Wednesday, August 29, 2012

John Russell, 26th Regiment of Foot

Those within a reasonable distance of Fort Montgomery may be interested in attending my lecture on 13 September, dealing with a British soldier who served in the October 1777 storming of that place. This installment concerns another soldier who also probably participated in that action. 

John Russell, a soldier in the 26th Regiment of Foot, had some good news awaiting him. He had inherited a valuable estate in his native Scotland, in the lowlands east of Glasgow. We don't know why Russell, son of a freeholder, had enlisted or when. Gaps in the muster rolls of the 26th Regiment prevent us from knowing when he enlisted, but his name is among the prisoners taken at St. Johns, Canada, in November 1775. An American force had surprised and seized a number of British posts between Lake Champlain and Quebec, and the prisoners, John Russell among them, were sent to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. 

Russell fared well enough as a prisoner to be exchanged with the rest of his regiment after about a year of captivity. He was appointed corporal right around the time of the exchange. There is no reason to doubt that he was in the ranks when the regiment participated in the assault on Forts Clinton and Montgomery in October 1777. A month later, he was transferred into the grenadier company, still as a corporal. For reasons not known, he was reduced to private soldier on 5 June 1778. Such reductions were quite common; although sometimes the result of disciplinary infractions, they also occurred when a man's health prevented him from performing his duty, and even sometimes at the request of the soldier himself. 

It was over three years later that news of his inheritance arrived in New York. There was only one problem: John Russell was nowhere to be found. The 26th Regiment had been drafted in late 1779; that is, the able-bodied men were transferred into other regiments, the older and unfit men were discharged, and the officers, serjeants and drummers returned to Great Britain to recruit anew. Russell had not returned with them, so word was sent to the army in New York in an effort to seek him out. An ad was placed in the newspaper:

John Russell, some time a corporal in the grenadier company of his Majesty’s late 26th regiment of foot, is desired to apply as soon as possible to James Inglis, vendue master, in New York, who has letters and instructions for him respecting a valuable freehold, and other estate fallen to him by the death of his father Mr. - Russell, of West Craigs, between Glasgow and Falkirk, in Scotland. If he does not apply in a very short time as above, or any where else execute such writings as are necessary to secure said estate, it will be legally seized upon by his brother of a second marriage; and for ever lost. It will be exceeding kind in any person who can give him information of this, or to communicate where he is, so as a letter can be sent to him. 
[The New York Gazette, 19 February 1781] 

Because the 26th was no longer in New York, there was no way to check the muster rolls which would've informed that Russell had deserted on 13 June 1779. Even if that was known, it was worth the effort to advertise for him; deserters sometimes returned and were drafted into other regiments if their original corps were no longer in the area. And some deserters managed to remain in the area incognito, although we can only wonder whether such a man would've been able to come forward to claim his inheritance without running afoul of military justice. We are left, however, to wonder - no additional information about John Russell has come to light.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Trumpeter John Philip Aulenbach, 17th Light Dragoons, and Dorothea Aulenbach

Those who follow this blog already know that most British regiments received a number of German (and other European) recruits; these men arrived in America in October 1776 as part of a large augmentation of each regiment. The augmentation of 180 private soldiers per regiment (only a portion of whom were Germans) was made so that regiments could maintain an effective operational strength in spite of wartime attrition. Besides the infantry regiments, the two cavalry regiments sent to America were also augmented. 

One German recruit who stands out is John Philip Aulenbach. He is the only one identified so far to serve in a cavalry regiment, and the only one to take up a musical instrument rather than a musket. Aulenbach was born in Gottingen, Hanover in 1755, the son of a lawyer. His parents died when he was very young, leaving him to be raised by his mother's two spinster sisters. He was educated, and at 14 years of age was confirmed in the Lutheran church. Soon after, he found work as a servant to a wealthy gentleman. During this time, he learned to play several musical instruments. 

Early 1776 brought profound changes to Aulenbach's life. On 28 March he married Dorothea Magdalena Herbst, daughter of a blacksmith. For reasons that he did not record, he then joined the German recruits being raised for the British army. In the middle of May, the young couple boarded a transport loaded with German recruits and sailed to England. There the 5' 11" Hanoverian's musical skills earned him an appointment as a trumpeter (equivalent to a drummer in the infantry) for the 17th Light Dragoons; he joined the augmentation of about 200 men for that regiment that had gone to America over a year before. 

Aulenbach and the other recruits joined their regiment in New York in late October. He dutifully served the regiment on many major campaigns - in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia and the Carolinas. Although he must have experienced many adventures, we have no details whatsoever of his wartime service except his own statement that he became Trumpet Major for the regiment. 

War's end brought the opportunity for men who joined the army after the onset of hostilities to be discharged if they'd served three years. Aulenbach accepted this offer; he and his wife were among the discharged soldiers who accepted land grants in Nova Scotia, disembarking in Port Roseway (now Shelburne) late in 1783. 

Early in 1784 a Lutheran congregation was established in Shelburne. Aulenbach, now all of 29 years old, was elected an elder and led the singing. He worked to secure space in town and money to build a church, but the new congregation did not coalesce. The pastor left after a few months, and Aulenbach took over conducting the services in a rented house. Some of the elders moved away. The treasurer absconded with funds. To make matters worse, jobs were scarce. 

In 1785 Aulenbach was advised that the town of Lunenburg needed a teacher for their parochial school. He arrived in the new town on 15 August, began his work, and quickly established himself in the Lutheran congregation there. He led the singing and conducted services when the pastor was ill. He taught Catechism and presided over funerals in town and the neighboring countryside. He and Dorothea lived alone in the school house. 

16 years and one day after arriving in Lunenburg, his faithful wife Dorothea who had followed him from Germany to America, died at the age of 52. 46 years old and childless, the teacher and sometime pastor quickly found a new connection. Just three months after his wife's death, John Philip Aulenbach married Catherine Barbara Hahn (or Horne, depending on the source), daughter of a Lunenburg blacksmith who was 23 years his junior. The couple had two sons and four daughters; their descendents still inhabit the region. 

Age gradually took its toll on the old soldier turned teacher. His left leg grew lame. His hearing failed as a result of ringing the church and school bell. In February 1819 he had a bad fall and broke his right leg, an injury that left him crippled. He nonetheless continued to teach, but his days serving the congregation were over. 

Although one source says that John Philip Aulenbach died in 1820, others suggest that he lived much longer. In 1836 the man who had once been a servant, who had presided over 142 funerals in his lifetime, was himself laid to rest. He had requested that the bell, which had claimed his hearing, not be rung at his funeral; it remained silent. His wife Catherine survived him by 29 years.