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!

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