Tuesday, June 15, 2010

James Cuffe, 62nd and 22nd Regiments

Our previous installment mentioned that Augustus Barrett deserted from the American army near New Bridge in New Jersey. This location today is a historic site well worth visiting, showcasing several beautifully restored buildings and pleasing waterfront in a location that was on the front lines during much of the American Revolution.

The installment also mentioned James Cuffe who deserted with Barrett. Cuffe's career in the British army was similar in many ways to Barrett's in that Cuffe was also a soldier from Burgoyne's army who escaped captivity, joined the Continental army, then deserted and made his way into New York. It is not surprising, though, that Cuffe's story was also distinctive in many ways.

James Cuffe was an Irishman and a barber by trade. He joined the 62nd Regiment of Foot at Cork, Ireland in May 1774. Although we can hardly deduce a man's personality based on scant military records, the evidence suggests that Cuffe was more flamboyant that we might expect for a barber. When he joined the 62nd Regiment he was put directly into the grenadier company, a highly unusual posting for a new soldier. It was rare for a man with less than a year in a regiment to serve in the grenadier company (or in the light infantry company). Cuffe may have had prior military experience, he may have had remarkably fine stature and taken quickly to the profession of arms, or it may be that the grenadier company needed a barber.

Cuffe deserted from the regiment on 3 November 1775. We have no information on the circumstances of his desertion and no advertisement for him has been found. He did, however, return to the regiment some time between February and April of the following year, and went back onto the rolls of the grenadier company. Just as we don't know why he deserted, we do not know if he returned voluntarily or was apprehended. He embarked with his regiment for Canada, arriving at Quebec in May 1776.

The next mention we have of Cuffe is from an orderly book pertaining to the grenadier battalion in Burgoyne's army in early 1777. Orders dated Boucherville, 4 March 1777, begin with this interesting entry:

James Cuff of the 62d Compy confined and [blank] for being Drunk and Striking Copl. Maher of the said Compy is Acquitted by the Court-Martial, the Major willing to do equal Justice to every rank finds

Unfortunately this is at the end of the last surviving page of the orderly book. Neither the rest of the order nor the circumstances surrounding Cuffe's crime, trial and acquittal are known.

Cuffe was among the soldiers imprisoned when Burgoyne's army capitulated at Saratoga in October 1777. His subsequent actions are chronicled in two places: his own deposition given to British officers in 1782, and in American army service records. In some ways the two sources are in agreement, while in other ways they differ.

Cuffe left the British prisoner of war barracks on Prospect Hill outside of Boston on 8 February 1778. He claims to have worked as a barber for the next year or so, but pay accounts and muster rolls for Colonel Henry Jackson's Massachusetts Regiment show him to have been a soldier in that regiment from 11 February 1778 through 31 December 1779. He served primarily on mainland Rhode Island keeping watch over the British garrison on the island portion of that colony, a garrison which included the 22nd Regiment of Foot.

He claimed that, after working as a barber, he enlisted in the "Boston Rebel Regt." with the intention of getting close to British lines in order to desert, but that he and 20 other British soldiers were instead put in jail in Easton, Pennsylvania. After three months he and another soldier broke out of jail but were apprehended and confined again, this time in Philadelphia. He was sent to Providence, Rhode Island and tried as a deserter, for which he received 100 lashes.

America service records do indicate that Cuffe deserted on 29 May 1779 and was retaken on 17 October. Whether that period of desertion corresponds to his claim of confinement is difficult to say. It is clear that he was in the 16th Massachusetts Regiment from 1 January into September of 1780. On 11 September he and Augustus Barrett received passes to "go into the Country for Provisions." They took the opportunity to desert between Paramus and New Bridge, made their way to a British ship in the Hudson River, and from there to British headquarters in New York. Cuffe gave a brief deposition at headquarters recounting their escape and describing what he knew of American positions. He and Barrett then joined the 22nd Regiment of Foot in New York, serving with some of the very soldiers they had been posted against while in Rhode Island.

Unlike Barrett who deserted in America, James Cuffe remained with the 22nd Regiment through the close of the war. The 22nd was among the last regiments to embark from New York in November 1783 and returned directly to Great Britain. Many soldiers were discharged in the first half of 1784 but Cuffe was not among them. Instead, he deserted on 28 June while the regiment was stationed in the London area.