The British Soldiers Who Marched to Concord, April 19, 1775

"A View of the Town of Concord." Plate II Amos Doolittle, 1775. (Albany Institute of History & Art, gift, 1920)

During the night of April 18-19, 1775, a force of roughly 700 British soldiers left Boston on a mission to find and destroy rebel military stores in Concord, Massachusetts. What happened on that day is the topic of innumerable books and articles, most of which treat the soldiers as an amorphous mass of men. But they were individual people, each with a distinctive background and subsequent life. Who were they? What were they like, in terms of background, age, and military experience? What became of them?

The information in this article pertains solely to the sergeants, corporals, drummers, fifers, and private men who marched on April 19. Their names were recorded on muster rolls, most of which survive in The National Archives of Great Britain.[1] The age, place of birth and other details on some of these men can be found in pension records, and details on a few others come from a host of alternative primary sources.[2]

The expedition to Concord consisted of eleven grenadier companies and ten light infantry companies detached from British regiments garrisoned in Boston.[3] At full strength, each had two sergeants, three corporals, one drummer, and thirty-six private soldiers, and each grenadier company also had two fifers. This means that the most men who could have marched out that day was 42 sergeants, 63 corporals, 42 drummers, 42 fifers, and 756 private soldiers—945 men, not including officers. It is clear that not every single man of each company marched out on April 19. For example, an officer recorded that the 23rd Regiment sent out 29 grenadier and 35 light infantry “rank & file,” meaning corporals and private soldiers.[4] Muster rolls survive to tell us the names of the men in most of the companies, but not exactly which ones marched out on April 19.

Using muster rolls as a guide and incorporating information from other sources, it is possible to construct a demographic profile of a large sample of grenadiers and light infantrymen involved in the first conflict of the American Revolution. The information below pertains to the companies as a whole, based on the muster rolls, bearing in mind that some of these men may not have been on the march that day. British army pension records provide most of the details, but only, of course, for those men who received pensions. Comparing these records with muster rolls for the grenadier and light infantry companies involved on April 19 yields data for almost 200 men. Additional information comes from a host of sources including American records on prisoners of war, advertisements for deserters and escapees, and an assortment of military documents.

At this writing, the nationality of 200 men has been determined:

111 English
36 Scottish
3 Welsh
49 Irish
1 American

When a man applied for a pension, his age was recorded—but not his date of birth. This makes it possible to determine each man’s approximate age on April 19, 1775, knowing that it might be off by a year depending upon his date of birth and the date his age was recorded. With data available for 202 men, this inaccuracy makes little difference. Dividing the ages into groupings, we find:

Age in 1775 Number of Men
15 – 20 years old 5
21 – 25 years old 33
26 – 30 years old 44
31 – 35 years old 53
36 – 40 years old 40
41 – 45 years old 16
46 – 50 years old 10
51 – 55 years old 1

 

Grenadiers and light infantrymen were selected for their skill as soldiers; they were the most capable men in each British regiment. One requirement for service in these elite companies was at least a year of military experience—there were no new recruits in the grenadiers and light infantry. The length of service, as of 1775, of 240 men has been determined. We have:

Length of Service Number of Men
1 year 3
2 to 5 years 37
6 to 10 years 91
11 to 20 years 95
21 years or more 14

 

Seldom were men accepted as recruits before they were seventeen years of age, and most British soldiers enlisted between the ages of twenty and twenty-five.[5] In an era when few children attended school beyond the age of about twelve, boys and young men found some sort of work before they were old enough to enlist. Some pursued trades, while others worked at whatever labor they could. Pension rolls record these avocations, using the term “labourer” for anyone who did not have a trade, regardless of education or social background—occasionally, men who met all of the qualifications for becoming an officer but who lacked the means and influence to obtain a commission entered the ranks as private soldiers, and were listed as “labourers” not because they had toiled at labor, but because they had not followed a trade before enlisting.[6]

Trades have been identified for 188 of the men who served in grenadier and light infantry companies on April 19, 1775:

95 Labourers
21 Weavers
11 Tailors
6 Carpenters
4 each: Shoemakers, Hosiers, Framework knitters, Clothiers
3 Butchers
2 each: Blacksmiths, Smiths, Coopers, Dyers, Cordwainers, Wool combers
1 each: Baker, Bleacher, Brickmaker, Button maker, Cabinet maker, Cutler, Engraver, Glover, Gunsmith, Husbandman, Malster, Mason, Musician, Nailor, Sawyer, Serge weaver, Stockenor, Stuff weaver, Tallow chandler, Toy maker, Upholsterer, Whip maker, Whitesmith, Woolcard maker

The British commander in chief reported 73 men killed, 174 wounded and 53 missing on April 19. This included casualties in the 1,500-man relief force that met the retreating grenadiers and light infantry at Lexington that afternoon. It is not possible to determine exactly how many of the casualties were from the force that had marched to Concord. Muster rolls show the names of twenty grenadiers and light infantrymen who died on April 19 or within the next few days. Tracing men through subsequent muster rolls reveals the fate of another 458 of them—again, including only those who were sergeants, corporals, drummers, fifers or private soldiers on April 19, 1775:

199 received pensions
8 received land grants in Nova Scotia
7 became officers
17 deserted
227 died while in service, including 120 from the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775

A few of the men who were wounded on April 19 obtained brief statements from officers attesting to their wounds, statements that bolstered their cases for deserving pensions. These statements, combined with other data recorded by the pension office, allow us to create brief biographical sketches of a few soldiers.

John Mosely was born in 1744 in the town of Leicester in England. He was five-feet-six and three-quarters inches tall and joined the army in 1764. By 1775 he was in the light infantry company of the 5th Regiment of Foot, and was wounded in the left arm on April 19. He recovered quickly enough to fight at Bunker Hill just two months later, where he was wounded in the left shoulder. This wound also did not put him out of the war. In September 1777 he was on the British campaign to capture Philadelphia; he was wounded once again, this time in the right knee at the Battle of Brandywine on September 11. In spite of three wounds in two years, Mosely continued his career in the army until June 1784 when he received a pension.[7]

Born in St. Andrews, Norfolk, England, in 1731, John Smith pursued the trade of a dyer before joining the army in 1754. Serving in the 4th Regiment of Foot, he was wounded in the leg during the British capture of Martinique in 1762. He was in the regiment’s grenadier company on April 19, 1775, when, at the age of forty-four, he was wounded “through his thigh.” He nonetheless continued in the army until September 1788 when he received a pension for his thirty-one years of service.[8]

Mathew Haymour joined the 23rd Regiment of Foot in 1766 at the age of twenty. A “labourer” from the town of Burnley, Lancashire, he was in the regiment’s grenadier company on April 19. He was wounded twice that day, in the right thigh and left foot. At Bunker Hill he was on the march again, and received a wound in the right shoulder. These wounds were not debilitating; Haymour remained in the army until 1790 and was granted a pension in recognition of his twenty-four years as a soldier.[9]

James Rennison, a native of Kendal in the county of Westmorland in northwest England, had been a weaver before he joined the army in 1759 at the age of just sixteen. At five feet six inches tall, with brown hair, hazel eyes, a swarthy complexion and “round visage,” he was a corporal in the 59th Regiment’s light infantry company when he was wounded in the thigh on April 19, 1775. His wound did not prevent him from taking part in the bloody Battle of Bunker Hill that June. In December, he and his comrades in the 59th received the welcome news that they were going back to Britain, having been in America for nearly ten years. But his war was not over. The regiment was sent to Gibraltar, where Rennison and his fellow soldiers endured a four-year siege, one of the longest in military history. In 1788 he was discharged from the army and granted a pension after twenty-nine years in the army. Doing what many men in his position did, he joined the army again, this time in the 6th Regiment of Foot. He was discharged again in 1791 and returned to the pension rolls. But he was a military man – he enlisted again, into the 95th Regiment, and served until 1797 when he was discharged once more. He joined an invalid company, an army corps of men no longer fit for overseas service who garrisoned installations in Great Britain. In 1802 he was discharged and returned to the pension rolls yet again, at the age of fifty-nine, having spent more than forty years in the army.[10]

The fighting on April 19 affected families as well as the soldiers themselves. Samuel Lee, a grenadier in the 18th Regiment of Foot, left his family in Boston when he marched to Concord. He was taken prisoner that day, and ultimately chose to remain in Concord where he remarried and lived until his death in 1790.[11] What became of his family in Boston remains unknown; probably they returned to Great Britain with other widows in August 1775. Catherine Rogers’ husband Daniel was a grenadier in the 38th Regiment, and died of wounds on April 20, 1775. She remained with the regiment in America, and eventually married another soldier of the 38th, Thomas Mason, in New York in May 1777.[12]

Dennis Green of the 5th Regiment’s grenadier company was wounded on April 19, hit by a musket ball that lodged in his body. The native of Mallow in County Cork, Ireland, who stood almost six feet tall, recovered from the wound, but army surgeons were unable to extract the ball. He nonetheless served for eight more years, going before the army pension board in 1783. An officer wrote that he suffered “under a Complaint, occasioned by a Musquet shot (which still remains in his Body) he received at Lexinton N. America, & is so reduced in Body that it does not seem probable he will recover) And will not by Labour be able to Provide a Maintenance for himself.”[13] That bullet from the first day of the war remained with him for the rest of his life.

 

[1]Muster rolls are in the WO 12 collection, The National Archives (TNA), Kew, Richmond, Surrey, UK.

[2]Pension records from this era consist primarily of data in: Pension Admission Books, WO 116, TNA; Soldiers’ Discharges, WO 97, WO 119 ana WO 121, TNA.

[3]The grenadier and light infantry companies were detached from the 4th, 5th, 10th, 23rd, 38th, 43rd, 47th, 52nd, and 59th Regiments of Foot, and a battalion of Marines. The grenadier company of the 18th Regiment of Foot also participated.

[4]Frederick Mackenzie, The Diary of Frederick Mackenzie (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1930), 23.

[5]For details on British army recruiting during this era, see Don N. Hagist, Noble Volunteers: the British Soldiers who fought the American Revolution (Westholme, 2020).

[6]See Hagist, Noble Volunteers, 35, 47.

[7]Discharge of John Mosely, WO 97/274/18, TNA.

[8]Discharge of John Smith, WO 121/5/226, TNA.

[9]Discharge of Mathew Haymour, WO 121/8/92, TNA.

[10]Discharges of James Rennison, WO 121/3/157, WO 121/140/371, WO 121/146/407, WO 121/154/509, TNA.

[11]Concord, Massachusetts Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1635–1850 (Boston: Thomas Todd, 1895), 420; for having a family in Boston, see Prisoners in Concord Jail, December 6, 1775, Revolutionary War Records SC1 Series 57, vol. 8, Massachusetts State Archives.

[12]Muster rolls, 38th Regiment of Foot, WO 12/5171; “Marriage Licenses in New York”, New York Genealogical and Biographical Record Vol. 47 No. 2 (April 1916), 179.

[13]Discharge of Dennis Green, WO 97/271/32, TNA.

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2 Comments

  • Don, thank you for another outstanding article about the soldiers who marched to and from Concord. They were engaged at this hour, 247 years ago. As always, thank you for reiterating that each man was an individual person with a unique life story. I look forward to your next article.

  • Excellent description of British rank & file and how much they suffered in April to June 1775. Several British stayed in Concord after the war as I found researching Col. James Barrett’s Farm. He was also in charge of Concord Gaol, shown in a c.1770s British prisoner’s view. I found similar examples in the Battle of Short Hills, NJ, June 26, 1777 where pension and other accounts described wounded, captured and deserters, one of whom switched sides from PA-German militia to Hessians; others joined invalid corps.

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