Friday, August 21, 2009

Employed soldiers: William Bayliss and John Lewis, 38th Regiment of Foot

The typical age for enlistment into the British army in the 1770s was between 17 and 25 years of age. Of course there were many exceptions, but a reasonable majority of soldiers enlisted in this age range. By the time a young man was in his late teens, however, he had been old enough to be in the workforce for many years. Thomas Watson, for example, began working in coal mines when he was seven years old, a profession he pursued intermittently until joining the 23rd Regiment of Foot when he was about 19. John Robert Shaw (or Robertshaw) began working as a weaver at the age of twelve, and joined the army three or four years later. Although surviving records are far from complete, available information indicates that over half of British soldiers during the 1775-1783 era had some experience in a skilled trade. For example, we know the pre-enlistment professions of about a third of the men who served in the 22nd Regiment during this time, and of them about 55% had some trade other than “labourer.”

The army was able to make good use of these skilled and semi-skilled soldiers. Men with backgrounds as tailors, shoemakers, smiths, carpenters and numerous other trades afforded the army a talent pool to meet needs from fitting new clothing to constructing huts. Orders given in Boston on 13 November 1775 provide an example:

Jno Farrington 49th Job Edge 35th John Benson 10th Regts & John Davis of the 2d Batt. of Marines, Bakers by Trade, to be sent to the Deputy Quarter Master Generals Office to morrow Morning at Eight oClock.

Six weeks later, on 29 December, the army put out a call for more bakers, this time offering important specifics about the skill level that was being sought:

A list of Bakers in each Corps includg Non Commissd Officers to be given in to morrow morning at 9 0’Clock, specifying such as are experience’d in the business from those who may have work’d occasionally at the Trade.

Apparently working from the lists provided in answer to the above order, on 14 January 1776 several bakers were called to work for the Commissary General. It is interesting that only one is also among those called on 13 November:

The undermention'd Corps to send Bakers to attend the Commissary Genl tomorrow morning at 8 o'Clock vizt

4th Regt, Wm Warren Wm McIntosh
10th do John Cairncross
22d do James Mills
38th Bailiss, John Lewis
43d Serjt Farley, Andw Gentles
44th Corpl Sparks, Jacob Lawser
49th John Farrington
55th James Fitzpatrick
65 Thos Curry

The "do" notation was a common abbreviation for "ditto", which saved the writer of these orders from rewriting "regt" after every numeric title. The original manuscript orders contain superscripts and nuances of punctuation that cannot be accurately typographically rendered.

There is no indication of how long these men remained employed by the commissary. The muster rolls for the 38th Regiment make it clear, however, that they didn’t stay at it for the remainder of their time in America.

William Bayless (spelled various ways on the muster rolls) enlisted in the 38th on 8 July 1774, just days after the regiment arrived in Boston from Ireland. This suggests that he was American, or at least that he was already in America when he determined to join the army. We have no information on his age or background.

John Lewis first appears on the rolls of the 38th prepared in July 1776, with no indication of how he came into the regiment. Most likely he was a recruit from Great Britain since that is how most new men came into British regiments after the war began.

In spite of their diversion from normal duties and probable receipt of extra income from their work as bakers, neither of these men had long careers. We have classified them as “employed soldiers” because of their work in Boston. John Lewis, however, deserted from the 38th Regiment on 10 June 1777 in the New York area. William Bayless was transferred to the light infantry company in early 1778, but deserted from Rhode Island on 8 July 1779. Given his proximity to Boston, it is possible that he deserted in order to return to where ever he had come from before enlisting in 1774.

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