Friday, April 9, 2010

Pensioner: Hubert Römer, 22nd Regiment of Foot

Hubert Römer was born in Trier in Germany, around 1749. At the age of 26, this illiterate Catholic laborer became one of some 2,000 European recruits enlisted to bolster the strength of British regiments serving in America. The story of these men is detailed in my article Forty German Recruits.

Thanks to a detailed return made when these recruits embarked, we know each man’s age, religion, and height (Römer was 5’ 8” tall). We also know whether they had prior military service and whether they had wives with them (Römer had neither). Having embarked in May 1776 and landed in New York in late October, we would not expect these recruits to have received regimental clothing until very late in 1776 or early 1777, since annual clothing shipments typically arrived in America late in the year. A War Office letter to regimental colonels discussing finances associated with the German recruits confirms this:

The above German Recruits having been furnished with a Slop Cloathing, I am to desire that you would inform the respective Colonels to which you are agent, that it is expected they should be at the expence of the said Slop Clothing, if no other Clothing has been furnish'd for them for the year 1775.

We often think of “slop clothing” as synonymous with sailor’s clothing, but this is not the case; “slop clothing” referred instead to cheap unfitted clothing that could be purchased in bulk. When the German recruits joined their regiments in America, this is how they were clothed until regimentals could be fitted for them.

Römer was put into Captain Edward Handfield’s company of the 22nd Regiment where he served the entire war. The only distinguishing event that we are aware of is his court martial for desertion in Rhode Island. In August of 1778 the Rhode Island garrison was under siege in Newport, resisting America’s first cooperative military operation with her new French allies. Two weeks after the siege was lifted, Römer stood trial for an infraction that occurred at the height of it. The proceedings of his trial tell the story:

Prisoner Hubertus Reimar, of the 22d Regiment and Captain Handfield's Company being brought before the Court, was charged with being guilty of Desertion.

Interpreter Serjeant Cling of the 54th Regiment was sworn to duly Interpret all Evidences delivered by Foreigners, and explain to the Prisoner, who is a German, those delivered by the British ones against him.

1st Evidence Serjeant George Reason, of the same Regiment and Company with the Prisoner, being duly sworn deposes, that early on the Morning of the 14th of August, the Prisoner was absent, that on examining his Necessaries, three Shirts and two pair of Stockings were missing, and that the same day the Prisoner was brought to his Regiment by two Soldiers of the Anspach Corps, and adds, the Regiment was at that time encamped within the lines of Newport, as also, that till then, the Prisoner had always behaved himself well.

2d Evidence John William Brown, Grenadier in the Anspach Regiment of Voit, being duly sworn deposes, (the same being interpreted to the Court) that being Sentry on the outside of the Abattees, about ten o'Clock one night, he heard a noise in front of him, on which he Challenged, but receiving no reply fired, when the prisoner called out to him, and the other Soldier who was posted with him and desired them not to fire again, as he was coming in to them, that he then came up to them and said, he had lost his way, and appeared to be in liquor, but desired them to take him to the Regiment.

3rd Evidence John Free, private soldier in the same Regiment with the former Evidence being duly sworn, deposes, (the same being interpreted to the Court) in substance as the foregoing Evidence, with whom he was posted Sentry when the prisoner was taken by them.


The Prisoner Hubertus Reimar, being called to, and put on his Defence, says he was in Liquor when he went from his Tent, and had no design to Desert the Regiment.

The Court having heard and considered the Evidence against the Prisoner Hubertus Reimar, as also his Defence is of Opinion, he is not Guilty of the Crime laid to his Charge and doth therefore Acquit him.

It is striking that the court acquitted Römer, considering that he had taken his necessaries (that is, his shirts, shoes and stockings; it is strange that the court did not ask what happened to them) and was beyond the front lines during a siege. Apparently the fact that Römer was coming in to the lines and willingly turned himself over to the sentries made a very strong impression on the court.

We have no other information on Römer until his discharge in 1783, when he took advantage of the offer of land grants in Canada. He was among a large contingent of discharged soldiers and their families that sailed from New York to Shelburne, Nova Scotia (at that time called Port Roseway) in late September. The following year he received a grant on the island of Saint John; land grant records show that he had no wife or family at this time, so he was entitled to 100 acres. This landholding venture apparently went poorly, for Römer received a new a new copy of his discharge from the 22nd Regiment in 1789 when the regiment was serving at Dover Castle in England. It appears from this that Römer had returned to England, but this is not certain. Regardless, he was recommended for a military out-pension because his eight years of service had rendered him “rheumatic”. His trade is listed as “labourer.” Rather than a signature, the discharge bears “his mark”, indicating that he was illiterate (in spite of the common assertion that most British soldiers were illiterate, about 60% of surviving discharges bear signatures of the soldiers; while a signature alone is not proof of literacy, it suggests that the ability to write was more common than generally believed).

This is a very rare case of a soldier for whom we have many surviving documents: a description on an embarkation return, a service record from muster rolls, the proceedings of a court martial, two land grant records (for the same grant), and a discharge filed among pension documents (with descriptive details that match the embarkation return). Would that we had as much for every British soldier.

1 comment:

  1. A captured orderly book of the 40th regiment for the time period 20 Apr. 1777 28 Aug. 1777 mentions German recruits being added to the regiment. Descendant William Fleet 40th regiment