I spend the majority of time on the site exploring Irish men and women connected to United States military service in America. We sometimes forget that there were some men for whom the reverse was true. In the 18th century, British regiments stationed in America drew native-born men into their ranks, and some from loyalist families chose to depart with them from the new United States. Inevitably, some of these ordinary American men saw service in Ireland, and some ultimately entered the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, the main veteran’s home in Dublin. The hospital’s records serve as a reminder of just how cosmopolitan and international many garrison towns in 18th and 19th century Ireland could be. Among the handful of men “recommended as a fit Object of His Majesty’s Royal Bounty of Kilmainham Hospital” explored below are not just white-men born in New York and Philadelphia, but also an African American from South Carolina, and a man who likely spent time enslaved in what is now Haiti.
George Smith, 15th Regiment of Foot, c. 1758-1785
George had been born in Philadelphia around 1735. He was a labourer when he enlisted in the 15th Regiment of Foot, probably around 1758, when the unit arrived in America. He saw service in both the Seven Years’ War and the American War of Independence. George was in Wolfe’s ranks outside Quebec for the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759, faced George Washington and his Continentals at Brooklyn and White Plains in 1776, and fought at the Brandywine, Germantown and White Marsh in 1777. In total George spent 28 years with the regiment. When he was discharged in Dublin on 15th March 1785, he was described as being “entirely worn out in the service”.
Christopher May, Caithness Legion, c. 1796-1798
Christopher was born in New York around 1777, but by the late 1790s was making his home in Scotland. He spent all his time with the Legion in Ireland, but the young labourer was only two years in the service when he “lost a part of his right foot in consequence of fever.” At the time, he was stationed in Bantry, West Cork (where the French had attempted to land in 1796) and it was there that his discharge was ordered on 21st February 1798.
William Dean, 16th Regiment of Foot, c. 1776-1802
William was born in New York and probably joined the 16th Regiment when it was deployed to that city from Florida in 1776. He returned with the unit to the South, and served with them in British Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. The regiment moved to England in 1782, and then to Ireland in 1784. In 1790 William was in Nova Scotia, before deploying to Jamaica in 1791, where the 16th stayed for five years and where they were engaged in the Second Maroon War. They returned to home station in 1796, and William was in Kinsale, Co. Cork on 14th May 1802 when his discharge was ordered. It was said that for “several years past” he had suffered from a “pectoral complaint” and was asthmatic. He was described as 5 feet 6 inches tall, and had spent 22 years as a private, two and a half years as a Corporal, and two and a half years as a Serjeant.
John Conlan, 1st Battalion 26th foot (Cameronians), c. 1779-1808
John was born in New York around 1762 (likely to an Irish American family). He probably joined the Cameronians around the time they were leaving America for Britain in 1779, when his profession was described as a trade labourer. John and his comrades were based in England and Scotland until 1783, when they moved to Ireland. In 1787 they sailed from Cork for British North America, serving there until 1800. After a period in England, John moved to Egypt, where he was engaged in the Siege of Alexandria. The 26th again returned to Britain and Ireland, spent some time in Germany in 1805, and by 1808 John were at the Curragh Camp in Co. Kildare. After 28 years he was discharged there on 22nd July, deemed “unfit for service”. He had spent 15 years as a private, six years as a corporal, and seven years as a sergeant. He was 46-years-old.
George Taylor, 58th Regiment/Galway Militia, c. 1789-1812
George was born in New York around 1776. In approximately 1789 he joined the 58th Regiment of Foot, serving for 6 years and six months as a drummer, and then another 6 years as a private. He went with them to the West Indies, and was involved in the capture of Martinique from the French in 1794. In 1798 the regiment participated in the taking of Minorca, and George may still have been with them when they fought in Egypt in 1801. After leaving the 58th, he went on to spend a further 11 years as a drummer in the Galway Militia. Eventually, after more than 23 years service, George was discharged in Cork on 25th November 1812, suffering from a “deficit of vision”.
Peter Williams, 64th Foot/Dublin Militia, c. 1789-1798
Peter was born in Charleston, South Carolina. He was African American, and his family may well have been one of the many who took advantage of the British Revolutionary presence in Charleston to escape enslavement. Peter joined the 64th Foot around the year 1789, and likely served with them in the West Indies during the capture of Martinique. On their return to Europe, Peter moved into the Dublin Militia, with whom he spent a further four years. He and his comrades were marching from Dundalk to Ennis in the summer of 1797 when an artillery caisson ran over his hand. He was ultimately discharged as a result in Dublin on 14th May 1798, with the order confirmed in Arklow, Co. Wicklow on 20th November 1799. When he left the military, he was described as 5 feet 4 inches tall, 30-years-old, and “had no trade being a black”.
George Tombs, 20th Light Dragoons, c. 1798-1818
Though not American, another soldier who could well have experienced slavery was George Tombs, who was born around 1781 in St. Mark, part of the of French colony of Saint-Domingue. In 1791 the enslaved rose up against those who held them in bondage the island, sparking a protracted struggle that would ultimately lead to the establishment of Haiti in 1804. On 18th October 1798 George, then aged 14, enlisted in Jamaica for unlimited service in the 20th Light Dragoons. Among the locations he saw service was South America, where they fought at the Battle of Montevideo in 1807 and at the River Plate. They later went to the Peninsula, fighting at locations such as the Battle of Vimeiro in 1808, and they spent a number of years in the Mediterranean. Returning to Ireland, George was discharged on 10th December 1818 in Cahir, Co. Tipperary, as the regiment was being disbanded. He had spent 20 years and 54 days in service, ending his time as a Trumpet Major. He was described as 37-years-old, 5 feet 8 inches tall, with black hair, black eyes and a black complexion. In Tipperary George was provided with “the sum of one pound five shillings and three half pence …as marching allowance for himself and family from Cahir Barracks to Dublin” .
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Royal Hospital Kilmainham Records.
Jessica WeatherbeeNovember 21, 2019 1:42 am
Cosmopolitan, indeed! Such fascinating biographies.