Thursday, December 24, 2015

Garrett Barron, 29th Regiment, keeps the best Public House

At the end of a long career, a British soldier had a decision to make. When he was discharged, he could go to London and stand before the out-pension examining board at Chelsea Hospital, in the hope of being awarded a pension that would provide a small but steady income for the rest of his life. He could reenlist, either in another marching regiment if he was fit enough, or in one of the many garrison battalions that maintained installations throughout Great Britain. In some cases he could accept a grant of land in a far-away place that the British government was trying to settle; men who enlisted for service in the American Revolution, for example, were offered land grants in Nova Scotia (men were eligible for these grants if they'd enlisted after 16 December 1775 and had served for at least three years).

Or, he could leave all of these options behind and pursue a life of his own choosing. Tempting though the other offers were, a man with a homestead to return to, a trade that he was fit to practice, or connections in an place he had visited during his career might seek a future of his own choosing. That's what Garrett Barron did. He landed in Quebec in 1776 as a thirty-two year old corporal in the 29th Regiment of Foot. He was born in the parish of Davidstown in County Wicklow, Ireland, and had joined the army at the age of sixteen or seventeen. After serving three years in the 18th Regiment of Foot, he joined the 29th Regiment of Foot, the corps in which he would spend the rest of his career.

Much of that career was spent in North America. The regiment sailed from Corke, Ireland to Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1765. Along with the 14th Regiment, the 29th famously moved to Boston in 1768. Townspeople already inflamed by unacceptable government policies aggressively showed their resentment to the troops, and tensions culminated in the Boston Massacre in March 1770. There's no evidence that Barron was directly involved in any altercations, but he surely knew the soldiers who were. The regiment was moved out of town, first to New Jersey and then to Florida where the harsh climate claimed a number of lives. Garrett Barron not only didn't succumb to disease, but advanced in rank, being appointed corporal in 1772. The following year the regiment's overseas tour ended, and the 29th returned to Great Britain for what the soldiers probably assumed would be a long period of rest and recovery.

It was not to be. When the British government committed to a protracted war in America, several regiments including the 29th were ordered to Canada. They arrived in Quebec at the beginning of summer in 1776, and immediately dislodged an American force that had the city under siege. They pursued down the Richelieu River to Lake Champlain, liberating posts along the way that had been captured the previous autumn. By October, the 29th Regiment was embarked on board a makeshift fleet of warships assembled on the lake to drive a similar, but weaker, American force off of those waters before the onset of winter. In the battle of Valcour Island, several soldiers of the 29th were killed. Brown, now a serjeant, received a wound in his thigh that required a lengthy recovery. He was reduced to a private soldier, probably to allow a healthy man to take his place as serjeant. The 29th spent the remainder of the war primarily in garrisons along the Richelieu, sending out detachments that were involved in many actions that are overlooked by most histories but which were very real to the soldiers participating in them. By 1781 he'd advanced to serjeant again.
In spite of the long, cold winters and rugged conditions that characterized rural Canada, Barron grew fond enough of the region to settle there when he was discharged from the army in June of 1784. He obtained land and established a farm at Caldwell Manor, Quebec, at the head of the Richelieu River just over the border from the new United States. His regiment had spent several years in the area, and he was certainly quite familiar with the place. He married a local woman (apparently his second marriage, although no details are known of the first). Being on the main route to Montreal and Quebec city, they took in north- or south-bound travelers. One of their guests in November 1787 was an officer of the 29th Regiment with whom Barron had served, who recorded in his diary:
we Rowed as far as Barrons farm where we stopped to breakfast and were entertained with very excellent Tea and sausages. The owner of the house was an old acquaintance of mine having been a Sergeant in the 29th Regt many Years. His house is extremely neat and clean and is by far the best Public house on the whole Communication between Albany and Montreal.
In spite of having established such a comfortable situation, Barron sold his property and moved into the wilderness; his father-in-law did the same, and they settled on adjacent properties in Hinchinbrook, a settlement forty miles directly west of Caldwell Manor. An 1888 history of the region offers a little bit about his life there:
Garret Barron was an Irish Protestant, from the county Wexford, and had served in the army. During the American war he rose to be quarter-master's sergeant of his regiment, and, at the close of the struggle, got his discharge and a grant of land in Caldwell's manor, where he became very comfortable. One of his neighbors was John Nichols, from the English side of the Borders, and his daughter he married as his second wife. When, father and son-in-law sold their places on the Champlain and moved into Hinchinbrook Barron (called captain from his rank in militia) when asked why he moved, gave as his reason that he wanted to be again in the woods. Barron squatted on 33 and Nichols on 34. Mrs Barron felt very lonesome in her new home, when her husband remarked that with 5 gallons of rum she had all the company needed. Like all old soldiers of that time, he was fond of his dram, but never got intoxicated. He was tall, over 6 feet, and in his prime must have been a powerful man. He was rough-spoken, and fond of contradiction, and especially prone to controversy with Presbyterians (he was an Episcopalian) and Catholics. There were two large stones, one on each side of his door, on one or other of which he was generally to be found in fine weather, ready for a talk with the first passer-by. He left work to his sons, and they lived poorly, as was indicated by his remark to a stranger whom he had invited to share their dinner, "Eat away; it will be long before you get as good a meal again," the bill of fare beginning and ending with potatoes and milk. Despite his provoking mode of speech, he was at heart a kindly man, and ready to share his last loaf with a neighbor. He was a Freemason and regularly attended the lodge at Chateaugay, N.Y., which he continued to call by its old name of Seventhtown.
When war visited the region in 1813, the almost-seventy-year-old Barron determined to be of assistance:
The loyal soul of old Barron was stirred by the tidings that the Americans had at last crossed on to British soil, and stiffened as were his arms he thought he could deal one more blow for his king and country. Keeping quiet his purpose, he one night took possession of his father-in-law's horse, the only one in the settlement, and getting on its back, clad in his old regimentals and his sergeant's sword by his side, struck through the woods to gain the British camp by the Chateaugay. When Nichols went out in the morning to his barn, he discovered his loss and guessed the perpetrator of it. Running into the shanty he cried to his wife, "Barron's gone to the camp and taken the old mare, and won't bring back even a hair of her tail." In this he erred, for both Barron and the mare came back safe and sound, the former much disappointed that he failed to reach the British lines until after the fighting was over.
This sounds like a typical fanciful tale, but it is corroborated by a report from the Lieutenant-Colonel commanding the advance guard that was pursuing a retreating American force. The officer's report indicates not only that Barron was useful as a guide, in gathering intelligence, and in procuring provisions, but that his wife (who was nineteen years younger than he) made use of her non-combatant gender and local connections to gather intelligence:
In obedience to your orders, I proceeded, in advance of your party, at 8 o'clock on the morning of the 24th, with Capt. Barron, by the road followed by Gen. Hampton's army in their retreat, and, from near the Lines, went eastward to the first house, from whence I sent a man, under pretext of business, towards Four Corners, to ascertain, as far as possible, the strength of the enemy's force, the position of the pickets, &c, and to return to me at Capt. Barron's. From thence, I proceeded to Capt. Barron's, where we got at 4 o'clock p.m. He sent his wife across the Lines 5 miles, for one Hollenback (from whom he has occasionally received intelligence), in order that he might affirm before me on oath his losses by the Indians, for which Colonel Boucherville promised remuneration. Mrs Barron returned at 8 o'clock, saying that Hollenback having killed a heifer, had baked it, and was gone to the camp to sell it in pieces, and that on his return, which was hourly expected, his father would send him forward...

Capt. Barron was to have followed me down as soon as Hollenback came to his house. I presume he will be here to-day, and I will report to you the information he has got from Hollenback.

Apprehensive that your men would be short of provisions, I caused Capt. Barron to send his son and another with 3 head of cattle.
Garrett Barron lived for another twenty-two years. After twenty-three years in the army, and another fifty-one as a farmer in Canada, two marriages and eight children, he died in 1835. The funeral provided one last anecdote related to this loyal old soldier:
Dying at a great age, he was buried on his own lot. At his funeral, old Mr. Gentle got annoyed at the long continued hammering, for there were no screws then, in putting on the coffin-lid, and exclaimed, "That will do." "Abundance of law is no breaking of it," retorted the carpenter, a bachelor named Fisher, as he drove in another nail. None of Barron's descendants remain in the county.

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Thursday, December 3, 2015

Richard Roberts, 33rd Regiment, Gets a Break

There's a perception that British officers were totally aloof from the common soldiers they commanded. While military discipline and bearing required that officers maintain a degree of separation in order to maintain authority, wise officers were invested in the welfare of their men and took their personal well-being seriously. It's not unusual to find writings by officers that casually mention individual soldiers. When officers commanded individuals from their own neighborhoods, letters home sometimes include requests to pass information of a soldier's well-being on to that man's family.

A fine example comes from the letters of Major William Dansey of the 33rd Regiment of Foot to his mother. A career officer who had served in the Seven Years' War in Germany, Dansey had spent time recruiting in his native Herefordshire on the Welsh border, and frequently boasted of his Hereford recruits in letters home to his parents. Dansey arrived in America with the 33rd Regiment in 1776 and was frequently in harm's way during active campaigning throughout the next few years, but personal business brought him back to Great Britain for a period in 1780 and 1781. It was by this twist of fate that he missed the 33rd Regiment's service on the fateful southern campaign under Lord Cornwallis. 

By the time Dansey returned to America and arrived in Charleston in January 1782, most of his regiment was imprisoned after the British surrender at Yorktown. There were elements of the 33rd and other British regiments in Charleston, South Carolina, however, including men who had been unfit to serve on the campaign and new recruits who had arrived too late to follow their corps. Among the latter was a soldier in the 33rd Regiment named Richard Roberts. 

Roberts had arrived in America in 1780 with a number of other recruits for the 33rd and other regiments. He may have enlisted anywhere from a few months to a few years before embarking for America. When Major Dansey arrived in Charleston, he took command of the soldiers of the 23rd, 33rd and 71st Regiments there, 300 or so men altogether, including Roberts. They were sent to garrison James Island, hot, uncomfortable and in danger. Cornwallis's army had surrendered, but the war continued. Dansey, a seasoned veteran of two wars, made sure that his small post was ready for whatever might occur.

His preparation paid off on 14 November 1782, when an American force under Col. Thaddeus Kosciusko descended on James Island. They encountered a forward position well-placed and manned with brave, alert British soldiers. Although outnumbered, they held off the attackers long enough for Dansey to bring up reinforcements and push them back to the mainland. Among those defending the advanced post was Richard Roberts; the connection between him and Dansey is not known, but the officer wrote enthusiastically to his mother,

You will be pleased that Dick Roberts was one of those brave men, he is wounded in the Arm but doing very well, I can't help saying I was pleased to see him wounded it has open'd a road to my sincere Friendship for him. I shall take care he never wants any Comforts to his station of Life can admit of and if he behaves well he may expect my Maintenance and Protection.

True to his word, Dansey appointed Roberts corporal on 16 December, affording the young soldier greater prestige and responsibility. The skirmish in which Roberts was wounded was the last in South Carolina, and among the last of the war. The men of the 33rd and other British regiments soon moved to New York where the climate was much more to their liking. In March 1783 Dansey wrote again about Roberts, making it clear just how severe the young corporal's wound had been:

I have the pleasure to tell you that Dick Roberts is very well. as his arm was broke I don't like to let him do duty till he has recovered strength by the Spring. He promises to make as pretty a soldier as any in the Regiment and is behaving very well, from me he shall not want for Encouragement if he continues it. As he was above being a Tradesman he must take his chance as a soldier and I hope he will behave as well as he did brave.

Although Dansey's assessment of Roberts's choice of career choice is colored by the officer's own attachment to the army, it puts into perspective the dogma that enlistment was a choice of last resort. In the same letter, Dansey related more about the aftermath of the November skirmish; Roberts was having his wound dressed when an officer carried in another wounded man who was about Dansey's size:

I cou'd not help being pleased and smiling at him when I saw him wounded, while he was dressing Ensn. Lockhart was carrying in wounded and being about my size some of the soldiers said it was the Major upon which this poor Boy burst out a crying not having flinch'd before but berg his wound very patiently, he has suffer'd pretty well for his folly.

Mail between Great Britain and America traveled regularly on fast packet ships, usually once a month. Correspondence was nonetheless a slow process and the fate of each mail delivery far from certain. Under these conditions, Dansey sometimes related similar things in successive letters to his mother; in April he wrote:

As Dick Roberts is going on very well I have a Pleasure in mentioning him to you. I hope I shall make a very pretty soldier of him, he has hardly yet got the full strength of his arm, but the spring will set him up, it was a lucky shot for him had it not been for it, I shoud have been a long time before I promoted him, for had I a Brother, I would not favor him before a deserving soldier

With peace declared, the mechanics of taking the British army down off a war footing began. Even though the 33rd Regiment had suffered much during the war, it was directed from New York to Nova Scotia rather than returning to Great Britain. Men who had enlisted after the war began had the option of being discharged. Richard Roberts was discharged on 11 September 1783, but Major Dansey's care and attention had had a good effect on him: the following day he reenlisted in the 33rd Regiment of Foot. The remainder of this faithful soldier's career has not yet been traced; we can hope he fulfilled the promise that his devoted officer saw in him.

Learn more about British soldiers in America