Tuesday, February 21, 2012

John Clayton, 20th Regiment of Foot and 17th Light Dragoons

When John Clayton was discharged from the 17th Light Dragoons in September 1783, he received a standard printed discharge form with his own personal details filled in. This important document was his proof that he was legally released from military service. It states simply that Clayton had served nine years in the regiment along with standard language that he had no debts to the army or arrears due from it. But Clayton's career was considerably more interesting than the brief discharge document reveals.

Clayton was born in January 1758 in Manchester, England. He did not learn to write but did learn the trade of a butcher; like many young tradesmen he soon sought a more adventurous life. With the outbreak of war in America he enlisted as a soldier, joining the 20th Regiment of Foot at the young age of 16 or 17. He was soon bound for America. The 20th was among the regiments sent to Quebec in early 1776 to relieve the siege of that city and turn the momentum of the war in Canada back in favor of British arms. Clayton's regiment participated in a series of actions that reclaimed posts extending from Quebec down to Lake Champlain.

The following year brought the ill-fated campaign led by Lt.-General John Burgoyne that sought to secure the waterways from Quebec to Albany. In concert with troops operating out of New York city, the goal was to effectively divide the colonies into two regions that could be more easily pacified. The campaign began with splendid success including the capture of strategic Fort Ticonderoga. The young Clayton must have been full of ardor from his army's progress, but as the summer waned so too did their fortunes. A series of setbacks led to the capitulation of the army at Saratoga in October. John Clayton became a prisoner of war, but his war was far from over.

After spending a winter in crude barracks outside of Boston, followed by a long march to Albemarle, Virginia, the young Clayton had had enough of captivity. He followed the example of hundreds of other prisoners from Burgoyne's army and slipped away in July 1779 with the goal of returning to British lines. It took him longer than he'd hoped.

It took him only a few days to get to Winchester, Virginia, but there he was caught and put into jail. After a year of confinement he managed to break out and get to Fredericktown, Maryland - only to be caught and jailed once again. After a week in that town's jail, he was put in irons and marched to Fort Frederick which, in spite of the similar-sounding same, was over 150 miles from Fredericktown. Fort Frederick was used to detain British prisoners of war, but those men had become adept at escaping from it, and Clayton managed to abscond after a week or so.

He made his way to Philadelphia, where once again he was captured and put into jail. His course so far had been harrowing but hardly unique; hundreds of British prisoners of war went through similar ordeals of escape and recapture. He remained in the Philadelphia prison until the summer of 1781. He and six fellow soldier prisoners tunneled under the foundation of their cell and escaped, this time finding their way to the network of British sympathizers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey that helped countless escapee make the perilous journey to the garrison in New York. They worked their way to Barnegat Point on the New Jersey shore where a boat took them to their destination. After almost two full years as a prisoner of war, John Clayton joined the 17th Light Dragoons in late August 1779.

Although he had served in the infantry, the 5 foot 9 inch Clayton along with a number of others from Burgoyne's army joined a cavalry regiment. The 17th did include a dismounted component and it is possible Clayton served in that capacity. He also may have begun his army career in the cavalry and volunteered for the infantry in order to serve in America; several hundred cavalry men did so, but we have not found Clayton's name on any cavalry muster roll to confirm this. Regardless, he served the remainder of the war in the 17th Light Dragoons in the New York City area.

When the war ended, the army was reduced in size by disbanding some regiments and decreasing the established size of others. Soldiers eligible for discharge were given several options: return to Great Britain and be discharged there, with the possibility of receiving a pension; be discharged in New York and either re-enlist in a regiment bound for continued overseas service in Canada or the West Indies, or take a land grant in Canada and settle there; or be discharged in New York and remain in America. Clayton chose Nova Scotia, sailing there on a fleet that made its way to Port Roseway (present-day Shelburne) at the end of September 1783.

For reasons unknown, Clayton did not stay long on the rugged shores of Canada. In 1784 he made his way to Hallowell, Maine, took possession of a plot of land, planted potatoes, and married a woman named Susanna Cowan. Their first child was delivered by the famous midwife diarist Martha Ballard, who recorded that she was called for the delivery at 11PM on 15 August 1787, and the next day “put mrs Claton to Bed with a Son at 3 PM.” But tragedy soon followed; on 20 August Ballard wrote,

mr Hinkly brot me to mr Westons. I heard there that mrs Clatons Child Departed This life yesterdy & yt Shee was thot Expireing. I went back with mr Hinkly as far as there. Shee Departed ys Life about 1 PM. I ascisted to Lay her out, her infant Laid in her arms. ye first such instance I ever saw & ye first woman that died in Child bed which I Deliverd.

Susanna Clayton and her infant were interred together two days later. It appears that John Clayton was out of town when all of this occurred, for Ballard wrote on the 24th that "Claton & David Came inn from Sandy river," a plantation some distance inland from Hollowell where he apparently worked.

John Clayton soon remarried; Sally Austin was 7 years his junior and over the next 21 years the couple had at 10 children including a set of twins. After their first child was born they moved to Sandy River, and Clayton was among those who petitioned that Sandy River be incorporated as the town of Farmington.

Although he was unable to sign his discharge from the army, instead making an X mark, local lore has it that he was "quite a poet in his own way." In addition, he remained intensely proud of his English heritage and continued to revere his former commander General Burgoyne. When a number of his children were ill at the same time, under the care of the oldest two, he composed a whimsical verse that likened his large family to his former comrades:

As my two daughters did combine,
To nurse the army of old Burgoyne;
Their nursing was good but not very lasting,
For they were granddaughters of old granny Asten.

Clayton clearly had great respect for his wife's mother "Granny Austin." Sally died in 1821, and John Clayton survived her by a decade, expiring in September 1832 at 74 years of age.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Daniel Sutherland, 80th Regiment, and Elizabeth Rezeau

This is an appropriate week to present a love story, one that illustrates the too-often overlooked impact of warfare and the itinerant military life on romance.

Daniel Sutherland was a young Scotsman who responded to the feverish call to arms that echoed throughout great Britain when France joined the war and invasion of the home islands became a real possibility. Sutherland enlisted in the 80th Regiment of Foot, a new regiment raised in the Edinburgh area in the first half of 1778. Within a year they were sent to bolster British forces in America, arriving in New York in August 1779.

Soon after arrival in America Daniel Sutherland was appointed corporal, an indication that he had taken well to military life and could be trusted with responsibility. After nearly two years of routine service in the garrison of New York the 80th Regiment boarded ships again, this time bound for Virginia. There they became part of Cornwallis's army, fighting at posts along the James River before establishing themselves in Yorktown. Here they endured the siege that sealed the course of the war. Sutherland and his fellow soldiers endured 18 months of captivity before being repatriated in early 1783.

The 80th Regiment returned to the New York area, landing on Staten Island and taking up cantonments near the town of Richmond. It was here that Daniel Sutherland's fate was sealed by forces more powerful than any adversary he had yet faced: he was smitten by love.

Sutherland met a local woman named Elizabeth Rezeau, whose father and uncle owned adjacent farms on the island. The family had pledged their loyalty to the crown when the British army arrived on the island in 1776. After fancying her from afar for some time Sutherland encountered her out walking one day among the Staten Island cherry trees, and pledged his loyalty to her.

Although sympathetic, Betsy Rezeau could not return his affections. She had been deceived by an officer from the Queen's Rangers, a regiment raised in America of men loyal to the British cause. Due either to professional obligation or romantic callousness he had abandoned her and their infant child. Her father disowned her, and she now lived with her pitying uncle. She would not cast her lot again with a soldier.

Devastated, Sutherland fell into a love-lorn malaise. He carved her name into a cherry tree where they'd spoke. He returned again and again to the spot. He lost his appetite, his strength, and his very will to live. Doctor Samuel Pleydell, surgeon's mate for the regiment, attended him to no avail.

At the beginning of August 1783, the 80th Regiment removed from Staten Island to man the lines at the northern tip of Manhattan. Daniel Sutherland bade farewell to the cherry trees and the prospect of again seeing his adorned Betsy Rezeau. On the 11th of August, he died.

This tragic story was observed by one of Sutherland's comrades in the 80th, a private soldier named Andrew Scott. Scott had a penchant for poetry, entertaining his fellow soldiers with songs of their experiences set to popular tunes. Years later, Scott published a book of songs including the one called "Betsy Rosoe." More detail about Scott, including the song lyric in its entirety, will appear in my forthcoming book British Soldiers, American War due for release in the fall of 2012.

There is a caveat that the identity of the young corporal who lost his will to live is uncertain; three corporals in the 80th Regiment died after the corps left Staten Island, one each in August, September and October. I've assumed that the first of them, Daniel Sutherland, is one about whom Scott wrote. The tale as related in Scott's song fit known facts well, even though the tragic hero cannot be identified for certain.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Richard Taylor, 63rd Regiment, and Mary Taylor

At face value, the life and career of Richard Taylor seems typical enough. He was born in the parish of Charlton, near the town of Malmesbury in Wiltshire in about 1747. At the age of six, he went to Malmsbury to school which he attended for four years or so. He returned home, and at 14 years of age was apprenticed to a plasterer named Morley at St. Michael's Parish in the city of Bath. He was not indentured to Morley, that is, he was in training but not bound to stay for any period of time. He spent over five years in Morley's employ before deciding he needed a change. Like many young tradesmen seeking something more interesting, he left his employer and joined the army.

Richard Taylor enlisted in the 63rd Regiment of Foot in 1767. The regiment was in Ireland at the time; he probably encountered a recruiting party at Bath, for British regiments often sent parties to various parts of the British Isles. Within two years, Taylor was in Bedford, England, probably as part of a recruiting party himself. He stayed for about a year, then returned to Ireland where he remained with the regiment until early 1775.

The 63rd Regiment was among the first reinforcements to arrive in Boston after the outbreak of hostilities on 19 April 1775. Indeed, they had embarked before the war broke out and arrived to find conditions quite different than expected. Richard Taylor apparently served well in the regiment, being appointed to corporal on 20 November. There is some evidence that he'd held that post before for a time, but this has not been confirmed.

One facet of the non-commissioned rank of corporal is that it was somewhat volatile - muster rolls show us that it was not unusual for a man to hold the position for only a few months or a year, then return to the ranks. A given man might spend several short stints as a corporal but never advance any higher, while others remained corporals for many years and others still moved through the rank to become serjeants. There are many possible reasons for this: a man could be reduced to private if his health was not sufficient to do the job of a corporal (there were only three corporals in each company); his performance in the roll might not have been suitable; he could have had disciplinary issues; or it may have been simply that another man proved even more qualified. Muster rolls tell us what happened but not why, and there are very few records of the internal workings of most regiments to answer the questions of why.

Regardless of the reason, Richard Taylor was reduced to private soldier some time in the first half of 1778, but appointed once more to corporal on 20 April 1779. On 19 March 1780 he was reduced yet again, only to be appointed once more on 24 December 1781.

It is here that we lose contact with this interesting man. No muster rolls for eight companies of the 63rd Regiment survive for the year 1782. On the rolls kept in 1783, Richard Taylor is gone. The eight battalion companies of the 63rd were prisoners of war during this time, having been incarcerated at Yorktown in October 1781. Whether Taylor died as a prisoner, deserted, escaped and joined another regiment, or was discharged from the army is not known.

There is one more facet of Richard Taylor's story that is not revealed in simple records like muster rolls. During his time in Bedford in 1768, Richard Taylor met a woman named Mary. They were married at St. Paul's Church in Bedford, but she stayed behind when he returned to his regiment in Ireland. She never heard from him again. By 1773, she was alone with a young child and seeking support as a pauper from her native parish of St. Paul's, Bedford. The poor laws, however, required her removal to her husband's last place of employment, that is, St. Michael's in Bath. It is this removal that affords us a record of the whole story, for St. Micheal's required proof that Richard Taylor had in fact been an apprentice there. A court heard the case in which Mary Taylor deposed her husband's history as she knew it. Also introduced as evidence was a deposition that Richard Taylor had given in 1768 when he was married. These two sources were accepted as proof of Richard Taylor's apprenticeship in Bath, and Mary Taylor was required to move there.

Mary Taylor was but one of many wives who remained in Great Britain while their soldier husbands served in faraway places. Some chose not to follow, some could not get passage from the army (which provided shipping for only a limited number of wives with each regiment) and could not make their own way, and some like Mary Taylor were abandoned. Regardless of the reason, some husbands never returned and some wives never learned their fate. In an age of limited communication, distance sometimes meant permanent separation.