J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Capt. William Pawlett Loses a Leg

While looking into how Brook Watson lost his leg (to a shark), I neglected to mention how Capt. William Pawlett of the British army lost his leg (not to a shark) 232 years ago this week.

Once again I quote the diary of British army captain John Barker:

17 Sept: “A Soldier of the 4th or King’s Own had his leg shot off as the relief was going to the Lines at Boston; this is the first Man who has suffer’d by the Rebels Cannon.”

23 Sept: “Captn. Pawlett of the 59th Regt. had his leg shot off as he was sitting at breakfast at Boston Lines.”
It seems significant that although Capt. Barker almost certainly knew the private soldier who had his leg shot off, since they were in the same regiment, he didn’t record the man’s name. But he did name a captain who suffered the same injury. Similarly, officers sent home many lists of fellow officers killed at the Battle of Lexington and Concord and the Battle of Bunker Hill, but no comprehensive roll of casualties among the enlisted men.

Then again, Capt. Pawlett’s injury also seemed more significant to Boston selectman Timothy Newell, whose notes on 14-19 September read:
[The army] Began taking down houses at the South end, to build a new line of Works—A good deal of cannonading on both sides the lines for many days past. Several shots came thro’ houses at the South end. Capt. Poulet lost his leg, &c. &c. &c.
On 8 Dec 1781, the Norfolk Chronicle reported:
Last Sunday died, after a few hours illness, at Kenninghall Palace, in this county, William PAWLETT, Esq., late Captain in the army; much respected in the service, much lamented by his wife and family, and much esteemed by his acquaintance and the neighbourhood in which he resided—as an agreeable companion and a worthy man. He served in the last war with great reputation, and after being again called into service, after behaving on many occasions with great gallantry and address, lost a leg by a cannonball shot from the American lines, Roxborough-hill, whilst on duty in the trenches at Boston-neck. On his return to England he was ship-wrecked on the Isle of Scilly, and preserved with great difficulty.

His Majesty, in consideration of his eminent services, appointed him to a company of Invalids in the island of Jersey, which he enjoyed to his death.
According to the Annual Register, Pawlett was made “Captain of an independent company of invalids at Jersey” on 8 Oct 1776. He died at age fifty, and is memorialized in the church at Kenninghall.

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