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.

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

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