Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pensioner: Daniel Hollowell, 33rd Regiment of Foot

When General Howe’s army landed in Maryland to advance on Philadelphia on 23 August 1777, 30-year-old Daniel Hollowell was among the soldiers in the light infantry company of the 33rd Regiment serving in the 1st Battalion of Light Infantry. Hollowell (who's name is spelled various ways on the muster rolls and other documents) had been a soldier since 1766 or 1767 so it was fitting that he was among the experienced men in the elite light infantry. Although he must have been a generally well-behaved and trusted soldier to serve in this corps, on this campaign he ran into some trouble.

Four days after the initial landing while the army was still preparing to advance, Hollowell was confined by his company commander “irregular behaviour.” When he was put into confinement, his necessaries (extra shirts, stockings and shoes) were taken to him and remained with him while he was a prisoner. On campaign, “confinement” by the quarter-guard seems to have had a probationary nature, with Hollowell doing normal duty during the day but being put under the supervision of the guard at night. On 31 August, after four days of this confinement, Hollowell was turned over to the quarter-guard at dusk as usual. A few hours later he and his necessaries were missing, but no word of a deserter seems to have reached the men on piquet duty around the periphery of the encampment.

At around 9PM, an advanced piquet (one of a series of sentries placed at intervals) belonging to the light infantry battalion noticed an approaching man fall in the road. The piquet challenged, and it was a drunken Hollowell who got up and approached out of the darkness. When questioned by the piquet, Hollowell claimed to be bringing a drink to a comrade who was also a sentry. It is not clear whether this was before or after the quarter-guard determined that Hollowell was missing, but the piquet was not alarmed by the discovery and simply pointed him in the right direction.

Some minutes later the piquet heard another disturbance in bushes near his post. Receiving no response to his challenges, the piquet attempted to fire, but his musket misfired. Advancing to investigate, the piquet found Hollowell who this time claimed to be trying to find his way back to the encampment. Not having any reason to be suspicious of him, the piquet once again pointed him in the right direction and sent him on his way.

Around dawn, two non-commissioned officers who were visiting the sentries discovered one soldier carefully observing something in front. The sentry pointed out a man approaching to whom the sentry had twice called challenges but gotten no response. The non-commissioned officers stepped out of view to let him get closer. When the intruder was about forty yards away, they rushed out and ordered him to stand. It was Hollowell, who this time claimed that he was going to wash a shirt (according to one of the non-commissioned officers) or to fill a canteen (according to the other). Not satisfied with Hollowell’s explanation, the non-commissioned officers confined him. He was wearing a cloak over his clothing, and when searched was found to be carrying nothing besides a canteen.

When Hollowell was tried the next day by a general court martial for desertion, he testified that he was drunk, had no intention of desertion, but had simply lost his way and was making for the camp fires of the battalion when he was taken. The court inquired whether he had taken his necessaries with him. When he was reported missing from the quarter-guard the serjeant of the guard was unable to locate Hollowell’s necessaries but testified that they were present again after Hollowell was once more confined. No explanation was given for this anomaly, but since Hollowell had not been carrying any extra clothing no further inquiry was made. He was never seen going away from the army and never behaved as though attempting to desert. The court found Hollowell innocent and released him. Oddly enough no one sought an explanation for why he was away from confinement or how he had gotten liquor.

We have no evidence that Hollowell got into any other trouble. He continued in the 33rd Regiment until 1791 when he was discharged and received an out-pension, but soon enlisted again in the 95th Regiment for another six years. He was finally discharged and pensioned in 1798 at the age of 54 after 32 years of service.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Criminal: Alexander Murray, 81st Regiment

Escaped from Dunfernline Gaol, the evening of the 27th ult. Alexander Murray labourer, apprehended as a disorderly person guilty of crimes, and inlisted with Lieut. Gregor Farquarson of the 81st regiment, as a volunteer under the impress act, and was by him secured in gaol till an opportunity should occur to transmit him to the regiment.
He was born in the parish of Muthil, Perthshire, is about 26 years of age, 5 feet 7 3/4 inches high or thereby, fair complexion, black hair, dark grey eyes, stout built, and a little droop shouldered, had on when he went away, a big blue duffil coat, with dark grey cloaths, and light blue stockings.
Whoever shall apprehend said deserter betwixt and the 1st of April next [sic], and lodge him within any secure gaol in Great Britain, shall be intitled to L. 2 ½ ster. of reward over and above the premium allowed by act of parliament by applying to the treasurer of the burgh of Dunfermline, or to Mr. John Flockart writer in Edinburgh.
It is hoped that no officer will inlist that man, nor none pretend to secret him, otherways they will be prosecuted in terms of law for secreting deserters.
[Edinburgh Advertiser, 23 February 1779]

The 81st Regiment did not serve in America during the 1775-1783 war. This advertisement, however, affords an opportunity to dispel popular bits of dogma about the soldiers who fought in America during that conflict. The key misconceptions are that men were impressed into the army, and that convicted criminals were routinely put into the army instead of into jail. While examples of both practices can be found, they represent only a very small portion of the army and, more importantly, not the soldiers who were sent to fight in America. The idea that the British Army was made up primarily of the lowest and foulest men that society had to offer is the result of generalizing these specialized activities - enlistment of criminals and impressment - which actually applies only to very specialized circumstances.

An excellent article on this topic is "The recruitment of criminals into the British army, 1775-81" (Stephen R. Conway. Historical Research, lviii (May 1985) 46-58). Conway explains the laws that allowed, under very specific circumstances, convicted men to be offered military service as an alternative to prison. He also presents records which show that, although legal, the practice was not at all widespread; only 784 convicts in England and Wales were pardoned between 1775 and 1781 on the condition that they join the army or marines.

A key reason for the low numbers is that the army didn't want convicts any more than the general population did. Not being a bunch of complete idiots, army officers did not for a moment think that men who were poor citizens would somehow be good soldiers. For this reason, the vast majority of these convicts-cum-soldiers were, in the spirit of transporting criminals, sent to undesirable locations plagued by high mortality rates such as Africa, India and the West Indies (the British army had a corps referred to as the “Africa Corps” during this era). There is no evidence that any appreciable numbers of these men served in regiments in America.

A related misunderstanding is that men were pressed into the army, when in fact it was primarily a volunteer force. For most of the 1770s and 1780s, British law prohibited impressing or conscripting men into the army. Enlistment was voluntary. A brief exception occurred during the American War between May 1778 and May 1780 when acts were passed allowing the army to press men – that is, force them into the service – under certain conditions. The first law was passed in May 1778, revised in February 1779, and suspended in May of that year. It was resumed in November but repealed once and for all in May 1780. Under these laws, civil officials could turn over to the military “all able-bodied idle, and disorderly Persons, who could not, upon Examination, prove themselves to exercise and industriously follow some lawful Trade or Employment, or to have some Substance sufficient for their Support and Maintenance.” Also eligible for press were those convicted of theft-related crimes of goods valued under 40 pounds Sterling.

The press acts were passed because of the urgent need to expand the armed forces when France entered the war. Their repeal was due not only to reduced fears of invasion two years later, but also because they were extremely unpopular with both the populace and with the army. No one expected pressed men to make good soldiers. In his popular book Military Antiquities published in 1786, British militia officer Francis Grose described the sentiments clearly:

An act for impressing soldiers took place in 1779, when all the thieves, pickpockets and vagabonds in the environs of London, too lame to run away, or too poor to bribe the parish officers, were apprehended and delivered over as soldiers to the regiments quartered in the very townes [sic] and villages where these banditti had lived and been taken; these men being thus set at large in the midst of their old companions and connections, immediately deserted, whereby the whole expence, by no means an inconsiderable one, was thrown away: nor did the soldiers of the regiments on which they were imposed, take the least pains to prevent their escape, or to retake them; as they justly considered being thus made the companions of thieves and robbers, a most grievous and cruel insult, and loudly complained of it as such, to their officers. Indeed it seems to have been a very ill judged measure, tending to destroy that professional pride, that esprit de corps which ought most assiduously to be cultivated in every regiment. The profession of a soldier has long ceased to be lucrative, if it ever was so. If it is likewise made dishonorable, where shall we get soldiers on whom we may depend? when the exigencies of the time make it necessary to take such men into the service, they should at least be sent to regiments quartered in a distant part of the kingdom, where they and their characters are equally unknown, or divided among the regiments on foreign service.

The best that can be said of the press acts was that they induced able men to enlist voluntarily rather than risk being pressed, which at least afforded them some opportunity to choose the regiment and therefore the location in which they might serve. From March through November 1779, for example, a total of 1,463 men were pressed in England and Wales, and another 61 in Scotland between March and July. If these men were distributed evening throughout the army, it is easy to see that no one regiment received many of them.

The impact of the press acts on regiments in America was minimal. No records have been found describing which regiments pressed men were put into, but clearly only men recruited at certain times between May 1778 and May 1780 could legally have been impressed. The 22nd Regiment of Foot, which served in America from 1775 through 1783, provides an example of the proportion of pressed men that could possibly have been in a regiment, regardless of the actual number. During its eight years in America, just over 1000 men (not counting officers) spent some time serving in this regiment. Of those, no more than 150 were recruited during the time window of the press acts. We do not know if any of these men actually were impressed, but this illustrates the maximum proportion that could have been. Other evidence suggests that impressed men were not preferred for service in America. A newspaper reported that “In order to expedite the embarkation of the troops intended for America, government mean to draft most of the men from the old corps in England to complete the regiments abroad, and the new levies, now about to be raised by the impress act, are to fill up their vacancies.”

The term “criminal” also carries a connotation that overstates the notoriety of lawbreakers who were given the option to become soldiers. Besides the “thieves, pickpockets and vagabonds” noted by Francis Grose, men convicted of sheep-stealing, burglary, orchard robbing, abandoning their families, indebtedness, smuggling, poaching and other petty crimes were given the option of soldiering instead of prison. The press acts briefly widened the range of convictions that might land a man in uniform rather than prison. For magistrates, the army offered an opportunity for wayward men to get their lives on course, and to this day military service is often recommended for those with minor criminal records who nonetheless have some promise. More hardened criminals were not given the enlistment choice, for the simple reason that the army did not want them any more than the civilian population did. Army officers did not for a moment think that men who failed to follow civil laws would succeed as soldiers.

To summarize, it was possible to for criminals to be pardoned on the condition that they serve in the army, and during a specific time period it was possible for men including criminals to be pressed into service. Alexander Murray of the 81st Regiment, described in the advertisement above, is an example of the latter. This type of recruiting, however, did not characterize the army as a whole, but provided only a small fraction of its overall strength. The number of pardoned criminals and impressed men that served in America was negligible.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Executed: John Lindon, 22nd Regiment of Foot

Wives of British soldiers were an integral part of the British military, but information about them as individuals is difficult to find. Strength returns often give the number of women who were part of a regiment, and groups of returns allows us to do some statistics, make generalities, and understand some things about how women fit in to the military system. But these are just numbers. When numbers of soldiers change, we can often correlate the changes to recruiting efforts, illness, or combat. Usually we can find the names of the soldiers and the dates on which they joined their regiments, deserted, died or were discharged. Rarely are we so well informed about the women.

The proceedings of a British Court Martial held in February 1781 give some details about one of the hundreds of British army wives serving in America. On trial was John Lindon, a private soldier in the 22nd Regiment of Foot who had joined the regiment in 1767. The various testimonies given at the trial tell a story that sounds more like something from a modern prime time news program than a vignette from the American Revolution.

John Lindon's wife (whose first name we do not know) worked as an army nurse. It was quite common for soldiers' wives to be employed by the army in some capacity or another, and nursing was a reasonably well-paying job (read more about soldiers' wives, their jobs and living conditions). When the 22nd Regiment departed Rhode Island for New York in late 1779, Mrs. Lindon did not sail on the same ship with her husband; he claimed that she also took all of his necessaries (shirts, shoes and stockings). When the regiment encamped in the New York area, she refused to live with her husband.

In August of 1780, Lindon sought out his wife at the hospital where she worked. Grace Chapman, another nurse, explained

that much discourse pass'd between the Prisoner and his Wife, which she the Deponent did not attend to - that she heard the Prisoner desire his Wife not to be in a Passion, that he said he only wanted his right, that the deceas'd ask'd What was his right - He answer'd "herself was" - She then reply'd - "She would never live with him or any one else" that the Prisoner said - "if she would not live with him she should not live with any one else" - that she the Deponent turn'd her head towards the Window; thinking the Prisoner was gone out of the Room.

Donald Cameron, soldier of the 74th Regiment, did not turn away and was able to relate the subsequent events:

The Prisoner and his Wife were disputing and she desir'd him to go away and not make a Disturbance in the Hospital - He answer'd, he would not go 'till he had his right - She ask'd him, What his right was - He answer'd herself - She then made Answer, She never would go with him, the Prisoner then said if you had told me so when I first came in, I should have gone away and said no more, for that was all I wanted - He the Deponent was at this time sitting on the Bed. He observ'd the Prisoner take up his Firelock [musket] and face towards the Door, and supposes, He at that time cock'd his Firelock - He then said if you do not live with me, you shall not live with any one else, and then turn'd round and fir'd his Piece - that the Woman immediately fell and to the best of his the Deponent's recollection, died in four or five hours afterwards.

Cameron said Lindon did not

shew any Concern - He levell'd his Piece in such a Manner, not bringing it to his Shoulder, that He the Deponent, thought he was going to Charge or Strike the Woman, and was going to prevent him, but before he the Deponent could effect his intent, the Piece was fir'd... To the best of his recollection the Muzzle of the Piece touch'd her Cloaths.

The final witness, Surgeon Thomas Ady, treated Mrs. Lindon and said,

she had been shot thro the Body, below her breast - that the Woman died the same day, and to the best of his Judgement, he thinks the Wound she had receiv'd, was the Cause of her Death

John Lindon did not deny the murder charge, but offered a defence which sounds very modern; he testified that his wife's

repeated ill behaviour exasperated him in such a manner, that at times he was not sensible and could not be accountable for his Actions - He farther says he has serv'd His Majesty Fifteen Years and submits himself to the Mercy of the Court.

He called on an Officer, Lieutenant Benjamin Craven of the 63rd Regiment of Foot, who had for several years been in Lindon's company in the 22nd. Craven pointed out "that the Character of the Prisoner in General, is that of a good Soldier."

John Lindon was found guilty, and was sentenced to be hanged by the neck until dead. He was executed 22 March 1781.

Neither John Lindon nor Mrs. Lindon could know that their tragic demise would be remembered two centuries later. Their situation makes many current news events appear not so unique to our times. More importantly, a real person can be associated with the cold numbers which we often must use to learn about the period. An event can be associated with a change in the numbers. The story of Mrs. Lindon gives a reminder that every number represents an individual who had their own unique circumstances to live with every day, and who by their very existence became a part of history to be discovered.