Former Occupations of
Regular Soldiers During the War of 1812
Studying the former occupations of soldiers around the time of the War of 1812 provides interesting details on the demands placed on the soldier beyond that of marching and fighting. Without exception, every regiment employed a number of tradesmen within its regimental structure. In addition to regimental trades, other departments such as the Board of Ordnance and the Commissariat continually called upon regiments to provide skilled labour.
Each company was allotted shoemakers or cordwainers, and tailors to fit new issues of clothing and repair the old. There were always opportunities for former clerks to be employed in feeding the bureaucracy of the British Army both within the regiment or being detached to army departments like the Commissariat. Where Sappers and Miners were unavailable, military officials employed former blacksmiths, bricklayers, carpenters, joiners, masons, nailers, painters, and 'sawyers' from various regiments. Simple labourers found a place on the crews developing the King's works at various garrisons. Former labourers recruited from Canada'_ population fulfilled another important function, that of expert axemen. Many a time, soldiers from regiments raised in British North America were called upon to provide axemen to open roads and construct fortifications (especially blockhouses). Others found themselves performing the duties as one of eleven pioneers in a regular regiment.
Soldiers who were former servants quiet possibly entered the military with their masters, who joined as officers. If not, a former servant would certainly have been snapped up by officer devoid of one. Field, and general officers as well as garrison commandants could have certainly provided employment for gardeners, and the officer corps as a whole for former hairdressers and barbers, especially before the abolition of the quill in 1808. At the time of the War of 1812, the common soldier was forbidden to have his hair cut except by men in the regiment designated for that purpose. As well former armourers and gunsmiths were mostly called upon to assist the regiment's armourer sergeant. The abundance of former bakers also played a role in the interior economy of the regiment. Former schoolmasters found a place in the regiment running the regimental school. This study will explore in more detail the above functions of the soldier and endeavour to exorcise the stereotype of the rigours of the soldier being simply that of drill and fighting. Indeed a picture of the regiment and the army as a whole as a society in itself with employment opportunities similar to those in civilian life will quickly become evident.
Preserving the soldier's footwear was a constant concern of army officers. According to regulations, each soldier was expected to have in his possession at least two pairs of shoes. Standing orders for a number of regiments ordered an even higher number: three or four pairs per man. Though each soldier supposedly had in his possession a relatively high number of shoes, repairs had to be continually made. One soldier on the Iberian Peninsula remarked on the condition of the soldier's footwear: "As our march continued daily, no time was to be found to repair [the shoes], until completely worn out, this left a number to march with bare feet, or, as we termed it, to pad the hoof." In the Canadas similar shortages arouse. In Major James Fulton report to the Commander of the Forces Sir George Prevost from Upper Canada in 1813 on the sad state of 49th Regiment's clothing: "On my arrival here I found the troops in great distress for necessaries, shirts, shoes, and stockings. Most of the 49th are literally naked."
To lengthen the life of each pair of shoes or construct new ones, each company of a regiment was employed a number of shoemakers. The 2nd Battalion, 89th Regiment set up of Shoemaker's shop at Fort Wellington in May 1814 with two shoemakers for each company laboured under a Master Shoemaker. Descriptive and muster rolls, and pension records show there was on average three to four men per one hundred soldiers with shoemaking or cordwaining as their former occupation (see Table 1). In 1813, the 62nd Regiment outlined the various work and charges by the regimental shoemakers:
The Standing Orders of the 62nd Regiment also stipulated on the pretext to prevent idleness, that shoemakers were to be kept after hours to finish their assigned work and that candles were furnished at their own expense.
Beside the pressure to complete assigned work, the shoemaker marched carrying more weight than the average soldier. One soldier, Rifleman Harris of the 95th Rifles, while serving as a company shoemaker, laboured under the additional weight of a lapstone, a haversack stuffed full of leather, a hammer and other tools, during the Corunna campaign in 1809. It can be assumed company shoemakers in British North America carried similar items with their over fifty pounds of clothing and other equipment. Only the master shoemaker was given space in the baggage train for a locked box for his tools and work ledgers. These problems aside, the average shoemaker was provided the opportunity to make a considerable sum of money above his daily soldiering wage, and in many instances was exempted from the daily drills and manoeuvres the rest of the company had to undertake.
TO BE CONTINUED…..
The following chart offers insight into the trade background of the soldiers in British and Canadian Regiments. This statistics show the labour skills each regiment could draw upon for a particular service as well as how a regiment was shaped by its recruiting district. With a continual shortage of skill craftsman in North America it is not surprising the high percentage of unskilled labourers in regiments formed in British North America. That said, Canadian labourers were skilled at least with the use of the axe making them more useful than their British "labourer" counterparts especially in the construction of roads and forts.
. James Anton, Retrospect of a Military Life. (Edinburgh, 1841), p. 122.
. Mary Agnes Fitzgibbons, A Veteran of 1812: The Life of James Fitzgibbons. (Toronto, 1894), p. 73.
. NAC, MG 24, I 3, vol. 9, McGillivray/McLean Papers, Order Book, No.2 Company, 89th Regiment, Battalion Order, Fort Wellington, 19 May 1814.
. Standing Orders of the Second Battalion of the 62nd, or Wiltshire Regiment of Foot. (Cork, 1813), p. 62. The 62nd Regiment served in Nova Scotia in 1814.
. Ibid., p. 58.
. Christopher Hibbert ed., The Recollections of Rifleman Harris. (London, 1985), p. 13.
Copyright: Access Heritage Inc (formerly The Discriminating General) 1998