Deserter advertisements and runaway notices, fascinating though they are, provide only single elements of what were certainly more complex stories. In rare cases, further research reveals much more about a person. Take this ad, for example:
Twenty Dollars Reward.
Deserted from Captain Jacob Mauser’s company, of the sixth Pennsylvania regiment, on Monday the 11th instant, (May) a recruit named Thomas Pickworth, says he was born in England, about five feet eight inches high, dark complexion, middling thick, about thirty five years of age, says he is a shoemaker by trade and lived in Philadelphia: It is thought he made towards Virginia with some people moving that way, and perhaps may change his name: Had on when he went away, a brown coat, long blue breeches, and a little hat. Whoever takes up said deserter and secures him in any gaol so that he may be had again, shall have the above reward, paid by the subscriber in Maxatawny Township, Berks County. Jacob Mauser, Capt. 6th P.R.
[The Pennsylvania Packet, June 3, 1778]
The man seems ordinary enough, but there was something he hadn’t told the officer who enlisted him; or at least which hadn’t been included in the ad. Thomas Pickworth, or Peckworth, had deserted from a British regiment, the 23rd Regiment of Foot (known as the Royal Welch Fuziliers) on May 1, 1778. That regiment’s muster rolls, along with some general knowledge about how to interpret the information on them, indicate that he probably enlisted in England some time in 1776 or early 1777, and joined the regiment in New York along with other recruits in the summer of 1777. He had indeed lived in Philadelphia, but only as a soldier in the 23rd Regiment while the British occupied that city.
Having deserted from the British on or around May 1, and deserted again from the 6th Pennsylvania Regiment on May 11, we can guess that Pickworth was an opportunist who used the army for his own devices. It was not uncommon for men to desert from one side and join the other, and sometimes to return again, but we don’t know each individual’s reasons for doing so. Pickworth may have enlisted in England only to get a trip to America, and enlisted in Pennsylvania only to get bounty money.
After deserting from the 6th Pennsylvania Regiment only days after enlisting, he at some point joined a company of Continental Marines in Philadelphia commanded by Capt. Robert Mullan. Once again he proved untrustworthy; he was advertised once again as a deserter in the Pennsylvania Gazette on October 6, 1779, when he was described as “about 37 years of age, 5 feet 9 inches high, dark complexion; had on when he went off a light coloured cloth coat, his other clothing not remembered, a shoemaker by trade.” What became of him after that is not known.
For profiles of individual British soldiers who served in America, including many who deserted, try the British Soldiers, American Revolution blog.
For more newspaper perspectives of the war, see Reporting the Revolutionary War.