Friday, November 1, 2013

John Sturgess, 4th Regiment, shows attachment and fidelity

Before presenting the story of John Sturgess, please allow me to immodestly mention a new book that I was privileged to collaborate on, Journal of the American Revolution Vol. 1. This is a compilation of articles from the first half year of the web magazine Journal of the American Revolution and includes a strikingly interesting range of subject matter.

Many of the soldiers studied on this blog had some form of employment that they pursued while serving in the army - either working directly for the army as tailors, carpenters, wagoners or in a plethora of other roles; or outside the army during their time free from military duties. A job that was available within the army that is often overlooked, at least in terms of being a source of supplemental income, is that of being a servant to an officer. My book British Soldiers, American War devotes a chapter to this work that could employ more than 5 percent of the soldiers in a regiment during wartime, and nearly ten percent at the reduced peacetime strength.

Each company in a British regiment included three officers, each of whom was allowed at least one servant drawn from the ranks. Being a servant didn't exempt the soldier from routine military duties, but it often afforded him a higher standard of living: lodging in his master's quarters (albeit often in attics or other incommodious spaces), extra clothing provided by his master, a measure of freedom while purchasing or delivering goods for his master, and above all a supplemental income of about 35 percent of his regular soldier's wages. There was also the possibility of being retained in his master's service when that officer retired from the army.

An officer could dismiss a soldier from being a servant, or retain him as long as his work was satisfactory. Some soldiers spent much of their careers in this capacity, including John Sturgess, servant to Captain William Glanville Evelyn of the 4th (King's Own) Regiment of Foot. When the 4th Regiment arrived in Boston in 1774, he was a corporal in Evelyn's company, aparently capable of holding two roles of significant responsibility.

On the evening of 17 June 1775, reacting to the heavy toll taken by the Battle of Bunker Hill, Captain Evelyn wrote his will. He left all of his money and possessions to his mistress Peggie Wright, but added that

I desire her also to pay my servant Sturgess, two Guineas, which Legacy should have been more proportioned to what I owe him for his attachment & fidelity to me, but that what I give to Him, I must take from her. If he should be in my debt upon the Books I desire He may be forgiven.

Captain Evelyn came through that battle unscathed, but a few months later he took a post of greater danger when he assumed command of the 4th Regiment's light infantry company. In typical fashion, Sturgess transferred into the company with his master, forfeiting his corporal's knot but staying in the service of his officer. After Boston was evacuated in March 1776, the army was reorganized in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Light infantry companies has already been detached from their regiments and formed into temporary wartime battalions; in Halifax these battalions were reorganized and increased in size as more regiments arrived in America.

The greatly-strengthened army occupied Staten Island unopposed in the summer of 1775. In August, knowing that a campaign to take New York City was about to begin, Captain Evelyn wrote a memorandum revising his will. He directed that, in the event of his death, all of his possessions should be sold at auction (a typical practice of the era), and after various debts were settled Peggie Wright was to receive the proceeds,

excepting only Five Guineas which I desire may be paid to my Servant Sturgess, over & above what wages I may owe him, as a small but gratefull acknowledgement for his fidelity. I also desire that he may have all my silver Shoe and Knee Buckles & my Stock Buckles, and I would wish to recommend him to some good Master as Govr. Martin - or Lord Rawdon, who might be better able to reward his services.

Once again we see Evelyn hoping to provide for Sturgess if Evelyn himself would be unable to. It wasn't long before that became the case. Evelyn was severely wounded in battle on 14 October 1776, and died in New York three weeks later.

We've found no evidence that John Sturgess went into the service of any other officer. He continued as a private soldier in the light infantry company of the 4th Regiment at least until July 1778. That company was in the 1st Battalion of Light Infantry, serving at the forefront of dozens of skirmishes and major battles. Sturgess, modestly enriched by his deceased master's guineas and silver buckles, appears to have escaped harm. Unfortunately there is a gap in the regiment's rolls beginning in the second half of 1778 when they were sent to campaign in the West Indies; Sturgess isn't on the next set of rolls prepared in early 1780, leaving us with no clues about his fate. He may have been discharged from the service before even going to the West Indies, or perhaps even been taken on as a servant by "some good Master," but it's also possible that he met his end in the harsh climate and fierce fighting that occurred in Caribbean.

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