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The On-Line Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies

Other Facts/Records
The Common Loyalist Soldier

Following is the text of a lecture given in the November, 2000 chat at The On-Line Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies.

Who was the typical Provincial soldier?

There are some nice detailed lists of the Northern Army for the end of the war that show some personal information. In looking at information for about 1825 soldiers raised in upper New York and that part of New England, a full 1254 were born in America.

The next largest group came from Scotland, followed by Ireland, then England. Germans were mixed in, as well as other European countries, and even one from Hungary.

The Army in America probably had a similar ratio, with possibly an even greater number of native born Americans.

They were mostly young, but the ages ran the spectrum. Soldiers were mostly in their late teens or twenties when they enlisted, although soldiers could be as young as 15. Drummers and fifers were as young as nine.

On the other end, in very small numbers, there were soldiers over 65. One soldier from the Nova Scotia Volunteers was dismissed from that corps for being around 80!

Height is always an interesting topic of discussion with reenactors, but soldiers really were smaller back then. Size lists are available for only a few corps, but the average size of most soldiers was between five feet four and five feet seven or eight. It would be uncommon to see more than a half dozen men in a regiment of six hundred men that were six feet tall.

As a provincial soldier, one would get a bounty on enlisting. This bounty was paid by the government and increased as the war went on. Initially it was 2 guineas (a guinea is one pound, one shilling), then 3 guineas, then 6 guineas for much of 1781.

In addition, officers of regiments often pooled their money to give to new recruits as an additional bounty. This was done to strengthen the regiment's numbers in order to secure their establishment at the end of the war (and the officer's own permanent half pay pension).

A new recruit was immediately to be taken to a civilian magistrate to be "attested." That meant he had the oath of allegiance tendered to him, followed by the articles of war concerning mutiny and desertion. This was also known as qualifying.

The recruit was then a soldier, liable for immediate duty and even combat. There was no such thing as boot camp back then.

A person joined a particular regiment, not just the army, and it was that regiment's job to teach him to be a soldier. It was pure on the job training. Muster rolls show some men captured in battle within days of their joining the army.

First a soldier had to be outfitted with clothing. Clothing came from two sources - the inspector general (via shipments sent from England) and locally from the captains of the regiments.

The King provided each soldier with a regimental coat, a waistcoat, breeches, stockings, shirts, shoes, a hat, neck stock, and buckles. Soldiers required more clothing than this though, including trousers, additional shirts, shoes, stockings, caps, etc. These things were provided by the soldier's company captain, and the soldier himself was charged for them. His captain also provided him with things like tobacco and soap, plus items to clean his belts and accoutrements.

As a soldier, he was also to be fed by the King. But this too the soldier was expected to pay for out of his pay. Each day a soldier was to receive one pound of salt beef or 12 ounces of salt pork, one pound of bread, peas, cheese, butter, oatmeal, and rum.

For this hearty meal, 2 and 1/2 pence were deducted daily from his pay. Additionally, a soldier received a daily allowance of spruce beer, free, as a gift from the King.

The salary of a private was a whopping six pence a day. From that the soldier had deducted his provisions, his additional clothing and supplies, an allowance to the surgeon and paymaster, and some unique charges. For example, if a soldier was sentenced to corporal punishment, he was to pay a fee to the drummer who administered the lashes!

Soldiers were also liable to pay their hospital bills. Regiments who had sick in the General Hospital were charged for the care the men received. A regiment could then charge back the man who had been sick.

Soldiers were subject to military discipline as soon as they were attested. This meant they could be tried by a court and punished if found guilty. That was why they were read the articles of war.

The most common cause of discipline problems came from drinking. Boredom was a big part of being a soldier, and drinking was an accepted vice. It was even encouraged.

Extra rum was allowed to soldiers on fatigue duty, on guard during inclement weather, and on holidays. Add to this the ration of daily beer, plus the availability of more liquor at taverns, sutlers and ale houses, and it is amazing these people were sober at all!

Instances of drunken brawls were not uncommon. The Rowland Lennox Court Martial gives a perfect example of what happened one St. Patrick's Day in New York with the Queen's Rangers and DeLancey's Brigade.

While drunk, soldiers often wandered off or deserted. Sometimes when they sobered up they were too afraid to go back, fearing punishment. Punishment was indeed something to be afraid of.

The most common sentence was to be whipped on the bare back with a cat of nine tails by the drummers of the regiment. A cat is a leather whip with nine strands to it.

For minor offenses, such as being asleep on guard, or stealing a pair of shoes, punishment could be 100 or even 300 lashes. Stealing of a more serious nature, plundering, desertion and other serious crimes could bring sentences of 500, 1000 or even 1500 lashes. Some robberies, assault, desertion and mutiny could be a death sentence. It's not too hard to see why some of these folks were afraid to go back!

A soldier was liable for service anywhere in America, although sometimes they disputed that. Soldiers from NJ, for instance, ended up serving in East Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut. Some of the regiments raised in the South, though, believed they were only liable for service there, which was pretty much honored.

Another interesting thing is that many of the soldiers served alongside many of their relatives. It was not uncommon for a soldier to serve in the same company with his father, brothers and cousins. One can only imagine the difficulty of losing multiple family members during the course of the war.

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