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.