Tuesday, December 20, 2016

James Dempsey, 46th Regiment, Grows Taller

You are allowed to inlist men of five feet six inches provided they are able bodied, Broad Shoulders well Limbed... Young Lads of five feet High will be allowed of provided they are Well Limbed and Likely to Grow.

British regiments sent officers far and wide in Great Britain seeking suitable men to fill the ranks. Each officer received a set of instructions from the regiment's commanding officer describing the types of men to look for and how they were to be managed once enlisted. Only a few original examples of recruiting instructions from the eighteenth century survive, and while they vary a great deal they do share some general characteristics. Usually they include an instruction concerning how tall recruits should be.

The passage above is from instructions for the 7th Regiment of Foot in 1775. The regiment was in America, but had a few officers back home enlisting men to keep the ranks full. Their height requirement of five feet six inches was typical of peacetime recruiting, as was the caveat about young men being allowed to be shorter if they were "likely to grow." This, and all of the other instructions, were guidelines; an officer could accept any man who he thought would make a good soldier, regardless of age, size or any other consideration, but the recruiting instructions outlined the preferred attributes. There was an element of risk, though, in going outside of the guidelines, because a recruit could be rejected by the regiment when he was sent to join it.

1775 and 1776 saw a dramatic increase in recruiting in order to increase the size of regiments committed to the American war. Instructions went out to over 200 officers from more than 40 regiments, all probably echoing similar guidance. We don't have the orders given to officers of the 46th Regiment, but a list of men they enlisted in January 1776 does survive. From it, we know that they did take the chance on a few young men being "likely to grow." One of them was John Dempsey, a sixteen-year-old from Geashill in Ireland.

During times of peace, there was no prescribed enlistment term; recruits went into the army as a career, and remained soldiers until they were no longer healthy enough to serve. On 16 December 1775, however, as an inducement to enlist more men for the American war, a Royal proclamation was made that men who enlisted after that date could be discharged when the war ended, if they had served for at least three years. This proclamation may have tipped the scales for men who were ambivalent about joining the army. Dempsey enlisted just eleven days later, on 27 December.

Dempsey was only five feet four-and-a-half inches tall, but he was also young enough to have some growth left in him. The officer who recruited the brown-haired, blue-eyed lad with a fair complexion was from the same town, and may have known Dempsey's family well enough to anticipate his full-grown height. The recruiter took the risk. Dempsey was sent with other recruits to America, where he disembarked in New York in late October 1776 and joined his new regiment.

The 46th Regiment served in several campaigns in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania in 1776, 1777 and 1778. Towards the end of the latter year, it was one of several regiments sent on an expedition to the West Indies in response to France joining the war. The plan was for those regiments to return to the army in New York, but the course of the war kept most of them in the West Indies for the remainder of the war.

A number of significant actions occurred in the West Indies. One of them was a sea battle off the coast of Grenada in July. Many men of the 46th and other regiments had been put on board British warships to act as marines; John Dempsey went on board HMS Medway, a 60-gun ship. During the battle he was wounded in the leg, a wound from which he recovered, but which would continue to dog him throughout his life.

By 1782, combat and climate had taken its toll on the regiments in the Caribbean islands. The men of the 46th Regiment who were still fit for service were drafted into other regiments, and the remainder sent back to Great Britain. Dempsey and a number of his comrades joined the 55th Regiment of Foot, a corps that had been on the western side of the Atlantic a few months longer than the 46th had been. But the war was almost over. On 10 August 1783, Dempsey was discharged "in consequence of his majesty's proclamation of the 16th December 1775;" he had served three years as a soldier, and the war was over, so his obligation was ended.

Having spend all of his adult life as a soldier, however, and with no trade to fall back on, Dempsey enlisted once again, this time into the 6th Regiment of Foot. In Dublin, after only six months, he was discharged again because of his "ulcerous leg, which renders him unfit for service." He received a pension which provided a subsistence income, and his whereabouts for the next ten years are not known. In 1794 he joined a regiment called the Irish Fencibles, a corps raised solely for operations within the kingdom of Ireland. In this regiment he was appointed corporal, and managed to limp along for seven and a half more years until the regiment was disbanded in July of 1782. Once again being discharged, "still having the sore leg occasioned by being wounded aboard the Medway Man of War then served as a Marine." He returned to the pension rolls for the remainder of his life.

The recruiter had taken a good chance back in 1775 when John Dempsey was only sixteen years old and a bit shorter than the standard. He grew to be five feet seven inches tall, and gave the army fifteen years of his life.

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Donald McCraw, 42nd Regiment, wields his broadsword

In March and April of 1780, a string of home invasions and robberies occurred in the area around the villages of Jamaica and Flushing in Long Island, New York. The farming region had been garrisoned by the British army since 1776, and was teeming with soldiers, prisoners of war, refugees, and other itinerant and displaced people. Under these conditions, crimes were bound to occur, but this early 1780 spree was particularly disturbing. Residents heard a knock on the door in the middle of the night; if they didn't answer, their doors were broken open and men with blacked faces burst in, demanding money, guns, wearing apparel, watches and other valuables. Sometimes they forced the homeowners to light candles and lead them to goods, other times they forced their victims to cower under bedding while they ransacked the home, threatening to kill those who didn't comply. Residents were tied up, knocked down, blindfolded, belittled and overpowered. No one was sure exactly how many perpetrators there were - three, four, five - with blackened faces, wrapped in greatcoats, at least one carrying a gun - but they all had the appearance of soldiers, particularly one who was seen to be wearing a light infantry cap.

On 8 May they struck again, for at least the fifth time. Their target was the farmhouse occupied by William Creed and his adult son. In the middle of the night, there was noise as people attempted to enter the front door. Failing to break it open, they went to the kitchen door. Four men, one wielding a musket with fixed bayonet, burst through and rushed on the elder Creed, demanding his watch and purse. After threatening to kill him if he didn't comply and demanding a candle, they forced him to hide in his bed under his blankets. But there was something the robbers hadn't counted on. There was another person in the house, Serjeant Donald McCraw of the 42nd Regiment of Foot, the Royal Highlanders, a seasoned veteran soldier wielding a broadsword.

McCraw, a native of the village of Dunkeld, about fifteen miles north of Perth in the Scottish highlands, had enlisted in the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment in 1756 at the age of twenty-two. In his twenty-four years as a soldier, much of it as a grenadier, he had been through some scrapes - the disastrous assault on Fort Ticonderoga during the French and Indian War that took a heavy toll on his regiment, the difficult and dangerous campaign in New York and New Jersey in 1776 and 1777, battles like Brandywine and Monmouth in which the grenadier battalion to which his company belonged was heavily engaged, as well as the dangers imposed by long sea voyages, harsh wilderness campaigns, and even civil unrest in Ireland.

By 1779, McCraw had contracted an abdominal hernia which limited his ability to march and exercise with the regiment, but he and his wife worked for his commanding officer, Captain John Peebles, procuring his provisions, cooking, handling laundry, and other chores. In December 1779, the grenadier battalion quartered in Long Island was ordered to prepare for the expedition to Charleston, South Carolina, Capt. Peebles sent McCraw to Brooklyn to sell a horse, which the serjeant dutifully did, returning with ten guineas (gold coins worth twenty-one shillings, or 1.05 Pounds Sterling). When it came time for the battalion to embark, McCraw, his wife and son remained behind in Long Island. He took quarters at the house of William Creed, whose family treated him well enough that he felt a responsibility to protect them. He wasn't about to let a band of ruffians bring them harm.

The troops of the 42nd Regiment had been issued broadswords, the traditional weapons of highland soldiers, but it's not clear whether they were routinely carried in America. McCraw had his, though, and stormed out of his room wielding it to confront the invaders. The gunman pushed at McCraw with bayonet, but the Scotsman parried the thrust with his hand, and with the other hand swung his sword at his assailant, then seized the musket from him. McCraw then turned on another of the robbers who was at the fireplace attempting to light a candle, and ran him through with his sword. The invaders attempted to regroup and seize the elder Creed, but McCraw and the younger creed rescued him, cutting one on the head in the process, upon which three of the attackers dragged their stabbed comrade out of the house and fled. McCraw himself received two wounds in the scuffle.

The following morning, McCraw and the younger Creed went outside and found a wounded man sitting by the well. He had been stabbed, not by McCraw, but by the band of robbers; he had been with them, but when he refused to help break down the Creeds' door, they ran him through.

They took the man inside, and learned that although he was wearing "a Countrymans Coat," he was a soldier in the King's American Regiment,  a Loyalist corps composed of men enlisted in America to fight with the British army. They sent word to his regiment and two officers came. To the officers, the man confessed having participated in three other robberies, and gave the names of several fellow soldiers of his regiment who had been involved including a serjeant and a corporal. Then he died.

The fight with the marauding soldiers was Serjeant McCraw's last battle. In June, the grenadier battalion returned from South Carolina and went into encampment on Long Island. In consideration of McCraw's health issues, Capt. Peebles deemed him eligible for discharge, noting in his diary on 2 July, “presented Sergt. McCraw to the board of Physicians & got him Invalided he fought well last winter in suppressing a gang of Robbers at Jamaica, he killed one & wounded two, & recd two wounds.” Being invalided meant that McCraw could return to Great Britain and stand before the pension board. On 4 July Peebles wrote, “saw Sergt. McCraw & his wife & child told them to get ready to go home in the fleet, & gave the Boy 2 guineas,” quite a generous gesture that represented over a month's worth of a serjeant's pay, a tribute to the great esteem the officer had for this long-serving soldier and his family.

Before he sailed, though, McCraw had one more piece of military business to attend to. He testified at the court martial of the several soldiers of the King's American Regiment implicated in the string of robberies a few months before. Several Jamaica and Flushing residents also testified, the dead man's confession was read, and the court deliberated: three of the perpetrators were sentenced to death, the others to lashes.

McCraw and his family sailed from New York in July 1780. The muster rolls of the 42nd Regiment of Foot indicate that he was discharged on 1 October, but this is the date through which he was paid rather than the date that he left the regiment. In typical fashion, he was given several weeks' pay to subsist him on his journey back to Great Britain. He went before the pension board in Chelsea outside of London on 10 November, forty-six years old, after twenty-four years of service in the 42nd Regiment.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Michael Docherty, 17th Regiment of Foot (or Daugherty, or Lochry, or Dockerty...)

During the 1800s, a great deal of mythology arose about the American Revolution, from reassessments of the conflict in terms of righteousness versus evil, to implausible accounts of individual heroism. Aging veterans of the war suffered from inaccurate memory, and some spun tales to amuse and amaze listeners. Authors recorded stories that were hearsay as facts, sometimes saying they'd been related by actual participants, other times simply repeating popular tales. All of this makes it risky to trust early sources, even those written by participants when a long time had passed since the events. Significant sleuthing is required to very a story, and often the results are inconclusive.

In 1822, Alexander Garden published a book called Anecdotes of the revolutionary war in America. Garden had served for several years as an officer in an American cavalry corps, so he had plenty of personal experience on which to base his writings. He nevertheless was relating events of a war that was half a century in the past. One of his anecdotes is of meeting a soldier named Michael Docherty, who told a long and peculiar story. Garden wrote,

At the moment of the retreat, on the 12th May, 1782, when Col. Laurens, commanding the troops of Gen. Green's army, beat up the quarters of the enemy near Accabec, Michael Docherty, a distinguished soldier of the Delawares, said to a comrade who was near — "It does my heart good to think that but little blood has been spilt this day and that we are likely to see the close of it without a fight."

No notice was taken of his speech at the time, but meeting him shortly after in the camp, I inquired how he who was so much applauded for uncommon gallantry, should have expressed so great a delight on beholding the enemy indisposed for action. "And who besides myself had a better right to be released, I wonder," said Docherty "Wounds and captivity have no charms for me, and Michael has never forgot, but as bad luck would have it, both have been his portion. When I give a little piece of the history of my past life, you will give credit for my wish to be careful of the part that is to come.

"I was unlucky from the jump. At the battle of Brandywine, acting as sergeant, my captain being killed, and lieutenant absenting himself from the field, for the greater safety of his mother's son, I fought with desperation till our amunition was expended, and my comrades being compelled to retire, I was left hopeless and wounded on the ground, and fell into the hands of the enemy.

"Confinement was never agreeable to me. I could never be easy within the walls of a prison. A recruiting sergeant of the British, who was at home in his business, and up to all manner of cajolery by dint of perpetual blarny, gained my good will, slipped the bounty into my hand, which I pocketed, and entered a volunteer into the 17th regiment. Stony Point was our station, and I thought myself snugly out of harm's way, when one ugly night when I did not dream of such an accident, the post was carried at the point of the bayonet, and an unlucky thrust laid me prostrate on the earth. It was a great consolation, however, although this was rather rough treatment from the hand of a friend, that the Delawares were covered with glory, and as their prisoner I was sure to meet the kindest attention.

"My wound once cured, and white-washed of my sins, my ancient comrades received me with kindness and light heart, and hoping to gain my quantity of laurels in the South, I marched forward with the regiment as a part of the command, destined to recover the Carolinas and Georgia. The bloody battle of Camden, fought on the 16th day of August, (bad luck to the day,) brought me once again into trouble. Our regiment was cut up root and branch, and poor Pilgarlic, my unfortunate self, wounded and made prisoner.

"My prejudices against a jail, I have frankly told, and being pretty confident that I should not a whit better relish a lodging in the inside of a prison-ship, I once again suffered myself to be persuaded, and listed in the infantry of Tarleton's legion. O! botheration — what a mistake — I never had such bad company; as a man of honor I was out of my element, and should certainly have given them leg bail, but that I had not time to brood over my misfortunes, for the battle of Cowpens quickly following, Howard and Kirkwood gave us the bayonet so handsomely, that we were taken one and all, and I should have escaped unhurt had not a dragoon of Washington's added a slight scratch or two to the account already scored on my unfortunate carcass.

"As to the miseries that I have endured — afflicted with a scarcity of every thing but appetite and musquitoes, I say nothing about them. My love for my country gives me courage to support that, and a great deal more when it comes. I love my comrades and they love Docherty. Exchanging kindness, we give care to the dogs; but surely you will not be surprised after all that I have said, that I feel some qualms at the thought of battle, since, take whatever side I will, I am always sure to find it the wrong one." [Alexander Garden, Anecdotes of the revolutionary war in America, with sketches of character of persons the most distinguished, in the Southern states, for civil and military services (Charleston, SC: E. A. Miller, 1822), 396-398" (Charleston, SC: E. A. Miller, 1822), 396-398]

Garden compared Michael Docherty to a character named Dugald Dalgetty in Sir Walter Scott's novel A Legend of Montrose, published in 1819. Dalgetty, a soldier of fortune, embraced the cause of whatever side he happened to be fighting for; Garden may have been pleased at the similarity of Dalegetty's and Docherty's names as well as of their stories. But could such a tale be true?

Turns out it could be. The muster rolls of the 17th Regiment of Foot show that a Michael Lochry enlisted in the regiment in Philadelphia on 14 January 1778. The names don't match perfectly, but there are many instances on British muster rolls where the spelling of names changes from one semi-annual roll to the next, sometimes quite a lot. Also, Lochry is the only man to enlist on that date, suggesting that he was recruited locally; usually recruits arrived from Great Britain in groups and were all added to the muster rolls on the same date, so this singular enlistment sets Lochry apart. Several hundred Americans captured after the battle of Brandywine are known to have enlisted in British and Loyalist regiments, so the time frame, situation and regiment suggest that Lochry and Docherty are the same man.

Michale Lochry of the 17th Regiment was captured at the battle of Stony Point in July 1779, which also correlates with the story written by Alexander Garden. The 17th Regiment's muster rolls indicate that Lochry was not exchanged at the end of 1780 with his fellow captives; he was carried on the rolls as “prisoner with the enemy” until the end of the war when he was written off as a deserter on 25 June 1783.

A man named Michael Dockerty was among the almost ninety men from the Delaware Regiment listed as "missing in action" after the battle of Camden on 16 August 1780. And a Michael Dockerty enlisted in the British Legion, commanded by Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton, on 3 September 1780. He was part of a new company composed largely of prisoners captured at the battle of Camden the previous month. This, too, fits perfectly with Alexander Garden's anecdote. The fact that Michael Lochry still was on the rolls of the 17th Regiment is immaterial; there was no way for the officers of the British Legion in South Carolina to compare their records with those of the 17th Regiment in New York.

The British Legion suffered greatly at the battle of Cowpens in January 1781. Many of its men were captured, including Micheal Dockerty. After that, he no longer appears in British records.

Based on the data from muster rolls, we can be confident that Alexander Garden did indeed learn of a man named Michael Docherty, or something that sounded similar to that, who had served in both the 17th Regiment and the British Legion. The only other way he could have known was to himself have studied the British muster rolls, which is unlikely for an American to have done in the early 1800s. Whether Garden truly met the man is less certain; perhaps he'd heard the story elsewhere. Garden relates the story as though it is Docherty's words verbatim, but the passage of time surely caused differences; the overall sequence of events, however, stands up to scrutiny.

Mostly, that is. The muster rolls of the Delaware Regiment indicate that a man named Michael Daugherty deserted the regiment, but not until 17 May 1778. Then they record him on the rolls again in September. Those dates are in complete conflict with both the story told by Garden and with the British muster rolls. Perhaps that Michael Daugherty was a different man, or perhaps there's some other explanation for the inconsistency. Most of Alexander Garden's story checks out, however, giving us a remarkable example of how unusual a soldier's career could be.

Monday, November 21, 2016

John Sutherland, 64th Regiment, a poor silly creature

John Sutherland had intended only to visit his brother, and now he sat in confinement, awaiting a death sentence. It was not a likely fate for the forty-one year old private soldier of the 64th Regiment of Foot who had always borne "a very good Character" in over eighteen years as a soldier, except for an occasional bout of intoxication, a vice that was common enough among British soldiers, especially those who had spent several years fighting a frustrating, inconclusive war with American colonists.

Sutherland enlisted in the 64th Regiment in 1760 when he was twenty-two years old, after having pursued the trade of a tailor. The regiment, a new one established in 1756 as a second battalion to an existing regiment, and made an independent regiment two years later. Service in the West Indies, in particular the 1759 taking of Guadeloupe, severely depleted their ranks. The corps returned to Great Britain in 1759, and was soon sent to Scotland to recruit. Sutherland, a native of county Caithness in Scotland, was among the new enlistees. He had plenty of time to learn the military trade before another overseas deployment; the 64th Regiment spent three years in Scotland and another five in Ireland before crossing the Atlantic once again.

In 1768, the 64th Regiment of Foot, fully fit for service after a decade of recruiting and training, sailed to North America. There was no explicit crisis to address, it was just part of normal rotations of regiments from domestic to overseas service. The regiment spent the next several years in Halifax, Nova Scotia and Boston, Massachusetts, although much of the time in the latter city was actually passed at the fortified barracks on Castle Island in Boston Harbor. They moved into town in 1774 when tensions with the colonists grew, then served throughout the siege and subsequent evacuation of the city in March 1776. The next time that Sutherland's individual activities become apparent, though, is in October 1778.

The regiment was encamped near Bedford on Long Island. There were many British troops in the area, and their proclivity for foraging caused much mischief on the region's verdant farms. Some farmers applied to the army for safe guards, and individual trustworthy soldiers encamped on their properties to fend off nighttime forays by soldiers bent on illicitly procuring produce. One of these safe guards was John Hamilton of the 44th Regiment. He was well acquainted with the 64th Regiment encamped a few miles away, having "struck several of the Men of that Regiment who had come there to gather Peaches" in recent weeks. At about 1 in the morning on 8 October, he heard noise among the farms poultry. Investigating, he saw two men; when one ran away, Hamilton fired a shot at him, then confronted the other soldier, the somewhat belligerent and very drunk John Sutherland. Sutherland had his firelock (musket) with him, and aimed it at Hamilton; Hamilton, resolute in his duty and perhaps detecting Sutherland's impaired condition, "told him that if he offered to make any resistance he would kill him." Sutherland put the butt of the firelock - which was primed and loaded but did not have a bayonet fixed - on the ground. Hamilton recalled that he

put his hand upon the Muzzle of [Sutherland's] firelock and bid him give it up, but this he refused to do; that [Sutherland] then attempted to bring his firelock up to the Charge; that he [Hamilton] then quitted his hold of the prisoner's firelock, and bringing the point of his Bayonet which was fixed to his own firelock to [Sutherland's] Breast and told him that he would kill him if he offered to make any more resistance; that [Sutherland] then went up to the House where there were two Musicians, belonging to the 33d Regiment who advised him to give up his firelock, but he would not, and they were obliged to break it before they could get it from him.

The following week, John Sutherland was tried by a general court martial in New York, charged with the crime of forcing a safe guard. After hearing the testimony of the safe guard, John Hamilton, the court asked Sutherland for his defense; all he could off was that "he was so much in Liquor at the time that he did not know what he did, and that he never was Guilty of the like before." Perhaps based on his long record of good service, he was acquitted. He returned to his duties.

Sutherland had a brother who was also a soldier in America, serving in a grenadier battalion. Each regiment had a grenadier company, but during the American War those companies were usually detached from their regiments and assembled into composite battalions of their own. John Sutherland's brother may have been Corporal James Sutherland of the 64th Regiment's grenadiers, part of the 2nd Battalion of Grenadiers. In July 1779, that battalion and the 64th Regiment itself were part of a force that had just moved into Westchester County.

One Wednesday afternoon, John Sutherland finished his tasks with a working party and decided to pay a visit to his brother. He and another man, John Archibald, made their way to the grenadier encampment and spent an evening socializing and drinking. The combination of intoxication and darkness caused them to lose their way attempting to return to their own encampment, and they spent the night lost in the woods. In the morning they lost track of each other. Archibald found his way to the camp, but Sutherland did not.

During the same night that the two men got lost, the grenadier battalions and other corps in the area marched off to different locations; the following days brought more movements, until on Saturday the 2nd Battalion of Grenadiers encamped in Mamaroneck, New York. On the march that morning, a soldier of a light infantry battalion noticed a man peering out from the bushes and called to him to come out. The man, John Sutherland, revealed himself. Asked if he was a deserter, and how long he'd been off, Sutherland said three or four days, and that he'd been in liquor. He then compliantly went with the light infantryman and another soldier.

Sutherland was put on trial for desertion that very day. He explained himself to the court, concluding that after he lost contact with John Archibald, he was afraid to return to the regiment because he'd already been gone so long. The court did not ask the usual questions about whether Sutherland had taken clothing with him, or resisted apprehension. An officer of the 64th testified that "whilst he was with the Regiment, the prisoner bore a very good Character; and that he has great reason to believe, that it was from drunkenness the Prisoner deserted, as it agreed with what John Archibald (the Man that was with the Prisoner) told the Adjutant of the Regiment on his return." Compared to other desertion trials, this one seemed unambiguous; even though Sutherland had been absent, there was no reason to believe that he had intentionally absconded. Desertion was a capital crime, but a corporal sentence was appropriate in this case.

The court, however, ruled that Sutherland was guilty and sentenced him to death. This was probably a reaction to a recent spate of desertions in the grenadier battalion rather than to the evidence presented. The officers who composed the court were all from the grenadier battalion, and no testimony came from soldiers in Sutherland's own regiment. Grenadiers were deserting, and an example needed to be made.

The verdict did not sit right with two members of the court, Captain John Peebles of the 42nd Regiment's grenadier company and Captain Warren Simondson of the 64th's. Simondson had testified to Sutherland's character; Peebles recorded in his diary:

on a Genl. Court Martial for the tryal of John Sutherland of the 64th. Regt. for desertion, he was taken this morng. near Rye, - a poor silly creature who tells a simple & consistent story of his being in liquor & losing his way in the night, his greatest fault was in not returning, for it does not appear to me that he left his Regt. with an intention to desert. however he is condemned to suffer death by a mode of procedure in Court that I never saw or hear’d of before, & cannot reconcile to justice & humanity; a circumstance which I shall never forget, & now think in my own mind I should have protested against.

The execution was scheduled for 19 July. Captain Peebles and Captain Simondson went to the officer commanding their brigade and made a case on Sutherland's behalf; Peebles wrote,

Captain S--n & I waited on Genl. Vaughan to ask his opinion of a case like that which happen’d at the Court Martial which we found agreed with ours, we then told him that there was an irregularity in the proceedings, or rather in giving sentence, which we could not reconcile to our judgement & conscience, and begged he would order the Execution be put off untill we could acquaint the Comr. in chief with as much of the affair as the nature of our oath wod. allow us, which he was very ready to do

The general, however, soon learned that a surprise was in store, and let the two captains in on the secret: while forcing the troops to witness an execution was one method of deterring desertion, by striking fear into them, another method for gaining soldiers' loyalty was to show mercy. "The Comr. in Chief had left orders to pardon the prisoner at the foot of the Gallows, which satisfied us with respect to the safety of a man’s life who was not regularly condemn’d." Peebles then recorded the proceedings of the execution:

The Picquets of the left Column being ordered out with the Field officer of the day for the Execution of Jno. Sutherland of the 64th ... The Ceremony was gone thro’ & the poor man behaved very well and penitently at the approaching scenes of death, fainted with joy when his pardon was pronounced.

John Sutherland had escaped with his life. He may, however, have received corporal punishment for his absence from his regiment. For reasons that have not been determined, at the end of the year he was discharged from the 64th Regiment of Foot and took a new post as a soldier in the Royal Garrison Battalion. This was a corps composed of soldiers no longer fit for the demands of long marches and encampments, but who could render useful service at fixed posts. The Royal Garrison Battalion served in the New York area before being sent to garrison Bermuda.

At the end of the war the Royal Garrison Battalion in Bermuda was disbanded. Some of the soldiers took the opportunity to go to Nova Scotia and take their discharge there, Sutherland among them. He was discharged at Sheet Harbor in June 1784, having spent twenty-four years as a soldier. But his military days were not done. In 1793 he joined the Royal Nova Scotia Regiment, in which he served a further three years before being discharged and recommended for a pension, "being deemed by a medical board, from his advanced age, and long services, to be unfit for His Majesty's Service." He signed an X on his discharge, indicating that he had never learned to write. He was fifty-eight years old, five feet seven inches tall, with light hair, grey eyes and a fresh complexion, and after twenty-six years in the army he was finally returning to Great Britain.

The pension examining board had other ideas for Sutherland than simply sending him home to Caithness. The directed him into another garrison corps, the Guernsey Invalids, which he joined on 13 February 1797. He stayed in that corps for five more years, finally taking his discharge on 24 December 1801, "being old & feeble." After thirty-one years in the army, this "poor, silly creature" had earned his pension.

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Recruits for the 46th Regiment, Ireland, January 1776

When it became clear that all-out war had broken out in America, the British War Office made changes to allow more troops to be sent into the conflict. One change was to augment the size of regiments already in America, or ordered to go there. The number of private soldiers in each of an infantry regiment's ten companies was increased from 38 to 56, the number of serjeants in each company was raised from two to three, and the number of drummers per company increased from one to two.

This change was ordered in June 1775, but it would take time to raise the men. To facilitate recruiting, two "Additional Companies" were also added to each regiment. Nominally these were identical to the ten existing companies, with three officers, three serjeants, three corporals, two drummers and fifty-six private men. In reality, they were administrative structures to make recruiting possible: the officers, with a cadre of non-commissioned officers and drummers, spread out all over Great Britain seeking recruits wherever they might be had. About half of each regiment's needs would be filled by drafts, experienced men transferred from regiments not going overseas, thereby maintaining a reasonable level of overall experience in the deployed regiments. But that still meant that each regiment needed nearly 100 new recruits.

Three officers of the 46th Regiment of Foot worked hard to recruit men in Ireland at the beginning of 1776. The 46th had already gained many new men, both recruits and drafts, prior to embarking for America in late December 1775. Now that their regiment was at sea, Captain Alexander Duff, Lieutenant Samuel Bathurst and Ensign Thomas Digby enlisted 71 new men between 23 December 1775 and 4 February 1776. The results of their work, recorded in a very rare return of British recruits, provides many interesting details on British wartime recruiting.

Of the 71 men enlisted, 15 ranged in age from 16 to 20 years old; 26 ranged from 21 to 25; 21 were from 26 to 30, and five were from 31 to 35 years old. No data was recorded for four of the men. This age range mirrors that of broader data sets that include peacetime recruiting: the majority of British soldiers enlisted in their early to mid-twenties. Later in the war, when recruiting got more intensive to keep pace with increased manpower demands, the proportion of younger and older men increased, but the majority continued to be in the same early twenties range.

Thirteen of the men were below the peacetime recommended minimum of five feet six inches, with four standing only five feet four and a half inches tall. It was common for men in their teens, who might still have some growing to do, to be enlisted when below the standard, but only seven of the short men were below the age of twenty; one of the shortest was also one of the oldest, at thirty-two. He was a fifer, which may have influenced the decision to enlist him in spite of his low stature and advanced age.

Eight of the men were enlisted in Dublin by Capt. Duff, and fourty-four by Lt. Bathurst about twenty miles west in Kilcock, County Kildare. The remainder were enlisted farther west by Ens. Digby in Geashill, King's County (today named County Offaly), the ancestral home of the young officer's prominent military family; his influence is apparent in that twelve of his recruits were born in his home town. Almost all of the men came from towns in the midland Irish counties - Dublin (4), Meath (6), Westmeath (9), Offaly (King's) (14), Roscommon (8), and Kildare (11), the remainder being from Donegal (2), Galway (1), Kilkenny (1), Longford (2), Mayo (1), Monaghan (1), Laois (Queen's) (1), Sligo (1), and Tyrone (2). One man came from Middlesex in England, and four have no birthplace recorded.

Only 15 of the 71 had trades (with four unknown), the remainder being laborers. This is well below the overall average of between fifty and sixty percent with trades seen in larger data sets, but reasonably close (although still below) the norm for recruits from Ireland alone. The trades included three cordwainers (who made shoes), two butchers, a barber, breeches maker, dyer, flax dresser, hatter, school master, tailor and weaver. Also listed among the trades was a fiddler and the fifer mentioned above.

Perhaps most interesting of all is that only 37 of these 71 recruits joined the 46th Regiment in America; possibly only 35, given that two of the names don't match perfectly between the list of recruits and the regiment's muster rolls. 14 recruits had deserted by 9 February when the return from which this data comes was prepared (among them the fifer mentioned above); one of those deserters had been caught again and was held in a military prison in Dublin. The remaining twenty men are unaccounted for, having apparently been discharged, transferred, or deserted before the recruits set sail for America. Most of the recruits who joined the regiment in America embarked on transports in early July 1776, and arrived in New York in late October, meaning they'd spent six months in training before sailing; a few arrived a few months later.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

British Prisoners Marry in America: the 26th Regiment in Lancaster, PA, 1776

It's fun to be surprised by data. Even more fun is to be surprised twice. Marriage records for soldiers of the 26th Regiment of Foot held as prisoners of war in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, provide just such an interesting double surprise.

In 1775, the 26th Regiment of Foot garrisoned the British post at St. Johns, a key post on the Richelieu River that lay on the passage between Montreal and Lake Champlain. In November, the garrison was overpowered by an American force sweeping northward that would also take Chambly, Montreal, and then lay siege to Quebec. Most of the 26th Regiment was captured at St. Johns or along the river. These prisoners, along with prisoners from the 7th Regiment of Foot, were sent to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, some 400 miles away and far from any of the war's front lines.

The prisoners began to arrive in Lancaster in early December, about a month after they were captured. They soon began to get married in the town's St. James church. Comparing the maiden names of the brides to names on muster rolls and prisoner lists, we surmise that the prisoners met most, if not all, of the brides after arriving in Lancaster; the names don't indicate that they were daughters or widows from within the regiment.

It was no surprise that British prisoners of war married local women; in fact, that was completely expected. What is surprising was the number of marriages: sixteen in a one-year period from December 1775 through December 1776 (the marriage records inexplicably list one man as belonging to the 47th Regiment, but he is on the muster rolls of the 26th Regiment). An additional seven marriages involved men listed simply as "a soldier;" none of these can be correlated with certainty to men of the 26th Regiment.

There were about 300 prisoners from the 26th Regiment held in Lancaster (an exact number is not known). A list of 247 of these soldiers, take in the middle of 1776, gives the names of sixty-six wives with them. Most were probably with the regiment when it was captured, but the list includes four of the women who married in Lancaster (and, oddly, does not include some of the others who married into the regiment before the list was made). Given that many of the men were already married when captured, not all were eligible to marry local women. With this imprecise information we can estimate that between five and ten percent of the prisoners got married while in Lancaster.

Among the maiden names of the brides are a few that match up with names of other prisoners. Possibly some of these brides were daughters of couples in the regiment. We don't have enough information to know how many, if any, of the brides were already in British military families. One new bride's last name matches that of a prisoner who enlisted in the American army; did he abandon his wife, prompting her to marry another soldier of the 26th Regiment, or is it just by chance that they had the same last name?

From other sources, we know that British soldiers who married local women were liable to desert from the army when an opportunity arose, in order to stay with their wives. Also, whenever British prisoners of war were exchanged or released, some of them deserted instead of returning to the army; detailed figures have not been determined, but we estimate that about ten percent of prisoners did not return to the army. This expectation led to the second surprise about marriages in the 26th Regiment.

The prisoners from the 26th Regiment of Foot were exchanged in early 1777, after over a year in captivity. The regiment's muster rolls allow us to trace the careers of the soldiers. Several of them did not return, and are written off of the muster rolls as deserters, all on the same day. Surprisingly, though, only two of the sixteen men known to have married in Lancaster did not return to the army. Thirteen of the newlyweds duly returned to New York and continued their military duties. One man disappears from the muster rolls with no annotation, so his fate is not known.

Four of the newly married men died within a year or two of rejoining the British army in New York. One was discharged in America in 1780. Six served in the 26th regiment through September 1780 when the regiment ordered home; two of them were drafted into the 44th Regiment and were still in that corps in Canada in 1785, while the other four were probably also transferred into other regiments (a gap in the muster rolls makes it impossible to follow their careers after September). Two of the married men returned to Great Britain with the regiment, one of them serving until 1792.

But what about their wives? Wives of British soldiers had the option of following their husbands, and these American women who wed British prisoners of war were entitled to stay with the men who were exchanged and went to New York. That doesn't mean, though, that they did. Documents giving names of soldiers' wives, or even enumerating which soldiers were married, are very rare, and none are known to exist for the 26th Regiment after the 1777 exchange. Perhaps all of these women remained in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and eventually established new lives. Or perhaps they followed their husbands, taking on the roles typical of army wives in garrison and on campaign. Either way, their lives were profoundly changed by the temporary presence in their home town of British prisoners of war.

Below are the marriages of soldiers from the 26th Regiment recorded at St. James Church, Lancaster, Pennsylvania

March 5, 1776: Jonathan Haywood (of 47th Regiment) married Bridget McGuire at St. James Church in Lancaster today. (Haywood, actually in the 26th Regiment, was drafted into the 44th Regiment in 1779 and went to Canada; he was still in the 44th Regiment in 1785)

March 14, 1776: married today at St. James Church. Daniel Allen (of the 26th Regiment) and Catharine McElroy. (Allen remained in the regiment through 1779)

March 27, 1776: John Andrew Walker of the 26th Regiment married Ann Aritage at St. James Church today. (Walker rejoined the regiment but died in late 1777 or early 1778)

May 10, 1776: Joseph Abbott of the 26th Regiment and Isabella Hunter were married at St. James today. (Abbot returned to Great Britain with the 26th Regiment in 1780)

May 16, 1776: Married today at St. James Church were John Mason of the 26th Regiment and Ann Burns. (Mason deserted from captivity, presumably to remain in the Lancaster area)

May 24, 1776: At St. James Church, James Culbert (of the 26th Regiment) and Mary Justice were married. (Culbert returned to the regiment, and died on 24 October 1777)

May 28, 1776, 1776: Married at St. James Church today were: James McCarty of the 26th Regt. and Elizabeth Glover. (James McCadie remained in the regiment through 1779)

June 8, 1776: William Boddle of the 25th Regiment and Mary Hellens exchanged marriage vows at St. James Church today.(William Bodie returned to the regiment and was discharged in New York in April 1780)

June 11, 1776: Simon McKinzy of the 26th Regt. married Elizabeth Unger at St. James Church. (Simon McKenzie, a shoemaker from Logie, County Ross, Scotland,  returned to Great Britain with the 26th Regiment and was discharged in 1792 at the age of 41; he was granted a pension)

June 23, 1776: Samuel Doxey of the 26th British Regiment married Sarah Drummond at St. James.(Doxey deserted from captivity and joined the American army)

June 30, 1776: Married at St. James Church today were John Walker of the 26th Regiment to Mary Hargy (Walker rejoined the regiment but died in late 1777 or early 1778)

July 1, 1776: Married at St. James Church today were John Lloyd (a Corporal in the 26th Regiment) to Eleanor Reade. (Loyd returned to the regiment, and died on 8 February 1778)

October 27, 1776: George Hider of the British 26th Regiment married Rebecca Smith. (George Hides returned to the regiment, was drafted into the 44th Regiment in 1779 and went to Canada;he was still in the 44th Regiment in 1785)

November 30, 1776: John Smith of the British 26th Regiment and Jane Herrot were married  today at St. James (Smith remained in the regiment through 1779)

December 4, 1776: Joseph Williams of the 26th Regiment of British prisoners married Eleanor ? at St. James today. (Williams remained in the regiment through 1779)

December 7, 1776: James Lindsay (26th Regt.) and Mary Myer (Lindsay disappears from the muster rolls after returning from captivity)

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

William Marchant, 7th Regiment, enlists three times

When fighting broke out in Massachusetts in 1775, British soldier William Marchant was in the colonies but far from the war zone. With other soldiers of the 7th Regiment of Foot, called the Royal Fusiliers, he was in the garrison at St. Johns, a post along the Richelieu River between Quebec and Lake Champlain. These men may have expected the conflict to remain confined to the Boston area, but American ambitions dashed any such expectations.

Marchant was no stranger to war. Hailing from the Bath suburb of Walcot in Somersetshire, he had joined the army during the Seven Years War. While serving in the 103rd Regiment of Foot, a newly-raised regiment, he participated in the British attack on the French island of Belle Isle off the Brittany Peninsula in 1761. He was wounded in the neck during that action. His regiment was disbanded at the end of the war in 1763, and he was discharged. With no trade to fall back on, however, the twenty-five-year-old enlisted a second time, this time in the 7th Regiment.

By November 1775 the Royal Fusiliers had been serving in the Quebec area for over two years. That month, an American force besieged St. John; the garrison, heavily outnumbered, was forced to surrender. The prisoners were marched off to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. With no idea of how long this imprisonment might last, Marchant and a few others chose a different path: they enlisted in the American army. Marchant may have been disheartened with his prospects as a prisoner, but his third enlistment, this time into the enemy army, may have been a clever ruse, for serving in the American army meant that they would be sent closer to British forces than the hinterlands of Pennsylvania.

In the autumn of 1776, American forces lost one fight after another around New York City. Large numbers of American soldiers deserted or were taken prisoner. William Marchant’s own circumstances aren’t known at this writing, but on October 17 he joined the British army again. He enlisted in the 63rd Regiment of Foot and spent several months in their ranks. In 1777, prisoners from his old regiment were exchanged and the 7th Regiment was reconstituted from those men, recruits from Great Britain, and drafts from other regiments. Marchant was a Royal Fusilier once again.

The 7th Regiment served in several subsequent campaigns. Portions were captured at the battle of Cowpens and the surrender at Yorktown in 1781, but Marchant was not among them. He served out the war, and continued with his regiment when they returned to Great Britain in 1783. He did not take his discharge until five years later, when he was fifty years old, after twenty-seven years as a soldier. On 24 June 1788 he was discharged at Edinburgh Castle. He scratched a X on his discharge in lieu of a signature, and was given twenty-eight days pay with which to make the journey to London to stand before the army's pension board He was recommended for a pension, “having been wounded in the Neck at Belleisle, suffered much by long confinement when prisoner of war in America, & being much afflicted with the Rheumatism, is unfit for further service.” No mention was made of his brief stint as an American soldier.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Donald McPhee, 71st Regiment, wounded in two wars

British policy during the third quarter of the eighteenth century was to maintain a small, well-trained professional army during times of peace, which could be augmented and increased rapidly if war demanded it. The war that broke out in America brought just such demands; in the middle of 1775, recognizing that the conflict might become a protracted one and would require significant military force, the British military began the process of military buildup. One of the measures was the authorization of a new regiment, the 71st Regiment of Foot, to consist of two battalions totaling some 2000 men, for service in America as soon as it was up to strength and fit for service.

It would be impossible to raise such a regiment and make it ready for foreign service by relying solely on raw young recruits. But in the highlands of Scotland where the 71st Regiment was raised, there was no shortage of veterans who had been discharged after the previous war that ended in 1763, who were willing and able to return enlist again. One such man was forty-four-year-old Donald McPhee, an illiterate farm laborer from Kilmallie, near Fort William in Inverness Shire.

Born in 1731, McPhee had enlisted in the 88th Regiment of Foot when it was raised in 1760 to fight in the Seven Years War. He went with his regiment to Germany, where a splinter from an exploding mortar bomb wounded him severely in the head. He recovered sufficiently to continue as a soldier until the end of the war, when the regiment was disbanded and he was discharged.

When the 71st Regiment was raised for the American war, the experience of men like McPhee insured that it was ready for service by the summer of 1776. A portion of the regiment was captured at sea near Boston, but the majority served in the campaigns in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania in 1776, 1777 and 1778. No muster rolls have survived for the these years, making it impossible to know specifics of Donald McPhee's service. The next we know about him is that he was at the siege of Charleston, South Carolina in 1780. It was here that he was wounded again, this time in the thigh.

McPhee convalesced for a time, but did not recover sufficiently to return to service. Some time before the war ended, he was discharged and sent home. Although he had a total of only ten years in the army, not a very long career compared to other full-time soldiers, his two wounds made him a likely object for an army pension. He did not, however, avail himself of this prospect by going to London and standing before the pension examining board; instead, he returned to his native Inverness and life as a laborer.

The rigors of his hard life rapidly caught up to him. He was unable to support his wife and six children, and soon became too infirm to work at all. The family was supported by the parish until, in 1791, an army officer who’d served with him in America intervened on his behalf. The officer helped McPhee make a claim for a pension, writing to the pension board “that from the Testimony of several Gentlemen of first veracity & Honor on behalf of the Bearer Donald McPhee, and having a recollection myself of the poor man’s services in America, I am enabled not only to renew his Discharge (on account of his having lost the Original) but to Certify that he has been confined to his Bed and supported by his Parish for some years Past, which prevented his being able to come up in due time to solicit His Majesty’s Bounty of Chelsea Pension.” The deserving veteran, now sixty years old, was added to the pension rolls.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Andrew Elder, 42nd Regiment, travels with a sutler

When Great Britain committed to powerful offensive operations to suppress the American rebellion, among the regiments ordered to America were two composed primarily of Scottish highlanders, the 42nd and 71st Regiments of Foot. The 42nd was part of the regular army, while the 71st was raised specifically for the American war. While most British regiments were composed of men from all over the British isles, the 42nd was composed almost exclusively of highlanders. The 42nd was stationed in Glasgow in late 1775, having recently returned from duty in Ireland. For American service they were authorized a strength nearly twice that of most other British regiments, and set about recruiting at a feverous pace through the closing months of the year. 

One of the new recruits was Andrew Elder. He enlisted on 19 September 1775 and was put directly into the regiment's elite light infantry company in spite of being only about twenty years old, somewhat young for a British soldier. The regiment landed on Staten Island in the summer of 1776, and their light infantry was in the thick of fighting in New York and across New Jersey in 1776 and 1777, and again on the campaign that seized Philadelphia later in 1777. Somewhere during the retreat from that city in June of 1778, however, Andrew Elder went missing.

The muster rolls of the 42nd Regiment denote Elder as a prisoner of war, an indication that the circumstances of his disappearance were known. Somewhere along the line, however, Elder managed to outfox his captors. As a fugitive, he convinced people that he was a deserter rather than an escaped prisoner of war, a tactic that would engender trust. By May of 1779 he was staying at the home of Neal McCarty in Sadsbury Township, Pennsylvania, about forty miles west of Philadelphia. From there he ran away, taking enough clothing with him to prompt McCarty to place an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Packet on 5 June:

Fifty Dollars Reward.
Ran away on the twenty-seventh of May, from the house of the subscriber in Sadsbury township, Chester county, a certain Andrew Elder, who said he deserted from the British army about twelve months ago: He is about twenty three years of age, and about five feet seven inches high, fair complexion, curly hair tied behind; had on an old snuff jacket. He also stole and took with him four good shirts, three pairs of trowsers, a pair of gold knee buckles, one of which he wore in a ribband round his hat. Whoever secures said Elder in any gaol, shall be entitled to the above reward, paid by Neal McCarty.

Elder stayed on the lam for another year before he turned up at the British post of Paulus Hook, on the front lines of British-held territory in Bergen County, New Jersey (today, Jersey City in Hudson County). He had traveled from Lancaster, Pennsylvania with a sutler (a merchant who sold provisions to the army) to the American post a New Bridge on the Hackensack River. Knowing this American post was a key river crossing, Elder carefully observed the condition of the troops there, making particular note of a large artillery park. He then made his way back to his British comrades whom he had left just over two years before. He was sent to British headquarters in New York where he gave an intelligence report, which included news of the battle of Camden in South Carolina:

Andrew Elder of the 42nd Regiment taken in Pensilvania came with a Sutler from Lancaster about four weeks ago, came into Paulers Hook. Washington's Army the other side of New Bridge very ill off for provisions they got five days Meat for Nine days. They have about Thirty Guns Brigaded. 5 eighteen, 2 Six pounders and two Howitzers in the park.
Soldiers not Satisfied they way they are Sold; Gates defeated his escape was with his Aid De Camp and Some Waggoners they rode two Hundred Miles for fear of Being taken up by the Tories. They dislike they French More than they English.

Andrew Elder was sent back to his regiment. During his time as a prisoner, he was administratively transferred out of the light infantry so that that company could be brought up to full strength. He joined his new company, and continued to serve through the end of the war. In late 1783, the 42nd Regiment of Foot, with the now-seasoned veteran Andrew Elder in its ranks, was sent to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

William Wood, 54th Regiment, makes a fatal crawl

There's a common misconception that during the American Revolution the ranks of British regiments were filled with "the scum of the earth." That's certainly not true as a generality; the majority of British regulars were career soldiers who volunteered for the job and served dutifully, faithfully and well. But any large population is bound to have a few bad eggs. In spite of the efforts of recruiting officers, incorrigible men did make it into the ranks.

The 54th Regiment of Foot sailed from Ireland to America at the beginning of 1776, serving first on the abortive expedition to establish a foothold in the southern colonies, then joining the army in New York. At the end of the year they were part of the force that landed in Rhode Island, where they settled into a garrison routine that was frequently interrupted by alarms and incursions from nearby American forces.

Like all British regiments in America, the 54th had several officers and men in Great Britain recruiting to make up for the inevitable attrition of a wartime deployment. In the spring of 1777, recruits raised during the previous year embarked for New York. Upon arrival there, those of the 22nd, 43rd and 54th Regiments were sent up Long Island Sound to join their regiments in Rhode Island. They arrived on 20 June and were quickly integrated into their corps. They had already been trained in the basic aspects of soldiering while with their recruiting parties in Britain, but had much more to learn. Just days after landing, the recruits were practicing with live ammunition.

The island called Rhode Island, now referred to as Aquidneck Island, was a front line, separated from the mainland by only narrow channels in a few places. Because parts of the shoreline were within easy cannon shot of the mainland, the British established lines that were in many places well back from the shore. By day, the land between the lines and the shore were well protected by British positions. At night the area became a no-man's land, where marauders from the mainland could land to attack sentries or raid houses and farms, island inhabitants could meet agents from the mainland to provide intelligence, mischievous British soldiers could attempt to sneak off of the island, and other illicit activity could occur.

Encounters between British sentries and people lurking outside the lines took place almost daily, or nightly, in Rhode Island. One instance occurred on 2 September, when sentries noticed two men between them and the waterside. One quickly returned and was taken by the sentries; he proved to be a soldier of the 54th Regiment. The sentries saw the other man crawling on hands and knees towards them. They challenged the intruder, but got no response. Following their training, they fired. The crawling man was struck twice in the body and died almost instantly.

The man was William Wood, a soldier in the 54th Regiment. A very new soldier, in fact: he was one of the recruits who had arrived in June. After 74 days with the regiment, he was dead. But an officer of the garrison indicated that Wood had earned no sympathy during his short career: "The man who was shot, was of a very bad Character, and if he had no intention of deserting, of which however there is little doubt, deserved his fate, as he had no business in front of the advanced posts at night, and should have answered when challenged.”

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Widows who Stayed with the Army: 10th Regiment and 35th Regiment

A popular bit of mythology concerning British army wives is that they were required to remarry within a few days (24 hours, 48 hours, 72 hours, or other durations depending upon who retells the story) or they would be abandoned by the army. Not only is this illogical given the important roles that army wives held in the military infrastructure, working as nurses, washer women and sutlers, but we've shown several examples of widows who stayed with the army for months or years after their husbands died. In those cases, we used information from marriage licenses combined with information from regimental muster rolls. We have several instances where a marriage license denotes the bride-to-be as "widow" belonging to a regiment, and found on the regiment's muster rolls a man with the same last name who had died anywhere from a few months to a few years before. Although British general orders in America frequently mention opportunities for soldiers' widows to return home on ships bound for Great Britain, these marriage licenses demonstrate that some did not.

Another source of evidence has come to light. In late 1782 or early 1783 there was an opportunity for people associated with the army to sail from New York to Great Britain. This was quite common, but in this instance a list survives, found by researcher Todd W. Braisted, of the people who applied for passage. The list includes a number of army widows, each one with the regiment listed alongside the woman's name. Comparing these names to muster rolls we can determine when the husband died.

Some of them are indeterminate, such as three widows of the 76th Regiment, Margaret Hay, Ann McDonald and Ann Bissett. Only a few muster rolls for this regiment survive, leaving no way to know whether their husband's died in garrison in New York, on campaign in Virginia, or as prisoners of war after the capitulation at Yorktown. We also have no way of knowing whether these women accompanied the regiment on campaign. Similar is the case of Eleanor ("Elinor") Paget of the 24th Regiment, who sought passage to Ireland for herself and one child; not enough information has been found to reveal whether her husband died on Burgoyne's 1777 campaign, or in prison during the subsequent years. And no man corresponding to Rachel Molloy of the 27th Regiment, who sought to go to England, has been found on the muster rolls.

A few, however, can be traced, and the results are surprising. Anne Carr of the 35th Regiment was the widow of William Carr, who had died on 28 October 1776. This was the date of the battle of White Plains, in which the 35th Regiment was heavily engaged, and we can assume that Carr was killed in that battle. The 35th Regiment was sent to the West Indies in late 1778 and was still there when Anne Carr applied for passage to England in late 1782.

Widow Huston, whose first name is not given, belonged to the 10th Regiment of Foot. She was the widow of William Huston, who died on 10 September 1776 when the regiment was on Long Island preparing for the assault on Manhattan. In 1778 the fit men of the 10th Regiment were drafted into regiments bound for the West Indies, the unfit men were discharged, and the officers and non-commissioned officers were sent home. But Widow Huston remained in New York, and applied for passage to Ireland with six children.

Another widow from the 10th Regiment was Mary Smith. There were two men named Smith in the 10th Regiment who died during that regiment's service in America between 1774 and 1778. Thomas Smith died on 2 February 1777, and Joseph Smith on 30 December 1777. We don't know to which one Mary Smith was married, but we do know that she was still in New York in late 1782 when she applied for passage to England.

What were these women doing all this time? Lacking specific information, we can only guess that they were gainfully employed, perhaps supporting the army as hospital nurses or sutlers. While don't know the reasons why they stayed in America, they do provide further proof that army widows were neither abandoned nor required to remarry.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Nathaniel Taylor, 7th Regiment of Foot, is captured by an artist

When the 7th Regiment of Foot, the Royal Fusiliers, landed in Quebec in 1773, its ranks included two brothers, Thomas and Nathaniel Taylor. The Englishmen were both serjeants and were the children of a soldier; they'd spent their entire lives, from birth, in the 7th Regiment. Nathaniel, born in 1745 and serving in the grenadier company, may have been the younger of the two, but this is not certain.

When war broke out in Boston in 1775, the soldiers of the 7th Regiment, manning posts along the Richelieu River between Quebec and Lake Champlain, may not have been too concerned. It seemed like a local conflict, far away from them. The fall of Fort Ticonderoga, garrisoned by a detachment of the 26th Regiment, changed that, and the troops of the 7th and 26th prepared their positions at Chambly, Montreal and other key locations for possible attack.

That attack came in the Autumn when American forces surged down the lake and down the river, pushing northward towards Quebec in an attempt to claim Canada. In spite of determined defense, most of the 7th and 26th Regiments were captured piecemeal as each post along the Richelieu was overwhelmed. The prisoners were sent to a barracks in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the first of many who would pass through that town during what became a long war. They may have had some consolation in learning that Quebec did not fall, and a large reinforcement from Great Britain in the spring regained all of the ground that had been lost in the fall.

The prisoners of the 7th Regiment were marched to Lancaster, ennsylvania, and held there for over a year. They were exchanged and joined the British army in New York in 1777. The regiment, after regrouping and recieving some reinforcements to replace men who had deserted or been rendered unfit by the hardships of captivity, participated in the storming of Forts Clinton and Montgomery on the Hudson River in October 1777. They were then sent to Philadelphia to winter with the British army that had just taken that city. On 29 November 1777, Thomas Taylor took the opportunity for advancement that wartime often offered, obtaining the Quartermaster's commission in the 7th Regiment when the previous holder of that position retired.

Of causes that are not known, Thomas Taylor died on 22 September 1781. The 7th Regiment was in the south at that time, having had many of its number captured at the battle of Cowpens in January, and having lost other men in other actions. As Quartermaster, Thomas Taylor may have been at a garrison post when the regiment was fighting. Regardless, he was born, lived and died in the 7th Regiment.

Needing a successor, the officer commanding the 7th Regiment in the field, Lt. Col. Alured Clark, wrote a letter to General Charles, Lord Cornwallis on 5 October offering his recommendation:

I have on my own behalf and that of the regiment to recommend Serjeant Nathaniel Taylor to succeed to the quartermastership vacated by the death of his brother, the success of which I feel much interested in, as he is a very honest, deserving man and greatly attached to the corps from having been born in it.

This request was approved, and Nathaniel Taylor took on his fallen brother's role. He continued in this capacity through the end of the war and beyond, when the regiment returned to Great Britain. By 1788 they were in Edinburgh, and it was here that he caught the eye of a local artist named John Kay. Kay sketched images of many of Edinburgh's personalities in the 1780s and 1790s; his rendering of the corpulent quartermaster of the Royal Fusiliers is a rare image of a man who had served in the British ranks, not as an officer, during the American Revolution. It is difficult to image that he'd had such a rotund physique while on active service in America.
It is fortunate that the artist caught Quartermaster Taylor's likeness when he did. Nathaniel Taylor died on 13 October 1790, only 45 years old, having like his brother spent his entire life in the 7th Regiment of Foot.

Learn more about British soldiers in America

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Charles Tudor, 16th Light Dragoons, Calls but is not Heard

The fact that Charles Tudor spent more time sitting in an American prison than did with his regiment in America didn't prevent him from having a long and prosperous military career. Maybe it even helped him out, giving him favor in the eyes of his superiors. But even before the war began he'd shown promise. The Shropshire native was 21 years old when he joined the 16th Light Dragoons in 1771, and by the time the regiment arrived in America in October 1776 he was already a corporal. In preparation for service in America, the 16th Light Dragoons was augmented significantly in size. The peacetime establishment for the cavalry regiment had been only 18 private men in each of the regiment's six troops. Suddenly that was increased to over 60, the difference made up partly by recruiting and partly by drafting men from other cavalry regiments. Another change was that about half of these men were to serve dismounted, operating as foot soldiers even though they were troopers in a cavalry regiment, scouting, screening and skirmishing in front and on the flanks.

The 16th Light Dragoons arrived in America in October of 1776, part of a large reinforcement for General William Howe's army. One transport carrying about twenty men of the regiment was captured by Massachusetts privateers, but the remainder disembarked in New York City and soon joined the British army's campaign that drove the Americans out of northeastern New Jersey. Several more troopers were captured in the New Brunswick area in December.

Somewhere during this time Charles Tudor was appointed serjeant in the dismounted portion of the regiment. The muster rolls show his appointment as occurring on 25 January 1777, but this is certainly an administrative date. He was already a serjeant on 3 January 1777, when the dismounted men of the 16th Light Dragoons were protecting the left flank of a British column that was advancing from Princeton, New Jersey to join a larger British force that was some miles away. The dismounted dragoons detected another column of troops in the distance and alerted the officers commanding the column. When it was determined to be a large force of the enemy, the British troops maneuvered for advantageous positions. As directed by Lt. Simon Wilmot, Sjt. Tudor went along the line of dragoons and told each one not to fire until the enemy "were on the points of their Bayonets," and even then only when ordered. 

After various movements, the dragoons, divided into four sections of about 18 men each, posted themselves along a fence where they exchanged fire with the enemy. When their opponents began to retreat, the dragoons prepared to charge with their bayonets, the favored tactic of British infantry when opposed to the relatively inexperienced, undisciplined American troops. Suddenly Lt. Wilmot saw that the section to his right, the one holding their flank, was retreating. He called to Cornet Evatt, commanding the section, to stop, but to no avail. He told Sjt. Tudor to call to Evatt, to stop the unordered retreat, but the noise of battle drowned out the serjeant's calls. The other sections of dragoons, now in danger of being outflanked, also proceeded to retreat. When Lt. Wilmot caught up with Cornet Evatt, he told the cornet that he'd have him brought before a court martial for disobedience and cowardice. But the action intensified, and Wilmot and several other dragoons were wounded. In the general British retreat that followed, the wounded men were left behind and became prisoners of war. Although it isn't clear whether Tudor was wounded or not, he was among the prisoners.

The prisoners taken at Princeton were sent to Connecticut, where they were parceled out among several towns. Serjeant Tudor and ten others were held in East Windsor. There he remained until an exchange was made in July 1778 which allowed several hundred British captives to return to their regiments. He resumed his duties as a serjeant. In October of 1778, the court martial of Cornet Evatt finally took place, now that his accuser, Lt. Wilmot and several other witness were free from internment. Serjeant Tudor testified at the trial, carefully describing his own role that day without either incriminating or exonerating the defendant. Because there was no evidence that Cornet Evatt had heard the orders from Lt. Wilmot, nor that he had behaved in a cowardly manner, he was acquitted.

In December 1778, the fortunes of war intervened once again. The 16th Light Dragoons were drafted, that is, the private men who were fit for service were transferred into other corps. Many went to the 17th Light Dragoons, some to the 17th Regiment of Foot, and some to Loyalist regiments. Men who were no longer fit for service were discharged, either in America or after returning to Great Britain. But the officers and non-commissioned officers, and a few of the private men, returned to Great Britain to recruit the regiment anew. Tudor was among these select few.

He continued to serve, and his diligence rewarded him. On 24 July 1789 he was appointed Quartermaster in regiment, not unusual for a long-serving serjeant. On 24 December 1794 he became the regiment's Adjutant. With over twenty years in the army, he could have retired and received a pension, but he chose to serve, and on 29 April 1795 received his first commission when he became a Cornet in the regiment. This entry-level officer rank was usually the domain of young men in their late teens, but Tudor, in his forties, performed well enough to be promoted to Lieutenant two years later.

In 1799, after twenty-eight years in the 16th Light Dragoons, Tudor took another promotion that sent him to a different corps; he became a Captain in the newly-formed Royal Waggon Train. In December 1803 he was promoted again, this time to Major. After seven more years, on 25 July 1810 he was made aide de camp to the King, a post that made him a brevet Lieutenant-Colonel 25 July 1810. Now sixty years old, his long service and dedication had gotten him much farther than most.

When he was sixty-four years old, in 1814, Charles Tudor obtained the lieutenant-colonelcy of the Royal Waggon Train. Later that year he finally left active service and went onto the half-pay list. His advancement, however, was still not quite done. On 12 August 1819 he received a brevet colonelcy, and in November of that year was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel in 1st Royal Veteran Battalion, a fitting appointment for this officer who was as much a veteran as could be.

Charles Tudor died in London in November 1830 at the age of eighty.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Richard Shea, 40th Regiment, goes for a swim without his money

Some soldiers told their own stories well enough that there's little need to elaborate on them, and the details can be correlated with other sources. Richard Shea's short stint as a soldier in the 40th Regiment of Foot began when he enlisted in Waterford, Ireland, in late 1774. Tensions were rising in America at this time, but the 40th had not yet received orders for their own embarkation.

We know nothing of Shea's background other than that he was an educated man. His talents were recognized and he was tasked with keeping records for the company, a job that probably consisted mostly of making copies of receipts, returns, orders and other military documents. It may not have been glamorous work, but it was one of many ways that soldiers earned extra money to supplement a base pay that was designed only to provide food and clothing.

The 40th Regiment, along with the 22nd, 44th and 45th, received orders for America in early 1775. Preparations were complete and transports were ready by the beginning of May, and the regiments sailed from Cork, Ireland on the 8th of that month. They arrived in Boston shortly after the battle of Bunker Hill, and served in that city's garrison until the place was evacuated in March 1776.

During a two-month stay in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the British army regrouped and trained for a new offensive. The town was crowded, and many regiment remained quartered on board their transport ships, going ashore during the day for training, washing and other activities. By the end of June the army was at sea again, quickly making their way to Staten Island where they landed unopposed. On this verdant island of farms and villages, the troops encamped or took quarters in outbuildings while awaiting reinforcements from Great Britain, the German states, and the expedition that had recently failed to take Charleston, South Carolina.

Duty could be difficult. An officer of Shea's regiment wrote about his experience on the night of 30 July:

Last night was the gloomiest I ever spent on duty. I was posted with a picket in an open field near the shore. About eleven o’clock there came on a severe burst of thunder and lightning, attended with most violent torrents of rain. Two of my centries being posted near some trees, got for shelter under them, and unfortunately were struck by the lightning. They were both knocked down, and found senseless; one of them is yet in that state. The tree against which he stood had two great branches torn off. 

It was during this time that things went sour for Richard Shea. He had a job that should have been comfortable and lucrative, but also may have been stressful if he was expected to perform his clerical duties in addition to the usual tasks of a private soldier. Perhaps he quarreled with his officers or was, in his own perception, ill-treated by one of them. For some reason he decided that he should collect his arrears in pay.

It was typical for company officers to maintain the finances of their men, keeping an account for each soldier of money earned and expenses incurred. Only if a soldier proved responsible and trustworthy was he given hard cash to spend at his leisure, for soldiers were known to squander their funds on drink, gaming and women. Although a soldier was legally entitled to be the rightful owner of his pay, the army was not required to put it into his hands as long as the basic obligations of food and clothing were met. Controlling the money was a way to control discipline.

When Richard Shea asked the regiment's paymaster for a substantial sum due to him, partly in base pay and partly for his clerical work, he was refused. This may have been for legitimate reasons: Shea may have shown a proclivity for drunkenness or gambling; there may have been a general policy in place to limit the amount of cash in soldiers' hands to dissuade them from straying from their encampments and their duties; or there may have been a simple shortage of hard currency available to the regiment at that time. Whether a reason was given or not, Shea did not accept it. His response, however, suggests that there was more to his discontent than his money being withheld, for he chose to forfeit it altogether. On August 4, 1776, he slipped into the waterway that separates Staten Island from New Jersey, and swam across it to Perth Amboy. An officer of another regiment noted in his diary, “Shea, 40th, Deserted. He swam across the River”

The New Jersey side of this "river" was teeming with American troops. He was taken up and brought to the headquarters of General Hugh Mercer, where he was examined. His clerical work for the regiment had given him access to some interesting details that other soldiers might not have known, and Mercer duly sent the information to the commander in chief on August 7:

Examination of Richard Shea, a Deserter. Inlisted in Waterford twenty-two months ago; an Irishman; of the Fortieth Regiment, commanded by LieutenantColonel James Grant; in Captain John Adlum's company; was clerk to the regiment. He has been six weeks on StatenIsland. Was at Boston last year from July to the 17th March. Went from there to Halifax. Remained there on ship, except now and then on shore to exercise. There are in the Fortieth Regiment three hundred and thirty-six rank and file. Supposed to have fourteen thousand on the Island. Two new Highland regiments very sickly. The Forty-Second Regiment of Highlanders. Expect some Hessians, but none come. The Fortieth Regiment opposite the Blazing-Star, in barns. Stretch two miles and a quarter on the right and left of the Old Blazing-Star. Had no leave to go one-quarter of a mile from quarters. If any soldier left quarters, severely punished. His reason for deserting was, he had £4 due for pay, and £10 as clerk, which he asked for, and was refused by the Paymaster. The officers are much afraid of the Riflemen; the soldiers in spirits; two thousand men sick— small-pox, the Highlanders with fluxes—poxes; not more than four thousand of the fourteen thousand clever soldiers. The Lighthorse and Marines remained at Halifax; also old men and others unfit for service.

Five days ago, ordered the officers' heavy baggage, and women of the Army, on board the fleet. As far as he heard, he believes they will not attack New-York, unless reinforced by the foreigners. He has seen in orders for working party at Billop's Point, where they are numerous, and have thrown up intrenchments. No works near the Blazing-Star. One company at the Old Blazing-Star. Don't know who is at the New Blazing-Star.

Two days' fresh provisions in a week. No vegetables in the week. Each company of the Fortieth Regiment have a guard in front—three men in daytime, six at night; no main guard. The inhabitants are sworn by the commanding officer.

There is on the Island Major-General James Grant, who was formerly Lieutenant-Colonel of the Fortieth Regiment; and the Lieutenant-Colonel James Grant, who is also there, was Major in the regiment.

He heard there were forty transports arrived last Thursday, chiefly store-ships; some few Highlanders. Heard Clinton was defeated, and he was expected to join them.

Blazing Star was the name of a fortification on Staten Island. The sickness of the two highland regiments, the 42nd and the 71st, was due to their sea voyage; they had just spend at least two months on transports, and needed time on land to recover from the arduous journey. The limited amount of "fresh provisions," as opposed to salted and preserved beef and biscuit, certainly hindered their recovery.

Shea's comment about the army having only four thousand "clever soldiers" apparently refers to training and experience; his point is debatable, given the superb overall performance of the army in the campaign that began three weeks later. They would remain "in spirits" throughout 1776 while their success was frequent and ultimate victory seemed assured.

What became of Richard Shea is not known. Intelligence like the report that he gave was typically aggregated with information from other sources, and although it was probably helpful in gaging the strength and capabilities of the British army, it was not enough to prevent their rapid march through New York and New Jersey in the coming months.