Learn more about British soldiers in America!
Wednesday, August 17, 2016
When Great Britain committed to powerful offensive operations to suppress the American rebellion, among the regiments ordered to America were two composed primarily of Scottish highlanders, the 42nd and 71st Regiments of Foot. The 42nd was part of the regular army, while the 71st was raised specifically for the American war. While most British regiments were composed of men from all over the British isles, the 42nd was composed almost exclusively of highlanders. The 42nd was stationed in Glasgow in late 1775, having recently returned from duty in Ireland. For American service they were authorized a strength nearly twice that of most other British regiments, and set about recruiting at a feverous pace through the closing months of the year.
One of the new recruits was Andrew Elder. He enlisted on 19 September 1775 and was put directly into the regiment's elite light infantry company in spite of being only about twenty years old, somewhat young for a British soldier. The regiment landed on Staten Island in the summer of 1776, and their light infantry was in the thick of fighting in New York and across New Jersey in 1776 and 1777, and again on the campaign that seized Philadelphia later in 1777. Somewhere during the retreat from that city in June of 1778, however, Andrew Elder went missing.
The muster rolls of the 42nd Regiment denote Elder as a prisoner of war, an indication that the circumstances of his disappearance were known. Somewhere along the line, however, Elder managed to outfox his captors. As a fugitive, he convinced people that he was a deserter rather than an escaped prisoner of war, a tactic that would engender trust. By May of 1779 he was staying at the home of Neal McCarty in Sadsbury Township, Pennsylvania, about forty miles west of Philadelphia. From there he ran away, taking enough clothing with him to prompt McCarty to place an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Packet on 5 June:
Fifty Dollars Reward.
Ran away on the twenty-seventh of May, from the house of the subscriber in Sadsbury township, Chester county, a certain Andrew Elder, who said he deserted from the British army about twelve months ago: He is about twenty three years of age, and about five feet seven inches high, fair complexion, curly hair tied behind; had on an old snuff jacket. He also stole and took with him four good shirts, three pairs of trowsers, a pair of gold knee buckles, one of which he wore in a ribband round his hat. Whoever secures said Elder in any gaol, shall be entitled to the above reward, paid by Neal McCarty.
Elder stayed on the lam for another year before he turned up at the British post of Paulus Hook, on the front lines of British-held territory in Bergen County, New Jersey (today, Jersey City in Hudson County). He had traveled from Lancaster, Pennsylvania with a sutler (a merchant who sold provisions to the army) to the American post a New Bridge on the Hackensack River. Knowing this American post was a key river crossing, Elder carefully observed the condition of the troops there, making particular note of a large artillery park. He then made his way back to his British comrades whom he had left just over two years before. He was sent to British headquarters in New York where he gave an intelligence report, which included news of the battle of Camden in South Carolina:
Andrew Elder of the 42nd Regiment taken in Pensilvania came with a Sutler from Lancaster about four weeks ago, came into Paulers Hook. Washington's Army the other side of New Bridge very ill off for provisions they got five days Meat for Nine days. They have about Thirty Guns Brigaded. 5 eighteen, 2 Six pounders and two Howitzers in the park.
Soldiers not Satisfied they way they are Sold; Gates defeated his escape was with his Aid De Camp and Some Waggoners they rode two Hundred Miles for fear of Being taken up by the Tories. They dislike they French More than they English.
Andrew Elder was sent back to his regiment. During his time as a prisoner, he was administratively transferred out of the light infantry so that that company could be brought up to full strength. He joined his new company, and continued to serve through the end of the war. In late 1783, the 42nd Regiment of Foot, with the now-seasoned veteran Andrew Elder in its ranks, was sent to Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Learn more about British soldiers in America!
Thursday, July 14, 2016
There's a common misconception that during the American Revolution the ranks of British regiments were filled with "the scum of the earth." That's certainly not true as a generality; the majority of British regulars were career soldiers who volunteered for the job and served dutifully, faithfully and well. But any large population is bound to have a few bad eggs. In spite of the efforts of recruiting officers, incorrigible men did make it into the ranks.
The 54th Regiment of Foot sailed from Ireland to America at the beginning of 1776, serving first on the abortive expedition to establish a foothold in the southern colonies, then joining the army in New York. At the end of the year they were part of the force that landed in Rhode Island, where they settled into a garrison routine that was frequently interrupted by alarms and incursions from nearby American forces.
Like all British regiments in America, the 54th had several officers and men in Great Britain recruiting to make up for the inevitable attrition of a wartime deployment. In the spring of 1777, recruits raised during the previous year embarked for New York. Upon arrival there, those of the 22nd, 43rd and 54th Regiments were sent up Long Island Sound to join their regiments in Rhode Island. They arrived on 20 June and were quickly integrated into their corps. They had already been trained in the basic aspects of soldiering while with their recruiting parties in Britain, but had much more to learn. Just days after landing, the recruits were practicing with live ammunition.
The island called Rhode Island, now referred to as Aquidneck Island, was a front line, separated from the mainland by only narrow channels in a few places. Because parts of the shoreline were within easy cannon shot of the mainland, the British established lines that were in many places well back from the shore. By day, the land between the lines and the shore were well protected by British positions. At night the area became a no-man's land, where marauders from the mainland could land to attack sentries or raid houses and farms, island inhabitants could meet agents from the mainland to provide intelligence, mischievous British soldiers could attempt to sneak off of the island, and other illicit activity could occur.
Encounters between British sentries and people lurking outside the lines took place almost daily, or nightly, in Rhode Island. One instance occurred on 2 September, when sentries noticed two men between them and the waterside. One quickly returned and was taken by the sentries; he proved to be a soldier of the 54th Regiment. The sentries saw the other man crawling on hands and knees towards them. They challenged the intruder, but got no response. Following their training, they fired. The crawling man was struck twice in the body and died almost instantly.
The man was William Wood, a soldier in the 54th Regiment. A very new soldier, in fact: he was one of the recruits who had arrived in June. After 74 days with the regiment, he was dead. But an officer of the garrison indicated that Wood had earned no sympathy during his short career: "The man who was shot, was of a very bad Character, and if he had no intention of deserting, of which however there is little doubt, deserved his fate, as he had no business in front of the advanced posts at night, and should have answered when challenged.”
Thursday, July 7, 2016
A popular bit of mythology concerning British army wives is that they were required to remarry within a few days (24 hours, 48 hours, 72 hours, or other durations depending upon who retells the story) or they would be abandoned by the army. Not only is this illogical given the important roles that army wives held in the military infrastructure, working as nurses, washer women and sutlers, but we've shown several examples of widows who stayed with the army for months or years after their husbands died. In those cases, we used information from marriage licenses combined with information from regimental muster rolls. We have several instances where a marriage license denotes the bride-to-be as "widow" belonging to a regiment, and found on the regiment's muster rolls a man with the same last name who had died anywhere from a few months to a few years before. Although British general orders in America frequently mention opportunities for soldiers' widows to return home on ships bound for Great Britain, these marriage licenses demonstrate that some did not.
Another source of evidence has come to light. In late 1782 or early 1783 there was an opportunity for people associated with the army to sail from New York to Great Britain. This was quite common, but in this instance a list survives, found by researcher Todd W. Braisted, of the people who applied for passage. The list includes a number of army widows, each one with the regiment listed alongside the woman's name. Comparing these names to muster rolls we can determine when the husband died.
Some of them are indeterminate, such as three widows of the 76th Regiment, Margaret Hay, Ann McDonald and Ann Bissett. Only a few muster rolls for this regiment survive, leaving no way to know whether their husband's died in garrison in New York, on campaign in Virginia, or as prisoners of war after the capitulation at Yorktown. We also have no way of knowing whether these women accompanied the regiment on campaign. Similar is the case of Eleanor ("Elinor") Paget of the 24th Regiment, who sought passage to Ireland for herself and one child; not enough information has been found to reveal whether her husband died on Burgoyne's 1777 campaign, or in prison during the subsequent years. And no man corresponding to Rachel Molloy of the 27th Regiment, who sought to go to England, has been found on the muster rolls.
A few, however, can be traced, and the results are surprising. Anne Carr of the 35th Regiment was the widow of William Carr, who had died on 28 October 1776. This was the date of the battle of White Plains, in which the 35th Regiment was heavily engaged, and we can assume that Carr was killed in that battle. The 35th Regiment was sent to the West Indies in late 1778 and was still there when Anne Carr applied for passage to England in late 1782.
Widow Huston, whose first name is not given, belonged to the 10th Regiment of Foot. She was the widow of William Huston, who died on 10 September 1776 when the regiment was on Long Island preparing for the assault on Manhattan. In 1778 the fit men of the 10th Regiment were drafted into regiments bound for the West Indies, the unfit men were discharged, and the officers and non-commissioned officers were sent home. But Widow Huston remained in New York, and applied for passage to Ireland with six children.
Another widow from the 10th Regiment was Mary Smith. There were two men named Smith in the 10th Regiment who died during that regiment's service in America between 1774 and 1778. Thomas Smith died on 2 February 1777, and Joseph Smith on 30 December 1777. We don't know to which one Mary Smith was married, but we do know that she was still in New York in late 1782 when she applied for passage to England.
What were these women doing all this time? Lacking specific information, we can only guess that they were gainfully employed, perhaps supporting the army as hospital nurses or sutlers. While don't know the reasons why they stayed in America, they do provide further proof that army widows were neither abandoned nor required to remarry.
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
When the 7th Regiment of Foot, the Royal Fusiliers, landed in Quebec in 1773, its ranks included two brothers, Thomas and Nathaniel Taylor. The Englishmen were both serjeants and were the children of a soldier; they'd spent their entire lives, from birth, in the 7th Regiment. Nathaniel, born in 1745 and serving in the grenadier company, may have been the younger of the two, but this is not certain.
When war broke out in Boston in 1775, the soldiers of the 7th Regiment, manning posts along the Richelieu River between Quebec and Lake Champlain, may not have been too concerned. It seemed like a local conflict, far away from them. The fall of Fort Ticonderoga, garrisoned by a detachment of the 26th Regiment, changed that, and the troops of the 7th and 26th prepared their positions at Chambly, Montreal and other key locations for possible attack.
That attack came in the Autumn when American forces surged down the lake and down the river, pushing northward towards Quebec in an attempt to claim Canada. In spite of determined defense, most of the 7th and 26th Regiments were captured piecemeal as each post along the Richelieu was overwhelmed. The prisoners were sent to a barracks in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the first of many who would pass through that town during what became a long war. They may have had some consolation in learning that Quebec did not fall, and a large reinforcement from Great Britain in the spring regained all of the ground that had been lost in the fall.
The prisoners of the 7th Regiment were marched to Lancaster, ennsylvania, and held there for over a year. They were exchanged and joined the British army in New York in 1777. The regiment, after regrouping and recieving some reinforcements to replace men who had deserted or been rendered unfit by the hardships of captivity, participated in the storming of Forts Clinton and Montgomery on the Hudson River in October 1777. They were then sent to Philadelphia to winter with the British army that had just taken that city. On 29 November 1777, Thomas Taylor took the opportunity for advancement that wartime often offered, obtaining the Quartermaster's commission in the 7th Regiment when the previous holder of that position retired.
Of causes that are not known, Thomas Taylor died on 22 September 1781. The 7th Regiment was in the south at that time, having had many of its number captured at the battle of Cowpens in January, and having lost other men in other actions. As Quartermaster, Thomas Taylor may have been at a garrison post when the regiment was fighting. Regardless, he was born, lived and died in the 7th Regiment.
Needing a successor, the officer commanding the 7th Regiment in the field, Lt. Col. Alured Clark, wrote a letter to General Charles, Lord Cornwallis on 5 October offering his recommendation:
I have on my own behalf and that of the regiment to recommend Serjeant Nathaniel Taylor to succeed to the quartermastership vacated by the death of his brother, the success of which I feel much interested in, as he is a very honest, deserving man and greatly attached to the corps from having been born in it.
This request was approved, and Nathaniel Taylor took on his fallen brother's role. He continued in this capacity through the end of the war and beyond, when the regiment returned to Great Britain. By 1788 they were in Edinburgh, and it was here that he caught the eye of a local artist named John Kay. Kay sketched images of many of Edinburgh's personalities in the 1780s and 1790s; his rendering of the corpulent quartermaster of the Royal Fusiliers is a rare image of a man who had served in the British ranks, not as an officer, during the American Revolution. It is difficult to image that he'd had such a rotund physique while on active service in America.
It is fortunate that the artist caught Quartermaster Taylor's likeness when he did. Nathaniel Taylor died on 13 October 1790, only 45 years old, having like his brother spent his entire life in the 7th Regiment of Foot.
Tuesday, June 21, 2016
The fact that Charles Tudor spent more time sitting in an American prison than did with his regiment in America didn't prevent him from having a long and prosperous military career. Maybe it even helped him out, giving him favor in the eyes of his superiors. But even before the war began he'd shown promise. The Shropshire native was 21 years old when he joined the 16th Light Dragoons in 1771, and by the time the regiment arrived in America in October 1776 he was already a corporal. In preparation for service in America, the 16th Light Dragoons was augmented significantly in size. The peacetime establishment for the cavalry regiment had been only 18 private men in each of the regiment's six troops. Suddenly that was increased to over 60, the difference made up partly by recruiting and partly by drafting men from other cavalry regiments. Another change was that about half of these men were to serve dismounted, operating as foot soldiers even though they were troopers in a cavalry regiment, scouting, screening and skirmishing in front and on the flanks.
The 16th Light Dragoons arrived in America in October of 1776, part of a large reinforcement for General William Howe's army. One transport carrying about twenty men of the regiment was captured by Massachusetts privateers, but the remainder disembarked in New York City and soon joined the British army's campaign that drove the Americans out of northeastern New Jersey. Several more troopers were captured in the New Brunswick area in December.
Somewhere during this time Charles Tudor was appointed serjeant in the dismounted portion of the regiment. The muster rolls show his appointment as occurring on 25 January 1777, but this is certainly an administrative date. He was already a serjeant on 3 January 1777, when the dismounted men of the 16th Light Dragoons were protecting the left flank of a British column that was advancing from Princeton, New Jersey to join a larger British force that was some miles away. The dismounted dragoons detected another column of troops in the distance and alerted the officers commanding the column. When it was determined to be a large force of the enemy, the British troops maneuvered for advantageous positions. As directed by Lt. Simon Wilmot, Sjt. Tudor went along the line of dragoons and told each one not to fire until the enemy "were on the points of their Bayonets," and even then only when ordered.
After various movements, the dragoons, divided into four sections of about 18 men each, posted themselves along a fence where they exchanged fire with the enemy. When their opponents began to retreat, the dragoons prepared to charge with their bayonets, the favored tactic of British infantry when opposed to the relatively inexperienced, undisciplined American troops. Suddenly Lt. Wilmot saw that the section to his right, the one holding their flank, was retreating. He called to Cornet Evatt, commanding the section, to stop, but to no avail. He told Sjt. Tudor to call to Evatt, to stop the unordered retreat, but the noise of battle drowned out the serjeant's calls. The other sections of dragoons, now in danger of being outflanked, also proceeded to retreat. When Lt. Wilmot caught up with Cornet Evatt, he told the cornet that he'd have him brought before a court martial for disobedience and cowardice. But the action intensified, and Wilmot and several other dragoons were wounded. In the general British retreat that followed, the wounded men were left behind and became prisoners of war. Although it isn't clear whether Tudor was wounded or not, he was among the prisoners.
The prisoners taken at Princeton were sent to Connecticut, where they were parceled out among several towns. Serjeant Tudor and ten others were held in East Windsor. There he remained until an exchange was made in July 1778 which allowed several hundred British captives to return to their regiments. He resumed his duties as a serjeant. In October of 1778, the court martial of Cornet Evatt finally took place, now that his accuser, Lt. Wilmot and several other witness were free from internment. Serjeant Tudor testified at the trial, carefully describing his own role that day without either incriminating or exonerating the defendant. Because there was no evidence that Cornet Evatt had heard the orders from Lt. Wilmot, nor that he had behaved in a cowardly manner, he was acquitted.
In December 1778, the fortunes of war intervened once again. The 16th Light Dragoons were drafted, that is, the private men who were fit for service were transferred into other corps. Many went to the 17th Light Dragoons, some to the 17th Regiment of Foot, and some to Loyalist regiments. Men who were no longer fit for service were discharged, either in America or after returning to Great Britain. But the officers and non-commissioned officers, and a few of the private men, returned to Great Britain to recruit the regiment anew. Tudor was among these select few.
He continued to serve, and his diligence rewarded him. On 24 July 1789 he was appointed Quartermaster in regiment, not unusual for a long-serving serjeant. On 24 December 1794 he became the regiment's Adjutant. With over twenty years in the army, he could have retired and received a pension, but he chose to serve, and on 29 April 1795 received his first commission when he became a Cornet in the regiment. This entry-level officer rank was usually the domain of young men in their late teens, but Tudor, in his forties, performed well enough to be promoted to Lieutenant two years later.
In 1799, after twenty-eight years in the 16th Light Dragoons, Tudor took another promotion that sent him to a different corps; he became a Captain in the newly-formed Royal Waggon Train. In December 1803 he was promoted again, this time to Major. After seven more years, on 25 July 1810 he was made aide de camp to the King, a post that made him a brevet Lieutenant-Colonel 25 July 1810. Now sixty years old, his long service and dedication had gotten him much farther than most.
When he was sixty-four years old, in 1814, Charles Tudor obtained the lieutenant-colonelcy of the Royal Waggon Train. Later that year he finally left active service and went onto the half-pay list. His advancement, however, was still not quite done. On 12 August 1819 he received a brevet colonelcy, and in November of that year was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel in 1st Royal Veteran Battalion, a fitting appointment for this officer who was as much a veteran as could be.
Charles Tudor died in London in November 1830 at the age of eighty.
Tuesday, June 14, 2016
Some soldiers told their own stories well enough that there's little need to elaborate on them, and the details can be correlated with other sources. Richard Shea's short stint as a soldier in the 40th Regiment of Foot began when he enlisted in Waterford, Ireland, in late 1774. Tensions were rising in America at this time, but the 40th had not yet received orders for their own embarkation.
We know nothing of Shea's background other than that he was an educated man. His talents were recognized and he was tasked with keeping records for the company, a job that probably consisted mostly of making copies of receipts, returns, orders and other military documents. It may not have been glamorous work, but it was one of many ways that soldiers earned extra money to supplement a base pay that was designed only to provide food and clothing.
The 40th Regiment, along with the 22nd, 44th and 45th, received orders for America in early 1775. Preparations were complete and transports were ready by the beginning of May, and the regiments sailed from Cork, Ireland on the 8th of that month. They arrived in Boston shortly after the battle of Bunker Hill, and served in that city's garrison until the place was evacuated in March 1776.
During a two-month stay in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the British army regrouped and trained for a new offensive. The town was crowded, and many regiment remained quartered on board their transport ships, going ashore during the day for training, washing and other activities. By the end of June the army was at sea again, quickly making their way to Staten Island where they landed unopposed. On this verdant island of farms and villages, the troops encamped or took quarters in outbuildings while awaiting reinforcements from Great Britain, the German states, and the expedition that had recently failed to take Charleston, South Carolina.
Duty could be difficult. An officer of Shea's regiment wrote about his experience on the night of 30 July:
Last night was the gloomiest I ever spent on duty. I was posted with a picket in an open field near the shore. About eleven o’clock there came on a severe burst of thunder and lightning, attended with most violent torrents of rain. Two of my centries being posted near some trees, got for shelter under them, and unfortunately were struck by the lightning. They were both knocked down, and found senseless; one of them is yet in that state. The tree against which he stood had two great branches torn off.
It was during this time that things went sour for Richard Shea. He had a job that should have been comfortable and lucrative, but also may have been stressful if he was expected to perform his clerical duties in addition to the usual tasks of a private soldier. Perhaps he quarreled with his officers or was, in his own perception, ill-treated by one of them. For some reason he decided that he should collect his arrears in pay.
It was typical for company officers to maintain the finances of their men, keeping an account for each soldier of money earned and expenses incurred. Only if a soldier proved responsible and trustworthy was he given hard cash to spend at his leisure, for soldiers were known to squander their funds on drink, gaming and women. Although a soldier was legally entitled to be the rightful owner of his pay, the army was not required to put it into his hands as long as the basic obligations of food and clothing were met. Controlling the money was a way to control discipline.
When Richard Shea asked the regiment's paymaster for a substantial sum due to him, partly in base pay and partly for his clerical work, he was refused. This may have been for legitimate reasons: Shea may have shown a proclivity for drunkenness or gambling; there may have been a general policy in place to limit the amount of cash in soldiers' hands to dissuade them from straying from their encampments and their duties; or there may have been a simple shortage of hard currency available to the regiment at that time. Whether a reason was given or not, Shea did not accept it. His response, however, suggests that there was more to his discontent than his money being withheld, for he chose to forfeit it altogether. On August 4, 1776, he slipped into the waterway that separates Staten Island from New Jersey, and swam across it to Perth Amboy. An officer of another regiment noted in his diary, “Shea, 40th, Deserted. He swam across the River”
The New Jersey side of this "river" was teeming with American troops. He was taken up and brought to the headquarters of General Hugh Mercer, where he was examined. His clerical work for the regiment had given him access to some interesting details that other soldiers might not have known, and Mercer duly sent the information to the commander in chief on August 7:
Examination of Richard Shea, a Deserter. Inlisted in Waterford twenty-two months ago; an Irishman; of the Fortieth Regiment, commanded by LieutenantColonel James Grant; in Captain John Adlum's company; was clerk to the regiment. He has been six weeks on StatenIsland. Was at Boston last year from July to the 17th March. Went from there to Halifax. Remained there on ship, except now and then on shore to exercise. There are in the Fortieth Regiment three hundred and thirty-six rank and file. Supposed to have fourteen thousand on the Island. Two new Highland regiments very sickly. The Forty-Second Regiment of Highlanders. Expect some Hessians, but none come. The Fortieth Regiment opposite the Blazing-Star, in barns. Stretch two miles and a quarter on the right and left of the Old Blazing-Star. Had no leave to go one-quarter of a mile from quarters. If any soldier left quarters, severely punished. His reason for deserting was, he had £4 due for pay, and £10 as clerk, which he asked for, and was refused by the Paymaster. The officers are much afraid of the Riflemen; the soldiers in spirits; two thousand men sick— small-pox, the Highlanders with fluxes—poxes; not more than four thousand of the fourteen thousand clever soldiers. The Lighthorse and Marines remained at Halifax; also old men and others unfit for service.
Five days ago, ordered the officers' heavy baggage, and women of the Army, on board the fleet. As far as he heard, he believes they will not attack New-York, unless reinforced by the foreigners. He has seen in orders for working party at Billop's Point, where they are numerous, and have thrown up intrenchments. No works near the Blazing-Star. One company at the Old Blazing-Star. Don't know who is at the New Blazing-Star.
Two days' fresh provisions in a week. No vegetables in the week. Each company of the Fortieth Regiment have a guard in front—three men in daytime, six at night; no main guard. The inhabitants are sworn by the commanding officer.
There is on the Island Major-General James Grant, who was formerly Lieutenant-Colonel of the Fortieth Regiment; and the Lieutenant-Colonel James Grant, who is also there, was Major in the regiment.
He heard there were forty transports arrived last Thursday, chiefly store-ships; some few Highlanders. Heard Clinton was defeated, and he was expected to join them.
Blazing Star was the name of a fortification on Staten Island. The sickness of the two highland regiments, the 42nd and the 71st, was due to their sea voyage; they had just spend at least two months on transports, and needed time on land to recover from the arduous journey. The limited amount of "fresh provisions," as opposed to salted and preserved beef and biscuit, certainly hindered their recovery.
Shea's comment about the army having only four thousand "clever soldiers" apparently refers to training and experience; his point is debatable, given the superb overall performance of the army in the campaign that began three weeks later. They would remain "in spirits" throughout 1776 while their success was frequent and ultimate victory seemed assured.
What became of Richard Shea is not known. Intelligence like the report that he gave was typically aggregated with information from other sources, and although it was probably helpful in gaging the strength and capabilities of the British army, it was not enough to prevent their rapid march through New York and New Jersey in the coming months.
Monday, May 2, 2016
John Smith enlisted in the 36th Regiment of Foot on 25 December 1770. For a 21 year old tailor, joining the British army offered prospects of travel and adventure unlike anything he might experience in his home town of Monkwearmouth in County Durham on the northeast coast of England. The 36th Regiment was in Jamaica when Smith enlisted, and he may have been enticed by the prospect of voyaging to that exotic location, or by the extra bounty and income sometimes offered to soldiers who served on that wealthy but disease-ridden island. It is not known whether Smith made the journey to join his regiment, or waited with other recruits in Great Britain until 1773 when the regiment returned from its nine-year tropic deployment.
Regardless of when Smith joined his regiment, he joined it in peaceful times. He probably followed his profession, learning the details of fitting and finishing the regimental uniforms that were issued annually, cutting and assembling supplemental military garments like overalls, watchcoats and winter leggings, and producing clothing bespoken by officers including garments for their soldier servants. The 36th Regiment served in Ireland from 1773 into the 1780s, where soldiers were occasionally called out to fight smugglers and quell civil disturbances, but army life consisted for the most part of military routine.
The 36th Regiment was not sent to America when war broke out there. Many of its soldiers, however, were. Regiments sent overseas needed to be brought up to strength, and this was accomplished by both recruiting and by transferring seasoned soldiers, a combination that insured war-bound regiments were not burdened with too many new recruits. In 1775 and 1776, the 36th provided over 100 men to regiments preparing for service in America. John Smith and many of his comrades went to the 53rd Regiment of Foot, one of six British regiments that sailed to Quebec in the first half of 1776. Whatever comfort and ease Smith had experienced so far in the army came to an abrupt end.
An Atlantic crossing in a transport ship, which usually took two or three months, was rigorous enough. Immediately after disembarking in Quebec, the troops went into action, chasing a collapsing American force up the Richelieu River towards Lake Champlain, retaking posts along the way that had fallen the previous autumn.
The 53rd and other British Regiments spent the winter of 1776-1777 distributed in posts along the Richelieu, isolated from each other by ice and snow, quartered in buildings but nonetheless fighting the harsh weather. As a tailor, it's possible that Smith stayed in Quebec or Montreal, but more likely he was with his regiment. Normally the regimental tailors spent the early months of the year fitting and altering the annual clothing, received late the previous year, for the upcoming campaign season. The regiments in Canada received the disappointing news, however, that their annual clothing had been captured at sea, and they would have to go on the 1777 campaign wearing the same uniforms they'd worn throughout 1776. Instead of preparing new clothing, the tailors got busy altering and repairing the uniforms that the men already had, making them as serviceable as possible for what they knew, from the previous year's experience, would be an arduous campaign.
Whatever tailoring work John Smith did during the winter months while the roads were impassable came to an end when the army received orders to march south in June 1777. Setting their sights first on the fabled fortress of Fort Ticonderoga, where British forces had suffered massive casualties two decades before, British and German troops under General John Burgoyne moved up Lake Champlain by water, then plunged in to the wilderness to invest the area surrounding the fort and its companion position on the opposite shore, Mount Independence.
Finding that Fort Ticonderoga was untenable, the American garrison retreated to the east side of Lake Chaplain during the night, and then abandoned Mount Independence as well. British light infantry and grenadiers made a rapid pursuit and caught up with their quarry at Hubbardton, Vermont, where a fierce clash occurred on 7 July 1777. Although the regiment's muster rolls don't make this clear, it appears that John Smith was in the 53rd Regiment's light infantry company at this time, for he was wounded in the neck during the fighting.
Perhaps due to this wound, Smith did not continue south with the light infantry. The 53rd Regiment remained in the area to garrison Fort Ticonderoga and the posts between there and nearby Lake George. For a while this was a safe, rear-area duty, but as Burgoyne's advance bogged down near Saratoga, American forces grew in strength and began threatening Burgoyne's supply lines.
On the night of September 13 and 14, a raid led by Col. John Brown captured over fifty men of the 53rd Regiment, including Smith. This made him a prisoner of war, but not one of those subject to the Convention of Saratoga that would be signed in October. Smith and the other prisoners from the 53rd nonetheless followed a similar path as those captured at Saratoga.
It didn't take long for the prisoners to find ways to abscond. Smith and three of his comrades, John Wishart, John Duncan and John Drury, managed to join up with a group of British sailors who were prisoners of war and were due to be exchanged. The exchange was effected, and the supposed sailors were sent to the British garrison at Halifax, Nova Scotia, where they arrived on 12 January 1778 after less than four months as prisoners of war. There they revealed their true identities, and arrangements were made to return them to the British army. The detachment of British Marines in Halifax took care of them, providing clothing and provisions which they charged to the account of the 53rd Regiment. For some reason they were sent towards New York rather than to their regiment in Canada; perhaps it was convenience due to the season, or because the exact status of the 53rd Regiment was not known (portions of the regiment had been captured, but the bulk of it returned to Quebec and served in Canada for the remainder of the war).
Smith, Wishart, Duncan, Drury and fifteen or twenty other soldiers who had effected their exchange left Halifax on a British frigate, HMS Orpheus. While at sea they were transferred to a transport ship bound for Rhode Island. They landed in Newport, Rhode Island on 30 March 1778. Able-bodied soldiers were always useful to a British garrison, so these men from Burgoyne's army began doing duty with the regiments in the Rhode Island garrison; John Smith and a dozen of his fellows from the 53rd Regiment served with the 22nd Regiment of Foot, a corps that had been in Rhode Island since December 1776. In its ranks was another tailor named John Smith, this one a year younger and hailing from Yorkshire.
The 22nd Regiment conducted a successful raid on the mainland towns of Bristol and Warren in May 1778, destroying boats and military stores that were intended for an assault on the British garrison. The Americans, with the support of the French navy, were nonetheless able to attack in August, and the garrison endured a three-week siege that culminated in a fierce battle. The 22nd Regiment suffered twelve men killed and over fifty wounded, something over 20% of its strength. It is not known whether any of the men from the northern army serving with the 22nd were part of the battle or among the casualties.
In December 1778, John Smith and his comrades in Rhode Island from the 53rd Regiment were formally drafted into the 22nd Regiment of Foot, with which they'd been serving for months already. Among them was one of the men with whom he had served in the 36th Regiment, Christian Fisher. Transferring them was much more expedient than sending them to Quebec, and they'd probably received clothing from the 22nd Regiment by this time to replace what was lost when taken prisoner and discarded to facilitate their escape.
The 22nd left Rhode Island in October 1779 and spent the rest of the war in New York City. Christian Fisher died in May 1780; John Smith served in one more major engagement, the fighting at Connecticut Farms, New Jersey that occurred in June of that year.
By 1782 the war was winding down, and it was time to catch up on paperwork. A court of inquiry heard the claims of prisoners of war who had escaped and rejoined the army, and who were due arrears of pay and clothing. Smith, Wishart, Drury and Duncan made claims for three years' worth of clothing from the 53rd Regiment. They also claimed leggings and blanket coats that they'd left behind when captured, having learned that those items, which they'd paid for themselves, had been sent back to Montreal and resold. John Smith also was due £1.13 Sterling for unspecified reasons, perhaps back pay or perhaps fees due for tailoring.
The 22nd Regiment was among the last of the British troops to leave the United States, embarking from New York in November 1783. They returned to England, where many war-weary soldiers were discharged. John Smith continued to serve until 8 June 1789, when he was discharged from the regiment at Dover Castle. Unable to sign his own name, he marked an X on his discharge form. In the usual fashion, he received extra pay to allow him to return to the place of his choice. Before returning home he went to Chelsea, near London, where he appeared before the out-pension board to make a claim for benefits. He was awarded a pension due to "having served during the whole of the American War, being wounded in the Neck at Hubbertown, and Worn out in the Service." After nineteen years of service, three regiments and one wound, the tailor from Monkwearmouth had the comfort of knowing he would receive a modest income from the government for the rest of his life.