The history of the Provincial Corps of Pennsylvania Loyalists is presented in 7 parts. Click below to skip to:
Part 1 - Introduction & The Philadelphia Campaign, 1777
|A History of the Provincial Corps of Pennsylvania Loyalists - Part 3 of 7|
Philadelphia to Pensacola
While the British army remained at Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Loyalists appear not to have been involved in any actions whatsoever. While the other new corps, such as the Philadelphia Light Dragoons and the Bucks County Volunteers were involved in several raids into the countryside, many of the Pennsylvania Loyalists seemed occupied with deserting.
Indeed, from the time of their first muster on 26 November to their second on 24 February 1778, at least 45 men deserted from the regiment, or put another way, over 25% of the 172 men listed at the muster had deserted in less than three months. Thirteen men deserted on 28 January alone.
One journeyman of sorts who brought additional shame to the regiment was a private in Captain SWIFT's Company, Charles Smith BURTON. This eighteen year old was "of a good family in Dublin, and had been educated at Trinity Colledge but by wildness and misfor[t]une had dissipated a good Estate."
At five o'clock on the morning of 26 March 1778, BURTON crept into the bedroom of Lieutenant James MERCER of the British Marines and starting stealing items from his chest. MERCER awoke and, after a brief struggle, apprehended BURTON.
At his trial a few days later, a witness who had seen BURTON when he was apprehended, was asked whether or not he appeared in liquor, the reply to which was: "He appeared to be so when he first saw him, but in about five minutes he seemed to be quite otherwise."
The hapless Irish youth plead that he was drunk and knew what happened. A court found him guilty and sentenced him to death. His crime was stealing between thirty and forty guineas, a silver snuff box, a small pocket book, an ivory foot ruler, three handkerchiefs and two pair of gloves.25
Poor Charles was scheduled to be hanged by the neck until dead on the 15th of April on the Common, between the hours of ten and noon.26 The day before his sentence was to be carried out, Sir William HOWE postponed it for five days.27 Once again, the day before his intended demise, Sir William postponed it again, this time indefinitely.
HOWE sent the case home to be laid before the King himself to see if the young soldier was an object of Royal mercy.28 Within two months the case was reviewed by the King, who indeed did grant a free pardon to BURTON, and he was accordingly discharged from both his confinement and the army.29
There is no mention made of any punishment being given to some unknown soldier who left eighteen pairs of regimental trousers at a person's house which he apparently forgot. There was a reward of one guinea for the safe return of the clothing "and no questions asked."30
The course of the war had changed since the Pennsylvania Loyalists had been authorized. Within days of ALLEN receiving his warrant, Lieutenant General John BURGOYNE surrendered a large British force in northern New York, influencing the French to recognize the new American government and declare war on England.
With the imminent arrival of a French Fleet off the Delaware Bay and a large portion of the British army being ordered away, the decision was made to evacuate Philadelphia. Therefore, on 18 June 1778, the British army abandoned the city and commenced their march across New Jersey, pointed in the direction of Sandy Hook and the relative safety of the Royal Navy.
During the march, which would take about twelve days, the Pennsylvania Loyalists would have the unglamorous task of covering the right flank of the massive British baggage train, which stretched for miles.31 On this duty the regiment suffered its first combat losses, losing two men taken prisoner on the march. Remarkably, only one soldier took the opportunity to desert.32
It was during this period that one of the largest encounters of the war took place, the Battle of Monmouth. While the two armies slugged it out in intense heat on the 28th of June, the Pennsylvania Loyalists and other corps under the command of the Hessian Lieut. General KNYPHAUSEN escorted the baggage on its slow trek towards the heights of Neversunk and Sandy Hook. At least two parties of Rebels attacked the baggage and this is most likely where one of the Pennsylvanians was captured.
The next day, after the stalemated and exhausting battle, the army rejoined and recommenced its march, arriving at the Jersey shore on 1 July 1778.33 A total of 170 officers and men, plus 8 women of the regiment had made the long march across New Jersey and come through it relatively unscathed.34
After their removal to Long Island, the corps settled into an uneventful garrison. Major General William TRYON, senior ranking Provincial officer, briefly put the corps under his command for an intended march to the east end of Long Island, but opted instead to use the Maryland Loyalists and Roman Catholic Volunteers.35 Their term of service on Long Island would be as eventful as their garrisoning of Philadelphia, which is to say they would see no action and be involved in no duty of any consequence.
That would soon change. A full 10,000 British, German and Provincial troops would be leaving New York in five major transfers: a small reinforcement of the garrison of Nova Scotia, another to the Island of New Providence, a massive reinforcement to the West Indies, an invasion force of the Province of Georgia, and three regiments to the far off garrison of Pensacola, West Florida. These three regiments were the 3rd Waldeck Regiment, the Maryland Loyalists and the Pennsylvania Loyalists.36
This dispersal of the British army from New York effectively drained away any offensive capability from Sir Henry CLINTON, who had replaced Sir William HOWE as commander in chief. These instructions mostly came from England, which now had to deal with a much wider war with France and the possibility of hostilities with Spain. Far flung territories now became vulnerable due to the large French Navy, and previously safe garrisons instantly became threatened.
So massive was the British withdrawal from New York that many Rebel spies in New York City confidently reported the entire city was being evacuated.37 One letter from Springfield, New Jersey stated:
"BY this express I have the pleasure to inform you, that the enemy are leaving New York. We have known, for some days, that several transports were ready - It was said 250 sail of transports, besides store ships... Part of the Greens were on board some days ago..."38The "Greens" is an interesting reference as it alludes to the color of the troops' uniforms. Green regimental coats were the first uniforms sent over for Provincial forces early in 1777. The other Provincial regiments being embarked for Halifax and Georgia were known to have received new red coats in 1778, so we may surmise this is a reference to the Maryland and Pennsylvania Loyalists.
Thus ordered, the troops started embarking the middle of October, however it was not until the last day of that month that they finally set sail from Staten Island. It could not have been a worse time. The fleet was immediately hit by a storm by the time it dropped anchor at Sandy Hook the next day.
One of the passengers on this fleet was the Chaplain Philipp WALDECK, of the 3rd Waldeck Regiment, who kept a marvelous account of the voyage and subsequent service in West Florida. He described the frightening reality of an 18th Century late Autumn sea voyage:
"Frightfully unpleasant, stormy weather. In the winter months when the storms and waves keep the sea in constant motion, a trip for me is unpleasant from the very beginning. The waves were as high as the ship and we feared we might break loose from our anchors, of which we had put three out. At night there was even less rest than during the day. No one could close his eyes because when he lay down in bed, he could hardly keep from falling out. Our bags, equipment, and everything that was breakable, broke during the night. There was such a clatter in the cupboards in the cabin that it seemed nothing could remain in one piece...on the sea, the ship groans as if about to break in pieces. The waves throw it about from one side to the other, so that a man does not have enough hands with which to hang on. If a person, who has not learned patience, goes to sea, he will learn it, whether or not he wants to."39The first stop for the fleet would be Jamaica, where they would reassemble the ships that had separated during the trip and take on fresh water and supplies. The fleet arrived on the 2nd & 3rd of December 1778 and the troops were allowed to disembark.
The regiments were posted to Kingston, and the men, both Germans & Provincials, had their first taste of what life on the islands was like. Wealthy merchants living on vast plantations in the country. Tropical fruits and beverages in great abundance.
And on a much more unfortunate note, they saw up close the devastating state of slavery as practiced there in 1778. Once again, from the eyes of Chaplain WALDECK:
"The heart of the humanitarian bleeds when he sees the miserable life of the slaves. Except for their shape, a person sees no difference between these unfortunate beings and the animals. Completely naked, both men and women, they are driven to their work place, and between their legs they wear a folded linen cloth, tied on with a narrow band. Behind them goes a slave driver, a man compared with whom every other type of overseer seems to be a noble man. The women go about their work in the city, two by two, smoking their pipes. On the other hand, they enjoy a good fortune which their masters do not have. They have a naturally strong and healthy body as opposed to the whites, who are pale and appear to be half dead."40The climate of Jamaica did not take well to troops from a much more northern climate. Sickness broke out among both the Maryland and Pennsylvania Loyalists and additional medicines needed to be purchased. What may have contributed to their ill health was the poor state of their clothing, described by the commander of the expedition as nothing but "tatters and rags," particularly among the Pennsylvanians.
To alleviate their distress, Brigadier General John CAMPBELL purchased 290 sets of uniforms from one of the regiments in garrison on the island, the Loyal Irish Corps.41 This clothing was issued out to the men of both corps who stood in most want.
The new uniform consisted of a red regimental coat, faced deep green. The lace on the facings was to be white with a red and yellow stripe. The lace for the officers' coats was to be silver.42 This would be the uniform associated with the corps for the remainder of the war.
The regiment and the other corps of the expedition were mustered on 26 December 1778 in preparation of their embarkation to West Florida that day. The regiment had present 13 officers and 145 other ranks. Since their leaving New York, 3 had died, 4 deserted and 20 others were then in the hospital.43
The fleet, after several day's delay, set sail from Port Royal the end of the month, when an epidemic of small pox swept through the transport carrying the Maryland Loyalists.44 Thirty six men, primarily from two companies, died within the next seven weeks from that corps alone, while the Pennsylvanians suffered no losses whatsoever.
Upon their arrival at Pensacola that January, the troops became familiar with this strange, new land. The city, the capital of the Province of West Florida, was strategically important as it lay astride the shipping routes between the Spanish possessions of Havana and New Orleans. Spain and England were still technically at peace, but the British strongly suspected the Spanish from New Orleans of aiding the Rebels financially and militarily.
Besides the city of Pensacola, the British kept detachments at Baton Rouge, Mobile, and Manchac. Previously, the only troubles that had so far reached the province was a 1778 raid down the Mississippi River by a group of plunderers commanded by the Rebel James Willing. Willing's Raid, and the covert aid given it by the Spanish, only alerted the British to the weaknesses of their outposts.
When war arrived between the two European powers, it would be the Pennsylvanians who would be on the front lines.
Their new home was described as thus:
"Pensacola is built rather widely scattered, and taking all buildings into account, one can say there are about 200 houses. These have all been built since the last war when this pitiful land was surrendered to the English crown. They are all made of light wood, and as dictated by the hot climate, built so that air can circulate through them... The streets, if they can be called that, are full of sand in which one walks with the sand, like snow in Germany, over the shoes, and in summer, so hot that the shoe soles and feet are burned... The lodgings are as good as could be desired, and I fear that this is the only thing that I can say that is good or of note about Pensacola."45
25 Court Martial Proceedings of Private Charles Smith Burton, 30 March 1778. PRO, WO 71/86/24-27.
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