Some British soldiers who served in the American Revolution were veterans of previous wars. There is no way to be sure how many, because of gaps in muster rolls and also gaps in careers - if a soldier was discharged because of a force reduction at the end of a war, then enlisted again later on, the muster rolls give no indication of the connection between the two terms of service; when the man enlisted there is nothing denoting that he had prior service. Only with the help of other documents, if they exist for that man, can we discern such a career.
Last week at the National Archives in England, I had the good fortune to come across just such a document. The muster rolls of the 4th (King's Own) Regiment of Foot show a soldier named Hendrick Leich being appointed Corporal on 25 October 1776, but there is no indication of where this man came from; his appointment is the first time he appears on the rolls. His name indicates that he was German, and we know that German recruits for British regiments arrived in America in October 1776. The muster rolls show other men with Germanic names joining the regiment on 25 October, so it's a safe bet that Hendrick Leich joined and was appointed Corporal on the same day.
A description list of some of the German recruits includes a Corporal Heinrich Lücke; the list doesn't say that this man joined the 4th Regiment, but does include several other German recruits who did. Furthermore, part of the agreement when these men entered British service was that non-commissioned officers would be appointed to their due ranks as soon as vacancies opened up in their new British regiments. We can safely deduce that Heinrich Lücke's name was anglicized to Hendrick Leich when the British muster rolls were prepared. The description list tells us more about this man: He was 39 years old in May 1776, six feet tall, Protestant, from the Hildesheim near Hanover, and was married but his wife did not accompany him on the voyage to America. It also mentions that he had previously served in the army of Hanover.
Although obliged to serve only until the close of hostilities, Lücke (Leich) remained in the regiment until he was 54 years old. He was discharged from British service in London on 23 March 1791. Like all long-serving British soldiers, he had the opportunity to go before the Chelsea Hospital examining board to seek an out-penion (that is, a pension for non-residents of the hospital, as opposed to an in-pension). The pension was granted and because it was, the hospital retained a copy of his discharge certificate; this document is the one that provides tantalizing details of this man's service.
The discharge is a printed form with personal details hand-written into blank spaces. It tells us that "Henry Lytch" was a laborer - that is, he had no skilled trade - and confirms his age. His place of birth is given as Hanover, a general term that sufficiently approximates the region including Hildesheim. It indicates that he had 17 years of service in the 4th Regiment, which is approximately right (we know that he had already been recruited for British service in May 1776 but do not know when he actually enlisted).
But the most interesting part is the reason why this soldier was recommended for a pension:
long service is worn out having also served 18 years & 9 months in Prince Charles Regt in the Hanoverian service in which Corps he received a wound, in the Wrist at the Battle of Minden. He was enlisted into the British Service by Lt. General Faucett under a general Order that the Hanoverian servitude should be considered.
So this man not only had prior service, he had had a very long career before joining the British army. And he had been wounded at one of the most storied battles in British military history, one that was famous in Lücke's own time. We can only guess whether he was held in high esteem because of this.
Most British soldiers who received pensions had served for at least 20 years; Lücke's discharge indicates overall service, not just service in the British army, was to be considered for pension candidates. He joined the military as a teenager, and served for almost 35 years in the armies of two nations. At the end of it all, including long service as a non-commissioned officer, he was unable to sign his own name on his discharge, instead marking it with an X.Learn more about British soldiers in America!
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