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.


  1. Fascinating!
    As the army was able to employ soldiers in tasks beyond the average sentry duty and what have you, what motivation did soldiers have for seeking employment outside the army, as they did in Boston during their occupation of 1768-1770?

  2. The main reason for soldiers seeking employment in Boston 1768-1770 was a mix of boredom and financial need. There were no road-building or other projects for them, such as back home in Britain, so they sought low-paid work in Boston to augment their wages (eight pence a day before deductions for food, uniforms, etc.), often at a fraction of the local prevailing wages, something which did not endear them to the numerous jobseekers in economically depressed Boston.

  3. You state that the 54th regiment of foot were based in Rhode Island in 1776 to 1779.

    I would like to know how a James Clarkson of this regiment came to be in Pennsylvania in 1777.

    Disgusted by the war against the colonists who at that period were, to James, just like his own people back home, it is recorded that one night while on picket duty he walked over to the American lines as a deserter. At their HQ at Rawlings Mills he was give a safe pass to proceed unharmed to Reading where he could take up his trade as 'weaver'.

    We have a copy of the pass stating these facts in our possession.

    So, how did a soldier of the 54th foot who had arrived at Cape Fear, N.Carolina in May 1776, end up camped in Pennsylvania in 1777?

    1. While cannot tell you how James Clarkson came to be in Pennsylvania, I can tell you about his desertion. According to the muster rolls of the 54th Regiment of Foot, he deserted from Rhode Island on 18 July 1777. A British officer even made note of it in his diary: "18th [July 1777]... A Soldier of the 54th deserted last night. The Rebels send over some people to the Necks almost every evening about Sunset. They do this principally to induce our men to desert, by shewing them how easy it is for them to get off." If you look at a map of Rhode Island, focusing on the largest island in Narragansett Bay, you'll see that the northern end of the island is very close to the mainland - these are "the Necks" that this officer refers to.
      I would like to know more about your information on Clarkson. Is there a date on the pass that you have that allowed him to go from Rawlings Mills to Reading? Is the pass signed by anyone? what other details do you have that indicate he was a deserter from the 54th? Also, do you know his age, or where he came from originally?
      If you see this response, please reply directly by email using the address described in the "About the Author" section on the left of this page.

    2. I have professional research done Research by John Marsden, Oct 1997 WO12/6398- 54th Foot discovered at Staten Island on 11 Aug 1776 on muster roll; of far greater interest is that his name appears among the list of casualties since 24 Jan 1777 with the note "deserted 18 July 1777" Following the muster rolls back, James Clarkson from 10 Jan 1776 on "Lord North" thur 5 Aug 1774 in Ireland (rolls missing between 1770-1774. There is a James Clarkson listed in 54th Foot 30 Jul 1770 thur 6 Jul 1761. If this is the same man he would be 13 year old.

      I am a direct descendant of James CLARKSON and have a brother who has Y-dna which matches two other CLARKSON descendants whose family stayed in England. James had 11 siblings.

  4. We have a similar story of our North American patriarch. Deserted from the 54th verified by Muster Roll records and joined Washington's army. There's not detail in the muster roll but there is a family document that records his account of events and tells a similar story.

  5. According to his grandson as recorded many years later by that grandson's granddaughter. Story goes that he, Richard Grayson (or Grason) was impressed by the British Army when caught out after curfew after a 1st of May "merry-making" event in Sheffield ... arrived "the day before Bunker Hill" where they watched/heard of the battle from their ship. A tall man at 6' 2" he was a grenadier with the 54th. Reported never wanted to "fight those Yankee lads" and made a dash across the river in or slightly before Dec 1778 (per the muster roll) where he was retreived by American rebels who rowed out to collect him and two other men. Joined the Continental Army and served through the war. Reportedly was at Yorktown. Eventually settling in Scuitute, RI as a blacksmith. Was quite proud of his honorable discharge papers signed by Washington and showed them to anyone who would look at them (many family testimonies to this). Family stayed in RI for some time. My branch eventually moved to MA, and the US military moved my father around until he settled in northern VA.

    1. Thank you for posting this interesting information about your British soldier ancestor. I'd like to learn more about him, in particular his age. It sounds like you've determined that he was from Sheffield, which is good to know; it's difficult to learn these sorts of details about men who didn't receive pensions.

      I have copies of the muster rolls of the 54th Regiment on hand, which corroborate some parts of your family stories. There are some inaccuracies that have crept in, though.

      Richard Grason (as his name is written on the roles) certainly wasn't conscripted. During this era, the British army could not conscript men - it wasn't legal for them to do so. Men enlisted voluntarily, and after agreeing to enlist had to be brought before a magistrate to attest that they had done so willingly. Almost every ancestor story I hear, though, asserts that the man was conscripted. I think this is simply a response to the knowledge that the ancestor was on the "other side"; no one wants to believe that their ancestor could've willingly fought for "the enemy." But that's all behind us now; we know that British soldiers enlisted voluntarily, and there was nothing dishonorable about having done so.

      The earliest rolls for the 54th that I have on hand are dated Castle Island, Ireland, 18 July 1775, and Richard Grason was in the regiment at that time. It would be possible to trace the rolls back farther at the British National Archives to determine when he joined the regiment.

      The 54th Regiment never served in Boston. They sailed from Ireland at the very beginning of 1776 as part of the expedition against Charleston, South Carolina under General Sir Henry Clinton. Your ancestor probably first set foot in America on a sandy stretch called Long Island outside the harbor of Charleston (which many confuse with the place of the same name in New York). After that expedition failed, the 54th and other regiments joined the army under Sir William Howe on Staten Island in New York in the summer of 1776.

      In spite of his tall stature, Richard Grason was not a grenadier. The rolls show him as a private soldier who moved through several companies of the regiment before joining the one commanded by Captain William Tidswell (who retired in September 1778; Captain John Moore then took command.

      Grason did indeed desert from Rhode Island on 1 December 1778, as you know. The only detail I found concerning his desertion (besides the date given on the muster roll) is an entry in the diary of a British officer that reads, "A Soldier of the 54th deserted last night from the Advanced posts." No other man from any British regiment deserted that night, or for the next several; if Grason did indeed abscond with two other men, he must've hidden on the island for some days and then joined others to make his passage on a different night.

      I'd like to correspond with you more about this man; please send m a note to the address described in the "About the Author" box.

    2. thanks! I agree. I've compared notes with another decendant and its clear he embellished his role in the war. So much so that we would have considered it as a complete fabrication but we also found other family members who apparently knew of the discharge papers. I'll get in touch with you

    3. Don - are you available to help focus some research into a revolutionary soldier? Since the last time we exchanged into I've come into some information that suggests that this Richard Grason/Grayson may have enlisted under an assumed name, also that there was one or more units, potentially in RI, that were known to take British deserters. Wondering if you have any information about this. I've searched for "Richard Grason" and can't find anything associating him with Colonial service ... but his life story ... known in the Scituate community, married a Colonial veterans daughter, outspoken about his service record, etc. seems to indicate he did serve so thinking he may have used an assumed name to avoid arrest/execution by the British, an potentially persecution and arrest by the colonists. If you are ... my email address is Thanks -

  6. Don, thanks for your great works, here ...

    I have several thoughts here, on the American service of the 54th RF ...

    First, that, while the regiment in early 1776 was a part of the first Southern Expedition under Generals Clinton and Cornwallis and Admiral Parker, the initial purpose of the Expedition was the support of Loyalists in North Carolina and Virginia. Charleston was an alternate, and Clinton, as late as mid-May, was in fact planning on taking his entire force to the Chesapeake, not SC. This is clearly stated in Gen. Clinton's after-action reports, and may have been the deep-seating for the late-war animus between Clinton and Cornwallis.

    Unless you have size rolls or some other documentation that shows otherwise, the 54th arrived and first set foot on American soil in April or May of 1776 at Cape Fear, North Carolina.

    If you have documenation that shows their arrival elsewhere in April and May 1776, you really have something worth sharing.

    Admiral Parker's fleet had been scattered by severe weather, and Gen Cornwallis writes at mid-ocean that transports with roughly #50 companies of his troops were no longer in sight.

    Average voyage for Parker's fleet was 10-11 weeks ... instead of the "normal" 6 weeks duration. Part of the fleet of transports was actually driven back into Cork, and a handful of supply vessels and transports, escorted by HMS Ranger, finally arrived at Cape Fear the last day in May ...

    As for the thread of the "grenadier" on ship in Boston ... at mid-1775, several troop ships did in fact arrive with "recruits" and as you know, both light infantry and grenadier battalions were heavily impacted with casualties at Lex/Concord and Bunker/Breeds Hill. Capt. Evelyn's correspondence, and one of the Howe Orderly Books gives this info.

    My interest, and question for you, is whether documentation gives us the identity of the company officers who were in fact present at Cape Fear. Some of the troops would have been there for 5 or 6 weeks, before the Expedition went South to Charleston SC ...

    Incidental to this thread, elements of the Expedition also fought in several actions on land, in the Cape Fear, including defense of a small coastal earthworks on Bald Head Island named Ft. George.

    This would have been the site of the first burials if the 54th was in fact engaged as I suspect. Would be delighted to hear that you have documentation in support of my hunch >?

    Best regards; & again, thanks for your great work here.
    Squire John

    1. Good points all around. In my haste to make the point that the 54th Regiment did not serve in Boston, I oversimplified the 1776 expedition under Clinton, which you've clarified correctly.
      To your question about the company officers of the 54th, there is a set of muster rolls dated 10 January 1776 at Cork Harbour, and the next set was prepared on 11 August 1776 on Staten Island. These rolls do list the officers of each company who were present at the time the rolls prepared (and those who were absent as well), but there's no way to be certain from the rolls which officers were present at Cape Fear - we can certainly assume that most, if not all, were there. If you send an email to me (using the address described in the About the Author box), I can share this information with you.
      Only two men of the regiment died during this period, one on 28 June and one on 16 July.
      To the point about grenadiers and recruits in Boston, yes, the grenadier and light infantry companies took many casualties, and recruits did arrive in Boston, but the flank companies were never replenished with recruits - instead, men were transferred from battalion companies into the flank companies, and the recruits were distributed among the battalion companies. There are occasional exceptions, but in general regiments were careful to fill their flank companies only with experienced men.

  7. I have just read all these posts with interest. I do not remember ever contributing here, though I have written much about James Clarkson, British soldier who 'deserted' the army as, like many, including politicians, were against the struggle to 'put down' the colonists, whom we viewed as our own 'flesh and blood'.

    This being one of the reasons we used 'hired mercenaries' (Hessians)' and why the British awarded no ' battle honours', to any regiment. To 'Brits' it was purely a 'revolution', NOT a 'WAR'.
    The British have never liked 'fighting their own'. (It isn't cricket old chap'.
    I am related to James Clarkson via our lines which go back to common link with parents Peter Clarkson and Ann Constantine, weavers in Blackley, now parts of Manchester, England.
    My g grandmother was Jane Clarkson who still lived in the Blackley area until early 1900's

  8. I have an ancestor who supposedly served with the 54th in New York? They were then transferred to Fort Cumberland in New Brunswick Canada in 1783 aboard the ship Cyrus?
    His name was Owen Fields and he died in 1787 at Fort Cumberland. Would you possibly have anything on him??

    1. Owen Field is my 5th Great Grandfather. It would be interesting to find our relationship. You can email me at

  9. I am familiar with Owen Field. He enlisted in the 22nd Regiment of Foot in late 1775 or early 1776. The regiment had already been sent to America, but kept recruiting parties in Great Britain throughout the war. Field embarked with other recruits on or about 21 June 1776, and disembarked in New York in late October. He was put into Captain Edward Handfield's company of the 22nd Regiment, in which he remained for the duration of the war, serving in Rhode Island and New York.
    At the end of the war, men who had enlisted after 16 December 1775 had the option of being discharged if they'd served for at least three years. Field met those criteria and accepted his discharge from the 22nd in New York in August 1783, but rather than return to Great Britain, he immediately enlisted in the 54th Regiment of Foot which was bound for Nova Scotia (many other discharged soldiers did the same thing).
    Owen Field died in Canada in 1787.
    This information comes from the muster rolls of the 22nd Regiment, WO 12/3872, and of the 54th Regiment, WO 12/6399, in the British National Archives.
    I have it from another descendent of Owen Field that he had a son Anthony born in the New York City area between 1779 and 1783.
    If you have any other details on Owen Field's life, please let me know.

    1. I am a decendant of Owen and Anthony Field. I am looking for more info on Owen. Do you know where Owen came from?

    2. No, I'm afraid I don't; everything I know about him is described above. In general, the only soldiers from this era for whom we have data like place of birth are those soldiers who received pension. Owen Field died while still a soldier, so there are no pension records for him (pension benefits did not extend to dependents).

  10. Thank you for the information you provided above is helpful. We know that Owen's son Anthony settled in Murray Corner New Brunswick Canada, not sure when. Decendants of Anthony remain in Murray Corner today,including my family.

  11. Hi, Do you know if Owen Fields was recruitef from England or Ireland? My Aunt had some information that originally stated Owen may have been recruited from Ireland.

    1. He was probably recruited in Ireland, but we can't be certain. The Regiment's muster rolls give us the date that he boarded a transport for America, 21 June 1776. Most of the men who boarded on that date have very Irish-sounding names - Michael Burk, Patrick Connor, Thomas Donovan, etc. - and some are explicitly annotated "Irish recruit". From the date, I'm pretty sure the transport was in Cork when the men embarked. But a few of the men are known to have been English, and I don't have the name of the ship, or anything else to go on, just the date on the muster roll that he "joined", which from other sources I know is the embarkation date.

    2. Thank you Don! The information you have provided on this site has been very helpful.

  12. In the 1851 census, Owen's grandson, Samuel Fields reported his race as "Irish" As his mother was Sarah Oulton whose family was English, this would appear to confirm that Owen was Irish.