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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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Lt. Col. Kemble’s Catalogue of Deserters

I went through Lt. Col. Stephen Kemble’s diary in 1775 for mentions of Continental soldiers deserting to the royal forces. As Gen. Thomas Gage’s Deputy-Adjutant-General, he was in a good position to hear about them all. I found twelve men deserting to the Crown forces.

Here are Kemble’s entries, as published by the New-York Historical Society.

25 July: “A Deserter came in from the Virginia Rifle Men on Winter Hill, says he’s a Virginian born, that he was in a Vessel from Virginia to Salem, Coming out of which place about the 15th. June, She was taken by a King’s Ship, some of the Men Pressed, the rest got on Shore at Marblehead, where he was obliged to enter into the Rebel Service, his backwardness to which was the cause of his being confined; but, being released, he entered into their Artillery, having learnt a little of Gunnery, but finding his Situation more disagreeable every day, and having no liberty of speech, but what was most pleasing to the Rebels way of thinking. He deserted from them on the Night of the 24th. and got off by swimming down the Mystic River to General [William] Howe’s Post [in Charlestown].”

2 August: “On the Night of Tuesday the 1st. a Deserter from the Enemy, a Scotchman, came into General Howe’s.”

17 August: “One Turner, a Rifle Man, taken or Surrendered himself the 14th. suspected of an Intention to Desert the 16th. and Confined in the Provosts Guard.”

22 August: “Last Night a Deserter from the Virginia Rifle Men came in from Roxborough, by name Johnson, an Irish Man.”

2 September: “At 10 o’Clock a Rifle Man came in from them, by Name ———, Servant to Capt. [Michael] Cresap, Captain of the Company, they come from about Fort Pitt and are near 130 strong. He says the Rebels talk of starving us out, but is a Stupid Lad, an Englishman born in Oxfordshire.”

7 September: “A Rebel Artillery Serjeant, by name Johnson, Deserted this Evening from Roxborough, an Irish Man, a smart, sensible fellow.”

8 September: “This morning, very early, another Rifle Man came in, also an Active looking fellow, during the [day] nothing extraordinary; a few shots from our Lines returned by the Rebels. This Evening, about dusk, another Rifle Man came in, a fine fellow, an Irishman, from Kings County, says that General [Charles] Lee is reported to be in Arrest; that a report has been spread that one of their Deserters, a Rifle Man, had been Hanged, which checked the spirit of their People coming over to us.”

TOMORROW: But still the desertions continued.


Marina said...

Interesting story, and I just LOVE the portrait miniature!

Hemlock Bob said...

With so many mentions of Rifle Man, I half expected to see Chuck Connors' name appear in the post!