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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Thursday, March 09, 2017

A Whitehouse Briefing

Last week I wrote about Pvt. Joseph Whitehouse and his bride Jane Crothers, who each testified to events on the night of the Boston Massacre. (She more reliably than he, I believe.)

Don Hagist, author of
British Soldiers, American War and The Revolution’s Last Men, wrote with more information about Pvt. Whitehouse and the experiences of wives attached to the 14th Regiment of Foot, so I’m gratefully sharing that information as a “guest blogger” posting.

Joseph Whitehouse was thirty years old when he married Jane Crothers in March 1770. He was born in Birmingham, England, and had pursued a trade fairly typical for that industrial city; he was a smith. By the age of twenty-five he’d tired of that profession, and he enlisted in the army.

This was a common path for a British soldier; most of the men who served in British infantry regiments during the American Revolution enlisted in their early twenties, after having pursued one or more other lines of work. The army offered steady employment, the opportunity to travel, and a pension after long service—perquisites not offered by any other profession of the era.

After their marriage, and their testimonies about the troubles in Boston in 1770, Joseph and Jane Whitehouse probably stayed with the regiment at Castle William in Boston Harbor, but they may have had opportunities to visit the mainland. Some soldiers’ wives did, and the Boston Post-Boy of 25 February 1771 reported that two of them fell into misfortune:
On Friday last as two Women belonging to the 14th Regiment were crossing the Ice at the South End of Town, they both fell through, and altho’ they were soon taken out by the Assistance of the Town’s People, yet one of them, Susannah Mills, was so chil’d with the cold, that she expir’d immediately; the other is like to do well.
Conditions on Castle Island were crowded and brought challenges different that those posed by the hostile townspeople. Late in 1771, engineering officer John Montresor wrote:
There is a deficiency [of water] from the latter end of July unto the latter end of November. . . . the 14th is now 400 men – 70 women & 90 children. Obliged to employ a large Boat every other day – sent to Boston to Peck’s wharf & bought there at one shilling per Hogshead – One hhd serves one Company of the 14th Regt Two days.
The 14th Regiment didn’t have to endure these conditions much longer, but their next station was even more difficult. In 1772 they left Boston harbor for the island of St. Vincent in the West Indies, part of a force sent to quell a rebellion by island natives. There, disease took a toll on the regiment in addition to casualties from fighting. By 1774, the regiment was due to be sent back to Great Britain after eight years in North America, but rising tensions in the colonies forced those plans to be changed. The regiment was divided up among posts in Florida, Virginia, and the Bahamas. Their grenadier company suffered severely in the Battle of Great Bridge in December of 1775.

As the British war effort turned sour in the south, the 14th Regiment was sent to join the British army in New York that was enjoying great success in the waning months of 1776. The regiment was quite worn out by this time, so the decision was made to send them home, but first the able-bodied soldiers were transferred to other regiments campaigning in America. The officers, and the soldiers no longer fit for service, were sent home, the former to recuit and the latter to be discharged.
Among the soldiers of the 14th Regiment of Foot who were discharged in England in early 1777 was Joseph Whitehouse. On 29 April, he went before the out-pension examining board at Chelsea Hospital; their examination book recorded his age, place of birth, trade and length of service, as well as the malady that prevented him from remaining a soldier. During his twelve years in the army, he had contracted a hernia, called a “rupture” in the parlance of the day, and was deemed no longer fit for service. He was granted a pension, paid semi-annually at a rate of five-eighths of a soldier‘s regular pay, a modest sum but enough to subsist on. He was still living in 1808.

What became of his wife, Jane, is not known. She was entitled to follow him with the regiment, and to accompany him to Great Britain when he was discharged from the army, but at this writing we have no information about her fate.

Thanks, Don!

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