Deserter a Day 3 (of 5)

Arts & Literature

April 13, 2016
by Editors Also by this Author


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Desertion was as much a problem for the British army as it was for the American. Once the war began, however, British officers seldom placed ads for deserters in newspapers. This may be because the British army was largely confined to areas around major cities where information about deserters could be circulated in army orders, by handbills, or other means. It also may have been assumed that most deserters made their way to the enemy, so there was no value in spending money for advertising. Whatever the reason, only a few advertisements for British soldiers appear in the newspapers published in British-held cities. Here is one of them:

Deserted from the Third Battalion of the Royal Artillery, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Traille.

John Horler, born at Reading, or Newberry, in Berkshire; by trade a Wool-Comber; five feet, ten inches high; black complexion, marked with small pox; black hair; corpulent, round shouldered; has a great volubility of tongue; aged twenty-eight, or thirty years; very much knock-kneed; his hair short, and combed down on the forehead. He had on when he went away, a Corporal’s coat, two epaulet’s, and was seen at East Chester, on Sunday evening, the 20th of April.

He has defrauded several inhabitants, and has carried off in the Company’s subsistence for two months, besides Cash from Lieutenant Colonel Traille, to a considerable amount.

Any person civil or military, in the United States, that can apprehend the above-mentioned Deserter, shall on delivering him at New York, receive Fifty Pounds Sterling, over and above what is allowed by Act of Parliament. P. Traille, Lieutenant Colonel, &c. &c.

[Royal Gazette (New York), August 9, 1783]

This deserter was in more trouble than most, for he had committed crimes in addition to absconding. But he chose his time well. In August of 1783, New York was the last British-held city in the thirteen American Colonies, and British troops were preparing to evacuate. Regiments were being disbanded, soldiers were being discharged to take land grants in Canada if they chose, and those remaining in the army were preparing for deployment to other places or a return to Great Britain. Were it not for the money he stole, there would have been little incentive to search for this man, let alone advertise him in the newspaper.


  • Fifty pounds Sterling reward! That’s a lot! When one considers that the average day laborer in England could expect to make no more than 10 to 12 pounds Sterling a year, that comes out to about $100,000.00 in today’s money! Horier must have made a really big score when he took off!

  • I would certainly be interested in more stories of British deserters. Can anyone point me to documentation or reading sources?

  • Commanders were responsible for the monies advanced to them by the government and for the “Arrears” withheld from the men’s pay. A commander who did not show a good-faith effort to recover such losses would not have been released from his liability or reimbursed by the Army. Horler flew the coup in April and Traille waited until August to advertise for his return… not exactly an energetic recovery attempt. Wonder what the regimental account books record regarding obligation for the missing sums.

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