In an age when schooling was not guaranteed and even well educated men were likely to attend school only into their mid-teens, boys and men needed to do something gainful with their lives before they were old enough to even consider joining the army. This meant pursuing a specific trade either in a formal capacity as an apprentice or informally by simply working for someone in the trade, or by doing whatever work one could find.
The few soldiers who have left accounts of their pre-military employment make it clear that work could begin early in life. Thomas Watson started working in coal mines at the age of 7; although he occasionally found other work, mining remained his typical employment until he enlisted in the 23rd Regiment of Foot in 1772 at about 19 years of age. Thomas Cranfield, son of a baker, attended school until age 14 and then was apprenticed to a tailor; although he ran away from several employers, tailoring remained his primary profession until he enlisted in the 39th Regiment of Foot in 1777 at the age of 19 and went on to serve in Gibraltar.
From various sources, we have information on the trade of 322 soldiers in the 22nd Regiment of Foot who served in the American Revolution. Of these, over half the men had skilled trades, while the remainder were listed as "laborers", period parlance for men who had no specific skill. Laborers may have worked as farm hands, unskilled construction workers, dock workers, or in various other capacities where no specialized training was required. The identified trades, in order of predominance, are:
- 143 Laborers
- 41 Weavers
- 22 Shoemakers
- 16 Tailors
- 9 Carpenters
- 6 each: Wagon Driver, Wool comber
- 5 Breeches makers
- 4 each: Cutler, Cooper, Gardiner, Miner
- 3 each: Baker, Blacksmith, Bricklayer, Cordwainer, Flax dresser, Mason, Ribbon Weaver
- 2 each: Barber, Cabinet Maker, Linen Weaver, Nailor, Silversmith, Tanner
- 1 each: Brazier, Butcher, Cloth Dresser, Currier, Farmer, File smith, Glass cutter, Glazier, Gunmaker, Harness Maker, Hatter, Hosier, Miller, Musician, Needle Maker, Painter, Sadler, Sawyer, Spectacle Maker, Stocking Maker, Stone Sawyer, Thatcher, Tobacconist, Victualler, Wheelwright, Wire drawer
It is difficult to say whether this sample of 322 men is representative of the 1005 men who served in the 22nd Regiment in America at some point during the American War. For example, the bulk of the data is from records associated with pensions, and it is possible that men with trades were more likely to get pensions that those without. Even if this data is does not accurately show the proportion of tradesmen in the army, it at least shows the variety of trades.
The preponderance of textile workers, particularly weavers, is a simple reflection of Britain's economy that was strongly based on the textile trade. The significant number of shoemakers, tailors and other clothiers, and artificers such as smiths, coopers, carpenters and leather workers, shows that the regiment had within its ranks the skills necessary to be self-sufficient when on campaign or in far-flung garrisons. It also makes clear that many soldiers had opportunities to work and earn money over and above the base pay they received from the army.