Sunday, July 26, 2009

Pensioner: Joseph Driver, 33rd Regiment of Foot

Joseph Driver was born in the city of Leeds in 1750. He joined the army in 1768, enlisting in either the 33rd or 46th Regiment of Foot. He was in the 33rd by the time that regiment arrived in America as part of the abortive assault on Charleston in early 1776. The regiments on that expedition joined the main army in New York during the summer, and the 33rd campaigned around New York and New Jersey throughout the Autumn and into the Winter. While campaigning general stopped between December and June because roads became impassible, the British posts in New Jersey were scenes of a number of skirmishes during these months. During one of them at Bonum Town in April, Joseph Driver was taken prisoner.

Driver and a few other British prisoners were taken to American headquarters and examined on 16 April. A record of this interview survives but it is cryptic; the examining officer apparently asked prepared questions from a list and recorded only Driver's responses. It is this numbered list of responses that survives in the George Washington Papers. From it we can deduce most of the questions, and the information reveals some interesting details about the harsh conditions that British soldiers in New Jersey endured during the first half of 1777:

1 - Joseph Drever 33rd no Brigade. Taken at Bonum Town.
2 -
3 - 59 Rank & File when compleat.
4 - does not know how many now.
5 - }
6 - } does not know.
7 - }
8 - does not know.
9 - Have been sickly, pretty well now.
10 - very healthy at present.
11 - Has been unhealthy but getting better.
12 -
13 - Salt provision plenty. no fresh.
14 - Plenty of Oats, some fresh Hay.
15 - Five thousand Waggons and Horses to them.
16 - Horses in tolerable order.
17 - Talk of the Army that Carlton is to join before the Campaign opens, and that 20000 Foreigners are to come over.
18 - included in the above.
19 - saw 28 Waggons go to Brunswic two months ago with ten Boats.
20 - Agree very well.
21 - In good Spirits.
22 - Old Tents cut up to make Trowsers. No new ones yet come from York.
23 - Never was at Amboy, knows nothing of Ships. Carltons Army 60,000 men and 30,000 Indians. Genl. How 50,000 fit for duty.
most extravagant in all his Accounts.

Question 3 surely refers to the number of men in Driver's company of the 33rd Regiment, while 13 and 14 refer to provisions for soldiers and horses respectively. The rumor mentioned in question 17 may refer to the impending expedition by General Burgoyne from Canada to Albany; the remark about "foreigners" is unclear since German auxiliaries had already joined the British army in America.

The most interesting response is to question 22, which appears to relate to whether the British army was able to move from quarters to encampments. It was typical for new tents and other camp equipage to arrive in America once a year in the spring, in time for the campaign season. In this case tents from the 1776 campaign had been cut up for clothing; although new tents may have been delivered to New York, they had not yet been distributed to outlying posts (more about the difficult conditions faced by British soldiers in this theater can be found in the article "Bloody Footprints in the Snow? January 1777 at Brunswick, New Jersey" by Linnea M. Bass, Military Collector & Historian number 45 (Spring 1993), pp. 9-10). The examiner's closing remark about Driver's "extravagant" accounts provides our only clue to his personality.

Joseph Driver and other prisoners of war were sent to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. That summer, he noticed an American soldier who looked familiar. He proved to be a fellow soldier of the 33rd Regiment, William Walsh. Walsh had deserted on 4 June 1777, two months after Driver was captured. Walsh asked Driver how he was doing, to which Driver responded that he was sickly. Walsh flippantly responded "the Devil relieve you." Later on, Driver saw Walsh serving in the capacity of a corporal, parading an American guard.

By June 1778 Driver had rejoined the 33rd Regiment of Foot. Whether he was exchanged or escaped is not currently known. In April 1779 he was called upon to testify at a court martial in New York. The man on trial had been on board an American schooner that was captured off Charleston, South Carolina by a British tender - William Walsh. Driver and another repatriated soldier of the 33rd told of their encounters with Walsh which resulted in a guilty verdict not only for desertion but for bearing arms with the enemy. Walsh was sentenced to death.

Joseph Driver soldiered on with the 33rd Regiment, serving on Cornwallis' 1781 campaign which led to his capture at Yorktown, Virginia in October 1781. He spent another year and a half as a prisoner of war until the Yorktown prisoners were repatriated to New York early in 1783. When the British army evacuated New York the 33rd was among the regiment sent to Canada. In August 1786 a large number of men were drafted from the 33rd into the 37th Regiment of Foot, including Driver. He was discharged from the army in 1790 at the age of 40 and received an out pension for his nearly 22 years of service. The abstract of his discharge available on the British National Archives web site indicates that he served for a time in the 46th Regiment, but does not indicate whether that service was before joining the 33rd or after joining the 37th.

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