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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Tuesday, June 11, 2019

How Pvt. Joshua Williams Ended Up in Boston

A couple of days back I quoted a deposition from Pvt. Joshua Williams of His Majesty’s 29th Regiment about a bad encounter with Bostonians in June 1769. Williams said he was then new in the regiment and new in Boston, which intrigued me but which I didn’t know enough about British army bureaucracy to explain.

Luckily for me, that also intrigued Don Hagist, author of
British Soldiers, American War and editor of the Journal of the American Revolution. He looked up Williams in his sources and added his deep knowledge of how the British army worked in the Revolutionary era. Here’s what Don found out:

Joshua Williams, a soldier in the 29th Regiment, said that he was assaulted in June 1769 “a few days after he joined the regiment in Boston.” The regiment had arrived the year before, so Williams was either new to the regiment or had stayed behind somewhere when the regiment sailed for Boston.

Particularly interesting is that the “Mob of People” recognized that Williams was new to Boston, “a new or a Strange Lobster.” Did Bostonians know the faces of over three hundred soldiers of the 29th Regiment that well, or was there something else about Williams that made him stand out as being new in town?

Williams first appears on the regiment’s muster rolls prepared in October 1769, with no indication of where he came from. Following his career forward on the rolls shows that he recovered sufficiently from his injuries to serve in the 29th Regiment for two more years. He was discharged on June 4, 1771, when the regiment was in New Jersey, along with a number of other soldiers.

Men who had been injured while serving as soldiers often received pensions after returning to Great Britain and going before the pension examining board in Chelsea, a London suburb. The records of that board show that Joshua Williams appeared there on August 29, 1771, and was granted a pension. On that date he was thirty-two years old and had been in the army for nine years; he was from “Glocester” and had no skilled trade, instead being called a “labourer.”

With nine years in the army but only two in the 29th Regiment, he must have transferred from another corps into the 29th. When a regiment that was on foreign service was sent home, it was not unusual for able-bodied men to be drafted—transferred—into other regiments still on service in the foreign land. Although the 29th’s rolls do not record where their new men like Williams came from, his entry in the pension examination book suggests that he was, indeed, a draft.

The disability that made him eligible for a pension was having been “wounded at Fort Pitt,” probably during the siege of that place in 1763 during Pontiac’s War.

As a draft into the 29th, Williams probably retained his uniform from his previous regiment; he would not receive one from the 29th until the next annual clothing issue, late in the year for regiments in America. This would make him easily recognizable to the Boston mob.

And, since British soldiers owned their own clothing, the loss of his “new Regimental Hatt” meant that he would have to purchase a new one—unless the mob could be convinced to return the property of a man who had been wounded defending colonists on the western frontier.

Thanks, Don!


Anonymous said...

So today's post was written by historian Hagist?

J. L. Bell said...

Yes, in posts that have italicized introductions and sign-offs and are tagged with the “guest blogger“ label, the text in normal roman type comes from the writer mentioned in the introduction.