Friday, May 28, 2010

Augustus Barret, 24th and 22nd Regiments

The American War saw several instances of British regiments being surrendered as entities to Continental forces. The two principal examples are the regiments of Burgoyne’s army at Saratoga in October 1777 and those of Cornwallis’s army at Yorktown in October 1781. Unlike individuals who were taken prisoner, soldiers in these regiments remained under the care of their officers and in the service of their regiments, albeit in captivity. Many of these men nonetheless escaped and attempted to make their way to British garrisons in New York, Canada or Rhode Island; considerable numbers were successful. Because these men left their regiments they technically were deserters. For the most part, however, these desertions were sanctioned and the repatriated soldiers were allowed to join other regiments. The most famous of these was Roger Lamb, originally of the 9th and later of the 23rd Regiment, well-known because he later published the details of his escapes.

Many other escaped prisoners told their stories in the form of depositions given to a board of inquiry that sat in New York in 1782. These soldiers, having rejoined the army, considered their time as fugitives to have been part of their military service; fully aware of their entitlements, each man set forth his claim for arrears of pay and clothing due not only from the time before escaping incarceration, but also for the time between that escape and being added to the rolls of another British regiment. Records of their testimonies are brief but concise, usually with exact dates of their departure from captivity and arrival in New York, dates which could be translated into days of service and therefore into wages due.

One of these petitioners was Augustus (or Augustine) Barrett, formerly a soldier in the light infantry company of the 24th Regiment of Foot. He was a bricklayer from Leeds in England, and had enlisted in the 24th Regiment in 1771 when he was 18 years old. Soon after he joined the army, light infantry companies were added to the establishment of British regiments; at 5' 6" tall, Barrett was the right stature for this company of young active men  For reasons not known he deserted with another soldier in December 1774 but returned less than a month later. In 1776 his regiment sailed to America, and the following year was actively engaged in the campaign that was intended to secure the waterways from Quebec to Albany but instead resulted in capitulation at Saratoga. Augustine Barrett became a prisoner of war.

Barrett was among the first deserters from the Burgoyne's incarcerated army when he left the barracks at Prospect Hill outside of Boston on 13 November 1777. Barrett deposed that he was captured five weeks after his escape and

...confined in the Prison Ship at Boston where he continued between 5 & six Months, & from thence enlisted in Col. Jackson’s Regt. in the Rebel service; that he remained in this Regt. about 18 Months...

In September 1780 while serving in Colonel Henry Jackson's 16th Massachusetts Regiment in northern New Jersey, Barrett and some other men were given passes to go into the country to seek provisions in the area between Paramus and New Bridge. Barrett and another Convention Army deserter, James Cuffe, took the opportunity to desert and make their way to the Hudson river. There they were able to get on board a British ship and then proceed to the British garrison in New York City. They joined the 22nd Regiment of Foot on 14 September, three days after deserting the Continental army.

Barrett petitioned for clothing (or the value thereof) that he was owed by the 24th Regiment, plus pay for the time between deserting the barracks at Prospect Hill and joining the 16th Massachusetts Regiment. He duly noted that "that he received pay & clothing from the Rebels, whilst he served them" and therefore did not make any claim for compensation during this time period. Barrett’s story was reasonably typical of those heard by the board; many petitioners freely admitted to service in the American army and astutely did not claim pay for the duration of that service. The board of inquiry approved Barrett's claim and many others like it.

The British officers on the board of inquiry, however, did not have access to Continental army documents that tell a somewhat different story of Barrett’s service. Contrary to his claim of spending five weeks as a fugitive followed by six months of incarceration on a prison ship, Barrett started drawing pay in the American army on 14 November 1777 – one day after he left the prisoner of war barracks outside Boston. Exactly one year later he was appointed corporal. In August 1779 he deserted but returned in October, when he was reduced to a private soldier.

The rolls for the 16th Massachusetts Regiment indicate Barrett's desertion on 11 September 1780 which agrees with his deposition and correlates to the muster rolls of the British regiment that he joined in New York. Barrett’s Continental service record suggests that he was encouraged to enlist while still a prisoner as a way to gain release from captivity. While the British board of inquiry may have accepted this as a motive to escape from a prison ship, they certainly would not have looked favorably on a man leaving the frail barracks in which so many other British soldiers endured the winter.

A Continental army roll from October 1779, the time of his return from a two-month desertion, exposes another facet of Barrett’s life. An note on the roll says that he had his “family in camp.” It is possible that Barrett was married while in the 24th Regiment, and that his wife either escaped with him or made her own way to Boston from Canada. It is more likely that Barrett married an American woman after his escape from the Convention Army, as some of these soldiers are known to have done. This supposition might explain the closure to his service as a British soldier: he deserted from the 22nd Regiment on 7 June 1783, a time when it was clear that the British army would soon be leaving the newly-created United States for posts in Great Britain and Canada. Although a wife and children would be allowed to travel with him as part of the British army, if they were American-born they may have compelled him to stay. Regardless of his motive for leaving Continental service and returning to the British army, a family in America may have provided Augustus Barrett's incentive to ultimately remain on the continent.


  1. Thanks, Don. A fascinating story of "double-dipping". Do we know whatever became of Auguste Barret after his return to the British in 1782? Did he go back to Britain or did he stay in America, presumably with his American wife?

  2. Oops- never mind, just saw his fate at the end.

  3. About a month after my father passed away in Feb. 1986 I was contacted by a possible distant cousin who had seen the obituary, and was interested in sharing genealogical information. He provided me with a lot more information than I him. Based on information provided to him by the Canadian Archives he believed that his ancestor James Fleet belonged to the 40th regiment of the British Army, Royal Garrison Battalion. It was many years before I realized the Royal Garrison Battalion was not part of the 40th regiment, but was an amalgamation of many soldiers from different regiments, fit for garrison duty, but not fit to march out on campaign. About a couple of years ago I found a record at the Irish Family History Foundation of a child baptized in March of 1775 at St. Anne's Church in Belfast whose father was James Fleet, a soldier in the 34th regiment. I put in a research request with the British Archives and they sent me James's record from 1768 to 1776. By researching the 34th regiment online I was able to find out that a large portion of the regiment was captured as a part of Burgoyne's Army at Saratoga in Oct. of 1777. I was disappointed as I was hoping this research request might tie him to the James Fleet serving in the Royal Garrison Battalion, and also possibly the 40th regiment. I later read where many of these prisoners had escaped. Could the James Fleet of the 34th regiment be the same James Fleet who joined the Royal Garrison Battalion in Aug. 1782, almost five years later? It seemed like a longshot, but I decided to put in another research request with the British Archives. On the muster roll of the Royal Garrison Battalion it lists the regiment that each soldier came from. James Fleet is listed as being from the 34th! A James Fleet joined the 40th regiment in Jan. 1782. According to the British Archives, as James Fleet of the 40th and James Fleet of the Royal Garrison Battalion were serving in those units at the same time during 1783, they cannot be the same man. Is it possible, however, that a man could be listed in his own numerical regiment and the Royal Garrison Battalion at the same time? If James Fleet gave his deposition at the 1782 New York board of inquiry, it may clear this matter up for certain. Descendant William Fleet 40th regmt