Tuesday, June 11, 2013

John Drury, 38th Regiment of Foot

One draw to enlisting in the British army is that it offered steady employment in an era when many jobs were itinerant and uncertain. A man who joined the army in his early twenties and served well stood a reasonable chance of receiving a pension after twenty years; although the pension income was modest, it assured subsistence in old age. But the wartime need for manpower led the government to offer another inducement: land. Private ownership of land was almost impossible for a working class citizen in Great Britain, but in 1775 the British government proclaimed that men who joined the army after 16 December would have the option of taking a land grant in America at the close of hostilities if they had served for at least three years. It wasn't until 1783 that a formal peace treaty was signed and the army reduced in size, allowing men who enlisted under these terms to claim their land if they so chose.

One man who did so was John Drury. He enlisted in the 38th Regiment of Foot, which was already in America when the war began; he joined his new corps in America in November 1775. Apparently a capable and active soldier, after 18 months he was transferred into the regiment's light infantry company, just in time to serve in the siege of Rhode Island in 1778. He remained in the light company for the rest of the war, and "always behaved himself a clean, good and obedient soldier." He also received three wounds during the war.

In the autumn of 1783 the 38th Regiment was among those reduced in size before being sent back to Great Britain. John Drury took his discharge and went with several hundred other former soldiers to Port Roseway (now Shelburne), Nova Scotia. For reasons that are not known, he did not receive a land grant. Instead, he used his own money to purchase a small piece of land from Benjamin Marston, the chief surveyor for the land grants in the area. In spite of the disabling effects from his wounds, Drury quickly built a house and a slaughterhouse on the land (suggesting that he had been a butcher before joining the army). He was married and had a family, but whether he had married before joining the army, during his service in America, or after arriving in Nova Scotia is not known.

Fortune soon turned against this industrious man. The allocation of land grants was a challenging process that proceeded slowly, and there were many accusations of unfairness. Much of the land was poor, and of course not every lot was close to the town. House lots in town were in high demand and short supply, and tensions were exacerbated when white settlers complained that free blacks in town threatened jobs because they would work for lower wages. In late July rioting occurred, with white settlers pulling down the houses of their black counterparts. Marston, the land surveyor, got wind that he was soon to be targeted for his role in allocating the lands and fled to Halifax for his own safety. John Drury, trying to support his family on a subdivision of Marston's land, was driven off of the property he had bought and developed. He lost everything.

In 1786, Drury penned a well-written petition explaining his plight and asking for the lot he had purchased, with the house and slaughterhouse he had built, to be returned to him. Unfortunately we have not determined whether or not the petition was granted to this dutiful soldier and hard-working citizen.


  1. I hope you don't mind, I'm adding this blog to my blogroll at https://historyandancestry.wordpress.com.

  2. I suspect you intended "led the government" in the first paragraph.

    For what it's worth, my enjoyment of your blog "led" me to purchase both British Soldier, American War and A British Soldier's Story.

    Regards, Duponceau

    1. Thank you for pointing out this typo; it ha been corrected. I hope you find the books enjoyable, and will recommend them to others; they go into a great deal more detail than the blog entries, and (unlike the blog) include complete citations for all information presented.