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, February 06, 2008

Capt. McDonald Manages His Company

Here are more extracts from the letterbook of Capt. Alexander McDonald, as transcribed and made available to all on AmericanRevolution.org. The last installment quoted McDonald’s letters seeking a higher rank for himself, and oh-by-the-way an officer’s commission for his twelve-year-old son. At the time, he was helping to organize a company of Scottish and other Loyalists into a British army regiment, eventually called the Royal Highland Emigrants or 84th Regiment of Foot.

Here’s how McDonald said he dealt with his non-commissioned officers. On 15 Nov 1775, he wrote from Halifax to Maj. John Small in Boston:

I am sorry to tell you Serjt SinClair Serjt McArthur and one Corpl McQuinn a rascal I inlisted here all three Highlanders are the most unruly drunken rascals I have in the whole recruits and I was obliged to Lay hands on McMillan even before I brought him to some order.

McArthur and SinClair fought the other day and were both Confined after they got Sober was kept one night in the guard I gave them both a severe reprimand and desired them to forgive one another and Make friends. McArthur insisted on a Court Martial. I told them they may both depend on being broke and may be receive Corporal punishment besides when I told them what A pretty figure two highland Serjeants would shew to all the rascals in this place stripped at the whipping post after being broke and I swore to them by a most violent oath that it Certainly would be the Case if they did not forgive one another and promise never to be guilty of the Like again

finding I was in Earnest and their honours touched up a Litle they thought proper to Setle Matters amongst themselves and are now upon their good behaviour.
A military company of the time required drummers to beat out signals during training and maneuvers. The Loyalist Institute offers the 12 June 1775 orders from Gen. Thomas Gage for organizing the regiment in ten companies, each with “two Drums.” On 9 Jan 1776, Capt. McDonald told Maj. Small, “I want much a drum Major and two or three drums” for his company in Halifax. McDonald seems to have gotten the job of recruiting and training drummers for the whole regiment. In a letter dated 27 January, McDonald updated the major on his progress:
I have picked out fourteen boys to be Drummers. I have got two Drumms from Mr Buckley the Secretary of the province and I am about hiring the Drummer that acts as Drum Major of the 65th to teach these boys, but he Says that Each of them Should have a Drumm and then he would teach the whole with the Same Ease as one.
The thumbnail picture above leads to the King’s Orange Rangers photo gallery, which includes images of reenactments undertaken with the recreated Royal Highland Emigrants.

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