Tuesday, August 30, 2016
Donald McPhee, 71st Regiment, wounded in two wars
British policy during the third quarter of the eighteenth century was to maintain a small, well-trained professional army during times of peace, which could be augmented and increased rapidly if war demanded it. The war that broke out in America brought just such demands; in the middle of 1775, recognizing that the conflict might become a protracted one and would require significant military force, the British military began the process of military buildup. One of the measures was the authorization of a new regiment, the 71st Regiment of Foot, to consist of two battalions totaling some 2000 men, for service in America as soon as it was up to strength and fit for service.
It would be impossible to raise such a regiment and make it ready for foreign service by relying solely on raw young recruits. But in the highlands of Scotland where the 71st Regiment was raised, there was no shortage of veterans who had been discharged after the previous war that ended in 1763, who were willing and able to return enlist again. One such man was forty-four-year-old Donald McPhee, an illiterate farm laborer from Kilmallie, near Fort William in Inverness Shire.
Born in 1731, McPhee had enlisted in the 88th Regiment of Foot when it was raised in 1760 to fight in the Seven Years War. He went with his regiment to Germany, where a splinter from an exploding mortar bomb wounded him severely in the head. He recovered sufficiently to continue as a soldier until the end of the war, when the regiment was disbanded and he was discharged.
When the 71st Regiment was raised for the American war, the experience of men like McPhee insured that it was ready for service by the summer of 1776. A portion of the regiment was captured at sea near Boston, but the majority served in the campaigns in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania in 1776, 1777 and 1778. No muster rolls have survived for the these years, making it impossible to know specifics of Donald McPhee's service. The next we know about him is that he was at the siege of Charleston, South Carolina in 1780. It was here that he was wounded again, this time in the thigh.
McPhee convalesced for a time, but did not recover sufficiently to return to service. Some time before the war ended, he was discharged and sent home. Although he had a total of only ten years in the army, not a very long career compared to other full-time soldiers, his two wounds made him a likely object for an army pension. He did not, however, avail himself of this prospect by going to London and standing before the pension examining board; instead, he returned to his native Inverness and life as a laborer.
The rigors of his hard life rapidly caught up to him. He was unable to support his wife and six children, and soon became too infirm to work at all. The family was supported by the parish until, in 1791, an army officer who’d served with him in America intervened on his behalf. The officer helped McPhee make a claim for a pension, writing to the pension board “that from the Testimony of several Gentlemen of first veracity & Honor on behalf of the Bearer Donald McPhee, and having a recollection myself of the poor man’s services in America, I am enabled not only to renew his Discharge (on account of his having lost the Original) but to Certify that he has been confined to his Bed and supported by his Parish for some years Past, which prevented his being able to come up in due time to solicit His Majesty’s Bounty of Chelsea Pension.” The deserving veteran, now sixty years old, was added to the pension rolls.