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, March 03, 2013

Don Hagist on Pvts. Montgomery and Kilroy

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 29th Regiment’s muster rolls for the second half of 1774 are missing, and Pvts. Edward Montgomery and Mathew Kilroy do not appear on the surviving 1775 rolls. That leaves no indication of whether they were discharged, died, deserted, or were drafted into another regiment—and at that time many men were being drafted into regiments bound for America.

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?).
This admission book states each soldier’s name, age, years of service, infirmity for which he was discharged, place of birth, and trade. Montgomery was born at Antrim in Ireland and was thirty-five years old in 1770, with fourteen years in the army. Kilroy was from a town in County Laois, Ireland. Twenty-two years old around the time of the Massacre, he had joined the army at fifteen, an unusually young age. Both men were listed as “labourers,” meaning they had no skilled trade.

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!

2 comments:

Liberty Bison said...

Has anyone considered the possibility that any of the soldiers could have been mentioned in a newspaper in Britain or Ireland after they were discharged from the army? Maybe some searchable online database of British newspapers would pop up with one their names with a location If so it might be possible to other local records that might confirm the connection. Especially if they stayed in England and didn't go back to Ireland or go to Australia.

Kilroy was young enough were he might have gotten married and had children after he was discharged. For all we know there could be Kilroy descendants out there that have tons of information about his later life that we might want but have no idea about his military service or significance in American history. Of course for that to be the case, a woman would have to want to marry someone who was literally branded as a murder.

J. L. Bell said...

I don't know of any investigation into these men in Britain, but I suspect it would be difficult. Their names weren't rare, and they could have gone anywhere after their discharge in London. Furthermore, the British press and establishment were far less interested in common people than the American. But maybe someone will find something in a parish record.

For Montgomery, we have the names of his wife and children. We also have his real first name, Edward, rather than the one attached to him in the Boston trial record, Hugh. So tracing him might be a tad more likely.

For Kilroy, all we have are the details on this discharge record and the knowledge that he was illiterate. Much less likely to be found, I suspect. Legally, he wasn't a murderer, having been convicted only of manslaughter. And he could probably have explained the F (for felon) brand away by telling the story of those nasty, zealous Bostonians. By 1775, after all, those Americans had started a war.