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.


  1. I posted this on Facebook, but thought I'd bring up my thoughts here as well. Currently, I have a Masters degree in History. However, ages ago, I did living history and reenactments (including at Fort Ticonderoga!) on the French and Indian War, so that's where my thoughts are originally coming from:

    This is interesting, because this is something that we talked about when doing presentations on the French and Indian War, and that "one of the beliefs" about that time was this thought that women had as long as the commanding officer let them to remarry, which might be up to a week, if he liked you - at least, that's how we presented it, as a part of the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment, the Black Watch. But that was to explain not only people settling in certain areas (the widow with her children and the last of his pay getting a place in the local town and working as a washerwoman or working at a pub there, for example), but also to help with the lottery system in Britain of 6 wives for every 100 men, and should there be other wives back home who wished to join their husbands, they now had the opportunity to. Plus, if a woman was widowed, does she still retain her husbands' place in the soldiers tent that he might have shared with up to 6 other men? Would that be seen as indecent? Was there a "widow's tent" or lodging somehow? Although I see a lot of the pitfalls with that theory - the loss of women who were actually working for the military (as the article mentions above), particularly if a number of husbands died in one brutal battle. And how do the women waiting in Britain a) get notified in a world that might take 3-4 weeks or more to get messages back to England or Scotland from the Colonies and b) book passage over to wherever the regiment is, provided that they actually *stay* there long enough for the wife to meet up with her husband? It does make me wonder if the same lottery system was in place for the American Revolution that was there for the F&I engagement, as well as the same pay scale for women and children, and if not, what *was* in place to limit the number of women accompanying their husbands on campaigns, at least at the common soldier level. I'm also wondering how different it was for officers who purchased commissions and their families, how many of them brought their wives and families with them as well. Thank you for this, I look forward to doing more research...

    1. Thank you for asking these questions, Lindsay.

      For details on all of my answers, see my article on army wives here:

      It goes into a lot of detail about numbers of women with regiments, and the misconceptions about those numbers, as well as the fate of widows. It's an old article that doesn't include all of the most recent evidence, but it is nonetheless accurate.

      The questions are focused on the idea that there was a lottery system that allowed only six wives for every 100 men to accompany a British regiment. This is not true. When a British regiment was serving in America, there was no regulation regarding the number of wives who were allowed to accompany it; during the American Revolution, typical numbers range from 4 to 8 for every 50 men, but each regiment was different.

      The "6 per 100" misconception is based on the way that the government allocated shipping tonnage when regiments sailed from Great Britain to America. 1.5 tons of shipping per person was allocated, and the total allowance for a regiment was computed based on having 6 women per company (the size of a company varied during the war, from 42 men (excluding officers) in 1775 to 78 by 1779 (with more in a few regiments)). But additional wives could and did make their own way overseas, and soldiers married in America, increasing the number of wives with the regiment. In short, there were no women waiting for "openings" in the regiment so they could join their husbands, because there was no fixed number of women allowed.

      I've heard people talk about a "lottery system" for allocating the places on ships, but never have seen a primary source describing such a thing. I wonder where this information comes from.

      As for places in tents, the army lived in tents only at certain times, and women did not always share the tent space when they did. Where women lived varied from situation to situation, and is discussed in detail in the article linked above.

      Officers also were not restricted in any way in terms of having their wives accompany them; some wives came to America, others didn't, and some officers married in America. I haven't studied officers enough to provide numbers. But officers were completely responsible for their wives’ and families' lodging; the army did not provide barracks or tent space for officers' wives like they (sometimes) did for soldiers' wives.

  2. I would be interested in seeing the list that you mentioned. Do you have a citation for it, or has Mr. Braisted published it anywhere? Thank you!

    1. The document has not been published; it is a manuscript in the British National Archives, in a box cataloged as WO 60/27. If you can decipher my email address in the "About the Author" blurb on this page, send me a message and I'll tell you more about it.