Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Elizabeth Willson, 26th Regiment, sells Fruit in New York

 In December 1775 the war in America was not yet a year old, but most of the 7th and 26th Regiments of Foot were already prisoners of war. They had been captured when undermanned garrisons on Lake Champlain and the Richelieu River were overrun by an American expedition bent on seizing the city of Quebec. Now housed in barracks in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, these two British regiments awaited an unknown fate, for no one knew how long the war would last or what the outcome would be.

When the garrisons of British posts fell, soldiers and their families became prisoners of war together. Among those at Lancaster was Befordshire native William Willson, a private soldier in the 26th Regiment, his wife Elizabeth, and their four children. William, a tailor by trade, had joined the army in about 1763 and probably continued to practice his trade while a soldier. When he married Elizabeth, and where she was from, are not known.

In the first half of 1777 the prisoners were finally exchanged. The soldiers and their families marched to the British-held city of New York. The soldiers soon took the field once again while Elizabeth Willson, like most army wives, worked to help support her family. She sold fruit in the city, demonstrating the resourcefulness of these women whose lives were inherently itinerant due to their husbands’ profession. She may have met acquaintances from New Jersey where the 26th had been posted in 1768, 1769 and 1770, who had fled to the city after war broke out.

The 26th remained in the New York area for a few years. But in 1779 the regiment received orders to return to Great Britain. What happened to William is not clear – he does not appear on the regiment’s rolls prepared in England in 1780, but decades later William deposed that he was discharged from the regiment in 1783. He may have remained in New York on some sort of special duty. He was certainly in England in June 1783, where he went before the pension examining board at Chelsea and was granted an out-pension for his twenty years of service.

It is also certain that Elizabeth Willson did not accompany him to Britain. In October 1783 she was still in New York, selling fruit from a stand “at the Head of Coenties Slip,” a byway that ran from Water Street to the East River. But she had become “much addicted to liquor” and was “frequently intoxicated.” A local resident who knew her “knew of no place of abode,” but had “frequently seen her lying drunk behind stoops.” In the late morning of October 21, she was found dead on the ground floor of an abandoned house, 52 Grand Dock Street “near the Royal Exchange in the South Ward.” The coroner found “no external marks of violence on her body to cause her death,” and ascribed her death to “liquor or sickness.”

Information for this article comes from the following sources:

Return Of The Prisoners Of The 26th Regiment, Taken At St. Johns And In The River St. Lawrence, And Arrived At Lancaster, Pennsylvania State Archives

Muster rolls, 26th Regiment of Foot, The National Archives of Great Britain

Out Pension Admission Books, The National Archives of Great Britain

Coroner’s report on Elizabeth Willson, British Headquarters Papers, The National Archives of Great Britain

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Sunday, August 22, 2021

Mrs. Fowles, 7th Regiment of Foot, draws provisions

 Mrs. Fowles and her daughter Ann drew rations in August of 1782 along with other soldiers and wives of the 7th Regiment of Foot. This is no surprise. Wives and children of British soldiers in America were fed by the army; most British regiments included - among those who they provisioned - wives of about one in six soldiers. Documents that include the names of these women are rare; the August 1782 provisions list for the 7th Regiment is the only one for that regiment known to survive that names each man and woman. Even so, it does not give the names of the wives, listing them only as "Mrs. Fowles," "Mrs. Bright," "Mrs. Carney," etc. We've deduced that "Ann Fowles," also on the list, is Mrs. Fowles daughter, as a number of children are listed with their first and last names.

What makes Mrs. Fowles important, in terms of our understanding of how wives were treated by the army, is that her husband, Sergeant William Fowles, died on 25 April 1781. The only man on the regiment's muster rolls with that surname, he was already in the 7th Regiment when it arrived in America in 1772, landing at Quebec. A private soldier at that time, he was appointed corporal in February 1780, and sergeant exactly a year later. No details of his specific service have been found at this time; presumably he was among the men of the 7th Regiment captured in 1775 and repatriated two years later, and he was with the regiment at the siege of Charlestown, South Carolina, in 1780. Whether he died of illness in garrison or on campaign, or of wounds in one of the 7th's several battles in the Carolinas, he left his wife a widow only two months after being appointed sergeant.

It is also not known when William Fowles married. Mrs. Fowles may have accompanied the regiment from Great Britain in 1773, or met her husband in America. And her fate after August 1782 is also unknown; the provision return is the only record we have of her.

There is folklore that widows of British soldiers were required to remarry within days of their husband's death, or they would be struck off the provision rolls and turned out of the regiment no matter where it was. This has already been shown to be untrue from records of widows remarrying months or years after their husbands died. By drawing provisions seventeen months after her husband died, Mrs. Fowles provides one more example that soldiers' widows remained part of the regimental community until they could establish themselves in new circumstances.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Andrew and Susannah Carr, 21st Regiment - separated

 "Serjeant Andrew Carr," wrote his widow Susannah, "was taken prisoner along with the army commanded by General Burgoyne in the year 1777 and conveyed to a depot in the state of Virginia in the said United States, where the said Andrew Carr died." She wrote on behalf of their son John, born in 1775, the year before the 21st Regiment of Foot said from Great Britain to Quebec.

Andrew Carr was a native of Kilmore on the Island of Skye, born in 1740. He joined the army at the age of twenty, without having learned a trade beforehand, but he must have been reasonably well-educated for he soon became a sergeant.

The 21st Regiment was sent to Florida in 1765 and remained there until 1770. Many histories of the regiment indicate that the regiment then went to Quebec, overlooking the time that they spent in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York in 1771 and 1772. It was probably in Philadelphia in 1771 that Andrew Carr met and married Susannah Stauss, daughter of an area landowner, who was in her early twenties. When the 21st did go to Quebec, and then back to Great Britain in 1773, Susannah followed her husband in her new life as an army wife.

John Carr was born in 1775, and early the following year the family set sail once again, one of nine regiments bound for Quebec to drive rebellious American military forces out of the province. The campaign was successful, and the 21st Regiment spent the winter of 1776-1777 at St. John's on the Richelieu River between Montreal and Lake Champlain. When the army marched south in June 1777, only two wives were allowed to go with each company on campaign. Susannah and young John stayed behind while Andrew Carr went on the expedition commanded by General John Burgoyne. Their destination was Albany, but the got only as far as Saratoga. Susannah never saw her husband again; he was, as she knew, taken prisoner. The captured soldiers went first to the Boston area, expecting to be sent back to Great Britain, but then were marched to Virginia, then to Pennsylvania, ultimately spending five years in captivity.

In 1782, Susannah's father, still in the Philadelphia area, died. the executor of his estate placed an advertisement in the newspaper seeking information on the whereabouts of Susannah and her three siblings:

WHEREAS BELTHASER STAUS, late of the Northern Liberties of the city of Philadelphia, yeoman, deceased, by his last Will and Testament, ordered his estate to be sold, and the money arising from the sale thereof to be equally divided between his eight children, whereof four are living in and near the city of Philadelphia, and four absent, namely two sons FRANCIS JOSEPH and DANIEL, and two daughters SARAH and SUSANNA. The shares of which said four absent children he ordered to be put out, and continued at interest for the space of seven years, to be claimed by the said children or their legal representatives in person, &c. And of his said last Will and Testament he appointed Zacharias Endres, of the said Northern Liberties, brewer, sole Executor.

Now the said Executor, in compliance with the special directions of the said Testator, given him a few days before his deceased, has thought proper to give this PUBLIC NOTICE, hereby requiring the said four absent children of the Testator, or in case of the death of any of them, the children or guardians of the children of the deceased, to make their claims to their respective shares. The said Executor is informed that the said Francis Joseph Staus is by trade a skinner, and was some time Paymaster of the British troops in East Florida; that the said Daniel Staus was a Captain of a vessel, and an inhabitant of the Island of Providence; that the said Sarah had been married to one Andrew Lytel, and is now a widow, living somewhere in North Carolina; and that the said Susanna was married to one Andrew Kehr, of the 21st regiment of Scotch Fuziliers, who, it is said, is among the prisoners of General Burgoyne’s army, now in Virginia.

All friends and acquaintances of the persons concerned, seeing this advertisement, are desired to inform them thereof. The said Executor will take particular care that the money happening to each child’s share may be recovered upon short notice.

Philad. Sept. 5. ZACHARIAS ENDRES.

[Pennsylvania Gazette, 18 September 1782]

She was not in Virginia with her husband, as the ad suggested, but was still in Canada; and by this time, she had learned that her husband died. Whether she ever got her inheritance is not known. She remarried a discharged German soldier named Conrad Bongard. They settled on 500 acres of land that he was awarded in Ontario and had several children together. It was in 1836 that she wrote her brief petition concerning her first child, John Carr, apparently seeking pension benefits or land based on her deceased first husband's service. She died on February 21, 1846 at the age of 98.

What she never learned was that Andrew Carr did not die in Virginia. He survived the years of captivity and returned to England in 1783 with the remains of the 21st Regiment. On May 21 of that year he went before the pension examining board in Chelsea and was awarded an army pension for his 23 years of service. How long he lived thereafter is not known.

Andrew and Susannah Carr were not the only couple separated by war, neither knowing the other's fate. We'll never know how may others there were.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Noble Volunteers: the British Soldiers Who Fought the American Revolution

 It's finally here.

It took two years to compile and organize information collected over several decades, followed by two years of writing, revising and editing. Now the most authoritative book on British soldiers in the American Revolution is available in stores and from online retailers.

Noble Volunteers: the British Soldiers Who Fought the American Revolution tells about how soldiers were recruited and trained in times of peace and war, how they prepared for hostilities and adapted to warfare, where they lived, what they ate, what they earned, the illness, hardships and punishments that they suffered, how their careers evolved, and what became of them when the war was over. Rather than characterize the army as a mass of homogeneous men, this book emphasizes the individuals and their broad range of experiences. Read the review in the Wall Street Journal!

The book is available from major retailers, but please obtain it from your local independent bookseller, or from a historic site book shop - these organizations need your support.

For a good price, we recommend the Fort Plain Museum.

Signed, personalized copies can be ordered from Books on the Square in Providence, Rhode Island.


Sunday, September 13, 2020

Mary Kiddy, 43rd Regiment, knows what is owed to her

Mary Kiddy was on her own in New York in January of 1783. Some money was owed to her, and it is because of this that we know of her existence. But the brief summary that was recorded leaves mostly questions about her life and experiences.

Mary Kiddy was married to William Kiddy, a soldier initially in the 34th Regiment of Foot and later in the 43rd Regiment of Foot. Thanks to muster rolls for these regiments, we do know a lot about him. He joined the 34th Regiment some time between 1761 and 1768 (a gap in the regiment's rolls prevent knowing when or where). In 1768 he was a private soldier in the 34th Regiment in Philadelphia. The following year, the 34th returned to Great Britain, spending the next several years at various posts in Ireland. By April of 1776 he was a corporal in the regiment's light infantry company, preparing to return once again to North America, this time part of the force bound for Quebec to dislodge American force besieging the city.

After a highly successful 1776 campaign and a winter in Canada, in the summer of 1777 the the 34th's light infantry was part of the expedition under General John Burgoyne that set out from Canada towards Albany. By the time this campaign ended in October, Kiddy was a prisoner of war, and spent the winter of 1777-1778 in a crude barracks outside Boston. From there the prisoners were moved inland to Rutland, Massachusetts. It was here that he fell ill, so much so that he was sent to New York in a cartel rather than going with other prisoners to Virginia.

In the summer of 1780 he was sufficiently recovered to return to active service. With most of the 34th Regiment still in Canada and his own company still prisoners of war, Kiddy was drafted into the 43rd Regiment of Foot. Muster rolls for the 34th Regiment's light infantry company end in early 1777, and the rolls for the 43rd record Kiddy as having "enlisted"in June 1780, with no indication that he had been in the 34th Regiment; if it were not for his wife, nothing about his time as a prisoner of war, or that the man in the 34th was the same man who joined the 43rd, would be known.

In April 1781 the 43rd Regiment sailed to Virginia, part of a reinforcement of British forces operating in the Tidewater area. Also that month William Kiddy was appointed corporal again, returning to the rank he had held for years in his previous regiment. During the summer they joined up with General Charles, Lord Cornwallis's army in Yorktown. It was there that William Kiddy died. The 43rd's muster rolls record his death as occurring on 24 October, but the 24th of the month is often used on muster rolls when an exact date is not known, so we cannot be sure exactly when he died. The cause of death is also unknown; he may have fallen ill in the deprived conditions when Cornwallis's army was besieged, been wounded during the intense artillery bombardment they endured, or fallen to some other cause.

Mary Kiddy was left a widow, which meant that she was entitled to her late husband's estate. In January 1783 a board of officers in the city of New York was hearing claims from soldiers who had been prisoners of war, escaped or been exchanged, and then joined different regiments, leaving their accounts with their previous regiments unsettled. Mary Kiddy went before the board and petitioned for her late husband's back pay and clothing due from the 34th Regiment, and she knew exactly what was owed: "three suits of Cloathing for 1776, 1777 & 1778 & a balance of 1.9.4 ½ due from the 34th Regt on the 17th Novr 1778, she also claims her husbands intermediate pay from the 17 of Novr 1778 to the 24th of June 1780, amounting at 8 per day to L19.10". Soldiers received a new suit of regimental clothing each year, and William Kiddy had not received his for the last three years that he was in the 34th; on the last day that his company's accounts were settled in 1778, he was owned one pound, nine shillings, four and a half pence; and he was also owed pay from the day of that last settlement and until the day he joined the 43rd Regiment. She computed the pay at the rate owed to a private soldier, which may be a simple error on her part, or may mean that her husband was reduced to private soldier after the last available muster roll in February 1777 and before accounts were settled in November 1778.

The brief record of Mary Kiddy's statement to the board explains that her husband was in the 34th, was left sick at Rutland, was exchanged and went to New York, that he joined the 43rd Regiment and died in Virginia. It says nothing of her experiences. When did they marry? Was she with him in Canada? Was she on the 1777 campaign, and among the prisoners in Rutland? Or did they meet and marry in New York? Did she accompany him to Virginia? Her statement reveals much about her husband, but little about her - including what became of her after January 1783.

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Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Massacre Men: Soldiers of the 29th Regiment charged for the events of 5 March 1770

Eight soldiers of the 29th Regiment of Foot were directly involved in the Boston Massacre on 5 March 1770. Their names are well known, because they all stood trial: Corporal William Wemms (or Wemys), and privates John Carroll, James Hartigan, Matthew Kilroy, William McCauley, Hugh Montgomery, William Warren and Hugh White. Considering how much notoriety they got from the massacre and trial, surprisingly little is known about them as individuals. For five of these men, we have nothing more than their service records as indicated in surviving muster rolls, and even that information is incomplete.

All of them were in the regiment when it arrived in Boston in 1769; no muster rolls survive from before that time to indicate when any of them joined the army. Cpl. Wemms, in a battalion company at the time of the massacre, was appointed sergeant in May 1771, but just six weeks later he was reduced to private again. This may have been due to illness or disciplinary issues, but whichever it was, he recovered sufficiently to be appointed sergeant once again some time in 1772. He was still in that capacity at the end of July 1775 while the regiment was in England, but was no longer in the regiment when the next set of rolls was prepared in Canada; his fate is unknown.

John Carroll was in the grenadier company, was appointed corporal in December 1770, and sergeant some time between July 1775 and February 1777. His company went on the ill-fated expedition under Gen. John Burgoyne that ended at Saratoga in October 1777. Because the company was among those captured, there are no muster rolls after February 1777, and no further record of John Carroll.

James Hartigan, another grenadier, married Elizabeth Henderson in Boston in September 1769. When the regiment was in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, he died on 4 November 1771.

William McCauley, a grenadier whose wife Mary had come with him to America, was appointed corporal some time before May 1771 and was still in that capacity when the regiment was in Canada in February 1777; like Carroll, McCauley's fate is unknown.

William Warren also was a grenadier in 1770, but later went into a battalion company. He continued with the regiment during the American Revolution, serving in Canada as late as October 1783, but once again a gap in the muster rolls leaves his fate unknown after that.

Matthew Kilroy and Edward Montgomery were the only two men convicted for the events of 5 March 1770. Both men continued to serve in the regiment, right up to the time that it was ordered to America in 1776. Perhaps in light of their conviction, both men were discharged rather than send them back across the Atlantic. They both went before the army pension board in Chelsea, outside London, on 22 February 1776, where the examiners duly recorded some details about them. Kilroy, a native of Mountmellick in County Laois, Ireland, was twenty-eight years old and had served thirteen years in the army; he was granted a pension because of a lame knee. His trade is listed as "labourer," meaning that he had not learned a trade before enlisting. Montgomery, from Antrim in Ireland, was forty-one years old (meaning that he was about thirty-five in March 1770), had served twenty years in the army, and was also a labourer. He and his wife Isabella were frequently mentioned by deponents recounting violence between British soldiers and Boston inhabitants in the months leading up to the Boston Massacre, she being recalled as saying that "the town was too haughty and too proud."

The man who remained in the regiment longest, and about whom we know the most, was Hugh White. Town records indicate that he had a wife and three children in Boston in 1770. A copy of his discharge, the document that says he had legally completed his service in the army, was lodged with the pension office when he received a pension, and remains in the British National Archives to this day. From this, we learn that he was born in the town of Killyleach, County Down in Ireland, in 1740 (more specifically, he was forty-nine years old when he was discharged on 10 November 1789). Like Kilroy and Montgomery, he was a labourer. He joined the army in 1759, a likely age for an enlistee, and served his entire career in the 29th Regiment. The regiment's muster rolls show that he served in Canada during the American Revolution. And he was able to sign his own name on his discharge, suggesting that he was a literate man.
Of eight soldiers who were caught up in such an important moment in history, we have only these sparse details about them as people, shedding real light on only three of them. Research continues; perhaps some day we'll know more.