British Soldiers in Rhode Island, December 1776 – October 1779

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Don N. Hagist

A sentry watches a soldier in work clothing carry a large kettle into an encampment, while a seated soldier is helped up by a woman, possibly his wife. Although painted in 1790, the clothing and equipment in this scene are typical of what was used by British soldiers in Rhode Island.

One day in September 1778 John Hopwood was hard at work. The thirty-five-year-old native of Hutton, a village in the eastern part of Yorkshire a few miles from the coast, was a butcher, but at the age of twenty-eight had chosen a different career – he enlisted in the British army, in the 54th Regiment of Foot. Army service took him to Ireland, then to America, where by 1778 he was part of the British garrison in Rhode Island, the period name for the island in Narragansett Bay now called Aquidneck, and often referred to simply as Newport, the island’s largest town. Here Hopwood performed the routine duties of a British soldier at a front-line post and continued to work at his prewar profession. In a world with no refrigeration, fresh meat was obtained by slaughtering cattle, and although the army did not always enjoy such a luxury, relying often on salted, preserved meat, there was cattle on the hoof in Rhode Island in September 1778. John Hopwood was among those soldiers with the skill to transform it into fresh provisions for his fellow soldiers.

It was at this work that Hopwood received his war wound. He “lost the use of the two first fingers of his right hand” in an accident while slaughtering cattle. He was, nonetheless, a career soldier, as were most of his British comrades in Rhode Island. He remained in the army for almost fourteen more years, finally ending his career in June 1792 and obtaining an army pension for the rest of his life.[1]

Very different was the service of Valentin Heimel, a Bavarian Catholic who enlisted into the British army in the German state of Hanover in early 1776. Twenty-two years old, he sailed with other Hanover recruits from Germany to England where he was allotted to the 22nd Regiment of Foot, a corps already in America, which he finally joined in New York in late October 1776. Three months later he was in Rhode Island and ill with an unknown malady. He died on January 16, 1777, after less than a year in the army.[2]

Then there was Thomas McMahon, also a butcher, born in 1734 in County Clare, Ireland. He had joined the 43rd Regiment of Foot at the age of twenty-three and was now in Rhode Island with his wife Isabella. They had run afoul of martial law in Boston in December 1775, convicted of receiving stolen goods, but he remained with the army. When he was discharged in October 1779 after a twenty-two-year career he did not return to civilian life, but instead joined the Royal Garrison Battalion in New York, a corps of men no longer able to bear the rigors of campaigning but fit enough for garrison duty. He continued in this capacity for four more years before obtaining an army pension.[3]

The stories of Hopwood, Heimel, and McMahon show the diversity of men and careers in the British army during the American Revolution. Far from a homogeneous mass of men with similar backgrounds, ages, and experiences, it was a mix of men with characteristics as varied as the regions of the British Isles and the British empire. The British soldiers who served in Rhode Island were representative of their army not because of what they had in common, but because of how different they were from each other.

On December 8, 1776, a force of about 8,000 soldiers landed on Aquidneck Island, which at the time was called Rhode Island. They landed unopposed, most of them on the northern end of the island and a portion in the town of Newport at the southern end. By mid-January the island was secure enough that about half of the troops departed to serve in other locations. Remaining behind were three British regiments, four German regiments – popularly called Hessians – a contingent of British artillerymen, and a dozen British cavalrymen, who would call Rhode Island home for the next three years. Supporting them was a substantial naval squadron consisting of several frigates and various other Royal Navy ships that came and went.

The Relief by H. W. Bunbury, circa 1781, from the Anne S. K. brown Military Collection. A noncommissioned officer inspects three soldiers in front of an officer's tent while local citizens look on; in the foreground, a young drummer plays with a dog. This image of an encampment in England may be typical of scenes that occurred in Rhode Island during the British occupation.
A noncommissioned officer inspects three soldiers in front of an officer's tent while local citizens look on; in the foreground, a young drummer plays with a dog. This image of an encampment in England may be typical of scenes that occurred in Rhode Island during the British occupation.

The British regiments, the famous “redcoats”, each were composed of about 25 officers and 400 soldiers. All three were infantry regiments, called foot regiments to distinguish them from cavalry and artillery. The 43rd Regiment of Foot had been in America since the summer of 1774, spending almost two years in Boston; soldiers of the 43rd participated in the opening clashes of the war in Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts on April 19, 1775, and the momentous Battle of Bunker Hill two months later. The 22nd Regiment of Foot arrived in Boston soon after Bunker Hill. The British Army evacuated Boston in March of 1775, sailed to Halifax, Nova Scotia to regroup for two months, then landed on Staten Island to prepare for a campaign that would quickly secure the City of New York and surrounding areas.

The 54th Regiment of Foot came to America early in 1776, part of an expedition that attempted to open a theater of war in the Carolinas. When that operation failed, those troops joined the forces on Staten Island in the summer of 1776. The 22nd, 43rd and 54th fought in the Battle of Long Island in late August, then were among the troops that took the City of New York in September. Soon after, they were allocated for the expedition to Rhode Island.

In June 1778 another British foot regiment, the 38th, joined the Rhode Island garrison. The 38th had arrived in Boston in 1774 with the 43rd and participated in the same operations until late 1776. The 38th continued to serve in the New York area and on the campaign to Philadelphia in 1777, before being sent to reinforce the Rhode Island garrison.

The soldiers in these British regiments fell into two categories: those who had joined the army before the war began and those who enlisted after hostilities broke out. All were volunteers; at this time, there was no mandatory military service in Great Britain, no conscription, no impressment into the army. The British regiments in Rhode Island included men in their late forties and early fifties who had served their entire lives in the army, men in their early twenties who had enlisted only recently, and a range in between.

Only a few dozen British soldiers who served in this era left writings describing their reasons for joining the army; none served in Rhode Island, but their reasons are the best representation that survives. Reasons for enlistment were as varied as the individuals themselves. Several men described a longing for adventure, a desire to travel far from their hometowns to satiate a “roving disposition.”[4] Some responded to the enticing language of recruiting officers who sought noble volunteers to defend king and country from “unnatural rebellion,” with the promise of steady pay, food, and clothing. Some were tempted by enlistment bounties of two or three months’ pay. Some turned to the army to escape domestic distress – intolerable parents, unrequited romances, unhappy marriages. With so few explicitly stated reasons, we can be sure there were others, as varied as the men themselves.[5]

When the 22nd, 43rd and 54th Regiments arrived in Rhode Island, the majority of their soldiers – about four-fifths – had joined the army before the war began.[6] There was no fixed term of service for these peacetime enlistees – they joined with the expectation of serving until they were no longer “fit for service”, that is, healthy enough to endure the demanding life of a soldier, marching twenty miles or more in a day and sleeping in a tent on the hard ground for half the year. Careers of twenty to thirty years were quite common.

After war broke out in the American colonies and the British government committed to using military force to quell the rebellion, the British War Office enacted new enlistment terms to attract recruits. Men who enlisted after December 16, 1775, could serve only until the end of the war or a minimum of three years.[7] About one-fifth of the British soldiers in the Rhode Island garrison had enlisted under these terms. These recent recruits had been offered an additional incentive, besides the enlistment bounty – when they were discharged from the army, if they wished to remain in North America, they could receive a land grant of 100 acres. For British agricultural workers this was an amazing prospect – there was almost no possibility of owning land in the British Isles, so the prospect of a substantial farmstead, even in a far-away land, was a great reward for a few years in the army.

Later, when France became involved in the war, the British war office introduced press acts that allowed idle men to be conscripted into the army. These laws were in effect from the end of May 1778 through May 1780, when they were repealed because they were wildly unpopular with both the civilian population and with the army itself. Only a few hundred pressed men were sent to America (others serving in Great Britain or far-flung theaters of what had become a global war); the first pressed men arrived in American in October 1779, too late to be sent to Rhode Island.[8] British law also provided for men convicted of misdemeanors the option of joining the army instead of serving jail time. This was a voluntary choice on the part of the man convicted and the army had the right to refuse anyone unsuitable for service. During the era of the American Revolution, only a few hundred convicts are known to have entered the army. It is possible that a few of these were in regiments in Rhode Island, but no more than a dozen or so if any at all, given the low overall numbers in the army.[9]

Each regiment did its own recruiting, sending recruiting parties to anywhere in Britain and Ireland where men might enlist. Most regiments, including those in Rhode Island, included men from all over England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, with no area favored (years later, British regiments were given “county titles” and encouraged to recruit from specific areas). Proportions varied in each of the four regiments in Rhode Island but roughly half of the men were from England (including a few from Wales, which was not denoted as a separate region in military documents), about a quarter from Scotland, and a quarter from Ireland. Also in the ranks were a smattering of “foreigners” from continental Europe and from North America. Most of those foreigners were from Europe, recruited in late 1775 and early 1776. Although recruited in the British state of Hanover, these men hailed from all over Europe, mostly from German states including some from France, Sweden, Holland, Austria, Hungary, and other countries. These men recruited in Hanover, called “German Recruits” on British documents, composed about 100 of the roughly 2,000 British soldiers that served in Rhode Island.[10]

During times of peace, recruiting officers looked for men between the ages of seventeen and twenty-five years old, but might accept younger men who looked like they were sufficiently grown and fit or older men who were still in good health. Within this age rage, the vast majority enlisted in their early twenties, with only a small proportion joining the army in their teens or after their mid-twenties. An exception were drummers and fifers, of which each regiment in Rhode Island had between ten and twenty; often children of soldiers, many of them enlisted as soon as they were old enough to carry a drum, usually from twelve to fourteen years old. Some stayed with their instrument well into adulthood while others set aside the drum for a musket in their late teens.

"Most who avoided death or injury stayed in the infantry well into their forties or early fifties."

Most who avoided death or injury stayed in the infantry well into their forties or early fifties. With this in mind, the four regiments in Rhode Island were composed mostly – about 60 percent – of men between the ages of twenty-five and forty, with between five and fifteen years of military service. About twenty percent were below the age of twenty-five with fewer than five years in the army, and the remaining twenty percent were older than forty with more than fifteen years of service.

Some of these soldiers were veterans of previous wars. John Hardman was the son of a soldier and was appointed as a drummer in the 22nd Regiment in 1755 when he was just twelve years old. He was wounded in the head during the Siege of Louisbourg, Nova Scotia in 1758. By the time his regiment arrived in Rhode Island, he was a sergeant, and he remained in the army until 1806 when he was sixty-three years old.[11] In the 38th Regiment, Scotland native Peter Murray had joined as a drummer at the age of sixteen in 1750 and remained in that role for his entire career, leaving the army in 1784 at the age of fifty.[12] The 43rd’s Thomas Wilson, from the Irish village of Gillinstown in County Meath, was born in 1725 and joined the army at the age of twenty-four, remaining a private soldier for all of his twenty-nine years in the army.[13]

Wilson had been a stocking maker before joining the army; teenaged Murray had spent time working as a baker. Children who attended school at all usually did so only until about the age of twelve before entering the workforce; those with no schooling began working at younger ages. Very few autobiographies exist describing the lives of men before they joined the British Army of the 1770s; none are by men who served in Rhode Island. From the others we learn that the army was attractive compared to other professions. Thomas Watson, from a village in Chester, England, began working in coal mines at the age of seven, a factor in his decision to join the army at the unusually young age of fifteen.[14] Thomas Cranfield, on the other hand, went to school until he was fourteen and then took an apprenticeship with a tailor; finding that man abusive, he absconded and worked with other tailors until he was nineteen, when he opted to enlist.[15]

Of the soldiers who served in Rhode Island for whom data is available, trades are associated with just over half. The remainder, about forty-five percent, were called “laborers,” indicating that they had not pursued a specific trade before joining the army. While most laborers in the army had probably been farm workers in Britain’s largely agrarian economy, a few were well-educated men who entered the ranks with the hope of advancement, the term “laborer” indicating not that they lacked good upbringing but that they had not apprenticed or worked at a recognized trade.[16]

Among the roughly 55 percent with trade backgrounds, the majority worked in some facet of the nation’s booming textile industry. A sample of 181 men in the 22nd Regiment reveals 41 weavers, 6 wool combers, 3 ribbon weavers, 3 flax dressers, 2 linen weavers, and 1 each of cloth dresser, hosier, and stocking maker. There were 16 tailors, 5 more specialized breeches makers and a hatter. Added to this were 22 shoemakers and 3 more specialized cordwainers. Other trades included 9 carpenters, 4 cutlers, 4 gardeners, 4 coopers, 4 miners, 3 bakers, 3 blacksmiths, 3 masons, 3 brick layers, 2 silversmiths, 2 tanners, 2 barbers, 2 nail makers, 2 cabinet makers, 2 saddlers, and one each of brazier, butcher, currier, farmer, file smith, glass cutter, glazier, gunmaker, harness maker, miller, musician, needle maker, painter, sawyer, spectacle maker, stone sawyer, surgeon, thatcher, tobacconist, victualer, wheelwright, and wire drawer. There is no way to know how long each man had worked in their trade before joining the army or how adept they were at it. Recalling that most men enlisted in their early twenties, with enlistment in the mid- to late-teens being uncommon, most British soldiers had spent several years at some type of employment before choosing the military as a career.

The base pay for a private soldier was eight pence per day, only about two-thirds of the typical labor rate for unskilled work. At face value this sounds like the army was an unattractive profession, the more so because a soldier paid for his own food and clothing out of this wage.[17] But workers in all fields paid for their own food and clothing out of their wages, and soldiers, unlike other workers, did not pay for lodging. In addition, soldiering was secure – there was no danger of being unemployed due to seasonal or economic changes. Moreover, soldiers had opportunities to earn money over and above their base pay.

Charles Handfield, 22nd Regiment of Foot", from a private collection. Born in Nova Scotia, Charles Handfield was a lieutenant in one of the British regiments that served in Rhode Island; he eventually rose to the rank of colonel and served in a variety of posts during his long army career
Born in Nova Scotia, Charles Handfield was a lieutenant in one of the British regiments that served in Rhode Island; he eventually rose to the rank of colonel and served in a variety of posts during his long army career.

Many of the trades that soldiers brought to the army were useful for the military. Each regiment employed a dozen or more soldiers as tailors to fit and maintain regimental uniforms and make additional clothing required for campaigns – overalls, winter leggings, greatcoats, off-duty caps, and other garments. Enlisted shoemakers maintained the footwear so essential for infantry regiments. Bakers and butchers crafted fresh foodstuffs. Smiths, saddlers, and gunmakers kept arms and accoutrements in serviceable condition. Sawyers, carpenters, thatchers, glaziers, and other tradesmen outfitted buildings as barracks or built huts for cantonments. All these tradesmen were paid wages to ply their trades for the army, in addition to their base pay as private soldiers.

Men with no skills, or trades not required by the army, labored to build and maintain roads and fortifications, cut firewood, and perform any other works that the service demanded. This work, too, earned wages over and above the soldier’s base pay. The surviving British fortifications in Rhode Island were built largely by soldiers earning extra money. Even the work of dismantling American siege works after the abortive August 1778 attack on the island brought extra pay to British soldiers. Frequently during the occupation of Rhode Island, parties of soldiers sailed to Shelter Island at the eastern end of Long Island to cut firewood, for which they were paid by the cord, and to collect hay and forage on Conanicut (now Jamestown) Island, work which meant money.[18]

Non-commissioned officers earned money in military roles added to their normal duties – clerks, jailers, storekeepers, schoolmasters, and other posts of responsibility. Jacob Margas left behind his family business as an optician to join the 54th Regiment at the age of twenty-four in 1767; by 1778 he was a sergeant, and took on the duty of provost marshal – responsible for detaining prisoners – in Newport.[19] Sergeant James McGregor of the 22nd Regiment, born in 1741, had his wife and two children with him in Newport and oversaw the army’s hospital garden, a vital source of fresh vegetables for sick soldiers.[20]

Over the course of a career, private soldiers and non-commissioned officer were afforded many opportunities to earn more than just their base wages. Those who did not work for the army were allowed to work for outside employers in their free time, or practice their trades privately, if it did not interfere with their military duties. In short, although the base pay for a private soldier was about one pound sterling per month before deductions for food, clothing, and other incidentals, actual earnings were often considerably more than that. Insufficient records survive to determine the net earnings of individual soldiers over the course of their careers but surviving pay records for periods of a few years show many soldiers with balances of several pounds, that is, several months’ worth of pay at the base rate of eight pence per day. The army was not a path to prosperity, but it was secure work that, in the long run, paid reasonably well.[21]

Keeping volunteer, career soldiers in regiments that regularly spent several years overseas meant providing for wives and families of married soldiers. With each British regiment in Rhode Island were between sixty and ninety wives and a similar number of children, living either with their husbands in barracks and abandoned buildings in winter and in encampments in summer, or in rented accommodations that they had procured for themselves. To supplement their husbands’ modest incomes, most army wives worked either for the army or privately. Each regiment employed twenty or so washer women. Regimental and army hospitals employed a few women from each regiment as nurses. Women could obtain licenses to work as sutlers, selling alcohol, foodstuffs and odds and ends to soldiers; other women ran similar businesses outside the auspices of the army.[22]

Except for expeditions to Bristol, Warren, and Fall River in May 1778, and the three-week siege of Newport that culminated in the Battle of Rhode Island that August, the British occupation of Rhode Island is often seen as quiet and uneventful. For the soldiers in the garrison, it was anything but. Rhode Island was a front line, surrounded by enemy troops bent on containing and disrupting British activities. From the earliest days of the occupation, American forces harassed the garrison by land and sea. Shore batteries fired at extreme range at British positions. Raiding parties landed on Rhode Island or Conanicut at night to loot houses, gather intelligence, attempt to capture individual sentries, or drive off livestock. Sometimes these incursions resulted in skirmishes and casualties; always they heightened tension.[23] During the three-year occupation supplies of firewood ran perilously low, resulting in the destruction of fences, abandoned buildings, disused wharves, orchards and any other source of burnable fuel. Winter brought severe weather that tested the will of soldiers protecting outposts under constant threat from the mainland.

Through all of this, soldiers lived their individual lives. Thomas Page, born in the town of Silverton in Devonshire in 1744, had been in the 22nd Regiment since the age of twenty and was with Elizabeth, his wife of three years, when he arrived in Rhode Island.[24] Their first child, Thomas, was born in the garrison in 1777. Another married soldier in the 22nd, Thomas Scott, died from exposure on December 24, 1778, walking from Newport toward Fogland Ferry.[25 ]Thirty-year-old Corporal William Sherwin, a stocking weaver from Humberston in Derbyshire, was examining a derelict gun on September 1, 1777, when it went off accidentally, killing his friend and comrade in the 43rd Regiment, Corporal Alexander Sinclair. He was so distressed that he was put on suicide watch but was cleared by a court martial of any wrongdoing.[26]

Richard Hallum, in the army for just five years, was on his way to the shore near Bristol Ferry on July 22, 1779, when fellow 22nd Regiment soldier Bartholomew Gilmore caught up with him and asked to accompany him. Hallum refused, saying he had no extra fishing tackle. Gilmore then asked if Hallum wanted to drink, which Hallum also refused. They stopped and sat for time, when Gilmore took one of Hallum’s shoe buckles and admired it, noting that it was a handsome pattern, then asked in veiled terms whether Hallum might intend to desert. When Hallum said no, Gilmore picked up a stone and hit Hallum in the face three times, and once in the chest, took Hallum’s watch from his pocket, and ran off. Hallum gave chase and caught up after a hundred yards or so when Gilmore fell. Gilmore tried to get up and pick up another stone, but Hallum knocked him down, put the stone on his chest, and took the watch back.

Two German soldiers were passing by; Gilmore told them that Hallum was the thief and the Germans detained him. Gilmore took the opportunity to flee again but was soon followed by Hallum who managed to convince the German soldiers of the true situation. When an officer and three soldiers joined the pursuit, Gilmore ran into a pond and called for the soldiers to go ahead and kill him and made other statements that made it clear that he was drunk. He was arrested and put on trial, where he testified that Hallum had offered the watch as payment for rum and that he was too stupefied by liquor to recall all his actions. He was found guilty; he had been tried and convicted of desertion a year before, so this time he was sentenced to death, but he was instead discharged from the army in September 1780 after more than a year in prison.[27]

While the British occupation continued, British soldiers from other theaters of war trickled into Rhode Island. By May 1778 about two dozen escapees from American prison barracks outside of Boston, men from the army that had marched south from Canada under General John Burgoyne and been captured the previous autumn, joined regiments in the garrison. So it was that these veterans of fighting at Fort Ticonderoga and Saratoga ended up fighting again during the siege of Newport in August 1778.[28] In April 1779 two deserters from the 1st Rhode Island Regiment in the Continental Army – Alexander Howden and John Pillar – joined the 38th Regiment of Foot and served in it for the remainder of the war.[29]

Some deserters fared poorly. Alexander Temple, who had joined the 22nd Regiment in April of 1773 and was the last man to flee from Rhode Island in October 1779, attempted to get across the narrow stretch of water between Howland’s Ferry and Tiverton early in the morning of October 15th. British soldiers pursued him, while at the same time a party of American troops crossed the water in boats to meet him. The British pursuers fired and…

"and hit Temple with a musket ball through the arm. They then caught up to him and stabbed him three times with bayonets but were driven off by the Americans"

He was taken to Tiverton and gave a brief intelligence report, but his wounds were described as mortal; it is not known whether he survived his ordeal.[30] Alexander Jack, on the other hand, fared much better. He also enlisted in April of 1773 and deserted on October 10, 1779. No circumstances of his desertion have been found, but he appears on the 1782 Rhode Island census as a resident of Newport with a woman (presumably his wife), a female between the ages of sixteen and twenty-two, and one male child under the age of sixteen living with him. He died in Newport in 1821 at the age of seventy-eight, “an honest and worthy citizen.”[31]

Reasons for desertion were certainly as individual as reasons for enlistment; desertion cannot be ascribed simply to sympathy with the American cause. Briton Francis Overton and Irishman Daniel Sullivan, for example, both of whom enlisted in the 22nd Regiment around the time the war began, deserted together on September 3, 1777. Within days they both enlisted into the 5th Massachusetts Regiment in the Continental Army but they did not become devoted American soldiers. Overton, a “well sett” man with curly black hair and light blue eyes, deserted again in October, and Sullivan, “a sprightly well limbed man” with blue eyes and brown hair, in December. In January 1778 the pair showed up in Norwich, Connecticut where, under assumed names, they stayed the night at a resident’s house then absconded in the morning after stealing some clothing and failing to pay their bill.[32] The subsequent movements of these two opportunists have not been determined.

In New York in September 1783, the 22nd Regiment discharged 161 men including 76 who had served in Rhode Island. Of these, 73 took land grants and 21 went on to fates unknown. Remarkably, 67 of these discharged men, who no longer had any obligation to military service, immediately re-enlisted in regiments bound for Nova Scotia – 47 of them into the 54th Regiment. We have no records of why these soldiers rejoined the army. Perhaps some of these men from the 22nd had developed friendships with men of the 54th while they served together in Rhode Island. More likely, they had grown accustomed to military service and were tempted by another enlistment bounty. Regardless of the reason, this shows that most discharged men found army service more attractive than seeking employment on their own in a new country. Some of the Rhode Island veterans were discharged soon after arriving in England in early 1784 and received pensions later that year. Others continued in the army for years or decades. Ultimately, of those who did not die in the service or desert from it, over half are known to have obtained either a land grant or a pension as a reward for their service. Some remained in the army into the early 1800s, their three years in Rhode Island but a brief period in careers that lasted decades.

Anecdotes and experiences of soldiers in the Rhode Island garrison are many – too many to recount all of them here. Especially touching is the tale of Thomas Plumb, a private soldier in the 22nd Regiment since 1765. He had left his wife and child in his native Cornwall and wrote a letter to his brother there in February 1777. Of service in Rhode Island, he wrote, “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.” He closed the brief letter, “my kind respects to my loveing Wife & Child Uncle Wood, Molly & little William and all Enquireing friends.” The letter was never delivered, having been captured at sea, and it is not known whether his family heard from him again – he was killed at the Battle of Rhode Island on August 29, 1778.[33]


1 Muster rolls, 54th Regiment of Foot, WO 12/6399; discharge of John Hopwood, WO 121/14/459. All WO references in this article refer to the War Office Papers, The National Archives, Kew, UK. 

2 Muster rolls, 22nd Regiment of Foot, WO 12/3871; Liste Des Recrués Anglois embarqués á Stade pour Spithead en Irlande ce 14me de Mai 1776, WO 43/405, pp. 369-375. 

3 Trial of Thomas and Isabella McMahon, WO 71/82 p207 – 210; muster rolls, 43rd Regiment of Foot, WO 12/5561; “Examinations of Invalid Soldiers,” June 24, 1784, Pension Admission Book, WO 116/8. 4

 A 1775 recruiting advertisement sought “any able-bodied young man … who is fired with ambition, has a roving disposition, and whose spirit soars above the dull sameness of staying at home.” British Chronicle or Pugh’s Hereford Journal, August 31, 1775. 

5 For details on reasons for enlistment, see Don N. Hagist, Noble Volunteers: the British Soldiers who fought the American Revolution (Yardley, PA: Westholme, 2020). 

6 Muster rolls, 22nd, 38th, 43rd and 54th Regiments, WO 12/3872, WO 12/5171, WO 12/5561, WO 12/6399. 

7London Gazette, December 16, 1775. 

8 Edward R. Curtis, The Organization of the British Army in the American Revolution (Gansvoort, NY: Corner House Historical Publications, 1998), 59-60. 

9 Stephen R. Conway, “The Recruitment of Criminals into the British Army, 1775–81,” Historical Research 58 (May 1985): 48. 

10 Inspections returns for various British regiments in 1773, 1774 and 1775, WO 27; muster rolls, 22nd, 38th, 43rd and 54th Regiments, WO 12/3872, WO 12/5171, WO 12/5561, WO 12/6399. 

11 Discharge of John Hardman from the 22nd Regiment, WO 121/1/135; discharge of John Hardman from the 2nd Royal Veteran Battalion, WO 121/164/301. 

12 “Examinations of Invalid Soldiers,” February 18, 1784, Pension Admission Book, WO 116/8. 

13 “Examinations of Invalid Soldiers,” September 12, 1783, Pension Admission Book, WO 116/8. 

14 Don N. Hagist, British Soldiers, American War: Voices of the American Revolution (Yardley, PA: Westholme, 2012), 106. 

15 Thomas Cranfield, The Useful Christian; a Memoir of Thomas Cranfield, for about Fifty Years a Devoted Sunday-School Teacher (Philadelphia: American Sunday-School Union, Philadelphia, no date), 11. 

16 Data aggregated from: muster rolls, WO 12; pension admission books, WO 116; soldiers’ discharges, WO 121. 

17 John Williamson, A Treatise on Military Finance (London, 1782), 10-13, 19. 

18 For a more complete discussion of pay and earnings, see Hagist, Noble Volunteers, 199-209. 

19 Discharge of Jacob Margas, WO 121/159/97. 

20 Trial of Lewis Latham Clarke, WO 71/87 p. 416-424. 

21 Hagist, Noble Volunteers, 199-206. 

22 Don N. Hagist, “The Women of the British Army during the American Revolution.” Minerva Quarterly Report on Women and the Military Vol. 13 No. 2 (Summer 1995). 

23 For examples of these incursions see Frederick Mackenzie, The Diary of Frederick Mackenzie (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1930), The Newport Gazette 1777-1779, and d, 1777-1779. 

24 Muster rolls, 22nd Regiment of Foot, WO 12/3872; Examination of Thomas Page, 780A/PO 248, Devon Record Office, Exeter, UK. 

25 Muster rolls, 22nd Regiment of Foot, WO 12/3872; Mackenzie, The Diary, 435. 

26 Trial of William Sherwin, WO 71/85 p. 164-166; Mackenzie, The Diary, 172; “Examinations of Invalid Soldiers,” August 11, 1785, Pension Admission Book, WO 116/9. 

27 Muster rolls, 22nd Regiment of Foot, WO 12/3872; Trial of Bartholomew Gilmore, WO 71/90 p. 26-34. 

28 State of Troops in Rhode Island, May 15, 1777, Frederick Mackenzie Papers, William L. Clements Library, Ann Arbor, MI. 

29 Daniel M. Popek, They ‘fought bravely, but were unfortunate’ the true Story of Rhode Island’s ‘Black Regiment’ and the failure of Segregation in Rhode Island’s Continental Line, 1777-1783 (Bloomington, IN: Authorhouse, 2015), 138-139, 155; muster rolls, 38th Regiment of Foot, WO 12/5171. 

30 Providence Gazette, October 16, 1779; Pennsylvania Gazette, October 27, 1779. 

31 New England Historical and Genealogical Register 127, p. 16; Newport Mercury, March 3, 1821. 

32 Muster rolls, 22nd Regiment of Foot, WO 12/3872; “Descriptive Roll of deserters, from the 5th Massachusetts Regiment of Foot Commanded by R. Putnam Esq.” M-246 reel 36, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC; Norwich Packet, 2 February 1778. 

33 Muster rolls, 22nd Regiment of Foot, WO 12/3872; Intercepted mails and papers, America, 1777-1779. HCA 30.272, The National Archives, Kew, UK.

About the Author

Don N. Hagist is an independent researcher specializing in the demographics and material culture of the British Army in the American Revolution. He maintains a blog about British common soldiers ( and has published several articles in academic journals. His books, The Revolution’s Last Men: The Soldiers behind the Photographs (Westholme Publishing, 2015), British Soldiers, American War (Westholme Publishing, 2012), and others are available from major retailers. An expert on the British occupation of Newport and the rest of Aquidneck Island from 1776 to 1779, he is also an editor of Journal of the American Revolution and a frequent contributor of articles to that online publication ( Don is an engineering consultant in Rhode Island and also writes for several noted syndicated and freelance cartoonists. He can be contacted

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