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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Saturday, March 16, 2013

How Do You Solve a Problem like George Baylor?

Yesterday I quoted a letter from Gen. George Washington noting that George Baylor (shown here) held a unique position among his aides de camp. Baylor was the equivalent of a bike messenger among paralegals. While the rest of the staff were good at composing and copying letters, orders, and other paperwork, Baylor was not a “ready Pen-man” and good only for riding.

(Which is not to say that Baylor wasn’t from the same genteel class as the other aides de camp. He was a Virginia planter not unlike Washington himself. But he didn’t have professional training as an attorney, businessman, or doctor, as Washington came to prefer in his aides.)

Of course, the commander-in-chief couldn’t just fire Baylor and fill the slot with another penman. Not when Baylor was the son of a companion from the French & Indian War. Not when he was the senior aide and perfectly agreeable about doing all the riding tasks Washington asked of him.

But there was a tradition in the eighteenth-century British army that after a major victory the commander would choose one aide to carry his official report back to the capital. That was a big honor for the junior officer, not least because another tradition held that the bearer of such good news usually got a promotion.

In 1762, for example, Gen. Robert Monckton sent Capt. Horatio Gates to London with word that the British forces had taken Martinique. The general recommended Gates “to His Majesty’s Favour, as a very deserving Officer.” Within five weeks of landing in England, Gates was promoted to major and given £1,000 toward purchasing a lieutenant colonelcy.

(The only problem is that victories like Martinique meant the war was soon over, the army downsized, and Gates never got the chance to rise further. That soured him on the whole British patronage system, turned him into a “red hot Republican,” and led him to move to America in 1773. But I digress.)

Washington didn’t have any battlefield victories to report to the Continental Congress until late December 1776, when he surprised the British and Hessian troops at Trenton. And whom did he choose to carry that news to Baltimore (the Congress having left Philadelphia because the royal forces were getting closer and closer)?

Washington chose George Baylor, of course! The general even added:
Colo. Baylor, my first Aid de Camp, will have the honor of delivering this to you, and from him you may be made acquainted with many other particulars; his spirited Behavior upon every Occasion, requires me to recommend him to your particular Notice.
The Congress accordingly made Baylor head of the new 3rd Continental Light Dragoon Regiment. Problem solved!

2 comments:

Chaucerian said...

So did he do well as head of the Dragoon regiment? I picture him as enthusiastic, forthcoming, and delighted that there is a young aide at hand for him so that he doesn't have to do any paperwork --

J. L. Bell said...

Baylor would seem to have found his niche leading a regiment of mounted infantry. Most of the paperwork would have been handled by the adjutant.

However, Baylor's regiment was ambushed in 1778, and he was captured and wounded. He was exchanged later and lived through the war, but died in 1784 in the Caribbean where he was still trying to recover from that wound.