Who Fought the American Revolution? Part I: Career Soldiers

Tracing ancestors can be easier and more accurate when you know in advance who you are looking for.   So the purpose of this presentation is to describe the players and the parts they played—with the intent of making it easier to find the records from which you can pull your ancestors.

Career Soldiers:

British Regulars (32,000), brought from England in great flotillas of ships—to Boston MA, to New York, to Charleston SC.  British Regulars were already serving in Canada and the Colonies to protect British citizens from foreign powers—Spain, France, Netherlands—and from Indian attacks.  Troop strength was bolstered by local Americans who were enlisted for pay—it was their day job.  These men served 3-5 days at a time, with 2-4 days off to handle their own affairs.  They were often local land owners who sought to increase their own security and that of their families, while receiving additional, direct income.  During actual hostilities with the enemy, they were required to serve as militiamen under English law.  See John M.  Kitzmiller II, In Search of the Forlorn Hope,  3 vols.  Salt Lake City UT:  Manuscript Publishing, 1988. This is an extensive guide to the location of service of each British regiment.  Once you know where your ancestors were, check this guide for proximity of British troops.  The service and pension records are on microfilm through the Family History Library (FHL).

Scottish Highlanders (3,000), soldiers requisitioned from troops already employed in British regiments serving on the Continent of Europe and along the borders of British territory.

United States Army—George Washington was unanimously appointed Commander in Chief, June 1775 by the Continental Congress.  At any given time, he fielded 19,000-25,000 troops  supplied by Colonies–those anxious  to defeat the British and those  reluctant to spend their resources on battles not fought on their own soil nor impacting their trade and commerce directly.  Using ancient English terms of service—40 days and 40 nights away from home—these soldiers could leave without permission when their term was up.

“Convention Army,” 1777-1783, (4,200)–an army of British and German prisoners captured after the Battle of Saratoga and lodged in 8 of the Thirteen Colonies.  November 5th, 1778, Washington assigned Lt. Col. Theodoric Bland, of the 1st Continental Dragoons, the task of escorting the Convention Army from Boston to Charlottesville Virginia…by land!  See http://greensleeves.typepad.com/berkshires   Tim Abbott’s award-winning series on the Convention Army.  Abbott’s work is carefully documented.  Billeting prisoners of war near people who were likely to be relatives, was a decision of brilliance by General Washington.  He encouraged these POWs to be employed, to attend the churches of their choice, to file land grants, and to mingle with the local population.  The Congress did not supply enough money to support POWs.  And Washington did not have enough troops to police them.  So he put the prisoners on their “parole” not to escape nor to take up arms against Americans at any level.  And they policed themselves.

Troops at Frontier Posts—like Southwest Point, TN (muster and payrolls are in the National Archives) and Fort Massachusetts on the Connecticut River across from New York in the vicinity of Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point (records in the Massachusetts State Archives, the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield MA, and Fort Ticonderoga (NY) Historical Society).

Even if you don’t have traditions that place your ancestors in these armies, check–the ancestor who claimed that he served and who does not appear in pension files easily retrieved through http://www.fold3.com  or http://familysearch.org could be correct–you will never know unless you look.  Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle http://arleneeakle.com

PS  Stay tuned, there are many other ancestors who fought–some of them in more than one category.

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