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, December 26, 2012

Pvt. John Hawthorn: “Yet I must be a bard”

John Hawthorn was a linen weaver from County Down, Ireland, who enlisted in the 6th (Inniskilling) Regiment of Dragoons in 1778. (Dragoons, we recall, were soldiers mounted on horseback.) That unit was stationed in Salisbury from May 1778 through the end of the following year.

According to an 1847 regimental history, Britain was then beefing up its army in response to France entering the American War. As a result:
one hundred men and horses were added to the Inniskilling dragoons; but the scene of conflict [i.e., North America] was so little adapted for cavalry, that the heavy dragoon regiments were not called upon to quit the United Kingdom.
Hawthorn was actually a light dragoon, and the same regimental history says that “In April, 1779, the men [of the 6th Dragoons] equipped as light cavalry were incorporated” into the new 20th Light Dragoons, along with some companies from other horse regiments. But that regiment didn’t go to America, either.

So what makes Pvt. John Hawthorn worthy of note here? Because at heart he was a poet! He was probably writing verses as an apprentice and continued that activity as a horse soldier.

It was all very well for a wealthy officer like Gen. John Burgoyne to indulge his literary habit, but an enlisted man like Hawthorn face harder challenges, as one of his compositions describes:
On His Writing Verses

Well may they write, that sit in parlours fine,
To raise their spirits can quaff luscious wine,
To keep out noise, the parlour door is shut,
The servants scarce dare speak, or budge a foot;
Under no fear, no terror, and no task,
But coolly can sit at a writing desk;
How different with me the time is spent,
Inclos’d with dragoons in a little tent;
Some darning stockings, others blacking shoes;
Some singing, others telling jests and news;
Their different sounds do ill confound my writing;
One should be solitary, when inditing,
Yet I must be a bard, nought less will do me,
And so write as nature dictates to me.
Despite those obstacles, Hawthorn completed enough work and saved enough money to have a small book of poetry printed in Salisbury in 1779: Poems, by John Hawthorn, Light Dragoon in the Inniskilling Regiment.

TOMORROW: The reviews come in.

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