Saturday, December 8, 2012

Orson Jewitt, 47th Regiment of Foot, 17th Light Dragoons

One chapter of British Soldiers, American War focuses on cavalry troopers who volunteered to serve in infantry regiments for the war in America. Only two British cavalry regiments, the 16th Light Dragoons and the 17th Light Dragoons, were sent to America; twenty-three others (three regiments of Dragoon Guards, four regiments of horse, and 16 regiments of dragoons and light dragoons) remained behind in Great Britain, but not all of these horse soldiers were content to miss out on a foreign war. About 200 cavalrymen volunteered to join the infantry and served on foot in America.

And, in America, some foot soldiers managed to get transferred into the light dragoons. Although the 16th and 17th Light Dragoons had been augmented to a strength that far exceeded their peacetime footing, attrition in America soon took its toll. As escaped prisoners of war made their way into British lines they were put into other regiments, and some of them, even though they had served in infantry regiments, were drafted into the dragoons.

One such man was Orson Jewitt, a labourer from Norfolk who had joined the army in 1765 when he was 23 years old. His early career is unclear; the muster rolls of the 47th Regiment indicate that he was drafted from the 15th Regiment of Foot, but we were unable to find him (or a number of other drafts) on the rolls of the 15th. Regardless, he joined the 47th Regiment in Canada in 1776. With that regiment, he had the misfortune to be incarcerated in 1777.

Hundreds of British prisoners of war eventually escaped and made their way to British garrisons. We don't know how Jewitt did it, but by June 1781 he had gotten to New York and joined the 17th Light Dragoons. Three other men from his regiment joined the same troop of the 17th on the same day.

The 5-foot-6-inch soldier remained in the 17th Light Dragoons through the end of the war and took his discharge when he had completed twenty years of service. He was discharged in April 1785 “being worn out by Fatigue & Climate in America.” Unable to write his own name, he marked his discharge certificate with an X and went before the Chelsea Hospital board of examiners who granted him an out pension.

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

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