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Black Soldiers in the British Army-John Ellis

John Ellis has been regular contributor to “The Black Presence in Britain Website. His specialist research focuses on the black presence in the British Armed Forces before the 20th Century.

In the synopsis of my MA thesis, (featured on this site), I referred to a number of Black soldiers who served in British regiments during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

It would of course be easy to leave such men as? faceless individuals ,however, military records from the period are sufficiently accurate that we are able to examine their careers. Below are the biographical and service details of eleven soldiers, who are fairly representative of those being found by my research. NB. All dates are given in the British manner, all spelling as found in original records. West Indies Born.

The majority of the Black soldiers thus far found originated from the West Indies, something which reflected the? Triangular trade. ) The 29th Foot, (now the? Worcestershire & Sherwood Foresters Regiment ), has always been proud of its tradition of employing black soldiers during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The practice began in the early 1750s, and whilst initially ceremonial, Black soldiers were fully trained as soldiers and served as company drummers, accompanying the regiment on campaign in North America, the East and West Indies and most famously the Peninsular.

John Macnell was one of the earliest black soldiers in the regiment. He was born in Antigua in 1744, enlisted in the 29th in 1756 aged 12 years, (not an unusual age for either black or white), and was discharged to pension in London in 1777 as disabled. He was described as? a Negro . Macnell sources: WO 12/4493. WO 120/8. 2) Probably because of the perceived racial hierarchy of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, few Black soldiers were promoted to positions of authority over whites, (although paradoxically their records reveal them to have been highly respected soldiers). Of the few Black soldiers to be promoted, it is clear that extensive campaign experience was one of the criteria, as the records of one Estiphania Pappin reveal.

Estiphania Pappin. Born in St. Domingo, West Indies and enlisted in the 39th Foot, (now the? Devon & Dorset Regiment ), in Malta 1st March 1808 aged 20 years. Promoted Corporal 01/02/1828.? Served in Malta 1 year, Sicily 14 months, Peninsula 3 years and was present at several engagements – Vittoria, Pyrenees, Nivelle, Nive, Garris, Orthes and Toulouse. In America 1 year, in France 3 years and New South Wales 9 months.? Discharged as a Corporal to a pension of 1s per day, 30th June 1832, at his own request.? ….his conduct has been that of a particularly regular, sober, well conducted man.? On discharge he was 441/2 years old, 5 /10? tall, had grey hair, black eyes, a dark complexion -? a man of colour? – and was a labourer by trade.

Pappin Sources: WO 97/557. 3)

A number of Black soldiers appear to have spent their military service undertaking ceremonial duties in London, including one Edward Bennaway.

Edward Bennaway. Born in Martinique, West Indies and enlisted for life in the 2nd Life Guards in Westminster, Middlesex 25th December 1812 aged 28 years. Discharged as a Private to a pension of 1s per day 24th August 1827 due to? having completed his period of service.? On discharge he was of extremely good character, 52 years old, 6 /0? tall, had black hair, grey eyes, was? a man of colour , and was a fisherman by trade.

Bennaway Sources: WO 97/1. 4)

In 1818 the American former slave and boxer Tom Molineaux died in the barracks of the 77th Foot, (now the? Princess of Wales? Royal Regiment ), in Galway, Ireland. As he lay dying he was nursed by the Black bandsmen of the regiment including one Charles Smart.

Charles Smart. Height at Enlistment: 5/71/4. Age on Enlistment: 25 years. Complexion: Black. Eyes: Black. Hair: Black Woolly. Visage: Round. Born: Jamaica. Trade: Labourer. Place of Enlistment: Cashel. Date of Enlistment: 25th April 1816. Length of Service:Unlimited. Discharged in Jamaica 31st December 1833,? On receiving a gratuity.? Smart Source: WO 25/473. 5)

Given their position at the top of the regimental hierarchy a number of cavalry regiments employed Black soldiers as military musicians. However, in battles such as the Peninsular and Waterloo these men served as either troop trumpeters or as ordinary Privates.

John Monatt. Born in St. George s, Grenada and enlisted for unlimited service in the 5th Dragoon Guards, (now the? Royal Dragoon Guards ), in Canterbury, Kent 11th April 1812 aged 21 years. Discharged as a Private to a pension 27th April 1825 due to rheumatism and general ill health. Surgeon noted? I hereby certify that Private John Monatt of the 5th Dragoon Guards is unfit for service, in consequence of chronic rheumatism and general ill health……next few words indecipherable…contracted in service and resulting in a delicate constitution.? On discharge he was of good character, 34 years old, 5/10? tall, had black hair,hazel eyes, a tawny complexion and was a servant by trade. In 1848 John Monatt, formerly of the 5th Dragoon Guards, was awarded the Military General Service Medal 1793-1814, with a clasp for Toulouse. Monatt Sources: WO 97/96. 6)

William Wilson. Born in Barbadoes, West Indies and initially enlisted in the 55th Foot 25th April 1795 aged 24 years. Enlisted in the 28th Light Dragoons 30/04/1798. Enlisted in the 13th Light Dragoons 26/02/1803. Served as a Private at Waterloo, and received the Waterloo Medal. Discharged as a Private to a pension of 9d per day 20th May 1816 as worn out. On discharge he was 37years old, 5 /61/2? tall,? a black man? and was a musician by trade. Wilson Source: WO 97/146. 7) During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries much of the British Army was employed in the Far East, and many Black soldiers spent their service there, being involved in the numerous campaigns.

Elisha Rosia. Born in Martinique, West Indies and enlisted for unlimited service in the 69th Foot. (now the? Royal Regiment of Wales ), in Glasgow, Lanarkshire, 12th January 1803, aged 25 years. Discharged as a Private to a pension of 1s/1d per day, 28th August 1823,? being worn out in service.?? Very good and deserving.? On discharge he was 40 years old, 5 /51/2? tall, had black hair, black eyes,a black complexion and was a hair dresser by trade. Some doubt as to age. In 1848 an Elisha Rosia, formerly of the 69th Foot, was awarded the Military General Service Medal 1793-1814, with a bar for Java. Drew pension in Madras until death in January 1848. Rosia Sources: WO 97/822. 120/69-70. Born elsewhere. Whilst the majority of Black soldiers found can be identified as coming from the West Indies, others came in roughly equal measure from Africa, continental North America, (i.e. the United States and Canada), the East Indies and Britain and Ireland. Cool The 88th Foot had a number of Black soldiers serving with it in the Peninsular campaign, and even after the Napoleonic Wars continued to recruit Black soldiers.

Thomas Clarke.88th Foot. Height at Enlistment: 5 /81/2 . Height at 24 years: 5 /81/2 . Age on Enlistment:23 years. Complexion: Black. Eyes: Black. Hair: Black. Visage: Round. Born: Africa. Parish of Birth: Goree. Trade: Servant. Enlisted: Liverpool. Date of Enlistment: 17th July1820. Length of Service: Life. Recruiter: HQ Regt., (Col. Sgt Scrivins). Goree, is a small island off Cape Verde in Senegal. Captured from the French in the early part of the Napoleonic Wars. Clarke Sources: WO 25/517. 9)

Samuel Jones. 99th Foot. Height at Enlistment: 5 /41/2 . Age on Enlistment: 15 yrs. Complexion: Black. Eyes: Black. Hair: Woolly black. Born: Calcutta, East Indies. Trade:Labourer. Enlisted: Dublin. Date of enlistment: 23rd February 1810. Period of Service:Unlimited. Recruited by: Sgt. Tewhoy. Jones Source/s: PRO. WO 25/550. 10)

Gibeon Lippett. Born in Rhode Island, (America), and enlisted for unlimited service in the 43rd Foot, (now the? Royal Green Jackets ), in Cork city, County Cork,22nd June 1796, aged 17 years. Served 185 days as a Private, 29 years and 103 days as a Drummer, (and 185 days underage).? Served with the regiment 3 years in the West Indies.In the expedition to Copenhagen in 1807, General Sir John Moore s retreat in 1809, and in every siege and action in which the 43rd Regiment was engaged from the Battle of Coa 24th July 1810, to the end of the War in the South of France. Served at New Orleans in America, 8th January, 1815 and present at the Capture of Paris in July 1815.? Discharged as a Private to a pension, 5th April 1826,? his constitution being worn out by long and severe service.? On discharge he was illiterate, of very good character, 57 years old, 5 /83/4? tall, had black hair,black eyes, a mulatto complexion, and was a sail maker by trade. Lippett Source: WO 97/587. 11)

By the mid 1840s the practice of employing Black soldiers alongside whites is believed to have finished, and thereafter Blacks are thought to have been unofficially restricted to the West India Regiment and East India Company until World War One. Considering the long tradition of Black soldiers serving in the 29th Foot, (see entry #1), it is fitting to finish this short study with George Carville.

George Carville. A Drummer. Height at Enlistment: 6/1/4 . Age on Enlistment: 18 years. Complexion: Black. Eyes: Black. Hair: Black Woolly. Visage: Round. Born: Limerick. Parish of Birth: St. Mary s. Trade: Labourer. Place of Enlistment: Mullingar. Date of Enlistment: 26th of February 1823. Length of Service: Unlimited. Recruiter: Col. Sir John Buchan. Died at Ghargeepore, (India), 15th July 1843. The last black Drummer of the 29th Foot, believed to have died of cholera. Left a credit of approximately five pounds in a will for his nominated next of kin, his (white) regimental comrade Private JosephPrindale. Carville Sources: WO 25/364. WO 25/3255.

2 thoughts on “Black Soldiers in the British Army-John Ellis

  • 14th October 2013 at 4:31 pm
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    I was very please to read of this article, and although I must say the treatment of these men as mascots, and their general limitation to the roles of musicians is, not cricket, I am very glad to have leaned of their existence, and shall be making sure there are at least a few black faces among my model soldiery.

    Reply
  • 12th July 2017 at 11:20 pm
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    John, do you have information concerning the number of black troops from Africa and the Caribbean who fought for the British Army during the Battle of Dunkirk?

    Reply

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