Thursday, July 29, 2010

Employed soldier: John Hopwood, 54th Regiment

Before presenting the brief story of a working soldier, let's take a moment to address a question related to our previous post on army widows. We have data that proves that some widows did not remarry immediately, but remained with their regiments and remarried a year or more later. Several people asked what these women did in the mean time that allowed them to remain affiliated with the army. I don't have an answer based on knowledge of any specific woman's career, but a likely answer can be deduced from information in my article on army women. Soldiers' wives were entitled to receive rations from the army, but not all wives were dependent upon those rations. We have direct information that some nurses drew rations through army hospitals, for example. It is also clear that women 'earned their bread' by working as sutlers and laundresses for the army, or by finding work outside of the army. Presumably, then, if a woman was in an established position and earning her own subsistence when her husband died there was no reason for the army to oust her just because she was a widow.

Soldiers, as we know, were also often employed by the army for duties other than the usual routine of carrying a musket. One such man was John Hopwood of the 54th Regiment of Foot. The native of Hutton, Yorkshire was born in 1743; he was discharged from the army in 1792 after 21 years of service, but we do not know whether this service was continuous; we do know that he joined the 54th Regiment before 1775 and served in it for the remainder of his career. If his entire career was in the 54th Regiment and was continuous, then he joined the army at the age of 28 - older than usual, but by no means unprecedented.

In an era where employment often began very young but military service did not usually begin until a young man had finished growing, some time in the late teens, most men had worked at some trade or another before becoming soldiers. John Hopwood was a butcher by profession. A statement on his discharge reveals that he worked in this capacity for the army and also reveals one of the many hazards that a career soldier faced. Hopwood had

lost the use of the two first fingers of his right hand occasioned by an accident when killing cattle for the use of the army in Septr 1778

This accident most likely occurred a few years later than the date written on the discharge. The muster rolls of the 54th Regiment show that James Hopwood was in the light infantry company of the regiment in 1778. The regiment was in Rhode Island from December 1776 through the middle of 1779, and unlike most regiments the light infantry and grenadier companies of the 54th remained with their regiment and were also in Rhode Island (operationally they were detached from the 54th, but they remained part of the Rhode Island garrison). Nothing in the muster rolls suggests that Hopwood was away from his company during this time.

The regiment served in the New York area for the remainder of the war, participating in the storming of Fort Griswold in Connecticut in September 1781, before removing to Canada in late 1783. Hopwood may have lost his fingers at any time during this garrison period. He was transferred from the light infantry into a battalion company in 1782, a common practice when a man was no longer in suitable physical condition to serve in a flank company; perhaps this transfer was the result of his accident. It is also possible that the discharge has the incorrect place, rather than date, of the accident.

John Hopwood put an X mark on his discharge rather than signing his own name. About 60% of the soldiers whos discharges survive signed their names, in spite of the conjecture that most soldiers were illiterate. In Hopwood's case, we don't know if was unable to write because of a lack of education or the loss of his fingers.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Army Wives: The Remarriage Myth Dispelled

A favorite topic of mine is wives of British soldiers. Information on these women who formed an integral part of the British army in America is sparse. While the names of soldiers can be readily obtained from muster rolls and other sources provide details of their ages, backgrounds and other attributes, just learning which men were married and the names of their wives is challenging. I've been able to pull together significant information about their role in the army, but learning about the individuals remains difficult.

With this paucity of information, it is especially annoying when people propagate information that has no basis in actual research. One such 'nugget' is the notion that wives who became widows were required to remarry within days or they would be cast out of the army and left completely on their own where ever they happened to be. I've heard this repeated many times, but never seen it backed up by information from general orders, military texts, personal accounts, or any other first-hand information. Although it is true that women had to be married to soldiers in order to become part of the 'regimental community', it is contradictory to the spirit of community to suppose that widows would be cast out. Over time, direct information made the remarriage assertion less and less plausible - for example, orders directing that widows who wished to return to Great Britain would be provided passage on board transport ships - but the absence of supporting information does not directly prove that remarriage was a requirement or necessity.

It is pleasing, then, to have finally obtained specific information about several army wives whose husbands died and who then married other soldiers. Regimental muster rolls provide us with the dates that the men died. A collection of marriage licenses issued in New York City gives the date that the widows obtained license to remarry (presumably close to the date of the actual marriage). Just enough of these marriage licenses are specific about the regiments to which the men and women belonged to make it possible to associate the names of some of the women to men in the same regiments who had died. They are in Volume 46 of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record (1915), available on Google Books.

The first example we found, about a year ago, was Hester Foster of the 22nd Regiment of Foot. Her husband William died as a serjeant on 14 October 1780 in New York after a career of at least 14 years in the army. On 18 December 1780 she obtained a license to marry a 31-year-old serjeant in the regiment, Henry Vennel. A decade later he became a rare man who obtained an officer's commission after rising through the ranks from a private soldier.

This example of a woman who remarried just two months after losing her husband was weak proof that women were not required to remarry immediately. Although two months is much longer than the 24 to 72 hours generally purported as the required time limit (depending upon who told the story) it is nonetheless a fast turnaround. More information was required to get a better sense of typical practice. That information has finally come together.

Noted author Brendan Morrissey recently worked extensively with the muster rolls of the 23rd Regiment of Foot. These rolls record the death of Thomas Pearcy on 31 May 1776 when the army was in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Over two years later a marriage license was obtained by Elenor Percy, widow in the 23rd Regiment, to marry a soldier named William Rider. Variations in spelling of surnames is quite common in muster rolls and related documents, and no other soldier in the 23rd had a name close enough to reasonably have been the husband of Elenor Percy. Sadly, her new husband died in June of 1780 and we have no additional information about her.

My own recent trip to the National Archives afforded the opportunity to piece together three more examples:

Daniel Rogers, a grenadier in the 38th Regiment, died on 19 August 1775 of wounds received at the battle of Bunker Hill. Catherine Rogers, widow of the same regiment, obtained a license to marry Thomas Mason of the 38th on 2 May 1777. Mason was still in the regiment in 1783, but a gap in the muster rolls makes his ultimate fate unknown.

Richard Twine of the 54th Regiment died on 21 August 1776. His wife Ann obtained a license exactly one year later to marry a soldier in the 45th Regiment, James Wiggins. He was drafted into the 5th Regiment of Foot in 1778 when the 45th was sent back to Great Britain and the 5th to the West Indies. A gap in the rolls of the 5th from late 1778 to the beginning of 1781 leaves his fate (and hers) unknown.

Thomas Proffit of the 7th (Royal Fusiliers) Regiment died on 17 April 1777. His wife Ann obtained a license on 6 February 1779 to marry serjeant John Lomix (or Lomax) of the same regiment. He died on 28 July 1782, leaving Ann once again a widow.

Among the marriage licenses are several others that can be traced in this way when we have an opportunity to work with the muster rolls of more regiments. For now, we have these four examples of women who were widowed and then remarried a year or more later, where the marriage license information explicitly refers to them as widows belonging to their regiments. A fifth woman married within only two months. We have yet to find an example of a woman remarrying within days of losing her husband. This doesn't mean it didn't happen, but it certainly proves that it was not a requirement.

Besides putting to rest the remarriage myth, the marriage licenses open up a new mystery. Among the women named as affiliated with British regiments are four who are not called widows but 'spinsters.' My first supposition was that these women were daughters of soldiers in the regiment, but we have not been able to correlate their names with any men on the muster rolls. It may be necessary to track down the original marriage license information to fully understand this nomenclature and determine who these women actually were.

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

John Harvey, Musician, 22nd Regiment of Foot

About three weeks ago I gave a talk at the commemoration of the Battle of Monmouth on 28 June 1778. The talk concerned the 60 men who were in the grenadier company of the 22nd Regiment of Foot at the time of the battle. Included was an overview of known trades practiced by men before they joined the army (and in some cases, continued during their military service). Out of 1005 men known to have served in the 22nd Regiment in America for some time between 1775 and 1783, at the time of the talk I was able to learn the trades of 311. Another post later on will present this information; for now, suffice it to say that the trades consist of a variety of occupations including weavers, tailors, shoemakers, laborers, carpenters and a wide assortment of others.

A person in the audience asked an interesting question: why were there no artists (including musicians, actors and such) on the list. While I don't have a certain answer and don't pretend to have background in the sociology of the era, I can make several guesses:

  • Professional artists are only a small portion of any population. Our data sample of only 311 out of 1005 is too small to draw any conclusions either about the 22nd Regiment (there could have been some artists who aren't among the 311 whose trades we know) or the army as a whole (an estimated 50,000 British regular soldiers served in America; there could've been a few artists in some regiments but not in others).

  • The army was a volunteer force, and many of the men who joined it were men who could not find work in their trades or were not interested in their trades. While not composed primarily of the 'dregs of society', the army was composed largely of working class people. It may be that artists who could not find work simply were not inclined to join the army as an alternative.

  • Most of our information on trades comes from army discharge documents and deserter descriptions. Possibly the army did not recognize artistic disciplines as trades, and used the more common catchall of 'labourer' for people who had not been apprenticed in a recognized trade.
These are just guesses, of course. If we look outside the scope of the 22nd Regiment, we do fine some interesting characters. A deserter from the South Fencible Regiment, a corps raised during the American war for service only in Scotland, was advertised in Edinburgh in 1780:

Deserted from his Majesty's South Fencible Regiment, quartered at Dumfries, on Friday Feb. 25, 1780, Hector M'Lean, private soldier, born in Glasgow, 25 years of age, 5 feet 4 inches high, fair complexion, fair hair, grey eyes, and a little long chin'd, stout made, and walks very upright, by trade a comb maker; had on when he deserted the regimentals of the light company of the above regiment. He was formerly employed as a tumbler to a company of Stirling players, and is well known about Edinburgh and Kendal in Westmoreland: and it is supposed when he left the regiment he took the English road.
Whoever can secure the said deserter in any jail shall be entitled to Two Guineas reward, over and above what is allowed by act of parliament for apprehending deserters, and that immediately on giving notice to the commanding officer at Dumfries.
[Edinburgh Advertiser, 7 March 1780]

This man was known to have worked as a performer, but also had a more common trade. Similar were performers in the regimental bands of the 1st and 2nd Regiments of Foot, each of whom had trades in addition to their musical abilities:

Deserted from the Second Battalion of His Majesty’s First (or Royal) Regiment of Foot, commanded by his Grace the Duke of Argyle, Lieutenant-general, quartered at Fort George in the County of Inverness, William Sutherland, Five feet 10 inches high, aged 25 years, fresh complexion, dark brown hair, black eyes, had on a scarlet frock, white waistcoat and breeches, by trade a Shoemaker, was one of the Band of Music, born in the town and county of Wicklow, inlisted at Fort Augustus, in the county of Inverness, the 16th of July, 1767. Deserted from Fort George, in said county, the 18th of March, 1777.
Whoever secures the said Deserter, so that he may be brought to justice, as a perjured Defrauder of the Public, of his Colonel, any of his Officers, and given notice to the Commanding Officer of th esaid Regiment at Fort George, or to Messrs. Ross and Gray, Agents to the said Regiment, in London, shall receive Five Guineas over and above the Twenty Shillings allowed by Act of Parliament.
N. B. It is supposed the above Deserter is lurking about London or St. Albans.
[London Chronicle, April 14, 1777]

Deserted from the Queen’s Royal Regiment of Foot, at Coxheath Camp, Samuel Pollard, Musician, aged 22, five feet six inches high, of a fresh Complexion, full faced, red Hair, Haxle Eyes, well made, born in Birstal, in the County of York, by Occupation a Labourer, and had on when he deserted, a white Coat, looped with Blue and Silver, white Waistcoat and Breeches, and a Silver laced Hat. Whoever secures the above Deserter, so as he may be brought to Justice, shall have two Guineas over and above the Reward allowed by Act of Parliament.
[The Daily Advertiser (London), 26 October 1778]

Other musicians were described as such:

Deserted from his Majesty’s 17th regiment of foot, quartered in Perth, John Humphreys musician, aged twenty years, size five feet six inches one-half, very swarthy complexion and jet black hair, black eyes, hollow cheeks, has a stoop in his shoulders, slender bandy limbed, has a very hoarse voice, talks thick, plays well on the French horn and fife; had on when he deserted the musician’s uniform of the regiment, viz. a scarlet frock, with white cap [sic - cape] and cuffs laced with silver, with white buttons having the number of the regiment, white cloth waistcoat and breeches, silver laced hat. He was apprehended (but escaped) on Wednesday the 7th in the Canongate; had on a bonnet, black coat, and wore a long staff in his hand.
Whoever apprehends the said deserter, sends him to the regiment, or secures him in any of his Majesty’s gaols, shall, upon giving information thereof to the commanding officer of the regiment at Perth, receive One Guinea reward over and above twenty shillings allowed by act of parliament; to be paid by Col. Darby commanding at Perth, Capt. Lyons at Aberdeen, Capt. Wallace at Montrose, Ensign Sir Alexander Murray at Banf, Ensign Browne at Dundee, or Capt. Aylmer at Edinburgh.
[Edinburgh Advertiser, 9 October 1772]

Yet another musician with the interesting trade of Horse Jockey can be seen in one of our earlier posts.

The week after the talk I was in the London at the National Archives, hoping to find more demographic data about soldiers in the 22nd Regiment. A recently-indexed collection of discharge documents promised to provide information on several soldiers who had previously been identifiable only by their names on muster rolls. Among them was James Harvey, a man born in 1753 in the parish of Crediton near the middle of Devonshire. He enlisted in the 22nd Regiment at the slightly young age of 16 and served for 25 years in the regiment, followed by additional time in the Tipperary Militia in Ireland. While the regiment was serving in the New York area in 1782 Harvey was Master of Masonic Lodge No. 133, a lodge formed in 1767 consisting of members of the regiment. He spent most of his time as a private soldier but also spent a few years as a corporal (the muster rolls show him in this post for three years, but his discharge records only two) and three years as a drummer. He signed his own name on his discharge, suggesting that he was literate, and a note on the document refers to his "good character." Most significant to our understanding of trades in the 22nd Regiment, however, was the trade listed on James Harvey's discharge: Musician.