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.