Friday, November 16, 2012

William and Elizabeth Royal, 63rd Regiment of Foot

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The featured soldier this week came to my attention because of the plight of his wife, brought to my attention by colleague and blogger J. L. Bell who does an outstanding job of ferreting out details on the individuals who formed the society of 1770s Boston and environs. We learn of Elizabeth Royal (or Royall) from a resolution by the Massachusetts Provincial Congress's Committee of Safety dated 21 June 1775: 

That Joseph Adams, driver of the stage from Newbury, be, and he hereby is directed, to transport back to Newbury, Elizabeth Royal and her child, who, as she says, is wife to William Royal, first sergeant in the 63d regiment of foot, now in Boston, and deliver her to the care of the selectmen of said Newbury, who are hereby directed to provide for her and her child, at the expense of the colony. 

The 63rd Regiment of Foot had arrived in Boston only a few weeks prior to this resolution. The regiment's muster rolls confirm the presence of William Royal in its ranks; he was already in the regiment in January 1775 and sailed with them from Ireland to America, but we have not traced his career to determine when he joined the army (another published version of the Committee of Safety's resolution gives the name as "Rogers" but there was no man by that name in the 63rd Regiment). The rolls note that he was "British" as opposed to "Irish" or "Foreign", indicating that he was from either England, Scotland or Wales. Clearly he was already married to Elizabeth before the regiment left Ireland, because by June 1775 they had a child. And he was no serjeant - the rolls list him as a private soldier.

Perhaps his wife inflated his rank in an attempt to impress her detainees. When the 63rd arrived in Boston the town was already under siege; in fact, the Committee of Safety's resolution suggests that Elizabeth Royal was taken up while trying to get into Boston from Newbury. But what were the wife and child of a British soldier, particularly one who had only just arrived in Boston, doing in Newbury at that time? 

We can only speculate. The likely answer is that she had not been allowed to accompany her husband on the transports that brought the regiment to America, and booked her own passage on another vessel. When shipping was allocated for British regiments deploying to America, an allowance was made for 60 women to accompany each regiment. This allowance is widely, and incorrectly, interpreted to mean that only 60 wives were allowed to be with a regiment at any time. Quite the contrary, most regiments in America had more than 60 wives with them; it was only the passage to America that posed a problem and many women found their own ways to make the crossing. Elizabeth Royal may have landed at another American port and then proceeded over land towards Boston. 

There are other plausible explanations. William Royal may have been a long-serving soldier who had gotten married in America during a previous deployment, then transferred into the 63rd Regiment in order to return to his family. Or Elizabeth Royal could've arrived with the regiment in May and left Boston for any number of reasons, expecting to be able to return. 

It is not known why the Committee of Safety didn't simply allow this mother and child to enter Boston, but instead sent her back to Newbury to be subsisted at public expense. We also do not know whether she was ever reunited with her husband. Even if she was, they were not destined for a long and happy future. The muster rolls show that William Royal continued to serve in the 63rd Regiment until he died on 6 October 1777; as is typical for these documents, no cause of death is given. The fate of his wife and child who dutifully tried to get to him in Boston remains unknown.

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

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