Monday, August 5, 2013

William Scoles, 33rd Regiment, turns to fishing

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!

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