Tuesday, December 13, 2011

John Man, 64th Regiment

In spite of stereotyped ideas that literacy was rare among common soldiers, primary sources frequently reveal evidence of educated common soldiers. Not enough examples exist to do statistics, but at least we can see that illiteracy was not pervasive. My new book, British Soldiers, American War, expected to be released by Westholme Publishing some time in 2012, will present many examples of well-educated private soldiers.

The proceedings of courts martial sometimes reveal eloquent and sophisticated defenses offered by common soldiers. These are not necessarily examples of well-educated men in the ranks; sometimes sympathetic officers assisted in the preparation of the defense. One such defense was offered by John Man of the 64th Regiment of Foot.

Man (or Mann) enlisted in the 64th on 9 February 1768, a year before the regiment sailed for Boston. Like all recruits, he was attested and the articles of war were read to him. He apparently fared well in his early years of service and soon became the trustworthy servant of Ensign William Snowe. While Snowe was in Great Britain on a leave of absence, however, Man deserted. He was absent from the regiment from 5 April until 10 August 1773 when he returned to the regiment on his own volition. For this indiscretion he was tried by a regimental court martial and sentenced to received 600 lashes, but the commanding officer of the regiment pardoned him.

In 1774 Snowe, now a Lieutenant, returned to the regiment in Boston. Whether he learned of Man’s transgression or whether Man simply feared that he would is not clear, but Man indicated that he felt he had dishonored both his master and his sovereign. Driven (as he said) by shame, he collected his pay on 26 July and obtained a pass to go into town. He never returned, and was reported as a deserter on 1 August. It is especially interesting that General Gage had issued a proclamation on 9 July, effective through 10 August, offering free pardon to any deserters who returned during that time; the proclamation, however, clearly stated that it would not apply to men who deserted after the pardon was proclaimed. Man, who was surely aware of the pardon, could not avail himself of it if he chose to return.

On 19 September 1774, about seven weeks after John Man’s desertion from Boston, a sober man calling himself John Simmel enlisted in the 47th Regiment of Foot in New York. The serjeant major of the 47th gave two New York shillings to the new recruit and sent him in the care of a serjeant to be attested before a magistrate. On the way to the magistrate’s offices, however, the recruit stopped the serjeant and said that he would not be attested because he was a deserter from the 64th Regiment. He was brought back to the serjeant major and confined. Soon after, the 47th was ordered to Boston. Transport ships were sent to New York to receive them and they embarked in mid-October, including among their baggage their prisoner, John Man.

When the 47th arrived in Boston, Man was confined, apparently for convenience, in the guard house of the 65th regiment. He wore clothing provided by the 47th. Man was put on trial in Boston on 1 November and charged with desertion, to which he pleaded not guilty. Testimony from two serjeants of the 64th acquainted the court with the circumstances of his enlistment, attestation, remuneration and previous desertion from the 64th, while the two serjeants of the 47th described his attempt to enlist and his subsequent confession. The court was particular to ask whether, at the time of Man’s confession, the 47th had received orders to embark for New York and whether transports had arrived for them. Both men testified that they had not received such orders nor had the transports arrived. This apparently told the court that Man did not give himself up because he knew that he would be discovered upon his arrival in Boston; he must have had a more honorable motive for turning himself in.

When Man was called to defend himself he presented an elegantly phrased defense:

Worthy Gentlemen,

I am exceedingly sorry to be the unhappy Cause of giving you any trouble, Particularly, as I must confess I was always used in the most lenient manner by every Officer, Non- Commissioned Officer and Soldier in the Regiment.

Each time of my Desertion I had such offers & Insinuations from these designing Bostonians and Country people that, deluded by their first making me drink to excess and then conveying me away in an obscure manner, lending & assisting all help and means to forward me from my Regt especially the last time of my Desertion, that I was tempted to do what I have since sincerely repented of as well in respect of my Ingratitude to Lt Snow as the wrong I have done my King. Mr Snow was always an indulgent master to me, & my having deserted the first time on his leave of Absence, from the Insinuations and treachery of wicked people (and to which cause alone, I hope the Honble Court will impune my first Desertion, as it appears from the Evidence on my tryal that I returned of my own accord) and Lt Snow not being with the Regt when I joined, a sense of Shame on hearing he was coming to the Regt for my ingratitude to so kind a Master, with the Allurements of those designing Men, tempted me again to leave my Colours, rather than encounter the displeasure of a Master I had used ill. I beg leave further to assure the Court that having on this last Desertion been carried so far from my Regt by the Treachery of those people, it was Poverty, Want & Hunger made me take for immediate support, the Money offered me to inlist in the 47th Regt and not a Design to cheat my King & Country & which I trust my Instantly giving myself up as a Deserter will in a great measure prove. These, Gentlemen, are the only excuses I have to offer for the great crime I have been guilty of and which I have the greatest detestation and endeavoured to show a thorough conviction of my Guilt when I first appeared before you by openly confessing it.

Shou'd these reasons and my sincere repentance of my crime intercede with the Honble Court to extend their mercy to their Humble Petitioner he will be ever bound to pray for them and will be always ready to sacrifice a Life, which he shall owe to them, against the Enemies of his King and Country.

After this dissertation, Man called two officers of the 64th as character witnesses. Lt. Michael Jacob deposed that, in the year between Man’s two desertions, they had been in the same company and that Man behaved well. Lt. Snowe offered that in the five years he had known Man he had never known him to misbehave (with the exception of the desertions). He added the significant fact that, at the time of his desertion, Man “had the Care” of all of Snowe’s possessions and did not abscond with any of them.

Man’s defense that he had been coerced to desert by Boston citizens was later used by other soldiers, but we don't know if it was truly a common occurrence or if it was instead a popular excuse. The officers on the court may have known of other soldiers who claimed to have been effectively kidnapped rather than deserted. Regardless, the court could not but find Man guilty since he had obviously deserted, no matter the circumstances. The fact that Man had willingly given himself up strongly influenced the court, however, as did the “Exceeding good Character given him by his Officers.” Man was sentenced to receive one thousand lashes in four equal proportions at separate times.

We have no information on to what extent the punishment was carried out. Man continued to serve in the regiment, well enough to be transferred into the light infantry in 1776. He soon became a prisoner of war, but was exchanged in August 1778. Unfortunately, there are no muster rolls for the 64th Regiment for the year 1779, and Man is no longer on the rolls in 1780. We do not know the fate of this interesting soldier.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

John Workman, 17th Regiment of Foot

John Workman was a serjeant in the 17th Regiment of Foot when that corps arrived in Boston in 1775. The 36 year old Irishman, who had learned the trade of shoe making before joining the army, may have been expecting a short war. He certainly couldn't have expected the war that he experienced.

He served in the Boston garrison until the city was evacuated in March 1776, then on through the lightning campaign that secured New York City and New Jersey at the end of that year. The new year, however, brought a change in fortune for Workman and his regiment.

The 17th Regiment was at the center of the battle of Princeton on 3 January 1777. The regiment fought valiantly in that clash and suffered greatly. Serjeant Workman was one of over 50 men taken prisoner, a better fate than the 20 or so who were killed. We haven't determined whether he was sent to Connecticut or into Pennsylvania for captivity, but he had the good fortune to be exchanged within about a year. By early 1778 he was again with his regiment in Philadelphia.

Serjeant Workman made it through the famous battle of Monmouth as the British army worked its way back to New York. The summer of 1779 found the regiment posted up the North River (as the Hudson River was then called) at an outpost called Stony Point. This fortification was still a work in progress when it was assaulted on the night of 16-17 July by an American force under General Anthony Wayne. The attack was a complete surprise and Wayne's soldiers, relying only on their bayonets, swept through the British works. They took almost the entire garrison prisoner, including John Workman, who for the second time was marched off into captivity.

This time Workman took advantage of his pre-military skills and went to work at the Continental Shoe Factory, a facility in Philadelphia that was part of the nascent infrastructure of the American army. This contribution by British prisoners to the American war effort is little known and deserves more study. It was certainly a way for prisoners not only to occupy their time but also to provide for themselves and for their families, for many wives and children accompanied their soldier-husbands even into captivity. An October 1779 return lists 214 British, Loyalist and German prisoners of war being "At Work" in Philadelphia including 22 from the 17th Regiment.

John Workman, an experienced soldier, may have had a different motive. In late November he absconded from the shoe factory; he may have gone to work there in the first place as a way to effect his escape. He was advertised in a local newspaper:

Philadelphia, November 25.
Forty Dollars Reward.
Deserted last Monday, the 22d inst. from the Continental Shoe Factory in the Barracks of this city, a certain John Workman, a British prisoner, and Serjeant in the 17th regiment of foot, by trade a shoemaker, about forty five years of age, about five feet six or seven inches high, fair complexion, thin visage, light coloured hair, and pitted with the small-pox; had on when he went away, a brown surtout coat, white cloth waistcoat and breeches, and laced hat. Whoever will apprehend and secure the aforesaid deserter in any gaol on the Continent, or bring him to the subscriber, shall receive the above reward and all reasonable charges, paid by Alexander Rutherford.
N. B. It is supposed he inclines to go to sea; therefore all masters of vessels and others are desired not to harbour or carry him off at their peril.

[The Pennsylvania Packet, 2 December 1779]

He did not go to sea. Along with other escaped prisoners, he made his way through the countryside with the assistance of quietly loyal residents who had created a network to help British soldiers make their way into New York. They provided food, civilian clothing, directions and sometimes even served as guides from one safe haven to the next. This is another aspect of the war about which there is little literature. Roger Lamb wrote at length of his escape experience and the help he received along the way. That Workman also received assistance is known because one of the Loyalists petitioned the government for aid at the end of the war; Serjeant Workman is among the men mentioned on the claim, and was one signer of an affidavit stating that they had been "furnished... with Provisions and Necessarys provided guides for us and did every thing in his power to facilitate our Escape at a Verry Considerable Expence and Risque."

Workman made it back to New York, but he did not join his regiment. Although the Stony Point prisoners had been exchanged early in 1781, the regiment then sailed to join the British army in the south. It is not known whether Workman literally missed the boat, or if was left behind in New York to recover from his arduous experience. Due either to his illness or his absence his rank had been reduced to private soldier, a common practice to allow a fit and present man to take the serjeant's post; this sort of shuffling was necessary because each regiment had an established number of non-commissioned officers.

Because he stayed in New York, John Workman was spared from becoming a prisoner for a third time. He remained in New York through the end of the war, once again joining his comrades when they were repatriated at the close of hostilities. As the regiment was being reorganized at the end of the war, discharging men who were no longer fit for service or who had completed their wartime enlistment contract and entertaining new men who enlisted after being discharged from other corps, John Workman was appointed drummer. This seems like an unusual post for a man now 44 years old (his age was misstated in the newspaper advertisement), it was a fairly common path for former non-commissioned officers who'd been reduced to the ranks. Apparently it was a way to get these men into a position of higher pay and responsibility; we don't know if he ever actually played the drum.

John Workman was discharged from the 17th Regiment as a serjeant in 1791 at the age of 52. Like many dedicated and long-serving soldiers, he received a pension so that he did not need to return to his former profession of making shoes.