Monday, August 14, 2017
Stories from the first half of the nineteenth century are notorious for containing exaggerations, convolutions, and outright falsehoods about the American Revolution. The passage of fifty or more years left memories muddled and faded, and tales passed by word of mouth were conflated, elaborated, and sometimes even invented. This means that such stories must be evaluated carefully for plausibility, comparing details carefully with more reliable information. One such story concerns a British serjeant in New Jersey in 1777.
After the battles of Trenton and Princeton, British forces settled in to a string of posts in New Jersey, quartered in abandoned buildings, barns and other shelter in the area around Amboy and New Brunswick. American forces were centered in Morristown, separated from their opponents by a ridge line called the Short Hills. A number of battles and skirmishes occurred during the ensuing months, none of which had an impact on the overall disposition. It was a long, difficult winter for soldiers on both sides.
In May, the 42nd (Royal Highland) Regiment of Foot was quartered in Piscataway, just north of the Raritan River. While most of the soldiers went about the routine duties required to maintain sufficient food, fuel, cleanliness and general readiness, a portion did duty as piquets (or pickets), individuals placed around the perimeter to detect any approaching threats. On the afternoon of 10 May, a threat came, and it was a big one.
A force of some 2000 American troops had carefully made their way towards Piscataway, making use of the terrain to remain concealed for as long as possible. When they could get no closer undetected, the rushed upon the picquets. The highlanders, vastly outnumbered, nonetheless fought back, and were quickly joined by additional men on guard duty who were not already posted. They put up the best resistance that they could, but were forced to retire all the way back to their own quarters, leaving the garrison dangerously exposed. They had bought enough time, however, for the remainder of their regiment to put aside their other task and form for battle. Other regiments quartered in the area joined the fight as well. The tide was soon turned and the Americans were chased back from whence they had come. A dozen men of the 42nd Regiment had been killed, and just over three times that number wounded.
In 1822, General David Stuart published a substantial work in Edinburgh entitled Sketches of the character, manners, and present state of the Highlanders of Scotland: with details of the military service of the Highland regiments. He gave a brief account of the battle in Piscataway, and included this anecdote:
On this occasion, Sergeant Macgregor, whose company was immediately in the rear of the picquet, rushed forward to their support, with a few men who happened to have their arms in their hands, when the enemy commenced the attack. Being severely wounded, he was left insensible on the ground. When the picquet was overpowered, and the few survivors forced to retire, Macgregor, who had that day put on a new jacket with silver lace, having besides, large silver buckles in his shoes, and a watch, attracted the notice of an American soldier, who deemed him a good prize. The retreat of his friends not allowing him time to strip the sergeant on the spot, he thought the shortest way was to take him on his back to a more convenient distance. By this time Macgregor began to recover; and, perceiving whither the man was carrying him, drew his dirk, and, grasping him by the throat, swore that he would run him through the breast, if he did not turn back and carry him to the camp. The American, finding this argument irresistible, complied with the request, and, meeting Lord Cornwallis (who had come up to the support of the regiment when he heard the firing) and Colonel Stirling, was thanked for his care of the sergeant; but he honestly told him, that he only conveyed him thither to save his own life. Lord Cornwallis gave him liberty to go whithersoever he chose.
This story sounds fanciful, but it does contain details that can be compared to a reliable sources. British reports of this action show that the 42nd Regiment had three serjeants killed and three wounded in the action. The regiment's muster rolls show that there was a serjeant named Duncan McGrigor in the 42nd at this time. More telling is that this Serjeant McGrigor was discharged in November 1778, and returned to Great Britain to go before the pension board. The pension examiners recorded that he was forty-six years old, had served in the army for twenty-three years, and was a native of Perth. Most important, he was discharged because wounds rendered him no longer fit to serve.
The actions of the 42nd Regiment on 10 May 1777 received the praise of General Sir William Howe, commander in chief of the British army in America, as recorded in general orders four days later:
His Excellency the commander-in-chief has requested Earl Cornwallis to communicate his thanks to the Forty-Second Regiment, for its spirited behaviour on the 10th instant, when it defeated a body of the enemy much superior to itself in numbers; and he is much pleased with the alertness with which the second brigade got under arms to support the Forty-Second Regiment.
Did a badly-wounded Serjeant Duncan McGrigor really get carried around the battlefield by a plunder-seeking American soldier? We don't know for sure, but the facts we have show that the story is plausible.
Wednesday, August 2, 2017
The lists of trades recorded for British soldiers in the 1770s and 1780s, usually reflecting the line of work they had pursued before joining the army, includes all of the major skills of Great Britain's industry: weaver, flax dresser, tailor, shoemaker, smith, carpenter, sawyer, mason, comedian... comedian? Yes, among the pensioners who served in the American Revolution was at least one made who gave his trade as "comedian."
Archibald Maclaren was a native of Inverary in Argylshire, on the west coast of Scotland. We have no information on his early life, until he arrived in America in September 1777 as a recruit in the 26th Regiment of Foot; he had probably enlisted early that year. At five feet five inches tall, the twenty-one year old was an inch below the usual peacetime height standard for soldiers, but wartime manpower needs brought an acknowledgment that many robust, eager highlanders were "little fellows" (as stated in an inspection return for the 82nd Regiment in 1778), and so men of smaller stature were welcomed into the ranks.
Maclaren must have shown some ability as a soldier, for he was put directly into the 26th Regiment's light infantry company, a post that usually required at least a year of military experience. During the next two years his regiment was involved in several major engagements and numerous smaller ones. Maclaren was wounded three times, once in the head, but we have no record of in which battles or whether on three separate occasions. We do know that his wounds did not keep him down. When the 26th Regiment was sent back to Great Britain in late 1779, he went with it, and by the first half of 1780 he had been appointed to serjeant. Clearly he was a capable soldier.
While on recruiting service in Scotland, Maclaren found time to write a play, a farce called The conjurer, or the Scotsman in London. It made use of regional characterizations, but turned around some common tropes by portraying a Scotsman in the big city as cunning and clever rather than simplistic. The work was published in Dundee in 1781, and was probably performed by a touring company before opening in Edinburgh in 1783.
1783 also saw the opening of his second play, a "musical entertainment" called Coup de Main, or the American Adventurers (published in Perth in 1784), in Dundee. And with the end of the American War, a military drawdown allowed him to take advantage of the wartime enlistment provision that men who had served at least three years could be discharged at the close of the conflict. Having been wounded during the war, he was eligible for a pension, but to obtain it he had to travel to London and appear before the Pension Board at Chelsea Hospital, where he would present his discharge, the paper from his regiment stating that he had completed his enlistment obligations and recommending him for a pension. In an 1811 essay he wrote of what occurred next:
But the very day on which I had purposed to commence my journey to London, I was seized with a fever, which confined me six weeks, and to augment my disaster, I found my landlady had lighted her pipe with my discharge, at which she seemed so little concerned, that she gravely told me - she always lighted her pipe with Jock's copy-books when they were all written upon: this was a heavy stroke, for the Regt. had by that time returned to America, and my discharge was no phoenix—from the ashes of which I could expect to see another rise: so what was to be done?
The 26th Regiment had actually gone to Ireland in 1783 and did not depart for British North America until four years later, but no matter; Maclaren was left without the essential documentation he needed to go before the pension board. Needing a source of income, and having already established a name for himself in the theater in Dundee, he joined an "itinerant troop of players" based in nearby Montrose. His essay continued,
Ye (perhaps well meaning, but I hope mistaken) enemies of the drama, unless ye can divest yourselves of your propensity to eat and drink, censure me not when I tell you that I joined Mr. Sutherland, whose company bore a very respectable character, which was occasionally heightened by the acquisition of several shining stars from London, viz. the late Mr. John Palmer, and his brother, the facetious Dick Wilson, the humorous Lee Lewis, Mr. Cautherly, Mrs. Barresford, Miss Fontenelle, &c.
He apparently played English characters poorly due to his own heavy highland accent, but did well with Scottish, Irish and even French characters. His acting career was short-lived, however, for, as he wrote,
But after a successful career of several years, through, either the misconduct or misfortune of the manager, we were all left to shift for ourselves.
"Several years" was an exaggeration, unless he was including his time as a playwright (and possible as a performer) while still in the army. In November 1784 necessity caused him to return to his prior profession:
The most eligible situation that offered, in my then condition, was a Serjeantcy in the Dunbartonshire Highlanders, which I accepted and attended the Regt. to Guernsey and Ireland
This corps, also called the Dunbartonshire Fencible Infantry, took Maclaren onto the rolls as a serjeant in November 1784; although fencible regiments were by definition not eligible for overseas service, Ireland was part of the United Kingdom, and some Scottish fencible regiments were sent there to help quell the 1798 rebellion. When that conflict was ended, Maclaren left the regiment on 27 December 1798, but his aspirations of a pension were once again dashed:
...as the wound in my head became at times somewhat troublesome, I was once more discharged; but still my unfriendly stars continued to twinkle upon me—for in the course of my passage to Bristol (as if fire and water had combined to ruin me) my knapsack, which contained my discharge, by the carelessness of an officious passenger, fell overboard.
Having written a farce called What News from Bantry Bay? while serving in Ireland, the forty-two year old Maclaren now turned himself fully to writing, publishing eleven more plays from 1789 through 1799. His work made frequent use of wordplay derived from regional accents, sometimes even including passages in Gaelic. They were mostly printed in Scotland - Paisley, Greenock, Perth - but one in 1799 had a Bristol publisher. He apparently was getting some recognition throughout the kingdom. He had also married and had several children, the first in 1796. In 1799 he moved his family to London where his one-act drama Negro Slaves was performed at the Amphitheatre, a venue near Westminster Bridge. This work, with a Scottish character speaking out against the cruelty and inhumanity of slavery, may have roused some controversy in a nation that derived considerable wealth from overseas plantations staffed by slaves.
In London, he continued to increase both his family and his catalog. By the end of 1820 he had sired eleven children, five of whom survived, and authored an astonishing fifty-three more plays. He sold these to patrons and anyone else who would buy, and eked out a modest living. In 1803, he began writing introductions that described something of his situation, from which we find valuable insights on the work of a struggling writer in London. Initially they were brief, like the two sentences that first appeared in 1803:
Being discharged from the Army, in consequence of my Wounds, the little Productions of my Pen are my only source of support for myself and Family. To the Royal Family, Nobility, Gentry, and others, who have either subscribed for, or purchased any of my Copies, I beg leave to offer my grateful thanks.
In 1805 he elaborated a bit more:
Being discharged from the Army, (where I served many years as Serjeant) in consequence of my wounds, the little productions of my pen are my only present support for myself and family. To the Royal Family, Nobility, Gentry, and others, who have either subscribed for, or purchased any of my Copies, I beg leave to offer my most grateful thanks. I am not insensible that I am more indebted to their generosity, than to any merit in any of my little weak attempts. And as for the few who have - but why should I complain? If every body was to buy, I would grow too rich; and if nobody was to buy, I should starve; so, between those that do, and those that do not, thank Providence I make a shift to move on towards the end of my long journey.
Apparently in response to questions frequently asked by prospective buyers, in 1811 he wrote an essay in the April issue of a London literary magazine called The Satirist: Or, Monthly Meteor, in which he explained his lack of another source of income. Titled "To the Public," it began:
If you are an old soldier, why don’t you live upon your pension?” said a gentleman to me 'tother day. Now, my good reader, as in all probability you may be inclined to propose the same question, I shall endeavour to tell you, in as few words as possible, how I happen to have no pension, and yet I am an old soldier.
After describing the losses of his discharges, presented above, he continued, revealing that he had recently renewed his efforts to obtain a pension:
Some time after my arrival in London, I applied to His Royal Highness the Duke of York, who was graciously pleased to intimate to me by the pen of Col. Gordon, that it was not in his power to interfere with the board, unless I could procure a recommendation from the Regiment in which I had last served; — but that was a task not to be accomplished, till I fortunately met Col. Scott, who very willingly granted me the following certificate:
"I certify that Serjeant Archibald Maclaren served in the Dunbarton Fencible Infantry, under my command, for the space of six years: during the whole of which time he behaved himself soberly, honestly, and in every respect as a good soldier; and that he was regularly discharged by order of the faculty, the wounds he received in the 26th Regiment in America, rendering him no longer fit for actual service. I also firmly believe, that Serjeant Maclaren lost the discharge which I gave him from the Regiment. FRANCIS J. SCOTT, Lt. Col. Late Dunbartonshire Infantry.”
This certificate, accompanied by an humble petition, I carried to Sir David Dundas, who ordered me to leave my address. -Elated with this fair prospect, I flew home to communicate the news to my family, – and so confident was I of success, that my wife and I began to conjecture how much I should be allowed per day, and my young ones, (of whom there are two boys and four girls) to lay out, by anticipation, a small portion of my pension, in purchasing necessaries which they stood somewhat in need of. But, poor things! their hopes and their joy had their birth and their burial in one fortnight — for when I called for an answer, I was told by Mr. Lynn, that nothing could be done without a printed discharge. There was another stroke! for on my return from Chelsea, I found that Colonel Scott (who thought the written certificate sufficient) had left town. — "But why not apply to the 26th?" you may say: I’ll tell you the reason, — Sir William Erskine, the Hon. General Sir Charles Stuart, General Gordon, and, in short, all the officers who knew me in that Regiment, are removed beyond my reach, either by death or preferment. Now, my good reader, think not that I publish this with a view to throw any reflections upon the gentlemen who rejected my humble petition: - my sole design is to shew you that I have no provision made for me by government; but I am proud to proclaim that I have received many private favours from most of the Royal Family, as well as from many of the nobility, gentry, and others, for whose goodness I shall seize this, and every other opportunity to express my sincere and life lasting gratitude.
The following year he reprinted his 1811 drama called Tricks of London giving it a new title, The Ways of London: Or Honesty the Best Policy, and including an introduction that indicated the reason behind the new name, relating the challenges of his work:
Will you, for this last time, pardon my repeated intrusion; for in truth, if I could find any other way to provide for myself and family, I should neither give so much trouble where I owe so much gratitude, nor yet run the risk of meeting with insults where I owe no gratitude at all. To convince you of the truth of what I say, I beg leave to tell you a story; Some time ago, a little blackbird built his nest contiguous to a farm house; the farmer, whose good wishes were not altogether confined to himself, would sometimes drop a few grains of wheat among the chaff for the benefit of his sable visitant, and surprising as it may seem to some people, I have been told that this very farmer has been often heard to say, that at the end of the season, he never could perceive that his stock was any way diminished by these little acts of generosity. Thus far, thus good, we shall say, but the farmer died, and that was bad for the poor blackbird, for the ensuing spring, when he had occasion to renew his foraging, the farm was possest by a man who was so far from considering the necessities of others, that he laid a snare and encaged the poor intruder. The consequence was, that his feathered partner pined with grief, and the young ones died of hunger. Now, my good reader, I am persuaded that you will be very apt to call this a mere fiction — well, let it even be so, and I will tell you a fact: One day, as I went out to distribute my copies, I took the liberty to call at the house of a gentleman who had often encouraged my little productions, but he was not there, his friends had conveyed him to a neighbouring church yard, and the gentleman who succeeded him, not only threatened to prosecute me for my intrusion, but in the fulness of his heart, threw my pamphlet into the fire. I could ill spare it at the time, for I had but ten copies remaining, and little or no paper provided for another Publication. On my return home, I found my dear little Mary, a girl of eight years old, expiring upon her mother's knee. I sat down with an heavy heart, and an empty pocket; hope was set never to rise again for me, I thought, but at the very midnight of despair, when all was dark and dreary in my mind, a generous, noble benefactor, (the recollection of whose many acts of goodness shall never die in my heart, as long as my heart lives within me,) sent me a present which enabled me to go on with my Publication. Should ever the executioner of my pamphlet, or any of his Benapartical disposition, see this, it will shew them, that here is a kind providence which befriends even the meanest of mortals, I often found it so, for though I have no provision made for me by government, I am grateful to say, that several of the Royal Family, Nobility, Gentry, and others, have often encouraged my little attempts.
He concluded by restating that he'd lost his military discharges, and reprinted the certificate he'd obtained from Lt. Col. Scott.
Maclaren's 1813 "dramatic piece with songs" The Prisoner of War, or a most excellent Story included a new introduction, bringing readers up to date on his continuing tribulations with the pension board:
I write for neither fame nor wealth, my utmost ambition is to procure a subsistence for myself and family. In some of my former Addresses I took the liberty to inform the Public that both of my discharges had been lost, and that subsequent to my arrival in London I had procured a written certificate, which I presented to Sir David Dundas, without effect — And now I have to add, that about a month ago, I was favoured by Lieut. Col. Scott, with a printed discharge, which I enclosed for His Royal Highness the Commander in Chief, from whose Office it was transferred to the Secretary’s Office, Chelsea, from which last place, I was directed, by letter, to appear to answer such questions as might be proposed to me - On the wings of expectation, I flew to obey the summons, fully prepared to answer to — How long did you serve — where were you Wounded, &c. &c. &c. But to my utter astonishment, no such questions were asked — very far from it. A ‘young‘ gentleman of eighteen or nineteen settled the matter in a more concise manner, for tearing a slip from the bottom of my own letter, he wrote thereon, “This man’s discharge will not do, being agreeable to neither the new nor the old form.” This important piece of intelligence, together with my discharge, he desired me to carry to the Duke of York’s Office. Now my good readers, though my services were not doubted, and my wounds were too conspicuous to be disputed, you see that owing to a small deficiency in point of form, I am cut off from all hopes of obtaining the veteran’s reward. But no reflections — perhaps they did well, and perhaps they did ill, in rejecting my claim; but in spite of all the perhapses that ever can be perhapsed, I cannot help thinking that I was as much entitled to the pension as many of my more fortunate brother soldiers who have it. Disappointment is the fate of man, and I have had my share of it, yet why should I repine, as long as I can say that several of the Royal Family, Nobility, Gentry, and others, encourage my little attempts.
The following year, in a drama called The Last Shift, or the Prisoners released, one of four plays he published in 1814, he shortened his introduction:
I am often asked, why I have no Pension for my wounds and services. All the answer I can make, is, that my discharge was lost, and that, though I have procured another, with an excellent Certificate, my claim, by some fatality which I cannot account for, was rejected, or perhaps neglected; but to console me for the disappointment, I have to say, that several of the Royal Family, Nobility, Gentry, and others, encourage my little productions, which are indeed my only means of support for myself and family.
Some time between 1814 and 1816 his fortunes with the military administration changed. He was able to obtain an acceptable discharge, which described him as having black hair, grey eyes, and a dark complexion. He went before the examining board, and was granted a pension of nine pence per day since he had been a serjeant for much of his career. This new income did not stop him writing, but instead changed the tenor of his introductions.
Starting in 1816, he no longer justified the lack of a military income, but instead explained why for two decades he had been soliciting sales to support a young family. Showing his wit, in a drama called The Debating Club he composed in introduction in a question-and-answer format:
Public: What Necessity can you have? Don't your children grow up like other people's? How comes it, then, that you always tell me you have a large family? Answer me that!
Author. In the course of my military life, I observed, that when the destructive hand of death had thinn'd the ranks, the vacancies were filled up with young recruits. In like manner has my family decreased and re-increased during the seventeen years I've been in London. Three months are not elaps'd since I saw my eldeset son, a youth of twenty years old, alid in the ground, and yet I have five children still remaining; four of them under eleven years of age...
And in The Man Trap; Or, a Scene in Germany: a Dramatic Piece, with Songs, in Two Acts. he wrote,
Once more I find myself under the pathful necessity of intruding upon your good nature. During my seventeen years residence in London, I have experienced many instances of public Kindness, and a great deal of domestic distress. “Have you got no Pension?” is a question quite familiar to my ear: Yes, I have (and I have laboured for it) as much as will pay my room rent; and when it is paid, I sit down with great satisfaction, and no little pride, for I am always proud to get out of debt; but notwithstanding my pride and my satisfaction to boot, when I look round my room I see four little young things, under eleven years of age, both able and willing to eat, when perhaps I have not four farthings in my pocket to gratify their natural propensity. In that case what can I do: why, having atchieved so much with the small sum I derive from what I may call the labours of my sword, I must endeavour to make out the rest with the labours of my pen. Those who have read my former Pieces will perhaps say — that my last was my worst, and I'll not attempt to deny the charge. The best marksman does not always hit, nor yet does the worst always miss: therefore, be kind enough to cast an eye over the trifle which is attached to this, and if you like it, that is to say, you find a few flowers among many nettles, I hope your candour will approve the first, and your good nature pardon the latter. The price is but small, yet small as it is, I am very sure the receiving it would benefit my pocket much more than the granting it would injure yours.
The last of his lengthy introductions that we have found appeared in the 1817 musical Live and Hope; or the Emigrant prevented:
How happy is the man who writes with pleasure and prints with confidence! he is like a general who leads an army to the field, not in the least doubtful of victory. My case is quite the reverse; for though I remember, with gratitude, that I have often met with friends in the course of my little business, I cannot forget, that I have also met with enemies; for a Dramatic Piece, even if it should contain sentiments that would not disgrace a sermon, will ever be condemned by a certain description of people. But this far I’ll say for myself, however low my attempts may prove, in point of composition, I have always avoided every thing that might be thought to offend the most delicate mind. I have praised virtue, ridiculed folly; and, strange as it may seem to some people, I have heard several good judges say, that they never met with any of my little attempts that wanted a moral. But hold, my pen. I fish not for praise — but for a subsistence; and in order to accomplish that object, I offer my little productions for sale, accompanied by the following four dogrel lines -
All those that want must ask to live,
All those that have may keep or give;
All those who bear a gen’rous heart
Half share the pleasures they impart.
Apropos! — before I finish this address, I must answer a question frequently proposed by some good-natured people, who seem very anxious to detect me in a falsehood: - ‘You had a family when you came to London,’ said they; ‘are they forever to be young?‘ ‘No, they are not; nor will some of them ever be older, for they sleep in St. Ann’s Church Yard, and in Tottenham Court Road Church Yard.’ At once to unravel the seeming mystery, I have five children dead, and five living, four of the latter under twelve years of age; and as it cannot be supposed that they can provide for themselves, both my inclination and my duty prompt me to use every lawful means in my power for their support: but upon you, my good Readers, it must depend, whether I shall be able or unable to put my design in execution.
After another question-and-answer introduction in 1818 in which he indicated that his plays were not being performed, Maclaren adopted a standard introduction that he used, with minor variations:
In answer to several questions that are frequently proposed to me, I beg leave to offer the following statement: I was born in the Highlands of Scotland' I served in the army fifteen years, and some months; I was Sergeant ten years, and some months; I have three wounds all in my front, and my pension pays my room rent. Of eleven children, I have five dead, and six living; five of the latter, under fourteen years of age. For these, my generous Reader, have I so often repeated my intrusions - intrusions, no more troublesome to you, than they are painful to myself.
Which he later shortened to:
In answer to several questions that are frequently proposed to me, I beg leave to offer the following statement: I was born in the Highlands of Scotland' I served in the army fifteen years, and some months; I was Sergeant ten years, and some months; I have three wounds all in my front, and my pension is nine-pence per day.
In this late stage of his life he exaggerated the length of his service somewhat, but there can be no denying his remarkable literary output. By the time he died in 1826, Archibald Maclaren had published at least eighty-three plays, some revisions of a few of those plays, two prose works dealing with the history of the Irish rebellion, and three collections of poetry, making him one of the most prolific Scottish authors of the age. Quite an accomplishment for an old soldier and self-described comedian.
Tuesday, July 25, 2017
From the written record of his testimony, we cannot discern whether Michael McLaughlin and his wife, Christian, were angry or nervous when they answered questions from officers sitting on a general court martial. They had good reasons for both emotions. They were not on trial, but were testifying for the prosecution of their company commander, Captain Benjamin Charnock Payne, who was charged with a litany of offenses from behaving "in a Scandalous, infamous, unwarrantable manner unbecoming the character of a Gentleman and an Officer" to "entailing disgrace of the Royal Regiment of Ireland." Addressing a board of officers, and speaking out against a superior, surely must have been an intimidating experience.
But the McLaughlins may have been angry enough to overcome intimidation. Among the charges against Captain Payne was "tyrannical, cruel and oppressive treatment both of Non-Commissioned Officers and private Soldiers." So bad was the alleged treatment that several soldiers had deserted because of it. Michael McLaughlin had not done so, but, if his and his wife's testimony are to be believed, he had ample cause.
Michael McLaughlin had enlisted in the 18th (Royal Irish) Regiment of Foot in May of 1755. A dozen years later he came with his regiment to America, and by 1774 was serving in Captain Payne's company, quartered at the British army barracks in Philadelphia (a structure very much like the one that still stands in Trenton, New Jersey). Around June of that year, his wife Christian sought and obtained permission to live outside the barracks and "endeavor to get a livelihood by her industry in selling bread, beer, cheese, & etc. to the Soldiers and others," as she put it. Her husband was allowed to live with her, which was typical for married soldiers - as long as their officers knew their whereabouts, and they performed all of their duties, they were allowed to live out of the barracks. It was very common for soldiers' wives to obtain lodgings and conduct retail businesses like this, although in this case she happened to be the only wife of the regiment to reside outside the barracks. She leased a small house nearby at a rate of 14 Pounds per year where she was allowed to sell foodstuffs and beer, but nothing more intoxicating.
And sell she did, for a month or so. Sometimes, however, customers purchased spirits at a place next door to hers and brought them into her place to mix with their beer. She knew of this, but apparently thought it within the terms of her license as long as she herself wasn't selling the spirits. She also, on a couple of occasions, gave spirits to serjeants of the regiment to mix with their beer, but did not charge them for it.
Word got back to Captain Payne that soldiers had been drinking hard liquor at Christian McLaughlin's house. The captain suspected that two of his serjeants had become intoxicated there. A townsman had caused a disturbance after slipping a gill of spirits from next door into the beer he'd bought, then refusing to pay for it. Captain Payne took action by ordering that no soldier go to the house, effectively shutting down her business. He also confined Private McLaughlin to the barracks for seven weeks, and recommended to the landlord that he turn Mrs. McLaughlin out because "she kept a bad house and that he would never get his rent."
Payne paid a constable to take Christian McLaughlin before the mayor of Philadelphia on charges of illegally selling liquor. He went so far as to order the two serjeants to testify that they'd bought spirits from her. When both refused because, according to one, "his conscience would not permit him to take such an oath," the officer threatened to have them broken (reduced in rank) and flogged if they did not comply. Neither man gave in; instead, they complained to another officer of the regiment. Michael McLaughlin was also ordered to swear against his wife but refused. With no one to testify against her, Christian McLaughlin was released by the constable and the mayor. But in order to live with her husband, who was confined to the barracks, she left her house, forfeiting two weeks of rent that she'd paid in advance.
Each of these three soldiers subsequently received consistent ill-treatment from Captain Payne. One of the serjeants became so frustrated that he deserted; McLaughlin requested a transfer to another company, but none was given. And Christian McLaughlin suffered another loss from Captain Payne.
Soon after losing her house, the regiment left Philadelphia for New York. They weren't there long before being driven out by angry townspeople, inflamed by the resistance to parliamentary rule that was sweeping through the American colonies; the garrison of New York city was far too small to keep order, and the soldiers of the 18th Regiment boarded ships for Boston. It was somewhere during this embarkation process that Captain Payne gave orders for superfluous baggage to be jettisoned, since the transports were quite crowded. There was also fear that some of baggage had been exposed to smallpox. As he was inspecting one transport, he noticed a bundled up "old ugly petticoat" that had "a very indifferent kind of an appearance; the lining which was outward was broke." He asked a corporal to whom it belonged, and the corporal told him that it was McLaughlin's; Payne ordered it thrown overboard. What neither the captain nor the corporal noticed was the new petticoat bundled up within the old one, and both were soon in the sea.
After the regiment arrived in Boston, Michael McLaughlin made a complaint to the commanding officer, as did the serjeant who had been coerced to testify, and several other soldiers and officers for a variety of complaints. Even though war broke out in April and the fateful battle of Bunker Hill occurred in June, the army's administrative machinery continued to matters of military discipline. In July, Captain Benjamin Charnock Payne was brought before a general court martial, charged with a series of crimes associated with discord in the 18th Regiment of Foot.
There were five major charges, and many witness; the trial went on for three weeks, one of the longest conducted throughout the entire war. Mr. and Mrs. McLaughlin testified concerning only one of the charges, and told the story of soldiers being banned from her business, her being brought before the mayor, and of her clothing being thrown overboard. Several other soldiers and a few officers also spoke to those events. But Captain Payne had clear reasons for all of his actions. It was not him who ordered soldiers to stay away from Christian McLaughlin's house, but his commanding officer; Payne had only been enforcing those orders. As for the petticoat, it was not apparent that the bundle contained a new garment, and throwing it overboard was consistent with orders.
Many officers and soldiers testified in Captain Payne's defense. He was acquitted of all charges but one; in fact, the court found those charges, including that he had mistreated soldiers, "in General malicious, frivolous, wicked and ill grounded." The final charge, which did not concern the McLaughlin's, brought a type of reprimand.
This result may have been discouraging to Michael and Christian McLaughlin, but fate soon brought them a reprieve. The 18th Regiment, having been in America for eight years, was drafted at the end of 1775; it's able-bodied soldiers were transferred to other regiments, the unfit men were granted discharges, and the officers, non-commissioned officers and drummers returned to Great Britain to recruit. Michael McLaughlin, after over twenty years in the army, was still fit for service, so he was drafted into the 4th Regiment of Foot.
With the 4th Regiment, he, and presumably his wife as well, campaigned in New York and New Jersey in 1776 and 1777, before going on to Philadelphia in the latter part of 1777. While the regiment was quartered in Philadelphia for the winter, after a year of hard campaigning, Michael McLaughlin died of unknown causes on 15 January 1778. We have no information about what became of his wife Christian.
Monday, May 15, 2017
All in all, he wasn't much of a soldier.
Edward Bailey was added to the muster rolls of the 63rd Regiment of Foot on 21 February 1777, when the regiment was in the New York area. The circumstances of his joining are not known. He may have been an American, or an "old countryman" already in America; he didn't join at a time when other recruits from Great Britain joined the regiment. It didn't take him long to get into trouble.
On 25 June 1777, the regiment was assembled on the parade of their encampment, and Bailey was missing. On the night of 30 June, he showed up at the hut of a wagoner who worked for the army. The wagoner suspected that Bailey was a deserter, and "entertained" him until soldiers came and put him under arrest.
Put on trial for desertion three days later, Bailey pleaded that he had not intended to desert, but that he had "made away with some necessaries," that is, shirts and stockings, presumably of fellow soldiers. Fearing punishment for this theft, which could have been as much as a few hundred lashes, he "wandered about, and lay in the Fields." He said he intended to return to the regiment on the night he was captured.
Bailey's alibi was common one, and was effectively an admission of guilt - regardless of his intentions, he had in fact deserted, and the only basis the court might have for mercy was the fact that he'd expressed an intention to return and did, in fact, go to a person who worked for the army. Desertion was punishable by death, so Bailey probably was simply hoping for a more lenient punishment. If that was the intention of his defense, he succeeded. The court found him guilty, which he clearly was, and sentenced him to 1000 lashes, a standard corporal punishment for this crime.
Then Bailey caught a break. Sentences of general courts martial were subject to approval by the local commander in chief. In this case, General Sir William Howe determined that there was "a certain want of form in part of the proceedings" of the trial. It is not stated what was lacking; perhaps it was because the prosecution didn't ask whether Bailey's tent and knapsack were examined to determine what possessions he taken, or that no witnesses were asked whether he'd been enlisted properly, or because no statements were made about whether he'd resisted being arrested, or Bailey's statement about having stolen some clothing wasn't pursued. All of these things were typically brought up in desertion trials, but were either omitted or barely touched upon in Bailey's trial. Whatever the reason, the punishment was remitted, and Bailey was released to return to duty.
Seven months later, Bailey was on guard duty on the British lines outside of Philadelphia. He was in the guard room at a quarter to two o'clock in the afternoon of 5 February. He was among the men scheduled to go on duty at Redoubt Number 8, and they were ordered to take their provisions with them, but when roll was called at three o'clock, he was gone. His musket and bayonet were in the guard room, but not his blanket or cartridge pouch. By the next day he was still nowhere to be found, so his absence was reported to the regiment's adjutant.
Two days later, 8 February, the adjutant received a tip that Bailey had been seen at a house a couple of miles away from the 63rd Regiment's quarters. A serjeant and a soldier went the next day to search for him. When they got to the house, they learned that Bailey had been there but had just left only a half-hour before. The searchers noticed footprints in the snow and followed them to another house, still farther from their quarters, where they found Bailey. They asked him why he'd left. He explained that he'd left his cartridge pouch and blanket on a bush, and that when he returned for them they were gone, and he was afraid to go on duty without them.
The following week Edward Bailey was put on trial once again. The serjeant who discovered his absence, the two men who found him, and the adjutant all gave testimony from which . Bailey called no witnesses in his defense, but told the court that he had had no bread to take with him when he was ordered out for duty in the redoubt; he went to town to get some, but on the way he left his blanket and pouch under a bush. When he returned, his things were gone, and he was afraid to return to the guard or to the regiment without them. He went to a house and stayed there for four day, but "being then almost starved, he went in search of a bit of bread." Unable to find any, he was returning to the regiment when the searchers found him.
This story had some similarities to his previous one. This time the court obtained a few more details: the guard had indeed been ordered to take provisions with them on the day Bailey deserted, the blanket and cartridge pouch were missing and never found, and Bailey's path in fact led away from the regiment, not towards it. His previous trial was also mentioned, and the fact that he hadn't been punished.
There was really no question of guilt; Bailey himself admitted to having gone off. The court's issue was to determine a sentence. Had Bailey intended to desert, or was he genuine in saying he'd intended to return? It was truly the difference between life or death. The court chose the former, and sentenced Bailey once again to receive 1000 lashes. This time there was no want of form, and no reprieve from the punishment. We don't have explicit information about whether and when the lashes were administered, but we do have a clue that they were: Edward Bailey deserted yet again on 2 August 1778, this time never to return.
Friday, April 21, 2017
Being married to a soldier has never been easy, especially when the soldier is deployed overseas and the spouse stays home with children. In an era when long-distance communication was rare and tenuous at best, a wife whose soldier-husband was abroad could be all but abandoned. This was Catherine Whitney's situation when she gave a deposition in early 1778.
She was born in Abbey Holme, a parish in Cumbria not far from the Scottish border. When she was born is not known, nor is the overall timeline of her life, but the pieces that we have show that she moved around a lot. By 1758 she was old enough to have gone to London and taken a job at a coffee house in the parish of St. George the Martyr just outside the city (the parish church, pictured here, still stands). She left after only eight months.
In the 1760s she was in Limerick, Ireland. There she married a soldier, Walter Whitney of the 10th Regiment of Foot. He had traveled farther to get there; the child of a soldier, he was born in Gibraltar while the 10th Regiment was posted there between 1730 and 1749.
The regiment moved north to Galway. There Walter and Catherine had a daughter, Ann. The military profession was not always conducive to a stable family life, and in 1767 the 10th Regiment sailed from Ireland for Quebec. Walter Whitney did not take his wife and child with him, either by choice or due to the limitations in shipping capacity afforded space on transports for, typically, only about 60 wives in each regiment (this limitation in shipping is often misconstrued as indicating that only six wives for each company were allowed to be present with a regiment, which was not the case).
What Catherine Whitney and her daughter did in her husband's absence is not known, nor where they lived. She heard from him in 1771, that he was in Quebec. But that was the last time. In 1774 the 10th Regiment was finally due to come home, but rising tensions in the American colonies caused it to be diverted to Boston. Perhaps she knew that.
By 1778 she was in Worcester, England, where she was brought to court at the Easter quarter-sessions. The court heard her story, at least the parts of it related above, and ordered her and her daughter to be taken by a constable to St. George the Martyr. Why this judgment was made is not stated; perhaps it was thought that she still had some obligation to her former employer there. What actually became of her is not known.
She mentioned to the court that "her husband was posted to America & she has not heard of him for 7 years when he was at Quebec." She certainly wouldn't hear from him again. The 10th Regiment had departed Boston in March 1776 and gone to Halifax, Nova Scotia. There Walter Whitney died on 20 May, as close to his wife and daughter as he had been in the last nine years.
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
The region around the village of Sedgley in Staffordshire was a hotbed of industrial development in the second half of the eighteenth century. South of Wolverhampton and northwest of Birmingham, it was a natural place for young men seeking work to take jobs in the iron industry. For Edward Webb, that meant following the trade of a nailor, a specialized metal worker who made nails. By the time he was nineteen years old, in late 1772, he decided to change careers and enlist in the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards. At 5' 11" tall, with dark brown hair, grey eyes, and a dark complexion, he was a good specimen for a soldier, albeit with little prospect of advancement because he'd never learned to write.
Unlike the regular infantry regiments in the army, the Foot Guards had a permanent headquarters, and it was in London. In times of peace, the Guards regiments were never deployed overseas, so the young soldier may have expected to spend a long career in his nation's capital city. Things changed in early 1776, however, when the military buildup for the American war necessitated creative ways to send experienced troops overseas. As had been done in prior wars, a brigade of 1000 men was formed of volunteers from each of the three Foot Guards regiments (which were considerably larger than other infantry regiments). The Brigade of Guards arrived in America in the summer of 1776, joining the army on Staten Island.
The Brigade of Guards was at the forefront of several campaigns, including the one that captured Philadelphia in late 1777. While the army wintered in Philadelphia, duty was harsh, building and maintaining fortifications, foraging in a snowswept countryside, keeping watch during bitter cold nights. Somehow, in spite of this, soldiers found time to socialize. At the city's Gloriea Dei Church, the number of marriages more than doubled during the few months that the British army was in town; many of the brides may have been refugees from the surrounding region rather than inhabitants of the city or widows of soldiers; unfortunately, the church's marriage records record only the names of the brides, not their circumstances. Among the men who married was Edward Webb, who wed Eleanor Deley on 14 May 1778. A month later they left the city together and marched to New York with the rest of the British forces.
For the remainder of 1778 and into 1779, the Brigade of Guards stayed in the New York City area, but remained active, participating in a number of expeditions into New Jersey and Connecticut. As 1779 wound down, they moved from tent camps to huts, structures of boards or logs with thatched roofs, often built into the sides of hills. A dozen or so men and their wives might live in each one-room hut, cramped but cozy quarters for the cold season.
One night in late October, three soldiers of the Guards arrived at the door of the hut that Eleanor Webb shared with her husband and others. They asked for something to drink, an offer that she obliged. Then they asked if they might leave a bundle there for a while, which she also allowed. The next day the men returned, to open the bundled and divvy up the contents; one of the soldiers said he'd found the bundle in the street. It contained an assortment of cloth and three pairs of women's stays. They parceled out the contents, giving a pair of stays to another woman who was present, and giving Eleanor Webb a pair of stays, two pieces of calico cloth, and one piece of plain cloth. She hesitated to take them, saying she was afraid they'd been stolen, but the soldiers assured her they'd been found. Some of the goods remained in the hut, and one of the soldiers took the remainder.
A day later, more people arrived at the hut. This time it was a shopkeeper, a constable, and some men assisting them. They searched the hut and found some of the things from the bundle. Those goods had been stolen from the shopkeeper's shop, and she'd received a tip that they'd be found in the Webbs' hut. Other things had been found in the camp of a Hessian regiment, where soldiers and wives had bought them from a British soldier. A few days later the constable and his men returned, and this they dug into the ground under Edward Webb's bed. They found still more of the stolen goods. Edward and Eleanor Webb, and four other soldiers of the Guards, were put under arrest.
The Brigade of Guards held a general court martial in early December. Three soldiers were tried for breaking into the shop and stealing an assortment of goods. The key evidence was provided by another soldier who had participated in the crime and agreed to turn "King's evidence," that is, to testify on behalf of the prosecution in return for immunity. When that trial concluded, Edward and Eleanor Webb, along with one other soldier, were tried for "receiving and secreting of goods stolen" from the shopkeeper. The testimony was straightforward, about the goods being found in the hut, some buried under a bed. Soldiers described leaving the bundle in the hut, then returning and dividing up the contents. They mentioned Eleanor Webb receiving cloth and a pair of stays, and her reluctance to take them for fear of their having been stolen. The stolen goods were shown to the court, and the shopkeeper identified them.
Eleanor Webb testified honestly, about her concern that the things had been stolen, and the reassurance she'd been given that they were not. The court, however, did not accept this as an excuse. Plundering, and the distribution of stolen goods, had been a rampant problem in the British army in America, and many similar trials had been held even during the eighteen months that Mrs. Webb had been with the army. Edward and Eleanor Webb were found guilty; he was sentenced to receive 500 lashes, while she was sentenced to be "drummed out of the lines with a rope around her neck."
We don't know whether the punishment was carried out or pardoned. If Mrs. Webb was indeed drummed out of the lines, that left her in a difficult situation. She could try to return to the Philadelphia area, if she had a place there to go, but the very circumstances that led her to marry a British soldier may have also prevented her return. If she had proof of her marriage, she was entitled to reside in her husband's home town of Sedgley in England, but getting there would be profoundly difficult. Without further information, we can only guess what became of her.
Edward Webb now had two predictors of his future behavior: he had married in America, and he had been sentenced to lashes. Many soldiers who'd had either of these experiences subsequently deserted - to stay with their wives, in the former instance, and in disgruntlement, in the latter instance. If Edward Webb's wife was indeed turned out of British lines, that gave him even more incentive to abscond. He did not, however, desert. He remained a soldier in the 1st Foot Guards for a total of nineteen years and one month, taking his discharge on 4 January 1792 at Whitehall in London. Because of "the rheumatism contracted on service in America, during the whole campaign," the thirty-eight year old soldier was awarded an out pension, meaning that he could return to his place of residence and collect a semi-annual payment from the government.
Instead, he remained in London and joined the Royal Westminster Regiment of Middlesex Militia. He remained in that corps until October 1796, when he requested and received a discharge, and returned to the pension rolls.
Pensioners had an obligation to serve in garrison battalions if they were fit enough to do so, that is, capable of doing the sorts of light duty required in a fixed post, even if they were no longer able to march and encamp like they had done in the infantry. Webb was among those called up at the end of December 1802, but after only fifty-one days he was discharged again after being "found incapable of doing garrison duty;" he was then "exempted from attendence upon any further occasion when the out pensioners may be called on."
Two years later, however, he was once again in a garrison battalion in London. In spite of the medical assessment he'd previously received, he served for two years and nine months, taking his discharge on 30 November 1807 and returning to the pension rolls one final time, having "disorders contracted in the service and found unfit for garrison duty."
Saturday, February 4, 2017
From some people, we'd expect an attractive signature. That's exactly what John Hawkins put on his discharge when he left the army in 1786, having spent eleven years as a soldier. He had been a writing clerk before he enlisted in the 37th Regiment of Foot at the age of twenty-four, in May 1775. Hawkins was from the coastal village of Shankill, Ireland, just south of Dublin where the 37th Regiment was stationed.
By the end of his first year in the army, he was preparing to sail to America. The 37th Regiment was among those sent to the southern colonies in early 1776 with the hope of keeping that region under British government control. The plans went awry and culminated in a failed attempt to take Charleston, South Carolina. The soldiers spent much of their time on board ships or encamped on a sandy Carolina coastal island. Finally the entire force went north and joined the British army encamped on Staten Island.
The 37th Regiment participated in rapid campaign that wrested New York City from rebel control, then sailed for Rhode Island where British troops landed unopposed. Having secured that place, the regiment and others returned to New York, leaving a smaller force to garrison Rhode Island. In February 1777, the 5 foot 9 1/2 inch tall Hawkins was put into the regiment's grenadier company. That company was part of a grenadier battalion composed of companies from about a dozen regiments, and spent much of the first half of 1777 in New Jersey. Various skirmishes and one pitched battle occurred there before British troops pulled out of most of the colony in June.
Hawkins' next campaign began with the British landing at Head of Elk, Maryland in August 1777. Their objective was Philadelphia, but they had to first get past an American army. The two forces clashed at the Battle of Brandywine on 11 September. In this action, the grenadiers were hotly engaged. Hawkins was wounded in the head, but the wound was not serious enough to require a long recovery that would've caused his removal from the grenadiers.
Hawkins was appointed corporal in the grenadier company in October 1779. In June 1783, he advanced again to serjeant. His writing skills no doubt helped in his advancement, for literacy was usually required for non-commissioned officers. He may have earned considerable extra money doing clerical work for the regiment.
The 37th Regiment was sent to Canada in 1783, and Hawkins continued to serve for three more years. By 1786, health issues had begun to affect him; he was reduced from serjeant at the end of September and discharged on 14 October in Halifax. The army generously paid him through 24 December, ample funds to get him back to Great Britain. He was recommended to the pension board due to “being wounded in the head in the action at Brandywine the 11 of September 1777 and Melancholy.” His discharge bears his well-practiced signature.
Hawkins saw one more brief stint of service in 1796, when pensioners were called to serve in garrison battalions defending posts along the English coast. After nine months, he was discharged once again, "being old and worn out."
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
In early 1775, the 54th Regiment of Foot sent 29 men to serve in America. These men were transferred to other regiments already on service in Boston, and to regiments about to embark for that place; with tensions building in America, the army saw the advantage of bringing the regiments there up to strength with experienced men rather than new recruits, so the 54th and other regiments in Ireland each contributed a share. Then they began recruiting to make up for the losses.
In May, a 24-year-old tobacconist named Thomas Cook from St. Mary's Parish, county Limerick, Ireland, joined the ranks of the 54th. Before the year was over, the 54th Regiment was ordered to America, and filled out its own ranks with equal portions of new recruits and experienced soldiers drafted from other regiments.
The 54th Regiment was part of the expedition that sailed in January 1776 to secure the southern colonies, which culminated in the failed attempt to take Charleston, South Carolina. The 54th and other regiments spend some time on shore encamped in hot, sandy coastal areas. In the summer they sailed north and joined the army on Staten Island, a verdant paradise compared to the places they'd recently been. After the campaign that drove American troops out of the New York area and into New Jersey, the 54th boarded ships once again and landed in December in Rhode Island, which would be their home for the next two and a half years.
The regiments in the Rhode Island garrison spend the winter quartered in buildings left vacant by inhabitants who had fled before the troops landed. In late spring, when roads were firm and ground was dry enough, encampments were established in the countryside. Rhode Island (the name for the island that today we call Aquidneck, or Newport) had points that were particularly close to the mainland; it was at those locations that redoubts were built for defense, and the encampments were usually within easy reach of these earthen fortifications. While encamped, the soldier's daily ration (served out not directly to individuals but to groups of five soldiers called messes) consisted of one and a half pounds of meat and a similar amount of bread each day. This diet was expected to be supplemented by vegetables purchased or foraged locally. The island's bountiful farms provided ample supplies, which British soldiers became quite proficient at obtaining both legally and illicitly. Thomas Cook may have become proficient at foraging. Or he may have decided he'd had enough of military service.
Late in the afternoon of 30 July 1777, Cook showed up at the advanced guard post on Common Fence Point, a neck of land at the northern tip of Rhode Island that juts eastward, creating a narrow but turbulent channel between the island and the mainland. The point itself was too close to the mainland to be safe, so the advanced sentries were posted well back from the shoreline, out of cannon shot from the mainland, with a number of arable fields and orchards between them and their opponents. Some distance behind the sentries was a redoubt where some fifty soldiers were posted. Cook asked a corporal of the advanced guard, who happened to be from his regiment, for some water, and the corporal noted that he was "seemingly a little in liquor." Cook wore a haversack, a canvas bag slung over his shoulder designed for carrying three or four days of rations on a march. He wandered away after getting his water.
Cook walked on towards Common Fence Point. Someone called to him, from behind. He began to run. Suddenly there was gunfire. Fearful of being shot, he ran into a field of Indian corn, then lay down for cover. The shooting stopped, but suddenly two soldiers appeared and seized him. They asked if he intended to desert, to which he answered no.
He was brought back to the redoubt, where he asserted that he had only gone to gather greens. The corporal's guard had fired at him, though, because there was a strict order against anyone passing the advanced sentries without a pass. Examining Cook's haversack, the men of the guard found a pair of shoes, a pair of stockings and some biscuit, signs that Cook had planned a journey rather than a brief foraging walk. And he was wearing two shirts, a further indication of trying to sneak away with essential extra clothing.
When brought before a general court martial on 7 August and charged with desertion, Thomas Cook had little to offer in his defense. He said that he went to gather greens, and ran into the corn field to avoid being killed when the corporal's advanced sentries fired on him; that he had no intention of deserting, and didn't know that the clothing and food were in his haversack. The court did not believe a word of this, and sentenced him to death.
Cook was held in confinement, awaiting the execution of his sentence. He waited. And waited.
In the meantime, the commander in chief of the army in which the 54th Regiment served, General Sir William Howe, received a copy of the trial proceedings and the sentence. He had to approve capital punishments, and it was his prerogative to grant stays of execution. He could also defer to a higher authority, namely, the king himself. A royal pardon was a way of communicating to the troops that their sovereign was merciful, that being tried and sentenced was punishment enough and that the life of a soldier was valued by the monarch. So General Howe sent a letter to the king recommending clemency for Cook and another soldier who'd been tried in New Jersey in April 1777. In January 1778, a letter was sent from the War Office in London indicating that pardons had been granted. It took some time for the letter to reach Rhode Island, but when it finally did, Thomas Cook was a free man.
Or, rather, a free soldier. He returned to the ranks of the 54th Regiment and resumed his duties. Some soldiers who endured such an experience of being tried, convicted, and confined for many months became bitter and deserted, but not Thomas Cook. He served in the regiment for twenty-one years, after which he joined the 63rd Regiment of Foot. He was discharged from the army in 1797 when the 63rd was posted at Spanish Town in Jamaica. In typical fashion, he was given two extra weeks of pay "to carry me to the place of my abode" on the document that he signed by making an X. The army also provided passage for his return to Great Britain, where he was awarded a pension for "being worn out" in the service.
Sunday, January 1, 2017
Most British soldiers enlisted in their early twenties, after they were fully grown and had tried their hands at other professions. There were exceptions both younger and older; among the former were those "born in the regiment" who could be put on the muster rolls as soon as they were old enough to perform useful service for the army. An extreme - and rare - example is Robert Mason who was put onto the muster rolls of the 23rd Regiment of Foot as a drummer on 5 September 1767. Two unrelated documents prepared in 1786 list his age as twenty-six; if that's correct, then he began playing the drum (or the fife - muster rolls often list both drummers and fifers as "drummers") at the age of just seven years.
There was a serjeant John Mason in the regiment at the time Robert Mason joined, making it safe to conclude that the young drummer was the serjeant's son. The boy must have been accomplished in his endeavors, for not only did he begin at this extraordinarily young age, but he remained a drummer for the next nineteen years at least. This was not an unusual career path; while not all British drummers began their careers at a young age, most served as drummers for their entire careers.
The 23rd Regiment, the Royal Welch Fusiliers, came to America in 1773, disembarking in New York and moving to Boston the following year. The regiment, or portions of it, served in many of the war's most famous battles and campaigns, from Lexington and Concord in April 1775 to Yorktown in October 1781. In America during the war, he grew up, reaching a slender five feet eight inches. In May 1776, when the British army under General Howe was reorganizing in Halifax, Nova Scotia, he was put into the regiment's light infantry company, where he almost certainly used a hunting horn rather than a drum to signal advances, retreats and other movements. The light infantry company joined similar companies from other regiments to form the 1st Battalion of Light Infantry, a corps that was at the forefront of the campaigns in New York and New Jersey in 1776 and 1777, and the marches to and from Philadelphia in 1777 and 1778. In August 1778 the 23rd's light infantry company was put on board the warship HMS Isis as part of the intended relief of Rhode Island; after the fleet was scattered by a storm, Isis fell in with a larger French warship, and the soldiers of the 23rd, Mason among them, participated the battle in which the British ship bested its larger French foe. Somewhere in the course of these years of fighting Mason was wounded by a musket ball in his left upper arm. And he acquired an interest in women, which began to affect his performance as a soldier.
On 28 July 1779, Mason and two fellow soldiers were absent from the light infantry battalion's encampment near New York City. The next morning, following standard procedure, a serjeant examined their knapsacks to see what they had taken with them: men who planned to desert often took spare clothing with them. The knapsacks were empty, so the men were reported as deserters and light infantrymen on horseback were sent to search for them.
In the mean time, around one o’clock in the morning, before their knapsacks were examined, the three missing men knocked at the door of a house in Throg's Neck, New York, which the British referred to as Frog's Neck. The woman of the house answered the door, and the men asked how to find the road to East Chester, farther away from British lines than they already were. The woman directed them, and the three travelers went on their way. The man of the house, however, was suspicious; he got out of bed, took up his gun, and followed the strangers into the night. The three soldiers stopped at another house, this time asking "if there were not any Rebels near at hand." Once again they were sent on their way. Then the first homeowner, gun in hand, arrived at the second home and told the owner, whom he knew, that he suspected the other men were deserters. The two local residents, both with guns, went off together in pursuit.
The two parties soon encountered each other, and the soldiers submitted to being taken to a nearby military post. The officer there determined to take them to the British lines at Kingsbridge, and off they went, the officer, the two local inhabitants, and the three soldiers of the 23rd Regiment. About two miles short of Kingsbridge, however, the soldiers turned on their escorts, wielding bayonets that they'd had concealed in spare clothing slung over their shoulders. In the ensuing scuffle, the soldiers managed with some difficulty to seize both of the guns. But when the officer severely wounded one of the soldiers, the other two backed down.
The party continued their trek towards Kingsbridge, leaving the wounded man behind. The next person they met was the captain of the 23rd Regiment's light infantry company, the soldiers' own commanding officer. He asked the two remaining soldiers what induced them to desert, to which Mason gave no reply, but his colleague attributed it to liquor. The third soldier, who had been left on the road, died of his wounds.
The two men were brought before a general court martial on 16 August. When the 19-year-old Mason asked the captain to provide a character reference (bearing in mind that the officer had known Mason for most of the young man's life), the officer replied, "you have lately been rather inattentive, owing to an attachment to two Women of the Regiment." In their defense, the two accused soldiers tried to explain their absence and why they’d taken clothing with them, claiming that "they had no intention to Desert, but that they had left the Camp, the preceeding Evening to wash their Necessaries, and in the night they went to gather some Vegetables, and lost their way. The reason that they took the Arms from the Refugees, is, that they on their March to Kingsbridge had used them ill." The court found them guilty, and sentenced them "to suffer death, by being hanged by the Neck, until they are Dead."
This sentence was never carried out. Robert Mason was instead discharged from the regiment in February 1780. This may have been some sort of plea bargain, for Mason enlisted again the very next day and became a private soldier in the 23rd Regiment. He apparently was not with the portion of the regiment that was captured at Yorktown in 1781, and his behavior must have improved, for he was appointed corporal in 1782. At the close of the war, he returned to Great Britain with the regiment, where he continued to advance. His skill with martial music was again recognized when he was appointed drum major in January 1785.
But Mason's mind was still not fully focused on military discipline. For reasons not known, he disappeared from the regiment's quarters at Tynemouth Barracks in Northumberland on 23 July 1786. A month later, he was advertised in the Newcastle Courant:
Deserted, on Sunday the 23rd July last, from his Majesty's 23d Regiment of Foot, or Royal Welsh Fusileers, now quartered in Tynemouth Barracks, Northumberland, ROBERT MASON, Drum Major, aged 26 years, five feet eight inches high, fair complexion, long visage, light brown hair, grey eyes, born in the parish of Oundle, in the country of Northampton, and by trade a labourer. The said Robert Mason had on when he went away a scarlet jacket, with silver lace down the breast, no lappels, blue cuffs and collar, with wings and silver fringe upon each shoulder, white linen waistcoat and breeches, regimental hat with three white feathers, regimental sword and belt, black stock and half gaiters; he slender made and walks very upright, has been wounded in the left arm a little above the elbow, by a musquet ball.
Another drummer, also a veteran of the American war, absconded at the same time. It is not currently know whether either of them returned, or what became of them.
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