Monday, January 7, 2013

Thomas Plumb, 22nd Regiment of Foot

Regular readers of this site know that many British soldiers were married to wives who were with them in America. Among them was Thomas Plumb, but he was not one of the 20% to 30% whose wives accompanied them overseas or who married in America and whose wives and children were provisioned by the army. Instead, Plumb's wife and children remained behind in his native Cornwall.

Unfortunately we know little about Plumb beyond his military career. He joined the 22nd Regiment of Foot two days before the end of 1765, when the regiment was rebuilding after long service in America. If he was a typical recruit he was in his early twenties, joining the army after having tried his hand at one or a few other lines of work. Possibly he was older, and had already served in the army before being discharged when the war of the late 1750s and early 1760s ended. Plumb was a private soldier during the regiment's service in England, then Scotland, then Ireland, then on its return to American in 1775.

When Plumb married is not known, nor whether his wife followed him on service in Great Britain. He certainly was by the time the regiment was ready to embark for overseas service. Perhaps she did not stay with the army because they had a child on the way, or perhaps their child had already been born by that time. The sole indication we have of his marriage is a letter that he wrote home:

Newport Rhode Island 22d Feb, 1777

Brother this comes with my kind love to you and hope these lines will find you my wife and child & all enquireing friends in as good health as they do leave me at this present time.  I thank God for it.  I am Resolved to Relate our present state and situation in this country at the present time Our duty is very hard Upon the Accounts as we receive from the Rebels daily such as we are not in sight of as we are day & night within musket shot of each other & they are as numerous as Motes in the S[page torn] But we still keeps them in constant employ but the cowardly rascals will not stand their ground But watching all Oppertunitys by lying in Ambush behind some trees which is the cause of us looseing so many men but thank God where we loose 10 they loose 100.  But as we routed them from so many places so that they are in the greatest consternation, possibly they may give us a field by day for it early this spring I do not doubt but they will as they are almost surrounded by our troops and they must fight or die.  But had they the heart as we Britoners have we should stand no chance with them.

No more but my kind respects to my loveing Wife & Child Uncle Wood, Molly & little William and all Enquireing friends
Thomas Plumb Soldier 22d Regiment
Captn McDonalds Company
To
Mr Alexander Johns at Windsor
Near Hailstone
Cornwall

It is extraordinary that this letter survives, one of only a handful written by private soldiers known to exist. It is one of a bundle of letters from Rhode Island, written at roughly the same time, that was waylayed - perhaps captured, but the circumstances are not known - and much later deposited in the British National Archives where it remains to this day.

Plumb's letter to his brother (who, apparently, had a different last name; maybe it was his brother-in-law)  is brief, typical of those in the bundle of letters from Rhode Island written mostly by naval personnel. It's brevity suggests that Plumb was responding to one of the occasional calls for letters to be delivered to a ship that was about to sail for Great Britain. The short letter speaks to the hard duty born by British soldiers in Rhode Island. Although no major battles occurred there in 1777, skirmishes on land and sea happened almost daily - and nightly. Constant vigilance was required on this dangerous front line. Plumb also indicates his experiences in the rapid campaign that seized Long Island and then New York city in August and September of 1776, where numerous clashes occurred.

Thomas Plumb's touching closing paragraph shows us a man concerned for his family and relations while he toiled for his government in a far-away land. We can only hope that he wrote often, that this miscarried letter was not the only attempt that he made to insure them of his welfare, that they received frequent communications from their distant husband, father and relation. We hope that they at least had a memento of Thomas Plumb, for he was killed in battle on 29 August 1778, at the close of an abortive attempt by the American army and French navy to unseat the British garrison from Rhode Island.

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