Saturday, January 22, 2011

Prisoners of war: James Buchanan and William Brooks, 9th Regiment

We recently wrote about John Buchanan, a corporal in the 9th Regiment of Foot who experienced some misadventures while a prisoner of war. We incorrectly gave his name a James, an error that has since been corrected. There was a James Buchanan in the 9th Regiment, a serjeant, who also ran into trouble while a prisoner of war in Massachusetts after the surrender of Burgoyne's army at Saratoga in 1777.

James Buchanan was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1742. We don't know when he joined the army, but by 1775 he was a corporal and was appointed serjeant some time in 1776. (As might be expected, the name 'Buchanan' is spelled various ways in the muster rolls and other documents.) Like many British soldiers he was married and his wife and child accompanied him to America. As far as can be discerned from the muster rolls, he saw all of the 9th Regiment's service in America from its arrival in Quebec in 1776, the rapid campaign to Lake Champlain that immediately ensued, the winter at posts in Canada. When the 1777 campaign began, Buchanan marched with the regiment while his family remained behind in Montreal; although some wives accompanied their husbands on campaigns, it was common for some to remain behind in anticipation of joining the regiment again when the campaigning ended. She would never see her husband again.

The fateful 1777 campaign culminated in the Convention of Saratoga, which saw six British infantry regiments (as well as companies from several others, several German regiments, and a contingent of artillery) surrendered. The Convention directed that these men be returned to Europe, and they were marched to Boston in anticipation of board ships. Instead, they were put into hastily-build barracks outside of town while politicians and military officials dickered about whether one side or the other had violated the terms of the Convention. Campaigning had been difficult, but was the sort of hardship that soldiers expected to endure. Captivity, on the other hand, brought unfamiliar challenges for career soldiers - boredom, lack of purpose, and myriad temptations.

Around the time that Corporal Buchanan was getting into his own troubles, Serjeant Buchanan was entrusted with money from his company officer to purchase shoes for his fellow prisoners. This was a typical task for a serjeant, but Buchanan succumbed to unmilitary influences and squandered the money in a way that has not been recorded. Fearing the punishment that was surely due to him, he determined to at least earn back the money. He deserted the barracks and made his way to the area of Worcester, Massachusetts. Whether he worked there, or for how long, is not clear, but at some point he met up with another fugitive from the 9th Regiment, private William Brooks.

Brooks was from Wednesbury, Staffordshire, was 27 years old, and had also been in the regiment since before 1775. A bizarre event involving Brooks had occurred during the regiment's voyage to America in 1776, as recorded by Roger Lamb:

April 20th. Our ship sailing at the rate of five miles an hour, a soldier whose name was Brooks, leaped off the forecastle into the ocean; the vessel in a moment made her way over him, and he arose at the stern. He immediately with all his might, swam from the ship. The men who were upon the deck alarmed the captain and officers, who had just sat down to dinner; the ship was ordered to be put about, and the boat hoisted out, and manned, the unfortunate man was soon overtaken, and it was with difficulty that the sailors could force him into the boat. When he was brought back he was ordered between decks, and a centinel placed over him; the next morning he was in a high fever, and continued very bad the remainder of the voyage. The fear of punishment was the cause of this desperate action, as the day before he had stolen a shirt from one of his messmates knapsacks.

Buchanan and Brooks set out further into the country towards Worcester in February, looking for work. In the town of Brookfield they passed by the well-appointed house of one Joshua Spooner where they were invited in. There they met the lady of the house, Bathsheba Spooner. She was the daughter of Timothy Ruggles, a prominent Massachusetts loyalist. She was young, beautiful, seductive and in an unhappy marriage.

The ensuing events need not be detailed here because an entire book has been written on the subject. Murdered by his Wife by Deborah Navas (University of Massachusetts Press, 1999) examines in detail how these two British soldiers were ensnared in a murder plot that resulted in their executions in Worcester on 2 July. Not only did the two of them acknowledge the justice of their demise, but it induced them to a dramatic spiritual transformation. Buchanan was particularly penitent. He wrote letters to his officers "full of religious contrition" and impressed upon Brooks the importance of such a viewpoint. As a soldier Brooks had been "notoriously prophane, and almost illiterate." During his confinement of only a few months, he learned to read the scripture and discuss it with his fellows facing execution - Buchanan, Bathsheba Spooner, and a young American soldier named Ezra Ross.

Roger Lamb was allowed by his officers and the American authorities to visit the doomed prisoners and witnessed their execution:

The malefactors had to pass two miles to the gallows, and, although the former part of the day was serene and fine, of a sudden, as they approached the place, the sky was covered with clouds, and a storm of thunder followed with copious rain, attached additional terrors to their ignominious catastrophe.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Pensioner: Samuel Newby, 10th Regiment of Foot

When British soldiers were discharged, they received a document certifying that they had been legally released from their military obligation. This one-page document was usually a printed form with standardized language, having the specifics for the individual soldier written in. Most regiments used generic forms sold by printers, while a few regiments had forms printed specially for them; sometimes the entire document was handwritten.

The information on the form included the soldier's name, age, place of birth, and overall duration of military service. His trade was usually included, and sometimes a breakdown of the regiments in which he had served. Some forms included physical attributes such as height, hair and eye color, visage (the general shape of the man's face - round, square or long), and complexion (light or dark). These descriptive details made it possible to confirm that the man carrying the document was the true owner.

Men were granted pensions if the army pension board determined that they were unable to earn their own living due to infirmities incurred during army service. The discharge form included space to describe this infirmity, and the short descriptions give many fascinating insights into the hazards of military life. In addition to overt wounds or injuries, legions of pensioners suffered from straightforward ailments such as being "rheumatic", "asthmatic", "dropsical", and the widely used catchall "worn out in the service."

Occasionally the description reveals an entire dimension of the soldier's career. Such is the case with Samuel Newby of the 10th Regiment of Foot. From muster rolls we know that he spent 30 years in the 10th Regiment of Foot, from 1758 tho 1788, including the years that regiment was in America. He spent the early part of this time as a private soldier, then in February 1776 in Boston was appointed drummer, a role he retained for the rest of his career.

His discharge not only tells us that he was born in Limerick city, Ireland in 1737 (based on his age of 51 when he was discharged in 1788), but also that his 'trade' was 'Musician.' This explains, to some extent, his service as both a private soldier and a drummer. Many regiments had bands of music but there was no provision on the regimental establishment for musicians, only drummers and fifers. Regiments that had musicians for their band had to carry them on the rolls as private soldiers during times when the establishment allowed for only one drummer per company, because drummers were necessary for military duties. In 1775, the establishment for regiments in America was augmented to allow for two drummers in each company. In those rare cases where we can explicitly identify musicians we find that they were often appointed as drummers. Such was the case with Samuel Newby.

Remarkable is the reason that Newby was allowed a pension. His discharge says that he was infirm due to "being worn out on account of his long service and Constant Practice on Musical Wind Instruments." Rather than remain on the pension rolls, however, Newby enlisted in the 54th Regiment of Foot and served for another five years, taking his final discharge in 1793 at the age of 56, having served 35 years in the army.