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.
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