Crime and Punishment: Part 1

White Soldiers Whipped by Black Men: Boston, 1768-1770

Many of the sources regarding crime in the 29th are from newspapers in Boston during the occupation of 1768-1770. One of the first of these pieces was a widely republished article detailing the severe punishment typical of 18th century armies. Flogging of soldiers was well documented. The regiment would be drawn up and arranged around a pair of crossed halberds to which a convicted soldier, stripped to the waist, was tied. The drummers of a that soldier’s regiment were tasked with delivering the blows with a “cat-o’-nine-tails.” The cat was a leather or wooden handle from which strips of leather hung, would lash across the naked back of an offender.

Bostonians were unaccustomed to being a garrisoned town, and had little exposure to soldiers, much less the harsh punishments to which they were subject. The unique make-up of the 29th Regiment’s musicians only exacerbated the shock of American observers. For decades, the drummers of the 29th were all of African descent. Massachusetts, like her sister colonies, permitted slavery. To see a white enlisted soldier, an embodiment of martial masculinity, whipped by a black man was horrifying to Bostonians. To have such a display exhibited for all soldiers and the entire city to see was bad enough, but the explicit endorsement from officers of the Crown was intolerable.

From the Worchestershire Regiment Museum

On October 6, 1768, The Boston Evening Post reported, “To behold Britons scourged by Negro drummers was a new and very disagreeable spectacle.” The Boston Journal of the Times was restrained when it reported on October 14, 1768, “One Rogers, a New England man, sentenced to receive one thousand stripes, and a number of other soldiers, were scourged by the black drummers, in a manner, which however necessary, was shocking to humanity.”

The implications of such acts were far reaching. Slave rebellion was certainly not unknown to colonists. These punishments pre-dated the war itself by half a decade, as well as Dunmore’s Proclamation declaring all rebel slaves free if they would take up arms with the British, but  it had a similar affect on colonists’ perception of the British army. Encouraging black men to strike white men with official endorsement was a frightening precedent.

It appears that British officials were aware of the implications of slaves or former slaves whipping white men in a slave-holding society. The following February the Boston Evening Post related, “There has been within these few days a great many severe whippings; among the number chastised, was one of the negro drummers, who received 100 lashes, in part of 150, he was sentenced to receive at a Court Martial;—It is said this fellow had adventur’d to beat time at a concert of music, given at the Manufactory-House.” Severe punishments were often given for minor offenses, as appears to be the case here. The actual infraction is a little enigmatic, as beating time at a concert of music would be little more than annoying, rather than a criminal act. It is possible that the drummer was punished more as a demonstration to the people of Boston of control exerted by British officers over their drummers, rather than as a retaliation for an actual offense.

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Numbers: Part 2

In examining the men of the 29th Regiment of Foot, we continue our exploration of the tables representing the Regiment’s soldiers’ age, experience, nationality, and height.

Some of our members gather around for dinner, recreating some of the domestic aspects of camp life.

The two tables we compare, for those who missed our previous post, are from 1773 and 1782 respectively. Much happened to the 29th Foot through the course of the war, including losing two entire companies in the Saratoga campaign. The changes to the body of men can be seen clearly in these returns.

In 1773, the regiment paraded for General William Howe himself, who called them, “A serviceable corps for present duty. Many old men in the regiment.” The table confirms this. The average age of a soldier within the 29th at this time was 32.6 years old, with over 30% of the regiment at over 45 years old.

On the other hand, soldiers of the 29th were also very experienced in their craft. Howe reported that the Manual Exercise was, “Well performed, and in good time.” In commenting on the regiment discharging their muskets, the men “load[ed] quickly, presents low and well. The ramrod is drawn with the backhand, which is supposed to contribute to the quickness of loading.” The average length of service for men in the 29th, as of 1773, was 12.4 years and nearly 60% of the regiment with 15 or more years of experience.

A massive recruiting push in 1770 introduced much fresh blood to the regiment. Just prior to the outbreak of war, there was another recruiting drive. This push was so successful that the King himself commended the Regiment, and “employ the 29th Regiment directly, in a situation where he trusted it might distinguish itself.”

High praise though this was, the introduction of more recruits did much to affect the overall makeup of the Regiment. Casualties and the loss of their Light and Grenadier Companies, comprised of some of the most experienced men in the Regiment, took their toll.

Near the end of the war, in 1782, things were quite different. The average age of soldiers in the regiment had dropped by five years to 27.6 years old. Nearly 40% of the regiment was under 30 years old. Younger men were taking the place of veterans, and the average length of service was now 9.7 years.

These averages were now much closer to the mean for British regiments. The average British soldier (according to tabulations done by Sylvia Frey in her work The British Soldier in America) was approximately 30 years old, with ten years of service.

The changes experienced through the length of the Revolutionary War were representative of the changes many regiments underwent. Losses incurred in battle and through disease bled out the older, more experienced men, and the gaps were filled by younger men with less experience, and increasingly of foreign birth.

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Numbers: Part 1

Christian Remick's "A Perspective View of Part of the Commons" showing some of the 29th Foot during the occupation of Boston. From Wikimedia Commons.

In approaching the 29th through the historiography of social history in the British army, I’ve picked up a few books to examine how other authors have taken this approach. Most notable is Sylvia R. Frey’s The British Soldier in America: A Social History of Military Life in the Revolutionary Period.

In her effort to give us a general picture of the life of British soldiers during the American Revolutionary War, Frey compiles several tables comparing the characteristics of soldiers from various regiments, including the 29th Regiment.

This table is derived from records that examine the age, origin, height, and years of service of the Vein Openers as of 1782. Thankfully for us, H. Edmond Everard’s History of Thos. Farrington’s Regiment also relates a table of these exact same characteristics for 1773. Comparing these tables, we can examine how the men of the regiment changed throughout the war.

Being no statistician, I’ll be spending quite some time comparing these records and drawing accurate conclusions. As a starter, I’ve been able to compare the composition of the regiment based on national origins.

According to the 1773 table, the regiment was composed of 334 men, 317 of which were British (including Ireland), and 17 foreigners. At least ten of these may have been the Afr0-Caribbean drummers. In terms of percentage, 95% of the regiment were British, and 5% were foreigners.

The 1782 table, by contrast, gives a return of 485 men, 427 of which were British, and 58 foreigners. Though the numbers of British soldiers increased during the war, the percentage slipped to 88%, with foreign soldiers increasing to 12% of the overall composition of the regiment.

Once more thorough research has been done with these tables, we will post them right here. Stay tuned!

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New Pages!

As we continue to update the website, be sure to visit our ongoing project to record a detailed chronology of the 29th Foot through the entire period of the American Revolution. We’ll also be accompanying the timeline with brief histories explaining the most important events of the 29th’s history in America. If you know of any significant event that should be included, be sure to let us know!

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Leave of Absence

Hey there everyone!

It’s been a heck of a long time since we’ve updated this page. You can expect much more in the near future, but for now, our Company Historian is dealing with finals and research completely unrelated to our topic. Don’t you worry, we’ll have plenty more for you this summer!

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West Coaster Toy Soldier Show

Today is the West Coaster Toy Soldier Show! If you happen to be in the Irvine area, visit some of our members at their booth. No, we’re not selling toy soldiers, but you can still learn a thing or two from our newly uniformed members about the material culture of the British Army in the American Revolutionary War!

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Why were the 29th the first to land in Quebec?

From Canadian Military History Gateway

Governor Guy Carleton (shown above) was trapped in the city of Quebec through the winter of 1775-1776. A joint operation by American Generals Montgomery and Arnold had swung in from opposite directions and pinned the few British forces in Canada within the walled city. Carleton himself had barely escaped before Montgomery’s forces easily took the city of Montreal. Fearing that Canada would soon fall to the American rebels, Carleton managed to get one message back to the Crown before the river froze, trapping him until the spring.

In response, the British government ordered the 29th to prepare for sailing. The choice of the 29th Regiment of Foot as the first to land at the besieged city of Quebec was likely a calculated one.

Much of the British army was already in America. Half a year before Carleton’s plea reached Britain, the Howe brothers landed tens of thousand of soldiers at New York. Despite moving the largest British sea-borne invasion until World War II, the military still felt that the numbers were insufficient, and thousands of German mercenaries had been employed to supplement the force. Yet, despite the manpower restrictions, the 29th was kept at home.

They may have been kept in Britain to avoid inflaming the rebels by deploying the same soldiers who had occupied Boston five years before and perpetrated the infamous Boston Massacre. The commanders of the British invasion were, after all, the Howe brothers, who also sought a negotiated peace, and were probably not inclined to deploy those troops in New York.

The choice to leave them behind is just as likely to have been benign. The strains on the manpower of the British military weren’t felt solely in the colonies. Britain still had to maintain a military presence in Florida, throughout the West Indes, Gibraltar, India, and most importantly within Britain and Ireland. Practicality, rather than politics, may have dictated that the 29th remain on station along the English Channel.

Despite being left behind, the 29th had regained much of the reputation sullied by the Boston Massacre. The Regiment had been inspected by William Howe in 1774, who commented that despite “many old men in the regiment,” commended them on their loading, drill, and being “steady, attentive, and silent under arms.” He must have been impressed with the officers as well. When Howe took command of a combined Light Infantry battalion to be reviewed by the King himself, he chose the 29th’s Major Jeremiah French as his second in command. The Light Infantry company was commanded by Viscount Petersham, demonstrating the noble pedigree of some of the regiment’s officers.

Early in 1775, as war began to seem inevitable, the various regiments in Britain were ordered to augment their numbers in the event of conflict. Under Major General Evelyn, the officers of the 29th successfully brought the regiment up to full strength before any other. Impressed with their work, King George III said, “he would employ the 29th directly, in a situation where he trusted it might distinguish itself.”

Perhaps the choice to send the 29th was that “situation” the King referred to. The chances of success were high. Provided the city had not already been taken, the first troops to land could expect instant reinforcement by the garrison of Quebec, along with the marines of the ships that would carry them. The Americans were known to have passed through wilderness and were under supplied. When coupled with enduring a harsh Canadian winter, the Americans were not in much of a state to resist fresh troops.

The professionalism of the troops and the King’s promise may have been overshadowed by the immediate needs of the British military. The 29th was at full strength, stationed along the coast and close to the transports and ships needed to deliver the troops, and had extensive service in Canada.

Whether through the connections of the officers, the professional appearance of the troops, or sheer necessity, the 29th was not chosen to raise the siege of Quebec by mistake. It is, in fact, possible that all of these factors played a role in getting the Vein Openers across the Atlantic.


Enys, John. The American Journals of Lt. John Enys. Editor Elizabeth Cometti. New York: Syracuse University Press, 1976.

Everard, Major Hugh Edmond, History of Thos. Farrington’s Regiment Subsequently Designated the 29th (Worcestershire) Foot 1694 to 1891. Worcestershire: Littlebury and Company, Worcestershire Press, 1891.

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29th Artwork

Friends and members of Basset’s Company have come together to create new works of art portraying the historical unit and our modern instructors. Keep an eye out for a new page in the near future!

By Benjamin Cuatt

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The Aitken Bible

We’ll take a quick break from our examination of the history of the 29th in the Revolutionary period to take a look at a fascinating little anecdote involving the Congress, the Bible, and a printer named Robert Aitken.

According to the Library of Congress, the Revolutionary War had caused a shortage of Bibles. In the past, English translations of the Bible came from the British themselves, and this practice ceased rather quickly with the onset of hostilities. Robert Aitken, a printer in Philadelphia, took up the task of printing his own translation of the Bible, seeking the approval of the Congress (which he got) and the financial interest of the Congress (which he didn’t).


Interestingly, Aitken approached a sticky theological question caused by the Revolution. Romans 13:1 in many translations of the Bible (the New International Version in this case) reads: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” This particular verse would seem to cast the Revolutionaries as in opposition to a divine institution.

Aitken’s translation, however, reads: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be, are ordained of God.”

What do any theologians out there think? Is this a reliable translation of the Bible, or a politically motivated change to an ancient text?

For more on the Aitken Bible, visit the American Creation blog.

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Don Troiani Historical Artist

The renown historical artist Don Troiani painted a portrait of a Battalion Company Private of the 29th Regiment of Foot as he would have appeared during the Occupation of Boston. Support this talented artist and bedeck your walls with your very own Vein Opener!

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