Bands of Music in the British Army 1762-1790

“The band of Musick very fine. The whole perfectly well cloathed and appointed”

On the 9th of March, 1768, Alexander Mackrabie wrote to his sister to describe his time in Philadelphia. Unfortunately for him, he writes, “at this place and at this season there is so little of anything amusing.” In order to pass the time, Mr. Mackrabie described a recent practice in the city that was “extremely in vogue” called “Serenading.”

We—with four or five young officers of the regiment in barracks—drink as hard as we can to keep out the cold, and about midnight sally forth, attended by the Band which consists of ten musicians, horns, clarionets, hautboys, and bassoons, march through the streets and play under the window of any lady you choose to distinguish, which they esteem a high Compliment. . . . I have been out twice and only once got a violent cold by it.[1]

Figure 1: Detail Showing the Band of the 1st Foot Guards, Artist Unknown, 1753

Bands of Music, also known simply as bands, were another musical entity that existed in the British Army. It is at this point that a distinction must be made between drums and fifes and bands of music. Drummers and fifers were enlisted to play the drum and fife for various duties in camp, signals in battle, and other martial ceremonies. In a regiment of foot, only the grenadier company was allowed two fifers. The other companies were only officially allowed one drummer per company, with the light company typically swapping its drummer for a horn player.[2]

            Instrumentation of a band varied by regiment but generally followed the German tradition of Harmoniemusik, or wind music. Typically scored for at least 6 instruments, compositions included parts for clarinets, hautboys (known today as oboes), horns, and bassoons.[3]

            A roll for the musicians of the 23rd Regiment exists from 1786. The leader, or Band Master was Jacob LeCroix. Under him were 2 clarinets, 2 hautboys, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, and a timpani player. All of the men under LeCroix served in America, with the newest member of the band having served 5 years by 1786.[4]

When the band of the Royal Artillery was formed in 1762, Lieutenant-Colonel Phillips came up with Articles of Agreement. They laid out rules that most other regiments would unofficially use for their own bands.

  1. The band to consist of eight men. who must also be capable to play upon the violoncello, bass, violin and flute, as other common instruments.
  2. The regiment’s musick must consist of two trumpets, two French horns, two bassoons, and four hautbois or clarinets ; these instruments to be provided by the regiment, but kept in repair by the head musician.
  3. The musicians will be looked upon as actual soldiers, and cannot leave the regiment without a formal discharge. The same must also behave them, according to the articles of war.
  4. The aforesaid musicians will be clothed by the regiment.
  5. [In the handwriting of Colonel Phillips.] Provided the musicians are not found to be good performers at their arrival they will be discharged, and at their own expense. This is meant to make the person who engages the musicians careful in his choice.”[5]

Figure 2: The Band, c. 1780, Attributed to Thomas Rowlandson

As seen in the Royal Artillery Articles of Agreement, bands were typically made up of private soldiers. These men would receive extra pay from the officers of a regiment to supplement their wages as well as buying instruments. The soldiers were not drummers and fifers; instead, they were known as musicians. Despite being soldiers, these men were talented professional musicians, often able to play multiple instruments. Members of the band did not play or typically fight in battle but instead fulfilled other duties, military and non-military.[6]

It was not uncommon for drummers or fifers to also be members of the band. William Simpson of the 29th Regiment deserted from New York in December of 1770. In his description, his officer wrote that Simpson

“plays well on the Flute and Fife, and plays a little on the Violin and French Horn. Had on when he went away, a short yellow Coat, fac’d Red,. . . the Coat lac’d with Drummers’ Lace.”

William Simpson was most likely a fifer in the 29th but because he could play multiple instruments, it is possible he was in the band. [7]

Figure 3: British Foot Guards Parading at St James Place, c. 1792, Artist Unkown

Now that we know what a band was and who their musicians were, the next post will cover the duties and repertoires of these “genteel corps of music.”


[1] Philip France, Beata Francis, Eliza Keary, C. F. Keary, and Junius, The Francis Letters, New York: E.P. Dutton and Co., 1901, Pages 89-92, Accessed September 3, 2017,

[2] John Williamson, The Elements of Military Arrangement; Comprehending the Tacktick, Exercise, Manoevers, and Discipline of the British Infantry, with an Appendix, containing the substance of the principal standing Orders and Regulations for the Army, London: John Wiliamson, 1781, Page 7. Courtesy of Andrew Kirk


[4] Sherri Rapp, British Regimental Bands of Musick: The Material Culture of Regimental Bands of Music According to Pictorial Documentation, Extant Clothing, and Written Descriptions 1750-1800, Accessed September 4, 2017,

[5] Ibid.

[6] Williamson, The Elements, London: John Wiliamson, 1781, Page 7

[7] The New-York Gazette or the Weekly Post-Boy, September 17, 1770, Page 4


Joshua is an undergraduate student at Rhode Island College majoring in Secondary Education and History. He’s been researching fifers, drummers, and bands of music during the eighteenth century for the past 5 years.



The Speaker’s House, Trappe PA

This elegant townhome, which reminds you far more of the elegant 18th century townhomes of Philadelphia rather than a home in the rural countryside 25 miles west of that city, was nearly lost to history thanks to modern development. If it had not been for the tireless efforts of concerned citizens, a CVS would stand on this sight today. When you drive up Ridge Pike, following the path that the Continental Army took multiple times into and away from Philly, you see this huge stone house facing down the small shopping center across the street. The years show on this building. The remains of stucco partially obscure the stonework below the roofline, the ghostly outline of an addition to the house that once connected on the eastern wall is all that remains of the general store erected by Frederick Muhlenberg, Lutheran Minister, First Speaker of the House of Representatives, and one of the early judges in Montgomery County PA, son of the famous Henry Muhlenberg: Patriarch of the Lutheran Church in America, and brother to Peter Muhlenberg: the famous Fighting Parson of Virginia during the American Revolution.


Yet, even with the scaffolding wrapped around the house, you can’t help but be amazed by its simple beauty. 4 corner fireplaces in the main section of the house, 2 on each floor. A brand new roof, replacing the Victorian-era modification, restores the houses 18th century roofline; complete with cedar shingles and crown molding copied from the surviving originals found on the property. Behind the main section of the house are the two additions, the latest dates to the early 19th century, within has been found the outline of the original kitchen hearth and bread oven. This is the next restoration project planned. Directly behind the last addition stands the house’s recreated Pennsylvania German Kitchen Garden. Within the white fence, the style of which was copied from local period examples, are 4 central raised beds and others running around the perimeter.


Here, volunteers grow, maintain, and then sell heirloom vegetables, herbs, spices, and flowers that would have been familiar to the people who once called this house home. All of the work, from the masons and carpenters capering on the roof, to the more agriculturally minded watering and pruning plants, everyone working at The Speaker’s House is passionate about bringing the stories that took place in this house and around it alive.

20161010_162414Originally built in 1763 for John Schrack, son of Trappe’s founder, John was the keeper of the original Trappe Tavern, for which the area gets its name. That original tavern stood directly across the street from the house, roughly where a bank is now. After John’s death in 1772 it changed hands multiple times. During the revolution, one of the owners, Johannes Reed, was required to billet soldiers coming from Fort Ticonderoga in New York in his house. Reverend Henry Muhlenberg, who lives just up the road, noted this in his journal. In 1781, Frederick Muhlenberg bought the house and the 50 acres it sat on. This is when he added the 30 ft x 20 ft store, and a further addition on the west side of the house. In 1791, Frederick sold the house sister and his brother in-law Mary and Francis Swaine, who sold the house in 1803 to Charles Albrecht, a musical instrument maker from Philadelphia. Both Frederick and Peter owned Charles Albrecht made pianos in their homes. The house continued to change hands off and on, becoming property of Ursinus College from 1924-1944 and then returning to private ownership again.

By the 1990s the house was converted for apartment living and in desperate need of renovation. In 1999 CVS thought about buying the property and demolishing this house. Thankfully, this was not to be, and by 2004 the house was purchased by the non-profit that manages it today.


Though there’s still a lot of work left to be done to bring this house back into its former glory, the group of people who take care of it are more than up to the task. Along with the house itself, it is hoped that the Smoke House, Privy, General Store, and Barn can all be rebuilt in the future on the foundations that remain from the original structures. Whenever you make it out to The Speaker’s House, plan on stopping by again in the future. There’ll be something new to see every time!


Kyle is a long time reenactor, a Combat Medic in the PA National Guard, and currently an employee of the National Park Service. His wife and cat think he’s pretty alright.


The Speaker’s House is in Trappe Pennsylvania and they are hosting a living history event on September 30th, 2017. It has been under renovation since 2004. Come out and support our local history!

If you would like to write a short history of your local public historical home please send emails to

Half a Year in Review

Hello friends and family of the 17th Regiment of Infantry! Hope you are having a great start to the beginning of the month. As the editor, I wanted to take this opportunity to have a website “meeting” with everyone who reads our blog and participates. I wanted to take thank all of my friends who continue to surprise me with their knowledge of the 18th century civilian and military who have all volunteered to write posts so far:

Katherine Becnel12003335_457618864428696_3522071243183744558_n.jpg
Kyle Timmons
Jenna Schintzer
Mark Odintz PhD.
Will Tatum PhD.
Don Hagist
Carrie Fellows
Damian Niecsior
Tim Macdonald
Andrew Kirk
William Michel
Anna Gruber-Kiefer
Brandyn Charlton

Thank You so much for participating in the blog since we started, it wouldn’t be possible without. (I don’t think I missed listing anyone but if I did I meant to list you!) Here is a lengthy list of the post highlights that we’ve had in the last few months:

Funcomfortable Kat Becnel
Describing reenacting in the bitter cold of From Princeton to Trenton in January 2017
Feminism and FollowingKat Becnel
A farewell opinion piece describing the difference between gal trooping and following the army from a woman’s perspective.
Opening a Window to the Past Jenna Schnitzer
A conversational discussion piece on the representation of women impressions.
Founding the Recreated 17thWill Tatum PhD.
A two part origin story of how the recreated 17th came to be in America.
The Physicality of History Kyle Timmons
A first person simulated account of what 18th Century Soldiers might have had to deal with.
Music Made Easy: A Guide to Period PlayingTim Macdonald 
A brief guide on the do’s and don’ts to period musick playing. An introduction to material culture, in the mix of military discussion.
The Things We Carry Damian Niescior
A short guide to everything an 18th Century Soldier might be seen carrying on his person.
The Things We Carry: On the Strength of the ArmyCarry Fellows
A short guide to everything an 18th Century Follower might be seen carrying on her person.
The Making of a “Massacre” Simcoe’s Surprise Attack At Hancock’s Bridge
William Michel
A brief synopsis of the history of The Hancock House in South Jersey opening the discussion to local history and the importance of saving historic homes from the 18thc.
On Portraying a Member of the Religious Society of Friends During the American RevolutionBrandyn Charlton
A brief discussion of the representation of religion in reenacting with the focus on the religious society of friends developing an introduction to the discussion of religion during the Revolutionary War on the 17th blog.

Changing topic… As editor it’s important to listen to opinions and ideas of what people might want to see. If you can tell I’ve been trying to get a well rounded group of information with everything from; material culture, military history, opinion, and personal reenacting experiences.  I’ve made it my “job” to figure out what the best balance is to share. Not everyone is an active reenactor who seems to read the blog. So what I would like is for active readers to continuously give opinions on what is being posted, so we know what direction to take the discussion.

If you have any requests or topics you would like us to try and discuss please feel free to email me! If you have a topic that you personally would like to discuss please see the Writers Wanted page for more information if you have any questions or comments please use the email listed on that page.

14409902_10155259266372306_4176891046748253415_oOne of my backburner projects for this website has been the 17th Newsletter you see if you open the website for the first time on your browser. Personally it’s a process of learning and developing a new skill. As a senior in college you can imagine the lack of time and the ability to spend a good amount of time to learn new programs by myself. Secondly, a long time work in progress has been updating the 17th Gallery. As a film major I am constantly being reminded of the importance of images in making an impression on an audience. With so many great photographers who come to events and share their work with us it is only fair that I have one place to appreciate each of the photographers per event and where their work can be viewed in one place on our website. This project being delayed is another issue of not having enough time. It is just me working on the website so I appreciate everyone’s patience.

That’s all for this post! Thanks for participating in the discussion of history, see you at the next event.

Remaining 17th Events 2017

Sept 15 – 17
Brandywine, PA / Sandy Hollow

Sept 30

Living History at the Speaker’s House, Trappe, PA

Oct 14 – 15
Occupied Philadelphia with The Museum of the American Revolution

Dec 1 – 3
Garrison event at the Old Barracks Museum Trenton, NJ

mybiopic.pngMARY SHERLOCK
Mary is a full time Film and Media Arts Student at Temple University, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the ‘head’ follower for the 17th Regiment of Infantry. She has been reenacting the Revolutionary War for seven years and is continuing to do so. Mary has been the moderator of the 17th website since 2015 and has been teaching herself html code and css since 2009.

On Portraying a Member of the Religious Society of Friends During the American Revolution

My personal re-enacting story is not unlike many, I have always loved history! From an early age, in fact as far back as I can recall my family were taking vacations that always included an historic site in our plans. My mother tells the story that we would visit these places and I would have so many questions but when she didn’t have an answer I would get upset. She soon resorted to purchasing a guide book at every site we would visit. My first taste of the 18th century was Colonial Williamsburg, as time passed my obsession with history was fueled by my family who would buy me books for every occasion, mostly Civil War at this time. The 18th century interest came after seeing the film Last of the Mohicans (I know but we all had to start somewhere) and instantly knew I had to get into the re-enacting somehow… but that would have to wait.

After my Bachelor’s Degree then Graduate School I finally was at a point that I could think about a hobby. The next several years I participated as much as I could attending events with the Maryland Forces, the 3rd Battalion Pennsylvania Provincial Regiment or Augusta Regiment, then Muskets of the Crown, which was my gateway into the Revolutionary War. Then came the ultimate opportunity, at least for me at that time, I met the Augusta Co. Militia, my re-enacting family and friends for life. I fell in with the ACM after being invited to attend an immersion event at Fort Frederick MD. I finally felt like I “fit”! This group of likeminded people with a laser like focus on accuracy, research and authenticity were just the group I was looking for. I have mostly moved my impression(s) away from the military life and more towards the civilian side of things, however I occasionally field with the ACM for militia company or rifle company events but for the most part my uniforms are retired, replaced by civilian clothing.

So, with that said when, where, and why the Quaker impression? It goes back to an event at Monmouth Battlefield where I knew I could not march nor did I have military gear correct for the impression, so civilian it was and lucky for me there was a need for civilians. There were several impressions available and I chose a New Jersey slave owner so my good friend Anna Gruber-Keifer would have someone to play off her Quaker impression with. It was a good thinking moment and I began to research the Quakers (opens HUGE can of worms) …

Courtesy The Museum of the American Revolution

The next event was the “With Peal to Princeton” march and again the civilian contingent came out but accompanied with that was the AMAZING opportunity to be involved with a promotional shoot for the Museum of the American Revolution. I was asked if I could portray a Quaker, I said yes and knew to do it right I would have to do my homework. I as many had the vision of the Quaker Oats Man in my head as the essential costume of a colonial Quaker. Well I needed to start digging for a better basis than that.

One of the few images available for Quakers of the time is found in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, by an Unidentified Artist. It depicts a Quaker Meeting with what appears one individual standing to give a Testimony. Here was my start, the “plain” attire consistent with the Testimony of Simplicity showed that my brown coat and black waistcoat could work. I would need to construct some breeches for the shoot. Additional research on Quaker dress of the period soon enlightened me further. Although plain dress alone does not make one a Quaker, it was simply an outward expression of faith and adherence to the tenants of the faith.

 Unidentified artist, British, 18th century or first quarter 19th century MFA 64.456

So profound was the dress that several 18th century authors made mention of it. One example comes from John Wesley (1703-1791) in The Sermons of John Wesley, Sermon 88, On Dress when he encourages his congregation to dress like the Quakers:

Traditional Quaker dress, 1767, United States of America 18th century. Engraving.

“I conjure you all who have any regard for me, show me before I go hence, that I have not laboured, even in this respect, in vain, for near half a century. Let me see, before I die, a Methodist congregation, full as plain dressed as a Quaker congregation. Only be more consistent with yourselves. Let your dress be cheap as well as plain; otherwise you do but trifle with God, and me, and your own souls. I pray, let there be no costly silks among you, how grave soever they may be. Let there be no Quaker-linen, — proverbially so called, for their exquisite fineness; no Brussels lace, no elephantine hats or bonnets, — those scandals of female modesty. Be all of a piece, dressed from head to foot as persons professing godliness; professing to do everything, small and great, with the single view of pleasing God”  

(emphasis mine)

In his text “Letters From An American Farmer”, J. Hector St. John De Crevecoeur (1735-1813) writes:

John the Quaker, Cries of London, Anonymous

The manners of the Friends are entirely founded on that simplicity which is their boast, and their most distinguished characteristic; and those manners have acquired the authority of laws. Here they are strongly attached to plainness of dress, as well as to that of language;

Additionally I found this description of Quakers from Thomas Clarkson (1760-1846) In his book “A Portraiture of Quakerism, Volume 2 published in 1806.

“Peculiar Customs” begins with dress.

The dress of the Quakers is the first custom of this nature, that I purpose to notice. They stand distinguished by means of it from all other religious bodies. . . . Both sexes are also particular in the choice of the colour of their clothes. All gay colours such as red, blue, green, and yellow, are exploded. Dressing in this manner, a Quaker is known by his apparel through the whole kingdom. This is not the case with any other individuals of the island, except the clergy . . .”


The Quaker impression went over well at Princeton, and the photos were used in a promotional campaign for the new museum. At Princeton, we had some great crowd interaction on the streets and even had the headmistress of the Friends School adjacent to the battlefield come up and engage me and others in some very meaningful conversation. With fuel for the fire I began reading more and researching the Quaker belief system, its origins, its impact on the Revolution etc.

To talk about all aspects of the Quaker religion, its impact on the social and political environment of the American Revolution is well beyond the scope of this post or my limited knowledge. I have, however over the past year begun to dig more deeply, not only on the Quaker faith but its history and impact on history. Some notable Quakers from this period were Thomas Paine author of Common Sense and American General Nathanael Greene. There are examples of Quakers participating on both sides of the conflict. As well as Quaker persecution by both sides. The most common reference to this I have found so far was regarding the “taking of oaths” which is against Quaker teachings. This led many in the faith to be branded as Loyalists and vice versa. I believe this is a good example of the difficulties many Quakers may have faced in keeping strong in faith while living in a “world turned upside down”. Recollections of the war were recorded by the likes of Phebe Mendenhall Thomas, Joseph Townsend, and Daniel Byrnes all of whom were present at the battle of Brandywine. Their stories shed some light into the thoughts and feelings of Quakers before during and after the battle.


I have always been fascinated by religion from an historical perspective so digging into the Quaker belief system was only natural for me. Although not a practicing Quaker in any stretch of the imagination, the idea of attending meeting now and again if for nothing else but to sit quietly and reflect seems a very inviting opportunity. I’ll report back if there is interest in my experience.

There are always common questions from the public that arise when I put on my “Quaker” kit. I get a lot of “who are you?” or “what are you doing here?” this one is especially true when at military specific re-enactments. Through trial and error, I have learned it is a good idea if one is going to represent a religion or its members, you had better know as much as you can about that religion. This is one aspect of portraying a Quaker that is an even bigger challenge for reenacting and public interactions. Here in Pennsylvania I have noticed that more often than not, you will come in contact with someone who is either a Quaker or has been exposed to the Quaker religion via a friends’ school etc. So, knowing what you are talking about IS VERY IMPORTANT.

One of the most common question that came up on a trip to the Museum of the American Revolution opening weekend was; “are you Ben Franklin?” As I don’t think myself looking much like this founding father except my generous size, I would explain “no I am portraying a member of the Religious Society of Friends or a Quaker”. Many times, this would be the end of the conversation, but I try to engage the public whenever possible throwing out the bait as to just how did the revolution impact this social, religious and political group of people and vice versa. The individual stories aside, one of the primary areas of conversation I try to engage the public in is the idea of being true to one’s beliefs in a world of political change and upheaval? To me this presents a huge talking point and draws some direct relationships between the world of Revolutionary America and the America we are experiencing today.

I take re-enacting not so much as a hobby to be enjoyed on the weekends but more of a calling. I put time and effort not only into my clothing, and elements of material culture, but into my interpretation to the public. I try NOT to perpetuate falsehoods or keep the stereotypes going. I am always trying to learn, expand my knowledge and engage people in the subject I have such passion about. I know I am no expert, I am no classically trained historian I am an amateur at best but I respect the people, places, and things that constitute our collective narrative and strive to present that to those who are willing to listen.

Brandyn is a father of three Cora, Clare and Liam, he and his wife Danielle reside in Northumberland Pennsylvania on the Susquehanna River. He has a Bachelor’s degree from Ohio University and a Master’s degree from Edinboro University of PA. He has been a Certified Athletic Trainer for the past 21 years working in the clinical, high school, and collegiate practice settings.

He currently works in the occupational/industrial setting providing ergonomic services to clients in the Harrisburg area.

Three Captains of the 17th

Mark Odintz returns to the blog this week to reveal the stories of three key officers who served in the 17th during the American Revolution. Their experiences reveal the different paths that officers took in joining the regiment and the varieties of experiences that holders of the king’s commission could expect to confront during their careers. As always, we appreciate Mark sharing his wealth of knowledge.

– Will Tatum

For my next installment of the officers of the 17th, I want to take a look at three long service captains of the regiment, Francis Tew, William Scott and William John Darby, men who spent most of their time in the service in the 17th. Darby and Tew’s ties to the regiment go back to the Seven Years War and all three were mainstays of the regiment for much of the American Revolution.

Francis Tew, one of the bravest and most stalwart (if also one of the unluckiest) officers of the 17th, was born in Ireland in 1737, the child of William Tew of Roddinstown, county Meath, and Hester McManus Tew of Maynooth. He came from the marginal edges of the landed gentry. His father was a third son, and had a large family. Francis’s eldest brother, Mark of Roddinstown, who inherited what property there was, attended Trinity College, Dublin and was described as a “farmer in County Meath”. (National Library of Ireland, Pedigree of Tew Family; plus notes on Tew family on

Louisbourg map
Contemporary image of the French post at Louisbourg, Canada. (J. Rocque, A set of Plans and Forts in America, 1765)

Tew’s early career benefited from the expansion of the British army at the opening stages of the Seven Years War. He entered the 17th as an ensign, most likely without purchase, on April 27, 1756, and was promoted to lieutenant, also without purchase, on Feb. 2, 1757. He served in the grenadier company at the siege of Louisbourg in 1758, and was caught up in one of the few setbacks suffered by British arms during that well-conducted siege. On the night of July 9th the French garrison sortied against the post held by the grenadier company of the 17th and achieved a complete surprise. The company commander, Captain William, Earl of Dundonald, was killed, and Lieutenant Tew was wounded and captured. According to his own memorial of 1770 he “recd 7 Musket Balls in different parts of his body” and his wounds are described in more excruciating detail in Roger Lambs “Journal of the American War”. According to Lamb his wounds appeared so serious that he was not treated for three days, “the surgeons expecting his death every half hour.” He eventually recovered, and rejoined the regiment for the West Indian campaigns at Martinique and Havana. (Lamb, p. 274-75; Barrington Papers, 6D/379, memorial of Francis Tew, 1770 or 1771).

In a rather striking example of how officers without money to purchase could endure wounds and long service and still be stuck in the junior ranks of the officer corps, Tew was still a lieutenant when the regiment returned to England at the end of the war. When the 17th was reviewed at Kew in 1768 General Lord Amherst paid particular attention to Tew “on account of his great sufferings at Louisbourgh”, and, if Lamb’s account is to be believed, the King noticed him as well “and after conversing with him very familiarly for some time, put his name down in his memorandum book, in order that he might not forget him when an occasion for promoting him should occur.” (Lamb, p. 275; WO 34: 157, f. 190, Memorial of Rose, Eleanor, and Hester Tew, Oct 12, 1779) Whoever talked to him at the review, Francis had to wait two more years before purchasing “with difficulty” the captain lieutenantcy of the 17th on Aug. 6, 1770. He was promoted to captain without purchase on the death of Captain Hope on Nov. 14, 1771.

Fanciful view of the storming of Stony Point (“Mythology of Stony Point”)

Tew came back to America with the 17th to fight in the Revolution, and as the most senior captain was frequently in command of the regiment while it was in the field. At Princeton the lieutenant colonel, Charles Mawhood, was detached as commander of the entire British force and the major, Turner Straubenzee, was off commanding a battalion of light infantry. The following year, at Germantown, both field officers were absent once again, and Tew led the regiment through that battle as well. His final action was at Stony Point in 1779. On the night of the surprise attack Captain Tew, acting commander of the regiment (since Lt. Col. Johnston was in command of the entire garrison) was stationed at one of the forward posts. According to the account of Lieutenant John Ross, while attempting to rally his men Tew was confronted by “a body of rebels…who desired them to surrender on which Captain Tew made use of some hasty expression, which the witness does not remember but Capt Tew was immediately fired on and killed.”. It seems fitting that the old soldier was shot down while raging at the enemy. Roger Lamb eulogized him in his history of the war, saying that “his loss was at the time sensibly felt through the army.” (WO71:93, Court martial of Henry Johnson; Lamb p. 274).

There is no evidence that Francis Tew ever married. In October of 1779 and April of 1780 Rose, Eleanor and Hester Tew, the spinster sisters of Francis, sent a series of memorials to government figures petitioning for relief, “our former distresses having been grievously augmented by the loss of our most kind and lamented brother.” They were placed on the compassionate list, at 10 pounds a year each. (WO34:157, F. 190, Rose, Eleanor and Hester Tew to Amherst, Oct. 12, 1779; WO1:1006, f. 681, Same to Jenkinson, April 7, 1780; WO34:161, f. 534, Jenkinson to Amherst, Mar. 30, 1780).

London Customs House
London Customs House, early 18th century

Our next officer, William Scott, like Tew and Brereton, particularly distinguished himself during the American Revolution. Like Tew he also seems to have come from the edges of middle class society, though there was evidently ample funding for his military career. His father Benjamin Scott of Osborn near Cranbrook, Kent, was deputy collector of the custom house at the port of London, working under Edward Louisa Mann of the influential Mann family of Linton. William Scott was born c. 1752 and entered the 17th as an ensign by purchase on Jan. 15, 1770. With funds in hand he was able to take advantage of the fact that a number of veterans of the Seven Years War wanted to retire in the 1770s, purchasing his lieutenantcy on Sept. 23, 1772 and his captaincy on August 23, 1775. He purchased his company from Richard Aylmer, who, as his family later complained, had “purchased all his commissions at a very dear rate, so much so, that his company cost him 2000 guineas.” (WO25:3090, memorial of Eliza Aylmer, 10 March 1821.) Most likely Scott was forced to match that sum.

Scott served as a company commander during the early years of the Revolution, first as captain of a line company, then as captain of the light infantry company.  At the battle of Princeton in January of 1777 Scott particularly distinguished himself. According to the diary of Thomas Sullivan of the 49th Foot: “Captain Scott of the 17th Regiment with a party of 40 men under his command, having the Guard of the 4th Brigade’s Baggage, was attacked by a large body of the Enemy that were retreating from Princetown; but he formed his men upon commanding ground, and after refusing to deliver the Baggage, fought with his men back to back; and forced the Enemy to withdraw, bringing off the Baggage safe to Brunswick.” General Howe, while commending the role played by the 17th as a whole in the battle, particularly singled out Scott

“for his remarkable good conduct in protecting and securing the Baggage of the 4th Brigade…”

Battle of Brandywine (Courtesy of Mount Vernon)

A few months late he replaced William John Darby as captain of the light infantry company, and commanded it during the Philadelphia campaign. He is believed to have been the author of one of the most detailed and vivid accounts of light infantry tactics to survive from the war. At the battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777, Scott led his company in an attack on Birmingham Meetinghouse and several enemy cannons firing on them from a nearby hill.  “The church yard wall being opposite the 17th light company, the captain determined to get over the fence and into the road; and calling to the men to follow…and lodged the men without loss at the foot of the hill on which the guns were firing.”  The detailed account then goes on to describe the company using fire, movement and shock as an independent unit, and, more strikingly, cooperating with other individual companies from the light infantry battalion and even calling on the assistance of a neighboring company of grenadiers from a different battalion. This is far from the stereotype of inflexible battalions maneuvering about the battlefield, and demonstrates the level of leadership and tactical judgement required of light infantry captains like Scott. (See Matthew Spring, “With Zeal and with Bayonets Only”, pp. 185-187).

He continued to command the light infantry at Germantown later that year, leaving another detailed account of fighting at the company level.  (see Thomas McGuire “The Philadelphia Campaign Vol. II” pp. 291-294). I have been unable to determine if he was present at Monmouth and the raid on Martha’s Vineyard in 1778. Scott was replaced by George Seymour and shifted to a staff position, most likely in the fall of 1779. By November he was serving as brigade major to General Francis Smith’s brigade, forming part of the garrison at New York. (Eyre Coote Orderly books, Clements Library). I believe he remained in New York for the last years of the war. His testimony at a court-martial in 1781 indicates that he had probably been present in the city since 1778 forwarding replacements to the regiment. (WO71:94, Court-martial of William Hudson, August 11, 1781). In July of 1783 he was again in New York, submitting a memorial of his services and complaining that in spite of his service he had failed to receive “the Brevet Rank of Major conferred on others inferior to him in rank.” (Dorchester Papers, f. 10134, William Scott to Carleton, July 3, 1783). He was promoted major without purchase in the 80th foot in September of 1783, and went on the half pay when that regiment was reduced following the peace.

William Scott still had one more service to perform for his country. Years after going on half pay, Scott played a role in the reform of the British army in the 1790s. In the immediate aftermath of the American Revolution, influential figures in the army had turned away from the hard-won lessons of the war, particularly the use of flexible and highly mobile light infantry tactics in broken country, in favor of copying the impressively massive but impractical formations favored by the Prussian army. When the poor performance of the British forces under the Duke of York in the early campaigns of the French Revolutionary wars sparked a renewed interest in the methods practiced by the armies of Howe and Cornwallis in America, experienced officers were called upon to reform the army. As part of this revival a brigade of light infantry, comprised of both regulars and militia, was formed by General Viscount Howe and “were placed under the command of Colonel William Scott, late of the 80th regiment of foot” who led them in maneuvers in the Essex countryside. (For Scott see Thomas Henry Cooper, “A Practical Guide for the Light Infantry Officer”, 1806. P. xiv; for the argument over the tactical legacy of the American Revolution, see Mark Urban, “Fusiliers”, 2007, pp. 301-319.) Though remaining on half pay, he continued to rise in rank by seniority, becoming a lieutenant colonel in 1794, colonel in 1798, major general in 1805 and lieutenant general in 1811.

In 1785, soon after retiring from the army, Scott married Ann Blackett, daughter of Sir Edward Blackett of Northumberland. His eldest son, William Henry Scott, followed him into the army. William Scott died in London in 1832. (GM 1785; PCC will proved 1832).

Leap Castle

Our last captain is William John Darby, the son and grandson of army officers. The family identified themselves as English, though they also seem to have been closely connected to the Darby’s of Leap Castle, Kings County (now Offaly), Ireland. His grandfather, John Darby, was an army officer for 36 years, serving through most of the Duke of Marlborough’s campaigns. He was wounded at Malplaquet and ended his career as first major to the 3rd Foot Guards. His father, another John, was another career officer, and entered the 17th Foot as a captain in November of 1748. He became major to the regiment in 1756 and lieutenant colonel in 1759, retiring in 1775. John Darby thus commanded the regiment for much of the Seven Years War, Pontiac’s Rebellion, and for its peacetime postings until the eve of the American Revolution. (see Loudon Papers LO5241, 1757 Memorial of John Darby to Earl Loudon).

William John Darby was born in 1751, the eldest son of John and Sarah Darby. His entry into the service sheds light on the practice (rare in the army but common in the navy of the time) of commissioning children as officers. He was listed as a volunteer with the regiment in 1761 and purchased an ensign’s commission on May 6, 1762. The nature of his service became clear when he purchased his lieutenantcy in June of 1766. In October of that year General Gage forwarded a petition from five of the senior ensigns of the 17th complaining that Darby had been allowed to purchase over their heads. All veterans of the final campaigns of the Seven Years War, they “were agreeved in a very extraordinary manner” by his promotion. Young Darby “tho now upwards of four years in the Regiment has never joined it, perhaps by his very tender and early youth unable to undergo the hardships and fatigues of the Service…During this interval the Memorialists very chearfully performed Mr. Darby’s Regimental Duty, nor did they ever complain…knowing he was necessarily kept at his education & still more particularly; as he was son to a Field Officer of the Regiment…” While the system was often unfair and heavily weighted against those without influence, this time Secretary at War Barrington intervened to “protect…officers of merit and Service” and returned Darby to his former rank. He had to wait until November 24, 1769, to purchase his lieutenantcy. (WO1: 7 f. 182, Memorial of Ensigns Magill Wallace, Abernethy Cargill, Thomas Vanderdussen, Thomas Yeamans Elliot & James Howetson of 17th to General Gage; f. 188 Monckton to  Barrington 11 Dec, 1766; and f. 190 Gage to Barrington 11 Dec. 1766.)

The 7th Regiment of Foot and the 17th Regiment of Infantry, Mount Vernon 2016 – Buddy Secor at NinjaPix Photography

In spite of a somewhat rocky start, William John proved himself a valuable member of the regiment once he became an active officer. He purchased the adjutantcy in 1773, thus becoming responsible for the discipline of the regiment. He became captain in the regiment on Dec. 12, 1774, and commanded the light infantry company from April of 1775 until he was succeeded by William Scott in 1777. He returned to a line company and was captured with the regiment at Stony Point. Darby was exchanged late in 1780 and rejoined the regiment in time to provide extensive testimony at the court-martial of Lieutenant Colonel Johnston. He was promoted out of the regiment in the middle of the trial, on Feb. 8, 1781, when he purchased the majority of the 7th Foot. Most of the 7th had been captured several weeks earlier at Tarleton’s disastrous defeat at the Cowpens, and, as one of the few officers remaining, Darby was probably employed rebuilding the unit.

The 7th returned home in 1783. Darby married Ann White of London in 1788, became lieutenant colonel of the 44th Foot on June 13, 1789, and retired in 1794. He died at Bath in 1826. (GM, PCC proved 1826).

The careers of these three men demonstrate the striking continuity of service at the company level of many of the officers of the 17th. None of the three achieved higher rank than captain while with the regiment. Tew spent twenty-two years in the regiment before dying in service, Scott thirteen years before achieving a comfortable retirement by a quick promotion out of the regiment, and Darby (though perhaps the first four years shouldn’t count) served for twenty years before being promoted out of the 17th. The regiment benefitted greatly by the leadership and professionalism provided by long-service officers like these three, and Robert Clayton, the subject of our first blog.

Mark conducted his graduate work in history at the University of Michigan back in the 1980s and wrote his dissertation on “The British Officer Corps 1754-1783”. He became a public historian with the Texas State Historical Association in 1988, spending over twenty years as a writer, editor and finally managing editor of the New Handbook of Texas, an online encyclopedia of Texas history.

Since retiring from the association he has been working on turning his dissertation into a book. He lives in Austin.

The Making of a “Massacre” Simcoe’s Surprise Attack at Hancock’s Bridge

The Hancock House as it appears today. It is a State Historic Site run by the NJ State Park Service.

While the British army was quartered in Philadelphia for the winter of 1777-78 foraging parties were frequently sent out to gather supplies. One such expedition was sent to Salem County, New Jersey in March of 1778. British engineer, Captain John Montressor, recorded in his journal on March 11th:

“The Roebuck removed from the wharves into the stream and the Camilla fell down the river and in the afternoon followed her a detachment of 1,000 men under the command of Col. Mawhood, 17th, 27th, and 46th Regiments, Simcoe’s Rangers.” [1] 

Upon arrival to Salem on the 17th of March, Mawhood had all intentions of keeping peace with the local population and to pay for all provisions taken. Major Simcoe writes: “Colonel Mawhood had given the strictest charge against plundering…” [2] but before the expedition was over, the Queen’s Rangers would spark outrage and distain by their treatment of the local rebel militia at Quinton’s Bridge, on the 18th and at Hancock’s Bridge on the 21st.   The later would be called a “massacre”.

When the British arrived and took control of the town of Salem, the local militias formed to try and impede Mawhood’s movements. The Alloway, a tidal creek of the Delaware River south of Salem, was chosen as a natural defensive line by the militia to stop the British from moving towards Bridgeton. There were three crossings over the creek: Hancock’s Bridge (closest to the Delaware), Quinton’s Bridge (in the middle) and Thompson’s bridge (furthest east), and each would be guarded.

The modern-day bridge over the Alloway Creek. Hancock’s Bridge, NJ

The first skirmish between Mawhood’s force and the militia occurred on the 18th of March and involved a foraging party of the 17th Regiment of Foot and the Queen’s Rangers. The rebels were bloodied and many were killed or captured, but the defenses held because of timely reinforcements from Bridgeton. Frustrated by the resistance of the locals, Mawhood determined to attack Hancock’s Bridge and gave the task to Major Simcoe and his Rangers, with support from the 27th Regiment of Foot. Simcoe gives his account of the action:

“Colonel Mawhood determined to attack them at [Hancock’s Bridge], where, from all reports, they were assembled to near four hundred men… [The Queen’s Rangers] embarked on the 20th, at night, on board flat bottom boats… everything depended upon surprise. The enemy were nearly double his numbers… [The Rangers] land[ed] in the marshes, at the mouth the Aloes creek… after a march of two miles through marshes… they at length arrived… upon dry land.   Here the corps was formed to attack… On approaching the place [Hancock’s Bridge], two sentries were discovered: two men of the light infantry followed them, and as they turned about, bayoneted them…the light infantry… reached Hancock’s house by the road and forced the front door, at the same time that Captain Dunlop… entered the back door; as it was very dark, these companies nearly attacked each other… The surprise was complete, and would have been so, had the whole of the enemy’s force been present, but, fortunately for them, they had quitted it the evening before, leaving a detachment of twenty or thirty men, all of whom were killed… Some very unfortunate circumstances happened here. Among the killed was a friend of the government… old Hancock, the owner of the house… events like these are the real miseries of war.” [3]

Simcoe’s map of the attack on Hancock’s Bridge. The Hancock House is marked as “A”. –  Simcoe’s Military Journal

Though with somewhat inflated militia numbers, another defense of the Ranger’s actions comes from author James Hannay’s book History of the Queen’s Rangers:

“Capt. Dunlop’s and Stephenson’s companies attacked those in the house with such fury that every man in it was killed. This was a lamentable occurrence and has enabled American writers to assert that these men were massacred, but it must be remembered that it was a night attack and that Simcoe’s Rangers, instead of this insignificant detachment, expected to meet a force of at least 700 or 800 men, and, of course, a desperate resistance was expected.” [4]

A modern interpretation of a Queen’s Ranger in winter uniform, ca. 1777-78.
The Hancock House is in the background. – photo by: Rachel Michel

There is still a cloud of confusion surrounding the number of militia actually present that night and how many men, including civilians, were killed. Simcoe states that “all were killed”, but other accounts maintain that there were prisoners taken. British Military Engineer, Archibald Robertson was on the expedition to Salem and recorded in his journal:

“This night [20th of March] Simcoe’s Rangers embarked in the flat boats and went round to the south side of Alloes Creek to surprise the Rebel post at Hancock’s Bridge. The Rangers got behind the Rebels. Killed 16 and took 11 prisoners.” [5]

Lt. Reuel Sayre, one of the militia members attacked at Hancock’s Bridge, recalled later:

“…they came upon us by surprise… All were killed, left for dead or taken prisoners but myself… I had one brother killed and one taken prisoner in this night affair.” [6]

The main purpose of the attack was to gain the south side of the bridge, not to put all to death and quarter was given to some. Simcoe was surprised at the lack of resistance and did not know the Rangers were attacking so few. He expected only the officers to be quartered in the Hancock House, not the entire guard. Captain Carlton Sheppard’s company militia was the only one stationed at the bridge, and was quickly overpowered. When the attack was finished, Simcoe laid the planks down over the bridge in order to confer with Lt. Col. Mitchell of the 27th Regiment, waiting on the other side of the creek, as what to do next:

“Major Simcoe communicated to Colonel Mitchell, that the enemy were at Quinton’s Bridge; that he had good guides to conduct them thither by a private road, that the possession of Hancock’s house secured a retreat. Lieutenant-Colonel Mitchell said, that his regiment was much fatigued by the cold, and that he would return to Salem as soon as the troops joined. The ambuscades were of course withdrawn, and the Queen’s Rangers were forming to pass the bridge, when a rebel patrol passed where an ambuscade had been, and discovering the corps, galloped back. Lieutenant-Colonel Mitchell… being informed of the enemy’s patrol, it was thought best to return [to Salem].” [7]

Though the Queen’s Rangers were successful, they again gave up the south side of the Alloway Creek. The outcome of the attack had a demoralizing effect on the militia. When word spread of the affair at Hancock’s Bridge, the resolve to continue a defense at the Alloway dissolved. Colonels Hand and Holme of the militia wrote Governor Livingston:

“We have made our stand on Alloways Creek… but last night the enemy landed out of their boats… and surrounded our guard at Hancock’s Bridge and took and killed almost all of them… we fear they will advance over all these lower counties… we find our numbers at present are not large enough to make a proper stand against them…” [8]

The militia moved south nearly 18 miles to Cumberland County and made the Cohansey River their new defensive line, leaving all of Salem County open to British foraging. After 6 more days of collecting supplies, the British embarked on their ships on the 27th of March and headed back to Philadelphia. The scars left on the inhabitants of Salem County were not easily forgotten. The Hancock House “Massacre” became a rallying cry and may have helped bolster Washington’s ranks in the spring of 1778:

“The nightmare of sanguinary warfare cause by the affairs at Quinton and Hancock’s Bridge produced one effect… the ire of the local militia had been excited because the raiders had escaped practically free of any kind of punishment. As matters of patriotism and retaliation the militia began to enlist in increasing numbers in the State and Continental Army troops.” [10]

One story passed down through history demonstrates the lasting resentment that formed due to Simcoe’s attack at Hancock’s Bridge and the “massacre” that occurred there: 

“Later Judge Hancock’s son and a Mr. Sayer, whose father had been killed in the massacre, traveled to Philadelphia by water. They were standing on the wharf talking with two strange men when Sayer fell overboard. One of the strangers jumped in and rescued him. Mr. Sayer asked, ‘To whom am I indebted for saving my life?’ When the man told him he was the son of Colonel Mawhood, Sayer said, ‘I’ll be damned if I’ll be saved by the son of the murderer of my father!’ and jumped in the river again. He was rescued with difficulty.” [11]

It seems that Colonel Mawhood and Major Simcoe will forever be associated with the Hancock House “massacre”, deserved or not.

A monument to those killed in the Hancock House stands in the front yard of the house.


[1] Frank H. Stewart, Salem County in the Revolution (Salem: Salem County Historical Society, 1967) 45-47.
[2] John G. Simcoe, John G. Simcoe’s Military Journal (Cranbury: The Scholar’s Bookshelf, 2005) 46.
[3] Simcoe, Military Journal,  50-52.
[4] Donald J. Gara, The Queen’s American Rangers  (Yardley: Westholme Publishing, 2015) 116-118.
[5] Ibid., 141.
[6] Stewart, Salem County in the Revolution, 63
[7] Ibid.,  61.
[8] Simcoe, Military Journal, 53.
[9] Stewart, Salem County in the Revolution, 65.
[10] Ibid., 86.
[11] Irene Y. Hancock, In the Shade of the Old Oak (Salem: Salem County Historical Society, 1964) 15.



William is a member of the 17th Regiment. He has volunteered and worked at several historic sites, including Valley Forge National Park, Graeme Park, Monmouth Battlefield State Park and is the current historian at the Hancock House State Historic Site in Salem County, NJ.

The Hancock House is located in Southern New Jersey.  The historic site plans to host an event in Mid March of 2018 to commemorate the massacre. More information is coming soon.