Thursday, August 8, 2019

"Wath a View to Rescue the Soldier" - Who Was the British Deserter Who Trained the Freetown Militia?

A few years ago, we had discussed British army deserter George Marsden and his role in training minute and militia companies in the Merrimack Valley region of Massachusetts.

As you may recall, Marsden was a grenadier from the 59th Regiment of Foot. He and his regiment arrived in New England in 1768. However, by 1769 the 59th was in Nova Scotia. A muster roll from October 1770 reveals Marsden was promoted to the rank of sergeant. Unfortunately, by 1774 he was demoted back to a private. The reason for the demotion is unknown but the regimental muster rolls indicate that on July 24, 17774 he deserted from his regiment. Afterward, Marsden fled to Haverhill.

Marsden was the logical choice to train the minute companies of Andover, Bradford and Haverhill. He was intelligent and had extensive experience within the British army. In March and April of 1775, the units actively worked with Marsden to prepare for war. Haverhill initially voted that its minute men “be duly disciplined in Squads three half days in a Week, three hours in each half day.” On March 14, 1775, the town also voted to raise thirty dollars “to procure a military instructor to instruct the Militia in the Art Military.” One week later, it was voted that the minute-men should train one whole day per week, instead of three half days as previously voted. Furthermore, the minutemen were to be trained by a “Mr George Marsden, whom we have hired.”

Interestingly, this is not the only record of a George Marsden being hired to train minute companies in the Merrimack Valley region of Massachusetts. A Haverhill “Independent Corps” commanded by Captain Brickett passed their own resolution “that we hire Mr George Marsdin for 4 days at 12s a day, & that he be paid out of the fines.” Similar records from Andover and Bradford Massachusetts also reference the hiring of George Marsden to train their minute companies.

"The Deserter," an engraving by William Dickinson after Henry William Bunbury and published
in London in 1794 by Robert Laurie and James Whittle. (Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection)

After we published our findings, J.L. Bell and Don Hagist brought to our attention another British deserter who had been retained by a Rhode Island militia company to train them in the 1764 Crown Manual Exercise. Yesterday we stumbled across a third British deserter who was possibly training a Freetown, Massachusetts militia company.

Col. Thomas Gilbert was a veteran of the French and Indian War and a staunch loyalist. On the eve of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, he recruited over one hundred men, organized them into a military company and secured stands or arms for them. In early April, residents of neighboring towns received reports that Colonel Gilbert had left Freetown and was planning to return with military reinforcements. A preemptive strike was quickly organized by local minute and militia companies.

According to a Providence newspaper, “that on Monday before, parties of Minute men, etc. from every town in that County, with arms and ammunition, met at Freetown that morning in order to take Col. Gilbert, but he had fled on board the Rose, man of war at Newport.” Ezra Stiles noted that “above a Thousd Men assembled in Arms at Freetown to lay Col. Gilbert as they had heard he had risen up against his Country. They came from all parts round as far as Middleboro, Rochester &c. They took about 30 of his Men & disarmed them, tho' they had lately taken the Kings Arms.”

Shortly after the Freetown Raid, some of Gilbert’s men returned to Freetown and captured a British soldier who apparently had been training the local militia in the “Military Exercise”. According to the Reverend Ezra Stiles, “Some of Col. Gilbert's Men it is said seized a Soldier of the Regulars a Deserter who was teaching military Exercise at Freetown, & were about carrying him to Gen. Gage at Boston.”

At this time it is unknown who this soldier was, what unit he deserted from or what his fate was after his abduction. According to Stiles, there was an attempt to rescue him from his kidnappers. “The Night before last 50 Men marched from Dartmouth to joyn a large Body wath a View to rescue the Soldier.” Whether or not the rescue effort succeeded remains a mystery. Of course, if the deserter was successfully transported to Boston, we’re curious about whether or not a court-martial was held and what records exist of the hearing.

So, if you are aware of any information about this particular soldier or his fate, please let us know!


  1. Where can I find a muster roll for the 59th in Nova Scotia in 1769?

    1. Hmmmm...very good question. I'd check in with Don HAgist who owns the blog "British Soldiers, American Revolution". He should eb able to help.

    2. I want to thank Dr Emu a very powerful spell caster who help me to bring my husband back to me, few month ago i have a serious problem with my husband, to the extend that he left the house, and he started dating another woman and he stayed with the woman, i tried all i can to bring him back, but all my effort was useless until the day my friend came to my house and i told her every thing that had happened between me and my husband, then she told me of a powerful spell caster who help her when she was in the same problem I then contact Dr Emu and told him every thing and he told me not to worry my self again that my husband will come back to me after he has cast a spell on him, i thought it was a joke, after he had finish casting the spell, he told me that he had just finish casting the spell, to my greatest surprise within 48 hours, my husband really came back begging me to forgive him, if you need his help you can contact him with via email: or add him up on his whatsapp +2347012841542 is willing to help any body that need his help.