Monday, December 2, 2013

Frederick Fisher, 34th Regiment, seeks 200 acres

It's frustrating sometimes to find an interesting anecdote about a British soldier, but to have no additional information on the man to add some substance to the story - his age, where he was from, and so forth. Equally frustrating, and much more common, is to have very informative demographic data with no hint at all of the man's individuality. Frederick Fisher provides an excellent example.

The 34th Regiment's muster rolls tell us very succinctly that Fisher joined the regiment some time between April 1776 - shortly before the regiment left Ireland for Canada - and January 1777. The rolls prepared on the latter date give no indication of where Fisher and a large number of other new men came from. We can follow him through the semi-annual rolls and see that he served as a private soldier until he was discharged at Fort Niagara in June 1784.

Fisher's name, and some knowledge of the 34th Regiment, leads us to suspect that he was German. Some 2000 men were recruited by the British army in the German states in late 1775 and early 1776 for service in the ranks of British regiments; for the most part, these men joined their regiments in America in late 1776. The 34th received over 100 of these German recruits. A description list of men in the 34th prepared in 1783 correlates with this assumption, listing Fisher's country of birth as "Foreign" (as opposed to English, Scottish or Irish); there's an outside chance that he was from some other region including America, but given the large number of Europeans, mostly Germans, that joined the regiment in 1776, it's a pretty good bet that he was German.

The list also tells us that Fisher was 41 years old in January 1783 and had served 7 years in the regiment. So he was born in 1741 or 1742 and enlisted at the age of 34 or 35. That's an unusually old age for enlistment, albeit not unprecedented. Many of the German recruits who joined in their 30s had had prior military service in European armies, but we don't know if that's true of Fisher. We also learn from the desciption list that he was 5 feet 5 and one half inches tall.

Fisher appears again as having applied for a land grant of 200 acres in Ontario in June 1797. He wrote a brief but well-composed petition in which he explained that, having enlisted after 16 December 1775, he was entitled to the grant. He was correct: in a move to stimulate recruiting when it became apparent that an all-out war had begun in America, the King proclaimed that men who enlisted after 16 December 1775 were entitled to be dischaged at the end of the war, as long as they'd served at least three years, and could take a land grant in America if they wanted it. Fisher met these criteria and claimed his land, but gave no indication of why he'd waited so long to do so or where'd been in the mean time. Included in his petition was a copy of his discharge, which indicated that he was (in June 1784) 43 years old and had a swarthy complexion, brown hair and grey eyes.

Also revealing from this petition is that Fisher was able to write, and write lucidly, in English. When he'd learned this skill is not known. His German roots are perhaps confirmed by his spelling his name "Frederick Fisher" in the body of the petition but signing it "Fredrich Fischer."

This is a lot of information about the man. We know about his entire military service, and his general physical characteristics - more than we know about so many people of the era. But that's all we know. In eight years of service he certainly experienced many things, perhaps participated in dangerous military actions and contributed to the construction of fortifications that survive to this day. In over 30 years of pre-military life and over 13 years of post-military life, he was occupied at something or another every single day. It appears that he mastered two languages. And yet we know nothing of any specific thing this man did, other than write one petition. We don't even know if he got the land he asked for.

Learn more about British soldiers in America!


  1. There might be more about Fisher in Canadian records. For instance, this published legislative record includes his name and says he was "Loyalist, Prisoner by the Indians, much attached." Or was that another Frederick Fisher? Other Canadian records refer to an officer named Col. Frederick Fisher. A man of that name was buried in Fredericksburg in 1813. Again, is this the same man?

  2. Other Canadian records show there was a Frederick Fisher interpreting between the Upper Canada government and the Natives of the region in the late 1790s until his death in 1810.