Saturday, February 4, 2017

John Hawkins, 37th Regiment, writes a good hand

From some people, we'd expect an attractive signature. That's exactly what John Hawkins put on his discharge when he left the army in 1786, having spent eleven years as a soldier. He had been a writing clerk before he enlisted in the 37th Regiment of Foot at the age of twenty-four, in May 1775. Hawkins was from the coastal village of Shankill, Ireland, just south of Dublin where the 37th Regiment was stationed.

By the end of his first year in the army, he was preparing to sail to America. The 37th Regiment was among those sent to the southern colonies in early 1776 with the hope of keeping that region under British government control. The plans went awry and culminated in a failed attempt to take Charleston, South Carolina. The soldiers spent much of their time on board ships or encamped on a sandy Carolina coastal island. Finally the entire force went north and joined the British army encamped on Staten Island.

The 37th Regiment participated in rapid campaign that wrested New York City from rebel control, then sailed for Rhode Island where British troops landed unopposed. Having secured that place, the regiment and others returned to New York, leaving a smaller force to garrison Rhode Island. In February 1777, the 5 foot 9 1/2 inch tall Hawkins was put into the regiment's grenadier company. That company was part of a grenadier battalion composed of companies from about a dozen regiments, and spent much of the first half of 1777 in New Jersey. Various skirmishes and one pitched battle occurred there before British troops pulled out of most of the colony in June.

Hawkins' next campaign began with the British landing at Head of Elk, Maryland in August 1777. Their objective was Philadelphia, but they had to first get past an American army. The two forces clashed at the Battle of Brandywine on 11 September. In this action, the grenadiers were hotly engaged. Hawkins was wounded in the head, but the wound was not serious enough to require a long recovery that would've caused his removal from the grenadiers.

Hawkins was appointed corporal in the grenadier company in October 1779. In June 1783, he advanced again to serjeant. His writing skills no doubt helped in his advancement, for literacy was usually required for non-commissioned officers. He may have earned considerable extra money doing clerical work for the regiment.

The 37th Regiment was sent to Canada in 1783, and Hawkins continued to serve for three more years. By 1786, health issues had begun to affect him; he was reduced from serjeant at the end of September and discharged on 14 October in Halifax. The army generously paid him through 24 December, ample funds to get him back to Great Britain. He was recommended to the pension board due to “being wounded in the head in the action at Brandywine the 11 of September 1777 and Melancholy.” His discharge bears his well-practiced signature.

Hawkins saw one more brief stint of service in 1796, when pensioners were called to serve in garrison battalions defending posts along the English coast. After nine months, he was discharged once again, "being old and worn out."

Learn more about British soldiers in America!