When one thinks of the various Loyalist military units that served during the American Revolution, the observer will often turn their attention towards units such as the Queen's Rangers, the King’s Royal Regiment, the Loyal American Regiment and the British Legion. These units, as well as others that served during the war, enjoyed the benefit of often being adequately supplied, armed and equipped by His Majesty’s government in order to sustain military operations against the American rebels.
However, not all Loyalist regiments and units were on equal footing. In fact, the experiences of those men that served in the various units that composed the “Royalist Corps” during the Burgoyne Campaign of 1778 and beyond highlight the disparity of clothing and equipment issuances that existed during the war.
From its inception, Jessup’s Corps, McAlpin’s Corps, Peter’s Corps, and other Royalist units were seen by British military officials as temporary units that were organized to support the logistical needs of a specific campaign. As a result, these units were last in line to be supplied and supported during the war effort.
For example, during its formation in late 1776/early 1777, Jessup’s Corps was in desperate need of clothing and equipment. As a result, General Carleton ordered Major Gray to acquire clothing for Jessup’s men and encouraged the major to locate “some cheap uniform clothing to keep them from the severity of the weather”. In turn, the major travelled to Montreal and had purchased “on behalf of Messr Jessup and his followers” regimental coats. As Gray would later note, the coats were “the cheapest that could be got, at Montreal, very Common red stuff turn’d up with Green as Red seemed to be their favorite colour, and being got rather than any other I gratified their taste.” In April 1777, as additional recruits poured into Canada, Gray made a second attempt to procure coats for men drawn into Jessup’s Corps. As with the January purchase, he was forced to buy the same cheap coats from the same supplier. Nevertheless, the major was able to successfully clothe all but eight of Jessup’s recruits. Inexplicably, Gray complained to his superiors that unless ordered, he would not purchase additional coats for the corps.
Research suggests that unlike the Royal Yorkers, Jessup’s received little to no other clothing issuances. As a result, the refugees that served in that unit often fielded in civilian clothing.
Yet, clothing was not the only issue Jessup’s Corps faced. Many of the recruits who arrived in Canada were unarmed and poorly equipped. As a result, the British government was forced to secure weapons and accoutrements for Jessup’s men. Whereas other, better supplied Loyalist units (such as the Royal Highland Emigrants) received “modern” British” weaponry, It is likely Carleton ordered outdated Model 1728 French infantry muskets left over from the previous French and Indian War and sitting in storage in Quebec be issued to Jessup’s men. Period accounts also suggest that many of Jessup’s men received partial “stands of arms” in the form of belly boxes and belting.
The men of McAlpin’s Corps experienced a similar lack of supplies when it was organized after July 30, 1777. According to one period account, many of the refugees who joined McAlpins “came as they could, some from prisons, and some from committees . . . naked and barefoot, but with good hearts; no money being given to clothe them.” Worse, according to period accounts, only one third of the loyalists joining Burgoyne at Fort Edward were properly armed and equipped.
Of course, Burgoyne moved to arm and supply these volunteers as quickly as possible. Because the general did not bring military weapons for incoming Loyalist recruits, it is likely these men were armed with civilian muskets seized from the local populace or taken from incoming refugees. For example, on September 7, 1777, sixteen civilian arms were delivered to McAlpin’s Corps. As subsequent correspondence noted, “Some days ago the General told me there were a dozen firelocks at Head Quarters, which would arm so many of the provincials; you will have the goodness to give directions for delivering them to the bearer a Serjeant of Captain Macalpins Corps. I am Dr. Sir your most obedient humble Servant Sm Fraser...Sept. 7th 1777; Head Quarters. Recd. Sixteen firelocks (that were brought in by Inhabitants to the Commissioners) for the use of Capt. Macalpins Corps. Thos Fraser Lieut. in Captn. McAlpin Corps.”
Following Burgoyne’s defeat and the retreat to Canada, most, if not all, of the Royalist Corps struggled to receive proper arms, equipment and clothing. Recognizing that his men were armed with a mix of old French military muskets, fowlers and commercial trade guns, McAlpin begged governmental officials that “I need not explain to His Excellency the figure an old grey-headed fellow will make at the head of a parcel of raw, undisciplined people with bad arms . . . I hope the General will be good enough to prevent me from appearing in this mortifying situation by ordering good arms to be delivered to us.” It appears McAlpin did make some progress and did receive some “good arms” in 1778. Nevertheless, as late as August 3, 1778, McAlpin still reported a “return of arms and accouterments wanting to compleat Captain McAlpin’s Corps of Volunteers . . . 35 firelocks, 35 bayonets, 35 belts and frogs, 35 cartridge boxes.”
Despite their best efforts, the men of the Royalist Corps would not receive new uniforms until November, 1778. Worse, this would be the only identified clothing the corps would receive over the next two years. To complicate matters, these coats were the highly unpopular blue coats faced white that were often worn by their New England enemies. According to a complaint filed by the officers of Jessup’s Corps, “With all Respect and due difference we the subscribing Officers of the Loyalists beg leave to represent to Your Excellency, that the Cloathing in Store at this Garrison being Blue faced with White, the same as the Uniform of many Regiments of our Enemies, we are apprehensive that should we be sent on service with this Cloathing, many fatal accidents might happen, from mistakes of Indians and our own Scouting Parties, as was actually the case several times last Campaign. We are aware that to expect this Cloathing should be totally laid aside, for such reasons, after the great expense the Crown has been at, must be deemed unreasonable; our wishes only are that Your Excellency will Order us, Red Clothing, as along as any remains in Store, and that the Blue may be made use of the last. Lieut Colonel St. Leger has been pleased at our request to suffer us to draw only half Mounting, for the present, the Blanket Coats we have purchased for the Men by his directions, supplying the place of the Coats, untill Your Excellency will be pleased to decide for us; and whatever that decision may be we shall be entirely satisfied – The Transporting the Cloathing at this Season, we are sensible will be attended with some Expense to Government, which we do not wish to burthen it with; but should Your Excellency Order us the Red Clothing we will chearfully defray the Expense of Carriage.”
Besides a lack of supplies, shelter was almost non-existent. As Sir. John Johnson correctly noted in correspondence to Haldimand regarding McAlpin’s and other corps, “I have not mentioned Tents, or Camp Equipage, tho they [are] wanting for the whole Regiment – but should your Excellency think them Necessary, I shall immediately forward them.”
Worse yet, the volunteers of McAlpin’s Corps often found themselves at odds with civilian refugees living in Sorel. Competition for limited supplies, including fresh food and clothing, proved to be a source of constant irritation. On more than one occasion, Major McAlpin described incidents of large groups of loyalist refugees engaged in fights with his soldiers.
The lack of supplies for the Royalist Corps continued into the 1780s. On November 12, 1781, British officials ordered that Jessup’s, Peter’s and McAlpin’s Corps be amalgamated into a single battalion designated the “Loyal Rangers”. Yet despite this reorganization, the problems of a proper supply chain continued.
A little more than a month after assuming command, Major Edward Jessup complained “the men in the Corps of Royalists are in great want of Cloathing and that I Beg His Excellancy will pleas to give orders for their being issued of the green Cloaths as we understand there is a sufficient Quantity of that sort to Cloath the whole Corps . . . Capt Sherwood tells us that his Coat is approved of as a pattern for our uniform which we shall Immetate but shall need some green Cloath for facings (as the Present facings are Red) I thought it would be but Little Expence if any Rat eaten or Damaged Coats Should be in the Store.” Ten days later, Jessup ordered “The Captains and Commanding Officers of Companys are to Deliver without delay to the Acting Adjutant an Exact Return of their non Commissioned Officers Drummers and Private Men in their respective Company for whosoever it will be Necessary at Present to give Cloathing.” By February 14th, the commander was still submitting requests for additional clothing. On February 21, 1782, Jessup was able to report that only one hundred and seventy-four green regimental coats faced red had been issued to his men.
In short, a 1780 inspection of the Royalist Corps correctly summarized the state of supply for units like the Royalist Corps. “[They are] in great want of Provisions; and was distressed for everything having wore out all their Shoes, Mockosins, Trowsers, Leggings, &c…”