Monday, June 3, 2013

James Bradley, 7th Regiment of Foot

We have seen, on these pages, many long military careers. There were others that were agonizingly short, and in some cases we have just enough information to make them tantalizing mysteries. One such case was James Bradley.

Bradley arrived in America in 1777 along with a number of other recruits for the 7th Regiment of Foot. The first muster roll on which his name appears, dated April 1778, annotates him as being "sick" at that time. The term was a generic one for men who were in hospital at the time the roll was prepared; whether Bradley was wounded in battle or suffering from illness is not known. He may have been one of the many hapless recruits who fell ill during the Atlantic voyage. The survival rate of hospitalized men was actually fairly good during the course of the entire war, for most illnesses were not life-threatening even though incapacitating and treatment cosisted largely of bedrest, reasonably good hygiene and a healthful diet, all under the care of well-paid army nurses supervised by trained physicians.

James Bradley, however, did not recover. By April 1779 he was not only still sick but took the foreboding step of preparing a will:

In the name of God, Amen. I, James Bradley, Soldier in his Majesty’s Seventh Regiment of Foot, native of Broomsgrove, Worcestershire, Great Britain, being of sound mind and memory. After all my just debts be paid I leave to Mr. James Bennett, of the City of New York, jeweller, all my real and personal estate, whatsoever, in Great Britain or elsewhere; desiring the said James Bennett to pay to Mr. Samuel Harrison £20 for favors received. Likewise I make the said James Bennett, my executor.
    April 17, 1779. Witnesses, Thomas Dixon, William Milbourne, and Ann Smith (spinster)

Bradley must have been advised that survival was unlikely, but it was another 13 months before he succumbed to whatever malady ailed him. He died on 27 May 1780, and his will was proved in July 1781.

Only a few soldiers' wills have been found. On most, the witnesses are fellow soldiers, but there were no men named Dixon or Milbourne in the 7th Regiment. Bradley's relationship to these men, and to the unmarried Ann Smith (who could've been the daughter of a soldier in the regiment) is unknown. We are also left to wonder how much of an estate a soldier might have had, but clearly it was expected to the substantial sum of £20 left to Samuel Harrison - whose identity and relationship to Bradley are also unknown.

The one relationship that can be discerned is the one between Bradley and James Bennett. Bennett had been an established artisan in New York, advertising in local newspapers since 1768. It is unlikely that the soldier Bradley was a casual customer, but it happens that Bennett died in 1783 and left a will of his own. That document reveals that Bennett, like Bradley, was a native of Broomsgrove, Worcestershire; although we don't know precisely how the two men knew each other, they probably shared social contacts.

James Bennett's will reveals one additional connection to Thomas Bradley's: by 1783, Bennett was married to Ann Smith who had witnessed Bradley's will; Bennett left almost his entire estate to her, and named her executrix. 

Learn more about British soldiers in America!


  1. Sir,

    I believe you intended "healthful diet" in the close of the second paragraph.

    As always a most enjoyable read! -Duponceau

  2. Correct - and corrected! Thank you.
    I'd blame AutoCorrect, but it was actually ManualMistake that did it.
    Don N. Hagist

  3. Thomas Dixon is my direct ancestor. Family story says he was captured three times, in the army of Cornwallis. He married Rebecca Hotchkiss and never returned to Ireland.