Friday, October 14, 2011

Samuel Lee, 18th Regiment of Foot (Royal Irish)

Regular readers of this blog (whom I shall refrain from calling "regulars" lest they be confused with the soldiers who are the subject matter) should by now be familiar with two aspects of the lives of British soldiers during the 1770s and 1780s: they generally chose the army as a lifelong career and remained soldiers until no longer fit for service; and they were allowed to have part-time jobs, often within the army, in addition to their normal military duties. An excellent case it point is a private soldier in the 18th (Royal Irish) Regiment of Foot named Samuel Lee.

Thanks to the diligent research of Dr. Steven Baule, we know more about Samuel Lee than most British common soldiers. Born in London in 1745, Lee was already in the 18th Regiment when they arrived in America in 1767. We do not know when he enlisted, but the fact that he was in the Grenadier company in 1767 indicates that he probably had at least a year's service in the regiment by that time. He had also had time to learn the tailoring trade before joining the army, for he worked in that role for the regiment. With the 18th he traveled to Philadelphia, then spent a few years on the frontier in Illinois before marching back to Philadelphia, then to New Jersey and New York. By this time, early 1774, Lee was the Master Tailor of the regiment. This was not a rank, per se; Lee was still a private soldier. It was nonetheless a position of some responsibility and one that could earn him a significant amount of money over his base pay.

In Amboy, New Jersey, one of the regiment's tailors was tried by a general court martial for making false accusations about an officer in the regiment. During the trial several deponents spoke of a busy day in the regiment's tailors' room, the tailors and work and several officers appearing to check on the work and to get fitted for clothing. Words passed, and Samuel Lee among others was asked to testify about what he heard, but Lee was unable to recall specifics and indicated that some conversations may have occurred that he was not aware of. Another tailor clarified this, telling the court that Lee was "a little hard of hearing"; an officer asked if Lee was not in fact deaf. Lee had seen rigorous service over the last several years, but there is no indication of whether his hearing loss was related to his army career. If he stayed in the army and his hearing continued to decline, he could look forward to a pension at the end of his career.

Late in 1774 three companies of the 18th, including the grenadiers, boarded transports and sailed to Boston. There they were formed into a composite battalion along with five companies of the 65th Regiment. Lee continued his tailoring work - in December he purchased goods from a Boston merchant to make clothing for one of the regiment's officers.

As the British army prepared for distinct possibility of hostilities in the Spring of 1775, regiments were ordered on marches into the countryside for fitness. Although military writers of the era recommended that soldiers employed as servants, tailors and at other martial duties be nonetheless included in training and guard mounting, we might expect a man like Samuel Lee to be excused from marches and other duties. As Master Tailor, he was responsible for overseeing the cutting, fitting and maintenance of all of the regiment's clothing. The transition from winter to summer was usually a busy time for these men as the preparation of the regiment's annual issue of regimental clothing, received in America in the fall, was finalized for wear in the new campaign season; some regiments also took the opportunity to re-cut the previous year's clothing into campaign garb in order to preserve the new clothing, and to make specialized clothing for use in America. There were also tents to be gotten ready. It would be no surprise, then, for Samuel Lee to have stayed in Boston on the historic night of 18 April when his company was ordered out for a march towards Concord. But another remarkable piece of information has survived to tell us his actual whereabouts.

The expedition to Concord was conducted by two ad hoc battalions composed of the combined light infantry and grenadier companies from the regiments in Boston. The grenadier company of the 18th was among them. A Massachusetts militiaman named Sylvanus Wood recounted his actions that day after he had faced the British light infantry on Lexington Green:

The English soon were on their march for Concord. I helped carry six dead into the meetinghouse and then set out after the enemy and had not an armed man to go with me, but before I arrived at Concord, I see one of the grenadiers standing sentinel. I cocked my piece and run up to him, seized his gun with my left hand. He surrendered his armor, one gun and bayonet, a large cutlass and brass fender, one box over the shoulder with twenty-two rounds, one box round the waist with eighteen rounds. This was the first prisoner that was known to be taken that day.

The hapless British sentinel was none other than Samuel Lee. Perhaps his poor hearing made it easier for his captor to approach him; it is also entirely possible that Lee willingly surrendered, a surreptitious form of desertion. Although Lee was listed first as missing and then as a prisoner of war on British muster rolls, he does not seem to have been held as a captive and he made no effort to return to the British army. He set up shop as a tailor in Concord. In 1776 he married a woman named Mary Piper and with her had five children. He died in Concord in August 1790 at the age of 45.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Robert Vaughn, 52nd Regiment of Foot

On 3 March 1775 a detachment of the 52nd Regiment of Foot in Boston was ordered to practice firing with live ammunition. Firing at marks, as the practice was called, was a common exercise in the months approaching a campaign season even in peace time; along with day-long marches carrying knapsacks, these activities helped insure the fitness of the soldier for whatever the service might require. In Boston, rafts with targets were placed in the water off of Boston Common (which at that time was on the shoreline; extensive filling has dramatically changed Boston's topography). The soldiers formed and each man took his turn firing at the targets.

Robert Vaughn was among the soldiers of the 52nd Regiment ordered to fire that day. He was a 9-year veteran of the 52nd, but needed to practice his marksmanship just like everyone else. When roll was called for the detachment formed for the firing exercise at 2 in the afternoon, however, Vaughn was missing. A sergeant of his company “went to examine his Necessary’s", that is, to see if Vaughn's shoes, shirts and stockings were properly packed into his knapsack in the barracks. When a soldier was missing, it was a standard practice to determine whether he had taken belongings with him; if he did, desertion was immediately suspected. The serjeant found that Vaughn's necessaries "were all gone except a few old Things.”

At about 6:30 that night, two sentries from the 23rd Regiment posted at a way leading to a ferry were approached by the fully-uniformed Vaughn. Vaughn called out to some boatman and inquired for someone. The sentries told him he ought to go home; Vaughn claimed to have a pass to be out until ten o'clock, and had no cause to go until then. He claimed to be looking for a ferryman who was an acquaintance, and finally attempted to pass the sentries and go to the ferry. The sentries stopped him and after some more discourse Vaughn, apparently very drunk, “placed himself against a Post, and soon dropt down as if Dead, and did not say any thing more.” The sentries called for assistance and other soldiers took Vaughn to the officer of the guard.

There is a popular misconception that British uniforms did not have pockets. That they did in fact have them is proven by cases like Vaughn's; when a deviant soldier was taken to the guard is was standard procedure to search his pockets for stolen goods or for extra clothing that signified an intention to desert. When the officer of the guard searched Vaughn's coat pockets “two pair of Stockings was found, and on opening his Waistcoat to give him Air, a clean Shirt was found tied round his Waist.” The officer then searched the pockets of Vaughn’s breeches but found nothing in them.

Vaughn was tried the next day by a general court martial. Among the questions asked by the court was whether Vaughn’s necessaries had been examined recently before he was taken, to which the sergeant replied that they had; it was therefore clear that things were missing. Vaughn, in his defense, offered that he was “so much in Liquor, that he has not the least rememberance of what he was about, that he had not any intention to desert.” Hoping to win the favor of the court, he also pointed out that he had “been a long time in the Service, and at several Sieges.”

To support his claims Vaughn called on an officer from another regiment as a character witness; presumably Vaughn has served with this officer, Lieutenant Thomas Hewetson of the 59th Regiment, at some time earlier in his career. It was a poor of witnesses; Hewestson testified only that “the great length of time which has elapsed, since the Prisoner says he serv’d in the same Corps with him, has entirely remov’d any recollection at all of the Prisoner.”

The court found Vaughn guilty of desertion and sentenced him to the maximum penalty, death. Even though Vaughn was absent only for a matter of hours and was drunk when apprehended, the court no doubt looked on the methodical way in which he concealed his spare clothing, along with his attempt to get to a ferry, as proof that he was trying to leave the British garrison. Vaughn’s sentence was quickly approved, and General Thomas Gage, commanding the army in Boston, ordered on 8 March that it be “put in execution to morrow morning at seven o'Clock, by shooting the Prisoner Robert Vaughan to death by a platoon of the Regiment to which he belongs. The place of execution to be near the water below the Guard on the common.”

That night at around 9, however, in one of the many acts of clemency shown after capital sentences, the announcement was made that “The Execution of Robert Vaughan, private soldier in the 52nd Regiment, is respited till further orders.” Vaughn was fully pardoned a few days later. The death sentence was supposed to deter desertion, and remitting it was expected to endear the soldiery to their commander. The ineffectiveness of this gestured was immediately apparent, for on 14 March, less than a week after staying Vaughn’s execution, Gage notified the army that:

The Commander in chief flattered himself that the instance of mercy shewn Robert Vaughan of the 52nd Regiment would be the most eligible means to bring the soldiers to a sence of their duty to their King and Country, and to reflect more seriously on the sin they Committed in deserting the service of both; He is greatly mortified to find that clemency is so little regarded, and assures the Regiments that this is the last man he will pardon who shall be condemned for desertion.

Being sentenced to death and then pardoned certainly seems to have had an effect on the veteran soldier Robert Vaughn, but not the desired effect. On 21 April, just over a month after his pardon and days after the outbreak of hostilities, he deserted again, this time never to be apprehended.