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!