Monday, November 25, 2013

Mrs. Dinsmore, 71st Regiment, can't find work

When the British outpost at Stony Point on the Hudson River was taken by surprise on the night of 15-16 July 1779, most of the British garrison was taken prisoner. Among the two companies of the 71st Regiment of Foot captured there was a private soldier named William Dinsmore. With his fellow prisoners he was sent into Pennsylvania, where he was held in the New Jail in Philadelphia.

Like many British soldiers, Dinsmore was married, and like many army wives, his wife dutifully accompanied him into confinement along with their two young children. We have seen before that a soldier's pay was insufficient to support a family, and that it was therefore common for army wives to hold jobs either within or outside the army. This did not change while in prisoner, and in fact conditions there could be more challenging than in garrison. Many wives of soldiers in the Philadelphia jail were allowed to find work in town - and with a war on, there was plenty to be found - but Mrs. Dinsomore's full attention was required by her children which made it difficult for her to find work. In this difficult situation, Dinsmore wrote an eloquent petition to the colonial official in charge of British prisoners in Pennsylvania:

Philadelphia, 10th August 1779
Unto Thomas Bradford Esquire Commissary for the Prisoners of War at Philadelphia.

   The Petition of William Dinsmore Private Soldier in the 2nd Company 71 British Grenadiers now Prisoner of War new Goal.

Humbly Sheweth,
   That your Petitioner is a Married Men has his Wife and two Children with him in the Goal.  That the rations allowed, is not Sufficient, to maintain or support them.  That he has no money or any thing to raise money in order to purchase any thing for his Family.  And tho’ your Honour so Charitable as to allow the Prisoners Wives to go out to the Town to Earn their livelihood; yet tho’ your Petitioners Wife had the same offer, and has good hands, it could not be expected that she could get any Family that would admit her with the trouble of her, with her two Children, as She can do very little more than take care and attend her own Children.  In this manner your Petitioner is distressed with a Family that can neither work nor want, and situated in a place where he can do nothing for himself or them; Your Petitioner is by Trade a Rope maker, bred to that business with the best of that branch of Trade in Scotland.  With regard to himself as to his honesty, fidelity and ability in his profession, he refers to Mr. John Lang from Glasgow, Rope maker in this City, who knew him from his Infancy and wrought with him at the Rope work and also knew his Parents and People.  Therefore he humbly begs that your Honour would allow him to go out to work at his Trade under the care and Inspection of any Gentleman in Town so that he could earn something for his helpless Family in their present Condition.

   May it Therefore please your Honour, to take the Tenor of ye above Petition into your Consideration, and Grant such a deliverance thereon as Shall Seem to you good, and your Petitioner will ever humbly Pray
William Dinsmore

Dinsmore's petition reveals him to have been educated, intelligent and skilled. He even had a reference from his home country living in Philadelphia; perhaps they had met when the British occupied that city for part of 1777 and 1778. His petition is a valuable source of insight into the hardships faced by wives of soldiers. At this writing, unfortunately, we've found no further information on this family - whether Dinsmore was allowed to practice his trade in Philadelphia, or whether he was eventually exchanged and returned with his family to New York and eventually to Great Britain.

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

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