Saturday, October 1, 2016
It's fun to be surprised by data. Even more fun is to be surprised twice. Marriage records for soldiers of the 26th Regiment of Foot held as prisoners of war in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, provide just such an interesting double surprise.
In 1775, the 26th Regiment of Foot garrisoned the British post at St. Johns, a key post on the Richelieu River that lay on the passage between Montreal and Lake Champlain. In November, the garrison was overpowered by an American force sweeping northward that would also take Chambly, Montreal, and then lay siege to Quebec. Most of the 26th Regiment was captured at St. Johns or along the river. These prisoners, along with prisoners from the 7th Regiment of Foot, were sent to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, some 400 miles away and far from any of the war's front lines.
The prisoners began to arrive in Lancaster in early December, about a month after they were captured. They soon began to get married in the town's St. James church. Comparing the maiden names of the brides to names on muster rolls and prisoner lists, we surmise that the prisoners met most, if not all, of the brides after arriving in Lancaster; the names don't indicate that they were daughters or widows from within the regiment.
It was no surprise that British prisoners of war married local women; in fact, that was completely expected. What is surprising was the number of marriages: sixteen in a one-year period from December 1775 through December 1776 (the marriage records inexplicably list one man as belonging to the 47th Regiment, but he is on the muster rolls of the 26th Regiment). An additional seven marriages involved men listed simply as "a soldier;" none of these can be correlated with certainty to men of the 26th Regiment.
There were about 300 prisoners from the 26th Regiment held in Lancaster (an exact number is not known). A list of 247 of these soldiers, take in the middle of 1776, gives the names of sixty-six wives with them. Most were probably with the regiment when it was captured, but the list includes four of the women who married in Lancaster (and, oddly, does not include some of the others who married into the regiment before the list was made). Given that many of the men were already married when captured, not all were eligible to marry local women. With this imprecise information we can estimate that between five and ten percent of the prisoners got married while in Lancaster.
Among the maiden names of the brides are a few that match up with names of other prisoners. Possibly some of these brides were daughters of couples in the regiment. We don't have enough information to know how many, if any, of the brides were already in British military families. One new bride's last name matches that of a prisoner who enlisted in the American army; did he abandon his wife, prompting her to marry another soldier of the 26th Regiment, or is it just by chance that they had the same last name?
From other sources, we know that British soldiers who married local women were liable to desert from the army when an opportunity arose, in order to stay with their wives. Also, whenever British prisoners of war were exchanged or released, some of them deserted instead of returning to the army; detailed figures have not been determined, but we estimate that about ten percent of prisoners did not return to the army. This expectation led to the second surprise about marriages in the 26th Regiment.
The prisoners from the 26th Regiment of Foot were exchanged in early 1777, after over a year in captivity. The regiment's muster rolls allow us to trace the careers of the soldiers. Several of them did not return, and are written off of the muster rolls as deserters, all on the same day. Surprisingly, though, only two of the sixteen men known to have married in Lancaster did not return to the army. Thirteen of the newlyweds duly returned to New York and continued their military duties. One man disappears from the muster rolls with no annotation, so his fate is not known.
Four of the newly married men died within a year or two of rejoining the British army in New York. One was discharged in America in 1780. Six served in the 26th regiment through September 1780 when the regiment ordered home; two of them were drafted into the 44th Regiment and were still in that corps in Canada in 1785, while the other four were probably also transferred into other regiments (a gap in the muster rolls makes it impossible to follow their careers after September). Two of the married men returned to Great Britain with the regiment, one of them serving until 1792.
But what about their wives? Wives of British soldiers had the option of following their husbands, and these American women who wed British prisoners of war were entitled to stay with the men who were exchanged and went to New York. That doesn't mean, though, that they did. Documents giving names of soldiers' wives, or even enumerating which soldiers were married, are very rare, and none are known to exist for the 26th Regiment after the 1777 exchange. Perhaps all of these women remained in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and eventually established new lives. Or perhaps they followed their husbands, taking on the roles typical of army wives in garrison and on campaign. Either way, their lives were profoundly changed by the temporary presence in their home town of British prisoners of war.
Below are the marriages of soldiers from the 26th Regiment recorded at St. James Church, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
March 5, 1776: Jonathan Haywood (of 47th Regiment) married Bridget McGuire at St. James Church in Lancaster today. (Haywood, actually in the 26th Regiment, was drafted into the 44th Regiment in 1779 and went to Canada; he was still in the 44th Regiment in 1785)
March 14, 1776: married today at St. James Church. Daniel Allen (of the 26th Regiment) and Catharine McElroy. (Allen remained in the regiment through 1779)
March 27, 1776: John Andrew Walker of the 26th Regiment married Ann Aritage at St. James Church today. (Walker rejoined the regiment but died in late 1777 or early 1778)
May 10, 1776: Joseph Abbott of the 26th Regiment and Isabella Hunter were married at St. James today. (Abbot returned to Great Britain with the 26th Regiment in 1780)
May 16, 1776: Married today at St. James Church were John Mason of the 26th Regiment and Ann Burns. (Mason deserted from captivity, presumably to remain in the Lancaster area)
May 24, 1776: At St. James Church, James Culbert (of the 26th Regiment) and Mary Justice were married. (Culbert returned to the regiment, and died on 24 October 1777)
May 28, 1776, 1776: Married at St. James Church today were: James McCarty of the 26th Regt. and Elizabeth Glover. (James McCadie remained in the regiment through 1779)
June 8, 1776: William Boddle of the 25th Regiment and Mary Hellens exchanged marriage vows at St. James Church today.(William Bodie returned to the regiment and was discharged in New York in April 1780)
June 11, 1776: Simon McKinzy of the 26th Regt. married Elizabeth Unger at St. James Church. (Simon McKenzie, a shoemaker from Logie, County Ross, Scotland, returned to Great Britain with the 26th Regiment and was discharged in 1792 at the age of 41; he was granted a pension)
June 23, 1776: Samuel Doxey of the 26th British Regiment married Sarah Drummond at St. James.(Doxey deserted from captivity and joined the American army)
June 30, 1776: Married at St. James Church today were John Walker of the 26th Regiment to Mary Hargy (Walker rejoined the regiment but died in late 1777 or early 1778)
July 1, 1776: Married at St. James Church today were John Lloyd (a Corporal in the 26th Regiment) to Eleanor Reade. (Loyd returned to the regiment, and died on 8 February 1778)
October 27, 1776: George Hider of the British 26th Regiment married Rebecca Smith. (George Hides returned to the regiment, was drafted into the 44th Regiment in 1779 and went to Canada;he was still in the 44th Regiment in 1785)
November 30, 1776: John Smith of the British 26th Regiment and Jane Herrot were married today at St. James (Smith remained in the regiment through 1779)
December 4, 1776: Joseph Williams of the 26th Regiment of British prisoners married Eleanor ? at St. James today. (Williams remained in the regiment through 1779)
December 7, 1776: James Lindsay (26th Regt.) and Mary Myer (Lindsay disappears from the muster rolls after returning from captivity)