Wednesday, September 7, 2016
When fighting broke out in Massachusetts in 1775, British soldier William Marchant was in the colonies but far from the war zone. With other soldiers of the 7th Regiment of Foot, called the Royal Fusiliers, he was in the garrison at St. Johns, a post along the Richelieu River between Quebec and Lake Champlain. These men may have expected the conflict to remain confined to the Boston area, but American ambitions dashed any such expectations.
Marchant was no stranger to war. Hailing from the Bath suburb of Walcot in Somersetshire, he had joined the army during the Seven Years War. While serving in the 103rd Regiment of Foot, a newly-raised regiment, he participated in the British attack on the French island of Belle Isle off the Brittany Peninsula in 1761. He was wounded in the neck during that action. His regiment was disbanded at the end of the war in 1763, and he was discharged. With no trade to fall back on, however, the twenty-five-year-old enlisted a second time, this time in the 7th Regiment.
By November 1775 the Royal Fusiliers had been serving in the Quebec area for over two years. That month, an American force besieged St. John; the garrison, heavily outnumbered, was forced to surrender. The prisoners were marched off to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. With no idea of how long this imprisonment might last, Marchant and a few others chose a different path: they enlisted in the American army. Marchant may have been disheartened with his prospects as a prisoner, but his third enlistment, this time into the enemy army, may have been a clever ruse, for serving in the American army meant that they would be sent closer to British forces than the hinterlands of Pennsylvania.
In the autumn of 1776, American forces lost one fight after another around New York City. Large numbers of American soldiers deserted or were taken prisoner. William Marchant’s own circumstances aren’t known at this writing, but on October 17 he joined the British army again. He enlisted in the 63rd Regiment of Foot and spent several months in their ranks. In 1777, prisoners from his old regiment were exchanged and the 7th Regiment was reconstituted from those men, recruits from Great Britain, and drafts from other regiments. Marchant was a Royal Fusilier once again.
The 7th Regiment served in several subsequent campaigns. Portions were captured at the battle of Cowpens and the surrender at Yorktown in 1781, but Marchant was not among them. He served out the war, and continued with his regiment when they returned to Great Britain in 1783. He did not take his discharge until five years later, when he was fifty years old, after twenty-seven years as a soldier. On 24 June 1788 he was discharged at Edinburgh Castle. He scratched a X on his discharge in lieu of a signature, and was given twenty-eight days pay with which to make the journey to London to stand before the army's pension board He was recommended for a pension, “having been wounded in the Neck at Belleisle, suffered much by long confinement when prisoner of war in America, & being much afflicted with the Rheumatism, is unfit for further service.” No mention was made of his brief stint as an American soldier.