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.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Don, this was the fellow I thought was in the 38th/Gren. Coy. Thanks again for the correction!