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.

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