Thursday, February 5, 2015

Evan Davis, 23rd Regiment, spends a while in Ipswich

Among the soldiers who marched from Boston towards Concord on 19 April 1775 was Evan Davis, a grenadier in the 23rd Regiment of Foot. A ten-year army veteran, he was may have been expecting this to be another routine march into the countryside similar to others that his regiment had undertaken in recent months. All-day marches kept the soldiers fit and active, especially important during the largely-dormant winter months. Davis and his fellow soldiers probably knew, however, that this was something different. Instead of an individual regiment marching out, this time it was the grenadier company and light infantry company from each regiment, companies that hadn't routinely operated together during the gradual military build-up that had been taking place in Boston over the previous year. The troops also didn't carry their knapsacks and blankets, burdens that were usually carried on fitness marches but not on operational missions. We don't know if the rank and file soldiers were aware of their mission to seize military stores, and they certainly weren't expecting to marching into battle that day.

But battle they did, as is well known. The British grenadiers suffered many casualties that day, both killed and wounded. Among the men who didn't return to Boston was Evan Davis. The muster rolls list him as "died" on 23 April.

But he wasn't dead. He was taken prisoner, perhaps wounded. On 17 May word of his suvival reached his regiment in Boston, and he was restored to the muster rolls; as a formality, he was transferred to another company in early 1776 so that another man could be put into the grenadier company in his place.

By that time Davis was being held in Ipswich, a coastal town some distance north of Boston. He was in good company. A number of other prisoners had been taken under various circumstances; in October 1776 there were sixteen British soldiers being held in Ipswich, along with of three their wives and four children. But good company invites collusion. At dusk on 7 May 1777, after two years as a prisoner of war, Davis escaped with two fellow prisoners. It was almost three full weeks before they were advertised in the newspapers:

Deserted from the town of Ipswich, on Wednesday the 7th inst. between day light and dark, three prisoners of war, viz. Donnel McBean, a highland volunteer, of a sprightly make, dark hair, and ruddy countenance, about 21 years of age, 5 feet 8 inches high. Ewen Davis, of slim stature, has lost the sight of one of his eyes, about 5 feet 10 inches high. And one Lile, a Highlander, a shoemaker, dark complexion, about 5 feet 6 inches high. Whoever shall take up said prisoners, and convey them to any goal within this State, shall have Five Dollars reward for each of them, and all necessary charges paid by Michael Farley, Sheriff.
[Boston Gazette, 26 May 1777]

Somehow, Evan Davis made his way back to his regiment. Most likely he was able to get to the British garrison in Rhode Island and from there sail to New York, but we have no details on his journey. On 24 August he was placed back into the grenadier company, just in time for British campaign to Philadelphia. The muster rolls have no annotations to suggest that he wasn't present on that campaign, in spite of his apparent lack of sight in one eye.

The rigors of campaigning, however, apparently caught up with this soldier who'd endured captivity and made his escape. He died in Philadelphia on 27 February 1778.

1 comment:

  1. Incredible post. Learning about the individuals in this great conflict, and the awful things they went through, is fascinating. It is a shame that after all this work, he ended up only being out of prison for about half a year before dying.

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