Saturday, January 8, 2011

Pensioner: Samuel Newby, 10th Regiment of Foot

When British soldiers were discharged, they received a document certifying that they had been legally released from their military obligation. This one-page document was usually a printed form with standardized language, having the specifics for the individual soldier written in. Most regiments used generic forms sold by printers, while a few regiments had forms printed specially for them; sometimes the entire document was handwritten.

The information on the form included the soldier's name, age, place of birth, and overall duration of military service. His trade was usually included, and sometimes a breakdown of the regiments in which he had served. Some forms included physical attributes such as height, hair and eye color, visage (the general shape of the man's face - round, square or long), and complexion (light or dark). These descriptive details made it possible to confirm that the man carrying the document was the true owner.

Men were granted pensions if the army pension board determined that they were unable to earn their own living due to infirmities incurred during army service. The discharge form included space to describe this infirmity, and the short descriptions give many fascinating insights into the hazards of military life. In addition to overt wounds or injuries, legions of pensioners suffered from straightforward ailments such as being "rheumatic", "asthmatic", "dropsical", and the widely used catchall "worn out in the service."

Occasionally the description reveals an entire dimension of the soldier's career. Such is the case with Samuel Newby of the 10th Regiment of Foot. From muster rolls we know that he spent 30 years in the 10th Regiment of Foot, from 1758 tho 1788, including the years that regiment was in America. He spent the early part of this time as a private soldier, then in February 1776 in Boston was appointed drummer, a role he retained for the rest of his career.

His discharge not only tells us that he was born in Limerick city, Ireland in 1737 (based on his age of 51 when he was discharged in 1788), but also that his 'trade' was 'Musician.' This explains, to some extent, his service as both a private soldier and a drummer. Many regiments had bands of music but there was no provision on the regimental establishment for musicians, only drummers and fifers. Regiments that had musicians for their band had to carry them on the rolls as private soldiers during times when the establishment allowed for only one drummer per company, because drummers were necessary for military duties. In 1775, the establishment for regiments in America was augmented to allow for two drummers in each company. In those rare cases where we can explicitly identify musicians we find that they were often appointed as drummers. Such was the case with Samuel Newby.

Remarkable is the reason that Newby was allowed a pension. His discharge says that he was infirm due to "being worn out on account of his long service and Constant Practice on Musical Wind Instruments." Rather than remain on the pension rolls, however, Newby enlisted in the 54th Regiment of Foot and served for another five years, taking his final discharge in 1793 at the age of 56, having served 35 years in the army.

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