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The On-Line Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies

Glossary of Terms

Since this site is intended for use by people with varying research backgrounds, not everyone is likely to be familiar with all of the terms appearing in the documents.

With that in mind we have prepared a small glossary to help. The definitions below refer only to the 18th Century meaning of these terms in the context in which you will find them in our pages.

We will update this list from time, mostly based on questions we see submitted by our visitors.

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Accoutrements Refers to the cartridge box, bayonet belt and scabbard worn by a soldier. For light infantry this would include a shot bag and powder horn.
Adjutant The senior staff officer of a regiment, the Adjutant handled all administrative details and paperwork. He assigned the duty of both officers and men, such as for guards and detachments.
Attest/Attested The taking of the oath of allegiance, a requirement for military service. The oath was one of loyalty to the King.
Beating Orders In the raising of a regiment in a friendly area, recruits were to be drawn to recruiting parties by beat of drum. Beating Orders were the equivalent of a warrant, commanding an officer to raise recruits and specifying by what means.
b-l-m An abbreviation meaning "before last muster" that appears on some muster rolls in conjunction with another remark on a soldier's activities, such as "On Furlow."
Brigade Major An officer who was responsible for distributing orders with a brigade of troops. This staff position helped control the movement of troops within a garrison or on the battlefield. The title was more a staff function, and the position could be held by an officer of any rank.
Camp Equipage Those items used by the army while on the march or on campaign. Such items as tents, haversacks, canteens, knapsacks, camp kettles and camp colors were considered camp equipage.
Cat o' Nine Tails When a soldier was ordered to be punished, the most common punishment was the administration of lashes by the drummers of the regiment. The drummer would whip the offender with a Cat o' Nine Tails, a leather whip with nine knotted cords or strands.
Chasseur European term for light infantry or rifleman.
Commission The legal authority by which an officer acted, commanding his subordinates to obey him and commanding him to obey his superiors. Officers of British Regiments had their commission signed by the King. Provincial commissions were signed by the commander in chief of the army. Militia commissions were normally signed by the governor or lieutenant governor of the province. Many from the Carolinas, however, were signed by British officers serving in those provinces.
C. sign Abbreviation for Countersign. In armies, a parole and countersign was issued daily to help identify friend from foe.
Do An abbreviation for "ditto."
Drafted/Drafts When a regiment was reduced in strength and not in a situation to be able to recruit up to authorized strength, it was typically disbanded (drafted); the officers might be placed in other corps or retired upon half pay (seconded). The men (drafts) typically received leave to choose which regiment they wished to serve in, or were placed on purpose in another regiment that wished to be brought up to strength.
Field Officer A commissioned officer holding the rank of major, lieutenant colonel, or colonel.
Firelock Another term for musket. In the 18th Century the primary military firearm was the smoothbore musket, typically of .69 or .75 caliber.
Goal/Gaol Some alternate 18th Century spellings for Jail.
Gorget A metal (gold or silver plated) crescent piece of armor, worn around the neck, usually engraved with the Royal coat-of-arms and sometimes the name of a regiment, trophies, etc. It was worn as a sign of rank by commissioned officers.
Grenadier An elite soldier typically chosen for bravery, steadiness and discipline. While each British regiment had one company of grenadiers, only some of the Loyalist corps had them. Grenadiers were distinguished by their bearskin caps, wings, match-cases (brass ornaments carrying a burning match) and hangers (swords) in British regiments. Some or all of these items might have been used by Loyalists.
Guinea English money working out to the sum of one pound, one shilling. During the war, bounty money paid out to volunteers in the Provincial Corps was raised from two to three guineas, and briefly in 1781, to six guineas.
Hessian The common name given to the German soldiers hired by the British to fight during the American Revolution. The soldiers served in regiments from six principalities: Hesse-Kassel, Hesse-Hanau, Ansbach Bayreuth, Brunswick, Anhalt Zerbst and Waldeck. Jägers (or Yagers) were Hessian riflemen recruited from the forests of Germany and were used in a manner similar to light infantry.
Hussar A lightly armed, swiftly mounted cavalryman. Hussars were made popular in Europe during previous wars on the continent. Their use during the American Revolution was somewhat limited.
Inst./Instant Refers to the present month. For example, in a letter dated June 29th, the 16th Instant would refer to June 16th.
Legion A combination of troops grouped together, with its origins dating back to Ancient Rome. During the Revolution, a legion typically consisted of infantry, cavalry and light artillery.
Light Dragoon A cavalryman who fought on foot or mounted, typically armed with sword, pistols and a carbine. Many troops of Provincial Light Dragoons were raised during the war.
Light Infantry Lightly uniformed and accoutered soldiers trained for skirmishing and rapid movement. Each British regiment had one company of such men. Many but not all Provincial and some Militia regiments had Light Infantry Companies. The soldiers typically had a distinctive uniform consisting of a short coat, a cap in lieu of a hat, wings, tin cartridge boxes, shot bags and powder horns.
Militia All males, usually between the age of sixteen and sixty, were required to do local military service. Each county of a province (or state) would divide its inhabitants into companies, which in turn would form battalions or regiments. Militiamen were generally not uniformed, only sometimes paid when on actual service, and often had to provide their own arms and accoutrements. They did not serve fixed terms as the Provincials did, nor were they expected to serve outside of their native province. Their length of service was typically only during times of alarm, or doing rotations of fatigue and guard duties.
Muster Roll In a Provincial regiment, the officers and men were generally paid every 61 days. To determine who was to be paid, and for exactly what period, each company within a regiment prepared a list, or muster roll, of the officers and men in it, accounting for each man absent. In the case of casualties, a notation was made of the occurrence and the date. This was also known as a broken period, as the person being paid would only receive pay for the actual time he was present. The muster master or inspecting officer would carefully match each man on the parade against the rolls.
Necessaries Items of clothing issued to a soldier other than his uniform, such as shirts, stockings, shoes and trousers.
On Command A term used for a soldier on detachment or on duty away from his regiment.
On Guard The most common form of daily duty within a regiment. Generally, a fixed number of men were detached daily for guard duty. From a guard room, they would be detached on various guard details, where the soldiers would rotate as sentries. While a soldier might be on guard for many hours, his actual time standing sentry could be much less. Guards were generally commanded by subaltern officers.
Provincial The most common establishment of Loyalist regiments, the rough equivalent of the Continental Army. A Provincial soldier was fed, armed, clothed, paid and under the same discipline as a British soldier, but was only liable for service in North America. Once enlisted or commissioned, a Provincial soldier served for the duration of the war.
Provost A jail used to lodge military prisoners.
Provost Martial The officer of an army charged with maintaining the provost, attending certain punishments and helping maintain discipline in the army on the march.
Qualify/Qualifying A soldier in the British Army or Provincial Forces needed to be read the Articles of War regarding mutiny and desertion by a civilian magistrate in order to officially be liable for military discipline. This was known as qualifying or to qualify.
Redoubt A type of fort or fortification used for defense. Could be of modest size or quite substantial.
Refugee In a military sense, an armed Loyalist not enrolled in a standing Provincial or Militia regiment. Also used to describe displaced Loyalist civilians within the British lines.
Seconded An officer retired upon half-pay (inactive duty). Typically, this happened because a regiment had more officers than were necessary to command the number of soldiers then serving in it.
Servant In the 18th Century, this term could mean several things. Generally, each officer was allowed to take one soldier of his company to be his bat-man. High-ranking officers could have several. In the Southern Campaigns, many servants, both men and women, were taken from freed Blacks. An indentured servant could be a white person contracted to serve a craftsman or similar person for a fixed number of years in exchange for food, clothing, shelter and education. Servant was often used to refer to slaves.
Subaltern Commissioned officers below the rank of captain. Generally refers to lieutenants, ensigns and cornets.
Ult./Ultima/Ultimate A reference to the prior week, month or year. For example, in a letter dated June 5th. the "24th Ultima" would refer to May 24th.
Warrant The instructions given to an intended officer, by which authority he could enlist men to entitle him to be commissioned.
Wings A decorative appendage at the shoulders of coats worn by grenadiers, light infantry and drummers. Used as a mark of distinction.
&c/&ca An 18th Century abbreviation for "et cetera" or "and et cetera."

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