Monday, January 15, 2018

Elizabeth Morrison, Royal Artillery, has her pocket picked

In May of 1777, at the Presbyterian Church of New York, Elizabeth Driscoll married George Morrison, a matross in the Royal Regiment of Artillery. She was the widow of a soldier in an infantry regiment. The marriage record as published by the New York Historical Society in 1881 calls her a widow of the 57th Regiment, but the muster rolls of the 57th Regiment show no man of that name having died or even belonging to the regiment between 1775 and 1777; perhaps the number of the regiment was recorded incorrectly in the original record, or transcribed incorrectly in the publication.

That September, Elizabeth, now Elizabeth Morrison, was at the house of another Royal Artillery wife, Mrs. Connor. Several other men and women from the artillery were there, including a soldier named Edward Bullin. Morrison felt a hand in her pocket, and saw that it was Bullin's; he withdrew his hand, causing a guinea - a gold coin worth twenty-one shillings - to fall from her pocket to the floor. This clearly distracted her, and she picked up the coin rather than immediately question Bullin's motives.

A woman's pocket was usually a sort of pouch tied around the waist, not unlike a modern pocket except that it was a separate garment unto itself. It could be worn outside of or underneath petticoats. In this case, we assume it was underneath, for Morrison "imagined he was taking a freedom with her" rather than thinking he was trying to steal. The next morning when she counted her money, she found that she was missing a substantial sum: "six Guineas, three half Johannes’s, two Dollars, six English Shillings & an English half Crown." Six guineas was more than half a year's typical wages for a soldier's wife's job like working as a hospital nurse. We don't know Morrison's profession, but this was a lot of money for anyone of her station. That her pocket contain Portuguese Johannes, and dollar coins from an unspecified nation in addition to English coinage, shows the diverse currency in circulation in New York at a time when the value of these coins was based on the quantity of precious metal they contained. Also gone was her handkerchief.

Within the next few days, though, several people noticed that Edward Bullin seemed to have more money that was usual for him. When he bought some liquor from a woman (apparently another Royal Artillery wife), she happened to ask him if he knew whether Mrs. Morrison had gone to Staten Island, to which he gave the cryptic response, "if you see Mrs. Morrison do not tell her you saw me or know any thing of me." As word of the crime and Bullin's behavior got around, he was arrested and taken to the guard house.

Ultimately, it was the handkerchief that proved his undoing. When Elizabeth Morrison went to the guard house (presumably because she learned that Bullin was held there), she saw that Bullin had her handkerchief, the one stolen item that could be identified unequivocally. Bullin was brought before a general court martial and charged with "picking Elizabeth Morrison’s Pockets of six guineas three half Johannes and some silver;" the stolen handkerchief was not included in the charge.

At the trial, Morrison related the incident at Mrs. Connor's house and other witness told of Bullin's behavior and unexplained wealth. Bullin questioned why Morrison didn't accuse him immediately; that's when she deposed that "she imagined he was taking a freedom with her, & did not suspect him of picking her pocket until she recollected the Circumstances of his hand having been in her pocket, when she missed the money next morning." Bullin then asked "What was your reason for accusing me of picking your Pocket, more than any one else in Company?" Her reply was simple enough: "Because I found your hand in my pocket."

Edward Bullin was found guilty and sentence to receive 600 lashes as well as being confined until the money was paid back. If he didn't still have some of the money, or other savings, it would take quite some time for him to earn this much money solely through his base pay - and, being confined, he would not be able to do any other work as soldiers often did to earn additional sums. We have no information about how long he was confined.

And we have no other information about Elizabeth Morrison. She is unusual, in fact, that we know so much about here - he marriage date, from a church record, and the events recorded in the trial proceedings. For most of the several thousand wives who accompanied British soldiers in America, we know nothing at all about them as individuals.

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

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