Monday, July 13, 2009

Pensioner: Peter Fetherham, 17th Regiment of Foot

The role of German regiments in service of the British government is well-covered in the literature, but a lesser known aspect of British regiments in the American Revolution is that many of the 'British' soldiers were actually German. Soon after the war began, the established size of British regiments in America was increased by almost 50%, requiring an additional 18 men for each of a regiment's 10 companies. Getting so many new men, while also keeping up with normal recruiting needs, was a tall order that was fulfilled using several methods. In addition to increased recruiting, men were drafted from regiments remaining in Great Britain (a practice that was commonly used to fill regiments headed overseas; to satisfy the augmentation, greater numbers of men were drafted). A further step was to have an agent recruit men in Germany.

The result was that nearly every regiment in America received a number of German recruits, most of whom arrived in American in October 1776. Some regiments received as few as five, while others received over 100. I've written an article that tells the story of the 40 German recruits in the 22nd Regiment. The 17th Regiment of Foot also received 40 German recruits, among whom was a eighteen-year-old named Peter Federheim from Gr├╝nstadt, southeast of Frankfurt. He had no trade to speak of, but at 5 foot 9 1/2 inches he was a very desirable size for a soldier.

Unlike the 22nd Regiment which distributed the German recruits evenly among the eight battalion companies (which always received recruits because only experienced men were sent to the flank companies), the 17th Regiment put all of the Germans into Lt.-Colonel Mawhood's company. This may have been simply to keep them together because of their language; perhaps one of the company officers spoke German. Regardless, muster rolls and a surviving orderly book confirm that 17 German recruits joined the company on 23 October, immediately after embarking in New York. Another five joined on 18 November, and another 9 on 27 December. We speculate that the stragglers had remained in New York to recoup their health after the voyage (they had originally embarked on transports in German in mid-May, then sailed to England before proceeding to America; they may have remained on board transports for the entire time from May to October). This is, however, only a guess. We cannot yet account for the other nine recruits that had been directed to the 17th.

No fewer than 10 of the German recruits in the 17th Regiment deserted by the end of June 1778, and others probably did so before the war ended. Peter Federheim, however, assimilated to his new career. In the muster rolls we see his name change from Federham to Fetherham, and he remained in the regiment through the end of the war including time among the prisoners of war captured at Stony Point in 1779 (we do not have ready access to the muster rolls that would reveal whether he was again captured at Yorktown). At the end of the war, when many Germans in British regiments took discharges and land grants in Nova Scotia, Fetherham continued in the army. He was appointed corporal and then serjeant, finally taking his discharge while in garrison on the Isle of Wight in July 1802 at the age of 44.

While his discharge lists his place of birth as "Greenstadt" in the "county of Manheim, Empire of Germany," this seasoned soldier signed his name "P Fetherham, Serjeant, 2d Battn 17th Regiment" showing that he had fully adopted the anglicization of his name. He made other annotations on the document with excellent penmanship. During his 26 years of service he had learned to learned to speak, read and write the English language fluently, allowing him to succeed as a British serjeant. The discharge document describes him as having brown hair, grey eyes and a fresh complexion, and indicates that he was discharged due to a reduction in size of the army rather than for any health reasons. From the Isle of Wight he went to London where the board at Chelsea Hospital granted him an out pension. This man who had come into the army during an augmentation finished his long service due to a reduction, and was appropriately rewarded for his accomplishments.


  1. Hi I am interested in the 17th Regiment of Foot and I see you have several people from the 17th listed.

    I would like some history on Paul McPherson who served in the Revolutionry War from 1776 to 1783. He was disbanded in N.S. in 1783. There is someone else who has information on him, but I feel that there is errors. I have looked at a LDS Film of the 17th, but it seems to start in 1799 and ends in 1854. There was a Lt Col. P. McPherson, but he is not our Paul. I would like to know how to get to the records of this Regiment. Can you help me?

  2. Thank you for your inquiry.
    It is possible to trace the service record of your ancestor using the muster rolls of the 17th Regiment. These rolls are in the National Archives of Great Britain in Kew, outside of London. Unfortunately they are not on-line or in any other form that allows you to access them remotely, so you must either visit in person or hire a researcher to do the work for you. Because you already have some details on exactly what you're looking for, a researcher can fairly quickly trace you man's service from the time he joined the army to the time he was discharged.
    I have some information from the muster rolls of the 17th Regiment for 1776 and 1777, and I see that Paul McPherson did indeed serve in Captain William Scott's company during those years. Of particular interest is that is is listed as a prisoner of war ("prisoner with the enemy" on the rolls that were prepared in May 1777 and January 1778. On the rolls prepared in July 1776 he was not a prisoner, so he was taken some time in the second half of 1776 or early 1777, perhaps at the battle of Princeton (just a guess; the rolls do not give the date on which a man was captured).
    If you would like more information about how to proceed with this research, please let me know. I would also like to learn what information you already have, as I may be able to help you determine whether or not it has errors.

    1. Don I see you have some info from the muster rolls of the 17th Regiment, my ggg-grandfather Joseph Wood was a sergeant in the 17th but I do not know in what years. He later received a land grant in PEI in 1784 and settled in Tryon, PEI in 1787. If you have any info on him I would greatly appreciate if you could share it with me at my email address -

    2. Joseph Wood does indeed appear on the muster rolls of the 17th Regiment; he was among the men recruited during the winter of 1775-1776 who arrived in America in October of 1776. He can be traced in the rolls through the end of 1778, but the regiment's misfortunes at Stony Point in 1779 and then Yorktown in 1781 caused a gap in the muster rolls, and Wood is not on the next set of rolls prepared in 1782.

  3. Hi Don: Thank you for the answer on Paul McPherson of the 17th Foot that I wrote you some weeks ago, I could not send you a message as I did not know how to get back into your site till my son came and helped me.

    I saw your home address on one of your sites and I would be glad to send you what I have on Paul, I also have a list of the disbanded military that took up land in Sydney Co., now Guysborough Co., NS. I would have to snail mail them as I don't have a scanner. These records are in the original hand writing from the Halifax Archives, and would be photo copies. Let me know if you are interested.

    I have sent to England to see if I can get his Military Records, but have not had a reply yet.

    Thanks for taking the time to answer me last time.

    Viola M. James

  4. Hi Don:

    Sometime ago I wrote you about Paul McPherson of the 17th Regiment of Foot.

    I would like to let you know that I now have his Discharge Record. He was discharged on 2nd of May, 1781, in New York, because of a disabled arm. He had 20 years service and he was 35 years old. He was born ca. 1746 in Banff.

    I was able to get this from findmypast. for a fee. I have written for his Attestation papers, but they tell me there is none. How could this be?

    If you would like a copy, let me know.

    Viola M. James

  5. Thank you very much for these details - I appreciate that you followed up on the leads and have found your man's discharge information. It reveals wonderful personal details. I would very much appreciate a copy!
    As for the attestation papers, the sad fact is that none of these documents are known to survive; somewhere along the line the government appears to have disposed of them, so we lack the enlistment date of most soldiers during this era (the dates shown on muster rolls are the dates that men joined the main body of the regiment, not the date that they were recruited or attested), as well as any other information the attestation papers may have contained.

  6. Hi Don:

    I don't know if my answer went through or not, so I will try again. If you contact me private, I will be glad to send you a copy, or I have sent a copy to the NOVA SCOTIA-L site on March 19, 2011, where it can be read.

    Viola M. James