Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Henry Mitchell, 10th Regiment of Foot

Some military careers were short, like that of Henry Mitchell. He first appears on the rolls of the 10th Regiment of foot with an annotation that he "enlisted" on 26 August 1776. The regiment had long been in America at that time, having spent several years in Canada before moving to Boston in 1774. In August 1776 the 10th was part of a large army on Staten Island preparing for a campaign that would capture the city of New York, a prize that would remain in British hands until the last troops evacuated the colonies in 1783. Logic would suggest that Mitchell was a recruit sent from Great Britain, but he is the only man annotated as having enlisted on 26 August; because recruits from overseas usually arrived in groups on the same day, they typically are represented on the muster rolls as having the same enlistment date. It is possible, then, that Henry Mitchell was one of an uncounted few men recruited on Staten Island to serve in British regular regiments instead of in the Loyalist corps that were being raised there. But this is only a guess.

Just ten months after joining the regiment, Mitchell was transferred to the grenadier company. This too was not typical; most men had at least a year of service before being sent to the light infantry or grenadiers. At 5' 10", Mitchell was tall enough for the grenadiers, but he must have either learned quickly or had some prior experience to warrant being sent into an elite company so quickly.

Whatever his qualifications, he did not distinguish himself. He deserted on 23 June 1777, only a month after joining the grenadier company. The company was part of a grenadier battalion, formed by combining the companies from several regiments, on campaign in New Jersey at this time; Mitchell was among several of the battalion who took advantage of the rapid movement and chaos of campaigning to abscond.

In terms of the historical record, most deserters are never heard from again. Henry Mitchell, however, made his way into Pennsylvania where his name soon appeared in a Philadelphia newspaper:

West Caln, Chester County, July 15, 1777.
The following articles were last night stolen from the subscriber, viz. a brown regimental coat, faced with yellow; two jackets, one white, the other striped with red and white; a pair of buckskin breeches, almost new; a pair of shoes; a beaver hat, bound with silk ferret; a silver hatband, and a silver watch. The thief is a deserter from the English army, named Henry Mitchell, near 5 feet 10 inches high, about 25 years of age, much pitted with the smallpox, and short black hair, tied behind; he had on him a Regular coat of the Tenth regiment, faced with yellow. Whoever secures said clothes and thief, shall have Eight Pounds reward, or in proportion for any of the clothes. Patrick Shields.
[The Pennsylvania Gazette, 23 July 1777]

The enlistment, the desertion and the theft suggest that Henry Mitchell was an opportunist who knew how to take advantage of situations. It is unfortunate that we know nothing more of him.

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

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