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.

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