Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pensioners: William Bradley and Matthew Collier, 33rd Regiment

When British soldiers received pensions, copies of their discharge papers were put on file in the War Office. Many of these documents survive to day, and provide a treasure trove of information about the individuals who made up the army. Besides details on the man's age, place of birth and trade, the discharge document usually recorded the reason that the man was no longer fit for military service. Often this is a simple and uninformative phrase like "worn out," but occasionally it reveals insight into aspects of a soldier's life that are easy to overlook.

After the 33rd Regiment of Foot sailed for America in the closing days of 1775, it's recruiting parties in Great Britain worked hard to provide the steady stream of recruits required to maintain its strength. In 1777 they enlisted a 17-year-old Yorkshire native named William Bradley. Just under 5-foot 6-inches tall, Bradley had no trade. Like many recruits, he spent years with the recruiting party and in training at Chatham Barracks before joining his regiment in America on 3 June 1780. Having enlisted after the war began, he was entitled to be discharged at the close of hostilities in 1783 but rejoined the 33rd in Nova Scotia. He continued to serve until 1792 when he was discharged and awarded a pension due to “having been Ruptured by lifting a Weight when on Fatigue at the Island of Cape Breton.” Hernia, called rupture during this era, was a moderately common ailment among old soldiers which reflects the hard labor that sometimes characterized their duties.

16-year-old Mathew Collier, a native of New Jersey, had a similar career. A rare example of an American who enlisted in a British regular regiment after the war began, the muster rolls of the 33rd indicate that Collier enlisted on 10 April 1777. The 5-foot 10-inch soldier was appointed as a drummer some time after that. He was also entitled to be discharged at the end of the war, but also chose to reinlist for service with the regiment in Canada and then in Great Britain. He was discharged in Dublin on the same day in 1792 as Bradley, having spent half his life in the army. The pension board recognized that he would have difficulty earning a living as a laborer “by being Ruptured & having a dislocated Shoulder which he received when on a Fatigue party at Kings Bridge North America.”

Both of these men may have experienced the rigors of campaigns and battles in America, but the surviving information tells us only of their injuries from common fatigue duties that were endured by soldiers in all locations.

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