Thursday, December 10, 2009

Robert and Mrs. Middleton, 47th Regiment of Foot

Robert Middleton was born in County Carlow, Ireland around 1744, and joined the army when he was about 20 years old. We don't have details of his early service, but by 1773 he was in the 47th Regiment of Foot when they arrived in America. He served as a private soldier with the regiment in New Jersey, Boston, and then Canada. While his regiment marched under General Burgoyne on the fateful campaign to Saratoga in 1777, Middleton appears to have been one of a few men from each regiment that remained behind in Canada, where he was eventually transferred into the 8th Regiment of Foot in October 1782. Lacking access to the rolls of the 8th Regiment, we loose track of him at this point. He was eventually discharged from the 8th Regiment and returned to his native land where he served in the Carlow Militia until finally being discharged in 1800, after almost 36 years of service, at 66 years of age. For his long service he was granted an out pension.

The one battle in which we know Middleton was involved occurred on 8 June 1776. The British army had been vigorously pursuing American forces up the St. Lawrence River from Quebec, moving by boats and by marching along the river banks. The army moved quickly and faced no resistance until 8 June, when a large force of American soldiers attacked the British left wing near the banks of the river at a place called Trois Rivieres. After exchanging fire for a few minutes, the Americans retired into the woods, leaving one British soldier dead and about a dozen wounded. In this brief but intense action a remarkable feat was performed not by Robert Middleton but by his wife. Captain Sir Francis-Carr Clerke, an officer in the 3rd Regiment of Foot Guards serving as an Aide-de-Camp to General Burgoyne, recorded the event in a letter to a friend:

Before I close my letter I must not omit telling your Lordship of one Instance of Courage that was shown at Trois Rivieres by a fair Country woman of ours, that deserves to be recorded. The wife of Middleton Soldier in the 47th Regt. Quite alone took & disarmed six Provincial Soldiers, & was the means of two more being taken also. The Circumstances are thus, which [she] related to Genl. Burgoyne in my Presence. She said she went to a House about a quarter of a Mile from the River near the Wood, for some Milk to carry to her Husband the 8th of June during the Engagemt. That on opening the Door she saw six Rebel Soldiers armed, that this daunted her a little, however she took Courage, & rated them saying, “Ay’nt ye ashamed of yourselves ye villains to be fighting agst. Your King & Countrymen” that they looked sheepish, therefore she said, you are all Prisoners give me your Arms, that two more remained at the Outside of the back Door, which she was more afraid of than all the rest, that however standing between them, & their Arms, she called to some Sailors at the River Side, to whom she delivered the Prisoners, & who presently took the other two.

This is exactly true, & she is, contrary to what you wou’d imagine her, a very modest, decent well looking Woman.

Mrs. Middleton’s bravery equals that of more famous women who stepped in to serve cannons; fortunately, her actions have finally come to light. Her heroic exploit certainly does, as Captain Clerke noted, deserve to be recorded and remembered.

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