Monday, August 29, 2022

What became of Sarah McPike, 62nd Regiment?

Thomas McPike enlisted in the British army at the young age of sixteen in the year 1759. A native of Ballinderry parish in County Antrim, Ireland, he had learned no trade and as such fell under the general category of "labourer". In the army he fared well, rising to the rank of serjeant within only four years, suggesting that he was well-educated and highly capable, perhaps someone who aspired to become an officer but lacked the patronage or social standing achieve such a goal. By the beginning of 1776 he was a sergeant in the 62nd Regiment of Foot's grenadier company, the tallest, most fit men in the regiment.

The 62nd was among the regiments that sailed from Ireland to Quebec, driving off American forces that had besieged that city and chasing them all the way to Lake Champlain before the end of 1776. The following year they were in the army led by General John Burgoyne that advanced from Canada towards Albany.

Soon after landing in Quebec in 1776, the 62nd's grenadier company joined grenadier companies from nine other regiments to form a grenadier battalion. This battalion was part of the advance guard on the 1777 campaign and saw heavy fighting at the Battle of Hubbardton in July, the Battle of Freeman's Farm in September, and the Battle of Bemis Heights in October. Somewhere on the campaign, probably in one of these battles, McPike was wounded in the leg; in period parlance, this referred to the part of the leg below the knee, the upper part being called the thigh. When the British army capitulated at Saratoga in October, McPike became a prisoner of war.

The prisoners - presumably including Thomas McPike - were marched first to the Boston, Massachusetts area, then a year later to Virginia, and finally to Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1781. In the meantime, his wife Sarah and child Samuel had found their way to Newport, Rhode Island by January 1779. How they got there has not been determined. Most likely they had stayed behind in Quebec when Burgoyne's army marched south in June 1777, and then taken a passage from Quebec to Newport. From Newport they boarded the armed victualling ship Maria on January 31 and sailed to the city of New York, disembarking there on February 9. From there Sarah and Samuel's whereabouts are unknown until June 1781, when the British prisoners of war arriving at Lancaster included "Sjt. McPike & Wife". Somehow Sarah had joined her husband in captivity. And young Samuel was now old enough to be Drummer Samuel McPike.

The prisoners were finally freed in the first half of 1783, after a peace treaty formally ended the war. From Lancaster they walked to the City of New York, still a British garrison, and in June Sergeant Thomas McPike and Drummer Samuel McPike along with about forty soldiers and fifteen of their wives boarded the British sixty-four-gun warship Lion. They boarded on June 21, and disembarked at Portsmouth, England on July 24. Thomas McPike accepted his discharge from the army after twenty-four years of service and received an army pension; Samuel continued as a drummer in the 62nd Regiment.

But Sarah was not with them on the voyage. What became of her? Nothing more has been found about her after her arrival in Lancaster in June 1781. It would be nice to hope that she survived and found her own way back to England and her family, or at least made a new life for herself in America. But probably not. She probably died in captivity, the same fate that befell many of the Saratoga prisoners, one of many whose fate is unknown.

Learn more about British soldiers in America

[Information for this article comes from the muster rolls of the 62nd Regiment of Foot, army pension admission books, and muster books of HMS Maria and HMS Lion, all in the British National Archives; and the list of prisoners sent to Lancaster, in the Peter Force Papers, Library of Congress.]