Sunday, March 27, 2011

John Pearce, 3rd and 22nd Regiments

John Pearce joined the 3rd Regiment of Foot (the Buffs) in October 1763. We know nothing of his age, nativity or background, and we have no details of the first 11 years of his military career. Whether he was a good, steady soldier during those years or a difficult discipline case remains unknown, but a surviving set of records for the 3rd Regiment that begins in 1774 gives a startling picture of him during a brief period in 1774 and 1775.

According to a summary list of regimental courts martial conducted in the 3rd Regiment in Ireland from August 1774 through December 1777, John Pearce was tried on 17 November 1774 “For being out of his Barracks till 10 O'Clock at night, & breeding a Riot in a beer house.” This unruly activity earned him a punishment of 100 lashes, which he received. Infractions like this, and the corresponding punishment, were not unusual, but it bears noting that only a small portion of the regiment ran afoul of military justice in this way; the majority of men in the 3rd Regiment do not appear in the court martial list at all, and among those who do appear are many repeat offenders.

It is difficult to imagine suffering 100 lashes, and such a punishment was intended to humble a soldier and make an impression on his comrades. Nonetheless, only four days later Pearce was tried again, this time “For making away with his necessaries.” This time he was awarded 300 lashes, and the record shows that once again he received all of them. How a man could survive such a punishment is difficult to image. Among the duties of the regimental surgeon was to help insure this survival by observing the punishment, seeing that the lashes were laid on in such a way as not to endanger vital organs and monitoring the victim's health throughout the punishment; the surgeon had the authority to stop the punishment if he believed the victim might die from its effects. Indeed, one regimental surgeon wrote an entire chapter concerning details to be observed while men were lashed, including specific examples from his own service.

Only four months later, in March 1775, Pearce was once more brought to trial, now “For selling a pr of Stockings, being out of his Barracks at 9 O'Clock & defrauding a Publican.” He was again sentenced to 300 lashes, and again received all of them. 700 lashes within a four month period. Recall that Pearce was not a new soldier; by March 1775 he was in his 11th year in the army and was certainly in his late twenties or thirties in age. Since the surviving trial records begin only in August 1774 we have no way of knowing whether he had a sudden turn to poor discipline or if he was routinely in trouble with his superiors, but it is difficult to imagine that he was punished at this rate year after year.

Events in America brought a turn of fortune for Pearce. A large reinforcement was being sent to quell the rapidly deteriorating situation there, and men were needed to fill out the ranks of those regiments. Men were taken from regiments that were to remain in Ireland and put into those going on service. The regiments that provided the men were ordered to give preference to volunteers, and order men only if enough suitable volunteers did not come forward. We don't know whether Pearce saw this as his opportunity to escape the officers who enforced discipline on him, or whether the officers were the ones who took the opportunity to get rid of Pearce. Perhaps it was a mutual agreement. Regardless, Pearce was drafted from the 3rd Regiment to the 22nd Regiment on 9 May 1775. This says something about Pearce's fortitude, because only men suitable for campaigning were allowed to be drafted and the receiving regiment had the right to refuse men deemed unsuitable. In spite of his recent 700 lashes, Pearce was accepted into his new regiment and within days was sailing with it to America.

John Pearce arrived with the 22nd Regiment in Boston in late June or early July (depending upon which ship he was on). He must have remained reasonably fit in spite of his punishments, because he was soon put into the light infantry company. A final testimony to his physical fitness, his boldness, and to his discontent with the army is that he made off from the encampment on Boston Common on the night of 18-19 August and swam to Roxbury where an American soldier made a diary entry recording the arrival of a British deserter. To date we have found no further information concerning his whereabouts. What his legacy tells us is that it was somehow possible for men to survive the seemingly outrageous punishments inflicted by the lash, and remain in a state of health that allowed them to accomplish rigorous physical activity.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Trades in the 22nd Regiment

Many installments in this blog have mentioned soldier's trades, the lines of work that men practiced before joining the army. The idea that men acquired skills in a profession before joining the army may be challenging from a modern perspective, but when taken in the context of the era it makes complete sense. During peace time the army strove to recruit men between the ages of 17 and 25 to become career soldiers; regimental recruiting officers could make their own decisions, but the information we have on individual soldiers bears out that these age guidelines were generally followed and most soldiers began their careers in their late teens or early twenties.

In an age when schooling was not guaranteed and even well educated men were likely to attend school only into their mid-teens, boys and men needed to do something gainful with their lives before they were old enough to even consider joining the army. This meant pursuing a specific trade either in a formal capacity as an apprentice or informally by simply working for someone in the trade, or by doing whatever work one could find.

The few soldiers who have left accounts of their pre-military employment make it clear that work could begin early in life. Thomas Watson started working in coal mines at the age of 7; although he occasionally found other work, mining remained his typical employment until he enlisted in the 23rd Regiment of Foot in 1772 at about 19 years of age. Thomas Cranfield, son of a baker, attended school until age 14 and then was apprenticed to a tailor; although he ran away from several employers, tailoring remained his primary profession until he enlisted in the 39th Regiment of Foot in 1777 at the age of 19 and went on to serve in Gibraltar.

From various sources, we have information on the trade of 322 soldiers in the 22nd Regiment of Foot who served in the American Revolution. Of these, over half the men had skilled trades, while the remainder were listed as "laborers", period parlance for men who had no specific skill. Laborers may have worked as farm hands, unskilled construction workers, dock workers, or in various other capacities where no specialized training was required. The identified trades, in order of predominance, are:
  • 143 Laborers
  • 41 Weavers
  • 22 Shoemakers
  • 16 Tailors
  • 9 Carpenters
  • 6 each: Wagon Driver, Wool comber
  • 5 Breeches makers
  • 4 each: Cutler, Cooper, Gardiner, Miner
  • 3 each: Baker, Blacksmith, Bricklayer, Cordwainer, Flax dresser, Mason, Ribbon Weaver
  • 2 each: Barber, Cabinet Maker, Linen Weaver, Nailor, Silversmith, Tanner
  • 1 each: Brazier, Butcher, Cloth Dresser, Currier, Farmer, File smith, Glass cutter, Glazier, Gunmaker, Harness Maker, Hatter, Hosier, Miller, Musician, Needle Maker, Painter, Sadler, Sawyer, Spectacle Maker, Stocking Maker, Stone Sawyer, Thatcher, Tobacconist, Victualler, Wheelwright, Wire drawer
This gives a total of 179 men with trades and 143 without, or about 56% with skilled trades.

It is difficult to say whether this sample of 322 men is representative of the 1005 men who served in the 22nd Regiment in America at some point during the American War. For example, the bulk of the data is from records associated with pensions, and it is possible that men with trades were more likely to get pensions that those without. Even if this data is does not accurately show the proportion of tradesmen in the army, it at least shows the variety of trades.

The preponderance of textile workers, particularly weavers, is a simple reflection of Britain's economy that was strongly based on the textile trade. The significant number of shoemakers, tailors and other clothiers, and artificers such as smiths, coopers, carpenters and leather workers, shows that the regiment had within its ranks the skills necessary to be self-sufficient when on campaign or in far-flung garrisons. It also makes clear that many soldiers had opportunities to work and earn money over and above the base pay they received from the army.