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.