Monday, August 19, 2013
The early military career of William Baylis, a laborer from Anvill in Staffordshire, is not known. Born in 1741, he joined the army at a young age in 1755 and apparently was discharged again twenty years later; we've found no record of where he served.
Like many career soldiers, after being discharged he enlisted in the army once again, this time joining the 53rd Regiment of Foot. The 53rd was in Ireland at the time, but Baylis may have enlisted with a recruiting party somewhere else in Great Britain. He joined his new regiment in Dublin on 21 April 1775 and probably expected a routine career given the length of time he'd already served.
Soldiers in Ireland, however, faced an imminent danger. Bands of ruffians attacked lone soldiers in the night, savagely cutting their achillies tendons with razors or cleavers in order to cripple the hapless soldiers. The practice was called houghing (pronounced "hocking"), a reference to the joint in an animal's leg corresponding to the human ankle; many of the attackers were Dublin butchers who worked in Ormonde Market. Modern scholars debate the motivation of these attacks, whether they were explicit responses to British treatment of the Irish, anti-military statements related to the American war, or simply extensions of the turf wars that plagued 18th century Ireland. For whatever reason, many unsuspecting soldiers were maimed between 1772 and 1788, primarily in Dublin in 1774, 1775 and 1776. The widespread attacks even even spawned a few instances of self-inflicted wounds by soldiers hoping to avoid wartime deployment and instead obtain a pension.
At about 9PM on 28 November 1775, William Baylis was making his way along the dark street towards Gallows Green in downtown Cork on his way home to the barracks where his regiment was quartered. According to a local newspaper,
On Saturday night last about nine o’clock, William Baylis, private soldier in the 53d regiment, was inhumanly assaulted by some bloody villains unknown, who came behind him and knocked him down, as he was coming peaceably to his barracks, and cut him desperately in two places on the left leg, with an intention to hough him, but providentially the tendent achilles was missed. This horrid action was committed in the street leading to Gallows green, by ruffians supposed to be butchers, who immediately after made off into some of the cabbins in that street.
Although some houghers were caught and punished severely, usually executed, there is no evidence that these attackers ever answered for their crime. Baylis was fortunate that his assailants missed their mark. Not only was he not crippled, he recovered fully and was able to embark with the 53rd Regiment when it sailed for Quebec early the following year. The veteran soldier was fit enough to be transferred into the regiment's grenadier company in early 1777. With this company he served in the grenadier battalion of Burgoyne's army on the 1777 campaign towards Albany; the grenadiers were often engaged in heavy fighting.
By the end of the campaign Baylis had become a prisoner of war, but it is not clear whether he was among the soldiers surrendered at Saratoga or was taken at some other time. Regardless, he spent over four years as a prisoner of war before finally being repatriated in 1782. The extensive hardships he'd endured made him a prime candidate to be discharged when hostilities ended, but he did not choose that option. William Baylis remained in the ranks of the 53rd Regiment until June 1790 when he was finally discharged at the age of 49, having served 34 years and three months as a British soldier and by this time suffering from "chronic Rheumatism." He was granted the pension that he'd narrowly avoided receiving fifteen years earlier.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Our previous installment concerned a soldier who made good by joining the army, getting 50 acres of land for serving only one year abroad and seeing no hostile action. It's important to know that sort of story because many men experienced it, but it is, let's face it, boring. This week let's look at something less common but more, um, exciting.
The story begins when Boston resident Sarah Muncrief went to the outhouse on 2 August 1774. This would not normally be something worth noting here, but her visit soon became non-routine. Corporal Charles McKenny of the 5th Regiment of Foot suddenly threw the door open, rushed in, grabbed her arms and pushed her backwards. She screamed "Murder!" a few times, until McKenny put one hand on her throat and lifted her petticoats with the other.
Kate Darby, who lived in another part of the same house as Sarah, heard Sarah's cries; she ran to the outhouse and pulled McKenny off of Sarah. Kate (or Katey) called McKenny an impertinant dog and swore to have him punished. McKenny drew his bayonet, upon which Sarah escaped into the house; McKenny attempted to pursue her but was restrained by Kate Darby.
Sarah lodged a complaint and Corporal McKenny was immediately incarcerated. He was brought before a regimental court martial four days later on charges of "abusing and ill-treating a Town's Woman." Sarah Muncrief (who was 17 or 18 years old if we've identified her correctly) told her story but called no witnesses. She explained that McKenny had come to the house a few minutes before the assault and asked for Kate Derby or another person named Delbrenton. Sarah told him she didn't know the whereabouts of either person, and McKenny went away; the assault occurred shortly after, and Sarah was sure she knew who the attacker was.
McKenny gave perhaps the worst imaginable defense in such a situation. He told the court that did in fact assault a woman in the outhouse, but he couldn't say whether the woman was Sarah Muncrief. He also claimed that when she told him to desist, he did. It's no surprise that the court found McKenny guilty. He was sentenced to be reduced in rank to private soldier and to receive 100 lashes. But his actual fate was different.
In an attempt to show forgiveness, and perhaps in revulsion to the concept of corporal punishment, Sarah Muncrief met with General Hugh, Earl Percy who was both Colonel of the 5th Regiment and commander of the garrison in Boston (General Gage, the commander in chief, was at his summer home in Salem). Even though McKenny had "assaulted me in my privy and used me in a ridiculous manner," she asked Percy to forgive his punishment on the condition that he never again molest her or any of her family nor come near her home lest he receive triple the punishment sentenced by the court. The general gave his word that he would abide by these terms; the muster rolls of the 5th Regiment confirm that McKenny retained his place as a corporal.
Sarah's graciouness was not well received by the townsfolk who were in general at odds with the soldiery and happy to see a British regular punished. Rumors spread that she was a lewd woman, that she showed lenity because she admired McKenny. She became an object of ridicule.
In an effort to clear her name, she wrote a letter to the editor of the Boston Gazette explaining her case. She included the proceedings of the court martial as proof that she had, in fact, lodged a complaint against McKenny and seen him sentence, then forgiven him out of goodness. She concluded her entreaty with, "If I had been a lewd woman I should perhaps laid ten times the punishment on him to make me appear virtuous to the eyes of the world." Her letter and the court proceedings were published on 29 August 1774.
This appears to have been the end of the matter. No more is known of Sarah Murcrief. As for Corporal McKenny (or McKinny, as his name is sometimes spelled on the muster rolls), he continued to serve in the 5th Regiment. The Irishman was reduced to private soldier on 8 March 1776 but we do not know the reason; while we could guess that it was because of a disciplinary action, there were other more mundane reasons for men to return to the ranks. In 1777 he was transferred into the grenadier company as a private soldier. With the 5th Regiment he saw service on the Philadelphia campaign, then went to the West Indies in 1778. He survived that harsh climate, and was still in the ranks when the regiment returned to Great Britain in 1781.
Monday, August 5, 2013
Most of the soldiers who get writeups here had something remarkable about their careers that survives in the historical record. A long career, battle wound, trial by court martial, desertion or some other event that caused more to be written down than just his name and dates of service. To focus on these men is to overlook the legions who lack such distinguishing details. The absence of interesting recorded information doesn't mean their lives were uninteresting, only that we know too little about them.
An example of such a soldier is William Scoles of the 33rd Regiment. He took advantage of a sweet deal offered by the British government: men who enlisted after 16 December 1775 (that is, after it became apparent that the war might be a long one and the army's size needed to increase) could receive land grants in the colonies at the cessation of hostilities if they had served for at least three years. Owning land was unlikely for a commoner in Great Britain, so this was a very tempting offer. It did mean spending at least three years as a soldier in a war in a faraway place, but many considered this a risk worth taking.
Scoles was probably from Yorkshire; although British regiments did not have regional affiliations until 1782, the 33rd recruited heavily in this area and varations of the name existed in the region. His enlistment date is not known but was probably in 1780 or early 1781. The war had ground on for many years by this time with no end in sight and many wounded veterans had returned home, but high enlistment bounties and the possibility of 50 acres of land remained enticing.
Like most British recuits, Scoles spent a considerable amount of time training in Great Britain before embarking with other recruits for America. He boarded ship in May 1782. The convoy carrying these recruits, several hundred for regiments in New York, stopped first at Halifax, Nova Scotia in mid-August. The naval commander there, however, was concerned about sending the convoy immediately to New York because there weren't sufficient warships available as escorts to guard against capture by the French navy. Although the war was winding down and peace negotiations were under way, the convoy was too valuable to risk.
William Scoles and the other recruits were disembarked and put on duty in the garrison city of Halifax. For administrative purposes they were added to the muster rolls of their regiments in New York, but never actually joined those corps. This is probably the reason that Scoles' name appears as "Seals" on the muster rolls of the 33rd Regiment; Elijah Scoles (or Scholes) was also among the recruits, and is also called "Seals" on the muster rolls. Apparently the officer or serjeant who prepared the rolls copied the names from a list that was written either poorly or incorrectly.
After about 14 months in Halifax, the war over and the army being down-sized, William Scoles was given his discharge from the army. He had the option of reenlisting (which many men did), returning to Great Britain at the army's expense, or staying in Nova Scotia; if he did the latter, he was eligible to receive 50 acres of land. Rather than take the land, he "followed the business of fishing" but five years later filed a petition to obtain a vacant 50-acre lot on Halifax harbor "on the Western Shore, between Sleepy cove and Ferguson's Cove." His request was granted. He settled there, continued to fish, married, and raised a family. The risk he took by enlisting in a wartime army rewarded him well with a new life on his own land, in return for serving three years far away from any hostile action.
Learn more about British soldiers in America!