Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Luke Murphy, William Gibbs, and Servants in the 38th Regiment

Each officer in a regiment was allowed to retain a soldier as his personal servant. A senior officer might retain a second soldier to care for his horse in a role called a bat-man (from the French term bat, a pack saddle). The servant performed tasks such as maintaining his officer’s clothing, shaving him and helping him dress, packing and unpacking baggage, setting up a tent while on campaign, caring for his horse (if the officer could not retain a bat-man), running all manner of errands from delivering messages to purchasing necessities, and any other chores required by a busy officer and gentleman. In return, the soldier typically received a shilling per week from the officer, a sum that not only increased his overall pay by about 35% but which was not subject to the withholdings imposed on his base pay. Bennett Cuthbertson, author of one of the most popular military texts of the era, A System for the Compleat Interior Management and Ĺ’conomy of a Battalion of Infantry, wrote several paragraphs on servants and bat-men:

It being an indulgence granted to the Infantry, for the officers to have Servants and Bat-men, from the Company they belong to, care should be taken, that they are always chose from the Centre-rank, as being employed for any time in that capacity, often hurts them as Soldiers, from the unavoidable indulgence by that means shewn them; it therefore must be an injury to the appearance of a Battalion, to hazard such a chance with Men, whose size and figure are an ornament to it.

The Wages given to Servants and Bat-men, should be the same, from the Colonel to the Subaltern, and never ought to exceed one shilling -per- Week, by which means, the discontent and insolence, that are often experienced in those, who perhaps may have smaller wages than others, might be in a great measure be restrained, and the Ensign be served with as great attention as the Field-officer.

It ought always to be a fixed rule, that when a Servant or Bat-man quits the Service of an Officer, for misbehaviour, no other Officer in the Regiment should ever take him; and least such and event, might in the course of years, be subject to oblivion, by changes and removals in a Corps, it should be particularly marked down, in a registry to be kept for that purpose, in the Regimental Book of casualties, by which method, the conduct of those Men must in general be more satisfactory, and a greater Number of good Servants be thereby found, than are usually so in most Regiments.

It is highly improper to take a Recruit for a Servant or Bat-man, until he has been long enough in the Regiment, to encourage an Officer to place so high a confidence in him; at ant rate, it should never be allowed, until he is perfectly informed of every part of his Duty as a Soldier, otherwise he will probably never be thoroughly confirmed in it.

It being impossible for Soldiers, who are Servants or Bat-men, to keep their Regimentals clean and in proper order, if obliged to do the work required from them, in that dress; and as their being dirtier in the Ranks, than other Soldiers can never be admitted, it should be expected, that every Officer provided some kind of frock for his Servant, to prevent so great an inconvenience.

That the Duty may be as little severe as possible, upon the other Soldiers, by having both Servants and Bat-men taken from the Companies, the former should always mount guard, and go on Commands, whenever their Masters do; but as to the others, it will be impossible to spare them, from the care of the Horses they attend, in which they will find sufficient employment, if they perform it as they ought.

Unless on some very particular occasions, the Officers Servants should never be excused from Exercise, or weekly reviews of Arms and neccessaries, that they may not entirely forget their Duty in the ranks, and to remind them of their being Soldiers; the remembrance of which will be found to contribute very much to their good behaviour as Servants, and prevent them from contracting many saucy habits, which might otherwise be the case.

Notice the explicit direction to provide “some kind of frock” so that the regimentals would not be worn out. References to British soldier-servants wearing non-regimental garb are scattered throughout the literature, including two cases pertaining to the 38th Regiment in Boston which mention similar clothing worn by two different servants.

At around midnight on the night of 1st and 2nd August 1774, a sentry belonging to the 43rd Regiment challenged a man who approached his post between the encampments of the 38th and 43rd regiments. The man, dressed in a light brown frock coat and cut round hat, answered that he was a friend but was unable to give the countersign. The sentry called the serjeant of the guard and they detained the man, who protested that he was on his way to his master, Captain Fox of the 38th, in town. The guards took their prisoner to the quarter guard of the 38th Regiment, where a serjeant identified him as Luke Murphy, a private soldier in Captain Norman’s company. The quarter guard serjeant noted Murphy’s non-uniform coat and hat, but discerned that he was wearing regimental breeches and also that he was quite drunk. Murphy was then taken to the officer of the guard, Lt. Sutherland of the 38th. Sutherland questioned Murphy about his intentions, and Murphy asserted that his actions were due solely to the effects of liquor and not any intention to desert. Sutherland nonetheless confined Murphy to the guard tent with a sentry posted over him.

When tried by a general court a few days later, Murphy offered a detailed and lucid response that strongly suggests a well-educated and reasonable man, in spite of prior drunkenness. Murphy testified that after being “dismissed from the Drill” he and a comrade went to visit a friend in the 5th Regiment where they “drank pretty freely.” When they returned to their own tent Murphy’s tent mate “ask'd me for Liquor for helping me to clean my Arms.” Murphy had no liquor and knew he would not be allowed out of camp to get some, but asked others who had more freedom of movement – first an officer’s servant, then a soldier’s wife, both of whom refused. He even asked the woman’s husband to implore her to go, but to no avail. Determined to have his liquor, Murphy made a plan. Murphy was a tailor, and Lt. Dutton’s servant had left him a brown coat to be mended. Murphy donned the coat, a hat that “was my own which I used to wear on board Ship,” and put his “Canteen Bottle” in the coat pocket. He then tried to pass the sentry.

Deponents in the trial noted interesting details. Murphy was not, nor had ever been a servant. He was wearing all of his regimentals except for the coat and hat. Although he characterized himself as a recruit, a serjeant testified that it was unusual for Murphy to wear “colour’d clothing” since he had received his regimentals – confirming that recruits did wear civilian clothing until they received regimental uniforms. A fellow soldier who “frequently assisted the Prisoner in Cleaning his Arms and Accoutrements” told the court that when the regiment was in Ireland prior to coming to America, Murphy had declared that he would never “follow the Example of his Countrymen” by deserting and that he fully understood his enlistment obligations and was determined to fulfill them. He also clearly understood that servants had more freedom of movement than other soldiers, and knew how to dress like a servant.

Cases like this left the court with a dilemma: there was no question that Murphy was drunk, disorderly and trying to leave camp without permission and in disguise. But he was on trial for desertion, which clearly was not his intention. They acquitted the young soldier of desertion but nonetheless sentenced him to receive 100 lashes for his conduct. Whether this punishment was carried out or not is unknown, but the sentencing seems to have had an effect on Murphy. He deserted on 4 January 1775, never to return.

After Murphy’s trial, but before his desertion, a advertisement appeared in the Boston Post Boy of 5 December 1774 for another deserter from the 38th Regiment:

Five Guineas Reward.
Run away from my Service, and robbed me of two Pieces of fine Linen, besides sundry Articles of wearing Apparel, Will Gibbs, about 5 Feet 7 Inches high, and of a fair Complexion; had on when he went away a brown Coat, turned up with blue, blue Waistcoat and Breeches, and a round Hat. Whoever secures said Runaway, shall receive the above Reward from me, Charles Norman, Capt. 38th Regt.

Though the ad does not make it obvious that Gibbs was a soldier, he appears on the muster rolls of the 38th as a private soldier who deserted on 24 November 1774. He was with the regiment at least from the time of their embarkation in Ireland for America. The wording of the ad suggests that he was a young man kept by an officer until he was old enough to serve in the ranks, but this is only speculation. The blue breeches and waistcoat could be holdovers from civilian dress or livery provided by the officer. There is no evidence that Gibbs ever returned to the 38th Regiment.

The fact that William Gibbs was dressed in a similar manner to Luke Murphy’s servant disguise suggests that the look was a common one. If every officer in a regiment of foot had one servant, and a few also had a bat-man, then three or four men in each company or nearly 10% of the regiment’s typical strength might be employed in this role at any given time. These soldiers in non-regimental clothing were surely a familiar sight.

Several years later, a new officer in the 38th Regiment recorded an amusing anecdote about his servant. Lieutenant George Augustus Wyvill arrived in America too late to participate in any major hostilities. He had only recently joined the regiment in New York when they went on service on the lines at King's Bridge north of the city at the beginning of 1782. Wyvill had a hut built for himself, but then spent the month of March doing guard duty on one of the prison ships in New York harbor. He wrote the following passage about his return from this duty:

On my return, as a great treat, I purchased a fine round of beef, which cost me three pounds. In the evening, returning to my hut, sooner, than expected, I surprised my Servant busily employed eating away, on my expensive beef; with all the luxuries of Mustard &c &c which I had provided for my own supper. I took the liberty, he being quite drunk, of tying him to a Gun. The fellow made me laugh, for, at intervals, he kept exclaiming, "‘Tis too bad, too bad, what, tyed to the Breech, when I never feared to face the Muzzle."

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