Wednesday, January 16, 2013

James Hamilton, child in the 82nd Regiment of Foot

James Hamilton was a forward-thinking young man. He had come to America as a child, son of a serjeant in the 82nd Regiment of Foot. When his father, "a well-behaved soldier," was reported killed, his mother remarried. At the close of hostilities, young James went with his mother and step-father to Nova Scotia along with hundreds of other discharged soldiers and displaced loyalists.

We don't know his age, but by April 1788 James Hamilton was old enough, and well-enough educated, to write a well-worded memorial to the governor of Nova Scotia explaining that, although he was under the "tuition" of his mother's new husband, that man had a large family dependent upon him; it is not clear whether these dependents were James's sisters, children that his step-father had brought to the marriage, or a combination thereof. Regardless, James saw that he'd need to plan for his future and could not expect to be supported by his family indefinitely.

He petitioned the governor for 100 acres of land, the amount given to private soldiers with no wives or families. James Hamilton reasoned that, as his father's only surviving son, he might be granted this amount of land; his father, had he survived, would have received substantially more than that based on the size of his family. James had even identified a likely tract of land, a plot among lands allocated for soldiers discharged from the 82nd Regiment that remained unoccupied.

In January 1789 James Hamilton was granted the land. His name is a quite common one, to the extent that we've been unable, with a cursory search, to determine whether he settled and thrived on his tract. There is, however, an interesting twist to the story.

The muster rolls of the 82nd Regiment, although incomplete, reveal that Serjeant James Hamilton was not, in fact, killed. He was taken prisoner, and spent much of the war in captivity. At the close of hostilities he was repatriated; he returned to Great Britain with his regiment and was discharged when that temporary corps was disbanded in June 1784. We know nothing of whether he learned of his wife's remarriage, whether their paths crossed in New York in 1783 when freed prisoners were pouring in and displaced refugees pouring out. It is certainly not the only case of a woman remarrying when she believed her soldier-husband was dead, victims of the limits of communication in their age. The younger James Hamilton's good sense and initiative, on the other hand, is a timeless example of a positive response to adversity.

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

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