A few years back, Don Hagist, blogger and author of British Soldiers, American War, alerted me that the name of Pvt. Hugh White of His Majesty’s 29th Regiment of Foot appeared in army pension records digitized by the British National Archives. White’s pension paperwork showed where he was born, how old he was at discharge, and how long he had been in the army.
From that data we could calculate White’s age and military experience on 5 Mar 1770, when he was the sentry on King Street before the Boston Massacre. Suddenly a man who had been little more than a name and a caricature in the propaganda prints by Henry Pelham and Paul Revere became an individual. He was an Irishman, thirty years old, and he’d served in the British army for eleven years.
Late last year Don told me he’d found similar records for two more soldiers involved in the Massacre—in fact, the two who were convicted of manslaughter. Here is Don’s explanation of this new discovery as a special “guest blogger” posting.
The discharge certificates for many army pensioners survive in the WO 97, WO 119, and WO 121 collections at the British National Archives (all indexed online), and those do not list Montgomery and Kilroy either. But those collections do not include all pensioners, only those for whom discharge certificates survive.
There’s another source on army pensioners in the National Archives: WO 116, Chelsea Out-Pension Admission Books. This collection is a chronological listing of all men who appeared before the board of examiners for out-pensions administered by Chelsea Hospital in London.
Montgomery and Kilroy both appeared before the board on 22 Feb 1776. Here is a screen shot of the PDF file of the digital scan of the microfilm of the manuscript (don’t we live in a wonderful age?).
It is also very interesting that Montgomery and Kilroy went before the examination board (which met several times a year) on the same day, suggesting some camaraderie between them, but that’s only speculative. Officially, Montgomery was “Worn out” while Kilroy had “a Lame Knee.”
I speculate that the army was happy to discharge Montgomery and Kilroy before their regiment headed for Canada and the American war. With their thumbs branded, those two men could have been recognized and singled out for punishment if they were captured.
As it happened, the 29th’s grenadier company was part of Gen. John Burgoyne’s army and did become prisoners of war, marched to eastern Massachusetts in the Convention Army. But thanks to this discharge, Montgomery and Kilroy were not among them.
Thanks, Don, for helping us see these soldiers as individuals. Keep up the excellent work!