Sunday, July 13, 2014

Richard Cotton, 38th Regiment, is drafted twice

Some books and articles suggest that British soldiers were fiercely loyal to their regiments. If this was true during the 1770s and 1780s, there's no direct evidence of it. None of the handful of narratives by British soldiers make any particular mention of pride in their regiment, and many soldiers changed regiments for one reason or another at least once during their careers. Even officers changed regiments for the sake of career advancement, giving promotion or security priority over loyality to a specific corps.

One way that soldiers changed regiments was by being drafted. Unlike the modern parlance that uses the word to refer to civilians obliged to join the military, during the era of the American Revolution the British army used the term to refer to men drawn from one regiment to serve in another. There are a few highly-publicised cases where soldiers objected to this and even mutinied because of it, but the objection was generally to serving in a different location than promised, rather than in a different regiment. writers who focus on these incidents fail to consider the thousands of soldiers who were drafted, some more than once, during their careers. Drafting orders often directed that volunteers be taken first before ordering men into other regiments. The usual cause for a draft was to keep regiments on overseas deployments up to strength. In some cases men were drafted from regiments in Great Britain to serve in regiments bound for, or already on, overseas service; in other cases, regiments being sent home to Great Britain drafted their able-bodied men into other regiments remaining overseas.

Among the former was Richard Cotton. As war loomed in America, he was serving in the 3rd Regiment of Foot in Ireland. On 23 February 1775 a regimental court martial found him guilty of “stealing a silver table spoon from an inhabitant," for which he receive 250 lashes. Just two weeks later he was drafted to serve in the 59th Regiment of Foot, a regiment already in Boston. We could assume that the 3rd Regiment was trying to get rid of him, but it's more likely that he jumped at the opportunity to leave the officers who had just punished him. Drafting orders required that only men in good physical condition be sent to as drafts, with the receiving regiment allowed to reject any that did not measure up. How a man who'd just been subjected to 250 lashes could be considered fit for overseas service is a mystery.

Cotton, along with other drafts and recruits, arrived in Boston in May to learn that war had broken out. He joined his regiment and served until the end of the year. Then he was drafted again. The 59th Regiment had already been overseas for several years and was due to go home, but their able-bodied men were drafted; Richard Cotton joined the 38th Regiment of Foot. In March 1776 he was put into the regiment's light infantry company, meaning that he was a particularly active and capable soldier; his discipline must have been reasonably good. There's no evidence that these two changes of regiment in rapid succession were in any way objectionable to him, or to the hundreds of others who went through similar transfers.

The light infantry company of the 38th Regiment saw many years of hard service on the front lines of the war's famous campaigns. The battle of Long Island in August 1776, the rapid movements around New York and into New Jersey later that year and into 1777, the campaign that took Philadelphia in late 1777 and the abandonment of that city that culminated in the battle of Monmouth in 1778 - during all of these campaigns the 38th's light company was part of the 1st Battalion of Light Infantry, always on the forefront of the action. Immediately after returning to New York from Philadelphia, the company rejoined the 38th Regiment and sailed to Rhode Island where they reinforced the garrison and spent three weeks under siege, then fought in the battle of Rhode Island on 29 August. They remained in Rhode Island through August 1779 when that place was evactuated by British forces.

The 38th's light company rejoined the 1st Battalion of Light Infantry. They spent the beginning of 1780 on the expedition that laid siege to Charleston, South Carolina. After that city capitulated, they returned to the New York garrison. The summer of 1780 found them on the front lines again, this time in coastal Westchester County, New York on the border of Connecticut. This was a region characterized by raids, skirmishes and incursions as scouting parties clashed between fluid front lines. For reasons that aren't clear, discipline suffered in the British battalions, and there was a spate of desertions from these normally-reliable ranks. 

Early on Monday morning, 17 July 1780, two Loyalist refugees - soldiers who may not have been uniformed - were following a road from the area of Horse Neck, Connecticut towards the British encampment at Rye, New York. They saw someone coming towards them and climbed over a wall to let the man pass. As he went by, the refugees discerned him to be an unarmed British soldier, so they decided to question him. They called out to the man, who stopped, and asked him where he'd come from. The man, Richard Cotton, responded that he'd just left a British command of some 4000 soldiers. The two refugees suspected that he was a deserter and offered to take him to an American post; Cotton went with them. By odd mischance, they soon encountered an American flag of truce - an officer or a small party of American soldiers with official permission to visit British lines on some sort of official business, usually to discuss matters relating to prisoners of war. Richard Cotton begged the refugees to let him go with the flag, but they refused. Cotton tried to make a run for it, but they grabbed him and conveyed him back to the British camp. There, his welcome was not a warm one.

Having been caught on a Monday morning, Richard Cotton was put on trial for desertion on Thursday (for some reason the trial transcript calls him Benjamin rather than Richard, but muster rolls leave no doubt that it's him). The men who captured him testified, as well as a man from the 38th Regiment who gave some simple facts of Cotton's term of service in the regiment. Put on his defense, Cotton claimed he'd gotten drunk and "perplex’d in his mind" on Sunday afternoon, having not enough shirts, shoes and stockings and also believing he was going to be sent from the Light Infantry, where he'd served for so long, back to the regiment. He wandered away from camp, and claimed not to have known where he was until he met the two refugees. He asserted that when the refugees had asked where he belonged, he told them the British company he was from; he also denied mentioning the strength of the British force or having attempted to go with the flag of truce. But when he asked one of the refugees, "Did not you ask me that if I had my Choice whether I would go to the Continental Army or back to the British Troops and what Answer did I make?", he said Cotton's reply was "the Prisoner answer’d him, it does not signify your giving me the choice now as I know very well what you are going to do with me."

Cotton probably did know full well what would be done with him. There had been several desertions from the light infantry battalion already, so a clear message needed to be sent. Cotton was found guilty and sentenced to the maximum penalty for desertion. Regardless of whether he intended to desert, his dissatisfaction was not related to having been drafted twice some years before, but with the prospect of being transferred out of his regiment's light infantry company. Had he not strayed from camp, whatever his motive, this veteran of three regiments would've had the opportunity to see out the war with the 38th Regiment and return to Great Britain. Because of his transgression, on Sunday 23 July 1780, "that man of the 38th Light Infantry who was tried at East Chester for desertion was executed today after the troops came to their ground, hung on a tree at the road side."

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

John Battin, 17th Light Dragoons, is Photographed

I don't post pictures on this blog because I write about common soldiers as individuals. There are many images of British soldiers dating from the era of the American Revolution, but they're "generic"; they show us typical soldiers, but not specific men. As such, it's not worth the extra effort to get the necessary permissions to use them, even though we all like pictures. For a common soldier to have been represented in a picture, there'd have to be something very special about him.

Looking at the military career of John Battin, a trooper in the 17th Light Dragoons, we don't find anything remarkable. He arrived in America in October 1776, one of many new men who expanded the 17th from a typical cavalry regiment to a legion with a contingent of foot soldiers to augment its dragoons. It's not clear whether the 24-year-old was among the mounted or dismounted men when he joined his regiment on the campaign that took him into New Jersey in the closing months of 1776. In fact, all we know about his service is what we can discern from the regiment's muster rolls, which do not distinguish between mounted and dismounted dragoons. As the war progressed, he is frequently listed on the rolls as "on duty" or "on command", nebulous terms that indicate that he did some sort of special duty. This was quite common among men of the 17th LD who were used as messagers, escorts, and all sorts of detached duties. But it could mean something as simple as that he was off cutting wood somewhere, too. The rolls give us no hints about the specific service he saw in America.

Perhaps Battin was one of the many well-educated middle-class Britons who joined the army in hopes of advancement, having the educational qualifications but not the connections or patronage to enter the army as an officer. But it's more likely that he had learned the trade of stocking-making in his native Bristol, England, and joined the army in pursuit of a more interesting life, just and many of his fellow soldiers had done.

As the war wound down, John Battin appears to have tired of his military career just as he may have tired of his pre-service trade. He deserted with two other men on 26 March 1782, one month and 24 days after his thirtieth birthday. He avoided capture and remained in New York after the British evacuated the place in November 1783. 

Battin had some entrepreneurial spirit. In May 1786 he opened a porter house and tavern "at the sign of the Blue Bell" in Sloat Lane, present-day Beaver Street. The following year he advertised that "he draws the best Porter at Nine-Pence per Quart, and makes no doubt but the excellence of his Porter (and having the advantage of a cool Cellar) will insure him the continuance of the customer of those who may honour him with their Company."

By the summer of 1788 he had moved up town a ways, to John Street. In late July or early August John Battin married "the agreeable Miss Margaret Amelia Frauncis, daughter to Mr. Samuel Frauncis, of said street." She was seventeen years younger than him. The following year he was offering pickled oysters for sale from 27 John Street, and in 1790 was advertising that "Parties of gentlemen can be accommodated with dinners and suppers in the genteelest manner, and at the shortest notice" in addition to preparing "Oysters and Lobsters for exportation, in pots and kegs."

His business apparently prospered; in 1796 he purchased a large house on five acres of land in Jamaica on Long Island, a dozen miles outside of the city. He opened a tavern in Jamaica. But apparently he'd overextended himself; three years later he was forced to sell the house at auction, although he continued business "in his well-known Tavern, where every exertion in his power shall be made to give satisfaction."

He had children. By 1810 he had moved his family back into the city, and in that year he sold off some property that he owned in partnership with others. The following year the family was living in a three-story brick house at 41 Nassau street; they advertised for boarders and operated a coffee house. His son John joined him in business, but apparently things went sour. For reasons unknown they disolved their business partnership in 1815; the elder Battin put the building up for lease and sold off the furniture. This may be the same building that he'd operated as a tavern years before; perhaps he'd never sold it.

It's not clear what happened next, except that Battin remained in the city. He may have opened a stocking shop in the Third Ward that he continued to operate for the rest of his life. And a long life it was. Locals recalled him walking along the Battery at Manhatten's south end every morning before breakfast, maintaining this routine for decades, clinging to his old conservative fashion of knee breeches and stockings. His turning 100 years old was noted in newspapers around the region, which reported that "He attributes his longevity and continued health to his frugal living and avoidance of all luxuries." But he died soon after, on 29 June 1852, having lived for just over 100 years. Besides making the bold move to join the army and sail to America, he had barely ventured beyond the bounds of New York City. But he did do one remarkable thing before he died. In 1845, at the age of 93, he joined a group of surviving veterans of the Revolutionary War. And, responding to a new trend of the times, he had his photograph taken.

The daguerreotype photograph was brought to my attention by its current owner, who gave permission for an image to be published here. This is a rare image of a man who served as a British private soldier in the American Revolution.

Richard Alan Wood collection

Battin came to the attention of Benson J. Lossing, a 19th-century historian of the American Revolution, who recorded this biography:

Mr. Battin came to America with the British army in 1776, and was engaged in the battles near Brooklyn, at White Plains, and Fort Washington. After the British went into winter quarters in New York, and Cornwallis’s division (to which he was attached), returned from Trenton and Princeton, he took lessons in horsemanship in the Middle Dutch church (now the city post-office), then converted into a circus for a riding-school. He then joined the cavalry regiment of Colonel Birch, in which he held the offices of orderly sergeant and cornet. He was in New York during the "hard winter" of 1779-80, and assisted in dragging British cannons over the frozen bay from Fort George to Staten Island. He was always averse to fighting the Americans, yet, as in duty bound, he was faithful to his king. While Prince William Henry, afterward William the Fourth, was here, he was one of his body-guard. Twice he was sent to England by Sir Henry Clinton with dispatches, and being one of the most active men in the corps, he was frequently employed by the commander-in-chief in important services. With hundreds more, he remained in New York when the British army departed in 1783, resolved to make America his future home. He married soon after the war, and at the time of his death had lived with his wife (now aged eighty-three) sixty-five years. For more than fifty years, he walked every morning upon first the old, and then the new, or present Battery, unmindful of inclement weather. He always enjoyed remarkable health. He continued exercise in the street near his dwelling until within a few days of his death, though with increasing feebleness of step. The gay young men of half a century ago (now gray-haired old men) remember his well-conducted house of refreshment, corner of John and Nassau Streets, where they enjoyed oyster suppers and good liquors. The preceding sketch of his person is from a daguerreotype by Insley, made a few months before his departure.

Much of this information correlates with what we know from muster rolls. "Colonel Birch" was Lt. Col. Samuel Birch of the 17th Light Dragoons. Cannon were dragged across New York harbor during one cold winter, and Prince William visited New York in 1781, probably receiving an escort of dragoons. But Battin never rose above the rank of private, and there's no evidence that he retruned to Great Britain, especially not carrying dispatches. These are the sort of fanciful tales that often creep into family lore. But we cannot deny that this man who ventured to enlist in the British army at the onset of the American Revolution, only to desert and pursue various business ventures, had a life that deserved to be recorded. Having a photographic image of him makes that record all the more remarkable.

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Friday, June 20, 2014

John Lawson, 22nd Regiment, advocates for veterans

When he stepped onto the wharf in Boston in June 1775, it was John Lawson's second visit to America. The 45 year old serjeant in the 22nd Regiment of Foot had joined the army in 1750 and served in America from the siege of Louisbourg in 1758 until the regiment finally headed back to Great Britain in 1764. He had served with the regiment in Nova Scotia, New York, Pensacola, New Orleans and other places. Now, after ten years in the British Isles, he was back in North America, greeted by a fresh new war, this time against the same colonists he'd fought alongside a dozen years earlier.

This time Lawson's visit would be short. The regiment remained in America until October 1783, but Lawson was called to a different duty. A few months after the 22nd Regiment disembarked, regiments in America were ordered to send a few officers and non-commissioned officers back to Great Britain for recruiting. Being among the oldest serjeants and longest-serving soldiers in the regiment, Lawson was among those chosen for this service. He and a few others, and their counterparts from all the regiments in Boston, sailed back to Great Britain in December 1775.

Lawson spent the next sixteen months working hard to raise men, men who were urgently needed to fulfill the increased size of regiments overseas as well as to make up for wartime attrition. In April 1777 he was discharged from the army and recommended for a pension because he was "worn out," having spent more than half his life in military service. He not only received a pension but was among the limited number of recipients of twelve pence per day rather than the usual five pence, "in consideration of his long and faithful services in the Army, & to keep him from Want." A native of the Glasgow suburb of Cathcart, he returned to his place of birth where he stood to live a reasonably comfortable retirement.

Within a few years, though, he took up a cause on behalf of his fellow pensioners. Army pensions were administered by Chelsea Hospital near London, but the money was distributed through local excise offices. The hospital sent a list of pensioners to each excise office. The excise office collected taxes, and then used the funds for local needs including payment of pensions. Each pensioner went to the excise office twice a year to receive his semi-annual payment; men who didn't show up and provided no accounting of themselves were presumed dead and struck from the rolls. It was a simple and elegant system that minimized overhead and money transfer.

In a fashion typical of public offices of the era, the law allowed excise offices to retain five percent of the pension payments as compensation for their services. Thus, each pensioner received a semi-annual payment of their daily allowance minus five percent. This was the established system, and no one took issue with it. But for pensioners in western Scotland there was a difference: they collected their pensions in Glasgow, but the designated place was in Edinburgh on the other side of the country. The excise collector in Glasgow, answerable to the office in Edinburgh rather than directly to Chelsea, withheld and additional shilling from each pension payment for his own serices, in addition to the five percent withheld in Edinburgh.

Although this had been going on for decades, in 1785 John Lawson made a stand against the practice. He filed a lawsuit on behalf of himself and other pensioners asserting that the extra shilling charge was unfair. The court agreed, and order Lawson and others to be paid the sums that had been withheld since they went onto the pension rolls. Eight years after he left active service, Lawson had won a victory for his fellow former soldiers.

But that wasn't the end of it. The excise office appealed. Lawson then escalated the matter, charging the excise officer directly with being in violation of a statute concerning fair distribution of funds. There may have been some self-interest here; if Lawson was right, he stood to collect a 100 pound reward as the informant against a corrupt official. He had a good case, though, and attorneys on both sides gave reasonable arguments. For Lawson and the pensioners, it was a matter of paying twice for the same service; for the excise collector, it was a matter of providing the benefit of relieving the pensioners from having to travel to Edinburgh. The case dragged on into 1788.

What was the final ruling? Unfortunately, we don't know. The above information comes from documents submitted to the court, but I've yet to find the outcome. What we can take away is that veteran's affairs were an active issue in the 18th century just as they are today, and that some long-serving soldiers soldiered on in the interest of their comrades even after their obligation to the army was done.

Learn more about British soldiers in America

Monday, June 2, 2014

John Cuthbertson, 40th Regiment, misses the war

We've seen many soldiers with very short careers, men who joined the army, came to America, and met their demise due to death or desertion. Other careers were short for much more benign reasons.

Regiments on service overseas required a steady stream of new recruits to make up for attrition. Each year in peace time, some men grew too old for active service and were sent home, a few deserted, a few died of illness, and a few were disabled by service-related injuries. Warfare accelerated this attrition, and the increased size of regiments on a war footing further added to the need for recruits. Each regiment had reruiting parties in Great Britain, and each year a convoy arrived in America carrying the men the recruiters had dilligently raised and trained. Depending upon when a man enlisted, he might spend a few months to a couple of years in Great Britain before embarking for America.

One regiment that particularly needed recruits was the 40th Regiment of Foot. They'd arrived in Boston shortly after the battle of Bunker Hill, and subsequently participated in the vigorous campaigns around New York in 1776, New Jersey and then Philadelphia in 1777, and the retreat from Philadelphia in 1778. Then they were sent to the West Indies to fight against the French and suffer the ravages of a hostile climate. In a particularly unusual move, the 40th was sent back to New York in 1781. In September of that year they fought in the savage action at Fort Griswold on the Connecticut coast. Keeping the regiment at fighting strength was a particular challenge.

By 1782, though, it was clear that the war would soon be over. Recruits for the 40th and other regiments embarked in May of that year but, rather than proceeding to New York, they were diverted to Halifax, Nova Scotia to reinforce the British garrison there. One of those recruits was named John Cuthbertson. Very little is known about him, including when he enlisted.

With the signing of a peace treaty in 1783 the army was reduced in size and the 40th Regiment was sent home from New York to Great Britain. Men who'd enlisted after 16 December 1775 were entitled to be discharged if they'd served at least three years. Those who wished to could be discharged in New York and sail to Nova Scotia where they'd receive a land grant.

John Cuthbertson was in Halifax when word came that he was eligible for discharge (indicating that he'd probably enlisted some time in 1780). He left the army and "immediately went up the country to work for an honest livelihood," a move that suggests he was a farm laborer by trade. He soon found that his plan was a poor one; "things being so dear & work very slack" caused him to return to the city. There he learned about the option of land grants.

In the summer of 1784, Cuthbertson wrote (in a good hand) a brief but well-stated petition requesting a grant of land. It was not acted on, however; the reasons aren't clearly stated, and no other document exists besides the petition itself. Because there were others in Nova Scotia with the same name, this short-time soldier becomes too difficult to trace with cursory research. All we know is that he enlisted with every intention of going to war but never made it to the region of hostilities. Perhaps that was his good fortune.

Learn more about British soldiers in America

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

John Winters, 59th Regiment, catches a woman's eye

During the winter of 1770-1771, a young man named John Winters enlisted in the 59th Regiment of Foot in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He started off as a drummer, but soon became a private soldier. He was so proficient in that capacity that he was put into the regiment's light infantry company, the fast-moving skirmishers recently embodied in each British infantry regiment. He was in this company when the 59th was sent to Boston in 1774 to reinforce the garrison there amid growing tensions.

Having enjoyed peacetime service in Nova Scotia, it was perhaps out of naivity that Winters strayed from his regiment's Boston Neck encampment on 5 October 1774. He went with a fellow soldier to Dedham, a town some miles southeast of Boston, where he was "seduced" by his comrade and a local resident to abscond from the army. He went to New York, where many deserters from Boston were sent, apparently aided by inhabitants who were keen to get former soldiers away from the British army. He found work as a servant for the keeper of a tavern in the city.

War broke out. The few British troops in New York abandoned the place by sea and joined the army in Boston, which was soon surrounded by a nascent American army. Although desertion put him in mortal danger, Winters was far away from any possibility of capture. To further improve his situation, in December 1775 his regiment was sent back to Great Britain. Whatever his intentions, it looked like Winters would spend the rest of his life in America.

Within six months, however, things changed dramatically. The British army evacuated Boston, regrouped in Halifax, and landed on Staten Island to threaten New York. In late August this powerful force won a devastating victory over American defenders on Long Island, and began preparations for an assault on Manhattan. The western end of Long Island was teeming with British soldiers.

On the evening of 7 September 1776, John Winters was out walking on Long Island when a couple overtook him. The woman recognized him immediately and addressed him by name; the man took hold of him. It was a soldier and his wife, former fellows from the 59th Regiment; when that corps left America, many of the men transferred into other regiments rather than going home. It was Winters's amazing luck to run into a man and woman he'd known since his enlistment, now in the 5th Regiment and part of the army that had just arrived in his neighborhood. They took him into custody.

Just two days later Winters was on trial for desertion. Two former comrades, both now serving in the 5th Regiment, testified against him. They verified his enlistment, his desertion, and that he didn't admit to being a deserter until after he was apprehended. This latter point was significant, because deserters who returned of their own volition were often treated with lenience.

Winters was not. Although he pleaded that he had come to Long Island explicitly to turn himself in, and had gone so far as to enlist with the then-raising 84th Regiment (which included many American prisoners of war in its ranks), he was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. The sentence was approved by the commander in chief and carried out on the morning of 11 September. As he may have supposed he would when he deserted, he spent the rest of his life in New York, but it was a shorter life than he'd expected.

Learn more about British soldiers in America

Sunday, May 11, 2014

James Annett, 7th Regiment of Foot, gets fired

Sometimes soldiers with short careers have something to teach us, like James Annett of the 7th Regiment of Foot, the Royal Fusiliers. He arrived in America in October 1781, among the last British army recruits to make the journey all the way from Great Britain to New York (recruits sent the following year were detained in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to reinforce that garrison). When Annett and other recruits arrived in New York, they found that their regiment was scattered about North America. Many were prisoners of war, having been captured in the south at Cowpens, Yorktown, or other smaller engagements. Some were in the garrison at Charleston, South Carolina; they soon would be sent on to Savannah, Georgia. But there were elements of the regiment in New York City, including Captain-Lieutenant Thomas Bibby, who took Annett as a servant.

Bibby had been an officer in the 24th Regiment of Foot on the campaign commanded by General Burgoyne in 1777. Captured and subsequently exchanged, he took a commission in the 7th Regiment in January 1781. The regiment was in South Carolina at the time, but Bibby was appointed Deputy Adjutant General in New York, a staff position that offered him safety and comfort, particularly compared to what his fellow Fusiliers were experiencing. He was promoted to Captain, and courted a local woman, Margaret McEvers; they married her in 1782.

After the close of hostilities, the 7th Regiment coalesced again in New York, composed of the men who'd evacuated Savannah, the repatriated prisoners of war, some recruits and transfers from other regiments, and whatever other individuals found themselves in the New York garrison after their diverse wartime experiences. James Annett, in the mean time, had spent two years in America serving Captain Bibby, drawing his soldier's pay plus a salary for his services.

British regiments in America were reduced in size and reorganized in preparation for departure. James Annett took his discharge in August 1783. Although he'd arrived in America in late 1781, he'd probably enlisted well before that, enough to have put in the three years of service required to be eligible for discharge at the end of hostilities (a wartime provision enacted in December 1775; British soldiers who enlisted in peace time had no fixed term of service). Although entitled to passage back to Great Britain, he chose to remain in New York. He had a job there: he was the servant to Thomas Bibby, who also chose to remain. Bibby retired from his post in the 7th Regiment but remained on half-pay, akin to being in the reserves today. He settled in New York with his wife, retaining his former soldier-servant in his employ.

The arrangement had worked for a while, but some time in 1784 things turned sour. On 9 September, this notice appeared in the New York Journal:

Notice,
I have discharged James Annitts, formerly a British soldier, (an hired servant) for insolence, impertinence and dishonesty.
T. Bibby, Cap. Royal Fusileers.

We lose sight of Annett after this. Perhaps he found work as a servant in another household, but the bad endorsement from his former master may have forced him to established himself in a new career in his new county.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Samuel Mulley, 63rd Regiment, Limps Away from the Militia

We've seen many stories here of men who received pensions after being discharged. Usually the pension was a reward for long service, but some men received them because they'd sustained disabling injuries in the army and were no longer able to "earn their bread" even though still young. In most cases we lose sight of a man once he received his pension, because that's where the trail of military paperwork ends. There may be additional details in local records, but that type of research work is time consuming (if the records are accessible at all) and can be fruitless if there's no way to prove that the man mentioned in a non-military source is the same man discharged from the army some years before.

But occasionally there's a lucky break, as in the case of Samuel Mulley. A barber from the village of Diss in Norfolk, Mulley enlisted in the 63rd Regiment of Foot in 1776 when he was twenty years old, one of hundreds of recruits raised to increase the strength of this regiment that had arrived in Boston just as war broke out in 1775. Mully and almost 200 other men, some recruits and some drafts from other regiments, joined the 63rd in New York in October 1776. Shortly afterwards the regiment was among those that occupied Rhode Island, but they were removed from that garrison and sent back to New York early in 1777. 

In October of that year the 63rd was among the British forces that stormed Forts Clinton and Montgomery on the Hudson River in an attempt to support Burgoyne's army operating far to the north. The 63rd suffered many casualties in this intense, bitter fight. Samuel Mulley was among the wounded. For the next year he was reported as "sick" on the regiment's muster rolls. He was finally discharged a year after the battle and sent back to Great Britain with other invalid soldiers.

The date given on the muster rolls for Mulley's discharge is 24 November 1778, but that's deceptive - the surviving muster rolls were prepared to reconcile how men were paid, and discharged men were usually given a few extra weeks of pay as an allowance for their travel home. We don't know the exact data that Mulley left the 63rd Regiment, but we do know that he appeared before the pension board at Chelsea Hospital outside London on 18 December 1778. They recorded that he was wounded in the left thigh, and granted him an out pension - semi-annual payments of 5 pence per day which he could collect at the excise office nearest to his town of residence.

The pension board seemed to think that Mulley's leg wound was severe enough that he couldn't work at his trade as a barber. That's hard to reconcile with the fact that Mulley was able to join the Suffolk Militia, which was called out in 1778 in response to the threat of French invasion. In 1779 this militia regiment was among the forces that encamped on Warley Common east of London for training and readiness. It was from there that Samuel Mulley deserted, as described in a London newspaper advertisement:

Camp at Warley, August 5, 1779.
Deserted on Sunday last, from the first Suffolk regiment of Militia, encamped on Warley Common, and from Capt. Lord Euston’s company, Samuel Mulley, by trade a barber, about 26 years of age (late apprentice to Mr. Evans in the Cook Row, Bury), about five feet seven inches high, grey eyes, light brown hair, broad flat feet, on the left of which he appears rather lame, owing to a wound under his left ham from a bullet: has also a scar on one of his hands, occasioned by a bayonet, and marks of gunpowder on the left side of his face; is rather knock’d kneed, though very stout, and takes much snuff. He was late of the 63d regiment of foot, and had on when he went away a light coloured cloth coat, a sky blue cloth waistcoat, and a pair of brown fustian breeches, all lately new; and a round flapped hat, with strings to tie occasionally, two of which were tied up when he went off, and the fore part was flapp’d.
Whoever will apprehend, or cause to be apprehended, the said Samuel Mulley, shall receive, over and above the usual money given for the apprehension of deserters, One Guinea, by giving notice to the commanding officer.
[Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser, 6 August 1779]

The age given in the ad differs from that recorded by the pension board; we've assumed that the latter is more accurate, but discrepancies of a few years are quite common among various sources of age data from this era (and sources of age data for soldiers are themselves quite rare). More interesting is the description of Mulley's wounds, which suggest the bitterness of fighting that he had experienced. The mention of a gunpowder burn is extremely rare among descriptions of soldiers, indicating that it was distinctive and disproving the modern thinking that soldiers were frequently subject to singing by the muskets of adjacent men.
This is the last data that we've found on Mulley, so have no idea whether he returned to the Suffolk militia or remained away from military service for the rest of his life. By absconding, though, this militiaman in England unwittingly afforded us with interesting insight on a fight in America.