In 1775, King George of England officially declared the Americas as being in a state of rebellion with his proclamation on August 23, 1775. In preparation for the conflict, the British began assembling the largest army ever to be sent by ship. Recruiting was slow, however, so the War Office released a notice on December 16, 1775 that allowed for temporary enlistment (three years or until the end of the conflict) in His Majesty’s Marching Regiments of Foot (normally enlistment was for twenty-one years). Recruiting teams toured England, Scotland, and Ireland, enlisting the needed men for the campaign. At this time the Regiment that is of the most interest to McCargar’s was the 21st Regiment of Foot, Royal North British Fusiliers.
They wore bearskin caps, leather caps or tricorne hats, depending on whether the troops were grenadiers, light infantry or battalion company men.
21st Regiment of Foot
The 21st was one of the oldest units in the British Army, having been raised in Scotland in 1678 during the reign of Charles II. It had participated in a number of important engagements and had compiled a distinguished record of service. In present-day terms, it was a “crack outfit”.
A typical British Regiment of Foot consisted of staff officers, a grenadier company, a light infantry company, and eight battalion companies, for a total of 478 men:
Colonel, Lieutenant Colonel, Chaplain, Adjutant, Surgeon and Mate.
1 Captain, 2 Lieutenants, 2 Sergeants, 3 Corporals, 1 Drummer, 2 Fifers, 38 Privates.
Light Infantry company:
1 Captain, 2 Lieutenants, 2 Sergeants, 3 Corporals, 1 Drummer, 38 Privates.
1 Captain, 2 Lieutenants, 2 Sergeants, 3 Corporals, 1 Drummer, 38 Privates.
The 21st differed from the norm in that its commander was not a Colonel but a Major General -- Alexander Mackay. However, Mackay did not accompany the regiment to America, so command actually fell to Lieutenant Colonel James Ingles Hamilton (he was later promoted to Brigadier General). To accommodate additional recruits for the campaign in America, the companies of the 21st were expanded to 56 Privates, resulting in a maximum complement of 658 men.
The 21st was on the Irish establishment in 1775 when it was selected to join other units in Canada to crush the revolt in the American colonies. The regiment sailed from Cork, Ireland to Plymouth, England in the fall of 1775, and remained dockside there for several months while the army made final preparations for the sailing. The thinking of the time was that if the troops were far enough away from their home land that there would be fewer incidents of desertions, thus the English troops were moved to Ireland and the Irish troop moved to England months before departure. The 21st embarked at Plymouth on March 31, 1776 onto six ships: St. Helena, Friendship, Walter, Kitty, Princess Royal and Neptune. Those boarding included 22 commissioned officers, 4 staff officers, 80 non-commissioned officers, 506 privates, 57 Women, and 40 children. There were another 8 officers and 17 men absent for various reasons. The regiment assembled with the rest of the fleet at Cork, Ireland, and finally set sail for America on April 7, 1776. The 21st arrived in Canada on May 31, 1776, with its first task to help lift the siege of Quebec.
A fully loaded troop ship typically took between 8 to 10 weeks to make the Atlantic crossing. Traveling conditions were less than pleasant for the men, though the officers (with their wives, servants, and 40 tons of allowed baggage) faired much better. One account of how horrific the trip could be tells of a crossing that took 116 days - 100 men died on route and 800 men required hospitalization on arrival due to dysentery and other diseases.
The McCargar Connection
We have been able to document the McCargar family tree back to the brothers Joseph McCargar (1748-1831) and Thomas McCargar (1758-1817). The oldest record we have for these brothers is a muster roll for the 21st Regiment of Foot taken on February 8, 1777 at St Johns, Quebec. The record lists them as being present for the full muster period and in a Company commanded by Captain Jaspar Farmar, who had just been promoted from 1st Lieutenant.
Note: the British Army took muster rolls twice a year, covering the periods of December 25 to June 24 and June 25 to December 24. However, the rolls were not actually recorded until several months after the end of the muster period and any events ocurring up to the recording date were included on the document. For example: the muster roll recorded on February 8, 1777 covered the period from June 25 to December 24, 1776 but also included activity up to February 8, 1777.
The previous muster roll for the 21st, taken at Plymouth, England on March 4, 1776, does not list either of the brothers. This poses a bit of a mystery as to where and when they actually joined the army and leads to the following questions:
“Were they just mistakenly left off the muster roll taken in England?”
Not likely. The British were thorough in their recordkeeping.
“Did they enlist in Canada?”
Again not likely. One of the most common reasons for voluntary enlistment was to get to America.
“Were they transferred from another regiment between muster periods?”
Possibly. However, we have found no evidence, anecdotal or otherwise, to support this.
“Did they enlist after March 4 but before the 21st sailed to Canada?”
Probably. While it seems coincidental that they happened to enlist during the short period not covered by muster rolls, evidence may support this possibility.
We suspect that Joseph and Thomas were recruited in Ireland sometime after the 21st relocated to Plymouth, but only joined the regiment when it assembled with the fleet at Cork. Two particular documents point to this:
- Joseph’s 1784 letter of discharge states that he had joined the army after the King's Proclamation of December 16, 1775, which confirms that he was recruited after the 21st relocated to England.
- A British War Office document entitled, “Return of Officers, Sergeants, Corporals, Drummers, Fifers, Private men, Women, and Children of His Majesty's 21st Regiment of Foot/or Royal North British Fusiliers/ Embarked at Plymouth the 31st day of March 1776” lists the numbers of officers, men, women, and children embarked on each of the six ships allocated to the 21st Regiment (dated the day of their departure from Plymouth). Also on the document are notes about those who were absent. Two notes are particularly relavent:
- Under “Non effectives” (absent enlisted men) are “One Drummer, one Private and four recruits not yet joined from recruiting”. We believe that Joseph and Thomas were two of the recruits.
- Under “Absent Officers” is 2nd Lieutenant Blackwood and two other 2nd Lieutenants who are “On their way to join the regiment”. Lieutenant Blackwood was second-in-command in Captain Farmar's Company and it seems reasonable that any men he recruited would end up in his company (as Joseph and Thomas did).
Since the ships carrying the 21st stopped only at Cork on their way to America, Cork would be the only place for these absent men to join the regiment. We do know that the men were not already in America, as a Major and a Private were specifically noted as being in North America. This document goes a long way in explaining why Joseph and Thomas were not listed on the Plymouth muster roll - only paid soldiers were listed and the brothers would not have been added to the payroll until they actually joined the regiment.
Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that enlistment records exist for Joseph or Thomas, since the British only kept enlistment records for pensioned soldiers, which does not apply to either brother. This means that we are unlikely to ever be able to prove or disprove our above theory.
On September 1, 1776, Burgoyne was appointed Lieutenant General in preparation for the formation of an army tasked to drive south to Albany to cut off communications between the Northern and Southern colonies. The 21st, as part of this new army, fought in several battles until Burgoyne’s surrender after the second battle of Saratoga in October 1777. Travis Morehouse wrote the following account about the 21st and Burgoyne’s campaign:
“On Burgoyne’s campaign of 1777, the 21st Grenadier and Light Infantry Company’s served with the Advance Guard (consisting of the flank company’s of each regiment, including the entire 24th Regiment) under the command of General Simon Fraser. It was the advance corps that cut the road and hauled the cannon to the summit of Mount Defiance, forcing the Americans to leave Fort Ticonderoga. Following the American retreat, the Advance Guard fought a grueling, climbing fight at the Battle of Hubbardton before joining the rest of the army at Skenesburogh.
On September 19th, the Battalion Company’s of the 21st, along with those of the 9th, 20th and 62nd Regiments fought a grueling battle known as the Battle of Freeman’s Farm. Although massive casualties were inflicted on these regiments, the British remained masters of the field. During the 2nd battle of Saratoga, the Grenadier and Light Infantry Company’s of the 21st met heavy resistance while advancing with the rest of the advance guard. Although out numbered 4 to 1, the Advanced Guard made a stand until the wounding of General Simon Fraser, the corps esteemed commander, retreat became necessary. Following the retreat of the Advanced Corps, the British lines began to collapse. The Following retreat to Saratoga by the entire regiment was borne with courage and fortitude as the 21st surrendered with the rest of Burgoyne’s army next to the Hudson River on October 17th”
As part of the terms of surrender (called the “Convention of Saratoga”) was that the prisoners of war (now called the “Convention Army”) were to be transferred to Boston/Hartford and shipped back to Britain, with the understanding that they not return to fight in the war. The US Congress refused to honour this agreement, and the Convention Army troops were kept prisoner in various locations for the duration of the war. The prisoners were marched from Saratoga to Boston in small groups along several different routes. They were poorly fed and poorly guarded, and those interested in remaining in America were not discouraged from escape (as many did). The following is from the diary of one of the American soldier that was transporting the Convention troops:
“Monday, 20th. I was one of fifty that was called out of the regiment to guard 128 prisoners of war to Hartford. At evening we crossed the ferry and put up at Green Bush (New York).” “Tuesday, 21st. We marched from Green Bush to Canter Hook (now Kinder Hook, New York).” “Wednesday, 22d. We marched from Canter Hook to Nobletown (now Hillsdale, New York).” “Thursday, 23d. We marched from Nobletown to Sheffield (Massachusetts).” “Friday, 24th. We march from Sheffield to Rockwells, about the middle of the Greenwoods.” “Saturday, 25th. We marched from Rockwells to Simsbury (Connecticut).” “Sunday, 26th. We marched from Simsbury to Hartford (Connecticut), and delivered 123 prisoners to the sheriff; five of them left us on the march.”
Loyalists Military Units
After the British took control of Manhattan, New York in 1776, several prominent citizens raised loyalist regiments to aid the British army. Among these loyalist regiments was the New York Volunteers, and serving in this unit was a Robert McCargar.
Lieutenant Colonel George Turnbull raised the New York Volunteers in January 1776, recruiting from loyalists who flocked to the safety of New York and from emigrants from Scotland who arrived in New York by ship. On May 2, 1779 the regiment was redesignated as the 3rd American Regiment, but the muster rolls continued with the original name throughout the regiments existence. The regiment fought in several bloody battles, including the successful defense of Savannah, Georgia in 1779; the siege of Charleston, North Carolina in 1780; the fighting at Rocky Mount and Camden, South Carolina in 1780; and the battles at Hobkirk’s Hill and Eutaw Springs, South Carolina in 1781. The Regiment disbanded at the end of the war on October 10, 1783, at Saint John, New Brunswick. At its peak strength, the regiment had 364 men.
Robert McCargar appears on the muster rolls for the New York Volunteers from August 22, 1777 through Apr 25, 1783 (the regiment’s last muster roll). Although his surname appears under several different spellings (McCargar, McCarger, McCargor, McCargon, McGregor, McKargo, McCargo), we have no doubt that all the different spellings refer to the same person. At present, we do not know how or when Robert came to America, nor do we know when or where he was born or if/how he was related to Joseph and Thomas. We do know that he settled in York County, New Brunswick and died in the spring of 1787.
American Military Units
We have records to two McCargars serving in American units during the Revolutionary War. The first is for our beloved Thomas (after his escape from the Convention Army), and the second is for a David McCarger.
Two years after his escape, Thomas joined the 8th Massachusetts Militia from the town of Colrain, Massachusetts (he was living in nearby Halifax at the time). He served for nine months at Fort Arnold (West Point), including the bitter winter of 1779/80, and was discharged on April 1, 1780. At that time he was described as being 5’9”, black hair and twenty one years old.
There is one little bit of controversy regarding Thomas’s militia service. George Washington took a dim view of the practice of recruiting deserters from the British Army to serve in place of local residences. He wrote the following to the President of the Council of Massachusetts.
“It gives me inexpressible concern to have repeated information, from the best authority, that the Committees of the different towns and districts in your State hire deserters from General Burgoyne’s Army, and employ them as substitutes to excuse personal service of the inhabitants. I need not enlarge upon the danger of substituting, as soldiers, men who have given glaring proof of a treacherous disposition, and who are bound to us by no motives of attachment, instead of citizens, in whom the ties of country, kindred, and sometimes property, are so many securities for their fidelity” Valley Forge March 17 1778. (Trevelyan’s The American Revolution Vol. IV, page 206)
In 1779, George Washington had Major General Von Steuben prepare a list of recruits rejected from service in the Continental army due to them being deserters or otherwise unfit for service. This list (on which Thomas’s name appears) was sent to Congress and is part of the George Washington papers in the library of Congress. The list shows Thomas as being assigned to Jackson’s regiment at the time of his rejection, yet on the 8th Massachusetts Militia muster roll for the first half of 1780 (Jan 1 to July 1) it shows Thomas as serving his full term under Col. Michael Jackson. Some family speculation has Thomas joining one unit, being rejected from service, and then rejoining another unit. However, there is no evidence to support this theory, and the truth is probably that Col. Jackson needed men and, being the rebel that he seemed to be, just ignored the rejection notice. Thomas probably never knew that he was rejected. The rejection notice also shows that Thomas received a bounty of 600 dollars for his service.
The only information we have on David McCarger is his name on the muster rolls for the Buck County, Pennsylvania Militia, Associated Company for the Township of Tinicum in 1775 or 1777 (the record in unclear on the year), and an unverified report of his death at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777 (the causality records for Valley Forge are for regular army only and do not include Militia). We have no records of any descendants, no information on how or when he came to America, and no links to Joseph, Thomas, or Robert.