Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Letters from the Front: Perils of the Recruiting Service

"...They were ready to fight when men of Fortune & monopolizers did."

In this installment of Letters from the Front, we skip ahead of the dreary late winter days of 1777 and into the spring, when the recruiting service started up again. As discussed in a previous entry, most Continental regiments recruited annually, enlisting men for one year of service at a time. In 1777, this practice began to change, but many regiments still felt the crunch to recruit their full quota of men. As the letter from Thomas Cartwright and James Jones below demonstrates, the recruiting service was extremely difficult. Colonel Henry Jackson dispatched the two men from his headquarters in Boston to head north, towards New Hampshire, "beating up for men" (as recruiting was sometimes called in period speech) along the way. Their report highlights the many difficulties involved in this task. While communities were expected to provide a certain quota of able-bodied men for Continental Service, they generally lacked the coercive power to actually do so. The drafting referred to below is the one exception: in later years, militia companies were formed and a certain number of the men therein were drafted into Continental service. Personally, I did not think this practice caught on until much later in the war, so I welcome comments from other researchers here. Also of note is the fact that a clear gulf was beginning to emerge between the rich and the "monopolizers" (merchants benefiting from the sale of now-rare goods) and the common men who did most of the actual fighting. This is one version of the age-old theme of "rich man's war, poor man's fight" that echoes throughout world history. Please see below for the full text of the letter. Our thanks go out to David Swain for this transcript.



Sol Feinstone Collection No. 163
Thomas Cartwright and James Jones to H[enry] Jackson at Boston. Newburyport, [Ma.] 16 May 1777
Transcribed by David Swain August 2011

                                                                                                            “Newbury port 16 may 1777
Collo Jackson
            We had the satisfaction of paying you our respects yesterday from Salem. A few hours after we addressed ourselves to you we departed for this Town. In our journey we perceived numbers of men in different places collected for the purpose of drafting for the Continental army. At every such place of Rendezvous we posted our encouraging & even designed advertisements, at the same time using every argument in our power with the officers to induce the men to engage with us for your Regt. but alas! We could not prevail. When We arrived here, we were indefatigable in our application to obtain an accot. [pg 1] of what we were to expect from this Town. We were inform’d last Even’g that the afternoon afforded an Assembly of the Inhabitants in w’ch the Committees attempted to induce the deficiency of their Complement to enlist for the Service, without effect. Some generously offer’d to go for 6/ p day for 8 Months with Wages & a large bounty. From the observation we have made we conclude that however anxious we may be for Volunteers for our Regt. we shall have it fill’d only by drafts.  You may rely that we shall use our utmost exertions to recruit & when the present infamous weather subsides shall try our Fortunes in the neighboring Towns. [pg 2] Some on the Roads frankly owned they would freely join our Regt if paper money would pass. They were ready to fight when men of Fortune & monopolizers did, but yet would not join the army for any pecuniary consideration while the Sum of 20 Dollars were undervalu’d beneath the real worth of five or one.
                                                We will do the best in our power & are with Respect Yr Hble Serv
                                                                                                Th Cartwright
                                                                                                Jms Jones
[pg 3]”

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