Wednesday, February 5, 2020
Eight soldiers of the 29th Regiment of Foot were directly involved in the Boston Massacre on 5 March 1770. Their names are well known, because they all stood trial: Corporal William Wemms (or Wemys), and privates John Carroll, James Hartigan, Matthew Kilroy, William McCauley, Hugh Montgomery, William Warren and Hugh White. Considering how much notoriety they got from the massacre and trial, surprisingly little is known about them as individuals. For five of these men, we have nothing more than their service records as indicated in surviving muster rolls, and even that information is incomplete.
All of them were in the regiment when it arrived in Boston in 1769; no muster rolls survive from before that time to indicate when any of them joined the army. Cpl. Wemms, in a battalion company at the time of the massacre, was appointed sergeant in May 1771, but just six weeks later he was reduced to private again. This may have been due to illness or disciplinary issues, but whichever it was, he recovered sufficiently to be appointed sergeant once again some time in 1772. He was still in that capacity at the end of July 1775 while the regiment was in England, but was no longer in the regiment when the next set of rolls was prepared in Canada; his fate is unknown.
John Carroll was in the grenadier company, was appointed corporal in December 1770, and sergeant some time between July 1775 and February 1777. His company went on the ill-fated expedition under Gen. John Burgoyne that ended at Saratoga in October 1777. Because the company was among those captured, there are no muster rolls after February 1777, and no further record of John Carroll.
James Hartigan, another grenadier, married Elizabeth Henderson in Boston in September 1769. When the regiment was in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, he died on 4 November 1771.
William McCauley, a grenadier whose wife Mary had come with him to America, was appointed corporal some time before May 1771 and was still in that capacity when the regiment was in Canada in February 1777; like Carroll, McCauley's fate is unknown.
William Warren also was a grenadier in 1770, but later went into a battalion company. He continued with the regiment during the American Revolution, serving in Canada as late as October 1783, but once again a gap in the muster rolls leaves his fate unknown after that.
Matthew Kilroy and Edward Montgomery were the only two men convicted for the events of 5 March 1770. Both men continued to serve in the regiment, right up to the time that it was ordered to America in 1776. Perhaps in light of their conviction, both men were discharged rather than send them back across the Atlantic. They both went before the army pension board in Chelsea, outside London, on 22 February 1776, where the examiners duly recorded some details about them. Kilroy, a native of Mountmellick in County Laois, Ireland, was twenty-eight years old and had served thirteen years in the army; he was granted a pension because of a lame knee. His trade is listed as "labourer," meaning that he had not learned a trade before enlisting. Montgomery, from Antrim in Ireland, was forty-one years old (meaning that he was about thirty-five in March 1770), had served twenty years in the army, and was also a labourer. He and his wife Isabella were frequently mentioned by deponents recounting violence between British soldiers and Boston inhabitants in the months leading up to the Boston Massacre, she being recalled as saying that "the town was too haughty and too proud."
The man who remained in the regiment longest, and about whom we know the most, was Hugh White. Town records indicate that he had a wife and three children in Boston in 1770. A copy of his discharge, the document that says he had legally completed his service in the army, was lodged with the pension office when he received a pension, and remains in the British National Archives to this day. From this, we learn that he was born in the town of Killyleach, County Down in Ireland, in 1740 (more specifically, he was forty-nine years old when he was discharged on 10 November 1789). Like Kilroy and Montgomery, he was a labourer. He joined the army in 1759, a likely age for an enlistee, and served his entire career in the 29th Regiment. The regiment's muster rolls show that he served in Canada during the American Revolution. And he was able to sign his own name on his discharge, suggesting that he was a literate man.
Of eight soldiers who were caught up in such an important moment in history, we have only these sparse details about them as people, shedding real light on only three of them. Research continues; perhaps some day we'll know more.