Sunday, June 28, 2009

Prisoners of War: Men of the 71st Regiment taken in Boston Harbor, 1776

It is well known that two British armies were captured in America, one at Saratoga in 1777 and the other at Yorktown in 1781. There were of course other prisoners of war besides these, some taken piecemeal and others as complete units. Among the latter were two companies of the 71st Regiment captured in 1776 before even setting foot on the American continent. When their transports arrived in Boston harbor three full months after the British army had evacuated that city, they were set upon by American ships and forced to surrender after a brief fight. The most famous of those imprisoned was Lt. Col. Archibald Campbell, who was eventually exchanged for Ethan Allen.

Like their later, more famous counterparts imprisoned at Saratoga and Yorktown, these highland prisoners were marched inland. Like other British prisoners of war, many managed to escape. Some absconded directly from their quarters, while others were allowed to take work in the country and made their way off from their employers. Over a year after their capture, two of these men were advertised in a Connecticut newspaper:

On the night after the 15th of September made his escape from Mr. Abijon Roe's of Simsbury, one Robert Mallen, a prisoner of war, a Highlander of the 71st regiment; had on when he went away a short regimental coat and vest, long tow cloth trowsers, and the Scotch bonnet; is about 19 years old, grey eyes, short, well set, short curl'd sandy hair, something freckled, rather slow of speech, and of few words. And on the 21st of September made his escape over the pickets at Hartford goal, one Alexander Adams, a Highlander of the 71st regiment; is a short lad, red hair, had on a brown coat with red cuffs, Scotch bonnet, light gray eyes. Also escaped from Hezekiah Katchum, the 26th of September, one John Blake, a prisoner of war, taken at Long Island; about 26 years old, about 5 feet high, dark complexion, black hair; had on a brown coat, a red jacket, white trowsers, and felt hat. Whoever will take up and secure either of the above runaways in any goal in this or the neighbouring states, and inform the subscriber, shall have five dollars reward for each, from Ez'l Williams Commissary of Prisoners. [Connecticut Courant, 29 September 1777]

The descriptions of the highlanders gives some insight on the men in this newly-raised regiment and the conditions they endured as prisoners. They were young. That no trade is associated with Mallen suggests that they were working as a farm laborer, while Adams' escape over the stockade-fenced jail yard has an air of daring. Although British soldiers normally received new uniforms each year, imprisonment prevented this resulting in a mixture of regimental and non-military clothing.

The third man in this advertisement, John Blake, was a soldier in the 1st Battalion of Delancey's Brigade, a loyalist corps. He was captured during a raid on Sag Harbor, Long Island, on 24 May 1777 (our thanks to Todd Braisted, , for this information).

As the war progressed and formal correspondence was effected between the warring sides, arrangements were made to exchange prisoners. By this time, however, the Americans had lost track of the individual prisoners of war, as evidenced by a newspaper ad that appeared in a Massachusetts newspaper:

Whereas all the prisoners of the 71st regiment, (by order of Elias Boudinot, Esq, Commissary General of Prisoners) are to be collected, in order to be ready to send to Newport, on the first notice: I do hereby require all Sheriffs, Committees and Selectmen, in the different towns, to send all the Prisoners of War of the 71st regiment of British, sent out to their care by the honourable Council of this State, or otherwise to Rutland, to the care of Peter Frazer, Lieutenant of the 71st regiment, who will have necessary orders for that purpose.
Given under my hand, at Boston, June 14, 1778.
Joshua Mersereau, D. C. Gen. of Prisoners.
[Continental Journal, 18 June 1778]

An ad in a different newspaper placed the following month shows that some of the prisoners were not inclined to be exchanged:

Deserted from the barracks of the 71st regiment, at Rutland, the following prisoners of war, viz: Aleksander Adinson, five feet five inches high, sandy hair, swarthy complexion, had on when he went away, a brown short coat and long trowsers; James Dowell, five feet five inches and a half high, brown hair, fair complexion, had on when he went off a loose great coat; James Moat, five feet ten inches high, blonde hair, dark complexion, had on when he went away, a red coat faced with blue, with the 21 on the buttons. Joshua Mersereau, D. C. G. of prisoners. [Massachusetts Spy, 16 July 1778]

By this time, the highland prisoners had lost or abandoned all vestiges of their uniforms, while the third man, a more recent prisoner from the Saratoga campaign, still retained his. At this time, we have no evidence that any of these men returned to the British army.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Thomas Melody (Mallalue, Malady), 17th Regiment of Foot, and Hannah Andrews

We often speculate about what drove a soldier to desert. There can be no doubt that some men were simply troublesome characters who deserted either to escape punishment, to escape the structure of military life, or as an act of deviance. We would expect such men to continue to live desultory lives long after absconding from the army.

Nothing about the early military service of Thomas Melody (also spelled Mallalue, Malady and other variations) suggests a rambling disposition. The weaver from England or Scotland had enlisted in the 17th Regiment of Foot some time before 1772, and the muster rolls from that time until his arrival in America give no indications of major discipline problems; was even granted a furlough for some months and dutifully returned to the regiment.

The 17th Regiment arrived in Boston late in 1775 and then served on the campaigns around New York in the second half of 1776, seeing battle in a number of places. The regiment gained some fame, however, for its performance at the Battle of Princeton on 3 January 1777 when, highly outnumbered, its men fought their way out of encirclement. Many were killed, wounded or captured that day; among the latter was Thomas Melody.

Many of the Princeton prisoners were sent to Connecticut and parceled out to various towns; Melody was sent to New Hartford in the northwestern part of the colony. Unlike most of the prisoners from the 17th Regiment who patiently awaited exchange, he absconded from imprisonment. He made his way to Middletown, Connecticut, where he married a local woman named Hannah Andrews in February 1778. But we know about this only from a series of notices published years later in the Western Star, a newspaper that began publication in Stockbridge, Massachusetts in 1789. He wrote:

Whereas Hannah, my Wife, has forsaken my bed and board - this is therefore to forbid all persons trusting her on my account. Thomas Mallady.
Richmond, October 14, 1791.
[Western Star, 25 October 1791]

Ads like these were quite common in period newspapers, and are seldom supported by additional published information. Hannah Mallady (to use the spelling in the notice), however, did not take the accusation lightly. The following year, apparently after some other exchanges with her estranged husband, she published this ad:

Take Notice.

It is with reluctance that I am drove to the disagreeable necessity of publishing the subsequent lines for the consideration of the candid publick. I am sensible that publications of this kind often have a tendency to bring disgrace on the author; but all who have read the publication of Thomas Mallalue (or Mallady, as he calls himself) my Companion (who advertised me in the publick prints in the months of October last) will pardon me for being desirous that the publick should have a just statement of the facts. A statement of one half of the aggravated crimes that he was guilty of while we lived together would make a larger volume than I am able to get published, or any one have patience to read, and they would bring disgrace on me and all the human race; therefore, I shall only mention a few that are the least dishonourable. I can with prudence say, that they are such as these; taking property that was not his own; being with other women, of all characters but good, and all colours but white; he has once been detected in attempting to be with a Negroe's wife in a barn: It will be needless to mention drunkenness, it being so trifling compared with his other failings. It is not my power to describe his malicious and morose temper, but it is such that I lived in great fear of being murdered by him. If any persons should dispute the truth of these facts, I shall be very happy if they would take the trouble to call on me, to convince them of the truth of these and many others, (if they will have patience to hear,) by the best authorities where he hath lived; and likewise that I have conducted with as much prudence as any person could under my circumstances. The said Mallalue (or Mallady) is a Weaver & Barber, about middling size, has a scar on his upper lip, which has the appearance of a hair lip, sewed up; has black curled hair, is a foreigner that deserted from the British army last war. Whoever will take up said Mallalue (or Mallady) and conceal him from the sight of man and beast, shall have my thanks, and will merit the applause of the publick. All persons are forbid harbouring or trusting him on my account. Hannah Mallalue. East Hampton, Sept. 1792.
[Western Star, 11 September 1792]

This account tells us much about Thomas Melody (or Mallalue) regardless of the veracity of the allegations: His physical characteristics, and that he worked sometimes as a barber, a skill he probably learned before enlistment but could also have picked up during his time as a soldier or after his desertion. In calling him a foreigner, Hannah means simply that he was not born in America. He wrote a response that was published the following week:

To the Publick.
Whenever the character of an individual is notoriously attacked, it is incumbent on him, if he has any regard for his reputation, or respect for the opinion of the world, to come forward in his own defence. The writer is sensible that a private controversy between a man and woman, is not a very pleasing subject for the attention of the community: His only excuse is, that he write in his own defence.
In the Star of last week, was published a piece under the signature of Hannah Mallalue - a performance in which my character is represented as black as the pen wielded by the hand of falhood [sic] could possibly describe. A publication, signed by a woman, the blackness of whose character my modesty will not permit me to lay naked to the view of the world - a woman with whom had it have been possible for any man to have lived, would not have been under the necessity of strolling about after a second gulled companion, while the first was still living. Let any ingenuous mind read the performance to which I allude, and then say, if any but an abandoned prostitute could ever have come forward with such a publication in the face of the world. No, not a woman on earth, who is not totally devoid of every species of virtue, could have assumed the impudence to publish such brothel ideas of a man, whom she claims as her companion.
The charges alledged against me in that piece, it is in my power, at any time to confute. But I do not conceive that a Newspaper is a proper place to produce affidavits to establish the character of any man.
Neither do I believe that the publick are so strongly inclined to believe any man a villain, as, without proof, without witnesses, or even the appearance of truth, to give credit to the aspersions of a malicious, vindictive, vagrant vixen. Thomas Mallady.
Pittsfield, Sept. 1792.
[Western Star, 18 September 1792]

Hannah wasted no time in presenting details that she claimed would prove her case:

To the Publick.
Thomas Mallady (or Mellalew) having asserted in the paper of last week, that the charges I have exhibited against him are not true, the following are submitted to the inspection of the publick. Hannah Mellalew.

Middletown, February 18, 1778.
These may certify that Thomas Mellalew and Hannah Andrews were married on the day of the date above, according to the form in the office for the solemnization of marriage, in the book of common prayer, by me, Abraham Jarvis, Minister of the Church of England.

These may certify whom it may concern, that Thomas Mellalew (or Mallady, as many persons called him) some years since lived in this town with his wife; and, while he lived in this town, he advertised his wife in the Springfield Newspaper, lest she should run him in debt when he was absent; and afterwards put in another advertisement, wherein he manifested his sorrow for the first, and said he had no foundation or just cause for publishing the first. Furthermore, while he lived in this town, he made an appointment to meet a Negro's wife, at a certain place in the night time, in a certain barn; and the Negro's wife informed Mrs. Mellalew of the appointment, who procured sundry persons, one of whom was dressed in a woman's clothes, to meet at the time and place appointed, when and where Mellalew attended in the dark attended in the dark, and his conduct was such, as caused them to lead him home to his wife; and he did not deny his intent in going to the barn, and in the barn called the Negro's wife by name several times, before the persons lying in wait discovered themselves. The substance of the above was sworn to before me, as nearly as I can recollect, by two of the persons who were in the barn, and one of them who was dressed in women's apparel.
P. S. Mrs. Mellalew's character in this town is good, for any thing that I know.
Samuel Mather, Justice of the Peace.
Westfield, August 17, 1792.
[Western Star, 25 September 1792]

We have found no additional information to suggest the resolution to this saga. The publisher of the newspaper certainly must have enjoyed this battle of words which brought revenue, and probably amused readers, to his paper.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Deserters: Francis Overton & Daniel Sullivan, 22nd Regiment

Some years ago, a colleague asked me how to research a member of a Rhode Island independent company. Local legend had it that the unit was trained in 1774 or 1775 by a British deserter from Boston. Would it be possible to verify this story? I asked whether rolls existed for the Rhode Island unit. British muster rolls identify many deserters, so there was a chance that a matching name might be found. My colleague dismissed this suggestion – “Wouldn’t a deserter change his name?”

We have not been able to verify the story of the deserter training a Rhode Island corps, but research on the 22nd Regiment of Foot has shown that many British deserters joined the American army under their own names, apparently not feeling any need to use an alias. Robert Hall had served for at least four years when he deserted from Rhode Island on 1 September 1777. Five days later, the 24-year-old joined the 5th Massachusetts Regiment. He served for several years, settled in New York, and received a pension in 1818. Benjamin Millett, a recruit from Somersetshire, arrived in America in 1777 and deserted on 26 September 1779. He joined the 2nd Rhode Island Regiment, and also received a pension. Joseph Denham deserted on 9 January 1778, joined the Lee’s Additional Regiment on the 16th, and deserted six weeks later. Henry Eaton, a grenadier with 9 years’ service, deserted in New Jersey in 14 March 1777, joined the 4th Pennsylvania Regi-ment, served through the end of the war and received a pension.

Not all British deserters who joined the Continental Army became good soldiers. Daniel Sullivan enlisted in the 22nd Regiment in Ireland in March 1775, when the regiment was recruiting up to full strength in anticipation of embarking for America. Francis Overton enlisted later in 1775 or 1776, part of the large augmentation ordered for regiments in America after the war began, and arrived in America in October 1776. The two men deserted together from Rhode Island on 3 September 1777. They had been seen going towards the town of Newport during the night, which led British authorities to suspect that collaborators in town were helping British deserters escape from the island to the mainland. A 100 dollar reward was offered, but no information was forthcoming. The men were soon in Providence, where the Rhode Island Council of War resolved, on 6 September, that be "be allowed and paid each Six Dollars out of the General Treasury in order to carry them into the Country to enable them to get Work to maintain themselves" because they were "destitute of Money."

Overton and Sullivan did find work, but not the sort of work that the Council of War had in mind. They immediately enlisted in the 5th Massachusetts Regiment which was recruiting in Attleboro just northeast of Providence. This could be construed as a act of sympathy towards the American cause, but more likely it was a simple act of opportunism. Neither man stayed long. Overton deserted a month after enlisting, on 8 October 1777, and Sullivan deserted in December. A description roll of deserters tell us about them. Overton was 21 years old (in 1777), born in "Britain," 5 feet 10 inches tall, with dark eyes, dark hair and a dark complexion, and had given his place of residence as Medway, Massachusetts. Sullivan was a 25-year-old Irishman, 5 feet 6 inches tall, also with dark eyes, dark hair and a dark complexion; he gave his residence as Attleboro. Like many other British deserters, they had enlisted under their own names. After all, they did not have to fear being arrested for desertion from the British army, and if they were recaptured by the British they could be recognized visually. No aliases were needed.

Although they deserted from the 5th Massachusetts at different times, Overton and Sullivan joined up with each other after and fled to Connecticut. Now they apparently were more concerned about being caught, and took additional precautions. A newspaper advertisement from early February reads:

Stop Thives! [sic]
Came to the house of the subscriber, on the 25th of January 1778, one James Hamilton, about 5 feet and an half high, well sett, black short curled hair, black eye brows, light blue eyes, can read and write well; had on when he went away, a white out-side jacket, with one button on each sleeve, at the wrist, a pair white breeches, much wore, a pair blue and white stockings, his left thumb (upper joint) put out, so that he can slip it in and out. Likewise, one Patrick Brian, about 6 feet high, a sprightly well limbed man, short strait brown hair, light blue eyes, speaks broad; had on when he went away, a green coat faced with red, and yellow buttons, a white coarse linen shirt, a pair white cloth stockings, a good felt hat, with a metal button thereon: Both these fellows were Irishmen, said to desert from the 22d regiment on Rhode Island the 6th day of Sep-tember last, and had passes from Governor Cook at Providence, to go into the country to get work; they tarried with me till Friday the 30th ult. (After dinner) then went off without paying for their board, and carried off one white Holland shirt and sundry other things, to the value of 22 or 23 dollars. Whoever will take up said villains, and bring them to Norwich or New London jail, so that justice may be done them, shall have Six Dollars reward, and all necessary charges paid by Ebenzer Grover. [Norwich Packet, 2 February 1778]

At first blush this ad seems to have no relevance to our story, but no James Hamilton or Patrick Brian ever served in the 22nd Regiment. The date of desertion from the 22nd and the physical descriptions, however, make it obvious that these men were actually Francis Overton and Daniel Sullivan. They did not hide the fact that they were British deserters, but apparently mentioned nothing about their American service, and in fact changed their names to conceal it.

Learn more about British soldiers in America

Deserter: James Armstrong, 15th Regiment

In September of 1775, the army was struggling to raise new men not only to bring regiments up to wartime strength, but to accommodate the 200-man-per-regiment augmentation that had recently been ordered for regiments on service in, or going to, America. Desertion was a significant problem for recruiters in Ireland. Liberal Irish newspapers attributed this to patriotism and sympathy to the American cause:

"Saturday a recruiting party of the 53d regt. beat up for volunteers at Blarney, and brought away only one recruit."

"Waterford, August 12. A recruiting party of the 19th regt. is now beating up in this city for volunteers, but meets with extremely bad success, owing to the general dislike of being transported to America for the purpose of slaughtering our oppressed fellow subjects."

British officers on the recruiting service had different views of why recruiting was so difficult. One officer wrote that "It is not possible... to conceive the difficulty there is in getting Men in Ireland; Besides they are the very Scum of the Earth, and do their utmost to desert, the moment they are Cloathed," while another complained that "the Recruiting here is not likely to be attended with much success. The men who Engage themselves are Chiefly White Boys, who unless very closely watched, desert as soon as they can find the opportunity." People in Strabane were thought to have made "a trade of Desertion and too often with impunity." Another recruiting officer believed that men could not be kept in the army "whilst surrounded by their Friends and Relations who employ every allurement to prevail upon them to desert."

Precise information about desetion rates from recruiting parties has yet to be found. Newspaper advertisements were published for some deserters; among them is the following:

From a recruiting Party of his Majesty's 15th Regiment of Foot, recruiting at Belfast under the Command of Lieut. Courtney, Dennis McPeak, aged 21 Years, 5 feet 8 Inches high, short brown hair, born in Shamescastle, formerly lived with John O'Neill, Esq. of said Place; had on when he deserted a blue coat and waistcoat and a pair of buckskin breeches, the coat without buttons.
Likewise, John McCollester, aged 16 years, 5 feet 5 inches; had on a short blue coat and waistcoat, with a pair of greasy leather breeches, supposed to be concealed in or near Belfast.
Likewise, James Armstrong, born in the Parish of Moira, County Down, aged 23 Years, 5 Feet 6 Inches and a half high, by Trade a Weaver, stout and well made; had on when he deserted a light coloured Frize Coat and Waistcoat, with a Pair of Fustian Breeches, and a Pair of unbleached Thread Stockings. If either or all of the above Deserters will join their Party at Belfast by the 14th October, they will receive their free Pardon, otherwise any Person apprehending either of them, and lodging them in any of his Majesty's Gaols, shall receive Guinea over and above what is allowed by Act of Parliament for apprehending Deserters, by applying to Lieut. Conway Courtney at Belfast. [Belfast Newsletter, 29 Sept 1775]

The recruits described in this advertisement had not yet been issued any regimental clothing. Two of the men are consistent with expected age and height standards for this time period (but, later on in the war, these standards changed). John McCollester is both young and short, but presumably he was a likely prospect to grow into requirements of a soldier.

One of the deserters in this advertisement, James Armstrong, did find his way into service with the 15th Regiment, although we do not know whether he took advantage of the pardon offered in the ad or was apprehended. The 15th Regiment was sent to America at the beginning of 1776 as part of the abortive assault on Charleston, South Carolina. Armstrong, however, did not embark for America until January 1781. The fleet of transports that brought him and hundreds of other recruits sailed first for Charleston – by then a British garrison - then to New York, arriving in late June. The 15th Regiment had gone to the West Indies three years earlier. Following a typical practice, the recruits for the 15th Regiment were drafted into regiments still serving in the New York area; James Armstrong and 23 other recruits for the 15th Regiment were drafted into the 22nd Regiment of Foot.

At the end of the war the strength of British regiments was reduced, and James Armstrong was among those soldiers discharged in America. Like many men so discharged, he immediately reenlisted into a regiment being sent to Canada, in this case the 54th Regiment of Foot. While serving in that regiment, James Armstrong died on 20 May 1785.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Deserter: William Simpson, fifer, 29th Regiment

William Simpson was born in 1751, the child of a soldier in the 29th Regiment of Foot. There was a Victor Simpson serving in the 29th, who was discharged in 1771, but we do not know if they were in fact related. By 1765 William Simpson was serving in the regiment; on the earliest muster roll that we have available, covering the unusually long (for a muster roll) period from the beginning of 1765 through 1769, Simpson is listed among the private soldiers. At this time, fifers were not part of the establishment of a regiment. It is possible that Simpson was serving in that capacity, but was carried as a private soldier since there was no other way to keep him in pay. The 29th was in Boston when the roll was prepared in 1769, and Simpson was in Major Pierce Butler's company (the same Pierce Butler who later represented South Carolina at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 - quite a career change).
Beginning in 1770, two fifers were established as part of the grenadier company of each regiment, and Simpson appears in that capacity on the muster rolls for that year. On 6 September 1770, when the regiment was serving in the New York area, he deserted. He was replaced by a man who had been a private soldier - it was not unusual for men to be appointed from private to drummer or fifer, and back again, sometimes several times during their career.
Soon after his desertion, the regiment placed the following advertisement:

Perth Amboy, New-Jersey, Sept. 6, 1770.
Deserted from the 29th Regiment of Foot, William Simpson, Fifer, aged 19 Years, 5 Feet, 8 Inches high, born in the Regiment, straight and well made, fair Complexion, thin Face, long Visage, large Nose, large Limbs, short brown Hair, blue Eyes, speaks short, and pretty much of the Irish Accent, a large Hole or Hollow on the top Part of his Scull, occasioned by a Fracture received at Castle Island; no Hair growing on it; plays well on the Flute and Fife, and plays a little on the Violin and French Horn. Had on when he went away, a short yellow Coat, fac'd Red, red Fall-down Collar, red Wings and Lining, the Coat lac'd with Drummers Lace, white Linnen Waistcoat and Breeches, a black Cap, bound with white Tape, the Number of the Regiment in the Front, and a Scarlet Worsted Feather round the upper Part of the Front. Whoever apprehends and secures the above Deserter so that he may be delivered over to the abovesaid Regiment at Perth-Amboy, or to the Commanding Officer of the 26th Regiment at New-York, shall receive Ten Dollars Reward, on Application to either Commanding Officers.
N. B. It is supposed the above Deserter is gone towards Boston or Halifax, having a Brother in the 64th Regiment at Halifax.
[New York Gazette or Weekly Post Boy, September 10, 1770]

The detailed description of Simpson's clothing provides several interesting and unusual details.
His interesting cap was probably made of felt, given that it was bound with white tape (the binding on felt hats and caps was more than an ornament - it kept the edges from fraying). It is reminiscent of the caps adopted by some light infantry companies. It was not the bearskin cap prescribed by the December 1768 clothing warrant, but the 29th Regiment had been serving in America for a number of years and my simply have not yet had an opportunity to obtain the some parts of the new-style clothing.
The coat conforms to the warranted pattern, except that it was short; perhaps this coat was new in 1769, and by September 1770 had been modified to account for wear and tear. Regiments in America normally received their new annual clothing in October or November. The coat has the reversed colors that we would expect for this yellow-faced regiment. It is interesting that the wings on the coat were, nonetheless, red.
Linnen waistcoat and breeches are not in accordance with the clothing warrant, but were probably procured for warm-weather use by the regiment.
The description of William Simpson reveals some interesting facets of military life. He was born in the regiment, making it probable that his father was also a soldier. He had a brother serving in another British regiment. He had received a serious injury during his service in Boston, at Castle Island. His hair was short, even though he was young and had been in the army his entire life. He had a broad range of musical talent.
His desertion is recorded on a muster roll covering the period ending 24 October 1770. On the next roll, however, for the period 25 October - 24 December 1770, Simpson is listed again, with no explanation of when or how he returned. There is also no record of him having been tried by a general court martial for desertion, so we are left to wonder how long his absence lasted and how it was accounted for. To further the mystery, Simpson no longer appears on any subsequent muster roll. We are left with no idea of what became of him. There is the slight possibility that he never actually returned and that the October - December muster roll is in error. Otherwise, he must have deserted again, been discharged, transferred to another regiment, or died. Usually these events are recorded in the rolls, but when they're not they leave us only to wonder.

Learn more about British soldiers in America