than signing his own name. About 60% of the soldiers whos discharges survive signed their names, in spite of the conjecture that most soldiers were illiterate. In Hopwood's case, we don't know if was unable to write because of a lack of education or the loss of his fingers.