New York Independent Companies

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Hierarchical Path: Seven Years War (Main Page) >> Armies >> British Army >> New York Independent Companies

Origin and History

Independent Companies were part of the British Regular Army, but were not tied to any regiment. The purpose was to provide a representative number of regular troops, but without the need to support a full regiment or the associated costs. These formations were used as garrison troops and to raise the “King's Flag”. There were four Independent Companies in New York to oppose the French in Canada and three Independent Companies in South Carolina to oppose the Spanish in Florida. In 1755, two additional Companies were stationed in the Caribbean; one company in Bermuda and one company on New Providence in the Bahamas. The cost of these 9 Independent Companies was £16,486 (1755). The cost for a Foot Regiment under the British Establishment (not under a campaign warrant) was £15,217, a relatively comparable cost (see Steward, 2015, page 169). A chaplain, two surgeons and an adjutant were assigned as staff serving the four New York Companies.

Three Independent Companies had been the American Colonies since 1664. These troops were first quietly posted to Boston and then used to seize control of the New Netherlands Colony and in-turn blocking any advance southward by the French. The origin of the Independent Companies is somewhat obscure, but the earliest companies may well have been part of the Duke of York's Maritime Regiment (1660-1670). After a period of Dutch resistance to British rule, a fourth company was added in 1694. As it regards New York, two companies would be posted to the provincial capital of Albany and two companies to New York City. A considerable number the earlier drafts were taken from military hospitals in the British Isles. These were garrison troops and not campaign troops, so the troops were often older and infirm, similar to the standard practice of employing Independent Companies of Invalids to garrison fortresses in Britain. In 1755, there were 28 Independent Companies of Invalids serving in Britain, but at a reduced strength of 40-50 men each.

By the early-1700's, the rank & file were strictly colonial recruits. Officers were often from the British Isles, but could be internally drawn from non-commissioned officers. Actual company size was typically closer to 50 men, not the authorized 100. Although funded by London and not colonial assemblies, the Governor of New York would routinely consider those troops as his to command.

Independent Companies were very low on the British Army Hierarchy. Any officer desiring higher rank had to transfer to a regular regiment. There is some suggestion that the pay for both officers and the rank & file was lower than that in a comparable infantry regiment. These formations were terribly neglected by London. In North America, new uniforms had not been issued for years and weapons were often absent or in disrepair. Prior to the start of the war, the New York Companies had last received muskets in 1743. Yet they did have support from London including experienced regimental agents and accounts. During times of relative peace between Britain and France, the companies and postings would be further neglected. This would have been particularly troublesome in the Upper Hudson Valley, where there were a fair number of smaller wooden stockade postings, subject to quick rot. These satellite postings were only supported by meager garrisons of only a dozen men or so under a sergeant. Simple tasks of feeding, clothing and keeping the soldiers warm during the harsh winters were often the central issues being faced, not military preparedness. Drunkenness was a persistent and pervasive problem.

As Independent Companies, these units had little or no chance to practice or train in battalion tactics, so their use had distinct limitations.

Starting with Braddock and continuing with Loudoun, the New York Companies had to be rebuilt and this took considerable money and effort. Officers needed to be sacked and new captains appointed.

During the Seven Years' War, the companies were commanded by:

  • 1st Company
    • from September 13, 1754: Captain John King
    • from April 16, 1757: Captain William Ogilvie
  • 2nd Company
    • from July 9, 1736: Captain Hubert Marshall (court-martialed and broken for embezzlement)
    • from April 17, 1757: Captain Charles Cruikshank
  • 3rd Company:
    • from December 31, 1741 to 1756: Captain John Rutherford (promoted to major in the 60th Foot in 1756, killed in action at the Battle of Carillon (Ticonderoga) on July 8, 1758)
    • from 1756 to 1759: Captain Peter Wraxall (died on July 10, 1759)
    • from January 16, 1759 to December 31, 1761: Allan MacLean of Torloisk
  • 4th Company:
    • from before 1754: Captain Thomas Clarke
    • from September 13, 1754 to 1758: Horatio Gates (assumed command of his company on his return from Europe in the spring of 1755, promoted to major on April 24, 1762 and removed to the 45th Foot)

In May 1763, the New York Independent Companies were permanently disbanded and the remaining men absorbed into existing regiments.

Service during the War

By May 1754, John Rutherford’s 3rd New York Independent Company mustered 68 privates, 2 drummers, 3 corporals, 3 sergeants,under the command of Lieutenant William Ogilvie. In the spring, two of the four companies of the New York Independent Companies (Rutherford’s third and Clarke’s fourth) were sent to the help of Virginia. They were transported on board the HMS Centaur and landed in June 8 in Hampton Roads. On September 1, they marched to Will’s Creek where they erected defensive works. Meanwhile, when Indians parties conducted raids on farms near Hoosick Falls (in present-day Rensselaer County), the Governor of the Province of New York, James De Lancey, immediately ordered to repair the blockhouses and stockade at Albany and to put the local militia in readiness. He also sent most of the first and second companies to Albany, Shenectady, Fort Hunter (in present-day Montgomery County) and Fort Oswego. In September of the same year, while in England, Captain Horatio Gates was given command of the 4th New York Company, replacing Thomas Clarke. Gates had previously served in Nova Scotia and was very familiar with woodland warfare.

In April 1755, Gates left England. Meanwhile, two Independent Companies of New York (Rutherford’s 3rd and Clarke’s 4th) were assigned to General Braddock for his expedition against Fort Duquesne. These companies were initially reviewed by St. Clair who considered that they “seem to be draughted out of Chelsea” (a London hospital for veterans unfit for service). Consequently, on March 18, Clarke’s 4th Company was sent back to Frederick in Maryland for recruitment. Gates returned in time to assume command of the 4th Company during Braddock’s expedition. On June 8, Gates’ 4th Company counted 84 rank and file; and Rutherford’s 3rd, 82. When Braddock left Fort Cumberland, both the 3rd and 4th New York Independent Companies were included in the column. Subsequently, Braddock divided his column into a flying column and a support column. On July 9, the day of the engagement of the Monongahela, the 4th New York Independent Company under Horatio Gates was positioned with the Working Party, just behind the Advanced Party led by Thomas Gage of the 44th Foot. On that day, the strength of the 4th Independent is estimated at 55-60 men. During the engagement, Gates was wounded and Lieutenant Simon Soumain was killed. The 3rd New York Company (Captain John Rutherford) was not at the Monongahela and served with Dunbar in the supply train supporting Braddock, some 65 km to the rear of the Battle.

Rutherford was a stark critic of Braddock and may have been aligned with Halkett and Dunbar. Regardless of internal allegiance, Rutherford was outside of Braddock's inner circle. During this time, Lieutenant Peter Wraxall of the 3rd Independent Company served as Sir William Johnson's secretary during the expedition against Fort Saint-Frédéric (present-day Crown Point). Finally, the 1st Company under Captain John King and the 2nd Company under Captain Hubert Marshall appear to have remained in New York. Between several resignations (John King, Ezra Richmond and Peter Wraxall), a promotion to regular regiment (Major John Rutherford of the 60th Foot) and Hubert Marshall's court martial, there was little stability within the Captain posting of the New York Companies during the early years of the war, the exception being Horatio Gates.

At the beginning of 1756, the four New York Independent Companies took part in General Shirley’s amphibious expedition against the French forts on Lake Ontario. The delays caused to Shirley's expedition gave the French enough time to secure all their posts. By August 17, Webb, who had replaced Shirley at the head of the expedition, finally reached German Flats where he received news that Oswego was in the hands of the French. Webb later retired to Albany. The New York Companies then served in their accustomed role as garrison troops in the Hudson and Mohawk Valleys.

In 1757, the New York Independent Companies continued to assume garrison duties in the Hudson and Mohawk Valleys. Loudoun felt compelled to court-martial Captain Hubert Marshall of the 2nd New York Independent Company for embezzlement. Between April 25 and June 3, he wrote to Cumberland concerning this affair. (see Military Affairs in North America, Pargellis, 1936, Page 347):

"On my Return from Philadelphia I found Captain Hubard Martials's (Marshall's) Independent Compnay about half Compleat, no Money or Credit to pay the Men or clear the Quarters, no Camp Equipage provided, tho ordered at the End of the Campaign. I ordered one of my Aid de-Camps to advance Money to a Lieutenant of the Company to clear the Quarters, as the Company had orders to march. As soon as they arrived here, I brought the Captain to a Court Martial for Neglect of Duty, Disobedience of Orders, and emblezeling the Funds of the Company.
They broke him but with great Difficulty. This is the first Court Martial I have had any Difficulty with. They took a compassionate Turn for the Man's Poverty, tho he has been twenty Years the worst Capt with the worst Company in the King's Service.
I have given the Company to Lieut. Crookshanks of the Royal Americans, on condition of his taking it as is, paying all Debts due by the Company, and recruiting it at his own Expence, beyound what Ballance may be in the Agents Hands. The Expence will up upwards of £400. The former Captain says he has about £300 in the Agent's Hands. This I do not believe, for last Summer he told me he had £500 in his Hands which turned out at June last to be under £40. I shall send the Agent Orders to stop what ever Money is in his Hands till the Debts are paid and the Company compleated. The Debts I mean are Money advanced for the Subsistence of the Company."

In August of the same year (1757), Cruikshank’s 2nd New York Company was at the Siege of Fort William Henry, being marched from Fort Edward only a day before the arrival of Montcalm.

From 1758, the New York Companies served in various campaigns directed against Canada, principally those advancing via Lake Champlain and the Richelieu River plus garrison duties (Captain William Ogilvie, 1st New York Company) at "Fort at No. Four" on the Connecticut River in New Hampshire.

In 1759, Allan MacLean, a former captain-lieutenant in a company of 60th Royal Americans, became captain of the 3rd New York Independent Companies which was stationed at Shenectady. On May 31, MacLean’s Company left for Oswego. From July 1, MacLean left Oswego as part of Brigadier General John Prideaux's expedition against Fort Niagara on Lake Ontario. MacLean served a key staff role as quartermaster to the expedition. It is unclear if the rest of the 3rd Independent Company remained in Oswego or if it was part of the Niagara Expedition. On August 1, MacLean accompanied Sir William Jonson and Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Haldimand to view the Falls at Niagara. Later in 1759, the 3rd Independent Company left for Ticonderoga where it took up its winter-quarters.

In 1760, for the three pronged attack against Montréal, the New York Independent Companies were assigned to the army of Brigadier-General William Haviland who advanced downstream along the Richelieu River, gradually driving back a French corps under the command of Bougainville. On September 8, Montréal surrendered. In late October, it seems that the 3rd New York Independent Companies was quartered in Québec.

In 1762, the four New York Companies took part in the siege and capture of Havana and, like many other formations, they were ravaged by disease.

In May 1763, the New York Independent Companies were permanently disbanded and the remaining men absorbed into existing regiments.

Uniform

The New York Companies existed for a period of 100 years, as such, the uniforms were not static and changed over time. Small hints of the changes do exist including evidence that the facing color for the Independent Companies was changed from a blue to a green around 1730.

As it regards the mid-1700's, it is commonly thought that the uniform of the New York Independent Companies was near identical to those of the South Carolina Independent Companies (same London Agent, John Calcraft), but other evidence suggest that the waistcoat of the New York Companies was the bright green facing color, not the red waistcoat of the South Carolina Companies. The uniform coats of the rank & file appear to have lacked a lace.

At the start of the war in 1755, the South Carolina Independent Companies were thought to be in much better situation than the corresponding New York Companies. The two New York Companies with Braddock seemed to have been culled from the best of all four New York Companies. Even with this precaution, the bulk of the 4th New York Company (Captain Thomas Clarke) was dismissed and then rebuilt with additional recruiting efforts in Maryland and Virginia being in March 1755.

Starting with the 2nd New York Company in 1756 (Captain Charles Cruikshank), the campaign dress adopted a radically different look ― a solid dark green double-breasted coat with buckskin britches, dark green mitasses (woven gaiters) and a tricorne laced in white. By 1760, all four New York Companies adopted this style of dress, saving any "standard" red uniforms for more formal occasions.

In the following section, we adhere to the description made by the Company of Military Historians in a plate published in 1991, describing the uniform in 1756 before the adoption of the green uniform depicted above.

Privates

Uniform Details from 1756 to 1760
Headgear black tricorne laced white with a black cockade (left side)
Neck stock none
Coat madder red lined popinjay green with white metal buttons
Collar none
Shoulder Straps madder red fastened with a white metal button on the left shoulder
Lapels none
Pockets horizontal pockets with white metal buttons
Cuffs popinjay green cuffs with 3 white metal buttons on each cuff
Turnbacks popinjay green (since the coat was lined this colour)
Waistcoat popinjay green waistcoat with sleeves; with two rows of small white metal buttons
Breeches buff
Gaiters black mitasses
Leather Equipment
Cross-belt natural leather with brass buckles
Waist-belt natural leather with brass buckles
Cartridge Box black
Bayonet Scabbard black
Scabbard black
Foot gear black shoes


The coat seem to have rarely been worn.

Soldiers were issued muskets of various sorts. They were also issued Cartridge Boxes and Bayonets.

NCOs

Same uniform as privates.

Officers

Officer’s uniforms were scarlet instead of madder red. They also had silver buttonhole lace. Hats had silver lace, also. Boots were most likely worn in place of gaiters. Their scarlet coat (with scarlet cuffs) and scarlet waistcoat were bordered with a silver braid. The cuffs and pockets were laced in silver. They wore scarlet breeches.

Musicians

no information found

Colours

no information found

References

Cubbison, Douglas R.: On Campaign Against Fort Duquesne: The Braddock and Forbes Expeditions, 1755-1758, Through the Experiences of Quartermaster Sir John St. Clair, McFarland, 2015, pp. 46-47

Dobson, David: Scottish Soldiers in Colonial America, Part 3, Genealogical Publishing, 2009, p. 68

Dunlap, William: History of the New Netherlands, Province of New York, and State of New York, to the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Vol. 2, New York, 1840, pp. 39-40

Eisenstadt, Peter R.: The Encyclopedia of New York State, Syracuse University Press, 2015, pp. 6050-606

Foote, William Alfred: The American Independent Companies of the British Army 1664-1764 Dissertation - University of California, Los Angeles; 1966; 1,128 Pages

Fryer, Mary B.: Allan Maclean, Jacobite General: The life of an eighteenth century career soldier, Dundurn, 1996, pp. 66-81

Preston, Daniel L.: Braddock's Defeat: The Battle of the Monongahela and the Road to Revolution, Oxford University Press, 2015, pp. 44, 302

Sargent, Winthrop: The History of An Expedition Against Fort Duquesne, Applewood Books, 2009, pp. 144, 302

Steward, Nicholas: A List of the Officers of the British Army to August 1755. Steward Archives, Salem, Massachusetts; 2015

'The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Vol. 21, Boston, 1867, pp. 252-253

Watt. Gavin K.: Maclean, Allan in Revolutionary Canadian History, Dundum, 2014

Wikipedia

Acknowledgment

Kenneth P. Dunne for the detailed history of this unit and additional information on its uniforms.