Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Elizabeth Willson, 26th Regiment, sells Fruit in New York

 In December 1775 the war in America was not yet a year old, but most of the 7th and 26th Regiments of Foot were already prisoners of war. They had been captured when undermanned garrisons on Lake Champlain and the Richelieu River were overrun by an American expedition bent on seizing the city of Quebec. Now housed in barracks in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, these two British regiments awaited an unknown fate, for no one knew how long the war would last or what the outcome would be.

When the garrisons of British posts fell, soldiers and their families became prisoners of war together. Among those at Lancaster was Befordshire native William Willson, a private soldier in the 26th Regiment, his wife Elizabeth, and their four children. William, a tailor by trade, had joined the army in about 1763 and probably continued to practice his trade while a soldier. When he married Elizabeth, and where she was from, are not known.

In the first half of 1777 the prisoners were finally exchanged. The soldiers and their families marched to the British-held city of New York. The soldiers soon took the field once again while Elizabeth Willson, like most army wives, worked to help support her family. She sold fruit in the city, demonstrating the resourcefulness of these women whose lives were inherently itinerant due to their husbands’ profession. She may have met acquaintances from New Jersey where the 26th had been posted in 1768, 1769 and 1770, who had fled to the city after war broke out.

The 26th remained in the New York area for a few years. But in 1779 the regiment received orders to return to Great Britain. What happened to William is not clear – he does not appear on the regiment’s rolls prepared in England in 1780, but decades later William deposed that he was discharged from the regiment in 1783. He may have remained in New York on some sort of special duty. He was certainly in England in June 1783, where he went before the pension examining board at Chelsea and was granted an out-pension for his twenty years of service.

It is also certain that Elizabeth Willson did not accompany him to Britain. In October 1783 she was still in New York, selling fruit from a stand “at the Head of Coenties Slip,” a byway that ran from Water Street to the East River. But she had become “much addicted to liquor” and was “frequently intoxicated.” A local resident who knew her “knew of no place of abode,” but had “frequently seen her lying drunk behind stoops.” In the late morning of October 21, she was found dead on the ground floor of an abandoned house, 52 Grand Dock Street “near the Royal Exchange in the South Ward.” The coroner found “no external marks of violence on her body to cause her death,” and ascribed her death to “liquor or sickness.”

Information for this article comes from the following sources:

Return Of The Prisoners Of The 26th Regiment, Taken At St. Johns And In The River St. Lawrence, And Arrived At Lancaster, Pennsylvania State Archives

Muster rolls, 26th Regiment of Foot, The National Archives of Great Britain

Out Pension Admission Books, The National Archives of Great Britain

Coroner’s report on Elizabeth Willson, British Headquarters Papers, The National Archives of Great Britain

Learn more about British soldiers in the American Revolution!

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Mrs. Fowles, 7th Regiment of Foot, draws provisions

 Mrs. Fowles and her daughter Ann drew rations in August of 1782 along with other soldiers and wives of the 7th Regiment of Foot. This is no surprise. Wives and children of British soldiers in America were fed by the army; most British regiments included - among those who they provisioned - wives of about one in six soldiers. Documents that include the names of these women are rare; the August 1782 provisions list for the 7th Regiment is the only one for that regiment known to survive that names each man and woman. Even so, it does not give the names of the wives, listing them only as "Mrs. Fowles," "Mrs. Bright," "Mrs. Carney," etc. We've deduced that "Ann Fowles," also on the list, is Mrs. Fowles daughter, as a number of children are listed with their first and last names.

What makes Mrs. Fowles important, in terms of our understanding of how wives were treated by the army, is that her husband, Sergeant William Fowles, died on 25 April 1781. The only man on the regiment's muster rolls with that surname, he was already in the 7th Regiment when it arrived in America in 1772, landing at Quebec. A private soldier at that time, he was appointed corporal in February 1780, and sergeant exactly a year later. No details of his specific service have been found at this time; presumably he was among the men of the 7th Regiment captured in 1775 and repatriated two years later, and he was with the regiment at the siege of Charlestown, South Carolina, in 1780. Whether he died of illness in garrison or on campaign, or of wounds in one of the 7th's several battles in the Carolinas, he left his wife a widow only two months after being appointed sergeant.

It is also not known when William Fowles married. Mrs. Fowles may have accompanied the regiment from Great Britain in 1773, or met her husband in America. And her fate after August 1782 is also unknown; the provision return is the only record we have of her.

There is folklore that widows of British soldiers were required to remarry within days of their husband's death, or they would be struck off the provision rolls and turned out of the regiment no matter where it was. This has already been shown to be untrue from records of widows remarrying months or years after their husbands died. By drawing provisions seventeen months after her husband died, Mrs. Fowles provides one more example that soldiers' widows remained part of the regimental community until they could establish themselves in new circumstances.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Andrew and Susannah Carr, 21st Regiment - separated

 "Serjeant Andrew Carr," wrote his widow Susannah, "was taken prisoner along with the army commanded by General Burgoyne in the year 1777 and conveyed to a depot in the state of Virginia in the said United States, where the said Andrew Carr died." She wrote on behalf of their son John, born in 1775, the year before the 21st Regiment of Foot said from Great Britain to Quebec.

Andrew Carr was a native of Kilmore on the Island of Skye, born in 1740. He joined the army at the age of twenty, without having learned a trade beforehand, but he must have been reasonably well-educated for he soon became a sergeant.

The 21st Regiment was sent to Florida in 1765 and remained there until 1770. Many histories of the regiment indicate that the regiment then went to Quebec, overlooking the time that they spent in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York in 1771 and 1772. It was probably in Philadelphia in 1771 that Andrew Carr met and married Susannah Stauss, daughter of an area landowner, who was in her early twenties. When the 21st did go to Quebec, and then back to Great Britain in 1773, Susannah followed her husband in her new life as an army wife.

John Carr was born in 1775, and early the following year the family set sail once again, one of nine regiments bound for Quebec to drive rebellious American military forces out of the province. The campaign was successful, and the 21st Regiment spent the winter of 1776-1777 at St. John's on the Richelieu River between Montreal and Lake Champlain. When the army marched south in June 1777, only two wives were allowed to go with each company on campaign. Susannah and young John stayed behind while Andrew Carr went on the expedition commanded by General John Burgoyne. Their destination was Albany, but the got only as far as Saratoga. Susannah never saw her husband again; he was, as she knew, taken prisoner. The captured soldiers went first to the Boston area, expecting to be sent back to Great Britain, but then were marched to Virginia, then to Pennsylvania, ultimately spending five years in captivity.

In 1782, Susannah's father, still in the Philadelphia area, died. the executor of his estate placed an advertisement in the newspaper seeking information on the whereabouts of Susannah and her three siblings:

WHEREAS BELTHASER STAUS, late of the Northern Liberties of the city of Philadelphia, yeoman, deceased, by his last Will and Testament, ordered his estate to be sold, and the money arising from the sale thereof to be equally divided between his eight children, whereof four are living in and near the city of Philadelphia, and four absent, namely two sons FRANCIS JOSEPH and DANIEL, and two daughters SARAH and SUSANNA. The shares of which said four absent children he ordered to be put out, and continued at interest for the space of seven years, to be claimed by the said children or their legal representatives in person, &c. And of his said last Will and Testament he appointed Zacharias Endres, of the said Northern Liberties, brewer, sole Executor.

Now the said Executor, in compliance with the special directions of the said Testator, given him a few days before his deceased, has thought proper to give this PUBLIC NOTICE, hereby requiring the said four absent children of the Testator, or in case of the death of any of them, the children or guardians of the children of the deceased, to make their claims to their respective shares. The said Executor is informed that the said Francis Joseph Staus is by trade a skinner, and was some time Paymaster of the British troops in East Florida; that the said Daniel Staus was a Captain of a vessel, and an inhabitant of the Island of Providence; that the said Sarah had been married to one Andrew Lytel, and is now a widow, living somewhere in North Carolina; and that the said Susanna was married to one Andrew Kehr, of the 21st regiment of Scotch Fuziliers, who, it is said, is among the prisoners of General Burgoyne’s army, now in Virginia.

All friends and acquaintances of the persons concerned, seeing this advertisement, are desired to inform them thereof. The said Executor will take particular care that the money happening to each child’s share may be recovered upon short notice.

Philad. Sept. 5. ZACHARIAS ENDRES.

[Pennsylvania Gazette, 18 September 1782]

She was not in Virginia with her husband, as the ad suggested, but was still in Canada; and by this time, she had learned that her husband died. Whether she ever got her inheritance is not known. She remarried a discharged German soldier named Conrad Bongard. They settled on 500 acres of land that he was awarded in Ontario and had several children together. It was in 1836 that she wrote her brief petition concerning her first child, John Carr, apparently seeking pension benefits or land based on her deceased first husband's service. She died on February 21, 1846 at the age of 98.

What she never learned was that Andrew Carr did not die in Virginia. He survived the years of captivity and returned to England in 1783 with the remains of the 21st Regiment. On May 21 of that year he went before the pension examining board in Chelsea and was awarded an army pension for his 23 years of service. How long he lived thereafter is not known.

Andrew and Susannah Carr were not the only couple separated by war, neither knowing the other's fate. We'll never know how may others there were.

Learn more about British soldiers in America!