Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Charles Stevens, 21st Regiment of Foot, Goes to the Dogs

 Charles Stevens was a cordwainer from the town of Airth in County Stirling, Scotland, a few miles up the River Forth from Edinburgh. He joined the army in 1758 at the age of twenty-five, enlisting in the 21st Regiment of Foot, called the Royal North British Fusiliers and composed largely of men from the Scottish lowlands. His regiment soon traveled to North America, moving around through various colonies from Quebec all the way to West Florida, before finally returning to England in 1773.

It would be a short stay. War broke out in America in 1775, and in early 1776 the 21st was crossing the Atlantic again, one of nine regiments sent to relieve the siege of Quebec City. There, joined by another regiment already in America, they helped to drive invading rebel Americans away from the city and all the way back into New York. The onset of winter prevented an assault on Fort Ticonderoga that year, and the 21st went into quarters in Canada for the winter.

The following year saw the regiment on the ill-fated campaign up Lake Champlain toward Albany, that culminated in surrender at Saratoga. It is not clear whether Stevens was on the campaign or not, but later events suggest that he may have been a servant to Lieutenant George Brody. By June 1781, when many soldiers of the 21st were still languishing in American prisoner of war camps, Charles Stevens was back in Great Britain, on recruiting service with now-Captain Brody. He attained the rank of sergeant.

After serving twenty-five years, Stevens was discharged from the army in late 1783 at the age of fifty. He went before the pension examining board at Chelsea Hospital outside of London in December, and again in January 1784, where he was granted an out-pension. He then settled far north of his home town, in the counties of Moray and Nairn. As an out-pensioner, he went to the nearest excise office twice a year to collect his pension, roughly five-eighths of his sergeant's pay. But he didn't show up to collect in the second half of 1786, nor at all in 1787.

In June 1788, Stevens went before a justice of the peace in Cupar, County Fife, to explain his absence and collect the pension funds due to him. In July 1786, he had gone to Ireland with his old commanding officer, Captain Brody, who presumably was there recruiting. Brody, now back in Edinburgh, wrote a letter of support. He explained that Stevens' long absence was "intirely given to the poor Old Soldiers attachment to me, as His Captain formerly"; Stevens had "been in Ireland with me, for two years taking care of my Dogs." Captain Brody was, in his words, "bound by Honour to see the Old Soldier paid for this strong attachment."

This installment is based on the muster rolls of the 21st Regiment of Foot, WO 12/3778/2, the pension admission book, WO 116/8, and the letters by Captain Brody and the justice of the peace, WO 121/138/624, all in the British National Archives.

Learn more about British soldiers in America.