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Monday, December 31, 2012
It probably started out as a good party, but it ended badly. That's nothing new, and it happened during the American Revolution just as it does today. This particular party occurred in New York city on 30 November 1780, and although a tragedy occurred it resulted in a record that provides us with many details of how British soldiers and their wives lived during the war. All of the information that follows is divined from testimony given at a court martial; there were many confusing and contradictory statements, so this account is as accurate as we can discern from the various accounts of the affair.
I didn't have enough space in my book British Soldiers, American War to go into detail about married soldiers and their wives. For this story, it is sufficient to know that about a fifth of the British soldiers in America had wives, and sometimes families, with them, and that these women were part of the military society. Central to this story are two couples in the 57th Regiment of Foot: Patrick and Peggy McGuire and John and Elizabeth Jones. McGuire had arrived in America in late 1777, while Jones had arrived just a few months later; it is possible that they had known each other as recruits in Great Britain. Unfortunately there are no records to tell us whether these men were married when they joined the army, or if they met their wives after arriving in America. Also key to the story were James McCullough and Thomas Campbell, also of the 57th Regiment, who had arrived in American with McGuire.
On the night of 30 November three of these soldiers - Jones, McCullough and Campbell - were on guard at their barracks. Being on guard didn't mean standing at a post, but rather being available for duty during a period of 24 or more hours; some of that time would be spent actually manning posts, while the rest was spent in barracks or a guard room ready to turn out at the sound of an alarm. The men in barracks were apparently in high spirits, drinking and dancing, and Peggy McGuire was there too even though her husband was not on duty at the time. Married couples were sometimes allowed to live in their own quarters out of the barracks, and the Jones's and McGuire's lived in a house not far away; Patrick McGuire asked Mr. and Mrs. Jones if they knew where his wife was, and they directed him to the barracks.
At around 7 PM John Jones left the barracks to dine with his wife, an indulgence allowed to married men. Not long after that, Peggy McGuire decided she'd had enough of the party, perhaps because she was also due at home for dinner, perhaps because the men were becoming too rambunctious, and certainly because she was by this time rather intoxicated. She left the barracks, but James McClullough, also "very much in liquor," followed her closely enough that some said they left together. In a field adjacent to the barrack he assaulted her, taking her shoe buckles, tearing the handkerchief from her neck and opening the breast of her bed gown (a garment which, contrary to what the name suggests, was a common form of casual wear). Whether his intentions were robbery or worse is not known. She resisted and cried out "Murder!", then managed to get free and return to the barracks door where she collapsed.
Her husband Patrick, meanwhile, was on his way to the barracks to inquire whether he had duty the next day and also to find Peggy. He heard the cry, recognized her voice, and hurried towards the scene. Others soldiers also heard Peggy's cry and called for the guard to turn out. This resulted in soldiers, some armed and some not, running about in the dark from all directions. Before the guard turned out, a soldier came upon Peggy McGuire sitting shoeless and dishevelled, helped her up and started to take her home. McCullough appeared and grabbed her, and the two soldiers both held her as she begged McCullough to go home. Then a drunken Thomas Campbell joined the fray, knocked Peggy down, then fell down himself. The soldier who'd initially helped Peggy called for the guard. Then Patrick McGuire arrived on the scene.
Patrick came up just as Campbell knocked his wife down; Campbell got up and fled, but McGuire quickly caught he and gave him a sound thrashing. Peggy, meanwhile, with the assistance of the other soldier, still tipsy and carrying her shoes, managed to get to her house where she was greeted by Elizabeth Jones.
A corporal and a few men of the guard, fully armed but not particularly steady after their evening of drink and dance, tumbled out of the barracks and came upon McGuire beating Campbell. The corporal, not knowing the full situation and hearing Campbell cry out in pain, made a stroke at McGuire with his firelock (musket), but in his drunken state succeeded only in falling to the ground. McGuire, having easily fended off the clumsy stroke, seized the firelock and headed towards home where he found his wife in the care of Mrs. Jones and another corporal of the regiment. The McGuires each began giving their accounts of the events, but the night was not yet over.
Within a few minutes there was a pounding at the door. It was Thomas Campbell and James McCullough, now armed and supported by some other soldiers. Campbell bellowed that he demanded satisfaction from Patrick McGuire for the beating he'd received. The corporal in the house, attempting to diffuse the situation, posted John Jones at the door with strict orders to prevent any violence, stepped outside and closed the door, told the agressors that they would receive all the satisfaction he could offer once he'd investigated the matter, then went to report the situation to an officer. Jones opened the top half of the door, saw the bloody-faced and bayonet-wielding Campbell and McCullough, and quickly closed and bolted the door again. There followed angry knocks, and someone demanded that if one of the McGuires was not sent out they'd blow a ball through the door. Peggy McGuire told her husband that she feared they meant to take her life or his. Patrick called to McCullough by name, saying that he didn't wish to hurt him. But the still-inebriated Peggy intoned that if he did not hurt McCullough in retaliation for his assault on her, she would never sleep with Patrick again.
This remark inflamed Patrick McGuire anew. Jones held his collar and tried to restrain him, but McGuire growled that he'd hurt even his own brother if he tried to stop him. Jones was pushed aside as McGuire seized a firelock and threw the door open. Thomas Campbell burst in and the bayonet on his firelock tore Elizabeth Jones's gown; a crowd of soldier flooded into the house, some scuffling ensued and then the light went out. McGuire, fearing for his life, ran out of the darkened house into the night. Elizabeth Jones and Peggy McGuire stepped out after him and saw James McCullough lifeless on the ground; Peggy knelt down and took her own shoe buckles from his pocket. Other soldiers sallied out and lifted McCullough, finding a fracture in his skull the shape of rounded object such as a musket butt. He was taken to the general hospital where surgeons did everything they could, but he died after languishing for ten days.
Patrick McGuire went to an officer and reported what had happened, then returned to his quarters and his wife. Things had calmed down. In the morning he reported for duty, but was soon relieved and confined along with Thomas Campbell. He remained confined until 19 Feburary 1781 when he was put on trial for murder. One can only imagine the thoughts and expressions of the 15 officers who sat on the court martial, listening to confused and contradictory testimony, perhaps making mental notes about ancillary details such as dancing in the barracks and the guard turning out drunk. After hearing depositions from ten witnesses over two days, they acquitted McGuire because there was insufficient evidence that he had ever struck McCullough; the only person to testify that he did was Thomas Campbell whose testimony can hardly be considered credible given the circumstances.
All four of the soldiers discussed here had enlisted in the army after the war began; as such, they were entitled to be discharged at the close of hostilities. Thomas Campbell and John Jones took advantage of this offer; it is not known whether either of them took land grants in Canada or returned to Great Britain. James McCullough was dead; were it not for the record of his trial, we would have only the muster rolls to tell us this, documents that give the date of death but no explanation. We would assume that he died of illness, ignorant of the bizarre circumstances that led to his demised. And so it is with Patrick McGuire, who died on 26 June 1781, just four months after being acquitted of murder. We know nothing about the cause of his death, nor what became of his wife Peggy.
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Tuesday, December 18, 2012
In the late 1760s and early 1770s when Great Britain was not at war, men enlisted in the army as a career; there was no specific enlistment term, but instead service lasted until the man was discharged because he was no longer fit for service. This is discussed at length in my book British Soldiers, American War. The notion that a man could not quit the service sounds harsh, but the careers of many soldiers prove that they did not wish to leave it. Indeed, many who had the opportunity to do so instead went to great lengths to remain soldiers.
An example can be found in Michael Lynch, a laborer from Tipperary. He was 21 years old in 1770 when he enlisted in the 15th Regiment of Foot, making him very typical of the era's enlistees. But for reasons unknown, he was discharged after only five years in December 1775. This is particularly odd because the regiment was at that time recruiting, preparing for service in America; not only were new recruits being enlisted, but experienced soldiers from other regiments were being drafted into the 15th. We can only guess why Lynch was let go at such a time.
Lynch's discharge clearly wasn't for lack of martial zeal or for aversion to service overseas, for he soon joined a recruiting party of the 47th Regiment of Foot. This corps was already in America, and Lynch joined them in Quebec in 1776. The 47th participated in that year's campaign, spent a cold winter in Canadian quarters, then formed part of General John Burgoyne's expedition towards Albany in 1777.
This campaign brought some of the most storied fighting of the war, and Michael Lynch was in the thick of it. He was wounded in the right cheek at the second battle of Saratoga on 7 October. He then became a prisoner of war when the army capitulated a few days later.
It is not known how long Lynch remained in captivity. It was probably at least a couple of years, but he is not on lists of prisoners in 1781. His whereabouts are unknown until September 1782 when he joined the 23rd Regiment of Foot in New York. He had, like many other British prisoners of war, escaped; instead of disappearing into the American countryside, he was one of hundreds who made their way back to British garrisons and continued serving as soldiers of the King.
Michael Lynch was rewarded for his dedication when he was finally discharged from the 23rd in 1788, "being ruptured and worn out in the Service." The X that he put on his discharge in lieu of a signature was the mark of a man who had two opportunities to leave the army, but instead served until he was no longer able.
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Learn more about British soldiers in America!
Saturday, December 8, 2012
One chapter of British Soldiers, American War focuses on cavalry troopers who volunteered to serve in infantry regiments for the war in America. Only two British cavalry regiments, the 16th Light Dragoons and the 17th Light Dragoons, were sent to America; twenty-three others (three regiments of Dragoon Guards, four regiments of horse, and 16 regiments of dragoons and light dragoons) remained behind in Great Britain, but not all of these horse soldiers were content to miss out on a foreign war. About 200 cavalrymen volunteered to join the infantry and served on foot in America.
And, in America, some foot soldiers managed to get transferred into the light dragoons. Although the 16th and 17th Light Dragoons had been augmented to a strength that far exceeded their peacetime footing, attrition in America soon took its toll. As escaped prisoners of war made their way into British lines they were put into other regiments, and some of them, even though they had served in infantry regiments, were drafted into the dragoons.
One such man was Orson Jewitt, a labourer from Norfolk who had joined the army in 1765 when he was 23 years old. His early career is unclear; the muster rolls of the 47th Regiment indicate that he was drafted from the 15th Regiment of Foot, but we were unable to find him (or a number of other drafts) on the rolls of the 15th. Regardless, he joined the 47th Regiment in Canada in 1776. With that regiment, he had the misfortune to be incarcerated in 1777.
Hundreds of British prisoners of war eventually escaped and made their way to British garrisons. We don't know how Jewitt did it, but by June 1781 he had gotten to New York and joined the 17th Light Dragoons. Three other men from his regiment joined the same troop of the 17th on the same day.
The 5-foot-6-inch soldier remained in the 17th Light Dragoons through the end of the war and took his discharge when he had completed twenty years of service. He was discharged in April 1785 “being worn out by Fatigue & Climate in America.” Unable to write his own name, he marked his discharge certificate with an X and went before the Chelsea Hospital board of examiners who granted him an out pension.Learn more about British soldiers in America!
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
This blog has featured many stories of deserters, some recaptured, some not. Occasionally deserters turned up in the in highly unexpected places.
A man named Alexander Robinson enlisted in the 57th Regiment of Foot in March 1769, and deserted the following year while the regiment was in Dublin. This in itself was not unusual, nor was the fact that Robinson was never apprehended in Ireland. The 57th Regiment continued serving on the Irish establishment until the beginning of 1776 when they embarked for America as part of the expedition against Charleston, South Carolina. They then sailed to Staten Island and participated in the campaign that gained control of New York city and the surrounding area. The summer of 1777 found them settling in to garrison New York where they would remain for the rest of the war, engaging not in major campaigns but in numerous foraging expeditions and other incursions in the region. Deserters, however, were not forgotten...
Among the expeditions in which the 57th Regiment participated was the October 1777 capture of Fort Clinton and Fort Montgomery on the Hudson River. This venture was intended to provide some relief to General Burgoyne's beleaguered army, bogged down north of Albany, but it was too little, too late. It was nonetheless a bold action, with a violent struggle for control of the forts in which the British forces prevailed. Nearly 300 American prisoners were taken. Among them was Alexander Robinson, who was recognized by some of his former comrades in the 57th Regiment.
It is no surprise that Robinson was put on trial for desertion. During the war a number of other British deserters were taken up while serving with the enemy; bearing arms with the enemy was a much more severe crime than desertion alone, and most of these men were found guilty and sentenced to death. Several aspects of Robinson's trial, however, indicate that his case was not so clear cut.
Although witnesses at the trial testified that Robinson was "taken prisoner at Fort Montgomery" he was tried only for desertion and no evidence was presented that he was armed, in uniform, or in any way acting with the American army. The only testimony was that he had, in fact, enlisted in 1769, deserted in 1770 and was taken again on 6 October 1777 at the fort. He offered nothing in his defense except to acknowledge his crime and throw himself on the mercy of the court. Indeed, the brief trial seems to be almost a matter of form rather than a detailed inquiry into a severe crime.
Robinson was found guilty of this capital crime, but instead of death he was sentenced to 1000 lashes, a typical punishment for desertions when soldiers were gone for only a short time and surrendered willingly. Given the circumstances, this punishment suggests that the court was privy to information that does not appear in the trial record - perhaps Robinson surrendered himself and offered a plausible story about why he had deserted and how he came to be in America. Unfortunately we have no record of it, or any indication of why he was at Fort Montgomery on that fateful day.
The muster rolls for the 57th tell us simply that Alexander Robinson "returned from desertion" on 6 October 1777. He continued to serve in the regiment after that for several years until he died in New York on 28 August 1782. There is no indication of any other remarkable events in his military career, and typical of muster rolls there is no indication of the cause of death.
Friday, November 16, 2012
If you like the material in this blog, you're sure to enjoy my book.
The featured soldier this week came to my attention because of the plight of his wife, brought to my attention by colleague and blogger J. L. Bell who does an outstanding job of ferreting out details on the individuals who formed the society of 1770s Boston and environs. We learn of Elizabeth Royal (or Royall) from a resolution by the Massachusetts Provincial Congress's Committee of Safety dated 21 June 1775:
That Joseph Adams, driver of the stage from Newbury, be, and he hereby is directed, to transport back to Newbury, Elizabeth Royal and her child, who, as she says, is wife to William Royal, first sergeant in the 63d regiment of foot, now in Boston, and deliver her to the care of the selectmen of said Newbury, who are hereby directed to provide for her and her child, at the expense of the colony.
The 63rd Regiment of Foot had arrived in Boston only a few weeks prior to this resolution. The regiment's muster rolls confirm the presence of William Royal in its ranks; he was already in the regiment in January 1775 and sailed with them from Ireland to America, but we have not traced his career to determine when he joined the army (another published version of the Committee of Safety's resolution gives the name as "Rogers" but there was no man by that name in the 63rd Regiment). The rolls note that he was "British" as opposed to "Irish" or "Foreign", indicating that he was from either England, Scotland or Wales. Clearly he was already married to Elizabeth before the regiment left Ireland, because by June 1775 they had a child. And he was no serjeant - the rolls list him as a private soldier.
Perhaps his wife inflated his rank in an attempt to impress her detainees. When the 63rd arrived in Boston the town was already under siege; in fact, the Committee of Safety's resolution suggests that Elizabeth Royal was taken up while trying to get into Boston from Newbury. But what were the wife and child of a British soldier, particularly one who had only just arrived in Boston, doing in Newbury at that time?
We can only speculate. The likely answer is that she had not been allowed to accompany her husband on the transports that brought the regiment to America, and booked her own passage on another vessel. When shipping was allocated for British regiments deploying to America, an allowance was made for 60 women to accompany each regiment. This allowance is widely, and incorrectly, interpreted to mean that only 60 wives were allowed to be with a regiment at any time. Quite the contrary, most regiments in America had more than 60 wives with them; it was only the passage to America that posed a problem and many women found their own ways to make the crossing. Elizabeth Royal may have landed at another American port and then proceeded over land towards Boston.
There are other plausible explanations. William Royal may have been a long-serving soldier who had gotten married in America during a previous deployment, then transferred into the 63rd Regiment in order to return to his family. Or Elizabeth Royal could've arrived with the regiment in May and left Boston for any number of reasons, expecting to be able to return.
It is not known why the Committee of Safety didn't simply allow this mother and child to enter Boston, but instead sent her back to Newbury to be subsisted at public expense. We also do not know whether she was ever reunited with her husband. Even if she was, they were not destined for a long and happy future. The muster rolls show that William Royal continued to serve in the 63rd Regiment until he died on 6 October 1777; as is typical for these documents, no cause of death is given. The fate of his wife and child who dutifully tried to get to him in Boston remains unknown.
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Monday, November 5, 2012
A great challenge in researching the careers of British soldiers who served in America is that there is no comprehensive source of information - no catalog of records indexed by individual that tells a full story. Instead, we are left to piece information together. For many soldiers, we have only a name on a muster roll. The (usually) semi-annual muster rolls sometimes have gaps for spans of a few years, and sometimes are not fully annotated; in the best case, the rolls tell us something about when a man joined the army and when he left it. We can infer more from the service of his regiment in general, but occasionally individual soldiers were not with the rest of the regiment for varying periods of time, so it is very difficult to be sure whether an individual served in a specific location at a particular time based strictly on the muster rolls.
For some soldiers we are fortunate to have additional documents, but those sources do not always seem to agree leaving us with puzzles to be solved. A good case in point is John Mayell, a soldier in the 22nd Regiment of Foot.
The muster rolls of the 22nd show us that Mayell (also spelled Meyell, Mayle, and Mail) joined the 22nd Regiment on 9 April 1766. The regiment had recently returned to Great Britain from service in America and was recruiting to refill its depleted ranks. Mayell served initially as a fifer, but by 1770 had become a private soldier. The obvious conclusion is that he enlisted at an early age, possibly the son of a soldier, and played the fife until he was old enough to shoulder a firelock. But the muster rolls tell us more, and cast doubt on that theory.
In December 1776 Mayell transferred into the 63rd Regiment of Foot. In that corps he served as a drummer. In October 1779 he transferred back into the 22nd Regiment, and there also is listed as a drummer until 1784 when again became a private soldier. He was discharged in 1786. It was fairly common for men follow this pattern of appointments, from drummer to private soldier and back to drummer again, sometimes several times during their careers. Muster rolls give no reasons for such appointments, only the dates on which they occurred. Occasionally it was due simply to a change in the established number of drummers in a regiment, but in most cases we are left only to wonder.
The reason for Mayell's transfer to the 63rd Regiment is also a mystery. The dates correspond exactly to the time that the 22nd Regiment was in Rhode Island; the 63rd initially also served in the Rhode Island garrison, but returned to New York early in 1777. Perhaps Mayell held a useful office in New York. Transfers of soldiers often correspond to transfers of officers, and we can deduce that the soldiers were officer's servants, but this is not the case with Mayell. Again, we can only wonder.
Besides the muster rolls, another document sheds more light on Mayell. After his discharge he received an out-pension, meaning that he returned to the region where lived before joining the army and collected a semi-annual payment amounting to five pence per day. Mayell's army discharge, a document that survives for many pensioners, is missing; his name does, however, appear on a list of out pensioners that provides additional details. He was born in the parish of Milksham in the county of Wiltshire, and pursued the trade of a shoemaker before joining the army. Our theory that he enlisted at an early age is proven incorrect; he was 47 years old in 1786, meaning that he was about 27 when he joined the 22nd Regiment - not an unusually old age for an enlistee, but certainly only than his service record would have had us guess. Adding to the confusion is that he had served 27 years as a solder in 1786, meaning that he must have had service prior to joining the 22nd regiment.
Another document clarifies some aspects of Mayell's career. on 23 January 1766 he and his wife Jane were examined at the Quarter Sessions in the town of Kendal, Westmorland. The reason for the examination is not given; perhaps they were assumed to be vagrants or had somehow drawn suspicion to themselves. Mayell deposed that he was born in Milksham, Wiltshire (which agrees with the pension records) and served two years of a six-year apprenticeship to a shoemaker in Bradford, Wiltshire, and that he had been discharged from the army as "unfit for duty." This explains the length of service given in the pension records; he had indeed served in the army before, but unfortunately we do not know exactly when or in which regiment. We can guess that he was in his early teens when he left his apprenticeship - again, in unknown circumstances - and he may have enlisted any time between then and the age of about 19, to have had about 7 years of service by 1766. John and Jane Mayell were given a pass to go back to Bradford where he'd worked as a shoemaker, but within three months he was in the army again.
Having received a pension after his discharge in 1786, Mayell was obliged to return to active service in British garrisons if the need arose. In 1790, pensioners were called to serve. Due to ill health Mayell was unable to travel to Bristol for an examination to determine whether he was fit, but instead received an examination from a doctor in Devizes, Wiltshire, saying that he was unfit. His failure to appear in Bristol caused him to be dropped from the pension rolls, but he wrote a petition and included the doctor's endorsement which allowed his status to be restored. The petition survives, and reveals two details about Mayell: he could write (the deposition is written in the same hand as his signature), and that he had been wounded in the shoulder. No indication is given of when he received this wound.
Already we have more documents concerning Mayell than we have for most soldiers, and yet each one introduces more questions about his career. A final (so far) document does clarify one aspect of it. In October 1781 the 22nd Regiment of Foot was among those that embarked in New York to relieve General Cornwallis's besieged garrison at Yorktown. The fleet sailed too late and soon returned to port having effected nothing. The 22nd was, however, embarked on a warship, the Robust. Unlike the transports ships that were privately owned vessels operating under contract, warships belonged to the navy; as such, they maintained muster books recording who was on board and when, including passengers. These muster books survive, and that of the Robust lists each man in the 22nd Regiment who embarked. The 22nd embarked eight companies of soldiers (the grenadiers and light infantry were detached at this time) but included only four drummers. Also listed are six men who were "Musick", a term denoting the regimental band, among them John Mayell.
Regimental bands of music were not part of the regimental establishment and were funded at the whim of the officers. There was no regulated size or composition, and information on them is fragmentary. In 1773 the 22nd Regiment procured clothing for 11 band members, consisting of scarlet coats with buff facings and silver buttons, and cocked hats with silver lace. The only known instruments are French horns, clarinets and a pair of cymbals, but there were surely some others. Band members are not listed as such on muster rolls and so are difficult to identify; the six men on board the Robust are the only ones of the 22nd to be positively identified. Some are listed as drummers on the muster rolls for their entire careers, while others follow patterns similar to that of John Mayell albeit not on the same dates.
That Mayell was a musician offers additional possibilities to his unusual career path. It was fairly common for soldiers discharged after the Seven Years War in the 1760s to reinlist, and age was less a factor for a man with prior military experience than for a new recruit. That Mayell had been considered unfit for service when examined in 1766 suggests that he was allowed to reinlist specifically because of his musical talent. He may have transferred into the 63rd Regiment because his musical skills were desired in the New York garrison. But these are only speculations. Just as the initial assumption about his enlistment age, based solely on the muster rolls, turned out to be incorrect, so could other assumptions about the bearing of his musical skills on his career. And we know nothing of his shoulder wound, or whether his wife Jane accompanied him to America. Even with five separate sources of information to draw from, much about John Mayell remains a mystery. And yet we know more about him than most.
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Monday, October 22, 2012
This installment is graciously contributed by Dr. Steven M. Baule, who is preparing a study of the service of the 18th (Royal Irish) Regiment of Foot in America during the decade leading up to the American Revolution. First, I must take the opportunity to mention that my own book,
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Thomas Hanley enlisted in the 18th (Royal Irish) Regiment of Foot in 1764, while the regiment was near Dublin, Ireland; he may, however, have been recruited in England. Hanley’s military career shows a common thread for musicians. He is promoted to drummer or fifer for a time and then returned to the ranks. It is probable that the men so promoted and reduced were members of the regimental band; officers may have rotated them through the rank of drummer or fifer in order for all of the bandsmen to have equal access to the extra pay allotted to a drummer or fifer (drummers and fifers were paid at the same rate as corporals). Only one member of the 18th Foot was identified in an official document as a “bandsman” between 1767 and 1775 and he did in fact follow this path of being rotated in and out of the rank of drummer and fifer. Not all regiments had a band of music, but the 18th Foot did. Its band is recorded as having played a couple of concerts in Philadelphia while the regiment was stationed there.
Hanley’s first years in the military probably involved learning basic soldier tasks: standing guard, supporting the civil powers in Dublin and possibly learning to play the drum and fife. It isn’t clear when Hanley learned to play an instrument, but he did learn within his first five years in the Royal Irish. Most likely he was able to play one or more of the following: hautboy (oboe), clarinet, serpent, and/or the (French) horn if he was in the band. Military bands of the period appear often to have been made up of about eight musicians including two hautboys, two clarinets, two serpents (an early form of bass horn) and two horns. Unfortunately, the instruments used by the 18th Regiment’s band haven’t been determined.
Hanley marched from Dublin to Cork Harbour in late April 1767 and embarked for America in May. He arrived in Philadelphia with the Royal Irish as a private in Isaac Hamilton’s company on 11 July 1767. If Hanley was already a member of the band, he performed at the commencement ceremonies of Philadelphia College in the spring of 1768. He was transferred to the Lt. Colonel’s company when the regiment was ordered to Illinois in May 1768. It is possible he was transferred so he could serve with the Drum Major and be groomed to become a drummer when a vacancy opened. He didn’t have to wait long with the toll that sickness took on the regiment in Illinois; he was appointed drummer in Captain Lane’s Company on 5 February 1769. He remained with that company, which saw several captains, for the next few years; ultimately, it became Captain Payne’s Coy in 1771. He was reduced from drummer to private on 5 March 1772.
Hanley was stationed at the North Liberties Barracks in Philadephia with eight companies of the Royal Irish and a company of the Royal Artillery. He remained as a private and potentially a member of the regiment’s band of music through the fall of 1774. He was transferred to the Grenadier company as a fifer on 8 October 1774 as the regiment prepared to move from Philadelphia. The Grenadier company and two other companies were ordered to reinforce the garrison. The other five companies marched to New York City.
While in Boston, Hanley was court-martialed on 11 February 1775 for being very drunk on the street after Tattoo and abusing his regimental clothing. He was found guilty and sentenced to 100 lashes. For some reason, most likely prior good conduct, the entire sentence was remitted.
The companies of the 18th Regiment in Boston formed a composite corps with some companies of the 65th Regiment under the command of Lt. Colonel Bruce of the 65th. The 18th’s two fifers were ordered to mount guard whenever Lt. Col. Bruce was on duty. Probably, the two fifers served as additional orderlies for Bruce. As a grenadier, Hanley probably marched to Concord on 19 April and participated in the Battle of Bunker Hill on 17 June. He was on duty on 7 October 1775 on Charleston Heights when the company was mustered for pay.
The 18th Regiment was drafted in December 1775; that is, the able bodied private soldiers were sent into other regiments and those no longer fit for service were discharged. As a fifer, Hanley wasn’t drafted but instead returned to England with the officers, non-commissioned officers and drummers. Those privates who had previously been drummers or fifers were not drafted either, further supporting the supposition that they were part of the regimental band. They arrived at Portsmouth in February 1776. Hanley was appointed drummer in Captain Hamilton’s company when the regiment was reorganized in southern England in the summer of 1776. He was posted to the Light Infantry company in 1777 and then to the General’s company in 1778.
He was listed as sick on 6 March 1778. He was present at the Camp of Instruction at Coxheath in southern England from June to November 1778. The troops concentrated at Coxheath were prepared to thwart a Franco-Spanish invasion threat that materialized upon the French entry into the America Revolution. He was at Warley Camp in June 1779 and returned to the Grenadier company on 26 August. In June 1780, Hanley was present in Hyde Park, London to enforce civil order after the Gordon Riots. He remained a drummer when the Royal Irish were moved with the rest of the troops at Hyde Park to Finchley in August 1780. In 1781, he was with the regiment when it was posted to the Channel Islands and in 1783, he was sent to Gibraltar. He was listed as a private in the General’s company in July 1784, and is recorded as sick on both returns for 1784. He remained at Gibraltar through 1787. Unfortunately he is simply dropped from the rolls at that point, with no indication of why he left the regiment.
As a senior soldier and a musician, Hanley joined the 41st Regiment of Foot when it was changed from a regiment of invalids to a marching regiment. He served only fourteen months, however, before being discharged at Hilsea Barracks because he was “afflicted with the scurvy” on 24 March 1789.
Hanley appears to have not wished to be discharged, as he traveled to Sheerness and enlisted in Captain James Malcom’s Independent Company of Invalids there. He was discharged from that company after two months service. This discharge on 9 September 1789 appears to have been permanent He was paid nine extra days pay after discharge to provide for his travel home. Nothing more is known about his life after his discharge from the army following 25 years of service.
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Friday, October 12, 2012
On 31 January 1770, a man named Moses Bright from Newbury, county Berkshire, enlisted in the 62nd Regiment of Foot. At 34 he was older than most recruits but not of an unusual age for a soldier in general; most enlistees in this era were in their early twenties. This late start did not distinguish Bright from having a long and interesting military career.
Bright joined his regiment in Ireland in March. He spent the next five years in that country, marching from place to place and learning the ways of army life. By the time the regiment embarked for Canada in early 1776 he was fairly experienced, albeit strictly at peace time soldiering.
His service in America tested his mettle and proved his endurance and loyalty as a soldier. He was wounded on the famous campaign under General Burgoyne in 1777, and taken prisoner under the treaty of Saratoga. Like many of those prisoners, he managed to escape and join the British army in New York City. When he was trasferred into the 7th (Royal Fusiliers) Regiment of Foot in December 1778, he was one of 33 men from Burgoyne's army to do so including 15 from the 62nd Regiment.
With the 7th Regiment Bright and his comrades from the northern army went campaigning again. In July 1779 they participated in raids on the Connecticut seaport towns of New Haven, Fairfield and Norwalk. Moses Bright was again wounded, but again recovered and returned to active service. When the 7th Regiment was sent to serve in the southern colonies in 1780, he was in its ranks. An experienced veteran now, he was appointed corporal on 24 July 1780.
The southern campaign went poorly for the Royal Fusiliers. They were part of the force under Banastre Tarleton that was soundly defeated at the Battle of Cowpens on 17 January 1781. Many men of the regiment were captured including Moses Bright. The seasoned soldier escaped a second time, making his way to Savannah, Georgia where he rejoined elements of his regiment there and was appointed serjeant.
When the war was winding down and the southern colonies were evacuated and prisoners of war repatriated, men of the 7th Regiment of Foot coalesced again in New York. The end of the war brought a reduction in forces, and although the 7th Regiment was sent back to Great Britain many of its men were discharged in America, some to settle there and others to take land grants in Canada. Moses Bright became a supernumerary serjeant when the establishment of his regiment was reduced to include fewer non-commissioned officers. He had the option of remaining in the ranks as a serjeant en seconde, that is, serving as a private soldier while waiting for another serjeant's post to become available. He chose instead to obtain his discharge by finding another man to serve in his place, probably one of the many other discharged British soldiers looking for opportunities in the manpower-reduced British army.
Details on his subsequent life have not been found. He was discharged on a date typical of men who took land grants in Canada. In 1797, however, he petitioned the commissioners of Chelsea Hospitial for an out-pension and provided a testimonial from the current commanding officer of his former regiment. He appears to have served in one of the many invalid companies raised to garrison British coastal installations, receiving a discharge from one in 1802 and from another in 1804 at 68 years of age.
A veteran of campaigns in three theaters of war, twice wounded in battle, twice taken prisoner and twice escaped, everything that we know about Moses Bright's 8 years of service in the American War comes from a few sentences written in his pension petition. It is a shame that we don't have more details about the many experiences that he had.
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Frequent mention is made here of muster rolls, key documents for chronicling the careers of British soldiers. These primary sources have some limitations and nuances that must be considered, however, and sometimes they are outright misleading.
During the era of the American Revolution, muster rolls were prepared for each six-month period for each company of a regiment. A single roll is a sheet that gives the name and rank of each officer, serjeant, corporal, drummer and private soldier in the company during that six-month period. If a man was not in the company for the entire period, then an annotation gives the date and the event that caused the change: "joined", "enlisted", "entertained", "landed", "from" another company or what have you if he came into the company; or "discharged", "died", "deserted", "to" another company or what have you if he left.
At least, that is the ideal case, and it is generally true for most regiments for most of the war years. But sometimes dates are missing, and sometimes an entire annotation is missing such that men appear for the first time with no date or reason given - or disappear. Sometimes the missing information can be deduced from other sources, sometimes not.
The muster rolls were prepared after the end of the period they described - usually within a month or two, but sometimes not for a few years. This was particularly true when regiments were captured or became very busy with intense campaigning; in some cases, the rolls for an extended period were all prepared at once, in other cases they weren't prepared at all leaving us with gaps in the records.
The purpose of the rolls was financial; each regiment was provided with sums of money to pay its soldiers, and the muster rolls were an ex post facto way of representing where the money went. As such, the dates are deceptive. The date on which a man "enlisted" was the date on which he began drawing pay through the specific company, often months or years after he actually joined the army with a recruiting party, but sometimes when he embarked on a transport before actually joining his regiment in America. When a man was discharged he usually received a few weeks' extra pay to provide for his journey home; the muster rolls give the date through which the man was paid rather than the date on which he actually left the regiment. All of this becomes clear only because, for some men, other information exists that provides actual dates and clarifies the administrative dates given in the rolls.
The geographic distribution of the army also caused nuances in the rolls. A case in point is John Overon, a five-foot-six-inch tall laborer from Balking, Essex who enlisted in the 34th Regiment of Foot in 1769 at the age of 18. He does not appear on the 34th's muster rolls until the second half of 1771. His career can then be easily traced (allowing for variations in the spelling of his name such as "Overhead") through service in Ireland and deployment to America in 1776. The 34th Regiment was sent to Canada and Overon served there for most of the war. In the first half of 1782, in circumstances that we have not yet learned, he was captured; the muster roll for that period denotes him as “Prisoner with the rebels”.
When the war ended, prisoners of war were repatriated. Some did not return, having either died in captivity, escaped and disappeared into the coutryside, or chosen to stay behind after their release. The British army gave a directive that these men be listed on the muster rolls as having "deserted" in June 1783, an arbitrary way to adminstratively write them off. Overon and some other prisoners were not even given this much attention; they simply no longer appear on the rolls. For a researcher attempting to study an individual soldier, this leaves a dead end. The only assumption is that the man had died or chosen to resettle in the colonies.
But that's not what happened to John Overon. He escaped from captivity and made his way not to Canada but to New York. Rather than send him back to Canada, he was drafted into the 22nd Regiment of Foot on 1 January 1782 (another date that sounds suspiciously administrative). He continued to serve in that regiment for another ten years, taking his discharge in Dublin in July 1791 at the age of 40 after 22 years as a soldier, “being affected with a beginning consumption and otherwise infirm and Old.”
The muster rolls of the 22nd Regiment record him simply as having "enlisted" with no indication that he was in fact an experienced soldier from another regiment. The only reason we know he came from the 34th Regiment is because his discharge paper from the 22nd Regiment survives. It gives the number of years he served in each of the two regiments, which correlates perfectly with the muster rolls. Had he not received a pension, this document would not exist and we would have no way of connecting the names on the muster rolls of regiments that were posted so far from each other. There are other men for whom the muster rolls do not tell the complete story, and probably many more with interesting careers that cannot yet be deciphered.
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Those within a reasonable distance of Fort Montgomery may be interested in attending my lecture on 13 September, dealing with a British soldier who served in the October 1777 storming of that place. This installment concerns another soldier who also probably participated in that action.
John Russell, a soldier in the 26th Regiment of Foot, had some good news awaiting him. He had inherited a valuable estate in his native Scotland, in the lowlands east of Glasgow. We don't know why Russell, son of a freeholder, had enlisted or when. Gaps in the muster rolls of the 26th Regiment prevent us from knowing when he enlisted, but his name is among the prisoners taken at St. Johns, Canada, in November 1775. An American force had surprised and seized a number of British posts between Lake Champlain and Quebec, and the prisoners, John Russell among them, were sent to Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Russell fared well enough as a prisoner to be exchanged with the rest of his regiment after about a year of captivity. He was appointed corporal right around the time of the exchange. There is no reason to doubt that he was in the ranks when the regiment participated in the assault on Forts Clinton and Montgomery in October 1777. A month later, he was transferred into the grenadier company, still as a corporal. For reasons not known, he was reduced to private soldier on 5 June 1778. Such reductions were quite common; although sometimes the result of disciplinary infractions, they also occurred when a man's health prevented him from performing his duty, and even sometimes at the request of the soldier himself.
It was over three years later that news of his inheritance arrived in New York. There was only one problem: John Russell was nowhere to be found. The 26th Regiment had been drafted in late 1779; that is, the able-bodied men were transferred into other regiments, the older and unfit men were discharged, and the officers, serjeants and drummers returned to Great Britain to recruit anew. Russell had not returned with them, so word was sent to the army in New York in an effort to seek him out. An ad was placed in the newspaper:
John Russell, some time a corporal in the grenadier company of his Majesty’s late 26th regiment of foot, is desired to apply as soon as possible to James Inglis, vendue master, in New York, who has letters and instructions for him respecting a valuable freehold, and other estate fallen to him by the death of his father Mr. - Russell, of West Craigs, between Glasgow and Falkirk, in Scotland. If he does not apply in a very short time as above, or any where else execute such writings as are necessary to secure said estate, it will be legally seized upon by his brother of a second marriage; and for ever lost. It will be exceeding kind in any person who can give him information of this, or to communicate where he is, so as a letter can be sent to him.
[The New York Gazette, 19 February 1781]
Because the 26th was no longer in New York, there was no way to check the muster rolls which would've informed that Russell had deserted on 13 June 1779. Even if that was known, it was worth the effort to advertise for him; deserters sometimes returned and were drafted into other regiments if their original corps were no longer in the area. And some deserters managed to remain in the area incognito, although we can only wonder whether such a man would've been able to come forward to claim his inheritance without running afoul of military justice. We are left, however, to wonder - no additional information about John Russell has come to light.
Thursday, August 2, 2012
Those who follow this blog already know that most British regiments received a number of German (and other European) recruits; these men arrived in America in October 1776 as part of a large augmentation of each regiment. The augmentation of 180 private soldiers per regiment (only a portion of whom were Germans) was made so that regiments could maintain an effective operational strength in spite of wartime attrition. Besides the infantry regiments, the two cavalry regiments sent to America were also augmented.
One German recruit who stands out is John Philip Aulenbach. He is the only one identified so far to serve in a cavalry regiment, and the only one to take up a musical instrument rather than a musket. Aulenbach was born in Gottingen, Hanover in 1755, the son of a lawyer. His parents died when he was very young, leaving him to be raised by his mother's two spinster sisters. He was educated, and at 14 years of age was confirmed in the Lutheran church. Soon after, he found work as a servant to a wealthy gentleman. During this time, he learned to play several musical instruments.
Early 1776 brought profound changes to Aulenbach's life. On 28 March he married Dorothea Magdalena Herbst, daughter of a blacksmith. For reasons that he did not record, he then joined the German recruits being raised for the British army. In the middle of May, the young couple boarded a transport loaded with German recruits and sailed to England. There the 5' 11" Hanoverian's musical skills earned him an appointment as a trumpeter (equivalent to a drummer in the infantry) for the 17th Light Dragoons; he joined the augmentation of about 200 men for that regiment that had gone to America over a year before.
Aulenbach and the other recruits joined their regiment in New York in late October. He dutifully served the regiment on many major campaigns - in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia and the Carolinas. Although he must have experienced many adventures, we have no details whatsoever of his wartime service except his own statement that he became Trumpet Major for the regiment.
War's end brought the opportunity for men who joined the army after the onset of hostilities to be discharged if they'd served three years. Aulenbach accepted this offer; he and his wife were among the discharged soldiers who accepted land grants in Nova Scotia, disembarking in Port Roseway (now Shelburne) late in 1783.
Early in 1784 a Lutheran congregation was established in Shelburne. Aulenbach, now all of 29 years old, was elected an elder and led the singing. He worked to secure space in town and money to build a church, but the new congregation did not coalesce. The pastor left after a few months, and Aulenbach took over conducting the services in a rented house. Some of the elders moved away. The treasurer absconded with funds. To make matters worse, jobs were scarce.
In 1785 Aulenbach was advised that the town of Lunenburg needed a teacher for their parochial school. He arrived in the new town on 15 August, began his work, and quickly established himself in the Lutheran congregation there. He led the singing and conducted services when the pastor was ill. He taught Catechism and presided over funerals in town and the neighboring countryside. He and Dorothea lived alone in the school house.
16 years and one day after arriving in Lunenburg, his faithful wife Dorothea who had followed him from Germany to America, died at the age of 52. 46 years old and childless, the teacher and sometime pastor quickly found a new connection. Just three months after his wife's death, John Philip Aulenbach married Catherine Barbara Hahn (or Horne, depending on the source), daughter of a Lunenburg blacksmith who was 23 years his junior. The couple had two sons and four daughters; their descendents still inhabit the region.
Age gradually took its toll on the old soldier turned teacher. His left leg grew lame. His hearing failed as a result of ringing the church and school bell. In February 1819 he had a bad fall and broke his right leg, an injury that left him crippled. He nonetheless continued to teach, but his days serving the congregation were over.
Although one source says that John Philip Aulenbach died in 1820, others suggest that he lived much longer. In 1836 the man who had once been a servant, who had presided over 142 funerals in his lifetime, was himself laid to rest. He had requested that the bell, which had claimed his hearing, not be rung at his funeral; it remained silent. His wife Catherine survived him by 29 years.
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Each British infantry regiment included in its ranks a number of drummers and fifers. We refrain from calling these men "musicians" because many regiments also had a band of music whose members were called musicians (often these men were private soldiers who also played an instrument, but that's another story).
Before the war began, the established strength of each of the regiment's ten companies included one drummer. Soon after hostilities began, regimental strength was increased and a second drummer was added to each company - but this role often went unfilled; many regiments continued to field with only one drummer in each company. The established strength also included two fifers for the entire regiment. On the muster rolls these men are listed as part of the grenadier company. Regiments could have more fifers, but the government allowed for only two. Because additional fifers were not on the establishment, they don't appear on the muster rolls - meaning that we have no way of knowing whether they existed or not.
We tend to think of drummers and fifers as boys too young to serve as private soldiers. Some certainly were, but boys grow up and many drummers and fifers remained in this role for long military careers. It was also quite common for men to enlist at typical adult ages and begin serving as drummers or fifers. An example is Lewis Bright, born in Gloucestershire, on 25 December 1747.
We know nothing of Bright's early life, but when the drums beat for recruits to fight a new war in America he answered the call. At the age of 27 he enlisted with a recruiting party belonging to the 47th Regiment of Foot. The 47th had been in America since 1773 and saw serve in New Jersey and New York before joining the Boston garrison. By the time Lewis Bright and other recruits were ready to embark for America in the summer of 1776, however, the 47th Regiment had been sent to Canada.
Recruits for the army in Canada arrived too late in 1776 to join their regiments immediately; the harsh winter climate made it too difficult to go from Quebec, the usual Canadian port of arrival, to the various garrisons where the army spent the winter (the 47th was distributed among posts at St. Luce, Recollet, St. Geneviere and St. Lawrent). The recruits finally joined their regiments in the summer of 1777.
Lewis Bright first appears on the 47th's rolls as a drummer. Almost 30 years old, he was soon sailing south on Lake Champlain as part of the expedition under General Burgoyne. It was not long before he had a taste of combat at the battle of Hubbardton on 7 July 1777. Although drummers are sometimes considered non-combatants, Bright was clearly in the thick of the fighting: he was wounded three times.
His wounds did not put him out of service. He continued south with the army towards Albany. In September one of the officers in his company, Lieutenant Poole England, was ordered by General Burgoyne to take dispatches from the front lines back to Fort Ticonderoga. He took drummer Bright with him, entrusting Bright to carry the papers. On 18 September they reached the north end of Lake George, one of a series of posts established to maintain a supply line from Fort Ticonderoga to the Hudson River. Here they were captured.
Lt. England, being an officer, was granted a parole that allowed him to return to Canada, but a drummer was not entitled to such an indulgence. Still carrying the precious military correspondence, Lewis Bright took matters into his own hands. He managed to overpower and kill the sentry who had been placed guard over him, made his escape and delivered the dispatches to the commander of the Fort Ticonderoga garrison.
The bulk of the 47th Regiment was not so fortunate, being among the troops surrendered at Saratoga in October. Two companies of the regiment were not present at that capitulation and returned to Canada. He remained in the Canada-based army for the remainder of the war, appearing on the muster rolls sometimes as a drummer and sometimes as a fifer. In October 1782 the 47th Regiment soldiers in Canada were drafted into the 8th Regiment of Foot garrisoning Fort Niagara.
When the war ended, men who had enlisted after it commenced were entitled to be discharged if they wished. Lewis Bright took this option and accepted his discharge in June 1784, having served 8 years in the army. He remained in Canada. In 1786 at the age of 38 he married a woman 20 years his junior. They settled in York (present-day Toronto), seat of the government of Upper Canada; during the ensuing years the couple had eight sons and eight daughters. In 1796 he joined a military corps called the Royal Canadian Volunteers, serving with them for the next six years. When the city was attacked by American forces during the War of 1812, Bright brought his own musket and ammunition to join the defenders.
That same year, the 64-year-old war veteran was appointed as a messenger to the Legislative Council, a post that earned a steady salary. He diligently fulfilled this role until 1840 when, at 94 years of age, he petitioned the legislature to grant his retirement, which they accepted and granted him a generous pension. When Lewis Bright died on 11 November 1842, he had been the oldest resident of Upper Canada.
Friday, July 6, 2012
The word "mutiny" brings to mind the most heinous of military insubordination, of sailors taking over their ship and setting their officers adrift or soldiers going rogue and establishing their own private outpost. While those things certainly constituted mutiny, the crime applied to much simpler acts of insubordination. A 1779 military dictionary defined mutiny as "to rise against authority." It listed explicit types of mutinous behavior including traitorous or disrespectful words against the monarch, contempt or disrespect towards a commander in chief, striking or offering any threat of violence against an officer, or disobeying "any lawful command" of a superior officer. All serious crimes, but in actual application, sometimes the circumstances were not as scurrilous as the definition suggests.
When the 57th Regiment of Foot arrived in America early in 1776, their ranks included a young drummer named John Brayson. We do not know his age, but as a member of the Light Infantry company he'd certainly been in the regiment for at least a year. With a minimum age of 12 to appear on the muster rolls, we can be sure that Brayson was at least 16, probably older, when he ran afoul of military justice in early 1779.
By this time Brayson had served in several very active campaigns with the British Light Infantry. As such, he probably mastered the skill of sounding signals on a hunting horn, an instrument that proved more practical than drums for the rapid open-order style of maneuver used by the British army in America. In July 1778 the Light Infantry company of the 57th received a new commanding officer, Captain James Graham; it appears that there was a conflict between this officer and drummer Brayson the following winter.
Brayson was tried and convicted by a regimental court martial on 24 March 1779. Unfortunately we have no record of the crime for which he was charged. He was sentenced to be lashed - we don't know the number of lashes sentenced, but regimental courts typically sentenced anywhere from 50 to 500 - and was brought before the Light Infantry battalion in Southampton, New York a week later to receive his punishment.
As he bore the pain of the lash, John Brayson had a few things to say about his commanding officer. He called out, asking if Captain Graham was present.
He called for "Captain Graham, that rascal & Gentleman, that very honorable Gentleman."
It is not known whether Captain Graham was present at the punishment. Brayson nontheless called out, "Damn you, I know you. I know what you are!"
To the soldiers and officers witnessing the punishment, Brayson bellowed, "his honor is like mine – damn his honor!"
"He has no more honor than a pig in a potato garden!"
"He is a damn’d Lousey Scoundrel!"
"He is like a pig in a Potato Garden!"
These epithets were repeated throughout the lashing. They brought repercussions.
The officer commanding the Light Infantry battalion had witnessed the scene and charged Brayson with mutiny. Brayson was brought to trial by a general court martial on 9 April, just 11 days after bearing the sentence of the regimental court. There was no question of what had happened; several witnesses testified hearing the various expressions used by Brayson, over and over again. One witness indicated that Brayson appeared to have been "in liquor."
Brayson's only defence was "that the extreme pain of punishment might have extorted expressions from him which he don’t recollect, and denies his having any intention of mutiny." He called on two officers as witness, who both said that "during a Campaign he served with them, he was remarkable for being a well behaved lad."
In spite of the amusing nature of Brayson's outburst, the court did not deem it benign. They could not allow such behavior to go unpunished, for it would encourage soldiers to use abusive language towards their officers and perhaps incite other types of insubordination. Brayson was found guilty and sentenced to receive 1000 lashes.
We do not know whether this severe punishment was inflicted. On 30 May he was transferred out of the Light Infantry company and into the main body of the regiment, a move that could've been the result of physical incapacity, inability to do his duty because of continued confinement as a result of his conviction, disharmony between him and his company officers, or some combination of these things. On a muster roll prepared on 6 September 1779, Brayson is listed as being a prisoner in the provost, perhaps indicating that he had yet to receive his full punishment.
The next day, 7 September 1779, drummer John Brayson was discharged from the army. Occasionally this was done when a man was deemed such a discipline problem that the army simply didn't want him anymore; it could also be an indication that Brayson's punishments had so incapacitated him that he was no longer fit for service as a soldier. Lacking further information, we can only wonder what happened to this "well behaved lad" whose colorful language brought charges of mutiny.
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
It is easy and convenient to assume that British soldiers in general were uneducated and illiterate, but it is far from the truth. Various types of evidence illustrate that these men had, in varying degrees, the functional literacy necessary to manage their personal affairs, just as we'd expect from any working-class citizen in any era. Among the realms where this is evident is that of personal finance. Soldiering in the British army was a career choice defined by contractual obligation between the man and the army, whereby the soldier received compensation in return for service. As with any job, men knew what they were entitled to and protested if they did not receive it.
In general, officers in a regiment were responsible for managing the regiment's finances and seeing that each man received his due. Because very few records of individual soldier's finances survive, we lack information to prove how well the army met its obligations to the rank and file. But other sources suggest that men were meticulous in claiming their due even in highly extenuating circumstances.
Several thousand British soldiers spent some part of their time in America as prisoners of war. Many escaped and made their way back into British lines, often after great hardship. My own estimate, based on examination of muster rolls, is that at least one thousand men rejoined the army after making escapes, often joining different regiments than those in which they'd originally served. In 1782, a board of officers in New York heard claims from soldiers who had been unable to get their full pay, clothing and other entitlements because they'd left their incarcerated regiments - and the bookkeeping that recorded their accounts - and spent time as fugitives in the American countryside.
One such man was Michael Tevin. Called "Tiffin" in some documents, he was a 29-year-old soldier in the 47th Regiment of Foot when that regiment arrived in America in 1773; at 5 feet 5½ inches tall, he was a half-inch shorter the usual minimum height for a soldier. After service in New York and New Jersey, impending hostilities brought the 47th to Boston. When that city was evacuated in 1776, the 47th was transferred from General Howe's army to Canadian service, sailing from Halifax in Nova Scotia to Quebec. Tevin went with his regiment on Burgoyne's 1777 campaign that ended with the capitulation at Saratoga.
After a year in captivity, Tevin and four other men of Burgoyne's army escaped from the stockaded prison in Rutland northwest of worcester, Massachusetts. They managed to make a quick transit, leaving Rutland on 27 September 1778 and arriving on British-held Rhode Island on 9 October, successfully evading capture by lying in the woods during the day, traveling at night, and convincing those who stopped them that they were local countrymen. They were drafted into the 38th Regiment of Foot, then in Rhode Island' Tevin continued in that corps through the end of the war.
In 1782, Tevin made his claim for pay and clothing due to him. He explained that his accounts with the 47th Regiment had last been settled through 24 June 1778, at which time he had nearly 2 pounds due to him. Also due was three years of "Queen's bounty" (a term we have not yet defined) amounting to £1.4.4½, his pay from 24 June 1778 until he joined the 38th Regiment that October, subsistence money (that is, the portion of his pay allocated for food) for a period on Burgoyne's campaign when rations were resticted, and his regimental clothing for 1776 and 1777. He accounted to the day for every penny that he believed was owed to him.
The board of officers countered some of Tevin's claims, not due to inaccuracy of his figures but because they were offset by other compensation. When Tevin joined 38th Regiment he received clothing and cash with a total value exceeding that of the money he claimed; the 38th also gave him regimental clothing that was charged to the 47th Regiment for the year 1776. Tevin acknowledged that he'd received regimentals but had considered them to be for 1778; he also agreed that he'd received three shirts and some cash, the latter a reward for escaping. The accounts were reconciled and Tevin, in recognition of his escape and effort to get promptly within British lines, was granted his claims.
When the 38th Regiment returned to Great Britain in early 1784 Michael Tevin, originally from Crossdoney in County Cavan, Ireland, was discharged from the army at Basingstoke, England. He returned to his native land where in 1793 he joined the army again, this time in the Royal Irish Invalids. He was discharged and received an out-pension from Kilmainham Hospital in 1802 at the age of 58, having served a total of 31 years in the army. He died on 20 April 1816.
Thursday, May 17, 2012
When British regiments were deployed to overseas locations, they were first brought to their full established strength, that is, the complete compliment of soldiers and officers prescribed by the army. Each regiment was responsible for its own recruiting, and normal attrition even in peacetime could make it a challenge to maintain the full compliment of 38 private soldiers in each of a regiment's ten companies. After the war in America began, the established strength of regiments serving there was increased to 56 private soldiers per company. This meant that when a regiment in Great Britain received orders to sail for America, it had to raise at least 180 men to attain the larger establishment in addition to however many it was below the domestic establishment. Adding to the challenge, men who might not be fit for overseas service due to age or infirmity were discharged before embarkation. All of these factors meant that somewhere between a third and half of the men who embarked were new to the regiment.
If recruiting alone was relied upon to obtain all of these men in the few months available to do so, the regiments arriving in America would've been scarcely able to perform as required, even if they were able to meet the recruiting quotas. Keenly aware of this, the army did not consider recruiting alone to be a viable option. Instead, about half of the required men were obtained by drawing experienced soldiers from regiments remaining in Britain into those bound for America. This process of transferring soldiers was called drafting; the term did not have the same meaning that it does today. Drafting insured that about three quarters of the men sent to America had at least a few years of experience in the army.
One such draft was Christopher Stevens. When he enlisted in the 11th Regiment of Foot, it probably seemed like a safe enough choice. The regiment had served in Minorca since the end of the Seven Years War, but in July 1771 disembarked in England. Stevens may have enlisted with a recruiting party while the regiment was still overseas, but it is unlikely that he ever went to Minorca; he enlisted some time in 1770 or 1771. Stevens was born in Gloucestershire in 1748, in the area of Cirencester east of the town of Stroud. He pursued the profession of a sawyer, but left that trade in his early 20s to become a soldier. He may have been bored or discontent with his trade, seeking something more adventurous; we can only guess at his motivation. Sawyers were not particularly common in the army, but most regiments had half a dozen or so. Their skills could sometimes be valuable when materials were needed for barracks, shipping or other military demands.
After four years in the south of England, the 11th moved to Ireland. The regiment remained there for the duration of the war, but immediately began sending drafts into regiments preparing for American service, continuing to do so through March of 1776. All told, over 100 men left the 11th Regiment's peaceful Irish service to fight overseas. Drafting orders typically called for volunteers to be given preference, but no records survive to distinguish which drafts were volunteers and which were "drawn" by some other method. The drafts went to several regiments including the 15th, 22nd, 54th, 57th and 62nd. Christopher Stevens, either by his own choice or that of his commanding officer, was drafted into the 37th Regiment of Foot.
With the 37th, Stevens participated in the abortive assault on Charleston, South Carolina in early 1776. The regiment then joined General Howe's army on Staten Island and served in the fast-paced campaign that secured the city of New York and the surrounding area. It bears noting that, as most drafts did, he probably retained his uniform from the 11th Regiment for his first year in the 37th until a new annual issue of clothing was received in the late Autumn. Stevens served for the entire war. He is annotated as "sick" on the muster rolls for a time in 1779 and 1780 but no details of his service are known.
The war's end did not see a return to Great Britain for Stevens and his comrades in the 37th. Instead, they were sent to Halifax, Nova Scotia. As he closed in on 20 years of service, including several years of warfare, the dangers of his profession caught up with him. He was wounded, not in battle, but at a review on 9 September 1788. His discharge, granted the following year, used the common parlance for a musket in indicating that he was "disabled in the left shoulder by the bursting of a firelock." When firing, the butt of the firelock was pressed against the right shoulder; perhaps Stevens' left shoulder was damaged by splinters from his own weapon, or by it's being jerked from his grip; or perhaps it was an adjacent man's firelock that burst and sent debris into Stevens' shoulder. Regardless, this peacetime accident rendered him "unfit for service" at the age of 41. His discharge bears an X mark rather than his signature, indicating that he had never learned to write.
Christopher Stevens was granted an out pension, meaning that he could return to his native Gloucester and receive a subsistence level income. Instead of availing himself of this, however, he rejoined the army, this time serving in the Plymouth Invalids. This was one of many corps of men whose age or infirmity did not prevent them from performing garrison duty. After 12 and half years he was again discharged and returned to the pension rolls. But once again he returned to service, this time in the 2nd Royal Veteran Battalion, and continued as a soldier for another 5 and a half years. He was discharged and pensioned for the last time in 1808, having served 38 of his 61 years in the army.
Thursday, April 26, 2012
Doing research this week at the National Archive of Scotland, I had the pleasure of finding a very rare type of document: a letter written by a common soldier in the British army.
Duncan Grant was a soldier in the 21st Regiment of Foot, which was named the Royal North British Fusiliers. The regiment was among those that landed in Quebec in 1776; the following year it was part of the army that General John Burgoyne led south on a fateful campaign. Grant had experienced the successful part of the campaign, but then had a personal twist of fate: he was sent back to Canada to retrieve regimental baggage that had been left there. With the promise of the army reaching its ultimate objective, the intent was to begin the process of taking stores from the previous winter quarters at Montreal to the anticipated new ones in Albany. this duty gave Grant an opportunity to write a letter home, and spared him from being captured with his regiment at Saratoga.
Duncan Grant wrote the letter to his father, directing it to "Lachlan Grant, Farmer in Duthill, Strathspey, Inverness shire, North Britain." Most of the news he conveys relates to people from his area - Major Robert Grant of the 24th Regiment, killed at the battle of Hubbarton among others. He mentions several who had moved from Scotland to Canada before the war and were now serving in the Royal Highland Emmigrants commanded by Lt.-Colonel Allan McLean. Grant is careful to name the towns from which the various men came; because of the many common names in Scotland, this added context was important.
He told his father of his adoration for his wife Margaret, along with the news that they were expecting a child. His language suggests that his father had not yet met Margaret and perhaps had expressed misgivings about the marriage.
Grant's closing note of "Direct to..." tells his father how to address letters to him.
The transcript of the letter presented here has some punctuation added for readability; punctuation in period writing is highly inconsistent, often consisting of lines and squiggles rather than the uniform symbols that we're accustomed to today.
Canada, Montreal, North America, the 12 Septr 1777
You will Excuse me for not writing to you sooner as I could not inform you of our Transactions in this part of the world. We had several Engagements last Summer but this summer has been a bloody one on both sides and likely to continue for some time but I hope wit the assistance of god in time we will get the better of them although they are very numerous in proportion to our number. I am very sorry to let you know that Major Grant of the 24th Regiment was killed [illeg] ago Tullochgribans son and Peter mack Donald son in Tullochgribban was killed the same Engagement with major Robert Grant. Alexander Cameron is well and William Robertson when I left them but they had a smart engagement since I was sent to Montreal by General Hamilton to Bring some Bagage to the Regiment to Albeny. Peter Smith and Peter Smith William and David Smith, Sons that was in Duthil, they are in Colo MacLeans Regiment in Canada; Likeway Lewis Grant Capt Allan Grants son, James and Donald Grant sons to Donald Grant that was formerly on Desher is in the same Regiment. My step mothers Brothers son is in General Hows Army but for his sister I do not know what place she is in. Robert Grant is in Colo Mackleans Regiment in Canada that is married to James Cumings daughter that was in Avocmore who informed me when he left new York that serjt MacGrigor was an officer in a new raised Regiment there and before that I heard that he went home a Recruiting. There is so many of our Country people hear that it is too tedious for me to mention at present, my wife is Bigg with child at present expecting to ly in every day who desires to be Remembered to you all happy was the day that ever I got such a good wife for she keeps me more like a gentleman than a Soldier.
Dr. Father although I am at a Distance from you I hope you will not for get me in my proper rights and if you will have the pleasure to see my wife she will please you better than your son in Law although I Bless god for it I do not want both gold and silver and good Cloaths by her industry.
Remember our love to my step mother our Sisters ther husbands and Children and all Enquiring Friends. No more at present from your Dutifull son and Daughter
Duncan & Margaret Grant
Direct to Duncan Grant soldier In the 21st Regimt or Royal North British Fuziliers in North America
Duncan Grant's letter is yet another piece of evidence to defy the dogma that British soldiers were illiterate and vagrant characters. Here we find a farmer's son who had enough education to write a thoughtful letter, and enough compassion to be devoted to his father and to his bride.
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Escape stories are among the most fascinating in the lore of soldiers at war - prisoners who evaded enemy captors and made their way back to their own lines hold a special fascination. During the 1775-1783 war in America, hundreds of British captives absconded and rejoined the ranks of active regiments. My own estimate is that at least 1000 prisoners did so from Burgoyne's army alone, on the order of one fifth of the total number of men taken prisoner at Saratoga in 1777. Unfortunately we know the details of only a few of these escapes; only one soldier left a detailed narrative of his two escapes, while a few others gave brief depositions of their harrowing adventures.
One man about whom we know precious little is John May of the 40th Regiment of Foot. Having worked as a turner before he joined the army, he was already a private soldier in the regiment at the beginning of 1775 and embarked with his comrades for America in May of that year. The regiment arrived in Boston shortly after the battle of Bunker Hill and endured a difficult winter in that besieged city. The fall of 1776 saw them on the aggressive campaign that drove American forces out of New York city and across New Jersey. The dramatic reversal of fortunes that was initiated by Washington's crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas night in 1776 led to the battle of Princeton on 3 January 1777. Here the 40th Regiment was heavily involved and had several dozen men taken prisoner.
Most of the British prisoners taken in New Jersey were sent to central Connecticut, an area away from active campaigning. They were distributed among several towns including Enfield, Chatham, Farmington, Bolton, Glastonbury and others. John May was among 17 men sent to "Symsbury" northwest of Harford. A year later, however, May was in the town of Goshen about 30 miles to the west. He may have been granted parole and allowed to work in the area, as many British prisoners were; they were a welcome supplement to a labor force depleted by the manpower needs of the American army.
Regardless of why he was in Goshen, he did not stay. A newspaper advertisement provides some details:
Goshen, (Litchfield County) Jan. 31, 1778.
Ran Away from said Goshen on the night after the 25th of January instant, two persons, both Irishmen, one named Peter Golden, about 23 years old, light complexion, about 5 feet 8 inches high, short hair; had on and carried with him an old felt hat, grey coat, vest, and breeches, pair of grey woolen stockings, pair of white ditto, pair of white thread ditto, striped Holland shirt, black velvet stock, square copper shoe buckles. The other named John May, he belonged to the 40th regiment is about 28 years old, and about 5 feet 10 inches high; had on and carried with him a felt hat, light brown surtout bound with white, grey coat lined with brown tammy, black home made vest & breeches, pair of black woolen stockings, two pair of blue and white ditto, one pair white thread ditto, two pair of shoes, pewter shoe buckles, silver knee buckles; striped Holland shirt, two white linnen shirts. It is supposed said prisoners are endeavoring to escape to the enemy, as they had parted with most if not all their regimentals before they went off. Whoever will secure said prisoners, and send them to Hartford to the care of Ezekiel Williams, Esq; commissary of prisoners, or to the subscriber at said Goshen, shall be well rewarded. Eben’r Norton.
[Connecticut Journal, 4 February 1778]
The ad suggests that, after a year of captivity, May had retained some of his regimental clothing but had managed to dispose of it and acquire other garb in order to make his escape. We have not been able to identify the Peter Golden described in the ad; the text does not make it clear whether or not he was a British prisoner of war. No man by this name appears either on the muster rolls of the 40th Regiment or on the list of Princeton prisoners that includes John May.
Proof that May was successful in his endeavor to return to British lines comes from the 40th Regiment's muster rolls. The date of his return is not annotated, but he was back in the regiment before June of 1778 and transferred into the grenadier company on 23rd of that month. He went with his regiment to the West Indies from late in 1778, and at some point became a drummer (or fifer). He survived the difficult Caribbean climate and returned to New York with the 40th in 1781. The 40th Regiment took heavy casualties storming Fort Griswold in Groton, Connecticut in September of that year, but May survived this bitter engagement.
John May’s career took him through campaigns in Boston, New York, New Jersey, and the West Indies in addition to spending a year as a prisoner of war. His service record is that of a dedicated and faithful soldier, but something must have occurred to change his attitude towards his military career. He deserted from Long Island on 28 April 1782, then made his way to Philadelphia where he took an oath of allegiance to the colony on 22 August; presumably he found work at his former trade as a turner.