Thursday, March 13, 2014

Michael Wright, 43rd Regiment, makes a bad connection

Before war broke out in America, there were already British troops on the continent. It was part of the British empire, and there were many places where local tensions required military presence to maintain order. In addition to frontier posts along the Ohio river and in Canada, there were the valuable islands in the West Indies where local natives resisted British colonial expansion. The most recent uprising had occurred fighting had occurred on the island of St. Vincent between 1769 and 1773, a conflict that came to be called the First Carib War. After a peace agreement was signed, British troops remained on the island including the 6th Regiment of Foot.

The outbreak of war in the thirteen mainland American colonies necessitated an immediate buildup of troops there. The 6th Regiment, along with others in the Caribbean, were sent to New York in 1776 to bolster the strength of Sir William Howe's army that was preparing for a campaign that, it was hoped, would put an end to the rebellion. Not long after their arrival, though, it became clear that the 6th wasn't up for campaigning in America after having spent a few years in the harsh Caribbean climate. In December 1776, orders were given that the regiment was to transfer all of its able-bodied soldiers into other regiment in America. The remainder, including the officers and non-commissioned officers, would return to Great Britain where worn out men would be discharged and new soldiers would be recruited.

Among the men drafted from the 6th Regiment was Michael Wright, who joined the 43rd Regiment of Foot. We know nothing of his background, including how long he had been in the 6th Regiment (no muster rolls survived for the regiment during this time period); he may have been a long serving soldier or a recently arrived recruit. Regardless, he was sent with other drafts from New York to Rhode Island where the 43rd was stationed. Initially, like the other drafts, he continued to wear his uniform from the 6th Regiment. Both the 6th and the 43rd had just received new uniforms for the year 1776, but it would take all winter for the clothing to be fitted properly to the men. Each regiment had tailors to do this work (Great Britain's thriving textile industry insured that there were plenty of skilled tailors among the men who enlisted in the army). When spring came, it is not known which newly-tailored uniform Wright donned - the one he'd recently received from his old regiment, or a new one from the 43rd Regiment.

Regardless, he didn't wear it long. The muster rolls show us that he died on 5 July 1777. There was no fighting on that day; although minor engagements occurred frequently in Rhode Island throughout that year, none correlate with Wright's demise. Muster rolls provide a record of many such unascribed deaths, and ordinarily we attribute them to illness for want of additional information. But in Wright's case, an officer of the Rhode Island garrison recorded the cause:

A Soldier of the 43rd Regt shot himself last night in the rear of the Camp. The discovery of a Connection he had with a married woman of the same Regiment, appears to have been the cause of this rash action.

Nothing else is known about the incident. All we know of this untold story is the tragic ending.

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

No comments:

Post a Comment