Monday, July 22, 2013

William Stone, 23rd Regiment, and the Governor's Daughter

Military service produces heroes, but many acts of heroism are quickly lost without being recorded; others are mentioned only briefly in sources that become obscure. Some soldiers' acts of heroism occur off of the battlefield and outside of the scope of warfare; such was the case for William stone, a private soldier in the 23rd Regiment of Foot, who performed a gallant act that was barely noticed even in its day.

In his early life Stone followed the path of many Britons by becoming a weaver, the a widely-practiced trade in the island nation. In 1764 he changed careers by enlisting in the 23rd Regiment, known by the honorific title Royal Welch Fusiliers (during that era, both "Welch" and "Fuziliers" were spelled in various ways; the spelling used here was standardized by the regiment in the early 20th century). With this corps he served at various locations in England and Scotland before embarking for America in 1773.

The 23rd Regiment arrived in New York that summer. The colonial governor of the colony was William Tryon, recently relocated from North Carolina. His residence was within the walls of Fort George, an installation that stood on the southern tip of Manhattan in the area of present-day Battery Park. In the middle of the night on 29 December 1773 a fire of unknown origin broke out in the house and spread quickly. Whether William Stone was part of the fort's garrison or was following the typical soldier's duty of responding to a fire, he was soon on the scene.

Governor Tryon and his wife escaped the conflagration through a side door, but their 12-year-old daughter Margaret and her governess Ann Patterson were trapped on the second floor. The quick-thinking governess urged the girl to jump, and she was able to do so because William Stone was there to catch her. Mrs. Patterson followed and was also caught by Stone. Although some later sources claim that Margaret Tryon was badly burned in the fire, newspaper accounts published at the time indicate that she "received no injury" while Mrs. Patterson "though considerably bruised, is since much recovered." A 16-year-old servant named Elizabeth Gartet died in the fire and the material loss was great, but the flames were contained to the house thanks in part to snow on the roofs of adjacent buildings; further tragedy was averted. Governor Tryon sent a letter of thanks to the citizens of New York by way of the mayor for their response to the fire. William Stone's act of heroism was mentioned in the newspaper, but there is no indication that the governor recognized him personally in any way.

Stone continued serving in the 23rd Regiment for the entire war, from being part of the relief force sent out of Boston on 19 April 1775 to being among those who surrendered at Yorktown in 1781. He was appointed corporal, a clear indication that he was a competant soldier. He was taken prisoner in 1777 and spent a year or so in captivity followed by another 18 months after the surrender at Yorktown. When a peace treaty was signed in 1783, Stone returned to New York with other repatriated prisoners. The end of war brought a reduction in the size of British regiments, and William Stone was discharged after having served nearly twenty years. The date of his discharge suggests that he took a land grant in Nova Scotia, but this is not certain. It is unfortunate that we know no other specifics of his military career besides his dramatic role in the rescue of Governor Tryon's daughter.

Margaret Tryon lived in New York for the duration of the war, then went to England and became an attendant to Queen Charlotte. She was noted as a chatty woman, but by the age of 30 she remained unwed. She had caught the fancy of an officer in the Life Guards regiment, and the two planned to elope. On a summer night in 1791 her suitor arrived beneath her window, and she dropped a rope ladder. As she climbed out, she slipped, fell, and was fatally impaled upon a fence. Her life was ended by a fall from a window, a tragedy that the soldier William Stone had averted 18 years before.

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

1 comment:

  1. Don, I have read a number of these postings that you have. Each is an interesting read. This one is an incredible story! Such a Greek tragedy. I plan on reading all of your posts. Thank you for posting them!

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