Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Escapee: Richard Baker, 7th Regiment of Foot

Throughout the war, British soldiers became prisoners of war, and throughout the war these prisoners escaped. There was no policy of escape as a method to cause disruption to the enemy and contribute to the war effort as there was in later centuries. Instead, soldiers seem to have been motivated by a sense of duty to the service and sovereign, contempt to conditions of captivity, and the simple taste for activity over idleness. Muster rolls give a general idea of the numbers of men who made their way back into British service, and some brief depositions from a few of these men survive (which will be showcased here in the future).

Detailed accounts of escapes are rare. The most verbose and best known is that of Roger Lamb, who escaped from the Burgoyne’s captive army in 1778 and again from Cornwallis’s in 1781. Jonathan Stayer, a researcher at the Pennsylvania State Archives, recently found another detailed account and thoughtfully sent it to us: a deposition given by an escaped British prisoner, detailing his travels as a fugitive and providing information about the local inhabitants who helped him.

Richard Baker was a soldier from the 7th Regiment of Foot, the Royal Fusiliers, who was captured at the battle of Cowpens in 1781. Abetted by sympathetic guards, he escaped along with a soldier from Tarleton’s Legion. After being helped through the countryside by a network of loyalist residents, a miscue led to his capture in Maryland. He was taken to York, Pennsylvania where many British prisoners were held and where he gave his deposition, below. We have no indication of whether he returned to British service either by escape or repatriation. Because his deposition reveals the names of people who were helping escapees, we wonder if he may have chose to stay in America.

Deposition of Richard Baker
York County to wit.

Before me the Subscriber one of the Justices of the Peace [word or symbol illegible] of the said County of York personally came Richard Baker a Soldier of the Seventh British Regiment who on his Oath taken according to Law doth voluntarily and deliberately say and declare, that he (the said Richard meaning) was taken Prisoner with a certain John Thompson of Tarleton’s Legion (who was formerly of Hagers Town in Maryland but joined the British Army in Philadelphia) at the Battle of the Penns in South Carolina; that he with said Thompson left their Guard (many of whom were Tories & recommended them to go to the Moravian Towns where they would be well used or entertained as the People there were loyal subjects & Friends to the King) at the Yadkin. That they in the Day Time generally marched through the woods & were directed from one Tory House to another through North Carolina & Virginia till they (the said Richard & John meaning) came to Hagers Town aforesaid, where they were kindly entertained by a Mennonist who lives within about half a Mile of that Place. Near Chambers Town in Pennsylvania they were also kindly entertained by a Person who knew they were British and making their Escape to New York. They then came on to Lisburn where they left the main road and turned of to the Left towards the Susquehanna in the Red Lands at a Dutch House Thompson went in for Provisions, they remained in the woods there for four Days where several of the Inhabitants came to visit them. On the Night of the twenty eighth of March instant he left the Red Lands with said Thompson and came to Cadovus Creek about one Mile and an Half below York Town and some short Time before Day crossed the same Creek at that Place. They then came up by the Mill late Rankins and proceeded on the road which leads to a Fulling Mill about half a Mile where they met a Person in the Woods who told them that he had Notice from the Red Lands of their coming & was there to meet them, that he lived at York & had three or four hundred Dollars in Continental which was subscribed by the Friends of the British Government & which he gave to Thompson & this Deponent. That the Person who met them was about five feet nine or ten Inches high, well set & wore a Quaker Broad brimmed Hat, was a Dutch Man by his Language. He said he wished that the British Army would come here and that many would join it. He directed them the road to Henry Stouffers, & Thompson having some knowledge of the way proceeded by a Fulling Mill & they the said Richard & John arrived at Henry Stouffers Mill early on the Morning of the twenty ninth instant. They (the said Richard and John meaning) knocked up said Henry Stouffer. They (the said Richard and John meaning) told him who they were. He (the said Stouffer meaning) let them in, gave them Brandy & gave them a Bed to lye in. After resting some Time they (the said Richard & John) got up. He have them their Breakfast & desired them to stay all Day there as it would not be safe for them to go till Night, during which time he entertained them. He gave the said Richard the drab Coloured Coat and Jacket which he now wears in Exchange for a green Jacket. Said Stouffer also gave him a Pair of Shoes. About eight OClock on the night of the 29th inst. said Henry Stouffer got a Man and a Horse to convey the said Richard and John towards the Head of the Bay, so that they might get on Board some of the British Ships. About Seven Miles down the Baltimore Road, he this Deponent and his Companion Thompson parted, he then went to the House of Ludowick Pupp through mistake, and told him Stouffer had sent him there, that he was a Friend & that he was to shew him the way to one John Maultby’s who lives in Maryland and about five Miles from Kean’s Tavern towards the Bay & who had a Brother who would get him on Board one of the British Ships. That he received no Countenance from said Pupp, but was next Morning taken up by Mr. Daniel Peterman & said Ludowick Pupp, & that he was brought by them to this Town.

Sworn & subscribed before me at York the 30th Day of March 1781
[signed] Richard Baker
[signed] Archd McClean

[RG-33, Records of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania’s Court of Oyer and Terminer, Court Papers, York County, 1780-1781. Pennsylvania State Archives]

Learn more about British soldiers in America

1 comment:

  1. What you're doing is fantastic. I regularly read your posts and have enjoyed them all.