Family Research – English, Scottish and Irish Genealogy

14/9/2004

A Soldiers’ Life in the 18th Century

Life was very rough for a soldier in the 18th century.

The only way he could get out would be to die or be pensioned out by going to Chelsea Hospital in London. It’s still there, the old soldiers’ home.

Most joined up for life. They would take their families with them wherever they went if there was a spot on the muster role. Some women were carried on the muster roles. Others had to scavenge for themselves. But they did not provide for the whole family. It was left up to the Colonel of the regiment whether you had to leave your family behind or whether there would be room for them to come.

Military life was tough. For minor infractions you could get flogged 200 times with a cat-o’-nine tails. That was really minor stuff. If you tried to leave, they would kill you. If you deserted, they’d shoot you.

As rough as it seemed though, there was not much choice for many men at this time. You should have seen life in London at the time. Out on the farms, there was no income at all and people were starving to death. This war was a big boom. The recruiting sergeants offered bounties up to 20 guineas to join up. That was 10 years salary for some people. Often they figured they could join up, get the bounty, then skip; but it didn’t work out that way because they were under such close scrutiny.

Like I said, for the most minor infractions you would get lashes, 20, 30 40, even 200. We had one guy at Ft. Loudoun who received 200 lashes for speaking sedition, Henry Hammond. You couldn’t even look at an officer. You couldn’t walk between them and a wall. Didn’t dare touch them.

Life in the 18th century in general was a class system, and no one stepped beyond his class. You didn’t dare look someone like the engineer or an officer in the eye. You’d likely get the back of a sword across your face.

by Tom Harper as told to Gail Lang

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