January 11, 1769, Wednesday, the British Soldier is Offered Meat in Lieu of Hard Currency 418 days to the Boston Massacre
“They can’t get no relief. . .There must be some way out of here. . . .”[i]
The British foot soldiers were feared around the world for their exceptional discipline. Their officers had a very different fear, desertion! Each regiment worked intensely on their esprit de corps. Each desertion reflected badly on the regiment and was a point of dishonor.
On this day the Boston Evening Post suggested that the British soldiers were most unhappy that their pay had been offered in beef instead of currency. Compounding their displeasure, the exchange rate offered was higher than the fair market value. If the soldiers had hard currency they could purchase fresh cod caught in the harbor, partridge, rabbit, duck, geese, lobster or venison.
The British army private was paid eight pence a day. This rate of pay was set in 1660 and had not changed in one-hundred and ten years. Don’t get excited, the army ensured they did not spend their money on alcohol; the soldiers second priority. The army deducted six pence a week for basic clothing. One pence was deducted per week for the regimental surgeon and to add insult to injury, the pay master. Fourteen pence sort of went to the soldier's pension fund, cut further with fees to the “regimental agent.”[ii]
It was all very neatly done. Stephenson, in his expansive book, Patriot Battles, on page 40, did the arithmetic cleanly; “fifty-six pence in; fifty-six pence out.” This economic corruption forced the non-commissioned British soldier to seek additional income. Unfortunately the Boston economy was in free fall as smuggling was nearly eliminated by the British Navy.
The soldier's presence in the labor market led to several flash points prior to the Boston Massacre. We will elaborate in subsequent blogs on the Riley and Moyce, affairs. Click here for a preview.
Boston Under Military Rule 1768-1769, O. M. Dickerson 1970, Da Capo Press
Patriot Battles: how the War of Independence was fought. Michael Stephenson, 2007, HarperCollins
[i] Bob Dillon, All Along the Watchtower, 1965, Isle of Wight album
[ii] Patriot Battles: how the War of Independence was fought. Michael Stephenson, 2007, HarperCollins, p.40
A brief video of our tour.