“Sospecting the prisner to be a tory…”
A Continental Army Court Martial, July 1777

By John U. Rees
©1998, 2002

Published in The Continental Soldier (Journal of the
Continental Line), vol. IX, no. 1 (Winter/Spring 1997), 45-46.

Recently, the proceedings of a number of British courts martial have been brought to light, providing another window on the day-to-day activities of common soldiers and their retainers. The following document, found in the George Washington Papers, is an indication of the treasure trove of untapped information still available from that and other sources.

This court martial of a civilian took place in Brigadier General Prudhomme de Borre's 2nd Maryland Brigade, Major General John Sullivan's Division. The units comprising the brigade were the 2nd, 4th, and 7th Maryland Regiments, along with the German Regiment and Hazen's 2nd Canadian Regiment. Of particular interest in these proceedings are the arguments used to entice the soldiers to desert, reasons for their dissatisfaction, and the testimony of Alice Wood, attached to Hazen's Regiment, who had left her children behind when she followed her husband into the army.

At A Court Martial held at Newarke [New Jersey]
on Thursday 31 day of July 1777 by order of Brigadier Generall Deborre

Colon [Thomas] Price [2nd Maryland Regiment] President ...

[Members of the court: Colonels John Gunby (7th Maryland) and Samuel Smith (4th Maryland), Majors John Taylor (Hazen's), John Stewart (2nd Maryland) and Uriah Forrest (3rd Maryland), Captains Patten(?), Grush(?), Henry Dobson (6th Maryland), Robert Burns (Hazen's), Dorsey (either Daniel, 4th Maryland, or Ely, 2nd Maryland), Joseph Marbrey (3rd Maryland) and James Henry (5th Maryland).]

... Richard Ennes Confined by order of Major Taylor on Suspicion of having induced Contanatel Soldiers to Desert to the Enemy was brought before the Court When the following witness appeared to witt (Alice Wood) Wiffe to (Jeams Wood) who was absent at Roll Call this Morning being sworn deposeth that she went with Her Housband to the house of (Richard Ennes) last Night When a Conversation arose between sd Ennes her Housband and two other Soldiers of (Colo Hazen) Regiment who made some Complants Relative to there pay upon which Ennes Informed them that Deserters to the Enemy were well Treated and not be Compelled to inlist by them wold if thay Chose it be sent to Ireland that thay Recivd if thay Carryed Thare armes with them fifteen or sixteen Dollers - that the Soldiers Compland of being stinted in provisions when sd Ennes Infor[me]d them that the Soldiers of the Enemy was Well fed that woman & Children draw Rations in the same Manner as the Soldiers did & ware alowd together with the men half a pinte of Rum Per Day that artifissers Recivd a Doller & Labourers five shillings per Day That Goods ware Very Cheape and as a prof of which he shewed them some that he had purchased and told them the Rates The witness declares that after much of this Conversation Had passed (pennergrass) Swore that if he Cold git over the River He wold Desart when the prisner pointed out to him apertickler Spot whare it was fordable his wiffe said that a woman Cold git over with out weting her self that the prisner & his wiffe asked her Housband & her Self in to the house to Drink tea on doing which her housband asked her what she wold think of Going to the place the prisner had bin discribing to which she answered that she hoaped to Go next to Phillidelphia and git home to see her Child - that thay had no money and payed nothing for what thay Had (Micheal Lary [private, 4th Maryland Regiment]) being Sworn deposeth that he was with the men that Desarted last Night and severall others Cooking near the house of the prisner who Came out to them that (Wood) was Complaining about his pay and bounty When the prisner informed him that if he was with the Enemy He wold git his bounty before he was Sworn and Recive [three?] shilling hard money pr week that Each man had half a pinte of Rum pr Day - that he asked wood what was his trade who made answer the Talers, then the prisner Sayed he wold git a Doller a Day at New York & that Labourers wold git five shillings - the witness declars that sospecting the prisner to be a tory from his Conversation He had a mind to try him and said he wold desart to the Enemy if he Cold git over the River when the prisner gave Him information of the ford - That he told them that (Colon McDonnald) lay within five miles of them - and Derected them the Road to New Yorke that as thay ware Coming off the prisner Called to the witness, and asked him if he was the man to who he was talking at the wood when (Pennegrass) who desarted last Night made answer that he was and went back and Remand some time with the prisner who asserted that prisners was not Compelled to inlist but was If thay Chose sent to Irland or permited to do what that pleased The Court haveing Considered the Evidence are unanimously of opinion that the prisner is Guilty of the Charge and His sentence is that he Shall be hanged untill he is dead

Thos Price presadt

I approve this sentence & ordered
to be put in execution at 3 o clock

Le P DeBorre Brig Gnal


Proceedings of “A Court Martial held at Newarke”, New Jersey, 31 July 1777, George Washington Papers, Presidential Papers Microfilm (Washington, D.C., 1961), series 4, reel 43.

Samuel S. Smith, The Battle of Brandywine (Monmouth Beach, N.J., 1976), p. 30.

Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army During the War of the Revolution - April 1775 to December 1783 (Baltimore, Md., 1982)

Archives of Maryland: Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution 1775-1783 (reprint, Baltimore, Md., 1972), p. 135.