January 10, 1769, Tuesday, The British Army Seems to Have Run Out of Hard Currency 418 Days before the Boston Massacre
The British Army had not been paid since occupying Boston October 1, 1768.[i] Pay to any army is critical to morale. This oversight is believable since the principals that ordered the British to Boston failed miserably at finding food and housing for their troops. By now the British military and administration had stumbled badly relying on the Billeting Act, to keep their soldiers warm. Our blog, We were Englishmen at Heart but Antagonist in Law will provide you with some incite into common laws that collided in the streets of Boston. On this day, Arrogant warehouse confiscations by the British and rental price gauging by the Colonials, resulted in legal and physical confrontations that left the soldiers out in the cold: half of them camped on the Common with tents of little value in a New England winter. The end result was massive desertions that panicked General Thomas Gage into extreme measures.
Desertions among the British Army started very early in the first week of occupation.
The country they were sent to occupy more resembled a garden of Eden than a town in revolution. Boston and the territories offered unusual opportunities for economic and social growth. In just a few miles the non-commissioned soldier could put behind them the British Army’s harsh discipline, meager pay and promotions limited by social class.
Reports vary but approximately 70 or so soldiers deserted in the first month. Initially and defensively, the British Officer’s Corp complained that the Colonials encouraged desertion. On October 31, 1768, thirty-one days into the occupation of Boston, Richard Arnes, a private of the 14th Regiment was shot on the Boston Commons for desertion. Up to this point lashing was the principle discipline. Unbelievable as it seemed, 1,000 lashes for a first time offender was the initial attempt to limit desertion.
Try to Adopt an 18th Century perspective! British check-points manned by 3-5 soldiers of low rank throughout the city and shadowy checkpoints to catch deserters just outside the city, prevented a normal means of transportation and commerce. Forget about a leisurely walk. Men of military age are dressed down, transport contents are searched or bayoneted, women are rudely addressed in the city and personal goods are inspected for compliance with customs laws. All of this imposed by the British Army on their cousins of equal English citizenship.
Lack of hard currency was a problem in Boston for everyone, especially the non-commissioned British soldier. Tomorrow we will describe this impact on a collapsing economy.
In future blogs we will cover the escalating events that drove the citizens and soldiers to the bloody riot of March 5, 1770; the Boston Massacre.
Future blogs will expand on:
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[i] . The New York Journal Supplement of February 9, 1769, pages 1-2. Extracted by A Journal of the Times. . . . Chapman & Grimes, Mount Vernon Press, Boston.