This 15 July 1776 entry in the diary of Captain William Bamford of the 40th Regiment of Foot sounds like the tragic result of a love triangle. The actual story, revealed in testimony at the murder trial that resulted, is quite different.
John Corrigan was a private soldier in the 40th when that regiment embarked in Ireland in May 1775. We have no remarkable information about his service with the regiment while in Boston in 1775 and 1776. The British army evacuated Boston in March and spent the next three months Halifax, Nova Scotia where it regrouped and began preparations for a campaign. During the time in Halifax a party of recruits joined the 40th including William Norrington.
Norrington’s had married a woman named Sarah Flaherty in the village of Killala in County Mayo, Ireland, and she accompanied her soldier husband to America. With the rest of Captain James Duff’s company they sailed from Halifax to New York and landed on Staten Island early in July.
On the night of 15 July 1776, while her husband was on duty as a sentry, Sarah Norrington got very drunk and fell asleep near the back door of a house in which an Lieutenant John Moore of the regiment was quartered. Lt. Moore, concerned for her safety, went to Norrington and suggested that he take her away from the quarters as soon as he came off duty. Since, however, Norrington was due to be relieved in only 15 minutes or so, the Lt. Moore chose to leave him on duty and returned to his quarters. The officer’s concern for the well being of this soldier and his wife is interesting but unfortunately did not prevent the ensuing events.
In the mean time, John Corrigan and some other soldiers were in the barn smoking pipes when they ran out of tobacco. Corrigan and Michael Connolly decided to go to the house for more. Finding that the front door had just been closed for the night when Lt. Moore had returned. Going around to the back of the house, they noticed Sarah Norrington asleep by an outdoor oven on the gable end of the house, sheltered by some boards but in plain view. Corrington recognized her as Norrington’s wife and told Connolly that he was going to go and lay with her.
Connolly chose to look away, but within a minute or two William Norrington came in search of his wife. Seeing Corrigan forcing himself upon her (but not fully understanding the situation) he shouted, “Sally Sally, is that the way you serve me?” He drew his bayonet and stabbed Corrigan in the back below the left shoulder, but the wounded man was able to get up and flee, pulling up his trousers as he ran. Sarah Norrington, still very much in a drunken stupor, rolled onto her side and arranged her petticoats; her husband stabbed her in the side with the bayonet, then attempted to thrust the bayonet into his own stomach. Although he managed to give himself a small wound, his cartridge box apparently deflected the blow and he dropped the bayonet.
At this time Michael Connolly came up and found Norrington in a state of great agitation. Norrington said that he himself was wounded, so Connolly took off Norrington’s cartridge box, which apparently was of the style worn on a belt around the waist which also held a bayonet scabbard. Connolly noticed the bayonet was missing, found it on the ground, and returned it to the scabbard. Norrington asked where the bayonet was, and when Connolly said it was in the scabbard. Norrington seized it, pulled his shirt open, and was about to fall on the bayonet when Connolly prevented him from doing so, pushing the bayonet away.
Corrigan, in the mean time, had run to a few fellow soldiers who also happened to have witnessed the event and walked with them for a few yards before mentioning that he was wounded. The soldiers took him to the house and knocked on the front door. Lt. Moore admitted them, and called for a doctor as soon as it was clear to him that Corrigan was wounded. The surgeon’s mate of the 40th Regiment arrived within a few minutes, but the wound was fatal and John Corrigan died while the surgeon was probing and assessing the wound.
Lt. Moore, hearing some continued noise outside the house, went out and found William and Sarah Norrington both lying wounded. He had them both brought into the house and directed the surgeon’s mate to examine Sarah’s serious wound. The officer asked Norrington who had wounded them, and Norrington replied that he would not implicate anyone else; that he had stabbed Corrigan and Sarah, intending to kill them both, and had intended to kill himself as well. He was confined for murder.
Sarah Norrington’s wound was not life threatening, and William Norrington’s was only superficial. Put on trial for murder a month later, William Norrington was found innocent and acquitted by a general court martial. The court considered the stabbing to be a crime of passion occasioned by the provocation of the scene that he came upon, and therefore even though death resulted it did not “amount to that species of homicide deemed Murder.” Norrington produced his marriage certificate to the court, which he kept in a pocket book; it had been among his baggage still on board a transport ship, and he was allowed to send for it after he was confined.
Unaccountably, William Norrington disappears from the muster rolls of the 40th Regiment of Foot after the trial, leaving no indication of what became of him or his wife. There is no record of him having been discharged from the army, but also no further record of his service in the army. We can only wonder about the fate of this recruit in the 40th Regiment.