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.


  1. Hi, Don, why so many textile workers? Does this reflect the overall proportion of textile workers in the populace, or does it mean they are more subject to losing jobs in this time, necessitating alternative employment, such as the army?

    Roger Fuller

  2. Excellent post. Noted you made reference to a total of 1005 men who served with 22nd Foot during the American Revolution. Any chance said rolls are available anywhere on the web? Having a heck of a time tracing my Grandmothers side (surname= Nowlan)who escaped from NY in 1783 & ended up settling as Loyalists in present day New Brunswick (Chatham area). Wish to figure out exactly when the three men enlisted (all Nowlan's) and what community they originated from in Ireland. Any guidance greatly appreciated.