Wednesday, March 24, 2010

William Whitlow, Musician, 44th Regiment of Foot

Among the soldiers serving in the 44th Regiment of Foot in late 1779 was a private named William Whitlow. He was in many ways typical of career soldiers in the British army: he had been in the regiment for at least 14 years (and may in fact have been born in the regiment); he was married, his wife was with him in the regiment, and they had a child; he played a musical instrument, and performed in the regimental band in addition to his usual duties as a private soldier. Unfortunately we do not know his age, but evidence suggests that he was younger than 25. He may have started his career both in the army and in music by playing the fife at a young age.

Whitlow was described as 'a Mild, discreet and Well behaved Man'; as for his marriage, 'there was not a happier Couple in the Regiment.' Usually. But William Whitlow had a problem. As a child he had fallen from a wall in Kinsale, Ireland, and hit his head. This caused him pain sometimes, and worse than that it subjected him to occasional bouts of irrational behavior. The problem was compounded by drinking. It was well known in the regiment that excessive drinking deprived Whitlow of his senses. The commander of his company had more than once confined him when he was drunk 'to prevent him doing his Wife & Child an Injury.'

During the time the 44th Regiment was in America, beginning in 1775, these bouts of insanity had gotten worse. The serjeant who was master of the 44th's band related that 'when they went to practice, he has frequently known the Prisoner get up, flourish his Instrument about, and indeed would not obey any Order that was given him; and in fact he has always been obliged in those Cases to let him have his Frenzy out.' When out of his sense he would express delusions that his wife was cheating on him with other soldiers, and wish her away from him. Soldiers who had known Whitlow all his life discerned that these events could occur when he was completely sober, although others might attribute the behavior to intoxication. No one had any reason to suspect anything of his wife.

In September 1779 Whitlow, his wife and other of the 44th Regiment were on a transport ship that was being tossed by heavy seas. Perhaps it was the erratic motion of the ship, or perhaps it was just the progression of his malady, but William Whitlow was exhibiting strange behavior. He was seen running around the deck like a madman. On one occasion he left his wife and child in their berth, went to a group of sailors in steerage and accused them of having his wife with them. For nearly an hour he ranted and no one could convince him that his family was right where he'd left them. When he did return to his wife he claimed that he knew where she'd been and told her that he had been 'talking to three little Devils upon Deck.' Soon after a non-commissioned officer found him beating his wife; when asked why, he replied 'Why should not I beat her, when I this Moment saw her in the Steerage with a Sailor on top of her.' One night when he was standing sentry at a hatchway on the ship, he approached the serjeant-major and insisted that he had been with his wife and had her hidden behind him in his watchcoat.

The next morning other soldiers observed Whitlow and his wife sitting on a berth at breakfast. They could not hear their conversation, but observed Whitlow repeatedly hold his fist to her face between draughts from a quart mug. Whitlow got up and asked another soldier 'if it was true what they said of him?' The soldier responded that he did not know what was said of him. Whitlow considered this for a few seconds then returned muttering to his wife. Moments later, Whitlow picked up a rusty bayonet from the deck and thrust it towards his wife. She cried out and a soldier ran up and grabbed the bayonet, but not before it had penetrated about an inch and a half into her upper chest. Soldiers wrenched the bayonet from him, wrestled him to the deck and tied him up. Whitlow seemed crazy like madman and ranted that he meant to kill his wife, his child and then himself. He continued to rave as he was carried up to the main deck and was confined.

Soldiers attended to Mrs. Whitlow, and the master of the transport advised putting lint on the wound. As she recovered she frequently said that she forgave her husband, telling one of the band members that she believed he wounded her because he had too much love for her. The wound became putrid; two days after the stabbing the master of the transport examined it and found it full of vermin. He washed it with rum and applied some medication. After two more dressings and two more days it appeared to have healed, but she still complained of pain.

The storm continued to rage, and so did William Whitlow. He managed to escape confinement and jumped overboard; in spite of the weather, sailors managed to recover him. He said that the rest of the regiment had gone to another ship and he was determined to go there too, which was the reason for his leap into the sea. The masts of the ship were carried away by the storm. The heaving of the ship left Mrs. Whitlow in a weak state, and although her would appeared healed she suddenly developed a yellow pale. Within a week after receiving the wound, she died.

The following month William Whitlow was put on trial in New York for the murder of his wife. Witnesses related the various vignettes described here, from events of his childhood to the details and aftermath of the stabbing. Whitlow remembered none of it. Soldiers who'd known him their entire lives testified to his bouts of insanity, while others less intimate described his insensibility when intoxicated. He had no recollection of the stabbing, of having jumped overboard, or of having been tied down for several days afterward. He made a final declaration to the court that he never had the least reason to be jealous of his wife, and was convinced that she was always faithful to him.

The court found him guilty of causing his wife's death, but acquitted him of murder because 'he was in a State of Lunacy at the time.' He was not punished.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Died in America: David Stuart, 22nd Regiment of Foot

Much of the personal information that we have on British soldiers - age, place of birth, trade and similar details - comes from data recorded when they received pensions. If a man died while still in the army, he clearly did not receive a pension, and unfortunately we often know nothing more about him than his name and the dates of his service reported on muster rolls.

We are fortunate that one soldier of the 22nd Regiment left a document that reveals more about him and his situation. David Stuart joined the regiment on 1 April 1766. The fact that he joined as a serjeant indicates that he had prior military service about which we have no information. He served in several companies, joining the grenadier company on June 1776 just in time for the spectacular American campaigns under General Howe that put the grenadier and light infantry battalions in the forefront of numerous famous actions. Stuart seems to have come through all of these unscathed, from Brooklyn and the subsequent fighting in 1776, engagements in New Jersey in early 1777, Brandywine and Germantown later that year, the 1778 battle of Monmouth which saw eight men of his company killed, and the siege of Charleston early 1780.

In Autumn of 1780 fate caught up with David Stuart, not from battle but from illness. He died in New York on 14 October 1780, but he must have known the end was near because he prepared a will four days beforehand. His simple testament reads:

In the name of God Amen. I, David Stuart, Serjeant in the Grenadier Company of His Majesty’s 22d Regiment, and acting Quartermaster in the second Batalion of British Grenadiers. I leave my wife, Mary Stuart, otherwise Smith, all my estate, real and personal, and all arrears of pay, and she is to pay all debts. And she shall pay to my only son, James Stuart, aged nine years, one half of what I shall die possessed of. I make my wife executor.

We do not know the value of Stuart's "estate, real and personal", but it could have been significant. Although much is made of poor pay in the British army, a non-commissioned rank offered not only higher pay but also opportunities for additional earning in staff appointments. Stuart was serving as quarter master for the pro tem grenadier battalion, and may have had a number of similar appointments during his 14 years as a serjeant in the 22nd Regiment.

The will tells us that he had married a woman named Mary Smith. We assume that they had a son James together but it is possible that James was David Stuart's son by a previous marriage, as suggested by the will's direction that she pay half of the estate to James.

The will was witnessed by three other serjeants of grenadier companies - Alexander Stuart of the 22nd Regiment (who may have been a relative of David), George Thompson of the 63rd and David White of the 64th. The will was proved on 6 November 1780.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

John Lloyd and James Nowland, recruits, 22nd Regiment

John Lloyd and James Nowland were British army recruits who joined the 22nd Regiment of Foot in America in 1779. Although they arrived in America together, their backgrounds were as different as can be. So were their fates.

John Lloyd was born in 1757 in Shrewsbury, Shrophsire, in the west midlands of England. His parents were somewhat wealthy, apparently owning farmland. John's father died when he was still a child, leaving his mother, Hannah Lloyd, a considerable fortune. In June 1775 she remarried. This opened the risk that her fortune would go to her new husband if anything happened to her. To protect her son against any risk of impoverishment, she set up a trust fund for him insuring that, regardless of what fortunes met the family, John would be paid the sum of £150. Rather than stay in Shropshire, however, John did what many young men of all classes did - he joined the army, probably some time in 1778. His place and date of enlistment are not known, but he was sent for training to the depot at Chatham Barracks outside London. From there he wrote to his mother on 22 March 1779 that he was in the 22nd Regiment and would soon be embarking either for America or the West Indies. Four days later he was on board a transport ship.

James Nowland was considerably older, having been born in 1743. An Irishman, is place of birth is not known, but he was among the many Irish Catholics who joined the army even though the letter of the law prohibited it; the exigencies of war took priority over the niceties of recruiting regulations, and although enlistment required a recruit to attest that he was a Protestant many men surely just paid lip service to the assertion. There is no information to suggest whether Nowland had any prior military service. The age of 35 was not typical for enlistment, but neither was it unprecedented; Nowland could have been a voluntary enlistee, a draft from another regiment, or a vagrant rounded up under the new and wildly unpopular army press act of 1778. It is not clear whether he boarded a troop transport in Ireland or was first sent to Chatham Barracks, but one way or the other he was in the same group of 63 recruits sent to the 22nd Regiment in 1779.

The fleet of transports escorted by British warships carried four complete regiments and a substantial number of recruits - almost 1300 for the British infantry regiments in America, and more for the Brigade of Guards, the Royal Artillery, and the German regiments. Their voyage went badly from the beginning. The men who embarked at Chatham on 26 March remained on board while the fleet picked up more transports at Plymouth. By late April the fleet was read to sail, but as they plied the waters off Torbay waiting for favorable winds news came that the French were making a descent on the British channel islands of Jersey and Guernsey. The admiral commanding the fleet took the warships and the troop transports, leaving other ships at Torbay, and made for the island on 2 May. Four days later they arrived to find that a French attack had been repulsed; the admiral left a small but sufficient force of ships to protect the islands and took the transports and troops back to Torbay. The delay had cost a week, and now weather conditions turned unfavorable. It was not until the end of the month that they were finally able to get underway into the Atlantic, the troops from Chatham having been on board ship for two months before even leaving British waters. The voyage from Torbay to New York took 13 weeks, and during this time illness in the form of scurvy set in. They did not reach New York until 25 August, by which time a quarter of the British recruits were sick and another 43 had died.

The first muster rolls to show these new men show that conditions grew worse after they landed in New York. Nearly all of the 63 recruits for the 22nd Regiment were sick. The regiment itself was still in Rhode Island, but when that place was evacuated at the end of October they joined the New York garrison. Although many of the recruits eventually recovered to serve with the regiment, a third of them died within their first year in America.

Among the dead was John Lloyd, the young man from Shropshire with a wealthy mother and a trust fund. He died in Jamaica, Long Island on 11 January 1780. His mother did not learn of his death until four years later when she engaged an attorney to track him down. By this time the regiment was back in England and the adjutant, responding to the lawyer's letter which had been conveyed through the regimental agent, examined the regimental books and confirmed that Lloyd had joined the regiment and died in America. The information was critical because Hannah Lloyd's new husband had gone bankrupt and the family lands were being sold off to pay his debts. With her only son gone for a soldier and now gone from the world, her fortune was lost.

James Nowland was also listed as sick on the first muster rolls in America, but he recovered. Just as nothing distinguished his life before joining the army nothing distinguished his career as a soldier; his name appears duly on the rolls until the end of the war. At that time, men who had enlisted after 1775 were entitled to be discharged and had the option of returning to Great Britain or taking a land grant in Canada. He chose the latter along with 85 other men from the 22nd, and landed at Shelburne, Nova Scotia (at that time called Port Roseway) in the closing months of 1783. He received his land. He farmed. In his late 50s, he married and then had a remarkable 11 children before his wife died in 1829. On 30 June 1840 he scrawled his mark on a deposition for relief under an act passed during the second year of the reign of Queen Victoria. He was living in the parish of Glenelg, New Brunswick, and at the age of 93 submitted that he was no longer able to support himself. He was granted relief of 10 pounds per year which he was still collecting in 1843 at the age of 100, but he is known to have passed away before one of his sons married five years later. Descendants of his, still carrying the Nowland name, live in Canada to this day.

Such were the disparate fates of two men who became soldiers, one who began with promise and the other who ended with a legacy.