Monday, May 23, 2011

Walter Burges, Luke Melly and John Williams, 63rd Regiment

One of the greatest sources of personal information about soldiers is deserter advertisements. Because few other descriptive documents survive, the advertisements published in newspapers are often the only remaining accounts of what individuals actually looked like and sometimes personal nuances that they had. The purpose of the ads was to provide a sufficient textual image to allow readers to recognize the deserter and apprehend or report him. Similar advertisements were published for escaped prisoners, thieves, runaway servants and slaves, and other people who had absconded from some sort of contract, bondage or captivity.

There is no way to judge how effective these ads were except for the fact that they were a staple of newspapers throughout the 18th century and well into the 19th. Sometimes other sources can be used to determine the individual's whereabouts; in the case of soldiers, muster rolls allow us to trace a man's career in the army, and for the few who deserted and advertised the combined sources of information yield an interesting personal story.

A 1773 advertisement from an Irish newspaper describes five men who deserted from a regiment that would arrive in America two years later:

Deserted 29th May, from the 63d Regiment of Foot, and Capt. Westropp’s Company, at Belfast, William Condie, born at Path of Condie, near Perth, in Perthshire, Scotland, aged 20 Years, Size 5 Feet 8 Inches and a half, dark brown Eyes, brown Hair, brown complexion, straight and well made, by Calling a Labourer.

Also from Capt. Follett’s Light Infantry Company (at Ballynahinch) of said Regiment, the following Men, viz. Drummer John Williams, born in St. Nicholas’s Parish in Rochester, in the County of Kent, aged 22 Years, Size 5 Feet 2 Inches and a half, black Eyes, dark brown Hair, fresh Complexion, strong and well made, by Trade a Painter and Glazier.

Walter Burges, born in the Army, but rear’d in Fromme, Sommersetshire, aged 22 Years, Size 5 Feet 5 Inches and a half, grey Eyes, light brown Hair, fresh Complexion, straight and well made, by Trade a Scribler.

Luke Melly, born in Dudley, Worcestershire, aged 20 Years, 5 Feet 5 Inches, light brown Eyes, dark brown Hair, fresh Complexion, strong and well made, a Cut over the right Eyebrow, by Trade a Scythe Smith.

Nathaniel Brown, born in Market Dearham, in the County of Norfolk, aged 19 Years, size 5 Feet 6 Inches and a half, grey Eyes, brown Hair, fresh Complexion, straight and well made, a small Cut on each side of his Forehead, by Trade a Cordwainer.

The above Deserters went off in their Regimental Cloathing, the Buttons of which have a Star on them, and the Number 63 in the Center.

Whoever apprehends any of the abovementioned Deserters, shall receive a Reward (over the Allowance of Parliament) of one Guinea for each of them, by applying to the Commanding Officer of the Regiment at Belfast, to Capt. Follett of said Regiment at Ballynahinch, or to William Montgomery, Esq, Mary-street, Dublin.

[Belfast Newsletter, 4 June 1773]

Both the ad and the men described are quite typical. Although we don't have on hand the muster rolls from the time that these men deserted, we guess from their ages that they had all joined the regiment recently - most peacetime enlistees were in their very late teens or early twenties. Because they were in regimental clothing, however, it is clear that they were not new recruits but had been in the regiment probably for at least a year. Drummers often joined the army at a younger age but, contrary to the popular image of the drummer boy, many men stayed in this role for their entire military careers, well into their 40s and even 50s. The fact that John Williams had already learned a trade suggests that he did not join the army until his late teens at the earliest. Walter Burges, although born in the army, was not raised in the army so it is probable that he too enlisted at a typical age rather than a young age; he had learned a wool-combing specialty known as scribbling which involved the combing of rough wool in preparation for more refined carding.

The muster rolls of the 63rd show us that some of these men returned to the army, either voluntarily or by being captured. When the regiment came ashore in Boston on 14 June 1775, drummer John Williams and privates Walter Burgess and Francis Scott were on the rolls of the light infantry company. After only two days in America they were hotly engaged in the battle of Bunker Hill on 17 June; Burgess was mortally wounded and died four days later.

Drummer Williams continued serving in the light infantry (probably using the hunting horn favored by these active troops rather than a drum) until he was taken prisoner by the Americans on 14 February 1778 outside of Philadelphia. He remained in captivity for about two years; the date of his repatriation is not known and he is absent from one semi-annual muster roll, but by the second half of 1780 he was back with his company.

His good fortune did not last long. The light infantry company of the 63rd Regiment was part of the army under General Cornwallis that surrendered at Yorktown. He was once again made a prisoner of war, along with Luke Melly who had been serving in the light infantry company throughout the war.

Although the British prisoners taken at Yorktown were repatriated in the first half of 1783 when hostilities were officially ended, some of them did not return. Tempted by the possibility of owning landing and beginning new lives in America, an estimated 20% of the incarcerated soldiers absconded from captivity to seek their fortunes in America. Among the 10 in the 63rd Regiment's light infantry company who did so were John Williams and Luke Melly. On 1 July 1783 they were written off of the regiment's muster rolls as deserters.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Louisa Martin, 17th Regiment of Foot (?)

Most of the entries in this blog are composed in a formulaic way. I find an item concerning an individual soldier or soldier's wife - a newspaper account, record of a court martial, entry in an orderly book, or what have you. Then, I find the soldier on the regiment's muster rolls and trace his career to the greatest extent possible. This provides a reasonable view of the events that the man or woman experienced based on the movements and activities of the regiment.

A search on the Access2Archives web site, which catalogs documents in many regional record offices in Great Britain, turned up an interesting item about the wife of a serjeant in the 17th Regiment of Foot. Even though the web catalog offers only an abstract, the item from the Quarter Sessions of Worcestershire for midsummer, 1782, gives a look at the plight of an army widow who returned to England:

Examination of Louisa Martin, widow of Charles Martin, Sergeant in 17th. Regt. of Foot, who died in America. They were married 19 years ago at St. James, Westminster: he was born in Croydon where he was apprenticed to Thomas Green, cabinet maker, & was settled there: he died 6 months ago in New York: 7 years ago she went to America & landed at Liverpool on her return a fortnight ago.

A constable was ordered to convey here to Croydon, the town where she would be legally eligible for the support due to a widow. The information correlates with what we know about army widows - that they were given the option of returning to Great Britain at government expense.

This brief record of Louisa Martin's examination provides very valuable information about a serjeant in the 17th Regiment, including when and where he was married and the career that he pursued before joining the army. The 17th Regiment, which saw extensive and diverse service in America from its arrival in 1775 through the final evacuation in 1783. The regiment had significant numbers of men captured at the 1777 battle of Princeton, the 1779 fall of Stony Point, and the 1781 Yorktown campaign. The career of Charles Martin would surely be an interesting one.

There is, however, a problem tracing that career: Thanks to Will Tatum, historian at the David Library of the American Revolution, we have access to the muster rolls of the 17th Regiment of Foot. No man by the name of Charles Martin served in the regiment - not among the serjeants or the rank and file soldiers; not even a man with a similar name. I also checked the rolls of the 17th Light Dragoons, but found no such man in that regiment either. Thinking of logical typographical errors in the web catalog, I checked other regiments that ended in 7 and had served in America - the 27th, 37th, 47th and 57th. No Charles Martin. Maybe other regiments starting with 1 that were in New York in 1776 and still in the area in 1782? There were none; the 10th, 14th, 15th, 18th and 19th Regiments did not have service that correlates to the story related by Louisa Martin.

For the moment, all we can do is keep this interesting account on file and hope that clarifying information turns up.