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Labor History, Vol. 44, No. 4, 2003

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Class and the Common Soldier in the
Seven Years’ War


“In former times,” wrote Daniel Defoe at the end of the 17th century, “there was no
difference between the Citizen, the Souldier, and the Husband-man; but ‘tis otherwise
now, Sir, War is become a Science, and Arms an Employment.” Some 80 years later,
Adam Smith added an economistic edge to this laborist point when he argued the “art
of war” had become so complex that, “in order to carry it to this degree of perfection,
it is necessary that it should become the sole or principal occupation of a particular class
of citizens, and the division of labour is as necessary for the improvement of this, as of
every other art.” The more commercial the state, Smith affirmed, the greater the need
for a professional army, and this class of military laborers would enable others to remain
engaged in the commercial economy.1 Employment and occupation, 18th-century warfare
constituted work akin to other crafts in this period. Likewise, the military industry
required a specialist “class” of workers to make it and reorganization of their labor to
maintain efficiency and competitiveness with martial competitors of the nation state. In
return for this work, these men received a wage, the illusion of a craft offered by the
uniform and a special code of behavior. The observations of Defoe and Smith invite a
redeployment of 18th-century military history, such that warfare’s economic content is
reinforced and soldiering is ranked alongside other forms of labor.

Traditional military history’s fascination with wars and battles, strategy, and elite
personalities has been broadened by the new military history to the socioeconomic and
political content of military studies, that is war and society. Yet, for all the attention
focused on civil/martial interstices as well as the social life of common soldiers, little has
been done on the subject of soldiers as workers. Most studies of the 18th-century
British army have concentrated on the institution, its organization, relation to the state,
perception by the populace, the training of soldiers, and complex functioning.2 Another

1 Daniel Defoe, Some Reflections on a Pamphlet Lately Published, Entitled, an Argument Shewing That a
Standing Army is Inconsistent … (1697) quoted in Lawrence Delbert Cress, Citizens in Arms: The Army and
the Militia in American Society to the War of 1812 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina, 1982),
15; Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Vol. 2 (London: J.M. Dent, 1962), 187, 188–89.

2 Tony Hayter, “The British Army 1713–1793: Recent Research Work,” Journal of the Society for Army
Historical Research, 63 (Spring 1985), 11–19; R.A. Bowler, Logistics and the Failure of the British Army in
America 1775–1783 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1975); Tony Hayter, The Army and the
Crowd in Mid-Georgian England (London: Macmillan, 1978); J.A. Houlding, Fit for Service: the Training
of the British Army, 1715–95 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981); A.J. Guy, Oeconomy and Discipline:
Officership and Administration in the British Army 1714–63 (Manchester: Manchester University Press,

ISSN 0023-656X print/ISSN 1469-9702 online/03/040455-27  2003 Taylor & Francis Ltd
DOI: 10.1080/0023656032000170078

456 Peter Way

body of literature addresses the concept of the “military revolution” and the key role it
played in the development of the English, later British, state.3 Of social histories of
regular soldiers, a few good key texts spring to mind.4 On the whole, however, little has
been done to theorize military service, to link the privates as vital historical agents in the
great economic and social transformations, or of the crucial political developments of
the Early Modern period—the primitive accumulation of capital requisite to British
industrialization, the restructuring of the British class system, the forging of commercial
empire, the expropriation or enslavement of indigenous peoples, the international
migrations of labor, and the control of creole populations.

Early American military historians,5 by comparison, when not studying the Revol-
ution,6 still tend to use this seminal event as a compass by which to chart their studies.
The literature on the Seven Years’ War focuses almost exclusively on the provincial
regiments of the colonies.7 Some historians use the provincials to explore the roots of
American character and incipient colonial opposition to the imperial leviathan, which,
for them, the regulars embody. This perspective is tinctured by the teleology of
revolution. In their desire for high bounties and wages, resistance to discipline, sense of
a consensual officer–soldier relationship, and unwillingness to serve more than a year at
a time, provincials are cast as proto-democrats, minutemen before their time, often the
same men who would go on to win a war against the class bound, godless and cruel
British regular army in the War of Independence. In this literature, the regular soldier
functions as a cipher for assumptions about British society, and the provincial troops
almost are seen more in opposition to the British army than they are to the French or

3 Michael Roberts, The Military Revolution 1560–1660 (Belfast: Queen’s University Press, 1956);
Michael Duffy, ed., The Military Revolution and the State 1500–1800 (Exeter: Exeter Studies in History,
No. 1, 1980); Geoffrey Parker, The Military Revolution: Military Innovation and the Rise of the West,
1500–1800, 2nd edn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996); John Brewer, The Sinews of Power:
War, Money and the English State, 1688–1673 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989); and
Lawrence Stone, ed., An Imperial State at War: Britain from 1689–1815 (London: Routledge, 1994).

4 Sylvia R. Frey, The British Soldier in America: A Social History of Military Life in the Revolutionary Period
(Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1981); Glenn A. Steppler, “The Common Soldier in the Reign
of George III, 1760–1793,” D.Phil. Thesis, Oxford University, 1984; Roger Norman Buckley, The British
Army in the West Indies: Society and the Military in the Revolutionary Age (Gainesville, FL: University Press
of Florida, 1998); Stephen Brumwell, Redcoats: The British Soldier and War in the Americas, 1755–1763
(New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

5 For reviews of the historiography, see: Edward M. Coffman, “The New American Military History,”
Military Affairs, 48 (1984), 1–5; E. Wayne Carp, “Early American Military History: A Review of Recent
Work,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 94 (1986), 259–284; Don Higginbotham, “The
Early American Way of War: Reconnaisance and Appraisal,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., 44
(1987), 230–273; Wayne E. Lee, “Early American Ways of War: A New Reconaissance, 1600–1815,” The
Historical Journal, 44 (2001), 269–289.

6 See, for example, Charles Royster, A Revolutionary People at War: The Continental Army and American
Character, 1775–1783 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1979); James Kirby Martin
and Mark Edward Lender, A Respectable Army: the Military Origins of the Republic, 1763–1789 (Arlington
Heights, IL: H. Davidson, 1982); Don Higginbotham, War and Society in Revolutionary America : the Wider
Dimensions of Conflict (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1988); Charles Patrick
Neimeyer, America Goes to War: A Social History of the Continental Army (New York: New York University
Press, 1996).

7 John Ferling, “Soldiers for Virginia: Who Served in the French and Indian War?” Virginia Magazine
of History and Biography, 94 (1986), 307–328; Harold E. Selesky, War and Society in Colonial Connecticut
(New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990); James Titus, The Old Dominion at War: Society, Politics,
and Warfare in Late Colonial Virginia (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1991).

Class and the Common Soldier 457

Indians.8 This has led to a greater focus on common soldiers, but the mono-fascination
with colonial troops obscures the shared experience of soldiers, provincials and regu-
lars. Thus, this study, although it concentrates on the regular soldiers, allows space for
the provincials. This makes sense in that the colonial troops, although in their own
regiments with their own officers, from early in the war were subjected to the over-
arching discipline of the regular command. Better paid they were, and often only on
campaign for the year, but, unless stationed at a distant outpost or in winter garrison
in some eastern town on their own, provincials shared the same labor experience as
regulars, that is the routine of drill, the imminent threat of dire punishment, and the
lurking horror of combat.

Both strands of the military historiography, the British institutional and the American
proto-national, overlook the commonality of soldiers as paid military labor, but this is
also a story shunned by labor historians, partly because of ideological distaste. The new
labor history emerged in 1960s’ America amongst leftist academics to whom the
military was anathema for both contemporary and historical reasons—the Vietnam War
and the use of the army in the past to put down strikes. In British labor history, the rich
literature on plebeian resistance to the ruling classes, as in the writings of E.P.
Thompson or George Rude, was not linked to an understanding of soldiers as laborers;
more so they were viewed as repressive aids to the civil power in their suppression of
food riots, agrarian protests or Chartist demonstrations.9 It was thus easier to dismiss
soldiers as unthinking lackeys of capital than to treat them as comrades subject to the
same class forces as organized labor.

To redress these historical slights, first one must belabor military history, i.e.,
articulate it in terms of the great transformation to capitalism. The North American
military struggles of the Seven Years’ War should be projected onto an Atlantic World
of the 18th century that was being redrawn in terms of economic systems and labor
forms. Not a mere purveyor of national foreign policy, certainly more than a branch of
government, and clearly not separate from or wholly immune to social forces, the army
was an obviously important player in the emergence of the modern capitalist state. It
was central to the acquisition and defense of new territories that fueled primitive

8 Anderson, in particular pioneered this interpretation with his now seminal book, Fred Anderson, A
People’s Army: Massachusetts Soldiers and Society in the Seven Years’ War (Chapel Hill, NC: University of
North Carolina Press, 1984). Using Massachusetts’s provincial army as his study group, and focusing on
the disputes over rank, discipline and morality, he concludes that colonial soldiers were a distinct group
from the British regular, and that this influenced the way they waged war—as a people’s army rather than
as soldiers of the king. This conclusion ignores the distinctiveness of Massachusetts’ colonists, and, as John
Shy points out, by concentrating on the war’s early years when more cultural conflict was evident, rather
than the later years when victories and treasury funds soothed ruffled colonial feathers, overstates the
rupture that had occurred in the war. John Shy, “The American Colonies in War and Revolution,
1748–1783,” in Marshall, Eighteenth Century, 306, n. 16. Anderson’s recent book, Crucible of War: The
Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754–1766 (New York: Knopf, 2000),
in its sheer scale and explicit imperial perspective is both a more nuanced and encyclopedic examination
of the war. However, I would argue that British regular soldiers still play second fiddle to provincials as
historical actors.

9 E. P. Thompson, “The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century,” Past and
Present, No. 50 (1971), 76–136; George Rudé, The Crowd in History: A Study of Popular Disturbances in
France and England 1730–1848 (New York: John Wiley, 1964), and Paris and London in the 18th Century:
Studies in Popular Protest (London: Collins, 1970). For a study of martial repression of plebeian protest,
see Hayter, Army and the Crowd. At the same time, my research has been clearly influenced by the work
of such historians as Thompson and Rudé. Their understanding of both the pervasiveness of class struggle
and the “pre-political” modes of plebeian resistance fits nicely into a re-drawing of military history.

458 Peter Way

accumulation; it was an main engine of proletarianization through its conversion of
masses of labor into wage workers and expropriation of indigenous peoples; and the
strategies of organization and discipline it originated provided a blueprint for nascent
industry. In fact, one can talk of the coalescence of a “military-commercial complex”
at the heart of Great Britain in this period that saw the nation push its economic and
political influence into Asia and the South Pacific, as well as North America.

Next, and the prime objective of this paper, labor history needs to be militarized and
the soldier re-drafted as a worker within the army. The soldier was an anomalous type
of laborer, both free in that he received a wage and unfree as many rights were stripped
away from him as a result of the military labor contract. Yet, there is no denying the
class status he shared with other laborers, and adopting this position invites a recon-
sideration of soldiering. One way to rank the soldier as worker is to treat mobilization
as proletarianization. Another means to reconfigure martial labor is merely to conceive
of soldiering as a form of wage work that involved its own labor processes and social
relations contingent on control of those processes. Viewing discipline issues through a
class prism provides another mode of redeploying the soldier. Military discipline also
functioned as work discipline, and undisciplined behavior on the part of soldiers can be
seen not only as “unsoldierly” conduct but also as resistance to that discipline.
Nonetheless, military discipline erected an hierarchical power structure that more than
counterbalanced the gravitational pull of the mass, while military law and its swift
punishments warded off extreme manifestations of laboring opposition.

The various chords of labor experience within the military can be sounded through
the same instruments that typically give the clarion call to traditional military history.
The correspondence and journals of officers, order books, courts martial records, and
muster lists certainly impart the organization and discipline associated with martial life;
but they also resound with the rattle and hum of class struggle, the war within the war
where laziness, malcontent behavior, and drunkenness constituted guerilla tactics
paralleling more fully realized conflict of explicit insubordination, desertion, and
mutiny. Re-tuning ones ears to these polyphonic sources can render the cacophony of
warfare into a more popular air.


The Seven Years’ War erupted in America in 1754, stretched across the Atlantic over
spreading Europe, visited the coast of Africa, patrolled the slavetrading lanes of the
Atlantic, lapped on the shores of the Caribbean, embroiled the Indian subcontinent,
and echoed in the Pacific. The last in a series of European conflicts principally pitting
England against France that dated to the times of King William and Louis XIV (leaving
out the revolutionary struggles of the latter 18th century), it determined the French fate
in North America and, to a lesser extent, that of the eastern Native American groups,
in particular the Iroquois, the Huron, and the Cherokee. The war witnessed an
unprecedented commitment of soldiers and resources from Europe to the struggle. The
British army alone, typically measured in the past by the hundreds, mushroomed to the
range of 40,000 men in the Americas when the provincial troops, rangers, and militias
are included. While myth holds that the fighting accorded to the guerilla tactics of the
Indians as adopted by American frontiersmen, the central victories in the war, Louis-
bourg and Quebec especially, were secured by tactics redolent of the European
theater—massed armies, naval support, artillery, and siege tactics. Ranks of men fired
musket volleys at and charged one another, or huddled behind fortifications to escape

Class and the Common Soldier 459

the poisoned fruit of howitzers and mortars. La petite guerre mixed with such early
modern warfare, offering soldiers the piquant threat of scalping and ritualistic cannibal-
ism. (The point of production for soldier/workers too often dripped with blood.) The
war began badly for the British with Washington’s shaming at Fort Necessity in 1754,
Braddock’s defeat at the Monongahela the next year, and the loss of Fort Oswego in
1756 and, notoriously, Fort William Henry in 1757, but the winds of war changed in
1758 with the conquest of Louisbourg and the outcome was all but settled with Wolfe’s
victory at Quebec in 1759. Peace did not come, however, until 1763 and the Treaty of
Paris, as Spain entered the fray on the Gallic side, only to lose Havana to a combined
naval and military expedition (at great loss of life to British soldiers caused by tropic
fevers). These are the outlines of the conflict sketched in classic fashion. Yet more was
at stake in this titanic struggle of Europe’s two major powers—not only the fate of
North America but also the nature of empire, as Britain crafted a military-commercial
model that would characterize its (and later others) empire into the 20th century.

The Seven Years’ War has long been considered a seminal period in Anglo-American
history, when the British Empire came of age, while the war’s financial and political
consequences have been characterized as the wellspring of American Independence.10

For some time, the war has been eclipsed by the Revolution in historical consciousness,
but recently has received renewed attention.11 With older studies of the Empire
showing the way, the rise of new imperial history and Atlantic World studies suggests
ways to reframe the Seven Years’ War that do not make it historically dependent on the
study of the Revolution. Stanley Pargellis, writing in the 1930s, overstated the case
when he said that empire was a new idea to the British at the time of the Seven Years’
War, but closer to the mark when he pointed to the shift in policy under William Pitt
to one of territorial acquisition.12 Writing after World War II, Lawrence Gipson
believed that the Seven Years’ War constituted the most important of wars in its effects
on American people, more so than either the Revolution or Civil War, for it determined
“what civilization—what governmental institutions, what social and economic pat-
terns—would be paramount in North America.”13 Effectively picking up on their lead,
a number of historians have recently pointed to the war as not only a centerpiece of
British Atlantic history, but also as a transformational event in the nature of the British
Empire: “Britain’s greatest imperial effort” in the 18th century as Kathleen Wilson put
it, “the fulfillment and ultimate expression of mercantilist imperial aspirations.”14

The Seven Years’ War marked a significant turning point in the nature of Empire
from being distinctly commercial to being increasingly territorial. Two decisions stand

10 The key text on the imperial significance of the war is the magisterial work, Lawrence Henry Gipson,
The British Empire Before the American Revolution, especially Vol. 6, The Great War for the Empire: The Years
of Defeat, 1754–1757 (orig. edn 1946; New York: Knopf, 1956), Vol. 8, The Great War for the Empire: The
Culmination, 1760–1763 (New York: Knopf, 1953), and Vol. 9, The Triumphant Empire: New Responsibilities
within the Enlarged Empire 1763–1766 (New York: Knopf, 1956).

11 Fred Anderson is in large part responsible for this renaissance, dating to his A People’s Army and
culminating in the massive tome Crucible of War. See also: Francis Jennings, Empire of Fortune: Crowns,
Colonies and Tribes in the Seven Years War in America (New York: Norton, 1988).

12 Stanley McCrory Pargellis, Lord Loudoun in North America (1933; rpt. edn, Hamden, CT: Archon
Press, 1968), 1.

13 Gipson, British Empire Before the American Revolution, Vol. 6, Great War for the Empire, 10, 15.
14 Wilson, “Empire of Virtue: The Imperial Project and Hanoverian Culture c.1720–1785,” in An

Imperial State at War: Britain from 1689 to 1815, ed. Lawrence Stone (London: Routledge, 1994), 144,

460 Peter Way

out as seminal to this transformation: the unprecedented commitment of many thou-
sands of troops to the American theater; and the stationing of a standing army in North
America at war’s end to protect the new acquisitions. The army was an essential player
in the winning of this territorial empire, and the empire was increasingly dependent on
the army for its defense. Britain’s policy had always been to allow the colonies largely
to defend themselves, valuing them more for their exports than their territories, and
relying on the Royal Navy to keep the sea lanes of commerce clear for the flow of
commodities. Blue water not red coats colored imperial defense.15 Britain placed
anemic bodies of troops at vital nodal points in the American colonies, which in times
of emergency could be fleshed out by raising provincial detachments, calling out the
militia, or, if absolutely necessary, dispatching modest expeditions of regular soldiers,
but the stakes of empire building had risen by the mid-18th century. King George’s
War (ending in 1748) had left unanswered the question of who controlled the continen-
tal interior, its crucial resources, land and furs, and indigenous peoples. Its resolution
was becoming more pressing given the expansion of the English colonies and Britain’s
increasing dependence on colonial trade.

It was at this point that the military landscape of North America, in fact British
colonial policy itself and the very nature of the Empire, began to change. Largely
unthinkingly and ostensibly in reaction to events, British politicians began adopting in
piecemeal fashion a strategy that would lead to militarizing the colonies. By this, it is
meant that the prior state of affairs, in which colonies and proprietorial companies were
expected largely to manage and pay for their own defense, as well as to police their own
internal civil order, would be supplanted by an imperial policy whereby standing armies
in the colonies would perform these duties in a fashion that was more answerable to
political officials in London. The red coat of the army would become a more striking
signifier of imperial rule than the blue jacket of the Royal Navy.

The military revolution that had in the previous 200 years transformed, not only
European warfare, but the nature of the state and international relations—a revolution
from which England had profited enormously—was exported to the New World. In
terms of the sheer numbers of troops mobilized, of the scale of combat, and of the
massive investment in army supply and provisioning and in the building of military
infrastructure (not to mention the debt accumulated), this was warfare as yet unseen in
the Americas. With the Seven Years’ War, Britain’s “military–fiscal state”16 became
territorially imperialistic, and the American colonies became entangled in the sinews of
power with revolutionary consequences. Thus, Gipson a half century ago accurately
denoted this conflict the Great War for the Empire, but whereas he emphasized Britain’s
altruism in its defense of fellow Britons in the existing Empire from the French threat,
from our vantage point the war can be more clearly distinguished as an attempt to
advance English power through the expansion of the British Empire, making it more
exactly a great war for empire. The Seven Years’ War principally concerned the
acquisition of territories, peoples (indigenous and creole), raw material, and markets
in the Americas, in India, and on the west coast of Africa; that is the primitive
accumulation of economic resources that would make England not only the preeminent

15 For a discussion of Britain’s blue water policy, see Daniel A. Baugh, “Great Britain’s ‘Blue-Water’
Policy, 1689–1815,” The International History Review, 10 (1988), 33–58, and “Maritime Strength and
Atlantic Commerce: The uses of ‘a grand marine empire’,” in An Imperial State at War: Britain from 1689
to 1815, ed. Lawrence Stone (London: Routledge, 1994), 185–223.

16 John Brewer, The Sinews of Power: War, Money and the English State, 1688–1783 (orig. edn 1989; rpt.
edn London: Routledge, 1994).

Class and the Common Soldier 461

commercial-maritime state, but also the leading industrial producer for the next century
and more. War was the crucible of empire. Regular soldiers, products of both the
industrial and military revolutions, forged British political and economic might. At the
heart of this global process lay the labor experience of soldiers and combatants.


Now the trade is so dull, and the town is so full,
Of lads that already are undone, my brave boys;
Let’s be wise by their ills and over the hills,
Away for bold soldiers begone brave boys.17

The size of the British army in North America rose from roughly 3,000 men 1754 to
a peak in 1761 of approximately 25,000 regulars (this figure excludes provincial troops,
though nominally part of the regular army).18 The war effort thus required massive
labor recruitment for that period in history. We are not just talking about raising
military forces in times of peril; these thousands were also mobilized from the land and
the trades and converted into an army of martial wage laborers. For those who had a
stake in the land or the crafts, it was a true experience of proletarianization; even for
those who came from another form of paid labor, it usually meant induction to more
exacting work.

Lieutenant Colonel Campbell Dalrymple wrote in his 1761 military manual that
recruits were “men who enter into the service through levity, are inveigled or drove into
it through necessity and lastly forced into it, to supply the deficiency of the other
classes.”19 The main means of mobilization in Great Britain was through recruitment
of volunteers, however. Regimental recruiting parties stopped at market towns or
manufacturing districts, presented their orders to a local magistrate, and, using taverns
as bases, would beat their drums and invite all likely lads to join up, with acceptance
of the “King’s shilling” signifying enlistment.20

Who were the men enticed by British recruiting parties? The common conception
that soldiers constituted (in the words of Campbell Dalrymple) “the scum of every
county, the refuse of mankind”21 was in fact not the case. As I have shown elsewhere,
a combination of economic dislocation in the wider English economy and the army’s
promise of a bounty and a daily wage meant that a significant proportion of soldiers
were drawn from skilled trades, with weavers, tailors, and shoemakers being particularly
evident.22 For these craftsmen joining the army was part of an experience involving loss

17 “The Recruit,” in Songs, Naval and Military (New York: James Rivington, 1779), 75.
18 Stanley McCrory Pargellis, “The Four Independent Companies of New York,” in Essays in Colonial

History Presented to Charles McLean Andrews by his Students (orig. edn 1933; Freeport, NY: Books for
Libraries Press, 1966), 96–123; Selesky, 111.

19 From Campbell Dalrymple, A Military Essay, containing Reflections on the Raising, Arming, Cloathing
and Discipline of the British Infantry and Cavalry; with Proposals for the Improvement of the same (London,
1761), quoted in Steppler, 30.

20 Some regiments in England also turned to “crimps” to swear before justices that unwitting prospects
had in fact willingly enlisted. In Scotland a quota system often was at work, where peers or local gentry
promised to raise a certain number of men. Steppler, 1–18; Frey, 3–4; George Brereton [to Loudoun],
8 April 1756, no. 1026, box 23, Loudoun Papers, North America, Huntington Library [hereafter cited
in form LO 1026, box 23].

21 From Dalrymple, A Military Essay, quoted in Steppler, 39.
22 Peter Way, “Rebellion of the Regulars: Working Soldiers and the Mutiny of 1763–1764,” William

and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., 57 (2000), 761–792.

462 Peter Way

of control of the means of production. Various trades were feeling the early effects of
the Industrial Revolution with new technologies and the alteration of the social
relations of production causing unemployment. Enclosure and other agricultural
“improvements” made for dispossessed tenants and farmers and itinerant farm labor-
ers. The army acted as the unwitting beneficiary of the Industrial and Agricultural

The recruitment of volunteers constituted the most common and acceptable method
of manning the military but not the sole means. Another option was the press, a process
by which men were forced into service by means of an act passed by the government.
Developed early in the 18th century, by the Seven Years’ War Press Acts lasting a year
or more were common, if disliked, features of wartime. Impressment differed from
recruiting in that, rather than a military, it was a civil process carried on by magistrates
and constables. The army’s role was merely to accept pressed men proffered it. Local
recruitment commissions composed of justices of the peace, commissioners of the land
or tax justices were expected to produce satisfactory numbers, with constables respon-
sible for collecting (in the words of the first Press Act of 1704) “such able-bodied men,
as have not any lawful employment or calling, or visible means for their maintenance
and livelihood.” Arthur Gilbert rightly saw impressment as working to “siphon off some
men who threatened society,” of circumventing true legal process by punishing poten-
tial criminals,23 but it also was aimed specifically at the unemployed, and was meant to
counteract the negative consequences of primitive accumulation within Britain, disarm-
ing the surplus labor created by the commercialization of agriculture and the techno-
logical changes within traditional industries by providing alternative wage
employment.24 While pressed men served in the regular army in America, it did not
seem to have done any pressing of its own in the colonies.25

Enlisting in America ran essentially the same as in England. Parties were sent out
with orders like those of the 51st Regiment in 1755, which stipulated recruits must be
“Able Bodied, Straite and well made Men betwixt Seventeen and Thirty five Years of

23 Arthur N. Gilbert, “Charles Jenkinson and the Last Army Press, 1779,” Military Affairs, 42 (1978),
7; Arthur N. Gilbert, “Army Impressment during the War of the Spanish Succession,” The Historian, 35
(1976), 689–708 [quotation p. 705].

24 Parliament passed a Press Act at the beginning of the Seven Years’ War, which ran until 1758 when
political pressure made Pitt abandon it. Five hundred men were pressed in London in 1756 for service
and the Act also operated in Scotland. Justices of the peace met with local gentlemen at Inverness to draw
up a list of “fitt and proper” men to be apprehended and pressed into the North American service. It seems
that many so rounded up chose the soft option of enlisting voluntarily for six-year terms. Pressed soldiers
tended, not surprisingly, to be less enthusiastic for military life, often deserting from the transports before
sailing and upon arrival in America. Gilbert, “Last Army Press,” 7; Arthur N. Gilbert, “An Analysis of
Some Eighteenth Century Army Recruiting Records,” Journal of the Society of Army Historical Register, 54,
no. 217 (1976), 39; Loudoun to Daniel Webb, March 27, 1756, London, LO 974, box 21; Humphrey
Bland to Loudoun, April 1, 1756, Edinburgh, LO 999, box 22; Inverness County, Commissioners of
Supply and Justices of the Peace, Extract minutes … of the Commissioners … pursuant to an Act of
Parliament annent the speedy recruiting of His Majesty’s Land Forces, 5, April 6, 1756, LO 1017, box
22; Francis Grant, List of the men of the 42nd Regiment who have Inlisted for a Term of Years according
to the Press Act, April 16, 1757, LO 4214, box 74; [Loudoun] to Colonel Burton, September 17, 1756,
LO 1828, box 41; [Loudoun] to the Duke of Cumberland, October 3, 1756, LO 1968, box 44.

25 Paradoxically, it was the colonial assemblies that forced men into service in their provincial regiments,
while the usual allowance of the provision of a substitute worked to ensure most draftees were plebs. While
Fred Anderson wishes to see the press at work as a community exercise in minimizing its harmful social
effects, Lawrence Cress sees it in a more straightforward fashion as an attempt to make those with less
power serve. Anderson, A People’s Army, 41–42; Cress, 5–7; Selesky, 155–162; Titus, 59, 63–65, 79–80,
98–100, 145–48.

Class and the Common Soldier 463

Age, free from all Bodily Ailments, and perfect and Sound Limbs.” Recruiters were
under great pressure from commanding officers “to get the Recruits as cheap as you
can,” as Thomas Gage ordered.26 The bounty money was ample enough to entice
thousands of colonists to join the regulars in the first two years of the war.27

Who were these colonials desperate enough to join the regulars? An admittedly small
sample of American recruits (mostly from the Boston area) who were recruited into the
regular army shows a similar drift out of the crafts. Of the 66 individuals, 42 (63.6%)
came from artisanal production, with shoemakers and tailors being most represented;
11 (16.7%) came from agriculture, 10 (15.2%) had been manual laborers, and 3
(4.5%) had done clerical or professional work.28 The American economy had become
increasingly commercialized, especially in the urban centers of Boston, New York, and
Philadelphia, and periodically suffered depressions that negatively impacted on laboring
people, causing unemployment and hardship.29 This could be what was occurring here,
craftsmen without gainful employment in difficult economic times being drawn into
military work by the lure of a bounty and steady wages. The army was acting as a main
destination of proletarianized labor.30

26 The army’s recruiting instructions for North America issued in 1757, stipulated that the new soldier
would receive £3 10s. sterling bounty money, £2 10s. for those who enlisted for a term of years, and 40s.
for indentured servants, but much of this was meant to go towards paying for their uniforms and other
necessaries. A life recruit could expect a pistole and a dollar, or a guinea true profit, from his £3 10s. Lt.
Col. Gage’s Recruiting Instructions, [3 Jan. 1758], LO 5328, box 115; Estimate of the several Articles
of Expense on the American Service, [March 1756], LO 6738, box 22; Recruiting Instructions to be
observed by all the Regiments in No. America, Nov. 1757, LO 6761, box 109; Pargellis, Lord Loudoun,

27 [Sir] W[illiam] Pepperrell to William Williams, 51st regt of foot, 18 Feb. 1755, LO 552, box 12;
Pargellis, Lord Loudoun, 105–108. The reward was sufficiently high for some men to risk their very lives
by enlisting than deserting with the cash, sometimes more than once. For example, John Williams received
part of his £3 4s. bounty when he enlisted with the regulars in April 1758, deserting three days later; the
following April he enlisted in Col. Fitch’s Connecticut Provincial Regiment, receiving £7 8s. bounty. This
time he was discovered, tried by general court martial and sentenced to death. War Office Papers, series
71, Records of General Courts Martial, Vol. 67, pp. 153–155, 15 June 1759 [hereafter in form
WO71/67/153–155], PRO.

28 Thomas Ord, Returns of Recruits raised for the Detachment of the Royal Artillery in North America
for 1755 & 1756, August 3, 1756, LO 1661, box 32; Nicholas Cox, Weekly Return of Recruits Raised
for the 47th Regiment of Foot, December 26, 1757, LO 6853, box 110; Weekly Returns of the Recruiting
Parties of Capt. Mackay, Lt. Cottnam and Ens. Archbold of the 40th Regiment, December 1757, LO
6883, box 114; Weekly Returns of the Recruiting Parties of Capt. Mackay, Lt. Cottnam and Ens. Archbold
for the 40th Regiment, January 1758, LO 6919, box 118, February 1758, LO 6933, box 122, March 1758,
LO 6935, box 124; Weekly Returns of Recruits raised by Lieuts. Wm. Cook and Thomas Moncrieff for
the First or Royal Regiment, January 9, 1758, LO 6923, box 118; Weekly Returns of the Recruiting Parties
of Capt. Cosnan, Lt. Phillips and Ens. Wallace of the 45th Regiment, December 1757, LO 6882, box
114; Weekly Returns of Recruits raised by Capt. Cosnan and by Lieut. Phillips for the 45th Regiment,
January 1758, LO 6894, box 118; Weekly Return of recruits raised by Capt. Cosnan, February 13, 1758,
LO 5581, box 120; Weekly Returns of Recruits raised by Capt. Cosnan and by Lieut. Phillips for the 45th
Regiment, 2, March 6, 1758, LO 5690, box 122; Weekly Returns of Recruits raised by Capt. Nicholas
Cox and Ensign Milbourne West for the 47th Regiment, January 1758, LO 6924, box 118; Weekly Return
of Recruits raised for the 28th Regiment, March 6, 1758, LO 4657, box 122.

29 Gary B. Nash, The Urban Crucible: The Northern Seaports and the Origins of the American Revolution
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979); Billy Smith, The “Lower Sort”: Philadelphia’s Laboring
People, 1750–1800 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990).

30 While much has been made of how different provincial soldiers were from regulars, these records
would seem to indicate that the latter came from a similar skilled economic background. Fred Anderson
maintains: “Massachusetts soldiers of the Seven Years’ War … were by no means colonial proletarians.
Rather, they were products of a society and economy that constantly generated males who were temporarily

464 Peter Way

The army was not above duplicity in facilitating this process, either by duping men
into enlisting or recruiting bonded servants. Tales of recruiting officers getting men
drunk or using subterfuge to entice them to take the King’s shilling were part of English
folklore, and a seeming reality in the colonies. James McDonell, for instance, was
drinking with a friend when he first donned the redcoat; at least that was what he was
told the next morning, “being that Night so Drunk that he doth not remember seeing
a Red Coat in the house, and was greatly surprised in the Morning when the said
Corporal told him he was enlisted.” He deserted and was punished with 200 lashes.31

The military looked elsewhere for recruits in the colonies, to the ranks of unfree
labor. Though initially it had been the informal policy not to enlist any indentured
servants without the consent of their masters, the War’s labor demands soon meant that
the army routinely took bondsmen. John Rutherford, a major in the Royal Americans,
argued that indentured servants “are glad to goe [sic] into the Army to get rid of their
Slavery.” While an exaggeration, servants did enlist regularly, which would seem to
indicate a desire to shed their indenture for a bounty and immediate wages. Masters,
for their part, “having a great part of their Property vested in Servants,” violently
opposed the practice, and Horatio Sharpe, Governor of Maryland, warned “an Insur-
rection of the People is likely to ensue.”32 Conflict did indeed arise between masters
and recruiters.33

Masters also petitioned formally against the enlistment of their servants. The Penn-
sylvania House of Representatives advised the governor that many masters had com-
plained that “a great Number of Bought Servants are lately inlisted by the Recruiting

Footnote 30 continued

available for military service.” In the colony’s noncommercial agrarian economy that was stressed by rising
population, young males had to put off hope of having their own farm and starting a family until later in
life. The bounty and wages offered by provincial service accelerated this process, thus enlistment was
economic opportunism rather than determinism. Yet his study shows that 35.8% had been laborers, 33.4%
artisans, and only 19.3% farmers. Clearly, some form of proletarianization had already occurred, and
recruits also came from outside the agrarian economy. Two other studies of provincial troops provide a
more restrained perspective. Harold Selesky found that most of Connecticut’s provincial soldiers were
farmers, husbandmen and laborers, people who had to work for a living, and saw service as a different
form of employment. They tended to be young and at the bottom of society, being without much property,
although this could be a reflection of their youth, as they would not have had the time to establish
themselves economically yet. James Titus’s study of Virginia’s troops early in the War indicate that artisans
accounted for 39%, planters and farmers for 35%, and laborers for only 2.7% (though if we add seamen
and soldiers to this group the ratio goes up to 10.7%). At the same time, he makes the point that these
were people at the bottom of Virginia society, usually the landless and unemployed, who literally had to
be forced into serving by a draft. Fred Anderson, “A People’s Army: Provincial Military Service in
Massachusetts during the Seven Years’ War,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., 40 (Oct. 1983),
499–527; Anderson, A People’s Army, 26–39 [quotation on 27–28]; Selesky, 172–181; Titus, 82–88.

31 WO/71/65/361–366.
32 William Shirley to Gov. Robert Morris, February 29, 1756, LO 867, box 19; [Pepperrell] Recruiting

Instructions [1755], LO 727, box 15; [John Rutherford] Memorandom on Indian Affairs, February 2,
1756, LO 795, box 18; Horatio Sharpe to William Shirley, February 2, 1756, LO 793, box 18.

33 See: Corbin Lee to Gov. Horatio Sharp, April 30, 1757, LO 3506, box 76; Robert Sterling to
Loudoun, August 23, 1756, LO 1548, box 35; Rutherfurd [sic] [to Loudoun], August 23, 1756, LO 1549,
box 35; Charles Hardy to Lord Halifax, May 7, 1756, in Military Affairs in North America, 1748–1765:
Selected Documents from the Cumberland Papers in Windsor Castle, ed. Stanley Pargellis (orig. edn 1936;
Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1969), 174–175; Robert Morris [to Loudoun], July 5, 1756, LO 1287, box
29; Daniel Webb to Loudoun, April 10, 1756, LO 1034, box 23; William Shirley to [Henry Fox], March
8, 1756, LO 890, box 20; Pieter Van Ingen, Affidavit, April 18, 1757, LO 3376, box 74; James Prevost
[to Loudoun], April 5, 1757, LO 3294, box 72; John Smyth, certificate, April 6, 1757, LO 3300, box 73;
Pargellis, Lord Loudoun, 107.

Class and the Common Soldier 465

Officers now in this Province, and clandestinely or by open Force conveyed away” to
the great oppression of the masters and the province. Under the law masters had “as
true & as just a Property in the Servant bought as they had before in the Money with
which he was purchas’d.”34 The concern expressed here had more to do with capital—
the control, discipline and ownership of labor—than with constitutional matters of
colonial versus imperial powers. The backlash to recruiting prompted an official
response.35 The British Parliament ultimately made it lawful to recruit indentured
servants who volunteered, but provided for either the compensation or return of
servants to aggrieved masters.36

The American colonies for a variety of reasons, then, did not produce as many
regular soldiers as the army wished. A recruiting officer observed that “there is a general
backwardness in the people of this province to the Kings service, which is but too much
encouraged by all sorts of people, as they seem to consider every man, we enlist, as a
real loss to the Province.”37 Part of the problem was the repugnance many colonists felt
for serving with the regulars, particularly after their much-broadcasted recruiting
excesses, but it also must be remembered that the army, like any industry, was in
competition with other employers for labor, yet were more constrained in the terms
they could offer. “I have tried all possible Methods to raise men in these Provinces, and
with great Expences have had little Success,” bemoaned Henry Bouquet of the Royal
American Regiment. “There are men enough Scattered in the back Part of the two
Carolinas, but they find Such encouragement, and high Wages for this labour, that they
despise our pay, and those who inlist, being the worste [sic], desert very Soon.”38 The
greatest competitor to the regular army, however, was the colonial provincial regiments,
which paid much higher enlistment bounties and had shorter years of service.39

34 Pennsylvania, General Assembly, House of Representatives, Address to Robert Hunter Morris,
February 1756, LO 819, box 18.

35 Lord Loudoun instructed his recruiting officers to inspect the articles of indentured servants to see
how much time they had left, and to take only those that could be had “at a reasonable price”; i.e., those
with the fewest years remaining. Loudoun, Heads of Instruction for Col. Webb, February 23, 1756, LO
848, box 19.

36 Great Britain, Parliament [An act for the better recruiting of His Majesty’s Forces on the Continent
of America; and for the Regulation of the Army …]. March 25, 1756, LO 2583, box 21. The Act stipulated
that, if the owner protested within six months, the recruiting officer must either give up the servant upon
being repaid the enlisting money, or pay the master a sum to be determined by two justices of the peace
in the province of residence or of enlistment based on the original purchase price and the amount of time
left to be served. This act also attempted to quell any complaints that free men had been duped into
enlisting. A recruit had to be taken to a justice of the peace or magistrate within four days but not before
24 hours of his listing to swear his willingness or unwillingness. If the latter, he had to return the levy money
and pay 20s. sterling for expenses within 24 hours; failing this he was considered enlisted. In response to
the act, Benjamin Franklin, that paragon of the crafts, filed a petition on behalf of fellow Pennsylvania
masters claiming £3,652 and a half pence Pennsylvania currency for 612 servants listed. Loudoun felt that
Franklin had misunderstood Parliament’s wishes, and said that none of these claims were substantiated
other than by the word of the owners. [Benjamin Franklin], List of Servants Belonging to the inhabitants
of Pennsylvania and taken into His Majesty’s Service, April 21, 1757, LO 3415, box 74.

37 John Cosnan to Col. Forbes, January 9, 1758, LO 5377, box 116.
38 Henry Bouquet to Loudoun, October 16, 1757, LO 4649, box 102.
39 Whereas regulars could expect only £3 bounty, provincial recruits far exceeded that sum. Rhode

Island caught the war fever in 1755, giving its recruits £25 “old Tenor” and a blanket. Bounties in
Massachusetts rose from £2 18s.-£4 14s. in 1755 to £14 12s. three years later to £12-£26 12s in 1760
before settling at £9 in 1761–1762. North Carolina offered £5 local currency for just a six-month
enlistment in 1757. Connecticut bounties rose from £3 in 1755 to a peak of £11 for a veteran and £7
for a new recruit in 1761, but usually were set at £4. Virginia finally dropped compulsory service and

466 Peter Way

Army recruiting in America reveals the military’s role in creating free workers from
indentured servants, apprentices and craftsmen, and of drafting existing laborers into a
more rigorous form of manual work. A strategem developed and long used in the
colonies to overcome deficiencies of labor, indentured servitude was a hallmark of the
preindustrial American economy. The army adopted another tactic of supplying its
shortages by using the political backing of Parliament to speed along the development
of the labor market, artificially accelerating proletarianization so as to satisfy its labor
needs. It was done at the expense of masters, and this incursion on their investment in
human capital sowed the seeds of colonial discontent with the Mother Country.
Similarly, the conflict over proper recruiting of free men had much to do with the
nature of the colonial labor market. While ostensibly un-tethered workers, recruits
tended to be young men with important familial and community ties, with economic
responsibilities to parents or employers, and enlistment in the regulars usually meant a
loss of their labor to these networks for years. Their freedom of choice was thus
balanced by these collective concerns, which provided a potential check on their
unfettered movement into the military. This was one reason why joining the provincial
regiments was looked upon more favorably. As the term of service was by the year, it
was not considered a loss of labor as much as a means of accumulating capital in the
form of wages to the family and community via the soldier.

Enlistment in the army had profound economic roots and consequences. For many
it was a continuation of existing wage-earning status, perhaps with more dire conditions
but certainly preferable to starvation; for others it was the consequence of a loss of skill
and a certain control over one’s labor. In donning the redcoat the recruit not only
wrapped himself in the emblem of his nation state, he also draped the raiment of his
dawning class status over his shoulders.


They who live by agriculture generally pass the whole day in the open air,
exposed to all the inclemencies of the seasons. The hardiness of their ordinary
life prepares them for the fatigues of war, to some of which their necessary
occupations bear a great analogy. The necessary occupation of a ditcher
prepares him to work in the trenches, and to fortify a camp as well as to
enclose a field.40

A troop’s labor fell into two categories. The first, and most obvious, was martial:
training in the skills of soldiering, and applying those skills in defensive and aggressive
situations such as digging entrenchments and fighting itself. This whole experience of
warfare can be characterized as a labor process with military success the desired
product, and it was for performing these tasks that a soldier received his pay. The
second form of labor, and one often overlooked or minimized, was what could be
termed civil labor: cutting wood, making fascines, hunting for food, harvesting crops,
etc. Such tasks were often seen as labor above and beyond military duty warranting

Footnote 39 continued

offered a £10 bounty in 1758. Rhode Island, General Assembly, Act for raising Five Hundred men for
the Expedition designed to reduce the French Forts on Lake Champlain, [23] Feburary 1756, LO 847,
box 19; Anderson, A People’s Army, Table 1, 225; Bouquet to Loudoun, October 16, 1757, LO 4649,
box 102; Selesky, 149; Titus, 122, 163 n. 86.

40 Smith, Wealth of Nations, Vol. 2, 184.

Class and the Common Soldier 467

extraordinary payments. It was in this realm that soldiers could enhance their income
and skilled workers could continue to apply their trades.

The growing professionalization of the art of war in the 18th century was expressed
in a wealth of manuals on proper military practice from provisioning the forces and
record taking, to marching and weapon-exercising techniques.41 As fighting became
more formal, discipline tightened, and the need for training grew. Regimental order
books reflect the regularity of instruction to exercise troops, but this did not occur as
frequently as one would imagine. The pressing needs of war, the fact that many
regiments were broken up into dispersed detachments, and the proximity of the frontier
meant that formal training was intermittent and often put off until once safely en-
sconced in winter garrison.

Warfare in North America was for the most part much detached from the mass
maneuvers prescribed by the contemporary literature, pitched as it was at Europe’s
open battlefields and stone fortresses. Much of the fighting in North America involved
guerilla tactics of hit and run in what was for Europeans a thickly wooded terrain. The
basic objective remained the same, however, killing one’s opponent. Whether done by
ambuscade or the pounding of artillery, war involved blood work, with soldiers paid to
wound and destroy. Wounds and death were also the wages of war for worker soldiers.
It is not necessary to dwell on the various components of this particularly sanguine
labor process—shooting, scalping, bayoneting, burning, blasting to bloody pulp. Suffice
it to say that there were palpable victims of this work, and that alienation in this
instance meant not only a metaphorical loss of selfhood, but for many actual physical
loss or negation.

Combat was but one aspect of a soldier’s working life. More routine were the many
“fatigues” required to keep a fighting machine functioning. Sites had to be cleared for
camps, trenches and latrines dug, roads laid, wood cut for palisades, forts erected, and
barracks and grounds cleaned.42 Such toil, requiring as it did digging, chopping,
hauling, and the driving of animal teams, was far removed from the romantic ideal of
soldiering and closer to the farmer’s world with its threat of drudgery and exhaustion.43

The growing desire to extract as much labor as possible out of soldiers and the question
of whether the work involved was strictly for military purposes periodically prompted
soldiers to balk at performing such tasks. They were paid to be soldiers and to do

41 See, for example, Campbell Dalrymple, Extracts from a Military Essay, containing: Reflections on the
Raising, Arming, Cloathing and Discipline of the British Infantry and Cavalry (Philadelphia, PA: Humphreys,
Bell, and Atkins, 1776).

42 See, for example: Daniel Disney Orderly Book, 9, September 16, 1756, Manuscript Division, Library
of Congress, Washington, D.C.; Anonoymous, Journal of a Voyage to Halifax on the intended expedition
under the Command of Lord Loudoun, July 1, 1757, in a Letter to a Friend, Peter Force Papers [series
8D: 84, microfilm reel 48], Manuscript Division, Library of Congress; Abijah Willard Orderly Book and
Journal, March 26, 1756, HM 497, Huntinton Library.

43 A captain reported that his “men are greatly fatigued: for what with the necessarie duty in the fort,
protecting the saw milne, cutting of Loggs, mending of roads &c. there has not been any man off duty.”
Given the description of work performed by regulars in clearing stumps from their encampment, there
is ample justification for feeling fatigued: “their method was to digg round ye Stumps with Mathooks
cutting off ye out Side Roots, then fastening to it a Tecle [tackle] 15 or 20 Men wou’d hawl it up or break
it off some depth under ground, thus fourty Men cleared off about Twenty Stumps a Day makeing all
smooth.” Ben Gordon [to Gage], April 24, 1759, Vol. 2, American Series, Thomas Gage Papers, William
L. Clements Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor [hereafter in form GP2]; The Journal of Dr. Caleb
Rea, ed. F.M. Ray (Salem: Essex Institute, 1881), 33; Order Book, Vol. 2, July 9, 1759, Frederick
Mackenzie Collection, MG 23, K 34, National Archives of Canada, Ottawa [hereafter NAC].

468 Peter Way

military duty; requiring them to do jobs they viewed as un-soldierly was an infringe-
ment of the labor contract and led to disputes.

A soldiers daily “wage” amounted to 8d. but he did not see this amount: the
paymaster held back 2d. “off-reckonings” to cover army expenses and to provide the
regimental clothing and accoutrements; and subtracted 6d. per week in “arrears” to
meet company expenses.”44 Ideally, then, a soldier would hope to “take home” £9 2s.
6d. a year.45 Sylvia Frey found that a soldier’s existence “was no worse and was in some
respects somewhat better than that for the great majority of the urban lower classes.”
A soldier’s 8d. per day compared roughly to a common laborer’s wage, which could
range from 8d. in more disadvantaged areas to 18d. in London, while the provision of
accommodation and subsidized clothing meant security found only in long-term
employment in the civilian job market.46 This comparison applies more to the home
regiments in England, than it does to the more tenuous conditions of soldiering in the
American theatre where markets were often at a distance and prices higher. North
American service did have one advantage. Soldiers were typically provided with their
provisions without deductions being made from their pay.47

The stoppages made from a soldier’s gross pay to provide him with necessaries,
however, provided a potential source of discontent. In a time of war and a colonial
setting—with goods often more expensive and their supply more complicated, the use
of local currencies subject to inflationary pressures and unfair conversion rates to
sterling, and wilderness campaigning more wearing on uniforms—these stoppages did
not always conform to the rule of 1s. 8d. weekly off-reckonings and arrears combined,
nor were the paid for necessaries necessarily forthcoming.48 Making soldiers pay for
equipment deemed inessential was another sore spot.49 Troops were also subject to
fines for infractions of dress and discipline, usually assessed by regimental court martial,
which further depressed their incomes. Misuse of equipage also could cost a soldier.50

44 For a more thorough examination of the complex issue of soldier earnings, see Steppler, chapter 2,
or my synthesis of his work in Way, 777–778, n. 44.

45 Establishment of Four Independent Companies at New York, [1756?], LO 2486, box 57.
46 Frey, 15–16, 53–55 [quotation on 53].
47 This was a policy adopted in 1755 when regular troops were dispatched under General Braddock to

the colonies. It was ordered that every soldier would received “as much fresh or Salt provision & bread
or Flower without any Stoppage” unless found to be “Drunk Negligent or Disobedient.” Orders given
out in America, March 27, 1755, Disney Orderly Book. See also: “Captain Orme’s Journal,” in The History
of an Expedition against Fort Du Quesne, in 1755; under Major-General Edward Braddock, Generalissimo of
H. B. M. Forces in America, ed. Winthrop Sargeant (Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, Grambo & Co. for the
Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1855), 291.

48 Commander-in-Chief the Earl of Loudoun complained in 1756, however, that it was so expensive
to outfit the troops that the four battalions of the Royal Americans were almost £6,000 in debt to their
officers “and how that will be stopt I do not see.” [Loudoun, General Orders], August 21-November 30,
1756, LO 1538, box 35; quotation from Commissary Wilson’s Orderly Book. Expedition of the British and
Provincial Army under Maj. Gen. Jeffery Amherst, against Ticonderoga and Crown Point. 1759 (Albany, NY:
J. Munsell, 1857), 54; David Wooster Orderly Book, 1 July 1759, Peter Force Papers [8D:190, reel 71],
LC; Loudoun to H.R.H. [Cumberland], April 25-June 3, 1757, LO 3463, box 75.

49 A major in the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Americans reported his soldiers, who had to pay off £1,200
sterling for warm clothes issued the winter before, were now faced with paying for equipment superfluous
to their numbers, amounting to £87 New York. He warned that if the officers “were to Oblige the Soldiers
to take the Superfluous Camp Necessarys it would not only make them Grumble but would Realy [sic]
be a Hardship upon them.” Thomas Oswald to Amherst, July 18, 1761, WO34/4/58–59.

50 Pennsylvania provincials who broke their arms through neglect were to be made to pay for their repair.
And as it was felt that soldiers at Fort Beausejour were wasting their ammunition, it was ordered that they
be charged 2d. sterling per round fired other than by instruction. Officers also exercised much discretion

Class and the Common Soldier 469

Extraordinary charges or non-provision could evoke protests from soldiers asserting
that they were owed their clothing and accoutrements as deductions were routinely

The marginal subsistence offered by soldiering meant that artisans of war often had
to find other paying jobs, and employment by the army, by fellow soldiers, or by the
civilian populace offered them an additional source of income.51 Military needs meant
that there was work to be done, but it was not always evident what fell under the duty
of a soldier. Marching, guarding, fighting, or the building of defenses, such as erecting
pickets for a fort, digging entrenchments, storehouses or hospitals, and building roads
within boundaries of encampment, clearly constituted military labor performed in
expectation of a soldier’s wage.52 Other tasks, like ditch digging, wood chopping, and
the loading and handling of transport wagons and batteaux were generally considered
to be extraordinary and worthy of an additional wage.

The army found that civilian workers in the colonies came at too high a price and
drafted soldiers into civil work. Large numbers of civilian workers, such as batteauxmen
and carpenters, were raised for service from New York and New England where the
populations were denser, but the scarcity and expensiveness of labor, as well as the
harsh and dangerous nature of auxiliary duty, meant that the army came to rely
increasingly on its own men to perform what it considered non-military tasks.53 In the
southern colonies, the army really only had slave labor to look to as an alternative to its
own men, yet Henry Bouquet complained that he had found it impossible to hire
sufficient numbers of chattel bondsmen to work on the defenses of Charles Town
despite paying 7s. 6d. local currency per day.54 Only in the expeditions to the
Caribbean did slave labor come into its own, where the army hired and even bought its
own bondsmen.55

Footnote 50 continued

over the provision of necessities, which could lead to unexpected cost. Troops at Halifax from August 1757
were to pay for their mattresses, whereas in the past they had been provided for them. Steppler, 65–66;
Pennsylvania Regiment, 3rd. Battalion, Orderly Book, July 6, 1758, HM 613 Huntington Library; Willard
Orderly Book, June 9, 1755; Disney Orderly Book, 8 Aug. 1757.

51 Steppler, chapter 3.
52 Loudoun to Lt. Col. Whiting, October 18, 1757, LO 4664, box 103; Orderly Book and Journal of Major

John Hawks on the Ticonderoga-Crown Point Campaign, Under General Jeffrey Amherst 1759–1760, ed. Hugh
Hastings (New York: Society of Colonial Wars in the State of New York, 1911), 71; Government Order
from June 1, 1761 recorded at New York, July 18, 1767, in 26th Regt. of Foot Records, 1751–1771, Peter
Force Papers [8D:57, microfilm reel 39].

53 E. Braddock to Sir Thomas Robinson, April 19, 1755, LO 572, box 12; Loudoun Memorandum
Books, Vol. 2, January 30, 1757, HM 1717, Huntington Library. On use of civilian workers, see for
example, Loudoun to John Bradstreet, January 31, 1758, LO 5502, box 118.

54 Bouquet to Loudoun, October 16, 1757, LO 4649, box 102.
55 One officer purchased 403 at Antigua in May 1762. That same month Monckton reported that

£30,820 8s. 3d. sterling had been paid for slaves bought in Antigua and St. Christophers, whereas £7,574
10s. 3d. was expended for hired slaves from Antigua, St. Christophers, Nevis, and Montserrat, with owners
paid 2s. 3d. per day. Fearing they would be used for unproductive purposes, orders were issued that no
officers were to employ the King’s slaves, as they were solely to relieve the soldiers of “the laborious duties
of the Campaign.” These slaves had a “distinguishing mark” placed upon them so as to differentiate them
from those privately owned. James Grant to Monckton, May 7, 1762, Monckton Papers, Vol. 50,
Martinque, Vol. 7, Northcliffe Collection, mfm. reel C–367; [Monckton to] Lords of the Treasury, May
24, 1762, Monckton Papers, Vol. 50, Martinque, Vol. 7, Northcliffe Collection, mfm. reel C–367;
Monckton’s Accounts with St. Christophers, 1762, Monckton Papers, Vol. 51, Martinque, Vol. 8,
Northcliffe Collection, mfm. reel C–367; Mackenzie Order Book, Vol. 2, January 22, 25, 27, 30, July 3,
4, August 7, 1762, pp. 26, 29, 31–33, 94, 110.

470 Peter Way

Extraordinary work enabled some soldiers to practice prior occupational skills. Those
who had been common laborers tended to be adept with picks, shovels, and barrows,
utensils universal in their application, while most anyone could lay a hand to many of
the tasks involved. Men worked around camp chopping wood for fires or construction
purposes, cutting fascines for defenses, harvesting hay for forage, making baskets for
shifting dirt, building dams and mill races, or would “work like lions” dragging loaded
bateau over or around waterfalls.56 This being a time of war, such mundane tasks could
be dangerous. Rangers cutting hay near Halifax were taken captive by a party of
Indians, while soldiers making oars not far from Oswego were scalped, and men making
fascines in the woods during the siege of Quebec were also killed and scalped.57 The
income earned must have been sufficiently persuasive to attract men, however, as the
work was usually voluntary.

The many types of skilled work required by the army was more of a worry, as colonial
craftsmen were fewer in number and higher in price relative to manual laborers. The
expense proved too great given the army’s many needs, but as fresh regiments poured
into North America, there came with them recent recruits with craft skills. Exploiting
the knowledge and experience of former artisans in the ranks meant a saving to the war
treasury by obviating the need for hiring outside craftsmen. The army came increasingly
to rely upon its men for skilled labor.58 Becoming a soldier thus did not necessarily
mean leaving behind one’s skill, as there was great scope for craftsmanship within an
army that in many ways constituted a small, highly self-sufficient society.

The pay for both common and skilled labor varied for much of the War, depending
on the type of work, the harsh conditions or danger involved, and the officer in charge,
until the high command attempted to systematize rates.59 Certain jobs were paid by

56 See: E. Braddock to Sir Thomas Robinson, June 5, 1755, LO 581, box 13; Orderly Book,
Pennsylvania Regiment, July 14, 1758; Willard Orderly Book, December 21, 1755, January 7, 1756;
Wooster Orderly Book, July 5, 1759; David Holmes, Orderly Book, September 4, 1759, David Holmes
Collection (No. 8 on the microfilm reel, French and Indian War Orderly Books at the Massachusetts
Historical Society); Eyre Massey to Amherst, November 17, 1759, Vol. 4, Amherst Papers, Clements
Library [hereafter in form AP4]; Eyre Massey to Gage, March 31, 1759, GP2; quotation from John Burk
Diary, August 1, 1755, Peter Force Papers [8D:16, reel 31], LC. An idea of the frequency of such extra
paid employment is highlighted by the fact that 16 men from the 50th Regiment worked 874 days for an
average of 54.6 per man out of a possible 96 days in the summer of 1756. An Account of Work done by
the 50th Regiment on the Oneida Carrying Place, December 8, 1756, LO 2324, box 54.

57 George Le Hunt [to Gage], July 24, 1761, GP7; John Shirley to Gov. Morris, September 25, 1755,
in Samuel Hazard, ed., Pennsylvania Archives, Vol. 2 (Philadelphia, PA: Joseph Severns, 1852), 426; James
Thompson Sr. Journal, July 17, 1759, MG 23, K 2, microfilm reel M–2312, NAC.

58 Army surveys of recruits’ former occupations for roughly four-fifths of the regular army in North
America from the summer of 1757 indicate that a significant proportion of soldiers continued to practice
a skill: ranging from 9.1% in the 42nd to 44.2% in the 27th, and comprising 19.1% for the whole. This,
of course, does not mean that they would be constantly engaged as craftsmen, but it does mean that
regularly almost a fifth of the army (based on this gross sample) would be applying their craft skills for
wages above and beyond what they were paid to soldier. See Way, 770–772.

59 Troops working on Braddock’s road received 6d. sterling a day. In 1756, men of the 50th Regiment
were paid between 6d. and 9d. at the Oneida Carrying Place, whereas those who labored on the King’s
works at Albany earned 9d. New York currency. By comparison, soldiers who had just sailed across the
Atlantic and were put to work unloading artillery and stores at New York received 2s. local currency for
privates and 3s. for non commissioned officers (a savings from the 5s. demanded by local laborers) in
consideration of the fatigues they had experienced during their long voyage. The rate for labor was fixed
at 6d. sterling at Halifax in 1758 in an attempt to depress what had been higher wages. In 1760, laborers
building storehouses, hospitals or barracks at Albany received 9d. New York despite the fact such work
was usually considered part of a soldier’s duty. Henry Bouquet initially intended to pay the “usual rate”

Class and the Common Soldier 471

piece rates, like wood cutting.60 Other, especially arduous work, such as transporting
supplies by batteaux, received higher wages.61 At times, payment was idiosyncratic,
though practical. For example, those who made fascines, picket timbers, and platforms
during the siege of Louisbourg received a half pint of rum, a shilling and “one Fish.”62

Skilled labor obviously attracted higher wages. Artisans working for the King at Albany
were paid 1s. 3d. New York currency in 1756. Four years later, the rate remained the
same for artificers, but mortar makers were paid 1s.63

The extent of extraordinary work entailed a huge wage bill. Commanding officers
were mindful of the expense and tended to blame soldiers for demanding so much.
“Work done by the soldiers for His Majesty’s service is paid at a most exorbitant rate,”
complained James Wolfe from Halifax in 1758. Yet, this outpost is a case in point of
the dynamics governing wages. Perched on the edge of the continent, surrounded by
water and threatened by the enemy, there were few civilian artisans or laborers for the
army to hire, pushing up the day rate; at the same time, the town’s isolation made for
expensive provision prices. Such market forces had a trickle down effect on the wages
paid soldiers for extraordinary work, the comparative cost of labor and the inescapable
cost of buying goods for themselves reminding soldiers of the worth of their work.
Commander-in-Chief Jeffrey’ Amherst sought to solve the problem in 1761 by setting
per diem wages for troops employed in the King’s Works as artificers at 1s. 3d. New
York currency, as mortar makers at 1s., and for “Labouring Workers” building store
houses, barracks, hospital at 10d. Soldiers and non-commissioned officers in the
batteaux service would receive 1s.64 While restrictive, the men could not be too
dissatisfied with wages that matched their income as soldiers. Furthermore, the chance

Footnote 59 continued

of 7s. 6d. a day (local currency) for the works at Charles Town, South Carolina, but to cut costs ultimately
set the wage at 3s. 6d., or 6d. sterling plus a gill of rum for a six-hour work day. Disney Orderly Book,
May 28, 1755; Paragraph of a Letter from Captain Roger Morris to Major Craven, June 23, 1756, in Copies
of Letter from Major General Shirley and other to major Craven relating to the Works at the Oneida
Carrying Place 1756, LO 1132, box 25; An Account of Work done by the 50th Regiment on the Oneida
Carrying Place, December 8, 1756, LO 2324, box 54; Disney Orderly Book, September 22, 1756; Furnis
to Board of Ordnance, September 26, 1757, James Furnis Letterbook; Order of Maj. Gen. Amherst dated
November 11, 1758, Nathaniel Bangs, Orderly Book of Jotham Gay’s Company of John Thomas’s
Regiment of Massachusetts Provincials, 1759–1760, Nathaniel Bangs Collection, microfilm no. P–212,
Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston; An Order Dated Albany 4 June 1760, WO34/3/32; Bouquet
to Loudoun, October 16, 1757, LO 4649, box 102.

60 At Fort Cumberland a cord of hardwood brought 7s. 6d. and softwood 5s., while during the siege
of Quebec 5s. and a gill of rum was paid per cord of wood cut and loaded on a boat (with overseeing officers
getting 3s.). Willard Orderly Book, December 21, 1755; Monckton’s Orderly Book, September 25, 1759.

61 Batteaux service brought 1s. a day on Lake George in 1759, and 1s. 6d. plus rum at Fort Pitt the
next year (sergeants got 2s. 6d.), while 1s. 6d. was given to soldiers engaged in brewing spruce beer.
Wooster Orderly Book, July 5, 1759; A Return of Soldiers Employed in the Batteaux Service at Fort Pitt
AD 1760, and An account of pay Due to the men that Were Employed in the Battau Serves [sic] to the
Royal American Regiment, January 11, 1760, Monckton Papers; Commissary Wilson’s Orderly Book, June
11, 1759, p. 20.

62 Journal of David Gordon an Officer in the Highland Infantry in the Siege of Louisbourgh, July 7, 1758,
MG 18, N 41, microfilm no. A–575, NAC.

63 [Loudoun General Orders] August 21-November 30, 1756, LO 1538, box 35; An Order Dated
Albany 4 June 1760, WO34/3/32.

64 Wolfe to Lord Sackville, May 24, 1758, in The Life and Letters of James Wolfe, ed. Beckles Willson
(New York: Dodd Mead, 1909), 368; Government Order from June 1, 1761 recorded at New York, July
18, 1767, in 26th Regiment of Foot Records; Orders, June 4, 1760, Amherst Letters, Monckton Papers,
Vol. 16, Northcliffe Collection, mfm. no. C–365.

472 Peter Way

for men to practice crafts once thought lost and to avoid the more dangerous military
duties must have exerted an attraction.

The shock of induction into military life should not be underestimated, but for
common and skilled recruits alike it was tempered by the opportunity to perform
familiar tasks. For craftsmen-soldiers in particular, the transition to martial labor would
not have been as jarring, as conditions of work would have remained roughly consist-
ent. Nonetheless, even when allowed to practice his skill while in uniform, work would
have taken on a new connotation for the former skilled artisan. Handicraft production
in the 18th century was highly variegated, taking place in many settings, under quite
different arrangements, but for most trades it was still a world of manual production in
family homes, small shops or a master’s household in a close, personal context, while
the pace of work fluctuated with need, desire, demand, and the pull of other, competing
economic pastimes. Social considerations intruded as much as economic, allowing for
relaxation and interaction as well as toil. In the army, however, discipline prevailed and
work began to acquire its modern meaning of sustained labor dictated by the clock.
Similarly, manual labor in wider society at this time, while no doubt toilsome and
offering little hope of advancement, unwound to varying rhythms—the cycle of the
seasons, the demands of different tasks, and periodic lapses in labor requirements—that
made for a less regimented (and here the word is truly significant) pace of work and
greater discretion over the types of work engaged in than military protocol allowed.
Again, it was the dwindling of such control and options, however limited, that exposed
so many laborers to army discipline.

Officers deemed military work, however mundane, as a matter of life and death that
required prompt and exact performance. That this was not always forthcoming is
evident from any reading of order books. Over the course of the War, the army
increasingly sought to impose clockwork timing, routinize discipline, improvise man-
agement strategies, and assert “shop-floor” control, all hallmarks of proto-industrial
production. Establishing the hours of work was the first initiative. In 1756, soldier/
workers were ordered to parade at 6 a.m., and were “to Work 9. Hours every day, from
6. to Twelve, half an hour being allowed for Breakfast, & in the afternoon, from Half
an hour after Two till Six at Night.” Three years later, at Lake George men worked
from 5 to 11 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m. with drummers beating them to and from their toil,
and it was expected that “every man will do a good day’s work.” Within a month, it was
decided that, to speed up the works, soldiers were to labor from 5 to 12 a.m. and 2 to
7 p.m.65

Not only were there pressures to stretch the day, but also to intensify the pace of
work. At Great Carrying Place in 1756, it was warned: “Any Men that leave their Work
or hide Themselves or make sham pretences to avoid working will be severely pun-
ished.” Officers were ordered to be more alert in ensuring that the men were working,
and three to four were to be appointed “Overseers of the Work” with this their only
duty. As it was soon felt that the work was still not going on fast enough, the general
ordered that all off duty officers should attend the works, threatening any who left their
section with arrest.66

Reiterating orders and altering work practices were insufficient to assure complete

65 Extract out of the Orderly Books Fixing the price of Labourers & Artificers, September 18, 1756, LO
1791, box 41; Wooster Orderly Book, June 23, 24, July 12, 1759; Willard Orderly Book, July 12, 1759.

66 Disney Orderly Book, August 21, 22, 25, September 22, November 7, 1756.

Class and the Common Soldier 473

compliance with work regimens. Incentives were needed in addition to a soldier’s pay
and extraordinary wages, and alcohol, a cheap alternative and a prized commodity to
the men, played a key role in the labor exchange. While not as structured a part of life
as in the navy, drink entailed a component of a soldier’s wage that the army used to
reward behavior and to incite additional effort.67 Functional as an inducement to labor,
alcohol undoubtedly corroded discipline. James Wolfe captured the army’s love/hate
relationship with alcohol. “The excess of rum is bad, but the liquor delivered out in
small quantities—half a gill a man, and mixed with water—is a most salutary drink, and
the cheapest pay for work that can be given.”68 From the military’s perspective drink
made for cheap wages that could cost dearly in terms of military preparedness. From
the soldier’s point of view a ration of grog undoubtedly made work and military life
more attractive, however temporarily. Bayonet and bottle went hand and hand, for
officer as well as private man.


And Now when Tims are Grown So bad
and our Provition Dune
Let Every one take up his Pack
and make a March for home
for if We Stay within the Camp
and on our wages Spend
We Shall have Nothing for to take
When our Campane will Eand69

67 The soldiers on Braddock’s expedition were issued rum at 5 a.m. one morning in June “In
Consideration of their good behavour [sic].” An allowance of rum was made to those working at the Great
Carrying Place in 1756 as an encouragement “to Work briskly,” while Henry Bouquet ordered that his
soldier/workers at Saratoga should receive a gill of rum in the morning and another in the evening. Instead
of the extra ration of provisions they had been receiving for batteau work, soldiers at Fort Edward from
June 1758 were to receive a gill of rum, no doubt making a saving for the army. In the general orders that
set the pay rates in June 1760, it was also stipulated that soldiers were not to receive rum unless engaged
in wet work or bad weather. Instead, they would be supplied with spruce beer, a non-alcoholic concoction
believed to fight scurvy, as “rum will be of more disservice than good to them.” Still, the captain in charge
of work at the Fort William Augustus saw mill ensured that his men, who had to labor in water, received
their rum as it would “prevent sickness.” Disney Orderly Book, May 28, June 27, 1755, August 21, 1756;
Bouquet to Loudoun, October 11, 1756, LO 1998, box 45; “The Monypenny Orderly Book,” Bulletin
of the Fort Ticonderoga Museum, 12 (1969), 345; Orderly Book and Journal of Major John Hawks, 71; George
Le Hunt [to Gage], July 24, 1761, Vol. GP7.

68 Wolfe to Amherst, June 19, 1758, in Life and Letters of James Wolfe, 377. It was in this spirit that during
the siege of Quebec, Wolfe ordered that soldiers performing “extraordinary fatigues” with “allacrity &
Spirit” received an extra ration of grog as it would “conduce to keeping them in health.” Furthermore,
the normal ration of a half a gill a day was to be raised to a gill when work was in the wet or cold, or the
fatigues heavy. On the eve of the final battle for the capitol, Wolfe ordered that “the Soldiers shall have
a Jill of Rum extraordinary to mix with their water,” as the men would have to remain in the boats for
part of the night. And the day after their victory another gill was supplied the troops, perhaps providing
a posthumous toast to their fallen leader. 47th Regiment, Orderly Book, July 13, August 3, 1759; Wolfe,
Orders, September 11, 1759, Vol. 21, Monckton Papers; General Monckton’s Orderly Book, September
14, 1759, Vol. 23, Monckton Papers.

69 Obadiah Harris, Regimental Journal, August 21, 1758, HM591, Manuscript Department,
Huntington Library, San Marino, CA. Harris was a soldier in Captain Ebenezer Cox’s Company of
Timothy Ruggles’ Provincial Regiment and served at forts George, Edward and Ticonderoga.

474 Peter Way

In the army, soldiers dwelt in a hierarchical power structure that mirrored civil society.
Crudely (but also almost exactly), soldiers at the bottom of the army came from the
common people, whereas officers, the military apex, formed their ranks from middling
people, the gentry, and nobles, and the army wielded comparatively exaggerated
authority over most aspects of soldiers’ lives. With those giving the orders from the
upper classes, and those receiving orders from the lower, and with these orders
generally applying to living and working conditions, provision of food and shelter, and
actual physical well-being, class conflict naturally fructified. Military discipline thus also
functioned as work discipline, and undisciplined behavior on the part of soldiers
embodied not only “unsoldierly” conduct but also resistance to that discipline.

The military’s emphasis on obedience and patriotism tended to reinforce the defer-
ence expected of laboring people, creating vertical bonds of identification that crossed
class lines, but soldiering also bred a strong sense of regimental and company-based
fraternity, linking soldier to soldier horizontally and separating them from their officers.
This camaraderie was forged by the nature of their work and the unequal power
relationships structuring it, which the issuing of orders and enforcement of discipline by
superiors daily reiterated. From their collective experience soldiers developed a sense of
commonality that served military interests, but also blunted the sharp edge of army
discipline. Thus, by grappling with their subordination, soldiers approached a sense of
shared identity, an incipient class consciousness similar to that noted by Thompson and
other historians of working people in this period.70 Such a latent oppositional culture
informed soldiers’ engagement with their work and employers. Like laborers, free and
bond, troops contested the labor regimens they encountered. Soldiers accommodated
themselves to their difficult life by following orders pretty faithfully, but also by
drinking, carousing, fighting, and thieving. They resisted by shirking their duties,
disobeying orders, petitioning against improper treatment, refusing to work, deserting,
and mutinying. While the military law warded off most extreme manifestations of
opposition, insubordination pervaded the 18th century army and collective action
periodically threatened. The classes in the army thus were poised in a dynamic balance,
explicitly aware of their opposed interests and in continual struggle, but inextricably
bound together.

Neglecting to work as ordered, or performing assigned duties in lackadaisical fashion
was a tactic practiced by many soldiers, as order books attest. In 1760, provincials at
Crown Point complained about having to work at earth moving, but were warned by
a regular colonel that they would be punished if they grumbled, and if they did not turn
out for duty on time they could be given 100 lashes without a court martial. John Bird
of Warburton’s Regiment, who absented himself from the King’s Works for two days,
was given 400 lashes to motivate him. Some feigned physical problems so as to get out
of duty or even out of the service. “I never knew an Army, with so many Malingerers,”
affirmed Thomas Gage of some invalids sent to Albany, “so many have succeeded in
feigning Disorders, with a view of Inlisting again with the Provincial Offrs., or turning
Suttlers & Traders, that it has been an Encouragement to others to imitate their cursed
Hipocrasy.” Others went to the extreme of self-mutilation to escape service. A number
of the Pennsylvania troops sent against the Indians to the west in 1764 “Shamefully brot

70 In a similar way, Marcus Rediker has argued for sailors that a “specifically maritime occupational
consciousness gradually moved toward class consciousness as seamen began to develop wider patterns of
association, sympathy, and identification.” Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen,
Pirates, and the Anglo-American Maritime World, 1700–1750 (New York: Cambridge University Press,
1987), 291.

Class and the Common Soldier 475

disorders on themselves that render them unfitt for the service of the Campaign,” and
were discharged and “stript of their Coats.”71

The perception of economic injustice could result in refusal to work or outright
conflict. Richard Jarratt, charged with being absent from work and insolent behavior,
claimed he had not been ordered to work. He complained that he had worked seven
days successively, and more he would not do, cursing the sergeant when he was
confronted. The court ordered 600 lashes to be administered. James Mathews, a New
Hampshire provincial, when told by a lieutenant of the 42nd Regiment to take tools and
work on the road at Crown Point the next day, said “he would not take a Tool, that
he came to fight and not to work.” For denying his laboring status, Mathews was given
500 lashes and drummed out of the army with a halter about his neck. When
Lieutenant George Otter of the 27th Regiment gave orders to a group of soldiers, they
did not move fast enough for him, so he “boxed some and kicked others.” Andrew
Dunlop, one of the soldiers, told Otter not to strike him, “for I don’t stand here to be
struck,” upon which the officer hit him twice, allegedly saying he would “kill him for
a farthing.” Dunlop, charged with mutiny, was found guilty only of insolence and given
500 lashes.72

Some soldiers coped by turning to illegal means to enhance their income, but the
might of military law made this a dangerous gambit. In an economic pinch, a soldier
usually had few ways of making quick money. One option that always lay at hand was
his military necessaries, his firearm, uniform, and accoutrements, which, though bought
with his earnings, still were not considered entirely his own. Selling such items was
against orders and particularly discouraged, as this was usually a prelude to desertion,
a means of amassing travel funds and shedding one’s military persona. John Moore of
Warburton’s Regiment thus received 600 lashes for selling his coat and absenting
himself. Soldiers who stole also commonly took their comrades’ clothing, as the easiest
to lay their hands on and most difficult to identify. For these reasons, soldiers were
ordered not to buy goods from other soldiers without their officer’s permission and to
report any soldiers trying to sell such goods.73 For soldiers merely looking to sup-
plement their diet and thereby make a saving on food expenses, stealing from the
gardens and orchards of local citizens was often an option.74 Plundering was a more
serious form of theft that added directly to a soldier’s income, but often was severely
punished. Plunder could range from the spoon and hankerchief Amos Richardson, a
Massachusetts provincial, admitted taking, to the cache collected by some grenadiers
during the siege of Quebec, “consisting of Gowns, Shifts, Petticoats, Stockings, Coats
and Waistcoats, Breeches, Shoes, and many other Articles too tedious to mention,—
and some cash; which if the Things had been sold to Value, would have fetch’d
upwards of 500 l. Sterl.” This was despite a standing order that any soldiers taken with

71 Hobart Orderly Book, 9, October 15, 1760; WO71/40/29–31; Gage [to Amherst], November 14,
1760, WO34/5/8; Bouquet’s March to the Ohio: The Forbes Road, ed. Edward G. Williams (Pittsburg, PA:
The Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, 1975), 79.

72 WO71/40/24–26; WO71/46/127; WO71/66/408–411.
73 Case of John Moore, August 3, 1751, WO71/40/62–63; Orderly Book of John Thomas’s Regiment

of Massachusetts Provincials, February 14, 1760, August 7–29, 1760, John Thomas Papers,
Massachusetts Historical Society; Orderly Book of Sarjeant John Grant, July 26, 1761, HM 595,
Huntington Library.

74 Seth Tinkham confessed to his diary taking turnips at night from a Dutchman’s farm near Castle
William. The man later complained and soldiers were ordered to stay within camp after the tattoo was
beaten in the evening. Seth Tinkham Diary, August 14, September 11, 1759.

476 Peter Way

plunder would be sent to the Provost’s in irons and tried for their lives.75 These were
all petty crimes, a means to ameliorate the economic reality of martial life. There were
those, however, who went further, who questioned the operation of the wage relation-
ship, tried to extricate themselves from it, or challenged it directly.

Desertion was a fact of life for the military in the early modern era, regardless of
which army is examined. Traditional views of deserters as lazy, cowardly, criminal or
maladjusted misfits echo those of their officers, but recent historical studies have
attempted to treat desertion as more instrumental in nature. Most desertions occurred
in the first year of service, simply pointing to a disillusionment with military life on the
part of recruits. Personal or familial concerns also played a role, as did fear of
punishment or imminent battle.76 Desertion can also be re-conceived as part of the
class struggle, a means to contest the workplace discipline of the camps, to counter the
brutality of their laboring lives, and an effective way of denying one’s labor to one’s
bosses. The strategy came with great risk, however. Wage laborers they may have been,
but soldiers were not free.

Many soldiers cited the breaking of their terms of enlistment as the reason behind
their desertion. Mathias Wassirman of the Royal Americans said he deserted because he
had listed as a surgeon barber for three years, but was made a private for four years, and
had been promised he would not serve beyond 100 miles of Pennsylvania, but was
made to do so. His four days of freedom brought him a death penalty. Sent to a similar
fate were Frederick Muller and Roger Camps, both German deserters from the Royal
Americans, who claimed they did not receive their 15 weeks sea pay (wages for the time
spent in transit across the Atlantic), and that their five days worth of ration were given
all in turnips which were consumed by the fourth day.77

Others deserted because the army did not live up to its commitments within the labor
contract. John Baptist Freyder of the 44th Regiments absconded from Schenectady in
March 1756, because he had been “promis’d to be Cloath’d from head to foot” but
claimed he was only given “an old Coat and no Waistcoat nor Breeches nor Blankett
to cover him.” He was executed for his presumption. James Snyder, a Royal American
from Pennsylvania, deserted not because he had anything owing to him, but that he had
gone 20s. into debt to his regiment. As a result, another year was added to his
three-year term. He fled, only to be captured and given 1,500 lashes. Thomas Johnston
left the 45th Regiment in Halifax and tried to return to his family in Philadelphia
because a lieutenant struck him “for not working.”78 Some soldiers’ desertions were
proactive rather than reactive, attempts to better their conditions. Peter Storts had
enlisted in the 44th on October 3, 1755, but deserted less than a month later, he
claimed, lured by the offer of work at 50s. a month by a sloop’s skipper.79

Even contemplating desertion could bring trouble, as it called into question the entire
command structure. Charles Maclean from the 28th Regiment was charged with being
absent from duty; talking of desertion, and speaking disrespectfully of Governor James
Murray of Quebec. He was heard to say of the great number of recent desertions, “if
they were not used better, more would Desert” and that “ if the Governor had not pay,

75 “Amos Richardson’s Journal, 1758,” Bulletin of the Fort Ticonderoga Museum, 12 (1968), 274; The
Serjeant-Major of Gen. Hopson’s Grenadiers, A Journal of the Expedition up the River St. Lawrence …
(Boston, MA: Fowle and Draper, 1759), 9.

76 Corvisier, Armies and Society, 70–71; Arthur N. Gilbert, “Why Men Deserted from the
Eighteenth-Century British Army,” Armed Forces and Society, 6 (1980), 553–567; Frey, 72; Steppler,

77 WO71/65/318–320; WO71/67/49–50.
78 WO71/43/139–140; WO71/65/320–322; WO71/66/17–18.
79 WO71/43/137–138.

Class and the Common Soldier 477

he would desire none, but that if he had, he would insist upon his, that he would starve
for no King &c. rather than that, He would Blow out the Best Gentlemans Brains in
the Town & that it would be a pretty thing if there was a Note about that left under the
Governor’s Door some night or other.” Maclean was given 1,000 lashes for giving the
lie to Murray’s boast that his troops would “wait chearfully till cash arrives.”80

It was not far from such informed insubordination to coordinated rejection of the
military. Soldiers often deserted in groups. William Moor, John Andrew, John Har-
rison, and Thomas Vincent, all Pennsylvania recruits, deserted from the Light Infantry,
claiming they had been promised a half a crown a day (rangers’ pay) but only received
3s. 6d. a week. An unsympathetic general court martial sentenced them all to death.
Baltus Bream and Christopher Miller of Lascelles’s Regiment, along with Abraham
Stains of Hopson’s deserted from Halifax in April 1756, because, they said, that for the
five months they had been there, 2s. 6d. per week had been stopped from their pay.
The court examined their accounts and decided that these stoppages had been necess-
ary to furnish them with requisite materials, and thus sentenced Bream, Miller and
Stains to their death.81

Soldiers’ initiatives could also be constructive. Petitioning officers for justice to be
done was a common enough strategy. Some Irish soldiers wrote Lord Loudoun that it
had been some time since they were drafted into the Royal Americans from “A Good
Old Regt.”, General Blakeney’s, and brought from Ireland, yet they had had no
account of their sea pay or arrears. “It makes us a little down Spirited,” they confided,
as they were not treated this way in their old regiment. Twenty-nine German recruits
claimed that when enlisted they had been promised 6d. sterling per day sea pay by their
colonel, which he never paid despite their repeated requests and even threatened those
who mentioned it with punishment. They prayed that their accounts be settled. It is not
clear whether these petitions were successful, but they are indicative of a collective
sense of shared interests amongst soldiers.82

Conflict also developed over the term of service. Soldiers who had not signed on for
life could find themselves serving beyond their period of enlistment. Shortly after the
fall of Quebec some soldiers requested their discharge as their time of service was up.
Monckton’s reply was that, as a strong garrison was needed, he hoped they would
“Cheerfully List for another Year.” The general at Fort Royal in Martinique was
offended at the “unbecoming and ungenerous” action of some soldiers who demanded
their discharges, alleging their time of service was over. As a sop, he offered three
guineas as bounty for those who re-enlisted for the War. Thomas Gage, reporting many
applications for discharges from Barrington’s Regiment, found that upwards of 100
men’s time had expired, and decided to discharge them, though it would mean a great
diminution in numbers. “But I do not think the Service will in the End lose any Thing
by keeping strict Faith with the Soldiery.” The fact that the War was all but over at this
time may account for Gage’s unusual equanimity.83

Petitions to officers could be made in a much less supplicating and more threatening

80 WO71/46/2–3; Murray to Amherst, January 25, 1760, WO34/4/17.
81 Corvisier, 178–179; WO71/66/404–407; WO71/44/1–3.
82 Petition to Loudoun of the Irish Draughts Belonging to the 3rd Battalion of the Royal American

Regiment, November 14, 1757, LO 4833, box 106; Petition from a number of the recruits raised in
Germany, April 22, 1758, LO 5812, box 124. See also: Complaint of a Soldier in the 4th Battalion,
July 10, 1757, LO 3924, box 87; Gage to Capt. Lehunte, September 1, 1761, Letterbooks, American
Series, Gage Papers, Clements Library; John Fridrik Hartel et al., The Humble Petition of the
Non-Commissioned Officers & Privates lately from France, [Jan.] 1758, LO 5472, box 118.

83 Monckton’s Orderly Book, October 19, 1759; Mackenzie Order Book, Vol. 2, p. 57, April 15, 1762;
Gage [to Amherst], February 5, 1761, WO34/5/50.

478 Peter Way

fashion, in such instances more clearly revealing the charged and conflicted nature of
the officer-private soldier relationship. A letter delivered clandestinely to Lt. Col. Darby
of the 17th Regiment at Lake George in 1759, prompted a 100 guinea reward offer for
identification of “the Author or any concern’d in writing the anonimous letter.” The
letter, signed “R. A.,” warned Darby that if he did not comply with a number of
demands, then “the Regiment will Joyn together as one Man and take your life the first
opportunity, as also the lives of some others.” Darby was to countermand his order
forbidding non commissioned officers “carrying Sticks to the parade” and the striking
of the men. The men were to have their pay and arrears made up to the day the
accounts were taken. “Duty and fatigue is so hard that the men can’t get time to Cook
their Victuals,” so they would perform only duty necessary to carrying on the siege. The
letter suggests the involvement of non-commissioned officers in this incident. In fact,
a sergeant was charged with not giving information of an impending mutiny, and
corporal Thomas Innes was tried on suspicion of writing the letter, as it was believed
to be in his handwriting and he had previously been implicated in “Seditious” affairs in
Louisbourg and Ireland. At Louisbourg, Innes had come into conflict with Darby over
stoppages of 1s. 9d. sterling made for provisions and spruce beer, which might explain
his prosecution. Innes was found not guilty in the end, however.84

From such covert acts of resistance, it was not too far a leap to outright mutiny.
Many mutinies actually can be seen as labor disputes over such issues as nonpayment
of wages, harsh work conditions, insufficient or poor quality provisions, or unfair
treatment by officers, and thus constitute an early form of strike that cut right to the
heart of proper productive relations. Mutineers could make specific demands, elect
leaders, coerce support from reluctant soldiers, and come into physical conflict with
commanders.85 Slacking, letter writing, desertion, and individual confrontation came
with a heavy price. Coordinated protest at least promised to turn the weapons of the
military—numbers and organization—against it, making it difficult to coat the
grievances in red serge as simple transgressions against military discipline.

Mutinies could range from the small-scale or abortive to army-wide in dimension,
and involved provincial as well as regular troops.86 In 1751, George Rauthmall, John
Crow, Joseph Wilkinson, Michael Brown, and James Chew, all of the Royal Artillery at
Halifax, were ordered to go for wood for the barracks by Lieutenant David Hay. They
refused and, according to Hay, Crow said “he never had done any thing for an Officer
without being paid for it & that he did not Choose to go.” The men claimed they had
been told to cut wood for the officers, but Hay insisted that it was for both officers and
men. All were punished for their temerity. Similarly, Charles Morrison and John
Johnston of the 43rd Regiment were charged with disobedience of orders and inciting
mutiny at Fort Edward in 1758. They had been members of a party sent out to cut
wood, and Johnston complained “it was very hard to oblige Men to work without

84 Wooster Orderly Book, June 29, 1759; WO71/67/164–75; WO71/67/175–179.
85 Corvisier, 177–78; Frey, 73.
86 Provincial troops were not immune to the mutiny virus, but tended to be dealt with more leniently,

at least when regular officers were not involved. See: Anderson, People’s Army, 187–194; Enoch Poor’s
Journal, June 14, 1759, HM 610, Huntington Library; Harris, Regimental Journal, July 1, 1758. But when
provincials from New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, and Massachusetts refused to work at Crown
Point in November 1759, as they claimed their time had elapsed, the regular general did not bargain with
them but had them surrounded by regulars with fixed bayonets. The pioneer march was beat to see who
would work, and all did so but five who were sent to the provost guard. Samuel Morris Journal, November
1, 1759, Clements Library.

Class and the Common Soldier 479

payment, and refused positively to work as did also the whole party.” Sergeant
Campbell claimed to have heard the men “murmuring in their Barrack at the hardship
of Working without payment” the night before. This was evidently a matter of pay for
extraordinary work, as the court enquired what the precedent was for paying for
woodcutting, but the former commander said this had never been done, and the two
men were given 1,000 strokes each.87

A more serious mutiny erupted at Fort Amherst on St. John’s Island (Prince Edward
Island) in September 1762. The events of this episode are narrated in two voices, the
official and the subaltern. Captain James Sinclair, commander of the detachment of the
45th Regiment, drafted the former. He wrote of “a most horrid dangerous Mutiny” that
was luckily discovered hours before it was to begin, which he claimed had the intention
“to murder and rob the Officers, set the Fort on fire, Kill every one that would not Join
with them, and make their escape.” Private John Turner, who had deserted from
Louisbourg the previous winter and was pardoned, was the putative leader. The scheme
had been “long standing” and only awaited a proper opportunity. “It was at last
precipitated by an universal drunkeness” occasioned by rum smuggled into the fort
from a ship on the night of 29 September. The disturbance continued all night. “The
next day … universal drunkeness, Insolence, noise & Confusion” persisted, but he
hoped it would end “with the fumes” of the liquor. About 8 that night (the 30th), a
corporal informed him that “there was a bad design going on in the Fort, and from the
preparations He saw making, some packing up their baggage, other carrying out cloaths
and arms, he apprehended they meant to seize the Schooner & Desert.” Sinclair had
Turner put in irons in the black hole. Later a soldier warned that a large party was
forming to free Turner and “cut our throats if it was not imediately Prevented.” The
officers armed themselves and men they “could depend upon,” entered the barracks
rooms and seized the arms from the surprised soldiers. The next day Sinclair had the
men form ranks, returned their arms and flogged three for mutinous behavior, after
giving them “the form of a Trial, the Example was absolutely necessary, to Strike a
Terror. The Whole looked ready to rise upon us, had they had one more such desperate
Villain as Turner to begin.” In this version of events, drunkenness spawned mutiny,
calling into question the very order of things and warranting the application of terror

John Turner, conversely, voiced the rank and file account of events at his court
martial, which differed substantially from Sinclair’s. When his captain ordered him to
“the Black Hole,” he demanded the reason. Sinclair refused to answer and Turner
threatened that “for every Tear he shed it shoud [sic] cost a Ball.” The private admitted
to intending desertion but denied mutiny. He wanted to leave because he felt he was
treated “with great Partiality having only one Jill of Rum allowed me when others who
did less duty had three, that I was not regularly paid, nor had any Cloathing delivered
to me for five Weeks after its Arrival.” When he complained, Sinclair gave him extra
canoe duty, at which time he complained of sickness and was confined in the guard-
house. Thus, workplace issues regarding pay, provision, workload and treatment
motivated Turner’s disobedience in this subaltern discourse.

Turner was sentenced to death, although a lieutenant testified that he did good
service during the siege of Louisbourg four years before. Four others were given 500
lashes and one 1,000 for their part in the mutiny. General Amherst wrote that it was
“highly Expedient the Ringleaders of that Daring Conspiracy at Fort Amherst be

87 WO71/40/51–54; WO71/65/278–282.

480 Peter Way

brought to the Most Exemplary Punishment, and that without Delay.” He ordered the
decision of the general court martial be effected,

in the most publick manner, to the End that their Examples may deter others
from being Guilty of Such heinous Crimes: it is always with pain that I
consent to the Sending of any man out of this world; But the Depraved
Dispositions of Some Render it Absolutely Necessary for the preservation of
the Lives of Others.

Amherst even prescribed hanging over shooting, as it “Strikes more Terror to the

Terror characterized army discipline, even more so than in the notorious British
justice of this era. As well as whipping men into good soldiers, discipline was meant to
beat the men to work. It did not always work to perfection, however. The repeated need
to whip or execute men for insubordination, desertion and mutiny testified to this fact.
Furthermore, despite Amherst’s desire to strike more terror to the living by the public
execution of John Tuner for mutiny, only a year later the most fearful specter of all
visited the army. In August 1763, a general mutiny broke out over the issues of pay and
provision. This uprising encompassed the entire North American theater, but was
largely seated in the Canadian Maritimes where Turner went to his maker for a similar
sin against the divined order.89

The Early Modern Era in the Atlantic World witnessed a re-structuring of labor and
profit along merchant-capitalistic lines, with the enclosed farm, the factory and the
plantation pioneering the way. The army, while different as a site of work in its violent
labor requirements, was nonetheless directly productive of the capitalist order in its
securing and policing of empire, and creation of the conditions that enabled production
and commercial exchange. The soldier was the instrument of this acquisitive imperial
design. His labor determined his day-to-day experience, while his red jacket cloaked his
alienation. Yet, the soldier was never perfectly bound, and troops waged war, both of
attrition and aggression, to recapture their rights as freeborn men. Such was the force
of military law, however, soldiers could but hope to rebuff temporarily its assault.
Soldiers remained objectified by their martial labor status, with maiming and death
visited upon them in war and by courts martial. Redcoats dwelt in a world of
entrenched and armed class privileges, their labor enjoined, their bodies the capital of
state building.

Soldiers were empire builders. They won new territories, defended established
colonies, and built the forts and roads that bound the empire together. For an empire
erected upon expropriation of land and labor, production and distribution of staple
commodities, and consumption of finished goods within an international market,
warfare and military might constituted essential props. Dating from early in the Seven
Years’ War, the British Empire grew increasingly territorial in nature, and, as a result,
became more militarized, in the sense that standing armies in colonial settings were
deemed essential. As members of armies engaged in warfare of acquisition and defense,
or as garrisons enforcing British sovereignty, common soldiers were the myrmidons of
expansive mercantile capitalism and territorial imperialism; as individuals enticed or
enjoined from diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds into an occupation ripe with

88 James Sinclair to John Tulleken, 4 Oct. 1762, WO34/18/72–740; Tulleken to Amherst, 12 Oct. 1762,
WO34/18/69–70; WO71/72/194–12; Amherst to Tulleken, 31 Oct. 1762, WO34/18/154.

89 For a fuller account of this mutiny, see Way, 761–92.

Class and the Common Soldier 481

danger and jacketed with restricting discipline, they were expropriated labor yoked to
imperial design, alienated from civil society, and bracketed at the bottom of the social
structure, a “scum” collecting along the imperial littoral. The work of soldiering—
fluctuating between the banality of drill and the true horror of armed combat—thus
proved crucial to the capitalist project.

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