Thursday, September 9, 2010

Employed soldier: Joseph Harrison, 22nd Regiment

A reader asked, if the army was able to employ soldiers such as John Hopwood the butcher, tailors John Watkins and Patrick Lenahan, and bakers William Bayliss and John Lewis, then why were there soldiers competing with civilians for jobs in Boston in 1769 and 1770, contributing to the unrest that culminated in the Boston Massacre? This is a good question. We don't have a definitive answer, but the best guess is that the army did not have enough jobs available to accommodate all of the soldiers who were willing and able to work.

Military books of the era made recommendations to officers about conditions under which soldiers should be allowed to work outside of the army. The popular work "A System for the Compleat Interior Management and Economy of a Battalion of Infantry" by Bennett Cuthbertson includes a chapter on the subject offering the guidance that non-military jobs must not interfere with a soldier's duties and that the soldier was not to work in his uniform. Especially clear from the recommendations is that it was normal and expected for soldiers to have second jobs when circumstances allowed it - not unlike today's military.

This adds an interesting and overlooked dimension to the subject of a soldier's pay. Much is made in literature of the meager pay of 8 pence per day, from which stoppages were made to pay for food, clothing, medical care and other amenities. This pay, however, should be viewed not as the soldier's sole earning potential, but as his base pay. We have seen examples of soldiers with trades being able to work for the army and will see more in future installments. Soldiers without trades also were given opportunities to work at military projects such as building roads, preparing and maintaining fortifications, cutting work, and numerous other activities.

How much could a soldier earn at a military job? An excellent and striking example is Joseph Harrison, a soldier in the 22nd Regiment of Foot. Born in 1736, he had acquired no skilled trade by the time he joined the army in 1755. By 1782 he was a corporal.

For a period of 35 days in May and June 1782, he was among 7 men of the 22nd Regiment who, along with 7 men of the New Jersey Volunteers, worked on a boat a Paulus Hook, a British outpost of the New York garrison on the shore of New Jersey. The work these men did is not specified in the document that enumerates how they were paid, but the amount of money that they earned is significant. Each man earned 4 shillings per day, six times the base pay of a common soldier. Harrison and the other men of the 22nd Regiment each worked 18 days, and each earned a total of 3 pounds 12 shillings. This was equivalent to about four month's pay, and unlike the base wage there were no stoppages from it - it was all 'take home' pay.

Joseph Harrison was discharged after the regiment returned to Great Britain in early 1784, and received a pension. The pension rolls mention that he had a "Wounded left eye" but it is not known when or under what circumstances he received the wound.

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