Learn more about British soldiers in America!
Monday, October 21, 2013
For those who might be in the area, I will be speaking on 6 November (Wednesday) at the Washington, DC, American Revolution Round Table; and on 7 November (Thursday) at Fraunce’s Tavern in New York City. Both talks will be about my book, British Soldiers, American War.
Many of the soldiers we've discussed here had learned trades before joining the army. This should come as no surprise when one thinks of the ages and opportunities involved; young men who went to school usually studied only until they reached their teen years, and some didn't go to school at all (it would be a mistake, however, to assume that most didn't go to school). But the army didn't usually take recruits until they were fully grown, which meant at least their late teens, and the majority of soldiers enlisted in their early twenties. That meant spending at least a few years, and perhaps a dozen or more, at some sort of work - ample time to complete an apprenticeship or acquire a skill in some other way.
Sometimes those skills were useful to the army. Taylors, blacksmiths, shoemakers and others provided necessary maintenance for regimental clothing; bakers, butchers, brewers and victuallers prepared food for the army; carpenters, sawyers and coopers supported the military infrastructure. When the British army landed in Rhode Island, orders were given for the 22nd Regiment to send a printer to headquarters; although the purpose was not specified, he almost certainly prepared notices, handbills and other documents for the army.
It was not only the British army that took advantage of skilled British soldiers. Prisoners of war were put to work by their American captors, filling labor voids created by men being away in the American army and also keeping the prisoners gainfully employed rather than idle. One such man was James Gamble (also spelled Gambles, Gamiel and Gammel) of the 80th Regiment. He'd enlisted on 3 February 1778 when this regiment was being raised, part of the wartime expansion of the army.
The 80th Regiment arrived in American in August of 1779. By October of 1781 most of the soldiers were prisoners of war, having been taken as part of General Cornwallis's army at Yorktown. James Gamble was a prisoner of war after his first campaign. He and his fellow soldiers were sent to Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Gamble's skills were noticed by the Committee of Safety. In March 1782 he was sent to Philadelphia to the Commissary of Prisoners, presumably because that officer had requested a printer from among the British prisoners. A letter informing the commissary of Gambe's impending arrival indicated some uncertainty about his suitability for whatever tasks were expected of him; the committeeman wrote that Gamble was "more of stationer than printer," and said he was told there was a printer among the prisoners of the 17th Regiment who might be more suitable (and, in fact, there was: Corporal John Waterman of the 17th, who survived the war and received a pension in 1791).
How Gamble worked out at his job in Philadelphia is not known. He must have liked his overall experience in America, though, as he was one of many British prisoners who did not return to his regiment when prisoners were repatriated in 1783. Like the others, he was written off as a deserter.
Learn more about British soldiers in America!
Monday, October 14, 2013
John Sinclair and Hugh Fraser were soldiers in the 76th Regiment of Foot. One afternoon, on the deck of a transport ship near the bow, Sinclair's wife Sophia approached Sinclair and grabbed his collar; they apparently had some sort of joke between them that she was playing upon, but something went wrong.
The 76th was a new-raised regiment, recruited in Scotland in late 1777 and 1778, one of several such regiments created for the duration of the American war and disbanded after hostilities ended. Being new-raised didn't mean that all of the soldiers were new to military service; an unknown portion of the men had reinlisted after having served in the army previously. But the regiment's recruiting instructions directed that recruits be between the ages of 18 and 30, so in absence of other information we assume that most of them were.
The regiment sailed for American in 1779. It was on board one of the transports, the Kingston, that Sophia Sinclair grabbed Hugh Fraser's collar. For reasons we'll never know, Fraser didn't take it lightly, he turned on Sophia, putting her hands around her throat, and shouted “You will not do that, I am not afraid of you!” She struggled with him, apparently trying to free herself, but his arms were longer than hers. Her husband John sprang to her aid, punching Fraser once on the left side of the head and once in the stomach. Fraser collapsed immediately, without a sound, and almost without movement. A crowd gathered; someone swore that Fraser was dead, and Sinclair, still agitated by the apparent assault on his wife, responded, “If he could he would give him more.”
Hugh Fraser was, in fact, dead; after receiving the two blows he went immediately silent and barely moved again. The regimental surgeon was called for, but had to come from another transport. By the time he got there to examine Fraser, the lower part of his stomach had become discolored. It was nighfall, so the surgeon waited until the next morning to examine Fraser's body, by which time "the Putrefaction had so suddenly taken place, that he was prevented seeking further into it."
A few months later, after the regiment had arrived in New York and gotten settled in, John and Sophia Sinclair were put on trial for murder. They were tried together; it was not unusual for military courts to try several offenders of a single crime in one case, hearing each witness testimony only once and then pronouncing a verdict against each defendant. Although no one had see in detail the beginning of the scuffle, several had seen John Sinclair strike Fraser, including one man who had been "looking over a Corporal’s Shoulder who was reading" when the noise on deck caught his attention. Everyone agreed that Fraser had been in good health, that there'd been no previous sign of animosity between him and Sophia Sinclair, and that they'd "seen people engage in a fiercer manner without such a fatal accident happening."
John Sinclair pleaded in his defence that he'd had no intention of taking Fraser's life; Sophia indicated that all she'd done was grab Fraser's collar. Two officers testified to their good character, including one for whom John Sinclair had been a servant for a year before the crime occured; "he should not have parted with him, but for this late unhappy affair," and his wife "always behaved herself exceedingly well."
John and Sophia Sinclair were acquitted of murder. It is, unfortunately, impossible to trace their subsequent lives because there are gaps in the 76th Regiment's muster rolls, there were two men named John Sinclair in the regiment in in 1778, and only one remained in 1782, but there's no way to know which one was which. There was only one Hugh Fraser on the rolls in 1778, and of course he's no longer there in 1782; although he never even got to America and met an ignominious end, at least we know what became of him.
Monday, October 7, 2013
We've seen a number of soldiers who were disabled not by wounds but by accidents, an often overlooked hazard of military service particularly in wartime. This week we tell the story of one such man who was injured on an expedition that was called off before he ever went into battle.
First, however, I'm pleased to announce that a new book, a compilation to which I contributed several articles and some editorial work, will be released soon. Journal of the American Revolution Vol. 1 is a selection of articles from the Journal of the American Revolution web magazine, which I also highly recommend. If you're looking for a good starter book on the American Revolution, or a good gift for someone with a casual or serious interest in history, this book is an excellent choice.
On to the story of William Lewis. This young laborer from Lincolnshire enlisted in the 26th Regiment of Foot early in 1779 at the age of seventeen. It appears from the muster rolls that he enlisted in America, but how he came to be in the colonies is not known - and it is possible that he enlisted in Great Briton; muster roll annotations are often ambiguous.
The 26th Regiment had been in America since before the war began. In 1775, most of its men were taken prisoner at posts from Fort Ticonderoga (a small detachment of the 26th manned that fort when it was seized by Vermont soldiers led by Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold) to Montreal. By 1777 the prisoners were exchanged and new recruits filled out the ranks, but in 1779 it was time for the 26th Regiment to return to Great Britain. Following a typical procedure, able-bodied men in the 26th were transferred (drafted) into other regiments in America; unfit men were discharged, and the officers and non-commissioned officers returned home to recruit anew. William Lewis, young and able, was drafted into the 37th Regiment of Foot in August 1779.
He came into his new regiment at a relatively inactive time for the New York garrison. The locus of the war was shifting south, but the 37th remained part of the strong garrison where the British army in America was headquartered. The regiment participated in the expedition that resulted in the battle of Springfield, NJ, in June 1780 and Lewis may have gotten his baptism of fire there. Late the following year came the opportunity to see another even bigger action.
It is well known that General Cornwallis's southern army established a fortified camp at Yorktown, Virginia, where they would meet their demise. This army wasn't given away haphazardly, however; a relief force was assembled and embarked in New York in October 1781 to reinforce and relieve Cornwallis. Among the nearly 7000 troops distributed on Royal Navy warships was William Lewis, on board HMS Belliqueux with 280 men of the 37th. Belliqueux was a brand new 64-gun ship launched just a year before in London, named after a French ship captured in 1758.
The expedition sailed, but too late; they were at sea when they learned of Cornwallis's capitualtion, and they returned to New York and disembarked the troops. Somehow, though, during his time on ship Lewis's leg was broken. Over time it healed, but it never healed well. He managed to continue on in the army, spending time in the Bahamas in the 1780s where he contracted a severe fever.
By 1790 his leg had gotten worse and he still suffered from the effects of the fever. He was discharged from the army (he signed his own name on his discharge, suggesting that he was a literate man) and was put in a physician's care for his "incurable sore leg; in December 1791 the doctor wrote that Lewis "Has from the 14th of July 1790 been under my care of ye same complaint & the wounds of his legg, has occasioned him to be confined to his Room, from ye time above mentioned to ye Latter end of October last. And although I have it so Purfect as it now appears, I am Doubtfull there is some small fractures of bones, that will at different times come forward & disable him from being a usefull Soldier or even to provide for himself & family."
William Lewis was granted a pension, a meager subsistence for himself and the family he had to support in his disabled condition. But it's more than he would've gotten in any private profession had he suffered a similar injury.