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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Friday, June 18, 2021

“St. David, mounted on a Goat”

In investigating the myths and realities of goat mascots in the 23rd Regiment of Foot, or Royal Welch Fusiliers, I’ll start with a fine inside source on that unit in the Revolutionary War, the diary of Lt. Frederick Mackenzie (c. 1731-1824, shown here later in life courtesy of the Royal Welch Fusiliers Regimental Museum). 

In his entry for 1 Mar 1775, Lt. Mackenzie described how the regiment’s officers organized a festive dinner in honor of St. David’s Day. David was the patron saint of Wales, and even though the 23rd’s no longer had a particular connection to Wales beyond its name, that was enough of an excuse for a feast at the end of winter.

Mackenzie listed the men who dined at this event, both from the 23rd Regiment and from the wider garrison. Generals Thomas Gage and Frederick Haldimand came, along with brigadiers Earl Percy and Valentine Jones. (Gen. Robert Pigot was invited but “was unwell.”) Adm. Samuel Graves represented the Royal Navy. Many top staff officers attended, as did the regimental surgeon and chaplain. Two officers “Formerly in the Regt.” and two designated only as “Welchmen” were additional guests. 

Unfortunately, about the festivity itself Mackenzie wrote nothing beyond that it was “according to Custom.” For more information we turn to the report printed in Margaret Draper’s Boston News-Letter the next day:
Yesterday being DAVID’s Day, (the Tutelar Saint for Wales,) the same was observed with the usual demonstrations of Joy, by his Majesty’s own Regiment of Royal Welch Fusilears; an elegant Entertainment was provided at the British Coffee-House, which his Excellency the Commander in Chief honored with his Presence: The Admiral and all the General Officers likewise assisted.--- 

On entering the Room, St. David, mounted on a Goat, adorned with Leeks, presented himself to View, and the whole Ceremony concluded with the following Healths:—

1. St. DAVID and Wales.
2. Prince of Wales.
3. The KING.
4. The QUEEN and Royal Family. 
5. The General and the Army.
6. The Admiral and the Navy.
7. Lord NORTH
8. Lord Dartmouth
9. Plume of Feathers. (August 26th 1346.)
10. Colonels and Corps.
11. The glorious Memory.
12. Our old Friend.
13. The 1st of August 1714. (Hanover Succession.)
14. The 1st of August 1759. (Minden.)
15. The 13th of September 1759. (Quebec.)
16. The 20th of November 1759. (Hawke.)
17. May Great-Britain forever maintain her Supremacy over the Colonies.
18. The 1st of July 1690. (Boyne.)
19. The 12th of July 1691. (Aghrim.)
20. The 15th of of April 1746. (Culloden.)
21. General Amherst, and the 8th of September 1760. (Surrender of Canada.)
22. Prince Ferdinand.
I’ve used links to annotate the historical allusions in those toasts.

This newspaper item offers what appears to be the earliest record of a goat associated with the Royal Welch Fusiliers: “St. David, mounted on a Goat, adorned with Leeks, presented himself to View.” The article doesn’t make clear what that means—evidently the right people were supposed to know already, indicating that this was an established tradition.

For more detail, we must turn to another officer’s account of that same dinner.

TOMORROW: Goat behaving badly.

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