Wednesday, October 28, 2015

John Hutton, 10th Regiment of Foot, loses his savings

Some writers point out that the British army in Boston in 1775 was experienced, a factor which contributed to its performance during the retreat from Concord and the assault on Bunker Hill. Lacking in the assertion is any quantitative information: what portion of the soldiers in Boston had been in the army for a significant length of time? While we don't have a comprehensive answer at this time, we can certainly identify individuals who had decades of military service when hostilities broke out.

Take, for example, Serjeant John Hutton of the 10th Regiment of Foot, a weaver from County Tyrone in Ireland. He had joined the army back in 1745 when he was twenty years old, and was a thirty-year veteran when troops of his regiment marched out to Concord on 19 April 1775. Hutton was probably not on that expedition, not being a member of the regiment's grenadier or light infantry companies. Late in that same year, orders came to send a few experienced officers and soldiers back to Great Britain for recruiting, something that regiments serving overseas typically did anyway but which was now formalized as the army put itself on a war footing. A man like Hutton would have been a likely candidate to go home, but he remained in America instead, soldiering through the regiment's active campaigns in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania in 1776, 1777 and 1778.

It was in early 1778 that the regiment suffered one of its greatest losses of the war, not of men but of material. The regiment was part of the expedition that seized Philadelphia from American control. For the campaign, much of the "heavy baggage" had been left in New York, things such as spare clothing and equipment that was an impediment to rapid marching. Each regiment leased storage space in a garrison city for things that did not need to be close at hand. Soldiers carried only a few spare shirts and pairs of shoes and stockings in their knapsacks, leaving other clothing accumulated over many years of service behind in the regimental store. Quartermasters lodged spare regimental clothing and camp equipage there. Officers left their elaborate field furniture, useful for standing summer encampments but an unnecessary encumbrance on the march. The instruments of the band of music might be lodged in the store, to be brought out for the social events of winter. When the 10th and other regiments were firmly established in Philadelphia for the winter, they sent to New York for their heavy baggage which was put on board ships for the relatively quick voyage out of New York Harbor and up the Delaware River. But the ship carrying the 10th Regiment's baggage fell into enemy hands, and a huge quantity of goods were lost.

The 10th Regiment of Foot had come to America in 1767, spending seven years in Canada before moving to Boston in 1774. By late 1778, it was time to send the corps home. Following typical practice, the able-bodied private soldiers were transferred into other regiments serving in North America, worn out men were discharged, and the officers and non-commissioned officers were sent home to recruit and train a new cadre of soldiers. Serjeant Hutton, though, did none of these things. He retained his position in the regiment but also remained in North America, working as a jailer in the famous Sugar House prison in New York City. The regiment's muster rolls list him as "on command" for the next several years. A number of American soldiers who spent time under his supervision mentioned his name years later in pension depositions, sometimes favorably, sometimes less so.

When peace negotiations began in 1782, the British army in America began the massive administrative process of ending operations in what had once been thirteen North American colonies. Great numbers of soldiers, dependents and civilians had to be relocated, some to Canada, some to the West Indies, some to Great Britain. Serjeant Hutton decided it was time to retire, but before he did so he submitted a memorial, one of hundreds or thousands that crossed the desks at headquarters in New York, seeking compensation for what he had lost when the regiment's heavy baggage was captured in 1778. He was "bereft of all his Stock," which may have included a considerable amount of clothing and other possessions. The one thing that he explicitly named in the memorial was his life's savings, "three hundred Guineas and upwards," which he had saved "by his frugality & care while in the Service of his King."

A Guinea was a gold coin worth twenty-one shillings, or one pound one shilling. Hutton had saved a considerable sum of money, on the order of seventeen years' worth of a serjeant's base pay of a shilling a day. Such a feat required more than just "frugality & care"; Hutton certainly earned income over and above his base pay. This was a common occurrence for soldiers. Much is made of the scant 8 pence per day that British private soldiers earned, and the many stoppages or withholdings from it that paid for his food, clothing, health care and other things - but the low base pay was intended to be only enough to cover essentials, to insure that the soldier had the very basic things required to live. The army offered myriad opportunities to earn more. Soldiers regularly worked at tasks such as building and maintaining fortifications, roads, barracks and other military facilities, cutting firewood, gathering the hay required for military draft animals, rowing boats to provide ferriage for the army, hauling goods at river portages, and innumerable other tasks. Pay for this work could be substantial, as much as a shilling a day, and that was over and above the base pay that already covered basic needs; in other words, it was all pocket money. Men with skills at a trade such as tailoring, shoemaking, carpentry, blacksmithing or others could earn money working for the military; soldiers could also work at trades or labor privately during their free time. A serjeant like Hutton was invariably skilled at writing and had additional opportunities in the army administrative machinery, as well as in overseeing all of those activities at which the private soldiers were earning extra money.

Hutton's work in the New York prison certainly earned him money, so he wasn't destitute from the loss of his savings in 1778. It is clear that he was an enterprising soldier who'd done well in a career that spanned nearly four decades; he must have found work in the army all along the way to have amassed the fortune that was lost to the fortunes of war. In response to his memorial, he was recommended for the "twelve pence list," that is, he was recommended for a pension of twelve pence per day instead of the usual five pence awarded to most pensioners. He returned to Great Britain, and in April 1783 he went before the pension board. He never recovered his savings, but he did have an income for the rest of his life after giving thirty seven years of it to the army.

Learn more about British soldiers in America

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