Tuesday, February 8, 2011

James Lipside, 26th Regiment, and John Chatham, 10th Regiment

I was chatting with a friend about my interest in researching British soldiers, explaining that the allure is in discovering personal attributes and experiences that humanize the otherwise-lifeless names on muster rolls. As an attention-getter, I mentioned a couple of cases of men who had wildly deviant behaviors. My friend asked, were there any saints? This is an excellent question. It is a great irony that the majority of soldiers were well-behaved and dutiful, good qualities which caused very little about them to be recorded. The experiences of the relatively small number of malefactors, on the other hand, survive in court records, journals and other sources because they caught the attention of administrators and onlookers.

We do, however, know of a few saints, or at least of men whose lives were characterized by benevolent actions rather than criminal ones. Roger Lamb and Thomas Watson, both soldiers in the 23rd Regiment of Foot, turned to religion after their military service; the former became a school teacher and the later a minister. Probably others did the same, still awaiting our rediscovery of their lives' accomplishments.

There are other soldiers who committed singular acts of selfless heroism that deserve to be remembered. Two such instances received brief mentions in newspapers. The first concerns a soldier of the 26th Regiment of Foot, James Lipside (as his name appears on the muster rolls). We have very little background on him beyond that he actually served in the regiment. In the summer of 1772 the 26th Regiment was on service in America and was moving from New York city to Albany by sailing up the Hudson river. An Albany newspaper recorded an event that apparently occurred during disembarkation at that city:

On Sunday the 24th [May] James Lapseed, a Grenadier of the 26th Regiment (the third division of which was then on their passage from New York to this City) standing on the Gunwale of the Sloop Beggar’s Benison, dangling a Child in his Arms, unfortunately fell overboard. The Sloop being then underway, the people could give him no Assistance. He kept the Child above Water, and swam a great Way; but his strength failing, he let the Child go, and immediately sunk. The Child was soon taken up by a Canoe; and, having Blood let, perfectly recovered.

This underscores the hazards of military operations even in peace time. Transporting soldiers and their families by water was attended with a variety of dangers, from storms during ocean crossings to mishaps like this one that led to the demise of a soldier. Fortunately the child, presumably of the regiment and perhaps Lipside's own, was saved. Were it not for this article, Lipside's fate would be completely unknown because no muster roll survives recording his death.

A few years later, still before the outbreak of hostilities, a strikingly similar incident occurred in Boston:

Last Wednesday Afternoon a Soldier belonging to the 10th Regiment was accidentally drowned as he was attempting to take up a seafaring Lad that had fell from a Wharf in this Town; the Lad was saved.

The date corresponds to 28 December 1774, a dangerous time to enter the frigid waters of Boston harbor. The muster rolls of the 10th Regiment show no man dying on that day, but John Chatham is listed as having died on 31 Dec 1774; no other man of the regiment died within that week, so we conclude that Chatham was the one who drowned. Had we only the muster rolls to rely on, we would assume that he died of illness and would know nothing of his heroic act.

While not the stuff of sainthood, the selfless actions of James Lipside and John Chatham show us that British soldiers were as likely as anyone else to shun personal safety in order to rescue another in danger.

1 comment:

  1. Good post as always.

    I was reading John Robert Shaw's memoir a couple nights ago (he was a soldier in the 33rd regiment), and this post reminded me of something he wrote:

    "While we were in Lancaster I became acquainted with a man in the army, belonging to the 44th regiment, whom I think proper to mention in this place on account of his piety. I had frequently observed him retiring into a secret place, which at length awakened my curiosity to see what he was about;--I watched him, and found he went there to pray... I firmly believe, he was, what is truly a phenomenon in the army, a conscientious christian.--But this pious example had little influence on my conduct."