Tuesday, December 13, 2011

John Man, 64th Regiment

In spite of stereotyped ideas that literacy was rare among common soldiers, primary sources frequently reveal evidence of educated common soldiers. Not enough examples exist to do statistics, but at least we can see that illiteracy was not pervasive. My new book, British Soldiers, American War, expected to be released by Westholme Publishing some time in 2012, will present many examples of well-educated private soldiers.

The proceedings of courts martial sometimes reveal eloquent and sophisticated defenses offered by common soldiers. These are not necessarily examples of well-educated men in the ranks; sometimes sympathetic officers assisted in the preparation of the defense. One such defense was offered by John Man of the 64th Regiment of Foot.

Man (or Mann) enlisted in the 64th on 9 February 1768, a year before the regiment sailed for Boston. Like all recruits, he was attested and the articles of war were read to him. He apparently fared well in his early years of service and soon became the trustworthy servant of Ensign William Snowe. While Snowe was in Great Britain on a leave of absence, however, Man deserted. He was absent from the regiment from 5 April until 10 August 1773 when he returned to the regiment on his own volition. For this indiscretion he was tried by a regimental court martial and sentenced to received 600 lashes, but the commanding officer of the regiment pardoned him.

In 1774 Snowe, now a Lieutenant, returned to the regiment in Boston. Whether he learned of Man’s transgression or whether Man simply feared that he would is not clear, but Man indicated that he felt he had dishonored both his master and his sovereign. Driven (as he said) by shame, he collected his pay on 26 July and obtained a pass to go into town. He never returned, and was reported as a deserter on 1 August. It is especially interesting that General Gage had issued a proclamation on 9 July, effective through 10 August, offering free pardon to any deserters who returned during that time; the proclamation, however, clearly stated that it would not apply to men who deserted after the pardon was proclaimed. Man, who was surely aware of the pardon, could not avail himself of it if he chose to return.

On 19 September 1774, about seven weeks after John Man’s desertion from Boston, a sober man calling himself John Simmel enlisted in the 47th Regiment of Foot in New York. The serjeant major of the 47th gave two New York shillings to the new recruit and sent him in the care of a serjeant to be attested before a magistrate. On the way to the magistrate’s offices, however, the recruit stopped the serjeant and said that he would not be attested because he was a deserter from the 64th Regiment. He was brought back to the serjeant major and confined. Soon after, the 47th was ordered to Boston. Transport ships were sent to New York to receive them and they embarked in mid-October, including among their baggage their prisoner, John Man.

When the 47th arrived in Boston, Man was confined, apparently for convenience, in the guard house of the 65th regiment. He wore clothing provided by the 47th. Man was put on trial in Boston on 1 November and charged with desertion, to which he pleaded not guilty. Testimony from two serjeants of the 64th acquainted the court with the circumstances of his enlistment, attestation, remuneration and previous desertion from the 64th, while the two serjeants of the 47th described his attempt to enlist and his subsequent confession. The court was particular to ask whether, at the time of Man’s confession, the 47th had received orders to embark for New York and whether transports had arrived for them. Both men testified that they had not received such orders nor had the transports arrived. This apparently told the court that Man did not give himself up because he knew that he would be discovered upon his arrival in Boston; he must have had a more honorable motive for turning himself in.

When Man was called to defend himself he presented an elegantly phrased defense:

Worthy Gentlemen,

I am exceedingly sorry to be the unhappy Cause of giving you any trouble, Particularly, as I must confess I was always used in the most lenient manner by every Officer, Non- Commissioned Officer and Soldier in the Regiment.

Each time of my Desertion I had such offers & Insinuations from these designing Bostonians and Country people that, deluded by their first making me drink to excess and then conveying me away in an obscure manner, lending & assisting all help and means to forward me from my Regt especially the last time of my Desertion, that I was tempted to do what I have since sincerely repented of as well in respect of my Ingratitude to Lt Snow as the wrong I have done my King. Mr Snow was always an indulgent master to me, & my having deserted the first time on his leave of Absence, from the Insinuations and treachery of wicked people (and to which cause alone, I hope the Honble Court will impune my first Desertion, as it appears from the Evidence on my tryal that I returned of my own accord) and Lt Snow not being with the Regt when I joined, a sense of Shame on hearing he was coming to the Regt for my ingratitude to so kind a Master, with the Allurements of those designing Men, tempted me again to leave my Colours, rather than encounter the displeasure of a Master I had used ill. I beg leave further to assure the Court that having on this last Desertion been carried so far from my Regt by the Treachery of those people, it was Poverty, Want & Hunger made me take for immediate support, the Money offered me to inlist in the 47th Regt and not a Design to cheat my King & Country & which I trust my Instantly giving myself up as a Deserter will in a great measure prove. These, Gentlemen, are the only excuses I have to offer for the great crime I have been guilty of and which I have the greatest detestation and endeavoured to show a thorough conviction of my Guilt when I first appeared before you by openly confessing it.

Shou'd these reasons and my sincere repentance of my crime intercede with the Honble Court to extend their mercy to their Humble Petitioner he will be ever bound to pray for them and will be always ready to sacrifice a Life, which he shall owe to them, against the Enemies of his King and Country.

After this dissertation, Man called two officers of the 64th as character witnesses. Lt. Michael Jacob deposed that, in the year between Man’s two desertions, they had been in the same company and that Man behaved well. Lt. Snowe offered that in the five years he had known Man he had never known him to misbehave (with the exception of the desertions). He added the significant fact that, at the time of his desertion, Man “had the Care” of all of Snowe’s possessions and did not abscond with any of them.

Man’s defense that he had been coerced to desert by Boston citizens was later used by other soldiers, but we don't know if it was truly a common occurrence or if it was instead a popular excuse. The officers on the court may have known of other soldiers who claimed to have been effectively kidnapped rather than deserted. Regardless, the court could not but find Man guilty since he had obviously deserted, no matter the circumstances. The fact that Man had willingly given himself up strongly influenced the court, however, as did the “Exceeding good Character given him by his Officers.” Man was sentenced to receive one thousand lashes in four equal proportions at separate times.

We have no information on to what extent the punishment was carried out. Man continued to serve in the regiment, well enough to be transferred into the light infantry in 1776. He soon became a prisoner of war, but was exchanged in August 1778. Unfortunately, there are no muster rolls for the 64th Regiment for the year 1779, and Man is no longer on the rolls in 1780. We do not know the fate of this interesting soldier.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

John Workman, 17th Regiment of Foot

John Workman was a serjeant in the 17th Regiment of Foot when that corps arrived in Boston in 1775. The 36 year old Irishman, who had learned the trade of shoe making before joining the army, may have been expecting a short war. He certainly couldn't have expected the war that he experienced.

He served in the Boston garrison until the city was evacuated in March 1776, then on through the lightning campaign that secured New York City and New Jersey at the end of that year. The new year, however, brought a change in fortune for Workman and his regiment.

The 17th Regiment was at the center of the battle of Princeton on 3 January 1777. The regiment fought valiantly in that clash and suffered greatly. Serjeant Workman was one of over 50 men taken prisoner, a better fate than the 20 or so who were killed. We haven't determined whether he was sent to Connecticut or into Pennsylvania for captivity, but he had the good fortune to be exchanged within about a year. By early 1778 he was again with his regiment in Philadelphia.

Serjeant Workman made it through the famous battle of Monmouth as the British army worked its way back to New York. The summer of 1779 found the regiment posted up the North River (as the Hudson River was then called) at an outpost called Stony Point. This fortification was still a work in progress when it was assaulted on the night of 16-17 July by an American force under General Anthony Wayne. The attack was a complete surprise and Wayne's soldiers, relying only on their bayonets, swept through the British works. They took almost the entire garrison prisoner, including John Workman, who for the second time was marched off into captivity.

This time Workman took advantage of his pre-military skills and went to work at the Continental Shoe Factory, a facility in Philadelphia that was part of the nascent infrastructure of the American army. This contribution by British prisoners to the American war effort is little known and deserves more study. It was certainly a way for prisoners not only to occupy their time but also to provide for themselves and for their families, for many wives and children accompanied their soldier-husbands even into captivity. An October 1779 return lists 214 British, Loyalist and German prisoners of war being "At Work" in Philadelphia including 22 from the 17th Regiment.

John Workman, an experienced soldier, may have had a different motive. In late November he absconded from the shoe factory; he may have gone to work there in the first place as a way to effect his escape. He was advertised in a local newspaper:

Philadelphia, November 25.
Forty Dollars Reward.
Deserted last Monday, the 22d inst. from the Continental Shoe Factory in the Barracks of this city, a certain John Workman, a British prisoner, and Serjeant in the 17th regiment of foot, by trade a shoemaker, about forty five years of age, about five feet six or seven inches high, fair complexion, thin visage, light coloured hair, and pitted with the small-pox; had on when he went away, a brown surtout coat, white cloth waistcoat and breeches, and laced hat. Whoever will apprehend and secure the aforesaid deserter in any gaol on the Continent, or bring him to the subscriber, shall receive the above reward and all reasonable charges, paid by Alexander Rutherford.
N. B. It is supposed he inclines to go to sea; therefore all masters of vessels and others are desired not to harbour or carry him off at their peril.

[The Pennsylvania Packet, 2 December 1779]

He did not go to sea. Along with other escaped prisoners, he made his way through the countryside with the assistance of quietly loyal residents who had created a network to help British soldiers make their way into New York. They provided food, civilian clothing, directions and sometimes even served as guides from one safe haven to the next. This is another aspect of the war about which there is little literature. Roger Lamb wrote at length of his escape experience and the help he received along the way. That Workman also received assistance is known because one of the Loyalists petitioned the government for aid at the end of the war; Serjeant Workman is among the men mentioned on the claim, and was one signer of an affidavit stating that they had been "furnished... with Provisions and Necessarys provided guides for us and did every thing in his power to facilitate our Escape at a Verry Considerable Expence and Risque."

Workman made it back to New York, but he did not join his regiment. Although the Stony Point prisoners had been exchanged early in 1781, the regiment then sailed to join the British army in the south. It is not known whether Workman literally missed the boat, or if was left behind in New York to recover from his arduous experience. Due either to his illness or his absence his rank had been reduced to private soldier, a common practice to allow a fit and present man to take the serjeant's post; this sort of shuffling was necessary because each regiment had an established number of non-commissioned officers.

Because he stayed in New York, John Workman was spared from becoming a prisoner for a third time. He remained in New York through the end of the war, once again joining his comrades when they were repatriated at the close of hostilities. As the regiment was being reorganized at the end of the war, discharging men who were no longer fit for service or who had completed their wartime enlistment contract and entertaining new men who enlisted after being discharged from other corps, John Workman was appointed drummer. This seems like an unusual post for a man now 44 years old (his age was misstated in the newspaper advertisement), it was a fairly common path for former non-commissioned officers who'd been reduced to the ranks. Apparently it was a way to get these men into a position of higher pay and responsibility; we don't know if he ever actually played the drum.

John Workman was discharged from the 17th Regiment as a serjeant in 1791 at the age of 52. Like many dedicated and long-serving soldiers, he received a pension so that he did not need to return to his former profession of making shoes.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

William McCreally, 3rd Regiment of Foot

Military service in the 18th century is often perceived as a occupation of last resort, to be abandoned at the first opportunity. The careers of British soldiers who served in America consistently tell us otherwise. One place where this is evident is in the choices made by soldiers at the end of the war.

Before the outbreak of hostilities in America, enlistment in the army was for a career that lasted as long as the man was fit for service; discharge was at the discretion of the army. To stimulate wartime recruiting, however, a warrant was proclaimed that men who enlisted after 16 December 1775 would be entitled to be discharged after three years of service or at the end of the war, whichever was longer.

Among those who enlisted under these terms was a young blacksmith from the parish of Desertmartin in County Derry, Ireland. Born in 1760, William McCreally joined the 3rd Regiment of Foot (nicknamed The Buffs because of the beige color of the regimental uniform's lapels, waistcoats and breeches) on 26 July 1778. At that time his regiment had been on service in Ireland for several years, and although many men from the regiment had been drafted at the beginning of the war and were already fighting in America, there was no immediate expectation of overseas deployment for The Buffs.

By the end of 1780, however, the regiment had received orders for America. The 3rd Foot arrived in Charleston, South Carolina in March 1781. Almost immediately the regiment was on the march to the relief of the British post at Ninety-Six. After this campaign, the 3rd returned to Charleston.

On 8 September 1781, British forces from Charleston engaged an American army at the battle of Eutaw Springs. William McCreally was wounded, receiving a musket ball in the leg. This injury was not enough to end his career, though. McCreally remained in the ranks of the 3rd Regiment when it left Charleston at the end of the war.

While much of the British army concentrated in New York in 1783, the 3rd Foot went south to Jamaica. There, encamped at a place called Up Park they received orders for a reduction in size to a new peace-time establishment. Men who had enlisted after 16 December 1775 were entitled to be discharged. Having served his obligation and been wounded in battle, McCreally was an obvious choice to leave the service and return to his native land rather than remaining in the hostile tropical climate.

Instead he re-enlisted, as did dozens of his comrades, and served with the 3rd in Jamaica for five more years. During that time, perhaps in September 1786, a hurricane struck the island and McCreally, in unknown circumstances, had both of his arms broken.

The after effects of this new injury, combined with the lingering effects of his wound, was enough to render him unfit for service. He was discharged in 1788 at the age of 28. He returned to Great Britain and went before the pension board at Chelsea Hospital; they granted him an out pension for his disabilities and years of service.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Samuel Lee, 18th Regiment of Foot (Royal Irish)

Regular readers of this blog (whom I shall refrain from calling "regulars" lest they be confused with the soldiers who are the subject matter) should by now be familiar with two aspects of the lives of British soldiers during the 1770s and 1780s: they generally chose the army as a lifelong career and remained soldiers until no longer fit for service; and they were allowed to have part-time jobs, often within the army, in addition to their normal military duties. An excellent case it point is a private soldier in the 18th (Royal Irish) Regiment of Foot named Samuel Lee.

Thanks to the diligent research of Dr. Steven Baule, we know more about Samuel Lee than most British common soldiers. Born in London in 1745, Lee was already in the 18th Regiment when they arrived in America in 1767. We do not know when he enlisted, but the fact that he was in the Grenadier company in 1767 indicates that he probably had at least a year's service in the regiment by that time. He had also had time to learn the tailoring trade before joining the army, for he worked in that role for the regiment. With the 18th he traveled to Philadelphia, then spent a few years on the frontier in Illinois before marching back to Philadelphia, then to New Jersey and New York. By this time, early 1774, Lee was the Master Tailor of the regiment. This was not a rank, per se; Lee was still a private soldier. It was nonetheless a position of some responsibility and one that could earn him a significant amount of money over his base pay.

In Amboy, New Jersey, one of the regiment's tailors was tried by a general court martial for making false accusations about an officer in the regiment. During the trial several deponents spoke of a busy day in the regiment's tailors' room, the tailors and work and several officers appearing to check on the work and to get fitted for clothing. Words passed, and Samuel Lee among others was asked to testify about what he heard, but Lee was unable to recall specifics and indicated that some conversations may have occurred that he was not aware of. Another tailor clarified this, telling the court that Lee was "a little hard of hearing"; an officer asked if Lee was not in fact deaf. Lee had seen rigorous service over the last several years, but there is no indication of whether his hearing loss was related to his army career. If he stayed in the army and his hearing continued to decline, he could look forward to a pension at the end of his career.

Late in 1774 three companies of the 18th, including the grenadiers, boarded transports and sailed to Boston. There they were formed into a composite battalion along with five companies of the 65th Regiment. Lee continued his tailoring work - in December he purchased goods from a Boston merchant to make clothing for one of the regiment's officers.

As the British army prepared for distinct possibility of hostilities in the Spring of 1775, regiments were ordered on marches into the countryside for fitness. Although military writers of the era recommended that soldiers employed as servants, tailors and at other martial duties be nonetheless included in training and guard mounting, we might expect a man like Samuel Lee to be excused from marches and other duties. As Master Tailor, he was responsible for overseeing the cutting, fitting and maintenance of all of the regiment's clothing. The transition from winter to summer was usually a busy time for these men as the preparation of the regiment's annual issue of regimental clothing, received in America in the fall, was finalized for wear in the new campaign season; some regiments also took the opportunity to re-cut the previous year's clothing into campaign garb in order to preserve the new clothing, and to make specialized clothing for use in America. There were also tents to be gotten ready. It would be no surprise, then, for Samuel Lee to have stayed in Boston on the historic night of 18 April when his company was ordered out for a march towards Concord. But another remarkable piece of information has survived to tell us his actual whereabouts.

The expedition to Concord was conducted by two ad hoc battalions composed of the combined light infantry and grenadier companies from the regiments in Boston. The grenadier company of the 18th was among them. A Massachusetts militiaman named Sylvanus Wood recounted his actions that day after he had faced the British light infantry on Lexington Green:

The English soon were on their march for Concord. I helped carry six dead into the meetinghouse and then set out after the enemy and had not an armed man to go with me, but before I arrived at Concord, I see one of the grenadiers standing sentinel. I cocked my piece and run up to him, seized his gun with my left hand. He surrendered his armor, one gun and bayonet, a large cutlass and brass fender, one box over the shoulder with twenty-two rounds, one box round the waist with eighteen rounds. This was the first prisoner that was known to be taken that day.

The hapless British sentinel was none other than Samuel Lee. Perhaps his poor hearing made it easier for his captor to approach him; it is also entirely possible that Lee willingly surrendered, a surreptitious form of desertion. Although Lee was listed first as missing and then as a prisoner of war on British muster rolls, he does not seem to have been held as a captive and he made no effort to return to the British army. He set up shop as a tailor in Concord. In 1776 he married a woman named Mary Piper and with her had five children. He died in Concord in August 1790 at the age of 45.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Robert Vaughn, 52nd Regiment of Foot

On 3 March 1775 a detachment of the 52nd Regiment of Foot in Boston was ordered to practice firing with live ammunition. Firing at marks, as the practice was called, was a common exercise in the months approaching a campaign season even in peace time; along with day-long marches carrying knapsacks, these activities helped insure the fitness of the soldier for whatever the service might require. In Boston, rafts with targets were placed in the water off of Boston Common (which at that time was on the shoreline; extensive filling has dramatically changed Boston's topography). The soldiers formed and each man took his turn firing at the targets.

Robert Vaughn was among the soldiers of the 52nd Regiment ordered to fire that day. He was a 9-year veteran of the 52nd, but needed to practice his marksmanship just like everyone else. When roll was called for the detachment formed for the firing exercise at 2 in the afternoon, however, Vaughn was missing. A sergeant of his company “went to examine his Necessary’s", that is, to see if Vaughn's shoes, shirts and stockings were properly packed into his knapsack in the barracks. When a soldier was missing, it was a standard practice to determine whether he had taken belongings with him; if he did, desertion was immediately suspected. The serjeant found that Vaughn's necessaries "were all gone except a few old Things.”

At about 6:30 that night, two sentries from the 23rd Regiment posted at a way leading to a ferry were approached by the fully-uniformed Vaughn. Vaughn called out to some boatman and inquired for someone. The sentries told him he ought to go home; Vaughn claimed to have a pass to be out until ten o'clock, and had no cause to go until then. He claimed to be looking for a ferryman who was an acquaintance, and finally attempted to pass the sentries and go to the ferry. The sentries stopped him and after some more discourse Vaughn, apparently very drunk, “placed himself against a Post, and soon dropt down as if Dead, and did not say any thing more.” The sentries called for assistance and other soldiers took Vaughn to the officer of the guard.

There is a popular misconception that British uniforms did not have pockets. That they did in fact have them is proven by cases like Vaughn's; when a deviant soldier was taken to the guard is was standard procedure to search his pockets for stolen goods or for extra clothing that signified an intention to desert. When the officer of the guard searched Vaughn's coat pockets “two pair of Stockings was found, and on opening his Waistcoat to give him Air, a clean Shirt was found tied round his Waist.” The officer then searched the pockets of Vaughn’s breeches but found nothing in them.

Vaughn was tried the next day by a general court martial. Among the questions asked by the court was whether Vaughn’s necessaries had been examined recently before he was taken, to which the sergeant replied that they had; it was therefore clear that things were missing. Vaughn, in his defense, offered that he was “so much in Liquor, that he has not the least rememberance of what he was about, that he had not any intention to desert.” Hoping to win the favor of the court, he also pointed out that he had “been a long time in the Service, and at several Sieges.”

To support his claims Vaughn called on an officer from another regiment as a character witness; presumably Vaughn has served with this officer, Lieutenant Thomas Hewetson of the 59th Regiment, at some time earlier in his career. It was a poor of witnesses; Hewestson testified only that “the great length of time which has elapsed, since the Prisoner says he serv’d in the same Corps with him, has entirely remov’d any recollection at all of the Prisoner.”

The court found Vaughn guilty of desertion and sentenced him to the maximum penalty, death. Even though Vaughn was absent only for a matter of hours and was drunk when apprehended, the court no doubt looked on the methodical way in which he concealed his spare clothing, along with his attempt to get to a ferry, as proof that he was trying to leave the British garrison. Vaughn’s sentence was quickly approved, and General Thomas Gage, commanding the army in Boston, ordered on 8 March that it be “put in execution to morrow morning at seven o'Clock, by shooting the Prisoner Robert Vaughan to death by a platoon of the Regiment to which he belongs. The place of execution to be near the water below the Guard on the common.”

That night at around 9, however, in one of the many acts of clemency shown after capital sentences, the announcement was made that “The Execution of Robert Vaughan, private soldier in the 52nd Regiment, is respited till further orders.” Vaughn was fully pardoned a few days later. The death sentence was supposed to deter desertion, and remitting it was expected to endear the soldiery to their commander. The ineffectiveness of this gestured was immediately apparent, for on 14 March, less than a week after staying Vaughn’s execution, Gage notified the army that:

The Commander in chief flattered himself that the instance of mercy shewn Robert Vaughan of the 52nd Regiment would be the most eligible means to bring the soldiers to a sence of their duty to their King and Country, and to reflect more seriously on the sin they Committed in deserting the service of both; He is greatly mortified to find that clemency is so little regarded, and assures the Regiments that this is the last man he will pardon who shall be condemned for desertion.

Being sentenced to death and then pardoned certainly seems to have had an effect on the veteran soldier Robert Vaughn, but not the desired effect. On 21 April, just over a month after his pardon and days after the outbreak of hostilities, he deserted again, this time never to be apprehended.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Robert Nun, 43rd Regiment of Foot

Many of the vignettes presented here are drawn from the proceedings of British military courts. These documents, rich in details on the minor events that did not change history but which were the substance of the lives of those who lived it, survive in manuscript form at the National Archives of Great Britain, and are available on microfilm at the David Library of the American Revolution. Today, instead of distilling one of these cases into a story, we'll present the complete text of a trial. Some details of the handwritten manuscript do not lend themselves to the formatting conventions available on this forum, but we'll present the complete text including the original spelling and abbreviations.

The accused soldier was Robert Nun (or Nunn) of the 43rd Regiment of Foot. He was recruited after the war began, and joined his regiment in Rhode Island in 1777. Two years later, for strategic reasons, the British chose to evacuate their garrison in Rhode Island and return the troops there to New York. The 22nd, 38th and 43rd Regiments were the only British regulars remaining by October 1779, along with several regiments of Germans and Loyalists.

When British regiments stayed in one play for an extended period, then moved elsewhere, an interesting phenomenon usually occurred: the rate of desertion increased. We can ascribe this to two possible reasons. Some soldiers probably developed local attachments that they did not wish to leave, while others who were discontent with military service saw the regiment's movement as an opportunity to desert with less likelihood of being caught. Robert Nun literally made a break for it on the very day that the 43rd was preparing to embark, the last day of the British occupation. The proceedings of his trial reveal many interesting details of military culture, but leave ample room for discussion of Nun's actual thoughts and motivation:


At a General Court Martial, held at New York on Wednesday the 26th Jany & continued by Adjournment to Saturday 11th March 1780 by Virtue of a Warrant bearing date the 25th Jany from His Excellency Sir Henry Clinton, Knight of the most Honorable Order of the Bath, General and Commander in Chief of all His Majesty’s Forces within the Colonies laying on the Atlantic Ocean, from Nova Scotia to West Florida inclusive &c. &c. &c.

Major John Small of His Majesty’s 84th Regt. of Foot, President

Members: Major James Cousseau 37th Reg; Major David Furguson 43d Regt.; Capt. Thos. Brady R. Artillery; Capt. William Farquhar 20th Regt; Capt. Stephen Cook 37th Regt.; Capt. Alexr McDonald 76th Regt.; Capt. David Anstruther 42d Regt.; Capt. Willm Richardson 43d Regt.; Lt. John Robertson 42d Regt.; Lt. Norman McLeod 42d Regt.; 1st Lt. Francis Laye R. Artillery; 2d Lt. Charles Frazer 23d Regt.

Ensn. Mathew Wood of His Majesty’s 64th Regt. Foot Deputy Judge Advocate

The President Members and Judge Advocate being duly Sworn.

Robert Nunn, private soldier in His Majesty’s 43rd Regiment of Foot, was brought prisoner before the Court and accused of Desertion, & the following Witnesses were examined in support of the Accusation Vizt.

Serjt. William McCoy of His Majesty’s 43d Regt. Foot being duly sworn, deposed that he knew the Prisoner to have received Pay & Cloathing as a Soldier in the said Regiment, that on the 25th of October last when the regiment was going to Embark at Rhode Island, the Roll was called by a Corporal, who found that the Prisoner was absent, upon which he (the Corporal) reported him to the witness, that he (the Witness) was ordered to go & search for him, & that about three quarters of a Mile from the Encmapment he saw the Prisoner go up from behind some Bushes in his shirt sleeves, & run away, upon which he (the witness) pressed an Inhabitant to go with him; that they pursued him and secured him.
Q. (by the Court) Was the prisoner in Liquor?
A. He did not seem to him to be in liquor.
Q. Did the Prisoner carry off his Arms or Accoutrements?
A. He carried off his Accoutrements.

Serjeant Luke Touridge of the 43d Regiment of Foot, being duly sworn deposed that he knew the Prisoner to have received pay & Cloathing, as a Soldier in the 43rd Regiment & that on the 25th Octr. Last the Serjeant Major went to him (the Witness) and desired him to take a file of Men and go in search of the Prisoner; that he accordingly went, & as he was jumping over a Stone Wall he saw a Coat Waistcoat, & a Hat laying under the Wall; the hat he knew to be the prisoners; that he went up to Serjt. McCoy (who had been likewise ordered to go in search of the Prisoner) and desired him to proceed further into the brushy Wood; that they separated in the Wood & scour’d it and some little time afterwards he (the Witness) heard a Shouting, upon which he ran out of the Wood & saw the Prisoner running away in his shirt sleeves, and Serjt. McCoy with his party running after the Prisoner; the Witness further says that he did not see the Prisoner after that time till he was brought back Prisoner.
Q. (by the Court) Did he carry off his Arms or Accoutrements?
A. He carried off his Accoutrements.

Christopher Willow, private soldier in the 43d Regiment Foot being duly sworn, deposed that he was one of the party that was ordered to go with Serjt. McCoy in search of the Prisoner on the 25th Octr. Last; that about three quarters of a Mile from the Encampment he saw the prisoner in a field without his hat, Coat or Waistcoat on, that upon the Prisoners seeing the Party, he ran away; upon which they pursued him, & the Serjt. pressed an Inhabitant to go with them, that they soon came up with him, & secured him; that upon his (the Witness) coming up to the Prisoner he had a Stone in one hand, and a Knife in the other, but that he immediately threw down the Stone and put the Knife in his Pocket, & gave himself up, without making any resistance.
Q. (by the Court) Did the prisoner carry off any of his Arms or Accoutrements?
A. He carried off his pouch & Waistbelt.
Q. What sort of a Knife was it the prisoner had in his hand?
A. A common Clasp Knife.
Q. Did the Inhabitant come up with the Prisoner first?
A. Yes.
Q. What distance was he (the Witness) from the Prisoner, when he first saw the Inhabitant with him?
A. About an hundred Yards.
Q. Could he (the Witness) see the Prisoner when the Inhabitant first got up to him?
A. No, there was an Orchard between.

The Prisoner being put upon his Defence says that about a Week before the regiment Embarked at Rhode Island, Serjeant McCoy had struck him & used him very ill, upon which he went to Camp to complain to his Captain, who told him that he would see him righted, and that he had no occasion to go to the Commanding Officer; that he was in liquor at the time that he went off & did not know what he was doing and begs the Mercy of the Court.

The Court having considered the Evidence for & against the Prisoner Robert Nunn, together with what he had to offer in his Defence, is of Opinion that he is Guilty of the Crime laid to his Charge in a breach of the first Article of the Sixth Section of the Articles of War, & doth therefore sentence him to receive One thousand Lashes on his bare back with Cats of nine Tails.

John Small, Majr Comdg 2d Battn 84th Regt of Highlanders, President.
Mattw. Woodd Deputy Judge Advocate

Approved, Wm. Tryon M. G.
Confirmed HClinton


We lack certain information on whether or not Nun received the full punishment that he was sentenced. If he wasn't discontent with the army before, the harrowing experience of awaiting punishment probably influenced him even if, like many soldiers under sentence of corporal and capital punishment, he was subsequently pardoned.

Whether Nun had planned his desertion attempt or was in fact out of his senses, he seems to have learned something from the experience. In May 1781 the 43rd Regiment again embarked on transports, this time to voyage from New York to Virginia to join Cornwallis's army. But, on the day of embarkation, Robert Nun deserted once again; we've found no record of him being caught this time.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Daniel McCarty, 22nd Regiment of Foot

I have done a poor job of responding to comments on this blog. Please don't let that stop you from commenting, though - your feedback is welcome and interesting. One reader asked for more information about the Rhode Island hospital garden mentioned in the installment about James McGregor of the 22nd Regiment. There are some details on the garden and the produce it yielded in my book General Orders: Rhode Island which gives a detailed picture of military activities during one year of a British garrison. An in-depth look at the variety of considerations given to the health of British soldiers can be found in period textbooks on the subject.

Another interesting detail about the Rhode Island garrison also comes from the general orders. Soon after the garrison was established, a newspaper began publication under the name of The Newport Gazette. This paper was the work of John Howe, who had published the
Boston GazetteMassachusetts Gazette until Boston was evacuated in March 1776. Well before the inaugural issue of that paper in the early months of 1777, in fact only a week after the British landed on the island, the army sought a capable man from within the ranks, presumably to operate presses left behind by the Newport printer who had chosen to flee the British occupation:

14 Decr. 1776
If there are Soldiers in any British Regiment who understand the Printing Business, they are to be sent to Lieut. Col. Campbell in Newport.

Probably the soldier would print notices to be posted around the town, but I wonder if the soldier-printer helped John Howe with the newspaper. I thought I had found the soldier in Daniel McCarty of the 22nd Regiment. This young Irishman, born in Cork in 1757, enlisted in the 22nd Regiment in late 1775 or early 1776. At the end of the occupation of Rhode Island, he was transferred briefly into the regiment's grenadier company, and then into the light infantry - a rare but not unprecedented move. He was in the light infantry during the 1780 siege of Charleston, South Carolina, but for some reason as yet unknown he was not with the company when it was made prisoners of war at Yorktown the following year. At the end of the war he received a discharge but reinlisted; after returning to Great Britain, however, he was once again discharged.

McCarty received a pension in 1784 due to a bad leg (perhaps this was the reason he was not on the Yorktown campaign); he also received 1 pound 12 shillings in prize money as his share of the goods seized at Charleston. Rather than subsist strictly on his pension, however, he enlisted again in the 77th Regiment of Foot, taking his final discharge and rejoining the pension rolls in 1788.

When I first found McCarty's name on a list of pensioners, his occupation caught my eye: he was a printer - or was he a painter? The faint image on the microfilm made it difficult to read the cursive writing, and the writing style left only a slight difference between the two possible words. I hoped he was a printer, and that he assisted John Howe in creating the newspapers that have provided me much rich detail on the activities and culture of the Rhode Island garrison.

The original manuscript of the pension list would probably be clear enough to discern McCarty's trade with certainty. As it happened, though, I did not need to look at it. Another collection of documents also includes McCarty's name and trade, and on this one the writing is clear. He was a painter. Also, a close examination of his career shows that he did not arrive in Rhode Island until the middle of 1777. His trade may have occasionally been useful for the army, but he certainly was not the man who started the presses for the British garrison in Rhode Island.

Friday, August 12, 2011

John Wallace, 76th Regiment of Foot

When it became clear that the war in America would not end quickly, the British government authorized several new regiments to be raised. Among the newly established regiments was the 76th Regiment of Foot, which recruited primarily from Scotland. During the rapid recruiting of this corps in late 1777 and early 1778, a 26 year old baker from the town of Kelso nestled in the southeast of Scotland at the confluence of the Teviot and Tweed rivers. Although from a lowland region, he had apparently resettled farther north in the highland county of Sutherland where he had a little property, a house and a garden. He was literate at least to the extent that he was able to write his own name. Why a man in such a situation would join the army is not known; he may have been enthusiastic about serving Great Britain, influenced by a local officer who knew him and encouraged him, or simply compelled to go along with others in his area.

By the summer of 1781, the 76th was on service in America, part of the army under General Cornwallis operating in Virginia along the banks of the James River. On 6 July they began the complex operation of moving the army across the river. Wallace was part of a detachment of about 20 men from the 76th and 80th Regiments posted in the rear of the army, charged with protecting the army during the delicate river crossing.

In the afternoon the picket was attacked by a substantial force from an American army commanded by the Marquis de Lafayette. The British hoped to convince the Americans that most of Cornwallis's army had already crossed the river and that the rear guard was vulnerable. This meant that the little piquet guard of Scottish soldiers was not reinforced. They fought desperately for about two hours, expending 50 rounds. The subaltern officer commanding the detachment was wounded; an officer who replaced him was wounded, and then a third. When they finally withdrew, John Wallace was one of only a few who escaped unscathed. The engagement escalated into the battle of Green Spring; the Americans were driven from the field, and Cornwallis's army moved on to establish a fateful encampment at Yorktown.

Soon after the army arrived at Yorktown in August 1781, violent thunderstorms roiled through the area. A few soldiers were killed. James Wallace, after surviving the gallant stand at Green Spring, was wounded by nature's wrath. A lightning strike caused him to lose an eye. So it was that he returned from America as a wounded soldier, albeit not wounded in battle.

When he arrived at this home in the Highlands of Sutherland, he learned that friends had, in his absence, "disposed of his little property, a house & garden." He went to a town to work at his trade as a baker, but his other eye soon began to dim, perhaps from the strain caused by the loss of the first. Unable to see well enough to earn a living at the age of only 33, he turned to the government for relief. He applied for an out pension, and was able to support his case with an affidavit signed by a general officer who was familiar with his brave service at Green Spring. His application was granted, providing this young old soldier a modest income for the rest of his life.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Benjamin Reynard, 37th Regiment of Foot

Army muster rolls in general provide an overview of each soldier's career, allowing each man to be traced (in six-month intervals) from the time that he joined his regiment to the time he left it. Occasionally, however, a soldier enigmatically appears on the rolls without any indication of where he came from, and sometimes men disappear from the rolls with no explanation of where they went. Benjamin Reynard, a grenadier in the 37th Regiment of Foot provides an example of both of these nuances.

Reynard served in America, but it is not clear when he joined the army or arrived on the west side of the Atlantic Ocean. He first appears on the roll of the grenadier company covering the period 25 December 1777 through 24 June 1778. Most men who joined grenadier or light infantry companies had served for at least a year in other companies of the regiment (there were occasional exceptions, particularly for men who had prior military experience). There is no annotation on this roll that he joined the company during that muster period, and no trace of him on the rolls of other companies during preceding periods. Admittedly, more detailed analysis might resolve this mystery; sometimes there are significant changes in the ways that names are spelled from one roll to another, and sometimes even the man's first name changes (for example, there's a chance that Benjamin Reynard is the 'Thomas Raynor' who appears on the prior roll of the same company), but determining this requires careful tracing of all of the names on the rolls, a long and tedious process.

Reynard continues on the rolls of the grenadier company of the 37th Regiment through August of 1783. At that time, the regiment was reorganized due to force reductions at the end of the war; the strength was reduced from ten companies to eight, and many men were discharged. Reynard appears on a set of rolls covering the period 24 June through 24 August (an unusual muster period), but is absent from the subsequent roll covering 25 August through 24 December. Again, it is possible that his name is not obvious because of spelling permutations, but the spelling is very consistent on all of the interim rolls.

Although we lack career details on Reynard that we have for most soldiers, there survives a record of a personal vignette during Reynard's American service, something we lack for most soldiers. At the beginning of June 1779 the grenadier battalion that included his company was part of an expedition that fortified posts on the Hudson river north of New York city including Stony Point on the west shore and Verplanck's Point on the east shore. They camped in wigwams made of brush, a typical practice for the British army in America. On 4 June they fired a salute in honor of the King's birthday.

At about 10 AM on 5 June, Reynard asked his serjeant for leave to go outside of the camp to gather greens, which was granted. He took a haversack with him, and after about an hour returned to camp with the haversack full of dock greens and other wild greens. At noon he fell in for a formation.

Later that day or the next day, a local inhabitant named Mary Baker claimed that some soldiers had come to her house about two miles from the camp at around 11 in the morning of 5 June. She had an inventory of things that they had plundered which included "shirts, and a quantity of wearing Apparel." She identified Reynard as one of the perpetrators, and claimed that he had also killed a pig of hers and made off with it.

Reynard was put on trial for this crime on 7 June. Mary Baker was the only witness supporting the charge. Reynard claimed that he was away from the camp with leave but had not gone far and had only gathered greens. His serjeant and another grenadier both testified in his support, corroborating his story. Both testified that they were in the same mess as Reynard, that is, they prepared their food and dined together; this explained their explicit interest in having seen the greens that Reynard gathered, and both said that Reynard had nothing else with him when he returned to camp. (Typically a mess consisted of 5 men; military authors of the era recommended that serjeants and soldiers mess separately, so the testimony in this trial indicates either that this company of the 37th did not heed these recommendations or that the size and composition of messes varied while the army was on campaign).

In a striking verdict, which is perhaps yet another mystery about Reynard, the military court found him guilty of the crime. Apparently they gave greater significance to the testimony of the injured party than to Reynard and his two comrades. There is no mention in the trial proceedings of how Mary Barker singled out Reynard, but there are other accounts of soldiers being paraded so that wronged inhabitants could recognize an offender in the ranks. It is possible that the officers who sat on the court were privy to information that was not explicitly presented at the trial. It also may be that the court wanted to set an example to stave off plundering by other soldiers.

Benjamin Reynard was sentenced to received 1000 lashes. We have no information on the extent to which this punishment was inflicted. Sometimes soldiers who were severely punished, particularly on dubious evidence, deserted, but not this one. As described above, Reynard continued to serve through the end of the war.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Samuel and William Tuffie, 44th Regiment of Foot

British soldiers were, for the most part, volunteers; there was no compulsory service, and pressing men was legalized for only a brief period during the war and was not particularly successful. There was, nonetheless, a particular group of men who were explicitly termed 'volunteers' in the army. These were young men who had reasonable expectations of becoming officers, and served without commissions while waiting for a commission to become vacant. A vacancy did not insure commission; the commander of the regiment and ultimately the King himself had to approve commissions, and this required a measure of influence. It was also often necessary to purchase the commission. The purchase system is often criticized as a poor system for choosing officers, but this criticism is overblown and often out of context. The cost of the commission was a surety against poor performance. When he retired from the service, an officer could recoup his investment in commissions and have a tidy sum for his retirement, while an officer who failed to do his duty could be punished by being cashiered, that is, being discharged from service and forfeiting his commission. Men who had the money still had to obtain approval for purchase, which provided a safeguard against money being the sole qualification. Young men seeking to enter the army seldom had their own funds but instead had to get the sponsorship of a wealthy individual whose investment they were obliged to protect by serving well. Although there are instances of unqualified men becoming officers by purchase, for the most part the system worked well.

It meant that not all volunteers obtained commissions quickly, and some never did. A confusing aspect of the service of volunteers is that they sometimes, but not always, appear on the muster rolls among the ranks of private soldiers. There is no way to distinguish them unless other information is available. This makes it challenging to discern whether the occasional private soldier who rose through the ranks and obtained a commission was an outstanding commoner who had impressed his superiors or a young gentleman who had volunteered and eventually obtained a rank to which he'd always had legitimate aspirations.

A case in point is Samuel Tuffie. His father, John Tuffie, had been a serjeant in the regiment before being appointed Quarter Master in 1776 at the age of 32. This was a fairly common career path, and often represented the highest rank that such a man achieved; John Tuffie was still quarter master of the 44th Regiment in 1794.

As a career soldier, John Tuffie had a family with him in the regiment including two sons, Samuel and William. Samuel appears among the private soldiers in the regiment on the first muster rolls that we have on hand from January 1775. At this time he was only about 11 years old; he certainly was not doing duty as a soldier, but there is nothing on the rolls to distinguish him as a volunteer. He was appointed drummer in February 1776, a roll more consistent with his age (although many drummers were adult men who served long careers in that capacity). Only because he wrote a memorial in 1782 seeking a commission, supported by a memorial from the commanding officer of the 44th, do we know that he was born in the army and son of John Tuffie.

Samuel Tuffie did not get the ensigncy in the 44th Regiment that the commanding officer had petitioned for because his father was "a very deserving man, has been a number of years in the Service with a Character unblemish’d & esteem’d by all the Officers of the Regt." Instead, he received a similar rank in a Loyalist regiment, Butler's Rangers. This regiment was disbanded the following year when the war ended, but Samuel's commission earned him a place on the half-pay list, a sort of reserve status that offered greater hopes of re-entering the army when an opportunity arose. That opportunity came in 1787 when he finally became an Ensign in the 44th Regiment.

William Tuffie was four years younger than Samuel, having been born in 1768. He too appears on the muster rolls of the 44th; he 'enlisted' in May 1775, and like his brother was appointed Drummer in February 1776. He was, however, discharged in April 1778 and does not appear again on the muster rolls during the war years. He nonetheless received an ensign's commission in the 44th 1791.

By 1796 the 44th Regiment was serving in the lethal climate of the West Indies. William Tuffie, by this time a Captain, was wounded in battle on St. Lucia in April. His older brother Samuel, having advanced only to Lieutenant, died of illness that same year.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Thomas Edwards, 22nd Regiment of Foot

A little-known detail of British army operations during the era of the American Revolution is that musket ammunition did not always consist solely of single round lead balls. Although certainly the projectile of choice on the battlefield, there were situations when other types of ammunition were more practical. Unfortunately only enough information has come to light to inform us that other types existed, but not to tell us categorically when they were used.

When the 32nd Regiment of Foot was stationed in Waterford, Ireland, orders were given for "six rounds of Buck shot Cartridges" per man to be available, "which are only to be distributed when a party is called out." Although not explicitly stated, the orders imply that the parties might be called out to quell domestic disturbances. For small groups of soldiers on this type of duty, shot was a better option that ball, since it would be more likely to inflict multiple wounds when fired into a crowd but perhaps less likely to produce fatal wounds.

The 32nd Regiment did not serve in America during the 1775-1783 war, but a case concerning a soldier in the 22nd Regiment in America provides another example of non-ball ammunition. When the British army occupied Newport, Rhode Island and the surrounding countryside in December 1776 orders were given immediately to protect local farms from plunder - plunder that could come from wayward soldiers of the garrison or from American raiding parties that visited the island almost nightly. To provide this protection, individual soldiers called Safe Guards were posted at each place of interest.

One of the Safe Guards was Thomas Edwards of the 22nd Regiment of Foot. Edwards was an experienced soldier; he had joined the 65th Regiment of Foot some time before 1769 (gaps in the muster rolls leave his enlistment date unknown) and was drafted into the 22nd Regiment in 1776. His long service made him a good choice for a post of responsibility, but he found the job a challenging one. Although there were two officers and several soldiers quartered at the farm that he was ordered to protect, it was the target of marauders during the nights of December 1776. Edwards managed to catch several German soldiers in the act of robbery on several nights, but nonetheless sheep, hay and other stock were spirited away throughout the month.

The specific orders given to the Safe Guards have not been found, but apparently they were only expected to challenge intruders and ward them off without resorting to use of firearms. On the night of 31 December, Edwards attempted to stop four German soldiers from robbing stock from the farm - which had been robbed the night before - but the Germans dragged him around a field before disappearing into the night. A dazed and confused Edwards staggered into the house, bedraggled and open-shirted, and asked why no one had come to his aid. The next day he protested to Captain Brabazon of the 22nd Regiment, one of the officers living in the house, that he no longer wished to be a safe guard if he had no way of stopping intruders. Brabazon took the matter to the commander of the regiment, who authorized Safe Guards to fire on marauders if necessary. The other officer quartered at the house, young Ensign Richard Proctor of the 22nd Regiment, went to the German barracks to inform the officers that Safe Guards were now authorized to fire on intruders.

On the next night, about an hour after the evening gun had fired, a party of perhaps ten German soldiers broke down a fence to enter the farm grounds. Edwards challenged them, but they did not respond. Edwards fired one shot at the group of interlopers; because his musket was loaded with "Balls cut into square pieces", this one shot wounded two of the Germans, one in five places and the other in seven. The man with seven wounds died within a few days.

Edwards was brought before a general court martial on charges of "Maliciously Firing a Musket" and causing the death of the German soldier. The full proceedings of the trial have been published, and it is from them that we have the above details of the affair including the way that Edwards' musket was loaded. There are many other accounts of individual British sentries firing on individual men - plunderers, deserters and others - and killing or wounding them. Perhaps it was common for guards and sentries to use shot-like loads rather than single musket balls, making their individual shots more effective.

Thomas Edwards was acquitted. He continued to serve in the 22nd Regiment until 29 August 1778 when he was killed in the Battle of Rhode Island. Ensign Richard Proctor was also mortally wounded in that fight.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Richard Hutchinson, 64th Regiment of Foot

Some men deserted more than once, but occasionally such men returned to the army on their own rather than face what they apparently perceived as a worse option. A case in point is Richard Hutchinson of the 64th Regiment of Foot.

The 64th Regiment came to America in 1769, landing first in Boston but then spending a few years in Halifax before returning to Boston in 1772. Hutchinson joined the regiment in America as a recruit in 1777, and although he was “a good Soldier & was very clean,” he seems to have had other ambitions than remaining a career soldier.

As the 64th was preparing to sail south in late 1779 under General Sir Henry Clinton to besiege Charleston, South Carolina, Richard Hutchinson deserted. It was not unusual for men to desert shortly before their regiments were preparing to remove to a new location; apparently it was seen as an opportune way to avoid recapture. Staying in New York, however, was not a safe option because the 64th, like most regiments on campaign, left a small contingent behind to mind regimental goods left in storage; usually a few sick men remained behind as well. Hutchinson signed on to the British privateer General Pattison and went to sea, either due to a genuine inclination towards seafaring, aspirations of wealth from prize money, or simply as a way to escape from the garrison city.

Several months later the General Pattison returned to the New York area from a cruise. While the ship was still outside New York harbor the officer of a British guard ship came on board and took Hutchinson in order to press him into service on the guard ship. Apparently unwilling to do this duty, Hutchinson admitted to being a deserter which resulted in his being sent to the main guard in New York. He remained in confinement until the commandant ordered him released to his regiment for reasons that are not recorded.

The 64th was still far away in the south, but Hutchinson joined the contingent caring for the regiment's storehouse at a place called Coenties Market in what is now Lower Manhattan; today there is a historic walkway in the area called Coenties Slip. Hutchinson did not remain long. About three weeks after joining the detachment he deserted again. This time the regiment advertised for him:

Deserted from the 64th Regimental Store at Coenties Market; Richard Hutchinson, private Soldier in the 64th regiment, born in Ireland, about 5 feet 7 inches high, short curly hair, much freckled in the face; had when he went off, a crimson coloured jacket, a pair of new duck trowsers, (was lately on board the General Pattison privateer.) Whoever will give information of the said Hutchinson, to Serjeant M’Donald at the said store, so that he may be apprehended, shall receive One Guinea Reward. All Masters of ships are hereby warned not to harbour the above-mentioned Hutchinson, at their peril. M. Wood, Ensign 64th Regt.
[Royal Gazette (New York), 1 July 1780]

In addition to the non-regimental clothing described in the advertisement, Hutchinson took his necessaries (that is, his shirts, stockings and shoes) with him, a sure sign that he had absconded intentionally rather than just wandering off.

It was not long before Hutchinson was discovered. He had managed to go to sea again, but was soon brought back to New York by another privateer, the General Rodney. It is not clear whether the General Rodney was a privateer in the British service or was a captured American privateer. Regardless, Hutchinson, now wounded, was put on board the infamous Jersey prison ship in New York harbor. Here he once again declared himself a deserter. Serjeant John McDonald and private John Williams of the 64th went to the Jersey to collect him and put him into confinement once again.

At his general court martial in September 1780, Hutchinson offered no testimony except to beg for the mercy of the court. It is unfortunate that he did not relate the details of his activities at sea. The two soldiers of the 64th who brought him off the Jersey provided the testimony upon which the above narrative is based. Surprisingly, the court did in fact show mercy to this repeat deserter. Rather than sentencing him to death, he was ordered to receive 700 lashes (somewhat lighter than the usual sentence of 1000 lashes for desertion, and that more typical for ‘accidental’ desertion rather than deliberate moves like Hutchinson’s) and then to be drummed out of the service, a particularly rare sentence. Gaps in the 64th Regiment's muster rolls leave us with no specifics about when or how Hutchinson left the regiment; he was listed as 'sick in New York in the second half of 1781, but is not on the next available roll covering the beginning of 1783.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Walter Burges, Luke Melly and John Williams, 63rd Regiment

One of the greatest sources of personal information about soldiers is deserter advertisements. Because few other descriptive documents survive, the advertisements published in newspapers are often the only remaining accounts of what individuals actually looked like and sometimes personal nuances that they had. The purpose of the ads was to provide a sufficient textual image to allow readers to recognize the deserter and apprehend or report him. Similar advertisements were published for escaped prisoners, thieves, runaway servants and slaves, and other people who had absconded from some sort of contract, bondage or captivity.

There is no way to judge how effective these ads were except for the fact that they were a staple of newspapers throughout the 18th century and well into the 19th. Sometimes other sources can be used to determine the individual's whereabouts; in the case of soldiers, muster rolls allow us to trace a man's career in the army, and for the few who deserted and advertised the combined sources of information yield an interesting personal story.

A 1773 advertisement from an Irish newspaper describes five men who deserted from a regiment that would arrive in America two years later:

Deserted 29th May, from the 63d Regiment of Foot, and Capt. Westropp’s Company, at Belfast, William Condie, born at Path of Condie, near Perth, in Perthshire, Scotland, aged 20 Years, Size 5 Feet 8 Inches and a half, dark brown Eyes, brown Hair, brown complexion, straight and well made, by Calling a Labourer.

Also from Capt. Follett’s Light Infantry Company (at Ballynahinch) of said Regiment, the following Men, viz. Drummer John Williams, born in St. Nicholas’s Parish in Rochester, in the County of Kent, aged 22 Years, Size 5 Feet 2 Inches and a half, black Eyes, dark brown Hair, fresh Complexion, strong and well made, by Trade a Painter and Glazier.

Walter Burges, born in the Army, but rear’d in Fromme, Sommersetshire, aged 22 Years, Size 5 Feet 5 Inches and a half, grey Eyes, light brown Hair, fresh Complexion, straight and well made, by Trade a Scribler.


Luke Melly, born in Dudley, Worcestershire, aged 20 Years, 5 Feet 5 Inches, light brown Eyes, dark brown Hair, fresh Complexion, strong and well made, a Cut over the right Eyebrow, by Trade a Scythe Smith.


Nathaniel Brown, born in Market Dearham, in the County of Norfolk, aged 19 Years, size 5 Feet 6 Inches and a half, grey Eyes, brown Hair, fresh Complexion, straight and well made, a small Cut on each side of his Forehead, by Trade a Cordwainer.


The above Deserters went off in their Regimental Cloathing, the Buttons of which have a Star on them, and the Number 63 in the Center.


Whoever apprehends any of the abovementioned Deserters, shall receive a Reward (over the Allowance of Parliament) of one Guinea for each of them, by applying to the Commanding Officer of the Regiment at Belfast, to Capt. Follett of said Regiment at Ballynahinch, or to William Montgomery, Esq, Mary-street, Dublin.

[Belfast Newsletter, 4 June 1773]

Both the ad and the men described are quite typical. Although we don't have on hand the muster rolls from the time that these men deserted, we guess from their ages that they had all joined the regiment recently - most peacetime enlistees were in their very late teens or early twenties. Because they were in regimental clothing, however, it is clear that they were not new recruits but had been in the regiment probably for at least a year. Drummers often joined the army at a younger age but, contrary to the popular image of the drummer boy, many men stayed in this role for their entire military careers, well into their 40s and even 50s. The fact that John Williams had already learned a trade suggests that he did not join the army until his late teens at the earliest. Walter Burges, although born in the army, was not raised in the army so it is probable that he too enlisted at a typical age rather than a young age; he had learned a wool-combing specialty known as scribbling which involved the combing of rough wool in preparation for more refined carding.

The muster rolls of the 63rd show us that some of these men returned to the army, either voluntarily or by being captured. When the regiment came ashore in Boston on 14 June 1775, drummer John Williams and privates Walter Burgess and Francis Scott were on the rolls of the light infantry company. After only two days in America they were hotly engaged in the battle of Bunker Hill on 17 June; Burgess was mortally wounded and died four days later.

Drummer Williams continued serving in the light infantry (probably using the hunting horn favored by these active troops rather than a drum) until he was taken prisoner by the Americans on 14 February 1778 outside of Philadelphia. He remained in captivity for about two years; the date of his repatriation is not known and he is absent from one semi-annual muster roll, but by the second half of 1780 he was back with his company.

His good fortune did not last long. The light infantry company of the 63rd Regiment was part of the army under General Cornwallis that surrendered at Yorktown. He was once again made a prisoner of war, along with Luke Melly who had been serving in the light infantry company throughout the war.

Although the British prisoners taken at Yorktown were repatriated in the first half of 1783 when hostilities were officially ended, some of them did not return. Tempted by the possibility of owning landing and beginning new lives in America, an estimated 20% of the incarcerated soldiers absconded from captivity to seek their fortunes in America. Among the 10 in the 63rd Regiment's light infantry company who did so were John Williams and Luke Melly. On 1 July 1783 they were written off of the regiment's muster rolls as deserters.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Louisa Martin, 17th Regiment of Foot (?)

Most of the entries in this blog are composed in a formulaic way. I find an item concerning an individual soldier or soldier's wife - a newspaper account, record of a court martial, entry in an orderly book, or what have you. Then, I find the soldier on the regiment's muster rolls and trace his career to the greatest extent possible. This provides a reasonable view of the events that the man or woman experienced based on the movements and activities of the regiment.

A search on the Access2Archives web site, which catalogs documents in many regional record offices in Great Britain, turned up an interesting item about the wife of a serjeant in the 17th Regiment of Foot. Even though the web catalog offers only an abstract, the item from the Quarter Sessions of Worcestershire for midsummer, 1782, gives a look at the plight of an army widow who returned to England:

Examination of Louisa Martin, widow of Charles Martin, Sergeant in 17th. Regt. of Foot, who died in America. They were married 19 years ago at St. James, Westminster: he was born in Croydon where he was apprenticed to Thomas Green, cabinet maker, & was settled there: he died 6 months ago in New York: 7 years ago she went to America & landed at Liverpool on her return a fortnight ago.

A constable was ordered to convey here to Croydon, the town where she would be legally eligible for the support due to a widow. The information correlates with what we know about army widows - that they were given the option of returning to Great Britain at government expense.

This brief record of Louisa Martin's examination provides very valuable information about a serjeant in the 17th Regiment, including when and where he was married and the career that he pursued before joining the army. The 17th Regiment, which saw extensive and diverse service in America from its arrival in 1775 through the final evacuation in 1783. The regiment had significant numbers of men captured at the 1777 battle of Princeton, the 1779 fall of Stony Point, and the 1781 Yorktown campaign. The career of Charles Martin would surely be an interesting one.

There is, however, a problem tracing that career: Thanks to Will Tatum, historian at the David Library of the American Revolution, we have access to the muster rolls of the 17th Regiment of Foot. No man by the name of Charles Martin served in the regiment - not among the serjeants or the rank and file soldiers; not even a man with a similar name. I also checked the rolls of the 17th Light Dragoons, but found no such man in that regiment either. Thinking of logical typographical errors in the web catalog, I checked other regiments that ended in 7 and had served in America - the 27th, 37th, 47th and 57th. No Charles Martin. Maybe other regiments starting with 1 that were in New York in 1776 and still in the area in 1782? There were none; the 10th, 14th, 15th, 18th and 19th Regiments did not have service that correlates to the story related by Louisa Martin.

For the moment, all we can do is keep this interesting account on file and hope that clarifying information turns up.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

William Keaton, 18th and 43rd Regiments of Foot

When he arrived at Yorktown, Virginia in the summer of 1781, William Keaton (also spelled Keyton, Keatton and Keton on various muster rolls) was a highly experienced and very well-traveled soldier. We do not know when he joined the army, but thanks to researcher Steven M. Baule we know that he was already a private soldier in the 18th (Royal Irish) Regiment of Foot when that corps arrived in America in July of 1767. The regiment spent two years in Philadelphia. Keaton's company then traveled overland to Fort Pitt, where they embarked in boats that took them down the Ohio River and up the Mississippi River to Fort Chartres, a British outpost in Illinois. There he remained from mid-1769 until mid-1772 when the post was abandoned and the detachment of the 18th Regiment returned to Philadelphia.

In 1774, the portion of the 18th in Philadelphia marched across New Jersey to New York, then boarded transports for Boston. In this city Keaton and his comrades saw the outbreak of hostilities and the devastating battle of Bunker Hill. At the end of that year orders were given for the able-bodied men of the 18th Regiment in Boston to be drafted into other regiments; William Keaton transferred into the 43rd Regiment of Foot.

Boston was evacuated in March 1776 and the army regrouped in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The men of the 43rd and the rest of the army spent two months practicing new tactics and field maneuvers in the countryside around Halifax in preparation for a new campaign. By July they were landed on Staten Island; the 43rd was now part of the 5th Brigade of Sir William Howe's powerful army, along with the 22nd, 54th and 63rd Regiments. After a whirlwind Autumn campaign that secured New York city and the surrounding regions, the 5th Brigade was part of a force that landed in Rhode Island in early December.

Rhode Island was the home of the 43rd Regiment for the next three years. While a garrison in strict terms, the island in Narragansett Bay was an active theater of war. Besides being the site of major fighting during August 1778 there were countless incursions and skirmishes throughout the period. Soldiers manned guard posts day and night year round, ever vigilant for the next American attempt to harass or unseat the garrison.

When Rhode Island was evacuated in October 1779, Keaton and the 43rd returned to the New York area where they spent the following year in a relatively calm garrison. 1781, however, saw them on campaign again, this time sailing to Virginia. Sent to reinforce Cornwallis' army, they arrived on the banks of the James River in the late Spring. By August they were part of the substantial army establishing a post around Yorktown.

William Keaton had spent 14 years marching, sailing, working and fighting all over the American colonies. He had seen the wilderness with the 18th Regiment and several significant battles with the 43rd, and had certainly lost many comrades along the way. Now he was helping to lay the groundwork for the action that would effectively end the war, but he would not see this dramatic culmination. In in hot Virginia weather of early August the hazards of military campaigning caught up to him. On either the 7th or the 9th, depending upon which source is accurate, thunderstorms pelted the area. William Keaton was struck and killed by lightning, as was a soldier's wife in the 43rd and a soldier of the Queen's Rangers.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

John Pearce, 3rd and 22nd Regiments

John Pearce joined the 3rd Regiment of Foot (the Buffs) in October 1763. We know nothing of his age, nativity or background, and we have no details of the first 11 years of his military career. Whether he was a good, steady soldier during those years or a difficult discipline case remains unknown, but a surviving set of records for the 3rd Regiment that begins in 1774 gives a startling picture of him during a brief period in 1774 and 1775.

According to a summary list of regimental courts martial conducted in the 3rd Regiment in Ireland from August 1774 through December 1777, John Pearce was tried on 17 November 1774 “For being out of his Barracks till 10 O'Clock at night, & breeding a Riot in a beer house.” This unruly activity earned him a punishment of 100 lashes, which he received. Infractions like this, and the corresponding punishment, were not unusual, but it bears noting that only a small portion of the regiment ran afoul of military justice in this way; the majority of men in the 3rd Regiment do not appear in the court martial list at all, and among those who do appear are many repeat offenders.

It is difficult to imagine suffering 100 lashes, and such a punishment was intended to humble a soldier and make an impression on his comrades. Nonetheless, only four days later Pearce was tried again, this time “For making away with his necessaries.” This time he was awarded 300 lashes, and the record shows that once again he received all of them. How a man could survive such a punishment is difficult to image. Among the duties of the regimental surgeon was to help insure this survival by observing the punishment, seeing that the lashes were laid on in such a way as not to endanger vital organs and monitoring the victim's health throughout the punishment; the surgeon had the authority to stop the punishment if he believed the victim might die from its effects. Indeed, one regimental surgeon wrote an entire chapter concerning details to be observed while men were lashed, including specific examples from his own service.

Only four months later, in March 1775, Pearce was once more brought to trial, now “For selling a pr of Stockings, being out of his Barracks at 9 O'Clock & defrauding a Publican.” He was again sentenced to 300 lashes, and again received all of them. 700 lashes within a four month period. Recall that Pearce was not a new soldier; by March 1775 he was in his 11th year in the army and was certainly in his late twenties or thirties in age. Since the surviving trial records begin only in August 1774 we have no way of knowing whether he had a sudden turn to poor discipline or if he was routinely in trouble with his superiors, but it is difficult to imagine that he was punished at this rate year after year.

Events in America brought a turn of fortune for Pearce. A large reinforcement was being sent to quell the rapidly deteriorating situation there, and men were needed to fill out the ranks of those regiments. Men were taken from regiments that were to remain in Ireland and put into those going on service. The regiments that provided the men were ordered to give preference to volunteers, and order men only if enough suitable volunteers did not come forward. We don't know whether Pearce saw this as his opportunity to escape the officers who enforced discipline on him, or whether the officers were the ones who took the opportunity to get rid of Pearce. Perhaps it was a mutual agreement. Regardless, Pearce was drafted from the 3rd Regiment to the 22nd Regiment on 9 May 1775. This says something about Pearce's fortitude, because only men suitable for campaigning were allowed to be drafted and the receiving regiment had the right to refuse men deemed unsuitable. In spite of his recent 700 lashes, Pearce was accepted into his new regiment and within days was sailing with it to America.

John Pearce arrived with the 22nd Regiment in Boston in late June or early July (depending upon which ship he was on). He must have remained reasonably fit in spite of his punishments, because he was soon put into the light infantry company. A final testimony to his physical fitness, his boldness, and to his discontent with the army is that he made off from the encampment on Boston Common on the night of 18-19 August and swam to Roxbury where an American soldier made a diary entry recording the arrival of a British deserter. To date we have found no further information concerning his whereabouts. What his legacy tells us is that it was somehow possible for men to survive the seemingly outrageous punishments inflicted by the lash, and remain in a state of health that allowed them to accomplish rigorous physical activity.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Trades in the 22nd Regiment

Many installments in this blog have mentioned soldier's trades, the lines of work that men practiced before joining the army. The idea that men acquired skills in a profession before joining the army may be challenging from a modern perspective, but when taken in the context of the era it makes complete sense. During peace time the army strove to recruit men between the ages of 17 and 25 to become career soldiers; regimental recruiting officers could make their own decisions, but the information we have on individual soldiers bears out that these age guidelines were generally followed and most soldiers began their careers in their late teens or early twenties.

In an age when schooling was not guaranteed and even well educated men were likely to attend school only into their mid-teens, boys and men needed to do something gainful with their lives before they were old enough to even consider joining the army. This meant pursuing a specific trade either in a formal capacity as an apprentice or informally by simply working for someone in the trade, or by doing whatever work one could find.

The few soldiers who have left accounts of their pre-military employment make it clear that work could begin early in life. Thomas Watson started working in coal mines at the age of 7; although he occasionally found other work, mining remained his typical employment until he enlisted in the 23rd Regiment of Foot in 1772 at about 19 years of age. Thomas Cranfield, son of a baker, attended school until age 14 and then was apprenticed to a tailor; although he ran away from several employers, tailoring remained his primary profession until he enlisted in the 39th Regiment of Foot in 1777 at the age of 19 and went on to serve in Gibraltar.

From various sources, we have information on the trade of 322 soldiers in the 22nd Regiment of Foot who served in the American Revolution. Of these, over half the men had skilled trades, while the remainder were listed as "laborers", period parlance for men who had no specific skill. Laborers may have worked as farm hands, unskilled construction workers, dock workers, or in various other capacities where no specialized training was required. The identified trades, in order of predominance, are:
  • 143 Laborers
  • 41 Weavers
  • 22 Shoemakers
  • 16 Tailors
  • 9 Carpenters
  • 6 each: Wagon Driver, Wool comber
  • 5 Breeches makers
  • 4 each: Cutler, Cooper, Gardiner, Miner
  • 3 each: Baker, Blacksmith, Bricklayer, Cordwainer, Flax dresser, Mason, Ribbon Weaver
  • 2 each: Barber, Cabinet Maker, Linen Weaver, Nailor, Silversmith, Tanner
  • 1 each: Brazier, Butcher, Cloth Dresser, Currier, Farmer, File smith, Glass cutter, Glazier, Gunmaker, Harness Maker, Hatter, Hosier, Miller, Musician, Needle Maker, Painter, Sadler, Sawyer, Spectacle Maker, Stocking Maker, Stone Sawyer, Thatcher, Tobacconist, Victualler, Wheelwright, Wire drawer
This gives a total of 179 men with trades and 143 without, or about 56% with skilled trades.

It is difficult to say whether this sample of 322 men is representative of the 1005 men who served in the 22nd Regiment in America at some point during the American War. For example, the bulk of the data is from records associated with pensions, and it is possible that men with trades were more likely to get pensions that those without. Even if this data is does not accurately show the proportion of tradesmen in the army, it at least shows the variety of trades.

The preponderance of textile workers, particularly weavers, is a simple reflection of Britain's economy that was strongly based on the textile trade. The significant number of shoemakers, tailors and other clothiers, and artificers such as smiths, coopers, carpenters and leather workers, shows that the regiment had within its ranks the skills necessary to be self-sufficient when on campaign or in far-flung garrisons. It also makes clear that many soldiers had opportunities to work and earn money over and above the base pay they received from the army.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Criminals: Edward Allen, Edward Kitson, William Davis, 46th Regiment

Much is made of the notion that the ranks of British regiments were filled with convicts. This was discussed in some detail in a previous post that did not deal with men who served in America. The fact is that few criminals were in fact recruited, and only a few of that number were sent to serve in the American colonies.

But a few were. This opens the obvious question of how such men fared as soldiers. If we could trace a portion of the career of such a man, we'd have a better impression of their value to the military. Fortunately, we can trace three.

In the summer of 1776 recruiting was was occurring at a furious pace throughout Great Britain. Many regiments had been sent to America, and the size of all of those deployed to America had been increased. The sudden increase in demand taxed the recruiting mechanisms which led to the evaluation of all sources including fit men sentenced to prison for minor crimes. All evidence indicates that only a few dozen or perhaps a few hundred men were drawn from this source; the physical demands of the military limited the number of potential recruits to begin with, and prison conditions rapidly destroyed the health of convicts leaving very few to for the army to choose from.

A recruiting officer from the 46th Regiment of Foot nonetheless located and enlisted "six very fine Lads now confined in Shrewsbury Goal for petty Offences" and wrote to the Secretary at War for and order to have them discharged from jail. Only three of them served with the regiment in America. We can only speculate on what happened to the other three. The recruiting officer's request to allow them to enlist may have been denied for reasons unknown; they could have failed the physical examination required for all recruits; they may have failed attestation before a magistrate either due to their own change of heart or the magistrate's insights; they may have been drafted from the 46th's recruiting parties into some other regiment, a practice that became more common later on in the war but which is not known to have been common in 1776 and early 1777; they may have deserted; they may have had disciplinary issues that caused them to be transferred to corps bound for undesirable locations, the military equivalent of transporting criminals; they may have been discharged due to health issues, which occurred sometimes in Great Britain and sometimes in America after a rigorous sea voyage; they could have died before joining the regiment in America. Regardless of the reason, they provide further proof that although criminals were offered the opportunity to enlist they did not always end up on service in America.

The three who did serve joined the 46th Regiment in the first half of 1777. One of them, Edward Allen, served normally for the next year and a half, at which time the 46th was sent to the West Indies. There is a one-year gap in the muster rolls, after which Allen no longer appears; we know nothing of what happened to him, but he was probably discharged under normal circumstances.

The other two, Edward Kitson (or Kidson) and William Davis, are more interesting. Kitson was appointed corporal in January 1778, a bit less than a year after he arrived in America. He served in this capacity in the West Indies, and then became a serjeant in August 1782. When the regiment returned to England that year, he went on furlough. We don't have access to the subsequent muster rolls, but it is obvious from this career that Kitson was a capable and trusted soldier. William Davis, the third petty criminal to join the 46th, was appointed corporal in November 1782 and was still serving at the end of that year.

Although we haven't found any indication that any of these men received pensions, it is clear enough that they were capable soldiers and that two of them, at least, had long and distinguished careers. The government and the military benefited well by choosing to give them an opportunity instead of simply leaving them in prison.