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, November 26, 2010

Finding Elizabeth Royal’s Husband

Back in June, I wrote about Elizabeth Royal, who shows up in the records of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress trying to get into besieged Boston with her child. The legislature understood she was “wife to William Royal, first sergeant in the 63d regiment of foot.” How, I wondered, had she become separated from her husband? And why was the Provincial Congress paying to send her to Newbury and maintain her there?

Don N. Hagist of the British Soldiers, American Revolution blog has data on more redcoats than anyone I know, so it didn’t surprise me when he was able to answer some of those questions—while raising others. Don is today’s guest blogger, writing on the mysteries of Elizabeth Royal.

I had heard of this woman before, but the version of the Committee of Safety entry reprinted in the Essex Institute Historical Collections, V. 46 (1910), has her name as Rogers rather than Royall.

The muster rolls for the 63rd Regiment of Foot confirm that a man named William Royall was in fact in the regiment at this time; there was, however, no William Rogers. He is on the rolls prepared in Ireland which cover January to April 1775 and indicate that he was from either England or Scotland (the rolls distinguish British, covering England, Scotland and Wales, from Irish or Foreign). He continues to be carried on the rolls during the regiment’s service in America.

Royall was not, however, a sergeant in the regiment as the Committee of Safety minutes indicate. He was a private soldier. The rolls have no information to suggest why he was separated from his wife. When British regiments sailed for America, shipping space was allocated for only 60 wives from each regiment. It is possible that Elizabeth Royall could not get space on a ship with the regiment; it is also possible that she was “big with child,” and her condition prevented her passage at that time. It is also possible that she was separated from the army after arriving in America.

We also do not know whether she was able to make her way into Boston to be with her husband. Even if she was, they were not destined for a long and happy future. The muster rolls show that William Royall died on 6 October 1777; as is typical for these documents, no cause is given. The fate of his wife who dutifully tried to get to him in Boston remains unknown.

Thanks, Don! For more information on women attached to the British army during the Revolution, here’s Don’s article on the subject. He’s also author of Wenches, Wives and Servant Girls: A Selection of Advertisements for Female Runaways in American Newspapers, 1770-1783, available from Ballindalloch Press.

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