Thursday, December 18, 2014

Ambrose Fox, 24th and 23rd Regiments, puts in 28 years

When we think of escaping prisoners of war, we most often think of World War II. During the American Revolution, British prisoners of war were just as wily and troublesome for their captors as their descendants two centuries later. Many hundreds escaped from American captivity, often returning to British lines and falling back into their army's ranks. The most famous of these is Roger Lamb, first of the 9th Regiment and then of the 23rd, who twice made his way through hostile territory to rejoin the British army. Lamb's fame is due not to his being unique, but to his having penned a detailed account of his flights to freedom.

Lamb absconded from his captors in late 1778 when the prisoners from General Burgoyne's army were marching from Rutland, Massachusetts to Albemarle, Virginia. Some 600 prisoners made their break during this march, particularly when they were relatively close to British-held New York City. Among them was Ambrose Fox of the 24th Regiment of Foot. 

Fox, from the city of Lancaster in England, was a seasoned campaigner. A tailor by trade, he had joined the 24th Regiment in 1759 when he was 21 years old; during the Seven Years War, he fought in Europe, and was wounded in the left leg on 16 August 1762 during a river crossing in Germany. This didn't put him out of service; he continued with his regiment through the peace of 1763 and then during the interwar years while the regiment was in Great Britain.

In early 1776 the 24th was ordered abroad again, this time to Canada. With several other regiments they landed in Quebec in May, relieving that city from an American siege. The reinforced British army quickly retook the possessions they had lost in 1775 along the waterway from Quebec to Lake Champlain.

1777 brought the campaign under General Burgoyne that sought to secure the entire route from Quebec to Albany, but which ran afoul of concerted resistance along the Hudson River at Saratoga, New York. In October, Ambrose Fox became a prisoner of war along with the rest of his regiment and his fellow soldiers in Burgoyne's army. By the terms of the surrender treaty they were to return to Great Britain, and marched to the environs of Boston where they spent a miserable winter in hastily-built barracks. In the meantime, negotiations for their release broke down. In April 1778 they were sent inland to Rutland where they were held in a stockade.

The coming of another winter brought another change of location. This time the beleaguered prisoners were marched over land to Albemarle, Virginia. The route brought them closer to British-held New York than they'd ever been. Many of the prisoners took the opportunity to slip away, making their way through the lines at great hazards to their lives, as the region was filled with American military posts protecting the Hudson river and New Jersey interior from British incursions.

In spite of the hazards, Ambrose Fox succeeded in reaching the British garrison. To protect himself against charges of desertion, he first obtained permission from his company commander to escape. In mid-December, after a 19-day trek, he came into the British post at Paulus Hook in New Jersey. Soon after, he was drafted into the 23rd Regiment of Foot where he met up with Roger Lamb and a few other escapees from Burgoyne's army.

The beginning of 1780 brought a new campaign: The 23rd Regiment was part of a substantial force that besieged and captured Charleston, South Carolina. This initiated a series of campaigns that began successfully but culminated in the British surrender at Yorktown in 1781. Ambrose Fox was taken prisoner once again.

It appears that Fox waited out his captivity this time. When hostilities ended in the first half of 1783, he and other prisoners were repatriated; he returned to New York where he met up with men from his regiment who had escaped and others who had not been on the southern campaign. He appeared before an examining board to claim back pay still due to him from the 24th Regiment, and gave the following brief deposition:

Ambrose Fox private soldier in the 24th Regt. says that he made his escape with the approbation of Captain Jamison, to whose Company he belonged, who gave him a sixty Dollar bill to carry him forward - that he surrendered himself upwards of four years ago to Major McLeroth of the 64th at Paulus Hook, and was immediately drafted into the 23d Regt. with which Regt. he has served ever since; he claims three years Cloathing from the 24th Regt. but no pay & intermediate pay for 19 days.

The claim for clothing refers to the annual entitlement to each soldier of a new coat, waistcoat and breeches, none of which he'd received for the years 1776, 1777 and 1778 (the annual clothing usually arrived in America near the end of the year; the 1776 clothing for the 24th Regiment was captured at sea). With his regiment, he left America late in 1783 and continued to serve in Great Britain for another four years. He finally took his discharge in March 1787; after 28 years and two wars, "being old and worn out in the service," the army's pension board determined that "he is rendered unfit for further service" and granted him a pension.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

John Gilroy, 10th Regiment, leaves Newburyport

                John Gilroy, a corporal in the 10th Regiment of Foot, was captured by the enemy shortly before the British evacuated Boston in March 1776. The date and circumstances of his capture haven't come to light yet, but the 30-year-old soldier from Fermanagh was held in the region north of Boston.

                Initially there weren't many other British prisoners in the towns north of Boston, but that soon changed. Not long after the British army left Boston, three transports carrying soldiers of the 42nd and 71st Regiments, both highlanders, sailed into Cape Cod Bay. They had come from Great Britain and hadn't gotten word that the port was no longer in British hands. American ships engaged them and took over 200 soldiers prisoner. These men, too, were sent to towns in Massachusetts.

                British prisoners in America made it their business to try to escape. Gilroy may have tried at least once, for by June 1777 he was being held in the Newburyport jail rather than barracks or other accommodations more typical for prisoners of war. Among his fellow inmates was a 19-year-old officer of the 71st Regiment, Collin Mackenzie. The young officer must have gotten along well with the seasoned corporal who had nine years in the army, mostly in Canada prior to the war. On 26 June 1777, they escaped together.

                Their captors searched for them, and published a newspaper ad describing them and offering a reward:

In the Evening of the 26th Day of June, 1777, the following Persons made their Escape from the Goal in Newbury-Port, in the County of Essex. Collin Mackenzie, a Lieutenant in the 71st (British) Regiment of Foot, 19 Years of Age, short thick-sett, 5 Feet 5 Inches high, fair Complexion. Had on when he went away, a short Linnen Coat, Trowsers, and a Highland Bonnet. Also, John Gilroy, a Corporal in the 10th Regiment, 25 Years of Age, sandy hair, 5 Feet 8 Inches high, strong, well made, thin Visage, fair Complexion. Had on when he went away a Regimental Coat of the 10th Regiment, faced with Yellow, Buttons No. 10. Both Prisoners of War. Whoever shall take and secure either of the above Prisoners in any Goal in the State of the Massachusetts Bay, shall have Twenty Dollars Reward for the Lieutenant, and Ten Dollars Reward for the Corporal, and all necessary Charges Paid. Michael Farley, Sheriff.
[Boston Gazette, 30 June 1777]

                The ad understated Gilroy's age considerably. It was also to no avail. The pair managed to make their way to the British garrison in Rhode Island, and then to their respective regiments in New York.

                Gilroy's time in prison did not have a detrimental impact on his career. He soon was appointed serjeant in the 10th Regiment's light infantry company. In this capacity he fought with the 1st battalion of light infantry on the Philadelphia campaign, taking an active role in famous battles like Brandywine, Germantown and Whitemarsh, and numerous lesser actions. The following year brought the march from across New Jersey and the battle of Monmouth, as well as a vigorous raid on New Bedford, Massachusetts.

                Back in New York in the late summer of 1778, the army prepared for a new expedition against the French in the valuable islands of the West Indies. The 10th Regiment had been on service in Canada and America since 1767; it was time for them to go home. The regiment's able-bodied soldiers were drafted into other British regiments bound for the West Indies expedition, but the officers and non-commissioned officers, including Gilroy, went back to Great Britain to recruit and train new soldiers.

                John Gilroy continued to serve. Even after being discharged from the 10th Regiment long after the American War, he was not done being a soldier. He joined the Mayo Militia in his native Ireland, where he continued as a soldier until 1807. At the age of 62, he finally too his discharge after 39 years in the army, and received a pension. The fifteen or sixteen months he spent as a prisoner of war in Massachusetts were just a small facet of a long and varied career.

A new book, coming in March 2015!

Monday, December 1, 2014

John Clancey, 47th Regiment, dupes a tempter

By March 1775, tensions in Boston between soldiers and civilians were running high. The people of the Massachusetts Bay colony sorely resented having British soldiers in Boston, troops they saw as instruments of a Parliament they no longer trusted. The soldiers believed in their mission to maintain peace among people they perceived as unwilling to follow the laws of Great Britain. That's a simplification, but makes the point that the populace and the army were at odds and members of both groups went out of their way to aggravate the other. It was in this setting that a man named Thomas Ditson traveled from his farm in Billerica to the city of Boston to make some purchases.

Whether Ditson was naive or deliberately attempting to bait British soldiers is not clear. Inhabitants of outlying towns had been using various means to tempt British soldiers to desert, and Ditson's actions made him appear to be doing just that. He approached a private soldier of the 47th Regiment named John Clancey and asked, “Soldier, have you an old Soldier’s Coat to sell?”

Whether Clancey was naive or deliberately attempting to bait Ditson is also not clear. British soldiers owned their uniforms, paid for by stoppages from their pay; Clancey, having joined the regiment four years before, had received several annual issues of clothing by this time. But that doesn't mean he had leave to sell them. Regardless, he responded that he did, and took Ditson to a building that was being used as a barracks. There, Clancey asked his wife to fetch some old clothes while confirming with his serjeant that it was ok to sell them. After some haggling, they struck a deal for a regimental coat and waistcoat for which Ditson paid two Pistareens.

One of these two, Ditson or Clancey, had gained the confidence of his mark. Ditson asked if there was any liquor to be had, and when someone said there was spruce beer available, Ditson ordered a bowl to share with Clancey. As they imbibed, Ditson leaned into Clancey and asked if he had a firelock - a musket - to sell. Soldiers did not own their weapons, but Clancey brought forth an old, rusty piece. Finding that it did not spark well - that is, the flint didn't create satisfactory sparks when it struck the steel on the weapon's lock - Ditson asked for a better one. Clancey then produced a nicer firelock, for which they agreed on a price of four dollars. In the course of the bargaining Ditson decided to purchase both weapons, as well as a set of acoutrements - bayonet, scabbard and cartridge box - using a mix of dollars, shillings, and pistareens that was typical of the coinage circulating in colonial America.

The next challenge was to get these military weapons out of the city. As a resident of Billerica, northwest of the city, Ditson wanted to take the ferry from Boston to Charlestown, but knew that he couldn't simply walk past the sentry carrying a couple of five-foot-long muskets. Clancey said that he knew the sentries and agreed to go along, carrying one of the weapons himself. Somewhere along the way, Ditson drew out a knife with which to cut the slings off the muskets, to make them look a little less military; Clancey stopped him and carefully removed and pocketed the slings. Was this a sign that Clancey was setting Ditson up, or Clancey simply showing habitual respect for equipment?

Feeling very familiar with Clancey now, Ditson explained that he was part of a colonial battalion, and in fact was their flugel man - the man who demonstrated the manual of arms to other men - but if Clancey would come along with him into the country, his military training would be very valuable. He'd get whatever money he wanted, and become an officer and a gentleman. Ditson was attempting to entice Clancey to desert, as several British soldiers had done during the previous year. Clancey, however, may have suspected this all along: while they were drinking at the barracks, he'd managed to slip out and alert the officer of the guard of the proceedings.

On the way to the ferry, Ditson was arrested and put into confinement by officers of the 47th Regiment. The next morning, he was stripped down to his breeches, covered with tar and feathers, tied into a chair on a cart, and paraded around Boston as "A villain who attempted to entice one of the

Soldiers of His Majesty’s Forty Seventh Regiment to desert, and take up Arms with Rebels against his King and Country.” A crowd gathered and grew, and began to press in, but there were some fifty soldiers escorting Ditson with loaded muskets and fixed bayonets. Before things got out of hand, Ditson was released and sent on his way.

Thomas Ditson wrote a deposition telling his side of the story - that he'd gone into Boston explicitly to purchase a gun, and had been directed to Clancey after asking around as to where he could purchase one. That Clancey's wife had questioned whether it was allowed to sell the weapons, after which Ditson had tried to back out of the deal but Clancey would not allow it. The thrust of the complaint, though - sent to the British colonial governor who was also the commander in chief of the army, General Thomas Gage - was that the soldiers and officers had acted lawlessly and abusively by tarring and feathering Ditson and parading him around town. The general mood of the colonists towards the military is reflected in the fact that Ditson's deposition was published in several newspapers around the colonies, but John Clancey's deposition telling his side of the story appeared only in a Boston paper.

This incident in March 1775 was soon overshadowed by the outbreak of war the following month. Ditson served in several campaigns during the war. John Clancey's career as a soldier, however, soon came to an end. Somehow the twenty-five-year-old soldier broke his thigh while serving in Boston; this may have been a wound from the Battle of Bunker Hill, or an accident incurred during other duty. By the end of 1776 he was discharged, no longer fit for service due to his injury. He returned to Great Britain where he received an out pension, and there is no evidence that he served again in the army.

A new book, coming in March 2015!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Thomas Pickworth, 23rd Regiment, repeats his behavior

I sometimes get inquiries from descendants of men who deserted from the British army. Usually the family story involves their ancestor being pressed or conscripted into service, and then deserting in America because he had no desire to fight the Yankees. While it is often possible to find the man on regimental muster rolls, determine the exact day that he deserted, and get some insight about when he enlisted, some facets of the family lore can usually be discounted. With the exception of a brief period in 1778, 1779 and 1780, it was not legal for the British army to conscript or press men; even during the period that it was legal, few such men were sent to America. Almost every British soldier who served in the American Revolution had joined the army voluntarily, something that gets lost for obvious reasons when these men settled in the new nation and told their stories to later generations.

Reasons for desertion are not so easy to categorize. It is true that the war was not universally popular in Great Britain. Soldiers who deserted, though, were far more likely to be motivated by an overall distaste for military service (or, more specifically, wartime service) than for any specific concerns about who they were fighting. Some deserters prove this to us by their exploits subsequent to deserting from British ranks.

A fine example is that of Thomas Pickworth (or Peckworth). He joined the 23rd Regiment of Foot, the Royal Welch Fusiliers, in April of 1777. The circumstances of his enlistment are not known; the Englishman probably arrived in America with a body of recruits for the regiment, having enlisted in Great Britain during the previous year, but there's a chance that he was already in America when he enlisted - the muster rolls do not make it clear.

He was not a typical recruit in that he was in his early thirties when he joined the regiment. This was rare but not unknown; most men enlisted in their early twenties, but regiments could take on any man who they deemed physically capable. It's possible that he had prior military service. He was by trade a shoemaker, a fairly common profession among soldiers.

The 23rd Regiment went with General Sir William Howe's army on the campaign to Philadelphia in the autumn of 1777. Perhaps it was the hard campaigning and fighting that turned Pickworth away from the army. Or perhaps he had a roving disposition and was inclined to disciplinary trouble. Muster rolls prepared in February 1778 show that he was "sick," a catchall term that covered every malady from battle wounds to injuries incurred from lashings as well as the usually diseases. Regardless of his malady in February, by the beginning of May he was well enough to abscond from the British army; he deserted on 1 May. Many men deserted at this time when the army was preparing to leave Philadelphia. We can only guess which ones had formed local attachments and which ones simply saw the opportunity afforded by the army marching away.

Opportunity seems to have been on Pickworth's mind. Just days after deserting, he enlisted again - this time in the 6th Pennsylvania Regiment in the Continental Army. Such an act could be interpreted as sympathetic to the American cause, but it clearly was not. Within days of enlisting - which itself was within days of having deserted from the British - Pickworth absconded yet again. In early June the commander of his company placed an advertisement for him:

Twenty Dollars Reward.
Deserted from Captain Jacob Mauser’s company, of the sixth Pennsylvania regiment, on Monday the 11th instant, (May) a recruit named Thomas Pickworth, says he was born in England, about five feet eight inches high, dark complexion, middling thick, about thirty-five years of age, says he is a shoemaker by trade and lived in Philadelphia: It is thought he made towards Virginia with some people moving that way, and perhaps may change his name: Had on when he went away, a brown coat, long blue breeches, and a little hat. Whoever takes up said deserter and secures him in any gaol so that he may be had again, shall have the above reward, paid by the subscriber in Maxatawny Township, Berks County.
Jacob Mauser, Capt. 6th P. R.
[Pennsylvania Packet, 3 June 1778]

He doesn't seem to have rejoined the 6th Pennsylvania. He doesn't even seem to have changed his name, or gone to Virginia. Instead, he enlisted yet again, this time into a company of Marines in Pennsylvania, some time in August or early September 1779. By the end of September, though, he had deserted yet again:

Deserted from Captain Robert Mullan's Company of Marines, in Philadelphia, the following men, viz. Thomas Peckworth, about 37 years of age, 5 feet 9 inches high, dark complexion; had on when he went off a light coloured cloth coat, his other clothing not remembered, a shoemaker by trade.
[Pennsylvania Gazette, 6 October 1779]

This ad, dated Philadelphia, Sept. 29 1779, also listed a number of other men who'd deserted from the Marines.

Why would a man repeatedly enlist and desert? Without explicit testimony from Pickworth himself, we can only guess. It was common for recruiters to offer a cash enlistment bounty, and Pickworth may have deemed it worth the risk to take the money and run even though desertion was a capital offense. If he did tell his descendants about his service in the American Revolution, he probably left out some details, changed some others, and hoped no one in his family took a liking to reading old newspapers.

Monday, October 27, 2014

James Lodge, 52nd and 26th Regiments, finally goes home

Perhaps James Lodge wanted to get away from his home town. The shoemaker from Almondsbury, Yorkshire enlisted in the 52nd Regiment of Foot in 1762, when he was 22 years old - a fairly typical enlistment age for a man who had completed a trade apprenticeship and perhaps worked long enough to decide he needed a career change. After a few years in Great Britain, the 52nd Regiment was sent to North American in 1765, arriving in Quebec in August.

We don't know whether Lodge had any remarkable experiences in Quebec, although the foreign land with a cold climate must have been novel enough for at least the first year or so. After almost ten years in Canada the 52nd was due to be sent home in 1774, and perhaps Lodge was looking forward to returning to his native country. But it was not to be - trouble brewing in Boston caused a change of plans. The regiment sailed to the city on the Massachusetts coast, arriving late in the year. Things got tense quickly. During the early months of 1775, the 52nd and other regiments made occasional marches in to the country, training exercises designed to maintain the fitness of the soldiers which nonetheless aroused great suspicion among local inhabitants.

As a member of a battalion company, Lodge did not participate in the expedition to Concord on 19 April that resulted in open hostilities between colonists and the British military. In June, however, he marched into battle with his regiment at Bunker Hill. The 52nd sustained many casualties that day, including James Lodge who received a wound in his left knee. It was not, however, disabling; instead of being discharged and returned to England as an invalid, he recovered and was campaigning again when his regiment was part of the fast-paced campaigns in New York and New Jersey.

We don't know when it occurred, but misfortune again befell Lodge. He was taken prisoner by the enemy. By April 1777 he was interned in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a location far from the front lines. Later that year British forces took Philadelphia, and British prisoners were moved to Virginia to discourage escape and decrease the likelihood of a British attempt to liberate them.

Toward the end of 1778, he was able to return to New York and rejoin his army; probably he was exchanged, but he may have made his way by escaping. Regardless, he arrived too late to join his regiment - the 52nd had been sent back to Great Britain in September. The regiment's able-bodied men had been transferred into regiments bound for the West Indies, and the remainder went home be discharged or recruit new soldiers. Rather than being sent home to join his regiment, Lodge joined another corps, the 26th Regiment of Foot. He may have known men in this regiment from the years before the war when they served Canada.

He spent a year in the 26th before they, too, were sent back to Great Britain. He did not go with them, though; he took his discharge in America and then chose to remain in the army. He joined the Royal Garrison Battalion, a regiment composed of soldiers who were no longer fit for campaigning but who were capable of manning fortifications and other posts. This corps was formed in New York but soon went to another place that needed garrison troops: Bermuda.

Lodge spent the remainder of the war in Bermuda with the Royal Garrison Battalion. At the close of hostilities the battalion was disbanded, and James Lodge finally took the opportunity to go home. For reasons unknown, he did not appear before the Pension Board in Chelsea until 1789. Here he was granted a pension on account of his long service, the wounds he'd received, and because he was "worn out" - not surprising, given the many years of hardship he'd endured as a soldier.

A new book, coming in March 2015!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

John Kerr, 82nd Regiment, speaks out

The 82nd Regiment of Foot was one of several authorized soon after France declared war on Great Britain in 1778. The British army needed to expand rapidly; it accomplished this by raising new regiments, but those regiments were not composed entirely of new men. Their officers included experienced men brought onto active service from half-pay (a sort of retirement that allowed officers to return to service if needed), officers in existing regiments aspiring to higher ranks, and newly-commissioned young officers. Similarly, the soldiery consisted of a mix of men with prior experience who reenlisted, and new recruits.

We don't know which of these categories included John Kerr. We do know that when the regiment was ready for service it sailed for Halifax, Nova Scotia early in 1779 with Kerr in its ranks. From Halifax, part of the regiment went to the British post at Penobscott, Maine, and the remainder sailed for New York in April. Kerr did not make it to either place. The transport he was on board, the Mermaid, ran aground and sank off of Egg Harbor, New Jersey. Many perished. Those who made it to shore were taken prisoner, John Kerr among them. They were sent to Philadelphia jail.

Whether he was a new soldier or not, Kerr had spirit. He escaped, as many British soldiers did, and made his way to his regiment in New York. By September 1780 he was in the ranks again with his comrades.

But there came a day when he had too much to drink, and then his company was ordered to form for a march from one garrison location to another. Kerr formed up with the rest of his fellows, and listened as a young officer gave them orders. They were told not to break ranks during the march without permission - nothing unusual about that. But a soldier protested that he must go out of ranks for water on the march. The officer told the soldier that he would be punished for speaking out, but the soldier insisted that he could not live without water. The exasperated officer used a switch to strike the soldier a few times.

The company was then ordered to "pile" their arms, that is, to interlock the ramrods of their muskets so that the weapons stood in teepee-like fashion. Having done so, the soldier approached the officer again and informed him that being beaten with a switch was not the way that a soldier should be punished - which was correct, according to the articles of war. Nonetheless, the young officer struck the soldier several times more, this time breaking the switch.

After this, John Kerr and three other soldiers approached the officer; Kerr asserted that soldiers should not be beaten in such a manner, and that the officer might as well confine them all. The officer went to a superior, who ordered that the soldiers immediately be tried by a court martial.

We have no details on that regimental trial, but after it was over John Kerr was led away under guard. As he passed by the young officer, he said that if he was punished on the officer's account, he would shoot him before long. He also mentioned that the officer ought to be run through with a bayonet as a bougre. The young officer reported this remark to his superior, who ordered Kerr pinioned.

John Kerr was charged with mutiny and tried by a general court martial. The officer stated his case for the prosecution, relating the events and the remarks Kerr had made. Two serjeants corroborated the information, down to the expressions Kerr had used.

But they also pointed out that Kerr was "worse for liquor" when he was acting out, and that he had always behaved as a good and obedient soldier before this. The officer also mentioned that Kerr had escaped from imprisonment, apparently so that the court would be sympathetic.

The court was not sympathetic. They found John Kerr guilty and sentenced him to receive 800 lashes. Considering the gravity of the charges, this was not a particularly harsh punishment; mutiny could result in a death sentence.

We don't know the extent to which the punishment was carried out. It was not unusual for part or all of a sentence like this to be commuted, and given the generally favorable impression of Kerr he may well have been pardoned.

As a soldier who'd enlisted after the war began, John Kerr would be allowed to take his discharge after hostilities ended. He'd have the choice of remaining in America, taking a land grant in Nova Scotia, or returning to Great Britain. But it didn't matter. Shortly before he could make that choice, he died, on 18 November 1783, just days before the last British troops left the newly-established United States.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Nathaniel Lock, 64th Regiment, runs off with a hautboy

The 64th Regiment arrived in Boston in January of 1769 when open warfare with the colonists was still years away. In addition to the usual complement of officers and soldiers, the regiment had a band of music. Not to be confused with the regiment's drummers and fifers, the band consisted of several (probably about ten) instruments of various types and provided entertainment at concerts and social functions. Members of the band were often carried on the muster rolls as soldiers, but not all of them did duty in the ranks. Almost immediately after disembarking in Boston, a member of the regiment's band went missing. A newspaper ad was placed for the errant performer:

Whereas Nathaniel Lock, musician in the 64th regiment has absconded from the regiment, and taken with him a hautboy, watch, and other articles which do not belong to him. This is to caution all people from concealing him, as they will be prosecuted for harboring a thief.
Any person who will bring said Lock to the regiment, now quartered in Boston, shall have five guineas reward. He is a middle sized person, about five feet seven inches high, swarthy complexion, dark hair, round shouldered, plays on the bassoon, hautboy and flute. He had better surrender himself. He has with him a woman low in stature, marked with the small-pox, and has the Irish brogue.
[Boston Chronicle, 9 February 1769]

Lock’s instrument, the hautboy, was popular in military bands. This instrument is unfamiliar to most modern readers, but it’s basic form can be discerned by using the French spelling of the name, hautbois, and the French pronuciation, ho-BWA. This is the derivation of the English word oboe.

Unlike many wayward soldiers, Lock soon returned to the regiment albeit in unknown circumstances. A month after the ad for him was placed, another notice appeared in the same paper:

The Reward of Five Guineas for apprehending Nathaniel Lock, a Deserter from the 64th Regiment is hereby withdrawn.
[Boston Chronicle, 13 March 1769]

Whatever the reason for his absence, Lock stayed put after this. He appears on the regiment's muster rolls consistently from 1773 onward. He probably played in the concert that was advertised a year before war broke out:

Messi'rs. Morgan and Stieglitz, Request Permission to inform the Ladies and Gentlemen of Boston, that, having received assurance of the Patronage and Assistance of the Musical Gentlemen, they purpose having at Concert Hall, on Wednesday the 20th of April, a GRAND CONCERT of Vocal and Instrumental MUSIC assisted by the Band of the 64th Regiment.

ACT 1st.

Overture   Stamitz 1st.
Concert   German Flute,
Song    'My Dear Mistress,' &c
Harpsic. Concerto by Mr. Selby
Simphony   Artaxerexes,

ACT 2d.

Overture   Stamitz 4th.
Hunting Song.
Solo, German Flute.
Song, Oh! My Delia, &c.
Solo Violin.

   To conclude with a grand Military Simphony accompanied by Kettle Drums, &c. compos'd by Mr. Morgan.
   TICKETS at Half a Dollar each, to be had at the British Coffee House, at Miss Cumming's in Cornhill, at Messi'rs Cox and Berry in King Street, and of Messi'rs Stieglitz and Morgan.
   N.B.   Copies of the Songs to be delivered out (gratis) with the Tickets. 
  To begin at 7 o' Clock precisely.
[Boston Gazette, 11 April 1774]

The 64th Regiment remained in America for the entirety of the American Revolution, one of only a few that were in the colonies before the war and did not depart until after hostilities ended. Nathaniel Lock was carried on the rolls the whole time, initially as a drummer or a private soldier, and from 1778 as a serjeant. Why he was put in a post of such responsibility is debatable: probably he was the leader of the band by this time and was maintained as a serjeant in order to pay him at an appropriate rate; but it is possible that he did the normal duties of a non-commissioned officer.
At the end of the war Lock returned to Great Britain and was discharged. On a list prepared in August 1783 of men, women and children of the regiment who would sail home, Lock is listed as having one child but no woman with him. Whether the woman mentioned in the 1769 ad was his wife or not, she clearly didn't stay with the army as long as he did.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Richard Gootch, 9th Regiment, enlists three times

Richard Gootch does not appear on the muster rolls of the regiment into which he enlisted, the 9th Regiment of Foot. This would make the English teenager difficult to find were it not for some good fortune and for his bold (but not at all unusual) career path.

The 9th Regiment arrived in North America in May 1776, spearheading the force that relieved Quebec city of an American siege. They then participated in the campaign that rapidly pushed American forces all the way back to Lake Champlain, retaking every post that had been lost the previous year. The onset of winter, however, forced the 9th and other regiments into quarters before the vital Fort Ticonderoga could be seized. It was around the same time that the campaign was winding down that a large number of fresh troops arrived at Quebec to augment the British regiments, increasing their overall size as well as making up for losses. Richard Gootch (or Gooch, Goatch, Gutch) was probably among these troops, a mix of recruits and drafts (transfers from other regiments).

Winter prevented the new soldiers from moving south to join their regiments. They had the relative luxury of wintering in Quebec while their comrades on campaign were spread out among various posts along the Richelieu River. In February the 9th Regiments ten companies prepared the last set of muster rolls that they would create in America, which do not include the reinforcements waiting at Quebec.

The summer of 1777 meant a new campaign, and the 9th Regiment moved with a strong army under General John Burgoyne on the push to Albany that, it was hoped, would end the war. Gootch joined the regiment on this campaign, and instead of reaching Albany became a prisoner of war at Saratoga. The captives were marched to barracks outside of Boston where they spent the next year, then to Rutland farther inland, and finally to camps in Virginia and Pennsylvania. Many hundreds of the prisoners absconded during this long captivity, among them Richard Gootch. It is not known when and where he eluded his captors, but evidence suggests that it was in New England, for it is there that he shows up again.

Some time in 1780 or early 1781, Gootch enlisted in the Rhode Island regiment of the Continental Line. We've found no information about how he spent his time between Saratoga and his enlistment. He decided to become a soldier again, probably for the same reason that many British escapees enlisted into American service. In early 1781 he and other recruits were sent to join their regiment at posts along the Hudson River above New York City. On 4 April he deserted and made his way into British lines. There he gave a brief deposition to British intelligence officers:

Richard Goatch, an Englishman of the 9th British Regiment late of one of the Rhode Island rebel Regiments deserted from Bedford the night before last. There is a detachment there of a Captain & thirty four privates. The Regiment he belonged to, is now near West point & consists of about four hundred men. He has been in prison upwards of a year & oblig’d to inlist to get out. There are not above five hundred men at West point the greatest part of the troops lately stationed there were sent to Virginia. About 150 continentals on the lines in the neighbourhood of Byram &c.

In the mean time, officers of the Rhode Island regiment were looking for him. Assuming he would return to the area where he enlisted, they took out an advertisement in the Providence Gazette that first ran on 18 May 1781; it included Gootch among a large number of Rhode Island deserters and described him thus:

Richard Gooch, (inlisted for South Kingstown) born in England, 19 Years of Age, 5 Feet 8 1/2 Inches high, of a fresh Complexion, has dark Hair, and light Eyes.

Although he had deserted from captivity (and perhaps ended up in jail somehow, but returning escapees sometimes concocted stories that put them in a better light when they returned to British service), and deserted from American service, Gootch was not done being a soldier. He enlisted in a new Loyalist regiment called the American Legion commanded by the infamous Benedict Arnold, who had himself deserted from American service and was now a Brigadier General for the British.

Gootch probably joined the Legion too late to be involved in its activities in Virginia in 1781, but most likely was on the expedition to Groton and New London that September. This action saw the dramatic storming of Fort Griswold, but the American Legion was not involved in that fighting. Gootch spent the rest of the war with his regiment at posts around New York City, but it is not known what became of him when his regiment was disbanded in late 1783.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

John Budge, 7th Regiment of Foot, regrets his decision

Few British soldiers left any record of why they chose to join the army. Almost all were volunteers, for it was not legal to force men into the army except for a brief period during the American War and even then only under certain conditions. In addition, the law required that every enlistee testify before a magistrate that he'd joined the army volutarily, within four days of enlisting. While there were certainly instances of this system being circumvented, they were few; just how few is evidenced by the fact that almost no men on trial for desertion brought their legal enlistment into question. If corrupt recruiting practices were widespread, we'd expect to see men charged with desertion using this as a defense in their trials - if their enlistment contract wasn't legal, then they couldn't be charged with desertion - but such a defense was extremely rare.

This doesn't mean that recruits were always happy about their decision to enlist. A man named John Budge joined the 7th Regiment of Foot in late 1777 or early January 1778, and soon found himself bound to join his regiment in America. Shortly before embarking with other recruits, the Nottingham native and batchelor prepared a will directing that a yearly income he'd been left by an uncle be managed by his brother until his return, or divided among various extended family members if he didn't return. His state of mind is reflected in the opening phrase of his will, which reads, "As it is my misfortune to enlist in the army and going abroad directly..." He doesn't say why he enlisted, but clearly he regretted it.

John Budge joined the 7th Regiment, known as the Royal Fusiliers, in New York. The regiment had been captured piecemeal early in the war as it manned posts between Lake Chaplain and Quebec that quickly fell to an American onslaught. The captives were released in late 1776, though, and the regiment had been returned to fighting trim by the addition of drafts and recruits. Budge probably became acclimated to warfare during the regiment's service in the New York City area during the second half of 1778 and throughout 1779 which included raids on the Connecticut coast.

The beginning of 1780 saw a shift in British strategy, and the 7th Regiment participated in the successful siege of Charleston, South Carolina. The 7th Regiment went on to fight at the disastrous battle of Cowpens in 1781, and also had elements at Cornwallis's surrender at Yorktown later that year. The regiment had a tough war.

But for John Budge the fights at Cowpens and Yorktown didn't matter. He'd been wise to make out a will, for he died in Charleston on 24 July 1780; whether from wounds or illness is not known.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Robert Murphy, 3rd Regiment, finds Grassy Valley

The Arrival of Robert Murphy (1757-1850) in America
Guest Post by Charles Martin Ward, Jr.

There are two accounts relating how Robert Murphy (1757-1850) arrived in America:  

Version #1:  
“…Robert Murphy…came over with the British Army and served in the War of the Revolution under Gen. Tarleton in S.C.  He was captured in the Battle of the Cowpens by Gen. Daniel Morgan, 1781, and afterwards served in the Patriot Army.” 
(A Genealogy and Biography of the Family of Luttrell 1066-1893, by Elston Luttrell, 1893).

Version #2:  
“Robert Murphy was born in Londonderry County, Ireland in 1757.  The story is told that he and his sister just younger than he (when ten to twenty years old) were shanghaied by sailors and brought to America in the stow of a ship.  Nothing was ever heard of the sister, but Robert Murphy’s name next appears in the records of the war of the Revolution along with more than two hundred Murphys with the rank of private in a book by Lt. Charles Stockley listing accounts of cash paid to non-commissioned officers and privates of the Virginia Continental line of defenses for February, March and April 1783.  Robert Murphy was then twenty-six years old.” 
(The Robert Murphy Family, a typescript distributed among descendants, by Robert Marshall Murphy, Sr., b. 1886; d. 1969, a great-grandson of Robert Murphy).    

The Luttrell account is the earliest published account of Robert Murphy’s arrival in America.  The information contained in the Luttrell account was contributed by James Madison Murphy (b. 16 Oct 1814 in Knox Co., TN; d. 7 Jul 1902 in Knox Co., TN), son of John Murphy (b. 6 Jul 1786; d. 3 Aug 1855) and Martha Gilliam and grandson of Robert Murphy (b. 1757; d. 13 May 1850).  He knew his grandfather and was 35 years old at the time of his grandfather’s death.  James Madison Murphy married Mary K. Luttrell and was a leading figure in a joint Murphy and Luttrell family organization in which his sons were also involved.  As the earliest account of the arrival of Robert Murphy in America, originating with a grandson of Robert Murphy, it must be assessed as the most likely to be accurate.  

The Robert Marshall Murphy account is problematic.  It is unlikely sailors would have “shanghaied” a female between ten and twenty years old and brought her aboard a ship to America.  It doesn’t provide any information relating how Robert Murphy would have ended up serving in the American Army once the ship on which he sailed arrived in American waters, although his son, Robert M. Murphy, Jr., President of the Tennessee Society Sons of the Revolution (1978 term), indicated Robert Murphy “jumped ship.” It also has not been verified that Robert Murphy is included in the Stockley account of payments. The Robert Marshall Murphy account, recorded over fifty years after the Luttrell account by someone born 36 years after the death of Robert Murphy, doesn’t ring true.  One may surmise the omission of Robert Murphy’s service in the British Army and subsequent capture possibly may stem from misguided patriotic reasons.  

Assessing the Luttrell account, it is necessary to examine surviving British service records, records of captured British soldiers, etc., in order to verify Robert Murphy’s service in the British Army.  This was accomplished through the research of Don N. Hagist, editor of Journal of the American Revolution and the author of several books on the American Revolution.  He found Robert Murphy on the muster rolls of the 3rd Regiment of Foot (Muster rolls, 3rd Regiment of Foot, WO 12/2105 and WO 12/2106, British National Archives).  He enlisted on 9 Aug 1777 in Ireland while the regiment was stationed there, and an annotation on the roll indicates that he was indeed Irish.  The 3rd Regiment of Foot was sent to America near the close of the Revolutionary War, arriving in Charleston, South Carolina in March, 1781.  Robert Murphy was appointed a corporal before January, 1783 and became a prisoner of war before January, 1783, never returning to the British Army.

When, and under what circumstances, Murphy became a prisoner of war is not known; a gap in the muster rolls from the time the regiment embarked for America until 1783 make it impossible to know (from this source) when he was promoted and when he was captured. In 1781 the 3rd Regiment participated in the relief of Ninety-Six and later at the battle of Eutaw Springs; odds are that Murphy was captured at one of those two places. Murphy is listed as a prisoner of war on rolls prepared during the first half of 1783; he is not on the rolls covering August thru December 1783, indicating that he never returned from captivity. Many regiments explicitly wrote these men off as deserters on their muster rolls, but the rolls of the 3rd Regiment simply no long include several of the men who'd been prisoners of war.

With the exception of the specific battle at which he was captured, the muster roll information correlates with the Luttrell account of Murphy's arrival in America as a British soldier and his subsequent capture. It is known that he was born in Londonderry, Ireland in 1757 and had learned the trade of a weaver; both of these facts dovetail nicely with an army enlistment in 1777. 

Following his capture, Robert Murphy enlisted in the American Army.  He is listed as a private in the Virginia Militia. When hostilities ended, he married Martha McNeill, 10 Oct 1783, in Botetourt County, Virginia (Botetourt County Marriages 1770-1853 by Vogt & Kethley, Volume 1, p. 218). She was born in 1768 the daughter of Hugh and Martha McNeill and died 15 Jun 1847 in Knox Co., TN. She is identified as Martha Murphy in the will of her father, Hugh McNeill, a Scots-Irishman who had served as a constable in Botetourt County. 

Robert Murphy, his wife, and children, settled in Knox Co., TN in the mid-1790s.  Robert Murphy bought his first land in Knox County, TN on 24 May 1797, 115 acres on White’s Creek (Knox Co., TN Deed Bk B, pp. 191-2).  The following July he bought 50 more acres (Knox Co., TN Deed Bk B, pp. 204-5) and acquired 100 acres on Beaverdam Creek in 1810. He served during the War of 1812 as a sergeant under Col. Edwin Booth and Capt. Porter in the Drafted Militia (Tennesseans in the War of 1812, Sistler, p. 375).

Robert Murphy died 13 May 1850 "of old age." He is buried at the Murphy Family Cemetery in Knox Co., TN, off of Washington Pike, about seven miles from Knoxville, TN. The family farm has remained in the family and is now owned by a descendant. He left a will in which he identified his many children. 

The information that follows consists of individual sentences and paragraphs pertaining directly to Robert Murphy (1757-1850) that have been extracted from the aforementioned typescript by Robert Marshall Murphy (1886-1969), The Robert Murphy Family (pp. 1, 4-5, 8-10, 14, 26-27), in order to compose a coherent, abbreviated narrative.

“Robert Murphy and his family drove into Grassy Valley, in Knox County, Tennessee in a covered wagon.  The family had come all the way from Virginia…. Robert Murphy… was apprenticed to a weaver and learned the weaving trade [before joining the British Army, and]… brought with them into the valley their loom, spinning wheel, cords, and hackle.  [He] proceeded to search out and agree upon a tract extending across Grassy Valley…… with a number of free flowing springs, a matter of prime importance in that early day in choosing a home site.  Once located in Grassy Valley, the first big job facing Robert Murphy and his four young Virginia-born sons was making a clearing in the densely wooded area immediately surrounding the spring and the spot which had been decided upon for the location of their log cabin.  On a level prominence near and above one of the springs, they built the first log residence using logs hewn out of the surrounding forest.  This was the first home of the Robert Murphy family in East Tennessee.  The house served for about one hundred years with an occasional addition required to add to the comfort of the family which had increased to a total of eleven children.” 

“A few pages of [Robert Murphy’s] farm account book, with records beginning in 1801, reveal that corn was the product marketable in the largest volume.  It was surprising to find such a variety of produce sold:  corn, potatoes, hay, flax seed, flour, butter, honey, and chickens, in addition to yards and yards of cloth (woolen, cotton and linen) from their looms.  It is interesting to note that they used the English monetary unit of pounds, shillings, and pence in the account book.”

“Three of the five older children born in Virginia probably had started school before they moved to Tennessee, where they found that schools were practically non-existent.  Fortunately, their nearest neighbor, Samuel Crawford, had built a log school-house on his farm, having in mind primarily the importance of schooling for his own children; but evidently he permitted other children to attend according to entries in the Murphy account book kept by Robert Murphy.  One entry dated 1806 was for thirty-five dollars.  Another in 1816 listed 9 pounds for two years tuition for the Murphy children.”
“Family records do not reveal the interest and affiliation of the Robert Murphy family with a specific church group in the early years following his arrival in Grassy Valley, but future happenings make it a fair assumption that they attended camp meetings held in the region.  Robert and Martha Murphy may have been Methodists in Virginia.  In 1847 when Robert Murphy, along with his family, came home from Camp meeting, he must have been aroused to the need for a church nearer home.  It was at that time that he got together with his neighbors and offered to give a square plot off the north corner of his farm for a building site, where it joined the Crawford and Luttrell farms.  The site was a level elevation admirably suited for a church, and they set right to work building a small Methodist Church which they named Murphy’s Chapel, in Robert Murphy’s honor.  The gift was conditioned only by the clause, “so long as it shall be used for this purpose,” and the application was signed by the following trustees:  John Murphy, Barnes Crawford, Reuben White, Pleasant M. Monday, James M. Murphy, William Murphy, Samuel Briggs, William Brown, and Major W. Wilkerson.”  [Note that John and William Murphy were Robert Murphy’s sons and James M. Murphy was his grandson.]

“When Martha Murphy died in 1847…… it became necessary to pick out the site for the Murphy family graveyard and she became the first occupant.  Three years later, in 1850, Robert Murphy died at the age of 93 and was buried alongside her.  The location is on a level elevation across White’s Creek from the Hugh Murphy homestead.”

John Luttrell Murphy, in a letter to his father, James M. Murphy, dated 16 Oct 1895, wrote the following about Robert Murphy (1757-1850), his great-grandfather (The letter is transcribed in The Robert Murphy Family, pp. 16-21.): 

“…bluff, brave old Robert Murphy……. laid the foundation of the Tennessee branch of the strong and powerful Murphy clan from good ole Londonderry in the north of Ireland.”  

“Not being able to make his own conditions nor to surround himself with circumstances to his liking, he was wise and bold enough to appropriate and assimilate those he found round and about him, and to forcibly wring by rude efforts from rough elements, a support and competency for his worthy self and faithful wife, and a large and hearty family of some dozen children besides.” 

“The Daddy of all the Tennessee Murphys was a run of strong will and stern judgment, and commanded the confidence and enforced the respect of all he met.  Why, with his “blackthorn” or black Jacks, two foot club, he could knock out a whole “muster,” and with a single broad oath of the “Green Isle” put an entire Company of rangers to flight.  Everybody had a piece of land that he wanted at once to measure and hole to quickly find when Robert Murphy got his “Irish up.”  Honest to a fault, and generous to a defect, yet no man could rob him nor abuse him, and while his physical manhood held out, no man dare even undertake it.  And of the same solid sterling stuff were made his hale and hearty sons and daughters; who were veritable chips off the old block, tempered with the same hardness, rang with the same stroke, broken with the same blow and softened with the same influence.” 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Richard Cotton, 38th Regiment, is drafted twice

Some books and articles suggest that British soldiers were fiercely loyal to their regiments. If this was true during the 1770s and 1780s, there's no direct evidence of it. None of the handful of narratives by British soldiers make any particular mention of pride in their regiment, and many soldiers changed regiments for one reason or another at least once during their careers. Even officers changed regiments for the sake of career advancement, giving promotion or security priority over loyality to a specific corps.

One way that soldiers changed regiments was by being drafted. Unlike the modern parlance that uses the word to refer to civilians obliged to join the military, during the era of the American Revolution the British army used the term to refer to men drawn from one regiment to serve in another. There are a few highly-publicised cases where soldiers objected to this and even mutinied because of it, but the objection was generally to serving in a different location than promised, rather than in a different regiment. writers who focus on these incidents fail to consider the thousands of soldiers who were drafted, some more than once, during their careers. Drafting orders often directed that volunteers be taken first before ordering men into other regiments. The usual cause for a draft was to keep regiments on overseas deployments up to strength. In some cases men were drafted from regiments in Great Britain to serve in regiments bound for, or already on, overseas service; in other cases, regiments being sent home to Great Britain drafted their able-bodied men into other regiments remaining overseas.

Among the former was Richard Cotton. As war loomed in America, he was serving in the 3rd Regiment of Foot in Ireland. On 23 February 1775 a regimental court martial found him guilty of “stealing a silver table spoon from an inhabitant," for which he receive 250 lashes. Just two weeks later he was drafted to serve in the 59th Regiment of Foot, a regiment already in Boston. We could assume that the 3rd Regiment was trying to get rid of him, but it's more likely that he jumped at the opportunity to leave the officers who had just punished him. Drafting orders required that only men in good physical condition be sent to as drafts, with the receiving regiment allowed to reject any that did not measure up. How a man who'd just been subjected to 250 lashes could be considered fit for overseas service is a mystery.

Cotton, along with other drafts and recruits, arrived in Boston in May to learn that war had broken out. He joined his regiment and served until the end of the year. Then he was drafted again. The 59th Regiment had already been overseas for several years and was due to go home, but their able-bodied men were drafted; Richard Cotton joined the 38th Regiment of Foot. In March 1776 he was put into the regiment's light infantry company, meaning that he was a particularly active and capable soldier; his discipline must have been reasonably good. There's no evidence that these two changes of regiment in rapid succession were in any way objectionable to him, or to the hundreds of others who went through similar transfers.

The light infantry company of the 38th Regiment saw many years of hard service on the front lines of the war's famous campaigns. The battle of Long Island in August 1776, the rapid movements around New York and into New Jersey later that year and into 1777, the campaign that took Philadelphia in late 1777 and the abandonment of that city that culminated in the battle of Monmouth in 1778 - during all of these campaigns the 38th's light company was part of the 1st Battalion of Light Infantry, always on the forefront of the action. Immediately after returning to New York from Philadelphia, the company rejoined the 38th Regiment and sailed to Rhode Island where they reinforced the garrison and spent three weeks under siege, then fought in the battle of Rhode Island on 29 August. They remained in Rhode Island through August 1779 when that place was evactuated by British forces.

The 38th's light company rejoined the 1st Battalion of Light Infantry. They spent the beginning of 1780 on the expedition that laid siege to Charleston, South Carolina. After that city capitulated, they returned to the New York garrison. The summer of 1780 found them on the front lines again, this time in coastal Westchester County, New York on the border of Connecticut. This was a region characterized by raids, skirmishes and incursions as scouting parties clashed between fluid front lines. For reasons that aren't clear, discipline suffered in the British battalions, and there was a spate of desertions from these normally-reliable ranks. 

Early on Monday morning, 17 July 1780, two Loyalist refugees - soldiers who may not have been uniformed - were following a road from the area of Horse Neck, Connecticut towards the British encampment at Rye, New York. They saw someone coming towards them and climbed over a wall to let the man pass. As he went by, the refugees discerned him to be an unarmed British soldier, so they decided to question him. They called out to the man, who stopped, and asked him where he'd come from. The man, Richard Cotton, responded that he'd just left a British command of some 4000 soldiers. The two refugees suspected that he was a deserter and offered to take him to an American post; Cotton went with them. By odd mischance, they soon encountered an American flag of truce - an officer or a small party of American soldiers with official permission to visit British lines on some sort of official business, usually to discuss matters relating to prisoners of war. Richard Cotton begged the refugees to let him go with the flag, but they refused. Cotton tried to make a run for it, but they grabbed him and conveyed him back to the British camp. There, his welcome was not a warm one.

Having been caught on a Monday morning, Richard Cotton was put on trial for desertion on Thursday (for some reason the trial transcript calls him Benjamin rather than Richard, but muster rolls leave no doubt that it's him). The men who captured him testified, as well as a man from the 38th Regiment who gave some simple facts of Cotton's term of service in the regiment. Put on his defense, Cotton claimed he'd gotten drunk and "perplex’d in his mind" on Sunday afternoon, having not enough shirts, shoes and stockings and also believing he was going to be sent from the Light Infantry, where he'd served for so long, back to the regiment. He wandered away from camp, and claimed not to have known where he was until he met the two refugees. He asserted that when the refugees had asked where he belonged, he told them the British company he was from; he also denied mentioning the strength of the British force or having attempted to go with the flag of truce. But when he asked one of the refugees, "Did not you ask me that if I had my Choice whether I would go to the Continental Army or back to the British Troops and what Answer did I make?", he said Cotton's reply was "the Prisoner answer’d him, it does not signify your giving me the choice now as I know very well what you are going to do with me."

Cotton probably did know full well what would be done with him. There had been several desertions from the light infantry battalion already, so a clear message needed to be sent. Cotton was found guilty and sentenced to the maximum penalty for desertion. Regardless of whether he intended to desert, his dissatisfaction was not related to having been drafted twice some years before, but with the prospect of being transferred out of his regiment's light infantry company. Had he not strayed from camp, whatever his motive, this veteran of three regiments would've had the opportunity to see out the war with the 38th Regiment and return to Great Britain. Because of his transgression, on Sunday 23 July 1780, "that man of the 38th Light Infantry who was tried at East Chester for desertion was executed today after the troops came to their ground, hung on a tree at the road side."

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

John Battin, 17th Light Dragoons, is Photographed

I don't post pictures on this blog because I write about common soldiers as individuals. There are many images of British soldiers dating from the era of the American Revolution, but they're "generic"; they show us typical soldiers, but not specific men. As such, it's not worth the extra effort to get the necessary permissions to use them, even though we all like pictures. For a common soldier to have been represented in a picture, there'd have to be something very special about him.

Looking at the military career of John Battin, a trooper in the 17th Light Dragoons, we don't find anything remarkable. He arrived in America in October 1776, one of many new men who expanded the 17th from a typical cavalry regiment to a legion with a contingent of foot soldiers to augment its dragoons. It's not clear whether the 24-year-old was among the mounted or dismounted men when he joined his regiment on the campaign that took him into New Jersey in the closing months of 1776. In fact, all we know about his service is what we can discern from the regiment's muster rolls, which do not distinguish between mounted and dismounted dragoons. As the war progressed, he is frequently listed on the rolls as "on duty" or "on command", nebulous terms that indicate that he did some sort of special duty. This was quite common among men of the 17th LD who were used as messagers, escorts, and all sorts of detached duties. But it could mean something as simple as that he was off cutting wood somewhere, too. The rolls give us no hints about the specific service he saw in America.

Perhaps Battin was one of the many well-educated middle-class Britons who joined the army in hopes of advancement, having the educational qualifications but not the connections or patronage to enter the army as an officer. But it's more likely that he had learned the trade of stocking-making in his native Bristol, England, and joined the army in pursuit of a more interesting life, just and many of his fellow soldiers had done.

As the war wound down, John Battin appears to have tired of his military career just as he may have tired of his pre-service trade. He deserted with two other men on 26 March 1782, one month and 24 days after his thirtieth birthday. He avoided capture and remained in New York after the British evacuated the place in November 1783. 

Battin had some entrepreneurial spirit. In May 1786 he opened a porter house and tavern "at the sign of the Blue Bell" in Sloat Lane, present-day Beaver Street. The following year he advertised that "he draws the best Porter at Nine-Pence per Quart, and makes no doubt but the excellence of his Porter (and having the advantage of a cool Cellar) will insure him the continuance of the customer of those who may honour him with their Company."

By the summer of 1788 he had moved up town a ways, to John Street. In late July or early August John Battin married "the agreeable Miss Margaret Amelia Frauncis, daughter to Mr. Samuel Frauncis, of said street." She was seventeen years younger than him. The following year he was offering pickled oysters for sale from 27 John Street, and in 1790 was advertising that "Parties of gentlemen can be accommodated with dinners and suppers in the genteelest manner, and at the shortest notice" in addition to preparing "Oysters and Lobsters for exportation, in pots and kegs."

His business apparently prospered; in 1796 he purchased a large house on five acres of land in Jamaica on Long Island, a dozen miles outside of the city. He opened a tavern in Jamaica. But apparently he'd overextended himself; three years later he was forced to sell the house at auction, although he continued business "in his well-known Tavern, where every exertion in his power shall be made to give satisfaction."

He had children. By 1810 he had moved his family back into the city, and in that year he sold off some property that he owned in partnership with others. The following year the family was living in a three-story brick house at 41 Nassau street; they advertised for boarders and operated a coffee house. His son John joined him in business, but apparently things went sour. For reasons unknown they disolved their business partnership in 1815; the elder Battin put the building up for lease and sold off the furniture. This may be the same building that he'd operated as a tavern years before; perhaps he'd never sold it.

It's not clear what happened next, except that Battin remained in the city. He may have opened a stocking shop in the Third Ward that he continued to operate for the rest of his life. And a long life it was. Locals recalled him walking along the Battery at Manhatten's south end every morning before breakfast, maintaining this routine for decades, clinging to his old conservative fashion of knee breeches and stockings. His turning 100 years old was noted in newspapers around the region, which reported that "He attributes his longevity and continued health to his frugal living and avoidance of all luxuries." But he died soon after, on 29 June 1852, having lived for just over 100 years. Besides making the bold move to join the army and sail to America, he had barely ventured beyond the bounds of New York City. But he did do one remarkable thing before he died. In 1845, at the age of 93, he joined a group of surviving veterans of the Revolutionary War. And, responding to a new trend of the times, he had his photograph taken.

The daguerreotype photograph was brought to my attention by its current owner, who gave permission for an image to be published here. This is a rare image of a man who served as a British private soldier in the American Revolution.

Richard Alan Wood collection

Battin came to the attention of Benson J. Lossing, a 19th-century historian of the American Revolution, who recorded this biography:

Mr. Battin came to America with the British army in 1776, and was engaged in the battles near Brooklyn, at White Plains, and Fort Washington. After the British went into winter quarters in New York, and Cornwallis’s division (to which he was attached), returned from Trenton and Princeton, he took lessons in horsemanship in the Middle Dutch church (now the city post-office), then converted into a circus for a riding-school. He then joined the cavalry regiment of Colonel Birch, in which he held the offices of orderly sergeant and cornet. He was in New York during the "hard winter" of 1779-80, and assisted in dragging British cannons over the frozen bay from Fort George to Staten Island. He was always averse to fighting the Americans, yet, as in duty bound, he was faithful to his king. While Prince William Henry, afterward William the Fourth, was here, he was one of his body-guard. Twice he was sent to England by Sir Henry Clinton with dispatches, and being one of the most active men in the corps, he was frequently employed by the commander-in-chief in important services. With hundreds more, he remained in New York when the British army departed in 1783, resolved to make America his future home. He married soon after the war, and at the time of his death had lived with his wife (now aged eighty-three) sixty-five years. For more than fifty years, he walked every morning upon first the old, and then the new, or present Battery, unmindful of inclement weather. He always enjoyed remarkable health. He continued exercise in the street near his dwelling until within a few days of his death, though with increasing feebleness of step. The gay young men of half a century ago (now gray-haired old men) remember his well-conducted house of refreshment, corner of John and Nassau Streets, where they enjoyed oyster suppers and good liquors. The preceding sketch of his person is from a daguerreotype by Insley, made a few months before his departure.

Much of this information correlates with what we know from muster rolls. "Colonel Birch" was Lt. Col. Samuel Birch of the 17th Light Dragoons. Cannon were dragged across New York harbor during one cold winter, and Prince William visited New York in 1781, probably receiving an escort of dragoons. But Battin never rose above the rank of private, and there's no evidence that he retruned to Great Britain, especially not carrying dispatches. These are the sort of fanciful tales that often creep into family lore. But we cannot deny that this man who ventured to enlist in the British army at the onset of the American Revolution, only to desert and pursue various business ventures, had a life that deserved to be recorded. Having a photographic image of him makes that record all the more remarkable.

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

Friday, June 20, 2014

John Lawson, 22nd Regiment, advocates for veterans

When he stepped onto the wharf in Boston in June 1775, it was John Lawson's second visit to America. The 45 year old serjeant in the 22nd Regiment of Foot had joined the army in 1750 and served in America from the siege of Louisbourg in 1758 until the regiment finally headed back to Great Britain in 1764. He had served with the regiment in Nova Scotia, New York, Pensacola, New Orleans and other places. Now, after ten years in the British Isles, he was back in North America, greeted by a fresh new war, this time against the same colonists he'd fought alongside a dozen years earlier.

This time Lawson's visit would be short. The regiment remained in America until October 1783, but Lawson was called to a different duty. A few months after the 22nd Regiment disembarked, regiments in America were ordered to send a few officers and non-commissioned officers back to Great Britain for recruiting. Being among the oldest serjeants and longest-serving soldiers in the regiment, Lawson was among those chosen for this service. He and a few others, and their counterparts from all the regiments in Boston, sailed back to Great Britain in December 1775.

Lawson spent the next sixteen months working hard to raise men, men who were urgently needed to fulfill the increased size of regiments overseas as well as to make up for wartime attrition. In April 1777 he was discharged from the army and recommended for a pension because he was "worn out," having spent more than half his life in military service. He not only received a pension but was among the limited number of recipients of twelve pence per day rather than the usual five pence, "in consideration of his long and faithful services in the Army, & to keep him from Want." A native of the Glasgow suburb of Cathcart, he returned to his place of birth where he stood to live a reasonably comfortable retirement.

Within a few years, though, he took up a cause on behalf of his fellow pensioners. Army pensions were administered by Chelsea Hospital near London, but the money was distributed through local excise offices. The hospital sent a list of pensioners to each excise office. The excise office collected taxes, and then used the funds for local needs including payment of pensions. Each pensioner went to the excise office twice a year to receive his semi-annual payment; men who didn't show up and provided no accounting of themselves were presumed dead and struck from the rolls. It was a simple and elegant system that minimized overhead and money transfer.

In a fashion typical of public offices of the era, the law allowed excise offices to retain five percent of the pension payments as compensation for their services. Thus, each pensioner received a semi-annual payment of their daily allowance minus five percent. This was the established system, and no one took issue with it. But for pensioners in western Scotland there was a difference: they collected their pensions in Glasgow, but the designated place was in Edinburgh on the other side of the country. The excise collector in Glasgow, answerable to the office in Edinburgh rather than directly to Chelsea, withheld and additional shilling from each pension payment for his own serices, in addition to the five percent withheld in Edinburgh.

Although this had been going on for decades, in 1785 John Lawson made a stand against the practice. He filed a lawsuit on behalf of himself and other pensioners asserting that the extra shilling charge was unfair. The court agreed, and order Lawson and others to be paid the sums that had been withheld since they went onto the pension rolls. Eight years after he left active service, Lawson had won a victory for his fellow former soldiers.

But that wasn't the end of it. The excise office appealed. Lawson then escalated the matter, charging the excise officer directly with being in violation of a statute concerning fair distribution of funds. There may have been some self-interest here; if Lawson was right, he stood to collect a 100 pound reward as the informant against a corrupt official. He had a good case, though, and attorneys on both sides gave reasonable arguments. For Lawson and the pensioners, it was a matter of paying twice for the same service; for the excise collector, it was a matter of providing the benefit of relieving the pensioners from having to travel to Edinburgh. The case dragged on into 1788.

What was the final ruling? Unfortunately, we don't know. The above information comes from documents submitted to the court, but I've yet to find the outcome. What we can take away is that veteran's affairs were an active issue in the 18th century just as they are today, and that some long-serving soldiers soldiered on in the interest of their comrades even after their obligation to the army was done.

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

Monday, June 2, 2014

John Cuthbertson, 40th Regiment, misses the war

We've seen many soldiers with very short careers, men who joined the army, came to America, and met their demise due to death or desertion. Other careers were short for much more benign reasons.

Regiments on service overseas required a steady stream of new recruits to make up for attrition. Each year in peace time, some men grew too old for active service and were sent home, a few deserted, a few died of illness, and a few were disabled by service-related injuries. Warfare accelerated this attrition, and the increased size of regiments on a war footing further added to the need for recruits. Each regiment had reruiting parties in Great Britain, and each year a convoy arrived in America carrying the men the recruiters had dilligently raised and trained. Depending upon when a man enlisted, he might spend a few months to a couple of years in Great Britain before embarking for America.

One regiment that particularly needed recruits was the 40th Regiment of Foot. They'd arrived in Boston shortly after the battle of Bunker Hill, and subsequently participated in the vigorous campaigns around New York in 1776, New Jersey and then Philadelphia in 1777, and the retreat from Philadelphia in 1778. Then they were sent to the West Indies to fight against the French and suffer the ravages of a hostile climate. In a particularly unusual move, the 40th was sent back to New York in 1781. In September of that year they fought in the savage action at Fort Griswold on the Connecticut coast. Keeping the regiment at fighting strength was a particular challenge.

By 1782, though, it was clear that the war would soon be over. Recruits for the 40th and other regiments embarked in May of that year but, rather than proceeding to New York, they were diverted to Halifax, Nova Scotia to reinforce the British garrison there. One of those recruits was named John Cuthbertson. Very little is known about him, including when he enlisted.

With the signing of a peace treaty in 1783 the army was reduced in size and the 40th Regiment was sent home from New York to Great Britain. Men who'd enlisted after 16 December 1775 were entitled to be discharged if they'd served at least three years. Those who wished to could be discharged in New York and sail to Nova Scotia where they'd receive a land grant.

John Cuthbertson was in Halifax when word came that he was eligible for discharge (indicating that he'd probably enlisted some time in 1780). He left the army and "immediately went up the country to work for an honest livelihood," a move that suggests he was a farm laborer by trade. He soon found that his plan was a poor one; "things being so dear & work very slack" caused him to return to the city. There he learned about the option of land grants.

In the summer of 1784, Cuthbertson wrote (in a good hand) a brief but well-stated petition requesting a grant of land. It was not acted on, however; the reasons aren't clearly stated, and no other document exists besides the petition itself. Because there were others in Nova Scotia with the same name, this short-time soldier becomes too difficult to trace with cursory research. All we know is that he enlisted with every intention of going to war but never made it to the region of hostilities. Perhaps that was his good fortune.

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

John Winters, 59th Regiment, catches a woman's eye

During the winter of 1770-1771, a young man named John Winters enlisted in the 59th Regiment of Foot in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He started off as a drummer, but soon became a private soldier. He was so proficient in that capacity that he was put into the regiment's light infantry company, the fast-moving skirmishers recently embodied in each British infantry regiment. He was in this company when the 59th was sent to Boston in 1774 to reinforce the garrison there amid growing tensions.

Having enjoyed peacetime service in Nova Scotia, it was perhaps out of naivity that Winters strayed from his regiment's Boston Neck encampment on 5 October 1774. He went with a fellow soldier to Dedham, a town some miles southeast of Boston, where he was "seduced" by his comrade and a local resident to abscond from the army. He went to New York, where many deserters from Boston were sent, apparently aided by inhabitants who were keen to get former soldiers away from the British army. He found work as a servant for the keeper of a tavern in the city.

War broke out. The few British troops in New York abandoned the place by sea and joined the army in Boston, which was soon surrounded by a nascent American army. Although desertion put him in mortal danger, Winters was far away from any possibility of capture. To further improve his situation, in December 1775 his regiment was sent back to Great Britain. Whatever his intentions, it looked like Winters would spend the rest of his life in America.

Within six months, however, things changed dramatically. The British army evacuated Boston, regrouped in Halifax, and landed on Staten Island to threaten New York. In late August this powerful force won a devastating victory over American defenders on Long Island, and began preparations for an assault on Manhattan. The western end of Long Island was teeming with British soldiers.

On the evening of 7 September 1776, John Winters was out walking on Long Island when a couple overtook him. The woman recognized him immediately and addressed him by name; the man took hold of him. It was a soldier and his wife, former fellows from the 59th Regiment; when that corps left America, many of the men transferred into other regiments rather than going home. It was Winters's amazing luck to run into a man and woman he'd known since his enlistment, now in the 5th Regiment and part of the army that had just arrived in his neighborhood. They took him into custody.

Just two days later Winters was on trial for desertion. Two former comrades, both now serving in the 5th Regiment, testified against him. They verified his enlistment, his desertion, and that he didn't admit to being a deserter until after he was apprehended. This latter point was significant, because deserters who returned of their own volition were often treated with lenience.

Winters was not. Although he pleaded that he had come to Long Island explicitly to turn himself in, and had gone so far as to enlist with the then-raising 84th Regiment (which included many American prisoners of war in its ranks), he was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. The sentence was approved by the commander in chief and carried out on the morning of 11 September. As he may have supposed he would when he deserted, he spent the rest of his life in New York, but it was a shorter life than he'd expected.