Monday, September 23, 2013

James Davidson, 63rd Regiment, endures years of severe labor

Scotsman James Davidson was 22 years old when he enlisted in the 63rd Regiment of Foot, choosing the life of a soldier over his previous profession, probably as a farm laborer. Actually, unlike men who enlisted in peace time, Davidson may have intended from the outset not to spend his life as a soldier. As an inducement to raise men for the war in America, the British government offered land grants to men who enlisted after 16 December 1775 and had served for at least three years when hostilities ended. At that time there was no knowing how long the war might last, but 50 acres of land, even overseas, was quite an inducement for a young laborer who otherwise held little chance of owning property. Davidson enlisted early in 1776.

Davidson probably arrived in America in October 1776 with a large convoy of recruits for the army. His regiment was one of those that occupied Rhode Island in December of that year. The regiment returned to New York in the spring of 1777. Later that year, Davidson was among the soldiers of the 63rd who stormed Fort Clinton on the Hudson River, coming through that heated engagement unscathed. Having acquired skill and experience, in 1779 he was transferred into the regiment's light infantry company, ensuring that he'd be in the thick of future engagements. Whether that was an attractive proposition we do not know, but the danger soon became apparent.

The 63rd's light infantry was part of the substantial force that beseiged Charleston, South Carolina in early 1780. The British captured the city but only after an arduous campaign that saw many skirmishes. James Davidson was wounded twice, once by a musket ball in the leg and once by a bayonet thrust into his arm, the latter probably during hand-to-hand fighting in the trenches close to the city. These wounds rendered him unfit for further active service, and he was discharged from the 63rd Regiment in August 1780. Had he continued to serve, he may well have been wounded yet again in one of the several difficult actions that the 63rd faced in the south.

Like many wounded soldiers, Davidson's military career was not over when he was discharged. Still capable of some service, he joined the Royal Garrison Battalion, a pro tem corps of men like himself who were able to man defensive positions in garrisons. He was sent with this corps to Bermuda where he served through the end of the war.

The Royal Garrison Battalion was disbanded in late 1783 and its men given choices based on how long they'd been in the army. Davidson, having enlisted after 16 December 1775, chose to take a land grant in Canada even though he could have returned to Great Britain and sought a pension. Most British soldiers discharged from regular regiments received grants in Nova Scotia, but those discharged from the Royal Garrison Battalion generally received grants in New Brunswick along with discharged loyalist soldiers. Davidson took a grant in Charlotte County and lived there for the rest of his life.

He toiled to improve his land "in a new & wilderness Country with the nature of which he was unacquainted." Through "severe labor" he "arrived at a degree of comparitive comfort." But illness visited him and his family, followed by the challenges of old age. In the 1830s, the Canadian provincial government offered pensions to worthy "old soldiers." James Davidson, 82 years old, crippled with rheumatism and unable to write his own name, had someone pen a petition for him which he signed with his mark and presented in 1838, which secured him a modest pension income in his declining years.

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Monday, September 16, 2013

Thomas Parks, 37th Regiment - sick!

Finding a soldier's name on a regiment's muster rolls, and tracing his career from the date that he joined until the date he was discharged, gives a perception of knowing the man's experience. The regiment went here and there; he was a soldier, so he went with it, he did the things the regiment did, fought where it fought. For most soldiers this is the best we can do, find a name and some dates and make logical assumptions. Occasionally another document comes to light that proves the assumptions completely wrong and reveals a completely different military experience.

Such is the case with Thomas Parks, a private soldier in the 37th Regiment of Foot. He enlisted some time after that regiment had sailed for America at the very beginning of 1776. Having done so, he trained in Great Britain along with recruits for his own regiment and others, probably at Chatham Barracks near London. In 1777 he and other new soldiers who were ready embarked on transports and came to America. Parks joined his regiment in New York in the late summer.

His name can be followed through the semi-annual muster rolls for the next several years, but in 1778 his name carries the annotation "sick" next to it. This cryptic term is commonly used in these documents and signified anything that incapacitated the man from normal service, from battle wounds to camp fevers. Parks remained "sick" on every muster roll until he was discharged in January 1782. Men discharged in America had the option of returning to Great Britian or remaining in the colonies, sometimes to serve the army in another capacity or sometimes to find a new way of life. For most men we can only guess; for Thomas Parks, we have a deposition written almost eight years later.

From this document we learn that Thomas Parks was from a town named Rowley in Staffordshire, and that he enlisted at the age of 19 after having worked as a nailor. His training in England may have gone well enough but his soldiering in America did not. He was first rendered "sick" less than a year after disembarking because his musket burst and destroyed the use of his right hand. The wounded limb did not heal quickly. He remained in military medical care until September 1781 when it was finally recommended that he be sent to England and recommended for a pension because of his disability. He was given military pay through 25 January 1782 (the discharge date shown on the muster roll, months after his obligation to the army ended) in order to support him on his passage home. Before he could find a ship and book a passage, however, he was stricken with a violent fever and malarial symptoms. A Staffordshire native living on Long Island took Parks into his care.

Parks' illness lingered into 1783. By the time he was well enough to leave, the British army had left the American colonies. Parks tried to book a passage from New York to England but was unable to do so. The best alternative he could find was to the nearest British garrison town, Quebec. He did so, and there found a sympathetic army officer who paid for his passage to England and arranged that he receive an allowance for provisions until he could appear before the pension board of Chelsea Hospital.

It was not until November 1789 that Thomas Parks arrived in his native country that he'd left a dozen years before. He'd served offically for six years in the army, from his enlistment some time in 1776 until his discharge dated 1782, but had spent most of his time overseas langishing in distress, disease, discomfort and displacement. He was granted a pension, guaranteeing him a modest income for the rest of his days.

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

John Stewart, 7th Regiment, is overpersuaded

Knowing that between ten and twenty percent of British soldiers were accompanied by their wives on service, it stands to reason that many children were born in garrison towns, encampments and on the march. Unfortunately there are no known comprehensive records of such births, only a few anecdotal accounts and indications survive. Some of those children became soldiers themselves; although there are also no comprehensive records of soldiers' birth places, among those that we do have are a few men who were "born in the army."

One such man was John Stewart, a soldier in the 7th Regiment of Foot. Born to a soldier and his wife, he was enlisted as a drummer at an early age (not all drummers were young "drummer boys", but some were), and also learned to play the fife. When old enough, probably in his late teens, we went into the ranks as a private soldier. He did his duty well; one of his officers commented that "he would sometimes drink but he was in general looked upon as a smart clean Soldier." Smart enough that, by the time the regiment came to America in the early 1770s, he had been appointed corporal in the regiment's light infantry company.

In 1775 war broke out and John Stewart's career took a bad turn. The 7th Regiment garrisoned posts between the northern end of Lake Champlain and Quebec. An American expedition quickly seized all of these posts, ultimately laying siege to Quebec itself. Most of the 7th and 26th Regiments were captured piecemeal, including corporal John Stewart who was taken when the fort at St. John's fell early in November 1775.

Stewart and hundreds of other prisoners were sent to various locations in Pennsylvania and Connecticut; Stewart was sent to Lancaster, Pennsylvania with many others from his regiment. Stewart endured about nine months as a prisoner, but in July 1776 he gave in to overtures from his captors, accepted an enlistment bounty, and joined an American regiment. An officer of the 7th Regiment went to American authorities and demanded him back, but in spite of assurances Stewart was not seen again.

At least, not by his immediate comrades. Stewart's new regiment marched from Lancaster to Philadelphia; upon arrival there they marched into the city with some fanfare, Stewart wearing a new blue rifle jacket and playing the fife. An officer of the 7th Regiment and his soldier servant happened to be in Philadelphia at the time; the servant saw this rebel corps marching by and recognized their fifer as a former fellow soldier. Stewart also recognized the servant and, in a remarkably bad career move, stopped playing his fife and bowed to the man as he passed. The servant spotted Stewart again the next day in company with other American soldiers.

Stewart's regiment moved on into New Jersey, taking station at Fort Lee on the Hudson River opposite Manhattan. They retreated hastily from that place in the face of a rapid British advance. In early December the Americans in New Jersey were in full retreat. John Stewart separated himself from his regiment and turned himself in to British soldiers in Newark; he was taken prisoner and sent to British headquarters in New York.

In February 1777 Stewart was put on trial for desertion and bearing arms in the rebel service, perhaps the most serious crime a soldier could commit. soldiers of the 7th Regiment, having been exchanged from captivity and now serving in New York, testified to his service in that corps, his desertion from captivity, and his appearance as a fifer in Philadelphia. In his defense, Stewart claimed that he had run out of money and clothing, and was "overpersuaded" to enlist by offers of money. He pointed out that he had deliberately sought out the British lines in New Jersey and identified himself when taken in. He called an officer as a character witness who testified to his long and generally good service.

All of this was not enough to pursuade the court. The fact that he had deserted was unquestionable. The charge of bearing arms was somewhat doubtful because Stewart had only been seen playing the fife, but doing so at the head of a corps of armed men was sufficient to bear out the charge. He was found guilty and sentenced to death. At this writing it has not been determined whether the sentence was carried out or if he was pardoned.

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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Richard and Rosanna Williams, 22nd Regiment of Foot

Richard Williams enlisted in the 22nd Regiment of Foot in November 1769. It was a good time to join the army, and this particular regiment. Having returned from long service in America in 1765, the regiment had finished the flurry of recruiting to replenish its ranks was in good stable state of readiness. The 22nd was sent to Scotland in the early 1770s to garrison towns from Inverness to Fort William. The soldiers were kept busy maintaining the network of military roads built early in the century that allowed rapid deployments if necessary. The work involved clearing drains, repairing erosion, removing loose stones and similar labor; tedious work, to be sure, but it paid 6 pence per day over and above the soldier's usual wage.

In 1773, the regiment moved from Scotland to Ireland, where they wintered in Dublin and spent summers camping in the countryside. The peaceful routine came to an end early in 1775 when orders were received to sail for America. Through service in Boston, Halifax, Staten Island, New York and Rhode Island, Richard Williams served well enough to be appointed corporal in late 1776 and to command sizable parties of men. In 1778 he testified against a soldier who'd deserted from a guard post; the soldier was found guilty and lashed. Not long after the evacuation of Rhode Island in late 1779, Williams was appointed serjeant. Somewhere along the line - maybe before he joined the army, maybe as recently as in Rhode Island - he married a woman named Rosanna.

As the 1780 campaign season opened, a large British army laid siege to Charleston, South Carolina. Back in New York, an attempt was made to raid the headquarters of the Continental Army in Morristown, New Jersey by sending a large force from Staten Island to Elizabeth, New Jersey and marching over land. British soldiers had been executing long, rapid marches like this since the onset of the war; even though the 22nd and other regiments included many recruits who'd arrived only the previous autumn, there were an ample number of experienced men like Serjeant Richard Williams to prepare them. They marched lightly; each man carried his blanket, one spare shirt, seven days' worth of biscuit and four days' worth of pork in his haversack; one days' ration of rum mixed with water in his canteen, and 48 rounds of ammunition in his cartridge pouch. No tents or knapsacks were carried. Wives stayed behind.

The army, consisting of roughly 6000 men, landed in New Jersey during the night of 6-7 June with the intention of quickly covering the 20 or so miles to Morristown. Local resistance, however, was much greater than expected as New Jersey militia rapidly mobilized. Fighting became intense in the town of Connecticut Farms, today named Union. The British advance ground to a halt, and their forces withdrew to Elizabeth where they encamped as best they could with the sparse equipment they had. The 22nd Regiment was posted as an advance guard. The night was dark, as dark as anyone could remember, and rainy. Men got lost in the darkness. On the 8th American troops descended upon the 22nd Regiment; a German regiment advanced to support them, but ultimately they were forced to withdraw to the main British encampment with several men wounded.

Somewhere during these encounters, either in the darkness or during the confusion of battle, 2 serjeants and 16 private soldiers of the 22nd Regiment were captured. Among them was Richard Williams. The prisoners were quickly sent to Philadelphia where they were held in a common jail with other prisoners of war.

Conditions in the jail were harsh. Williams and his fellows hoped a quick exchange would allow them to return to New York, but months passed and hope of this dwindled. Realizing that they would be stuck in jail at least for the winter, and with only the clothing he's worn when the June expedition began, Richard Williams penned a letter to Rosanna. He affectionately began it "Dear Rosey" (abbreviating the first word in typical fashion of the era). He asked her to "get my shirts Briches shoes & stockings great Coate and Blanket with som money and get your self ready" to join him in Philadelphia.

This may sound like an odd request, but it illustrates two important facets of the era: wives of British prisoners of war often stayed with their husbands in captivity, either in prison camps if their husbands were confined that way, or in lodgings they'd procured for themselves in the area; and, an army was responsible for providing clothing to its men who were held prisoner, rather than the captors doing so. Everything that Richard asked of Rosanna was typical of the age, and he requested that she give the same instructions to the wife of the other serjeant confined with him. He told her who to ask for instructions on how to obtain a pass.

Williams ended his letter with a lament, "I am sorry that you never sent me a Letter to let me know how you are and where you Lived which gives me great uneasyness of not hearing from you." And he closed with "I remain your Loving Husband."

Conditions in the Philadelphia jail were harsh and unforgiving. It is unfortunate that we know nothing more of Rosanna Williams, whether she went to Philadelphia or even received the letter (which today is in a collection of papers belonging to the American commissary of prisoners, leaving doubt as to whether it was delivered). Whatever transpired, this chapter of her life certainly did not end well. Richard Williams wrote the on 23 November 1780; he died in prison on 13 January 1781; six more of the 18 men captured in June 1780 died in prison and two others died soon after their release in 1783, a clear indication of the awful conditions the prisoners endured. Another earned his release by signing an oath of allegiance and settling in Pennsylvania. Among those who were repatriated and received pensions after the war ended, one was "sickly & worn out" while another suffered from "bad health, being long a prisoner."

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