Monday, December 30, 2013

George Smith, 54th Regiment, plays through headaches

When George Smith began playing music for the British army, it was 1755 and he was ten years old. The boy from Limerick, Ireland, may have started on the fife before growing enough to handle a drum. We don't know which regiment he was in when he started. Perhaps he went on campaign and into battle in America or on the European continent during the Seven Years War.

The image of drummer boys is dear to us, but we often forget that boys quickly grown up. Twenty years after joining the army George Smith was still playing the drum, now with the 54th Regiment of Foot in Ireland. War broke out in America that year, 1775; by the end of the year the 54th was preparing to join the fight. When his regiment embarked for the first British attempt to establish a foothold in the south, however, Smith stayed behind on the recruiting service. He didn't miss much of the war, though; he joined his regiment some time in late 1776 or 1777, arriving with a contingent of recruits.

He continued as a drummer during the 54th's service in Rhode Island, enduring the three-week Franco-American siege of that garrison in August 1778.

The regiment left Rhode Island in the summer of 1779, and quickly went into battle again as part of the force that attacked New Haven, Connecticut on 5 and 6 July. Here fate caught up with the drummer who'd spend 25 years in the service unscathed. He received two bullets in the head. He nearly died; army surgeons extracted one of the balls but were unable to remove the other.

George Smith not only survived, he continued to serve. Looking at the muster rolls, one might say he never skipped a beat - he doesn't even appear as "sick," the euphemism that included recovering from wounds, on the semi-annual muster rolls in the second half of 1779. Around one hundred of his comrades in the 54th died that winter when illness swept through the regiment, but George Smith soldiered on.

In 1781, he was appointed Drum Major, a position of authority that required him to instruct young drummers and fifers in the regiment and well as handle numerous administrative tasks. He remained in this capacity for eight years, until he was discharged in 1789.

At 44 years of age, 34 of those years spent in the army, George Smith was recommended for a pension. The justification for this reward was that he suffered "from Wounds by two Shots in his Head (which were near proving mortal, and from which he still suffers great pain, one of the Bullets not being got extracted) received at New Haven in New England on 5th July 1779, and by being rheumatic, and otherwise worn out, is become quite unfit for further service." The pension was granted to this tough and faithful soldier.

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Monday, December 16, 2013

John Irwin, 9th and 40th Regiments, raises his family

Many of the British soldiers who served in the American Revolution had years of experience, if not in combat then at least in the army. As professional soldiers, they enlisted during a time of peace and learned the fundamentals of their trade. By the time they were deployed to America these soldiers with three, five, ten or more years of experience were well-versed in the basics of hygiene, maintenance of clothing and equipment, handling firearms and military discipline; this allowed them to adapt quickly to conditions in the new conflict in the new land.

The backbone of the army was composed of men like John Irwin, an Irishman who enlisted in 1771 when in his early twenties. As a young soldier in the 9th Regiment of Foot, he spent his first years in the army in his native land; in 1774, knowing that war was looming in America, the 9th Regiment was among those trained in fast-moving, open-order fighting. It wasn't long before the wisdom of this training was borne out by the outbreak of hostilities, and in early 1776 the 9th embarked with several other regiments to reinforce the British army in Canada.

John Irwin crossed the ocean not only with his comrades in arms but also with his wife. The regiment hit the ground running, fighting at the battle of Trois Rivieres within days of disembarking at Quebec, and pushing a retreating American army out of the colony and down to Lake Champlain; John Irwin served in his new role as a corporal. Whether Mrs. Irwin accompanied her husband on this campaign or remained in Quebec is not known, but their first child, a son named Samuel, was born in Canada that year.

The following summer saw the regiment, and Corporal Irwin's family, on campaign again. The 9th was involved in some of the heaviest fighting in the campaign that culminated in the Convention of Saratoga. The family made the transition from being part of a conquoring army to being prisoners of war. They spent the next four years in captivity, walking with their fellow captives first to Boston, then to Virginia finally to Pennsylvania. It's difficult to imagine a family doing this, but they were one of many that did.

They were released in late 1781, and joined the British garrison in New York city. Corporal Irwin joined the 40th Regiment of Foot in October, a regiment sorely in need of soldiers after suffering heavily at the storming of Fort Griswold the previous month. When the war ended he was given the unusual choice of being discharged and taking a land grant in Canada - unusual because this option was usually offered only to men who had enlisted after 16 December 1775, or men who had served at least twenty years, long enough to be eligible for discharge under any circumstances. Perhaps it was because he had served with particular merit, or suffered particular hardship. Or perhaps it was because he now had three children, two daughters having been born in America.

The family settled in Shelburne, Nova Scotia, with hundreds of other discharged soldiers. They settled there (instead of moving farther into Nova Scotia like many former soldiers did), had two more children, and lived out their lives. Some time in his later years John Irwin wrote a brief memorial of his life, summing up with modest brevity all that he'd endured:

    This is to certify that I enlisted in the year 1771, in the city of Dublin, Ireland, under the command of Lord Langanier, 9th regiment of foot, he being full colonel, it being commanded by Lieut. Col. Taylor, and I done duty for several years through Ireland, and I Embarked early in the year 1776, for America under the command of Lieut. Col. Hill, and landed at Quebec, Canada; from thence proceeded on a heavy campaign under the command of General Charleton and suffered greatly therein, having wintered in Canada.

    Next summer proceeded on second campaign under the command of General Burgoyne at Saratoga, and suffered there greatly by reason of several engagements - everything but death itself; became a prisoner to General Gates by capitulation and remained a prisoner for 4 years in a dreadful state of confinement, having a family with me all this time, which increased my suffering; being released came into New York and joined the 40th regiment of foot, under the command of Lieut. Col. Musgrave; being discharged in October, 1783, came to Nova Scotia and settled in the county of Shelburne, where I remained, having done military duty since I came to Shelburne until age rendered me unserviceable.

    [Signed] John Irwin.

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Monday, December 9, 2013

John Tom, 21st and 23rd Regiments, escapes and absconds

John Tom was an Irish blacksmith born in 1757 who joined the British army as a teenager. By June of 1775, he was a private soldier in the 21st Regiment of Foot, the Royal North British Fusiliers. This was one of the regiments sent to Quebec in 1776, initially to relieve Canada from the threat of rebel takeover and then to go on the offensive towards Lake Champlain. The 21st participated in the 1777 campaign that started with a flourish, driving American forces from the region of Lake Champlain, seizing Fort Ticonderoga, and pressing towards Albany. The effort floundered in October at Saratoga, and the army including private John Tom of the 21st Regiment became prisoners of war.

The prisoners were sent first to barracks outside of Boston, and the following summer father inland to Rutland. Somewhere along the line John Tom absconded; the circumstances of his escape aren't known, nor exactly where he had been held, but he was advertised in a Connecticut newspaper in June 1778:

Run away the 26th of May, inst. one John Tom an Irishman belonging to the 21st British regiment, taken at the Northward in September last by trade a Blacksmith, had on when he went away a short blanket coat striped vest tow cloth trowsers, about 5 feet 6 inches high, light complexion 21 years of age fore teeth rotten. Whoever will take up said runaway, and secure him in any goal or return him to the subscriber, shall have 5 dollars reward and all necessary charges paid, by Ez’l Williams Dep. Commiss. Prisoners.
[Connecticut Courant, 9 June 1778]

However he managed to escape, it was effective: before the end of the June he was already in New York and had joined a new regiment, the 23rd Regiment of Foot, or Royal Welch Fusiliers.

Many British soldiers made daring escapes, risking life and limb to make their way through hostile territory and rejoin their comrades, either finding the regiment they'd originally belonged to or joining one in the place where they found safety. After putting so much at risk, we can only wonder why some of these men didn't stay. After only fifteen months in his new regiment, John Tom deserted from the British army, never to return. He and another man with whom he absconded gave a brief intelligence report to an American officer:

   Two deserters from the Welsh Fusileers, which they left last Thursday was a week are arrived but give little information except that the recruits which arrived for theirs & the 7th regiment, which lay together did not exceed one hundred & ten men for the two several whereof were sick many of them old and pressed men.  Every thing had been moved out of Fort Independance, the platforms taken up but the works not destroyed.  The two regiments, which lay at Spiking Devill Hill; with the Yagers in front at Courtlands house had orders to move within their new lines.  Every hill on York island is fortifyed as strong as possible.

The information they gave about recruits was reasonably accurate at least as to numbers: the 7th Regiment had just received 55 recruits, and the 23rd had received 49. Illness had broken out among the some 1300 recruits that had just arrived for the army, and by this stage of the war some recruits were indeed in 30s and early 40s. But only 13 of the recruits for the 7th and 23rd were "pressed men", all of them put into the 23rd Regiment.

It is unfortunate that John Tom gave no reason for abandoning the army he'd worked so hard to rejoin only a year before.

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Monday, December 2, 2013

Frederick Fisher, 34th Regiment, seeks 200 acres

It's frustrating sometimes to find an interesting anecdote about a British soldier, but to have no additional information on the man to add some substance to the story - his age, where he was from, and so forth. Equally frustrating, and much more common, is to have very informative demographic data with no hint at all of the man's individuality. Frederick Fisher provides an excellent example.

The 34th Regiment's muster rolls tell us very succinctly that Fisher joined the regiment some time between April 1776 - shortly before the regiment left Ireland for Canada - and January 1777. The rolls prepared on the latter date give no indication of where Fisher and a large number of other new men came from. We can follow him through the semi-annual rolls and see that he served as a private soldier until he was discharged at Fort Niagara in June 1784.

Fisher's name, and some knowledge of the 34th Regiment, leads us to suspect that he was German. Some 2000 men were recruited by the British army in the German states in late 1775 and early 1776 for service in the ranks of British regiments; for the most part, these men joined their regiments in America in late 1776. The 34th received over 100 of these German recruits. A description list of men in the 34th prepared in 1783 correlates with this assumption, listing Fisher's country of birth as "Foreign" (as opposed to English, Scottish or Irish); there's an outside chance that he was from some other region including America, but given the large number of Europeans, mostly Germans, that joined the regiment in 1776, it's a pretty good bet that he was German.

The list also tells us that Fisher was 41 years old in January 1783 and had served 7 years in the regiment. So he was born in 1741 or 1742 and enlisted at the age of 34 or 35. That's an unusually old age for enlistment, albeit not unprecedented. Many of the German recruits who joined in their 30s had had prior military service in European armies, but we don't know if that's true of Fisher. We also learn from the desciption list that he was 5 feet 5 and one half inches tall.

Fisher appears again as having applied for a land grant of 200 acres in Ontario in June 1797. He wrote a brief but well-composed petition in which he explained that, having enlisted after 16 December 1775, he was entitled to the grant. He was correct: in a move to stimulate recruiting when it became apparent that an all-out war had begun in America, the King proclaimed that men who enlisted after 16 December 1775 were entitled to be dischaged at the end of the war, as long as they'd served at least three years, and could take a land grant in America if they wanted it. Fisher met these criteria and claimed his land, but gave no indication of why he'd waited so long to do so or where'd been in the mean time. Included in his petition was a copy of his discharge, which indicated that he was (in June 1784) 43 years old and had a swarthy complexion, brown hair and grey eyes.

Also revealing from this petition is that Fisher was able to write, and write lucidly, in English. When he'd learned this skill is not known. His German roots are perhaps confirmed by his spelling his name "Frederick Fisher" in the body of the petition but signing it "Fredrich Fischer."

This is a lot of information about the man. We know about his entire military service, and his general physical characteristics - more than we know about so many people of the era. But that's all we know. In eight years of service he certainly experienced many things, perhaps participated in dangerous military actions and contributed to the construction of fortifications that survive to this day. In over 30 years of pre-military life and over 13 years of post-military life, he was occupied at something or another every single day. It appears that he mastered two languages. And yet we know nothing of any specific thing this man did, other than write one petition. We don't even know if he got the land he asked for.

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Mrs. Dinsmore, 71st Regiment, can't find work

When the British outpost at Stony Point on the Hudson River was taken by surprise on the night of 15-16 July 1779, most of the British garrison was taken prisoner. Among the two companies of the 71st Regiment of Foot captured there was a private soldier named William Dinsmore. With his fellow prisoners he was sent into Pennsylvania, where he was held in the New Jail in Philadelphia.

Like many British soldiers, Dinsmore was married, and like many army wives, his wife dutifully accompanied him into confinement along with their two young children. We have seen before that a soldier's pay was insufficient to support a family, and that it was therefore common for army wives to hold jobs either within or outside the army. This did not change while in prisoner, and in fact conditions there could be more challenging than in garrison. Many wives of soldiers in the Philadelphia jail were allowed to find work in town - and with a war on, there was plenty to be found - but Mrs. Dinsomore's full attention was required by her children which made it difficult for her to find work. In this difficult situation, Dinsmore wrote an eloquent petition to the colonial official in charge of British prisoners in Pennsylvania:

Philadelphia, 10th August 1779
Unto Thomas Bradford Esquire Commissary for the Prisoners of War at Philadelphia.

   The Petition of William Dinsmore Private Soldier in the 2nd Company 71 British Grenadiers now Prisoner of War new Goal.

Humbly Sheweth,
   That your Petitioner is a Married Men has his Wife and two Children with him in the Goal.  That the rations allowed, is not Sufficient, to maintain or support them.  That he has no money or any thing to raise money in order to purchase any thing for his Family.  And tho’ your Honour so Charitable as to allow the Prisoners Wives to go out to the Town to Earn their livelihood; yet tho’ your Petitioners Wife had the same offer, and has good hands, it could not be expected that she could get any Family that would admit her with the trouble of her, with her two Children, as She can do very little more than take care and attend her own Children.  In this manner your Petitioner is distressed with a Family that can neither work nor want, and situated in a place where he can do nothing for himself or them; Your Petitioner is by Trade a Rope maker, bred to that business with the best of that branch of Trade in Scotland.  With regard to himself as to his honesty, fidelity and ability in his profession, he refers to Mr. John Lang from Glasgow, Rope maker in this City, who knew him from his Infancy and wrought with him at the Rope work and also knew his Parents and People.  Therefore he humbly begs that your Honour would allow him to go out to work at his Trade under the care and Inspection of any Gentleman in Town so that he could earn something for his helpless Family in their present Condition.

   May it Therefore please your Honour, to take the Tenor of ye above Petition into your Consideration, and Grant such a deliverance thereon as Shall Seem to you good, and your Petitioner will ever humbly Pray
William Dinsmore

Dinsmore's petition reveals him to have been educated, intelligent and skilled. He even had a reference from his home country living in Philadelphia; perhaps they had met when the British occupied that city for part of 1777 and 1778. His petition is a valuable source of insight into the hardships faced by wives of soldiers. At this writing, unfortunately, we've found no further information on this family - whether Dinsmore was allowed to practice his trade in Philadelphia, or whether he was eventually exchanged and returned with his family to New York and eventually to Great Britain.

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

Monday, November 18, 2013

William Goldthorp, 22nd Regiment, keeps his job

We've seen examples of soldiers who found jobs while they were prisoners of war. Some soldiers retained their jobs in spite of their captivity. British regimental officers were allowed to employ a soldier as a servant (officers above the rank of captain could have two), and men employed in this capacity earned a good wage over and above their usual soldier's pay. Servants who proved trustworthy and reliable could spend much of their military careers in the service of a single officer, and their job took them where ever their master went.

And excellent example is William Goldthorp, born in the Lambeth district of London in 1731. He learned the taylor's trade before joining the army; it appears that he served for a few years during the Seven Years' War and was discharged before reenlisting into the 22nd Regiment of Foot in 1766. By 1775 he had been taken as a servant by Captain Christopher French of the regiment's light infantry company. When the 22nd embarked for America in May 1775, Captain French and his servant Goldthorp stayed behind in Ireland (French's native land) for another month while the regiment's new clothing for the year was prepared. They sailed for America in the summer on the ship Hope.

When the Hope left Great Britain, the situation in America was changing rapidly and was not at all clear across the ocean. The 22nd and three other regiments had been directed to New York, but upon arrival off the American coast were redirected to Boston. When the Hope reached the coast two months later she made for Philadelphia, unware that the British army was by this time concentrated in Boston and the other cities were in rebel hands. The Hope, her cargo of uniforms for two regiments, Major French and his servant, and a few others were captured as soon as they set foot in America.

French was sent into captivity in Connecticut, and Goldthorp was allowed to accompany him. As the senior ranking prisoner of war (he had been promoted to major while still at sea), Christopher French was responsible for the well-being of all British prisoners in Connecticut; having served in America in the 1750s and 1760s, French also knew many American officers personally. From captivity he wrote countless letters to American officials from the local committee responsible for Connecticut prisoners to General Washington himself.

While a prisoner of war, William Goldthorp continued to do the same work for Major French that he had done while on regular service. One of these tasks was delivering letters written by his master, and he was allowed to call on various people in the Hartford area to deliver messages and receive responses. He also delivered tracts to the printer of the Connecticut newspaper, who did not print most (if any) of them.

Christopher French escaped from jail in late 1776 and made his way into New York. William Goldthorp was exchanged and returned to the service of Major French. At the end of 1777 French was promoted to the lieutenant-colonelcy of the 52nd Regiment. Entitled to two servants, he brought with him Goldthorp and another soldier of the 22nd who had been a prisoner in Connecticut with him into his new regiment; the 52nd sent two men into the 22nd Regiment in exchange.

French, having had a long career, retired from the army in late 1778. It was no coincidence that William Goldthorp once again followed his master, taking his discharge from the 52nd Regiment at the age of 47. He returned to Great Britain and went before the examining board of Chelsea Hospital to request a pension because he suffered from "fitts." He received an out pension; although nothing is known of his subsequent life, he may well have remained a servant to Christopher French, now a private citizen at his family estate in Ireland.

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

James Wilcox, 33rd Regiment, doesn't get his revenge

There's a popular perception that British regiments recruited from specific regions in Great Britain during the 1775-1783 era. They didn't. The county titles for which British regiments are so famous - the Cheshire Regiment, the Staffordshire Regiment, the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Regiment, and so forth - weren't given until 1782, much too late to influence the recruiting practices of regiments in the American war. But, like many things that were institutionalized, the assignment of county titles reflected a practice that had already begun in the 1770s. Regiments that maintained a long-term recruiting presence in a particular region tended over time to be successful at recruiting there. The war accelerated the trend when some cities endeavored to raise regiment from within their own populations, and some counties did the same.

Among the trend setters was the 33rd Regiment of Foot, among the best disciplined and most distinguished of the war. In 1782 they acquired the title The West Riding Regiment, after a region of Yorkshire, but it is clear (from surviving pension records which give mens' places of birth) that the regiment had been recruiting predominantly in Yorkshire for some time. But not exclusively in Yorkshire. Like all British regiments early in the war, officers of the 33rd Regiment recruited where ever they could best find suitable men. For Captain William Dansey of the 33rd, this men in the area of his newly-adopted home in Hereford near the Welsh border.

One of these recruits was James Wilcox. In February of 1775, at the age of 19, he enlisted with Captain Dansey. The 33rd was posted in Ireland at the time, but ; it is not known when Dansey and his Hereford recruits made their way to Ireland and joined the regiment, but they made it in time to leave Cork harbor for America in early 1776. Captain Dansey took command of the regiment's light infantry company, and Wilcox, although still an inexperienced soldier, joined him in it. Dansey described him as "a fine spirited lad."

Two companies of the 33rd including the light infantry were on a tranport named the Golden Rule when their convoy carrying nine regiments left Cork on 12 Februay 1776 bound for Charleston, South Carolina. By April they were off the American coast. It was here, still at sea, that the 33rd's light infantry had their first activity of the war. Their transport came upon an American merchant ship and, after firing a few shots and a half-hour chase, captured the vessel. This was a trivial contribution to the war but surely raised the spirits of the British troops.

In early May the British regiments landed and encamped at Cape Fear, North Carolina. It was here that young James Wilcox had the dubious distinction of being the 33rd Regiment's first battle casualty. Around the 24th he was posted as an advanced sentry one night when a violent thunderstorm came on, the worst the British soldiers had ever seen. Lightning illuminated the camp, strong winds knocked down some tents and carried others away, and intense rain began to fall. In the midst of this, three American soldiers crawled towards Wilcox on their hands and knees, stalking him as they would a hunted animal. Wilcox fired once and began to reload, but the assailants, now only ten yards away, fired back and then fled. Wilcox was hit in the wrist, but one of his attackers lay dead.

Taken back into camp and then put on a hospital ship, it was at first feared that Wilcox would lost his hand. Dansey "went on board the Hospital Ship several times to see him 'till he was out of Danger." It wasn't long before Wilcox's spirits had improved and he hoped to recover sufficiently "to do his Duty again and have his Revenge."

It was not to be so. The hand did not recover sufficiently for him to remain an effective soldier. He was discharged as an invalid and returned to Great Britain. Captain Dansey recommended him as a fit object for consideration from the government in spite of Wilcox having served only two years and two months in the army. In April 1777 Wilcox appeared before the examining board of Chelsea Hospital and received an out pension. Captain Dansey was quite pleased that Wilcox had gotten this reward, but offered sound advice:

I think Lord Bateman has honor'd me very much by his Attention to Wilcox, he has given him more than ever he merited or I desired... tell Wilcox if he does not behave exceeding well I shall use the same Interest to get it taken from him, he is in Duty bound to honor my Recommendation when he knows how many brave Fellows of my Company have suffer'd as well as him."

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

Friday, November 1, 2013

John Sturgess, 4th Regiment, shows attachment and fidelity

Before presenting the story of John Sturgess, please allow me to immodestly mention a new book that I was privileged to collaborate on, Journal of the American Revolution Vol. 1. This is a compilation of articles from the first half year of the web magazine Journal of the American Revolution and includes a strikingly interesting range of subject matter.

Many of the soldiers studied on this blog had some form of employment that they pursued while serving in the army - either working directly for the army as tailors, carpenters, wagoners or in a plethora of other roles; or outside the army during their time free from military duties. A job that was available within the army that is often overlooked, at least in terms of being a source of supplemental income, is that of being a servant to an officer. My book British Soldiers, American War devotes a chapter to this work that could employ more than 5 percent of the soldiers in a regiment during wartime, and nearly ten percent at the reduced peacetime strength.

Each company in a British regiment included three officers, each of whom was allowed at least one servant drawn from the ranks. Being a servant didn't exempt the soldier from routine military duties, but it often afforded him a higher standard of living: lodging in his master's quarters (albeit often in attics or other incommodious spaces), extra clothing provided by his master, a measure of freedom while purchasing or delivering goods for his master, and above all a supplemental income of about 35 percent of his regular soldier's wages. There was also the possibility of being retained in his master's service when that officer retired from the army.

An officer could dismiss a soldier from being a servant, or retain him as long as his work was satisfactory. Some soldiers spent much of their careers in this capacity, including John Sturgess, servant to Captain William Glanville Evelyn of the 4th (King's Own) Regiment of Foot. When the 4th Regiment arrived in Boston in 1774, he was a corporal in Evelyn's company, aparently capable of holding two roles of significant responsibility.

On the evening of 17 June 1775, reacting to the heavy toll taken by the Battle of Bunker Hill, Captain Evelyn wrote his will. He left all of his money and possessions to his mistress Peggie Wright, but added that

I desire her also to pay my servant Sturgess, two Guineas, which Legacy should have been more proportioned to what I owe him for his attachment & fidelity to me, but that what I give to Him, I must take from her. If he should be in my debt upon the Books I desire He may be forgiven.

Captain Evelyn came through that battle unscathed, but a few months later he took a post of greater danger when he assumed command of the 4th Regiment's light infantry company. In typical fashion, Sturgess transferred into the company with his master, forfeiting his corporal's knot but staying in the service of his officer. After Boston was evacuated in March 1776, the army was reorganized in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Light infantry companies has already been detached from their regiments and formed into temporary wartime battalions; in Halifax these battalions were reorganized and increased in size as more regiments arrived in America.

The greatly-strengthened army occupied Staten Island unopposed in the summer of 1775. In August, knowing that a campaign to take New York City was about to begin, Captain Evelyn wrote a memorandum revising his will. He directed that, in the event of his death, all of his possessions should be sold at auction (a typical practice of the era), and after various debts were settled Peggie Wright was to receive the proceeds,

excepting only Five Guineas which I desire may be paid to my Servant Sturgess, over & above what wages I may owe him, as a small but gratefull acknowledgement for his fidelity. I also desire that he may have all my silver Shoe and Knee Buckles & my Stock Buckles, and I would wish to recommend him to some good Master as Govr. Martin - or Lord Rawdon, who might be better able to reward his services.

Once again we see Evelyn hoping to provide for Sturgess if Evelyn himself would be unable to. It wasn't long before that became the case. Evelyn was severely wounded in battle on 14 October 1776, and died in New York three weeks later.

We've found no evidence that John Sturgess went into the service of any other officer. He continued as a private soldier in the light infantry company of the 4th Regiment at least until July 1778. That company was in the 1st Battalion of Light Infantry, serving at the forefront of dozens of skirmishes and major battles. Sturgess, modestly enriched by his deceased master's guineas and silver buckles, appears to have escaped harm. Unfortunately there is a gap in the regiment's rolls beginning in the second half of 1778 when they were sent to campaign in the West Indies; Sturgess isn't on the next set of rolls prepared in early 1780, leaving us with no clues about his fate. He may have been discharged from the service before even going to the West Indies, or perhaps even been taken on as a servant by "some good Master," but it's also possible that he met his end in the harsh climate and fierce fighting that occurred in Caribbean.

Monday, October 21, 2013

James Gamble, 80th Regiment, gets a printing job

For those who might be in the area, I will be speaking on 6 November (Wednesday) at the Washington, DC, American Revolution Round Table; and on 7 November (Thursday) at Fraunce’s Tavern in New York City. Both talks will be about my book, British Soldiers, American War.

Many of the soldiers we've discussed here had learned trades before joining the army. This should come as no surprise when one thinks of the ages and opportunities involved; young men who went to school usually studied only until they reached their teen years, and some didn't go to school at all (it would be a mistake, however, to assume that most didn't go to school). But the army didn't usually take recruits until they were fully grown, which meant at least their late teens, and the majority of soldiers enlisted in their early twenties. That meant spending at least a few years, and perhaps a dozen or more, at some sort of work - ample time to complete an apprenticeship or acquire a skill in some other way.

Sometimes those skills were useful to the army. Taylors, blacksmiths, shoemakers and others provided necessary maintenance for regimental clothing; bakers, butchers, brewers and victuallers prepared food for the army; carpenters, sawyers and coopers supported the military infrastructure. When the British army landed in Rhode Island, orders were given for the 22nd Regiment to send a printer to headquarters; although the purpose was not specified, he almost certainly prepared notices, handbills and other documents for the army.

It was not only the British army that took advantage of skilled British soldiers. Prisoners of war were put to work by their American captors, filling labor voids created by men being away in the American army and also keeping the prisoners gainfully employed rather than idle. One such man was James Gamble (also spelled Gambles, Gamiel and Gammel) of the 80th Regiment. He'd enlisted on 3 February 1778 when this regiment was being raised, part of the wartime expansion of the army.

The 80th Regiment arrived in American in August of 1779. By October of 1781 most of the soldiers were prisoners of war, having been taken as part of General Cornwallis's army at Yorktown. James Gamble was a prisoner of war after his first campaign. He and his fellow soldiers were sent to Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Gamble's skills were noticed by the Committee of Safety. In March 1782 he was sent to Philadelphia to the Commissary of Prisoners, presumably because that officer had requested a printer from among the British prisoners. A letter informing the commissary of Gambe's impending arrival indicated some uncertainty about his suitability for whatever tasks were expected of him; the committeeman wrote that Gamble was "more of stationer than printer," and said he was told there was a printer among the prisoners of the 17th Regiment who might be more suitable (and, in fact, there was: Corporal John Waterman of the 17th, who survived the war and received a pension in 1791).

How Gamble worked out at his job in Philadelphia is not known. He must have liked his overall experience in America, though, as he was one of many British prisoners who did not return to his regiment when prisoners were repatriated in 1783. Like the others, he was written off as a deserter. 

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Hugh Fraser, 76th Regiment, takes a blow to the gut

John Sinclair and Hugh Fraser were soldiers in the 76th Regiment of Foot. One afternoon, on the deck of a transport ship near the bow, Sinclair's wife Sophia approached Sinclair and grabbed his collar; they apparently had some sort of joke between them that she was playing upon, but something went wrong.

The 76th was a new-raised regiment, recruited in Scotland in late 1777 and 1778, one of several such regiments created for the duration of the American war and disbanded after hostilities ended. Being new-raised didn't mean that all of the soldiers were new to military service; an unknown portion of the men had reinlisted after having served in the army previously. But the regiment's recruiting instructions directed that recruits be between the ages of 18 and 30, so in absence of other information we assume that most of them were.

The regiment sailed for American in 1779. It was on board one of the transports, the Kingston, that Sophia Sinclair grabbed Hugh Fraser's collar. For reasons we'll never know, Fraser didn't take it lightly, he turned on Sophia, putting her hands around her throat, and shouted “You will not do that, I am not afraid of you!” She struggled with him, apparently trying to free herself, but his arms were longer than hers. Her husband John sprang to her aid, punching Fraser once on the left side of the head and once in the stomach. Fraser collapsed immediately, without a sound, and almost without movement. A crowd gathered; someone swore that Fraser was dead, and Sinclair, still agitated by the apparent assault on his wife, responded, “If he could he would give him more.”

Hugh Fraser was, in fact, dead; after receiving the two blows he went immediately silent and barely moved again. The regimental surgeon was called for, but had to come from another transport. By the time he got there to examine Fraser, the lower part of his stomach had become discolored. It was nighfall, so the surgeon waited until the next morning to examine Fraser's body, by which time "the Putrefaction had so suddenly taken place, that he was prevented seeking further into it."

A few months later, after the regiment had arrived in New York and gotten settled in, John and Sophia Sinclair were put on trial for murder. They were tried together; it was not unusual for military courts to try several offenders of a single crime in one case, hearing each witness testimony only once and then pronouncing a verdict against each defendant. Although no one had see in detail the beginning of the scuffle, several had seen John Sinclair strike Fraser, including one man who had been "looking over a Corporal’s Shoulder who was reading" when the noise on deck caught his attention. Everyone agreed that Fraser had been in good health, that there'd been no previous sign of animosity between him and Sophia Sinclair, and that they'd "seen people engage in a fiercer manner without such a fatal accident happening."

John Sinclair pleaded in his defence that he'd had no intention of taking Fraser's life; Sophia indicated that all she'd done was grab Fraser's collar. Two officers testified to their good character, including one for whom John Sinclair had been a servant for a year before the crime occured; "he should not have parted with him, but for this late unhappy affair," and his wife "always behaved herself exceedingly well."

John and Sophia Sinclair were acquitted of murder. It is, unfortunately, impossible to trace their subsequent lives because there are gaps in the 76th Regiment's muster rolls, there were two men named John Sinclair in the regiment in in 1778, and only one remained in 1782, but there's no way to know which one was which. There was only one Hugh Fraser on the rolls in 1778, and of course he's no longer there in 1782; although he never even got to America and met an ignominious end, at least we know what became of him.

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

Monday, October 7, 2013

William Lewis, 37th Regiment, receives a hurt at sea

We've seen a number of soldiers who were disabled not by wounds but by accidents, an often overlooked hazard of military service particularly in wartime. This week we tell the story of one such man who was injured on an expedition that was called off before he ever went into battle.

First, however, I'm pleased to announce that a new book, a compilation to which I contributed several articles and some editorial work, will be released soon. Journal of the American Revolution Vol. 1 is a selection of articles from the Journal of the American Revolution web magazine, which I also highly recommend. If you're looking for a good starter book on the American Revolution, or a good gift for someone with a casual or serious interest in history, this book is an excellent choice.

On to the story of William Lewis. This young laborer from Lincolnshire enlisted in the 26th Regiment of Foot early in 1779 at the age of seventeen. It appears from the muster rolls that he enlisted in America, but how he came to be in the colonies is not known - and it is possible that he enlisted in Great Briton; muster roll annotations are often ambiguous.

The 26th Regiment had been in America since before the war began. In 1775, most of its men were taken prisoner at posts from Fort Ticonderoga (a small detachment of the 26th manned that fort when it was seized by Vermont soldiers led by Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold) to Montreal. By 1777 the prisoners were exchanged and new recruits filled out the ranks, but in 1779 it was time for the 26th Regiment to return to Great Britain. Following a typical procedure, able-bodied men in the 26th were transferred (drafted) into other regiments in America; unfit men were discharged, and the officers and non-commissioned officers returned home to recruit anew. William Lewis, young and able, was drafted into the 37th Regiment of Foot in August 1779.

He came into his new regiment at a relatively inactive time for the New York garrison. The locus of the war was shifting south, but the 37th remained part of the strong garrison where the British army in America was headquartered. The regiment participated in the expedition that resulted in the battle of Springfield, NJ, in June 1780 and Lewis may have gotten his baptism of fire there. Late the following year came the opportunity to see another even bigger action.

It is well known that General Cornwallis's southern army established a fortified camp at Yorktown, Virginia, where they would meet their demise. This army wasn't given away haphazardly, however; a relief force was assembled and embarked in New York in October 1781 to reinforce and relieve Cornwallis. Among the nearly 7000 troops distributed on Royal Navy warships was William Lewis, on board HMS Belliqueux with 280 men of the 37th. Belliqueux was a brand new 64-gun ship launched just a year before in London, named after a French ship captured in 1758.

The expedition sailed, but too late; they were at sea when they learned of Cornwallis's capitualtion, and they returned to New York and disembarked the troops. Somehow, though, during his time on ship Lewis's leg was broken. Over time it healed, but it never healed well. He managed to continue on in the army, spending time in the Bahamas in the 1780s where he contracted a severe fever.

By 1790 his leg had gotten worse and he still suffered from the effects of the fever. He was discharged from the army (he signed his own name on his discharge, suggesting that he was a literate man) and was put in a physician's care for his "incurable sore leg; in December 1791 the doctor wrote that Lewis "Has from the 14th of July 1790 been under my care of ye same complaint & the wounds of his legg, has occasioned him to be confined to his Room, from ye time above mentioned to ye Latter end of October last. And although I have it so Purfect as it now appears, I am Doubtfull there is some small fractures of bones, that will at different times come forward & disable him from being a usefull Soldier or even to provide for himself & family."

William Lewis was granted a pension, a meager subsistence for himself and the family he had to support in his disabled condition. But it's more than he would've gotten in any private profession had he suffered a similar injury.

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

Monday, September 23, 2013

James Davidson, 63rd Regiment, endures years of severe labor

Scotsman James Davidson was 22 years old when he enlisted in the 63rd Regiment of Foot, choosing the life of a soldier over his previous profession, probably as a farm laborer. Actually, unlike men who enlisted in peace time, Davidson may have intended from the outset not to spend his life as a soldier. As an inducement to raise men for the war in America, the British government offered land grants to men who enlisted after 16 December 1775 and had served for at least three years when hostilities ended. At that time there was no knowing how long the war might last, but 50 acres of land, even overseas, was quite an inducement for a young laborer who otherwise held little chance of owning property. Davidson enlisted early in 1776.

Davidson probably arrived in America in October 1776 with a large convoy of recruits for the army. His regiment was one of those that occupied Rhode Island in December of that year. The regiment returned to New York in the spring of 1777. Later that year, Davidson was among the soldiers of the 63rd who stormed Fort Clinton on the Hudson River, coming through that heated engagement unscathed. Having acquired skill and experience, in 1779 he was transferred into the regiment's light infantry company, ensuring that he'd be in the thick of future engagements. Whether that was an attractive proposition we do not know, but the danger soon became apparent.

The 63rd's light infantry was part of the substantial force that beseiged Charleston, South Carolina in early 1780. The British captured the city but only after an arduous campaign that saw many skirmishes. James Davidson was wounded twice, once by a musket ball in the leg and once by a bayonet thrust into his arm, the latter probably during hand-to-hand fighting in the trenches close to the city. These wounds rendered him unfit for further active service, and he was discharged from the 63rd Regiment in August 1780. Had he continued to serve, he may well have been wounded yet again in one of the several difficult actions that the 63rd faced in the south.

Like many wounded soldiers, Davidson's military career was not over when he was discharged. Still capable of some service, he joined the Royal Garrison Battalion, a pro tem corps of men like himself who were able to man defensive positions in garrisons. He was sent with this corps to Bermuda where he served through the end of the war.

The Royal Garrison Battalion was disbanded in late 1783 and its men given choices based on how long they'd been in the army. Davidson, having enlisted after 16 December 1775, chose to take a land grant in Canada even though he could have returned to Great Britain and sought a pension. Most British soldiers discharged from regular regiments received grants in Nova Scotia, but those discharged from the Royal Garrison Battalion generally received grants in New Brunswick along with discharged loyalist soldiers. Davidson took a grant in Charlotte County and lived there for the rest of his life.

He toiled to improve his land "in a new & wilderness Country with the nature of which he was unacquainted." Through "severe labor" he "arrived at a degree of comparitive comfort." But illness visited him and his family, followed by the challenges of old age. In the 1830s, the Canadian provincial government offered pensions to worthy "old soldiers." James Davidson, 82 years old, crippled with rheumatism and unable to write his own name, had someone pen a petition for him which he signed with his mark and presented in 1838, which secured him a modest pension income in his declining years.

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Thomas Parks, 37th Regiment - sick!

Finding a soldier's name on a regiment's muster rolls, and tracing his career from the date that he joined until the date he was discharged, gives a perception of knowing the man's experience. The regiment went here and there; he was a soldier, so he went with it, he did the things the regiment did, fought where it fought. For most soldiers this is the best we can do, find a name and some dates and make logical assumptions. Occasionally another document comes to light that proves the assumptions completely wrong and reveals a completely different military experience.

Such is the case with Thomas Parks, a private soldier in the 37th Regiment of Foot. He enlisted some time after that regiment had sailed for America at the very beginning of 1776. Having done so, he trained in Great Britain along with recruits for his own regiment and others, probably at Chatham Barracks near London. In 1777 he and other new soldiers who were ready embarked on transports and came to America. Parks joined his regiment in New York in the late summer.

His name can be followed through the semi-annual muster rolls for the next several years, but in 1778 his name carries the annotation "sick" next to it. This cryptic term is commonly used in these documents and signified anything that incapacitated the man from normal service, from battle wounds to camp fevers. Parks remained "sick" on every muster roll until he was discharged in January 1782. Men discharged in America had the option of returning to Great Britian or remaining in the colonies, sometimes to serve the army in another capacity or sometimes to find a new way of life. For most men we can only guess; for Thomas Parks, we have a deposition written almost eight years later.

From this document we learn that Thomas Parks was from a town named Rowley in Staffordshire, and that he enlisted at the age of 19 after having worked as a nailor. His training in England may have gone well enough but his soldiering in America did not. He was first rendered "sick" less than a year after disembarking because his musket burst and destroyed the use of his right hand. The wounded limb did not heal quickly. He remained in military medical care until September 1781 when it was finally recommended that he be sent to England and recommended for a pension because of his disability. He was given military pay through 25 January 1782 (the discharge date shown on the muster roll, months after his obligation to the army ended) in order to support him on his passage home. Before he could find a ship and book a passage, however, he was stricken with a violent fever and malarial symptoms. A Staffordshire native living on Long Island took Parks into his care.

Parks' illness lingered into 1783. By the time he was well enough to leave, the British army had left the American colonies. Parks tried to book a passage from New York to England but was unable to do so. The best alternative he could find was to the nearest British garrison town, Quebec. He did so, and there found a sympathetic army officer who paid for his passage to England and arranged that he receive an allowance for provisions until he could appear before the pension board of Chelsea Hospital.

It was not until November 1789 that Thomas Parks arrived in his native country that he'd left a dozen years before. He'd served offically for six years in the army, from his enlistment some time in 1776 until his discharge dated 1782, but had spent most of his time overseas langishing in distress, disease, discomfort and displacement. He was granted a pension, guaranteeing him a modest income for the rest of his days.

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

John Stewart, 7th Regiment, is overpersuaded

Knowing that between ten and twenty percent of British soldiers were accompanied by their wives on service, it stands to reason that many children were born in garrison towns, encampments and on the march. Unfortunately there are no known comprehensive records of such births, only a few anecdotal accounts and indications survive. Some of those children became soldiers themselves; although there are also no comprehensive records of soldiers' birth places, among those that we do have are a few men who were "born in the army."

One such man was John Stewart, a soldier in the 7th Regiment of Foot. Born to a soldier and his wife, he was enlisted as a drummer at an early age (not all drummers were young "drummer boys", but some were), and also learned to play the fife. When old enough, probably in his late teens, we went into the ranks as a private soldier. He did his duty well; one of his officers commented that "he would sometimes drink but he was in general looked upon as a smart clean Soldier." Smart enough that, by the time the regiment came to America in the early 1770s, he had been appointed corporal in the regiment's light infantry company.

In 1775 war broke out and John Stewart's career took a bad turn. The 7th Regiment garrisoned posts between the northern end of Lake Champlain and Quebec. An American expedition quickly seized all of these posts, ultimately laying siege to Quebec itself. Most of the 7th and 26th Regiments were captured piecemeal, including corporal John Stewart who was taken when the fort at St. John's fell early in November 1775.

Stewart and hundreds of other prisoners were sent to various locations in Pennsylvania and Connecticut; Stewart was sent to Lancaster, Pennsylvania with many others from his regiment. Stewart endured about nine months as a prisoner, but in July 1776 he gave in to overtures from his captors, accepted an enlistment bounty, and joined an American regiment. An officer of the 7th Regiment went to American authorities and demanded him back, but in spite of assurances Stewart was not seen again.

At least, not by his immediate comrades. Stewart's new regiment marched from Lancaster to Philadelphia; upon arrival there they marched into the city with some fanfare, Stewart wearing a new blue rifle jacket and playing the fife. An officer of the 7th Regiment and his soldier servant happened to be in Philadelphia at the time; the servant saw this rebel corps marching by and recognized their fifer as a former fellow soldier. Stewart also recognized the servant and, in a remarkably bad career move, stopped playing his fife and bowed to the man as he passed. The servant spotted Stewart again the next day in company with other American soldiers.

Stewart's regiment moved on into New Jersey, taking station at Fort Lee on the Hudson River opposite Manhattan. They retreated hastily from that place in the face of a rapid British advance. In early December the Americans in New Jersey were in full retreat. John Stewart separated himself from his regiment and turned himself in to British soldiers in Newark; he was taken prisoner and sent to British headquarters in New York.

In February 1777 Stewart was put on trial for desertion and bearing arms in the rebel service, perhaps the most serious crime a soldier could commit. soldiers of the 7th Regiment, having been exchanged from captivity and now serving in New York, testified to his service in that corps, his desertion from captivity, and his appearance as a fifer in Philadelphia. In his defense, Stewart claimed that he had run out of money and clothing, and was "overpersuaded" to enlist by offers of money. He pointed out that he had deliberately sought out the British lines in New Jersey and identified himself when taken in. He called an officer as a character witness who testified to his long and generally good service.

All of this was not enough to pursuade the court. The fact that he had deserted was unquestionable. The charge of bearing arms was somewhat doubtful because Stewart had only been seen playing the fife, but doing so at the head of a corps of armed men was sufficient to bear out the charge. He was found guilty and sentenced to death. At this writing it has not been determined whether the sentence was carried out or if he was pardoned.

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Richard and Rosanna Williams, 22nd Regiment of Foot

Richard Williams enlisted in the 22nd Regiment of Foot in November 1769. It was a good time to join the army, and this particular regiment. Having returned from long service in America in 1765, the regiment had finished the flurry of recruiting to replenish its ranks was in good stable state of readiness. The 22nd was sent to Scotland in the early 1770s to garrison towns from Inverness to Fort William. The soldiers were kept busy maintaining the network of military roads built early in the century that allowed rapid deployments if necessary. The work involved clearing drains, repairing erosion, removing loose stones and similar labor; tedious work, to be sure, but it paid 6 pence per day over and above the soldier's usual wage.

In 1773, the regiment moved from Scotland to Ireland, where they wintered in Dublin and spent summers camping in the countryside. The peaceful routine came to an end early in 1775 when orders were received to sail for America. Through service in Boston, Halifax, Staten Island, New York and Rhode Island, Richard Williams served well enough to be appointed corporal in late 1776 and to command sizable parties of men. In 1778 he testified against a soldier who'd deserted from a guard post; the soldier was found guilty and lashed. Not long after the evacuation of Rhode Island in late 1779, Williams was appointed serjeant. Somewhere along the line - maybe before he joined the army, maybe as recently as in Rhode Island - he married a woman named Rosanna.

As the 1780 campaign season opened, a large British army laid siege to Charleston, South Carolina. Back in New York, an attempt was made to raid the headquarters of the Continental Army in Morristown, New Jersey by sending a large force from Staten Island to Elizabeth, New Jersey and marching over land. British soldiers had been executing long, rapid marches like this since the onset of the war; even though the 22nd and other regiments included many recruits who'd arrived only the previous autumn, there were an ample number of experienced men like Serjeant Richard Williams to prepare them. They marched lightly; each man carried his blanket, one spare shirt, seven days' worth of biscuit and four days' worth of pork in his haversack; one days' ration of rum mixed with water in his canteen, and 48 rounds of ammunition in his cartridge pouch. No tents or knapsacks were carried. Wives stayed behind.

The army, consisting of roughly 6000 men, landed in New Jersey during the night of 6-7 June with the intention of quickly covering the 20 or so miles to Morristown. Local resistance, however, was much greater than expected as New Jersey militia rapidly mobilized. Fighting became intense in the town of Connecticut Farms, today named Union. The British advance ground to a halt, and their forces withdrew to Elizabeth where they encamped as best they could with the sparse equipment they had. The 22nd Regiment was posted as an advance guard. The night was dark, as dark as anyone could remember, and rainy. Men got lost in the darkness. On the 8th American troops descended upon the 22nd Regiment; a German regiment advanced to support them, but ultimately they were forced to withdraw to the main British encampment with several men wounded.

Somewhere during these encounters, either in the darkness or during the confusion of battle, 2 serjeants and 16 private soldiers of the 22nd Regiment were captured. Among them was Richard Williams. The prisoners were quickly sent to Philadelphia where they were held in a common jail with other prisoners of war.

Conditions in the jail were harsh. Williams and his fellows hoped a quick exchange would allow them to return to New York, but months passed and hope of this dwindled. Realizing that they would be stuck in jail at least for the winter, and with only the clothing he's worn when the June expedition began, Richard Williams penned a letter to Rosanna. He affectionately began it "Dear Rosey" (abbreviating the first word in typical fashion of the era). He asked her to "get my shirts Briches shoes & stockings great Coate and Blanket with som money and get your self ready" to join him in Philadelphia.

This may sound like an odd request, but it illustrates two important facets of the era: wives of British prisoners of war often stayed with their husbands in captivity, either in prison camps if their husbands were confined that way, or in lodgings they'd procured for themselves in the area; and, an army was responsible for providing clothing to its men who were held prisoner, rather than the captors doing so. Everything that Richard asked of Rosanna was typical of the age, and he requested that she give the same instructions to the wife of the other serjeant confined with him. He told her who to ask for instructions on how to obtain a pass.

Williams ended his letter with a lament, "I am sorry that you never sent me a Letter to let me know how you are and where you Lived which gives me great uneasyness of not hearing from you." And he closed with "I remain your Loving Husband."

Conditions in the Philadelphia jail were harsh and unforgiving. It is unfortunate that we know nothing more of Rosanna Williams, whether she went to Philadelphia or even received the letter (which today is in a collection of papers belonging to the American commissary of prisoners, leaving doubt as to whether it was delivered). Whatever transpired, this chapter of her life certainly did not end well. Richard Williams wrote the on 23 November 1780; he died in prison on 13 January 1781; six more of the 18 men captured in June 1780 died in prison and two others died soon after their release in 1783, a clear indication of the awful conditions the prisoners endured. Another earned his release by signing an oath of allegiance and settling in Pennsylvania. Among those who were repatriated and received pensions after the war ended, one was "sickly & worn out" while another suffered from "bad health, being long a prisoner."

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

Monday, August 19, 2013

William Baylis, 53rd Regiment, escapes the butchers

The early military career of William Baylis, a laborer from Anvill in Staffordshire, is not known. Born in 1741, he joined the army at a young age in 1755 and apparently was discharged again twenty years later; we've found no record of where he served.

Like many career soldiers, after being discharged he enlisted in the army once again, this time joining the 53rd Regiment of Foot. The 53rd was in Ireland at the time, but Baylis may have enlisted with a recruiting party somewhere else in Great Britain. He joined his new regiment in Dublin on 21 April 1775 and probably expected a routine career given the length of time he'd already served.

Soldiers in Ireland, however, faced an imminent danger. Bands of ruffians attacked lone soldiers in the night, savagely cutting their achillies tendons with razors or cleavers in order to cripple the hapless soldiers. The practice was called houghing (pronounced "hocking"), a reference to the joint in an animal's leg corresponding to the human ankle; many of the attackers were Dublin butchers who worked in Ormonde Market. Modern scholars debate the motivation of these attacks, whether they were explicit responses to British treatment of the Irish, anti-military statements related to the American war, or simply extensions of the turf wars that plagued 18th century Ireland. For whatever reason, many unsuspecting soldiers were maimed between 1772 and 1788, primarily in Dublin in 1774, 1775 and 1776. The widespread attacks even even spawned a few instances of self-inflicted wounds by soldiers hoping to avoid wartime deployment and instead obtain a pension.

At about 9PM on 28 November 1775, William Baylis was making his way along the dark street towards Gallows Green in downtown Cork on his way home to the barracks where his regiment was quartered. According to a local newspaper,

On Saturday night last about nine o’clock, William Baylis, private soldier in the 53d regiment, was inhumanly assaulted by some bloody villains unknown, who came behind him and knocked him down, as he was coming peaceably to his barracks, and cut him desperately in two places on the left leg, with an intention to hough him, but providentially the tendent achilles was missed.  This horrid action was committed in the street leading to Gallows green, by ruffians supposed to be butchers, who immediately after made off into some of the cabbins in that street.

Although some houghers were caught and punished severely, usually executed, there is no evidence that these attackers ever answered for their crime. Baylis was fortunate that his assailants missed their mark. Not only was he not crippled, he recovered fully and was able to embark with the 53rd Regiment when it sailed for Quebec early the following year. The veteran soldier was fit enough to be transferred into the regiment's grenadier company in early 1777. With this company he served in the grenadier battalion of Burgoyne's army on the 1777 campaign towards Albany; the grenadiers were often engaged in heavy fighting.

By the end of the campaign Baylis had become a prisoner of war, but it is not clear whether he was among the soldiers surrendered at Saratoga or was taken at some other time. Regardless, he spent over four years as a prisoner of war before finally being repatriated in 1782. The extensive hardships he'd endured made him a prime candidate to be discharged when hostilities ended, but he did not choose that option. William Baylis remained in the ranks of the 53rd Regiment until June 1790 when he was finally discharged at the age of 49, having served 34 years and three months as a British soldier and by this time suffering from "chronic Rheumatism." He was granted the pension that he'd narrowly avoided receiving fifteen years earlier.

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Sarah Muncrief meets Cpl. Charles McKenny, 5th Regiment of Foot

Our previous installment concerned a soldier who made good by joining the army, getting 50 acres of land for serving only one year abroad and seeing no hostile action. It's important to know that sort of story because many men experienced it, but it is, let's face it, boring. This week let's look at something less common but more, um, exciting.

The story begins when Boston resident Sarah Muncrief went to the outhouse on 2 August 1774. This would not normally be something worth noting here, but her visit soon became non-routine. Corporal Charles McKenny of the 5th Regiment of Foot suddenly threw the door open, rushed in, grabbed her arms and pushed her backwards. She screamed "Murder!" a few times, until McKenny put one hand on her throat and lifted her petticoats with the other.

Kate Darby, who lived in another part of the same house as Sarah, heard Sarah's cries; she ran to the outhouse and pulled McKenny off of Sarah. Kate (or Katey) called McKenny an impertinant dog and swore to have him punished. McKenny drew his bayonet, upon which Sarah escaped into the house; McKenny attempted to pursue her but was restrained by Kate Darby.

Sarah lodged a complaint and Corporal McKenny was immediately incarcerated. He was brought before a regimental court martial four days later on charges of "abusing and ill-treating a Town's Woman." Sarah Muncrief (who was 17 or 18 years old if we've identified her correctly) told her story but called no witnesses. She explained that McKenny had come to the house a few minutes before the assault and asked for Kate Derby or another person named Delbrenton. Sarah told him she didn't know the whereabouts of either person, and McKenny went away; the assault occurred shortly after, and Sarah was sure she knew who the attacker was.

McKenny gave perhaps the worst imaginable defense in such a situation. He told the court that did in fact assault a woman in the outhouse, but he couldn't say whether the woman was Sarah Muncrief. He also claimed that when she told him to desist, he did. It's no surprise that the court found McKenny guilty. He was sentenced to be reduced in rank to private soldier and to receive 100 lashes. But his actual fate was different.

In an attempt to show forgiveness, and perhaps in revulsion to the concept of corporal punishment, Sarah Muncrief met with General Hugh, Earl Percy who was both Colonel of the 5th Regiment and commander of the garrison in Boston (General Gage, the commander in chief, was at his summer home in Salem). Even though McKenny had "assaulted me in my privy and used me in a ridiculous manner," she asked Percy to forgive his punishment on the condition that he never again molest her or any of her family nor come near her home lest he receive triple the punishment sentenced by the court. The general gave his word that he would abide by these terms; the muster rolls of the 5th Regiment confirm that McKenny retained his place as a corporal.

Sarah's graciouness was not well received by the townsfolk who were in general at odds with the soldiery and happy to see a British regular punished. Rumors spread that she was a lewd woman, that she showed lenity because she admired McKenny. She became an object of ridicule.

In an effort to clear her name, she wrote a letter to the editor of the Boston Gazette explaining her case. She included the proceedings of the court martial as proof that she had, in fact, lodged a complaint against McKenny and seen him sentence, then forgiven him out of goodness. She concluded her entreaty with, "If I had been a lewd woman I should perhaps laid ten times the punishment on him to make me appear virtuous to the eyes of the world." Her letter and the court proceedings were published on 29 August 1774.

This appears to have been the end of the matter. No more is known of Sarah Murcrief. As for Corporal McKenny (or McKinny, as his name is sometimes spelled on the muster rolls), he continued to serve in the 5th Regiment. The Irishman was reduced to private soldier on 8 March 1776 but we do not know the reason; while we could guess that it was because of a disciplinary action, there were other more mundane reasons for men to return to the ranks. In 1777 he was transferred into the grenadier company as a private soldier. With the 5th Regiment he saw service on the Philadelphia campaign, then went to the West Indies in 1778. He survived that harsh climate, and was still in the ranks when the regiment returned to Great Britain in 1781.

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

Monday, August 5, 2013

William Scoles, 33rd Regiment, turns to fishing

Most of the soldiers who get writeups here had something remarkable about their careers that survives in the historical record. A long career, battle wound, trial by court martial, desertion or some other event that caused more to be written down than just his name and dates of service. To focus on these men is to overlook the legions who lack such distinguishing details. The absence of interesting recorded information doesn't mean their lives were uninteresting, only that we know too little about them.

An example of such a soldier is William Scoles of the 33rd Regiment. He took advantage of a sweet deal offered by the British government: men who enlisted after 16 December 1775 (that is, after it became apparent that the war might be a long one and the army's size needed to increase) could receive land grants in the colonies at the cessation of hostilities if they had served for at least three years. Owning land was unlikely for a commoner in Great Britain, so this was a very tempting offer. It did mean spending at least three years as a soldier in a war in a faraway place, but many considered this a risk worth taking.

Scoles was probably from Yorkshire; although British regiments did not have regional affiliations until 1782, the 33rd recruited heavily in this area and varations of the name existed in the region. His enlistment date is not known but was probably in 1780 or early 1781. The war had ground on for many years by this time with no end in sight and many wounded veterans had returned home, but high enlistment bounties and the possibility of 50 acres of land remained enticing.

Like most British recuits, Scoles spent a considerable amount of time training in Great Britain before embarking with other recruits for America. He boarded ship in May 1782. The convoy carrying these recruits, several hundred for regiments in New York, stopped first at Halifax, Nova Scotia in mid-August. The naval commander there, however, was concerned about sending the convoy immediately to New York because there weren't sufficient warships available as escorts to guard against capture by the French navy. Although the war was winding down and peace negotiations were under way, the convoy was too valuable to risk.

William Scoles and the other recruits were disembarked and put on duty in the garrison city of Halifax. For administrative purposes they were added to the muster rolls of their regiments in New York, but never actually joined those corps. This is probably the reason that Scoles' name appears as "Seals" on the muster rolls of the 33rd Regiment; Elijah Scoles (or Scholes) was also among the recruits, and is also called "Seals" on the muster rolls. Apparently the officer or serjeant who prepared the rolls copied the names from a list that was written either poorly or incorrectly.

After about 14 months in Halifax, the war over and the army being down-sized, William Scoles was given his discharge from the army. He had the option of reenlisting (which many men did), returning to Great Britain at the army's expense, or staying in Nova Scotia; if he did the latter, he was eligible to receive 50 acres of land. Rather than take the land, he "followed the business of fishing" but five years later filed a petition to obtain a vacant 50-acre lot on Halifax harbor "on the Western Shore, between Sleepy cove and Ferguson's Cove." His request was granted. He settled there, continued to fish, married, and raised a family. The risk he took by enlisting in a wartime army rewarded him well with a new life on his own land, in return for serving three years far away from any hostile action.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

William Shields, 40th Regiment, quits his post

Crowded with soldiers, sailors, and civilians of all sorts and under siege by a large rebel army, security was a major concern in Boston in 1775. Soldiers patrolled the streets at night alert for signs of disorder and sentries were posted at store houses and other places holding goods that might be stolen. On the evening of 11 November, a corporal posted William Shields of the 40th Regiment of Foot as a sentry at Stoddard's store house on Pitt's Wharf. The corporal shook the padlock on each of the store's three doors, and gave explicit instructions to Shields to let no one in two of the doors, and at the third door to admit only a lame man in a red stocking cap. The corporal then marched on with a party of soldiers to be posted at other locations.

An hour or so later, around 6:30PM, a patrol of men belonging to the North British Volunteers, a loyalist corps recently formed of Boston residents, made their rounds past Pitt's wharf. At a place where they knew a sentry was normally posted they were surprised to find only a firelock with fixed bayonet leaning against the wall of a building. Assuming that the sentry had stepped away for a moment, they waited; when no sentry appeared after ten minutes or so, they started to look around in the darkness. They called to the next sentry, posted about a hundred yards away, asking if he knew the whereabouts of the missing man, but he did not. They discovered that the store had no lock on one door but the door seemed to be locked from the inside; nearby a piece of silk and a piece of woolen yard goods were found. Two men remained at the store while the remainder of the patrol took the fabric and firelock to the guard house.

The two North British Volunteers continued to look around when they heard a noise in the store. Suspecting thieves but not knowing how many, they hailed the next sentry who came to them; the three pointed their fixed bayonets towards the unlocked door and waited. Suddenly the door opened and William Shields, wrapped in his watch coat, came out confused and fearful. Accused of breaking into the store, Shields claimed that the lock had fallen open and that the corporal who posted him had said he was allowed to go inside, but he also asked the other sentry why he hadn't been warned of the coming patrol, and looked around for his firelock. Within moments the other members of the patrol returned with the officer, serjeant and corporal of the guard; as they approached, one of them found the missing padlock on the ground. Shields was immediately taken into custody.

A general court martial tried Shields on Monday, just two days after the crime had occurred, charging him with quitting his post, breaking into the store and stealing goods. Testimony was given by the corporal, serjeant and officer of the guard, all of whom corroborated that Shields was posted on the wharf that night with explicit instructions, and that the firelock and bayonet found at his post did indeed belong to him. The members of the patrol described what they had found and Shields' emergence from the store. The keeper of the store did not recognize the specific goods presented as evidence but testified that he had locked the doors securely and that goods such as those were kept there. The evidence and testimony left little room for doubt about Shields' guilt.

Shields gave a defense that sounds almost comical but at least gives a non-malicious explanation for the highly incriminating evidence:

The Prisoner being put upon his defence declared, that as he as walking backwards and forwards before the Warehouse door, he just touch’d the Padlock with his hand and it fell down at his feet, that he thought he heard the foot step of somebody in the upper floor and he went up stairs with his firelock in his hand, and fell over a trunk, the lid of which flew open at the time, and he saw the pieces of Camblet and Taffetta which he brought down, to shew them to the other sentry; and still thinking that he heard somebody in the store, he laid down the goods and his firelock, and went in again, when he heard somebody go by, and hearing them call the other sentry, he suspected that it was the Officer of the Main guard, and was afraid to go out, and therefore held the door to. As to breaking open the lock, he absolutely denied it, and concluded with begging that the Court would treat him with as much mercy as it was in their power.

The court did not treat him with mercy. On Wednesday, 8 November, William Shields was sentenced to be "hanged by the Neck ‘till he is dead." This seems like a harsh punishment for such a crime, but it was important to send a clear message to the rest of the garrison that such disorderly behavior would not be tolerated. Lenience would invite chaos in the crowded, besieged city. Sometimes condemned men were pardoned at the moment of execution, but not always. Shields did not wait around to find out. The Friday after he was sentenced, he somehow managed to escaped from the jail in Boston. An advertisement was placed in the next issue of the Massachusetts Gazette:

Five Guineas Reward!
Broke out of the Provost’s Custody last Evening, William Shields, a private Soldier in the 40th Regt. He is about 21 Years of Age, five Feet five Inches and three Quarters high, brown Complexion, round Visage, grey Eyes, and brown Hair. He was born in Glasgow, in the County of Lenrick, and is by Trade a Butcher. As it is by no means likely that said Person has got out of Town, whoever will secure him so that he may be again restored to the Custody of the Provost, shall have Five Guineas Reward from W. Cunningham, Provost Martial.
N. B. All Persons are hereby cautioned against harbouring or concealing said Shields, as they would be answerable for the Consequences. Boston, November 11, 1775.

The ad gives a good description of the young soldier, and it is the last word that is known of him. There is not indication that he was ever found, and nothing more is known of him after his escape.

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Monday, July 22, 2013

William Stone, 23rd Regiment, and the Governor's Daughter

Military service produces heroes, but many acts of heroism are quickly lost without being recorded; others are mentioned only briefly in sources that become obscure. Some soldiers' acts of heroism occur off of the battlefield and outside of the scope of warfare; such was the case for William stone, a private soldier in the 23rd Regiment of Foot, who performed a gallant act that was barely noticed even in its day.

In his early life Stone followed the path of many Britons by becoming a weaver, the a widely-practiced trade in the island nation. In 1764 he changed careers by enlisting in the 23rd Regiment, known by the honorific title Royal Welch Fusiliers (during that era, both "Welch" and "Fuziliers" were spelled in various ways; the spelling used here was standardized by the regiment in the early 20th century). With this corps he served at various locations in England and Scotland before embarking for America in 1773.

The 23rd Regiment arrived in New York that summer. The colonial governor of the colony was William Tryon, recently relocated from North Carolina. His residence was within the walls of Fort George, an installation that stood on the southern tip of Manhattan in the area of present-day Battery Park. In the middle of the night on 29 December 1773 a fire of unknown origin broke out in the house and spread quickly. Whether William Stone was part of the fort's garrison or was following the typical soldier's duty of responding to a fire, he was soon on the scene.

Governor Tryon and his wife escaped the conflagration through a side door, but their 12-year-old daughter Margaret and her governess Ann Patterson were trapped on the second floor. The quick-thinking governess urged the girl to jump, and she was able to do so because William Stone was there to catch her. Mrs. Patterson followed and was also caught by Stone. Although some later sources claim that Margaret Tryon was badly burned in the fire, newspaper accounts published at the time indicate that she "received no injury" while Mrs. Patterson "though considerably bruised, is since much recovered." A 16-year-old servant named Elizabeth Gartet died in the fire and the material loss was great, but the flames were contained to the house thanks in part to snow on the roofs of adjacent buildings; further tragedy was averted. Governor Tryon sent a letter of thanks to the citizens of New York by way of the mayor for their response to the fire. William Stone's act of heroism was mentioned in the newspaper, but there is no indication that the governor recognized him personally in any way.

Stone continued serving in the 23rd Regiment for the entire war, from being part of the relief force sent out of Boston on 19 April 1775 to being among those who surrendered at Yorktown in 1781. He was appointed corporal, a clear indication that he was a competant soldier. He was taken prisoner in 1777 and spent a year or so in captivity followed by another 18 months after the surrender at Yorktown. When a peace treaty was signed in 1783, Stone returned to New York with other repatriated prisoners. The end of war brought a reduction in the size of British regiments, and William Stone was discharged after having served nearly twenty years. He was among the British soldiers who sailed from New York to Port Roseway (now Shelburne), Nova Scotia in the autumn of 1783, to receive a land grant; at that time he had no wife or children accompanying him.

Margaret Tryon lived in New York for the duration of the war, then went to England and became an attendant to Queen Charlotte. She was noted as a chatty woman, but by the age of 30 she remained unwed. She had caught the fancy of an officer in the Life Guards regiment, and the two planned to elope. On a summer night in 1791 her suitor arrived beneath her window, and she dropped a rope ladder. As she climbed out, she slipped, fell, and was fatally impaled upon a fence. Her life was ended by a fall from a window, a tragedy that the soldier William Stone had averted 18 years before.

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