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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Sunday, June 28, 2009

William Simpson: fifer, deserter

Don Hagist, whose work on British soldiers I’ve long admired, has recently started a blog called “British Soldiers, American Revolution” to share some of the results of those researches. Assembling profiles of individual British soldiers is one of the hardest tasks in this little field. Few of them left much in the way of personal papers, and the Crown didn’t care enough to keep good records. But by assembling information from a variety of sources, Don can give us a peek at some men in the redcoat ranks.

Or boys, as in the case of the fifer described is this advertisement from the New York Gazette, or Weekly Post Boy, 10 Sept 1770:

Perth Amboy, New-Jersey, Sept. 6, 1770.

Deserted from the 29th Regiment of Foot, William Simpson, Fifer, aged 19 Years, 5 Feet, 8 Inches high, born in the Regiment, straight and well made, fair Complexion, thin Face, long Visage, large Nose, large Limbs, short brown Hair, blue Eyes, speaks short, and pretty much of the Irish Accent, a large Hole or Hollow on the top Part of his Scull, occasioned by a Fracture received at Castle Island; no Hair growing on it; plays well on the Flute and Fife, and plays a little on the Violin and French Horn.

Had on when he went away, a short yellow Coat, fac’d Red, red Fall-down Collar, red Wings and Lining, the Coat lac’d with Drummers Lace, white Linnen Waistcoat and Breeches, a black Cap, bound with white Tape, the Number of the Regiment in the Front, and a Scarlet Worsted Feather round the upper Part of the Front. Whoever apprehends and secures the above Deserter so that he may be delivered over to the abovesaid Regiment at Perth-Amboy, or to the Commanding Officer of the 26th Regiment at New-York, shall receive Ten Dollars Reward, on Application to either Commanding Officers.

N. B. It is supposed the above Deserter is gone towards Boston or Halifax, having a Brother in the 64th Regiment at Halifax.
Simpson was at Boston during the period of the Boston Massacre. Don’s analysis of this ad touches on his past and his uniform. As for what happened to fifer Simpson, his name reappeared on the 29th’s muster roll at the end of the year and then disappeared, all without explanation.

When you’re done pondering that, check out this dispute between veteran Thomas Mallady and his wife Hannah.

(Standing is for fifer Simpson above is the fifer major of the reenacted Tenth Regiment of Foot, Mary Stone. The unit will appear at the American Independence Festival in Exeter, New Hampshire, on 12 July.)

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