Sunday, January 27, 2013

Thomas and Mrs. Crouch, 16th Light Dragoons

Thomas Crouch was dead. His wife was angry. His serjeant stood accused.

It was an apt accusation. After Serjeant William Nunny had dropped a pair of saddle bags on Crouch's head, Crouch never spoke another word and was soon pronounced dead. But there was more to the story, enough that Serjeant Nunny asked for a court martial to clear his name.

Thomas Crouch had joined the 16th Light Dragoons in January 1776 as that corps was gearing up for service in America. The 16th, like the 17th Light Dragoons already in Boston, had been authorized a substantial increase in size including a dismounted contingent; it appears, however, that Crouch became a true cavalry trooper, serving with the mounted dragoons. The regiment arrived in New York late in 1776 and served in the campaign in New Jersey that extended into the following year. The second half of 1777 saw them on the campaign to Philadelphia; with the rest of the army that took that city, they settled in the area for the winter. We don't know whether Crouch was already married when he enlisted, but he certainly was by the time the regiment went into winter quarters.

In the evening of 4 December the 16th Light Dragoons received orders to be in readiness at their Philadelphia barracks for an impending expedition into the country. A while later, Mrs. Crouch and some soldiers brought her "excessively drunk" husband into the barracks. He was too drunk to stand, so they laid him on a blanket in a dark corner of the room. She asked Corporal Richard Evans to look after him and persuade him to remain in the barracks. She left, and the Corporal Evans, attempting to rouse Crouch, noticed "an uncommon noise in his throat." This did not alarm Evans enough to take any action, however, and he soon fell asleep.

At about 9PM Serjeant Nunny came into the barracks with orders for the dragoons to repair to the stables and prepare to march. The serjeant left; the barracks sprang to life, but Thomas Crouch did not. A man attempted to rouse him, but gave up and attended to his own preparations. Soon the serjeant returned carrying his carbine and a pair of saddle bags. Taking stock of the men, he learned that all of the men had saddled their horses except for Crouch. Asking where Crouch was, he was directed by Corporal Evans to the corner. Believing Crouch to be in a drunken stupor, the serjeant kicked him a few times on the back side. When he got no response he tried using the butt of his carbine. Still nothing, so he lifted his saddle bags as high as his own head, then dropped them onto Crouch's head. This, too, failed to stir the listless dragoon. Nunny knelt and tried to sit Crouch up, saw that he was wearing a neck stock, and removed that constricting garment. He tried to stand Crouch up, but it proved impossible. Out of ideas, Serjeant Nunny decided to turn out the rest of his troop and deal with Crouch later. On his way to the stable he stopped by Mrs. Crouch's lodgings and informed her of the situation.

Private Henry Lord remained behind to look after some of the horses. He noticed blood on Crouch's blanket and discerned that he was bleeding from the mouth or nostrils. He left the barracks to saddle his horse at the stables, and on his way back he, too, called on Mrs. Crouch. She and some other women went promptly to the barracks; seeing her husband's alarming condition, she asked Henry Lord to summon the regimental surgeon. The surgeon deferred Lord to the surgeon's mate, and the surgeon's mate informed Lord that he was ill and could not attend to Crouch until morning. When Mrs. Crouch received that news, she implored Lord to keep an eye on her husband while she repair to an out-room, and inform her immediately of any changes to his condition.

While private Lord kept watch on Crouch, the regiment's quarter-master came in. About eight hours had passed since the serjeant had tried to rouse Crouch; the quarter-master suggested they move the ailing trooper closer to the fire - it was, after all, December - but as they prepared to do so they realized that his countenance had changed for the worse. They called for Mrs. Crouch, but by the time she came in her husband Thomas was dead.

The next day Mrs. Crouch, with the assistance of a corporal from the regiment, prepared the body for burial. They stripped the clothes off, and did not see any evidence of wounds or bruises other than a sore on one cheek. Mrs. Crouch did not ask for a surgeon to examine the body. They placed the deceased Thomas Crouch in a coffin for burial.

When the 16th Light Dragoons returned from their march, Serjeant Nunny got word that Mrs. Crouch considered him an accessory to her husband's death. He asked his Captain to investigate the matter, and heard no more of it for a while. Philadelphia was evacuated the following spring, and the 16th Light Dragoons marched across New Jersey with the rest of the British army to take quarters around New York. And Mrs. Crouch continued her accusations.

In September 1778 Serjeant Nunny again called for a trial to clear his name. The case was heard by a general court martial in November. Several dragoons testified, and while all agreed that the kicks and the carbine probably caused no injury, there was concern about the saddle bags. It was clear, however, that Crouch had been extremely drunk, and it was possible that the constriction of his neck stock had been the cause of his demise. The officers on the court inquired as to whether Serjeant Nunny was known for being ill tempered or treating the men harshly; on the contrary, character witnesses proclaimed him to be "the mildest non-commissioned officer" to drill the men, "of a passive disposition" with a character that was "universally good."

Serjeant William Nunny was acquitted of any responsibility for the death of private Thomas Crouch. Unaccoutably, Mrs. Crouch, whose first name is not given in the trial records, did not testify. Her fate is unknown.

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

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