Monday, May 27, 2013
On Saturday, 17 December 1774, the 10th Regiment of Foot marched out of Boston and into the Massachusetts countryside “to give the men a little exercise.” Marches like these were common enough and caused some minor alarm among the locals, but none in 1774 had serious consequences like those in the coming year would. The most noteworthy event for the 10th Regiment involved none of the soldiers on the march, but one who had remained in barracks recovering from illness.
After the regiment returned from its march the roll was called at 8 PM, well after dark at this time of year. One man was missing, a twenty-eight year old private soldier named William Ferguson. A tailor by trade, he had been in the regiment since April 1772 and had never attempted to desert; he had not been on the march that day, and there was no immediate reason to suspect that he had absconded. Nonetheless, typical protocols were followed: two corporals went to the regiment's barracks, found Ferguson's knapsack and examined it. Finding “only the Stiffening of an old Stock in it” their suspicion was aroused because deserters often took with them all of the extra clothing they could. The corporals reported Ferguson’s absence to his company serjeant.
At about the same time as the roll call, a sentry on Boston Neck, the isthmus that connected Boston to the mainland, raised the alarm because saw someone on the ice that laced the shores of the neck. The guard turned out and manned the redoubts that covered the neck, and parties were sent along the beaches. A private soldier in the 4th Regiment, a grenadier named Samuel Lewis, stooped down to get a view along the water’s edge in the moonlight and perceived a man near the water. Lewis made towards the man and called for him to stop, upon which the man instead tried to make his way past Lewis towards Boston.
Lewis pushed the man down with the muzzle of his firelock and asked why he had not stopped. The man, an intoxicated William Ferguson, claimed not to have heard Lewis. Lewis asked “what brought him there & if he had an intention to Desert for a parcel of Rascals?” to which Ferguson responded that he had merely lost his way in the darkness. Captain Charles Cochrane of the 4th Regiment, coming up to them, heard this discourse and the two men of the 4th took Ferguson into custody.
They brought Ferguson first to Major Roger Spendlove of the 43rd Regiment who commanded the lines that night, then to the guard room where he was turned over to Lieutenant Poole England of the 47th Regiment and Ensign James Goddard Butler of the 4th. These officers asked Ferguson where he had been going, and he said that he was going to visit a townsman (presumably meaning a native of his own home town) but had lost his way because he was unfamiliar with the area. Butler searched Ferguson’s pockets and found “two Shirts, one clean, the other dirty,” “two white Stocks, two pair of thread Stockings, one pair & a half of Yarn or Worsted Stockings,” “one pair of unmade black Cloth Leggins with binding,” “thread and a Taylor’s Thimble, the Stockings appeared clean but not ironed.” The officers wryly asked Ferguson if he was going for a long visit, to which Ferguson replied that he was taking his necessaries (that is, his shirts and stockings) to a washerwoman.
Ferguson was put on trial for desertion, a crime punishable by death, in Boston on 20 December 1774, and delivered his own defense on the 22nd. His situation was dire: he had been caught at night, carrying his spare clothing, on the road out of town. He nonetheless gave an eloquent explanation for his actions:
Last Saturday Morning the Regiment being Ordered to march some Miles into the Country, I was left at home, being in the sick reports, tho not so bad, but I could work at the Regimental Leggins which I was ordered to work at after the Regt was marched from the Barracks. I sent out for some Liquor of which I drank pretty freely, & which made me incline to have more. In some time after a Townsman of mine came to my room to see me, & asked me to go and drink a Dram, on which I went & then returned to my work, but finding myself incapable of working I proposed to myself to take my linen & stockings to a namesake’s wife in the 52d Regt who washed for me in Quebec, & pleased me much better than she who washes for me at present, & I imagine in my hurry in putting up my Linnen & Stockings, together with being intoxicated with Liquor, I likewise put the Leggins I was working on into my Pockets. The reason of my having the clean Linnen and Stockings with me was to have them done over again to my liking. I went in search of the 52d Barrracks & in my way met with two Sailors, they asked me if I wou’d have a dram & to which I unluckily consented. They had a bottle of Rum which they gave me & of which I drank out of the Bottle, they pressed me to drink again, which I did & got entirely insensible of what I was about or where I was going to, so staggered along, sometimes falling, sometimes walking, until stopped by the Sentries at the advanced Lines, & was taken Prisoner to the Guard, where the Field Officer on seeing me, told me I would pay for what I had done, for I should be either hanged or shot, which put me in such a Panic that I found myself got quite sober. I was searched for Necessaries and Ordered Prisoner to our Own Barrack Guard Room.
I sincerely believed my missing my way was occasioned by my being a stranger & so much in Liquor, as I am not acquainted in the Town not having mounted at any other Place but the Barrack Guard.
It’s very well known in the Regiment I never made the least attempt to Desert and I solemnly declare to God, a notion of the kind never entered my Breast, as I always have been well used, & payed by the Regiment I serve in, & never had any other inclination but to serve his Majesty in any part of the World, where called upon.
He called upon a fellow soldier of the 10th who deposed “that last Saturday the 17 inst about four o’Clock in the Afternoon the Prisoner came to Deponent for a pair of Scissors & that the Prisoner appeared to be very much in Liquor.” A soldier of the 23rd Regiment deposed ”that the Prisoner appeared to be very drunk when he was brought into the Guard Room at the Lines on Saturday Evening the 17th Inst Staggering too & again being scarcely able to make a walk of it.” Alexander Ferguson of the 52nd Regiment testified that his wife had indeed done laundry for William Ferguson when the two regiments were quartered together in Quebec, and added “that on the Prisoner’s being ordered to some of the Forts and owing Deponent a trifle of money, he promised to pay him when he returned & when he did not return he told Deponent that as the two Regiments were going to the same place, Viz Boston, he would pay him when they got there, & that he would again employ Deponents Wife to wash for him.” The court also heard the adjutant of the 10th Regiment confirm that Ferguson had only done duty at the regiment’s barracks since arriving in Boston earlier that year and had never mounted guard at Boston Neck or the lines, so it was plausible that he was unfamiliar with the area.
This well constructed defense did not sway the opinion of the court. Ferguson was found guilty and sentenced to death. General orders on 23 December presented the commander in chief’s approval of the sentence and directed that it
be put in execution, to morrow at nine o'Clock, by shooting said William Ferguson to death, by a platoon of the Regiment, to which he belongs. The picquets of the several Regiments, Commanded by the field Officer of the day, will attend the Execution which will be performed on some proper spot at the back part of the common near the water.
That the execution was carried out is confirmed by Lieutenant John Barker of the 4th Regiment, who wrote unsympathetically:
Sat. 24th. A soldier of the l0th shot for desertion; the only thing done in remembrance of Christ-Mass day. It is said Genl. Gage never pardons Deserters; at the same time I don't think his manner of executing 'em sufficient examples, as he has only the Piquets of the Army out, instead of the whole, which wou'd strike a greater terror in the men. Punishments were never meant only to affect Criminals, but also as Examples to the rest of Mankind.
Monday, May 20, 2013
Last week we looked at a veteran of the famous battle of Minden in the Seven Years War who also served throughout the American Revolution. There were other veterans of that war who served in the Revolution, but there were also younger veterans of more recent wars. With a global empire, Great Britain was in involved in many minor conflicts that are little known today; to the soldiers doing the fighting, however, combat was deadly, dangerous and personal regardless of the overall scale of the conflict.
Among the places troops were sent was the island of St. Vincent where a conflict now called the First Carib War which included intense fighting in 1772 and 1773. The island and its native population had been ceded to Great Britain in 1763 at the close of the Seven Years War; British agricultural expansion incited hostility that turned into armed conflict. Several British regiments were sent to the island; although these professional troops outnumbered the native fighters they were hampered by the health-imparing climate and mountainous jungle terrain. The war ended in 1773 with a peace treaty dividing the island between the British and the natives, an event commemorated in a well-known painting.
One of the regiments that fought in this bloody conflict was the 6th Regiment of Foot; in its ranks was a soldier named Samuel Stratton. From a town called Maidly in Shropshire, Stratton had learned the metalworking trade of a whitesmith before enlisting in the army when he was twenty years old in 1768. On 25 January 1773, fighting on St. Vincent, he was wounded in the neck and head. These injuries did not end his career, though; he remained in the ranks, and was with the 6th Regiment when it sailed from the Caribbean to New York in 1776 to join the escalating war there.
The 6th Regiment had suffered much during its service in the West Indies; by the time it joined General Howe's army, it was under strength and included many worn out men. In December 1776 the regiment was sent back to Great Britain, but following a common practice in both peace and war, its able-bodied men were transferred into other regiments on American service. This procedure, called drafting (in the sense of pulling men from one regiment to another), kept experienced soldiers in the ranks of regiments that needed them, leaving the officers and a cadre of soldiers from the homeward-bound regiment to recruit and train new men in the coming years. Having fully recovered from his wounds, Samuel Stratton was drafted into the grenadier company of the 37th Regiment of Foot.
It wasn't long before Stratton was scarred once again in battle. On 11 September 1777 at the Battle of Brandywine the grenadier battalions - corps formed by massing the grenadier companies from many regiments - were hotly engaged. Stratton was wounded, this time taking bullets "thro' the right Arm & right leg." Once again these injuries did not end his career. He continued with his company through the major engagement at Monmouth the following June. A year later he testified at a court martial in defense of one of his fellow soldiers, corroborating some aspects of the accused's story but offering only those things of which he had direct knowledge.
In 1780 he was appointed corporal, but in September 1781 was reduced again to private soldier. Short-term appointments like this were common and reduction to private did not necessarily reflect a disciplinary issue; sometimes men were appointed to corporal temporarily because another corporal was incapacitated, and sometimes recently-appointed corporals requested to resign the position for reasons that are not stated.
Samuel Stratton continued to serve in the 37th Regiment of Foot until 23 December 1790. He was discharged after 22 years of service and recommended for a pension not only because of his two wounds, but also because he was "worn out in the service." He signed his own name on his discharge.
Sunday, May 12, 2013
Some British soldiers who served in the American Revolution were veterans of previous wars. There is no way to be sure how many, because of gaps in muster rolls and also gaps in careers - if a soldier was discharged because of a force reduction at the end of a war, then enlisted again later on, the muster rolls give no indication of the connection between the two terms of service; when the man enlisted there is nothing denoting that he had prior service. Only with the help of other documents, if they exist for that man, can we discern such a career.
Last week at the National Archives in England, I had the good fortune to come across just such a document. The muster rolls of the 4th (King's Own) Regiment of Foot show a soldier named Hendrick Leich being appointed Corporal on 25 October 1776, but there is no indication of where this man came from; his appointment is the first time he appears on the rolls. His name indicates that he was German, and we know that German recruits for British regiments arrived in America in October 1776. The muster rolls show other men with Germanic names joining the regiment on 25 October, so it's a safe bet that Hendrick Leich joined and was appointed Corporal on the same day.
A description list of some of the German recruits includes a Corporal Heinrich Lücke; the list doesn't say that this man joined the 4th Regiment, but does include several other German recruits who did. Furthermore, part of the agreement when these men entered British service was that non-commissioned officers would be appointed to their due ranks as soon as vacancies opened up in their new British regiments. We can safely deduce that Heinrich Lücke's name was anglicized to Hendrick Leich when the British muster rolls were prepared. The description list tells us more about this man: He was 39 years old in May 1776, six feet tall, Protestant, from the Hildesheim near Hanover, and was married but his wife did not accompany him on the voyage to America. It also mentions that he had previously served in the army of Hanover.
Although obliged to serve only until the close of hostilities, Lücke (Leich) remained in the regiment until he was 54 years old. He was discharged from British service in London on 23 March 1791. Like all long-serving British soldiers, he had the opportunity to go before the Chelsea Hospital examining board to seek an out-penion (that is, a pension for non-residents of the hospital, as opposed to an in-pension). The pension was granted and because it was, the hospital retained a copy of his discharge certificate; this document is the one that provides tantalizing details of this man's service.
The discharge is a printed form with personal details hand-written into blank spaces. It tells us that "Henry Lytch" was a laborer - that is, he had no skilled trade - and confirms his age. His place of birth is given as Hanover, a general term that sufficiently approximates the region including Hildesheim. It indicates that he had 17 years of service in the 4th Regiment, which is approximately right (we know that he had already been recruited for British service in May 1776 but do not know when he actually enlisted).
But the most interesting part is the reason why this soldier was recommended for a pension:
long service is worn out having also served 18 years & 9 months in Prince Charles Regt in the Hanoverian service in which Corps he received a wound, in the Wrist at the Battle of Minden. He was enlisted into the British Service by Lt. General Faucett under a general Order that the Hanoverian servitude should be considered.
So this man not only had prior service, he had had a very long career before joining the British army. And he had been wounded at one of the most storied battles in British military history, one that was famous in Lücke's own time. We can only guess whether he was held in high esteem because of this.
Most British soldiers who received pensions had served for at least 20 years; Lücke's discharge indicates overall service, not just service in the British army, was to be considered for pension candidates. He joined the military as a teenager, and served for almost 35 years in the armies of two nations. At the end of it all, including long service as a non-commissioned officer, he was unable to sign his own name on his discharge, instead marking it with an X.Learn more about British soldiers in America!