Sunday, January 27, 2013

Thomas and Mrs. Crouch, 16th Light Dragoons

Thomas Crouch was dead. His wife was angry. His serjeant stood accused.

It was an apt accusation. After Serjeant William Nunny had dropped a pair of saddle bags on Crouch's head, Crouch never spoke another word and was soon pronounced dead. But there was more to the story, enough that Serjeant Nunny asked for a court martial to clear his name.

Thomas Crouch had joined the 16th Light Dragoons in January 1776 as that corps was gearing up for service in America. The 16th, like the 17th Light Dragoons already in Boston, had been authorized a substantial increase in size including a dismounted contingent; it appears, however, that Crouch became a true cavalry trooper, serving with the mounted dragoons. The regiment arrived in New York late in 1776 and served in the campaign in New Jersey that extended into the following year. The second half of 1777 saw them on the campaign to Philadelphia; with the rest of the army that took that city, they settled in the area for the winter. We don't know whether Crouch was already married when he enlisted, but he certainly was by the time the regiment went into winter quarters.

In the evening of 4 December the 16th Light Dragoons received orders to be in readiness at their Philadelphia barracks for an impending expedition into the country. A while later, Mrs. Crouch and some soldiers brought her "excessively drunk" husband into the barracks. He was too drunk to stand, so they laid him on a blanket in a dark corner of the room. She asked Corporal Richard Evans to look after him and persuade him to remain in the barracks. She left, and the Corporal Evans, attempting to rouse Crouch, noticed "an uncommon noise in his throat." This did not alarm Evans enough to take any action, however, and he soon fell asleep.

At about 9PM Serjeant Nunny came into the barracks with orders for the dragoons to repair to the stables and prepare to march. The serjeant left; the barracks sprang to life, but Thomas Crouch did not. A man attempted to rouse him, but gave up and attended to his own preparations. Soon the serjeant returned carrying his carbine and a pair of saddle bags. Taking stock of the men, he learned that all of the men had saddled their horses except for Crouch. Asking where Crouch was, he was directed by Corporal Evans to the corner. Believing Crouch to be in a drunken stupor, the serjeant kicked him a few times on the back side. When he got no response he tried using the butt of his carbine. Still nothing, so he lifted his saddle bags as high as his own head, then dropped them onto Crouch's head. This, too, failed to stir the listless dragoon. Nunny knelt and tried to sit Crouch up, saw that he was wearing a neck stock, and removed that constricting garment. He tried to stand Crouch up, but it proved impossible. Out of ideas, Serjeant Nunny decided to turn out the rest of his troop and deal with Crouch later. On his way to the stable he stopped by Mrs. Crouch's lodgings and informed her of the situation.

Private Henry Lord remained behind to look after some of the horses. He noticed blood on Crouch's blanket and discerned that he was bleeding from the mouth or nostrils. He left the barracks to saddle his horse at the stables, and on his way back he, too, called on Mrs. Crouch. She and some other women went promptly to the barracks; seeing her husband's alarming condition, she asked Henry Lord to summon the regimental surgeon. The surgeon deferred Lord to the surgeon's mate, and the surgeon's mate informed Lord that he was ill and could not attend to Crouch until morning. When Mrs. Crouch received that news, she implored Lord to keep an eye on her husband while she repair to an out-room, and inform her immediately of any changes to his condition.

While private Lord kept watch on Crouch, the regiment's quarter-master came in. About eight hours had passed since the serjeant had tried to rouse Crouch; the quarter-master suggested they move the ailing trooper closer to the fire - it was, after all, December - but as they prepared to do so they realized that his countenance had changed for the worse. They called for Mrs. Crouch, but by the time she came in her husband Thomas was dead.

The next day Mrs. Crouch, with the assistance of a corporal from the regiment, prepared the body for burial. They stripped the clothes off, and did not see any evidence of wounds or bruises other than a sore on one cheek. Mrs. Crouch did not ask for a surgeon to examine the body. They placed the deceased Thomas Crouch in a coffin for burial.

When the 16th Light Dragoons returned from their march, Serjeant Nunny got word that Mrs. Crouch considered him an accessory to her husband's death. He asked his Captain to investigate the matter, and heard no more of it for a while. Philadelphia was evacuated the following spring, and the 16th Light Dragoons marched across New Jersey with the rest of the British army to take quarters around New York. And Mrs. Crouch continued her accusations.

In September 1778 Serjeant Nunny again called for a trial to clear his name. The case was heard by a general court martial in November. Several dragoons testified, and while all agreed that the kicks and the carbine probably caused no injury, there was concern about the saddle bags. It was clear, however, that Crouch had been extremely drunk, and it was possible that the constriction of his neck stock had been the cause of his demise. The officers on the court inquired as to whether Serjeant Nunny was known for being ill tempered or treating the men harshly; on the contrary, character witnesses proclaimed him to be "the mildest non-commissioned officer" to drill the men, "of a passive disposition" with a character that was "universally good."

Serjeant William Nunny was acquitted of any responsibility for the death of private Thomas Crouch. Unaccoutably, Mrs. Crouch, whose first name is not given in the trial records, did not testify. Her fate is unknown.

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

James Hamilton, child in the 82nd Regiment of Foot

James Hamilton was a forward-thinking young man. He had come to America as a child, son of a serjeant in the 82nd Regiment of Foot. When his father, "a well-behaved soldier," was reported killed, his mother remarried. At the close of hostilities, young James went with his mother and step-father to Nova Scotia along with hundreds of other discharged soldiers and displaced loyalists.

We don't know his age, but by April 1788 James Hamilton was old enough, and well-enough educated, to write a well-worded memorial to the governor of Nova Scotia explaining that, although he was under the "tuition" of his mother's new husband, that man had a large family dependent upon him; it is not clear whether these dependents were James's sisters, children that his step-father had brought to the marriage, or a combination thereof. Regardless, James saw that he'd need to plan for his future and could not expect to be supported by his family indefinitely.

He petitioned the governor for 100 acres of land, the amount given to private soldiers with no wives or families. James Hamilton reasoned that, as his father's only surviving son, he might be granted this amount of land; his father, had he survived, would have received substantially more than that based on the size of his family. James had even identified a likely tract of land, a plot among lands allocated for soldiers discharged from the 82nd Regiment that remained unoccupied.

In January 1789 James Hamilton was granted the land. His name is a quite common one, to the extent that we've been unable, with a cursory search, to determine whether he settled and thrived on his tract. There is, however, an interesting twist to the story.

The muster rolls of the 82nd Regiment, although incomplete, reveal that Serjeant James Hamilton was not, in fact, killed. He was taken prisoner, and spent much of the war in captivity. At the close of hostilities he was repatriated; he returned to Great Britain with his regiment and was discharged when that temporary corps was disbanded in June 1784. We know nothing of whether he learned of his wife's remarriage, whether their paths crossed in New York in 1783 when freed prisoners were pouring in and displaced refugees pouring out. It is certainly not the only case of a woman remarrying when she believed her soldier-husband was dead, victims of the limits of communication in their age. The younger James Hamilton's good sense and initiative, on the other hand, is a timeless example of a positive response to adversity.

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Thomas Plumb, 22nd Regiment of Foot

Regular readers of this site know that many British soldiers were married to wives who were with them in America. Among them was Thomas Plumb, but he was not one of the 20% to 30% whose wives accompanied them overseas or who married in America and whose wives and children were provisioned by the army. Instead, Plumb's wife and children remained behind in his native Cornwall.

Unfortunately we know little about Plumb beyond his military career. He joined the 22nd Regiment of Foot two days before the end of 1765, when the regiment was rebuilding after long service in America. If he was a typical recruit he was in his early twenties, joining the army after having tried his hand at one or a few other lines of work. Possibly he was older, and had already served in the army before being discharged when the war of the late 1750s and early 1760s ended. Plumb was a private soldier during the regiment's service in England, then Scotland, then Ireland, then on its return to American in 1775.

When Plumb married is not known, nor whether his wife followed him on service in Great Britain. He certainly was by the time the regiment was ready to embark for overseas service. Perhaps she did not stay with the army because they had a child on the way, or perhaps their child had already been born by that time. The sole indication we have of his marriage is a letter that he wrote home:

Newport Rhode Island 22d Feb, 1777

Brother this comes with my kind love to you and hope these lines will find you my wife and child & all enquireing friends in as good health as they do leave me at this present time.  I thank God for it.  I am Resolved to Relate our present state and situation in this country at the present time Our duty is very hard Upon the Accounts as we receive from the Rebels daily such as we are not in sight of as we are day & night within musket shot of each other & they are as numerous as Motes in the S[page torn] But we still keeps them in constant employ but the cowardly rascals will not stand their ground But watching all Oppertunitys by lying in Ambush behind some trees which is the cause of us looseing so many men but thank God where we loose 10 they loose 100.  But as we routed them from so many places so that they are in the greatest consternation, possibly they may give us a field by day for it early this spring I do not doubt but they will as they are almost surrounded by our troops and they must fight or die.  But had they the heart as we Britoners have we should stand no chance with them.

No more but my kind respects to my loveing Wife & Child Uncle Wood, Molly & little William and all Enquireing friends
Thomas Plumb Soldier 22d Regiment
Captn McDonalds Company
To
Mr Alexander Johns at Windsor
Near Hailstone
Cornwall

It is extraordinary that this letter survives, one of only a handful written by private soldiers known to exist. It is one of a bundle of letters from Rhode Island, written at roughly the same time, that was waylayed - perhaps captured, but the circumstances are not known - and much later deposited in the British National Archives where it remains to this day.

Plumb's letter to his brother (who, apparently, had a different last name; maybe it was his brother-in-law)  is brief, typical of those in the bundle of letters from Rhode Island written mostly by naval personnel. It's brevity suggests that Plumb was responding to one of the occasional calls for letters to be delivered to a ship that was about to sail for Great Britain. The short letter speaks to the hard duty born by British soldiers in Rhode Island. Although no major battles occurred there in 1777, skirmishes on land and sea happened almost daily - and nightly. Constant vigilance was required on this dangerous front line. Plumb also indicates his experiences in the rapid campaign that seized Long Island and then New York city in August and September of 1776, where numerous clashes occurred.

Thomas Plumb's touching closing paragraph shows us a man concerned for his family and relations while he toiled for his government in a far-away land. We can only hope that he wrote often, that this miscarried letter was not the only attempt that he made to insure them of his welfare, that they received frequent communications from their distant husband, father and relation. We hope that they at least had a memento of Thomas Plumb, for he was killed in battle on 29 August 1778, at the close of an abortive attempt by the American army and French navy to unseat the British garrison from Rhode Island.